On Sunday, June 29th, the Catholic Church throughout the world will observe a special Jubilee dedicated to St. Paul to celebrate the 2000th anniversary of his birth. Here in the Diocese of Orlando we have three parishes associated with the Apostle to the Gentiles: St. Paul’s Basilica in Daytona, St. Paul’s in Leesburg, and Sts. Peter and Paul in Winter Park. All three parishes will observe this Pauline Year with special events and ceremonies – and I will be soon issuing guidelines on how one may receive indulgences for visits or pilgrimages to these parishes.
St. Paul is the patron of our “Alive in Christ” capital campaign – most of our parishes will participate in the campaign at some point during this Pauline Year. The theme of the campaign itself, “Alive in Christ”, is from St. Paul himself (cf. Romans 6: 3-11). Caritas Christi nos urget, “the love of Christ impels” (II Corinthians 5: 14-15), St. Paul was to write his beloved, if sometimes contentious, Corinthians. That same love of Christ motivates us in our unprecedented capital campaign to seek the resources that will permit us as a local Church here in Central Florida to grow in our faith, to lead others to know the hope that is ours in Christ Jesus, and to share in love our gifts with those in need.
Jesus was for St. Paul – as he should be for each one of us – the center of his life: his identity was shaped by his encounter with Christ. In fact, after his encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus, this one time Pharisee of Pharisees and persecutor of Jesus’ followers known as Saul assumed a new identity taking the name Paul, a with that new identity, a new mission: to bring the gospel to the nations.
St. Paul, although not one of the original twelve, counted himself as one of the Apostles. He too was called directly by Christ – and in that call he came to recognize how closely Christ identifies himself with his people. Much of our understanding of the Church as the Body of Christ comes from St. Paul’s own reflections on this mystery.
Of all the apostles, Paul is perhaps the best known – and his success in bringing the gospel to the gentiles until his martyrdom in Rome – decisively orientated the course of Church history to the present day. In the Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke recounts the drama of his conversion and the tract of his missionary journeys. In his zeal to spread the gospel, he wanted to become “all things to all men” (1 Corinthians 9: 22) and so he was able to step outside the cultural confines of his Jewish upbringing to open himself to other cultures. He recognized that the gospel with its universal message of salvation was not foreign to any culture and that every people, every nation was fertile soil in which the gospel could take root.
Of course, in addition to what St. Luke tells us about Paul in the Acts of the Apostles, it is Paul himself who reveals to us his personality and thought in his epistles. He is the most prolific writer in the New Testament canon – and most Sundays our liturgies are enriched by a reading taken from one of his epistles.
It would be difficult to overstate the influence of St. Paul in the development of our Christian faith. However, it is always Christ, crucified and risen from the dead, that St. Paul preaches – and not Paul. For him, to live was Christ. For this reason, we do well to observe this Year of St. Paul for he reminds us that our “justification by faith” is found “not by seeking oneself by oneself but in having received oneself from Christ and in giving oneself with Christ.” (cf. Papal Audience, Nov. 8, 2006).