Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Year of Saint Paul

Saint Paul the Apostle Rome Italy

The Feast Day of Peter and Paul
marked the beginning of the Year of St. Paul. Pope Benedict declared the year to mark the 2000 anniversary of the apostle’s birth. I look forward to a year of focusing on this key person in the development of our faith.

He is a lightening rod of controversy. Some of that controversy is of his own making. He was a man of strong conviction and did not always express those convictions diplomatically. He was also a sophisticated writer and orator. However, much of the controversy appears to be our habit of interpreting the words and actions of a person from 2000 years ago through the cultural prism of today.

So it is easy to attack this saint as being anti women. However that requires that one ignore his writings to women deacons and female leaders in the Roman Christian community. It also requires one to ignore that he demands that husband treat their wives with respect.

It is easy to point out his condemnation of homosexuality. However, a fuller reading would reveal he condemns all hedonistic pleasures of the flesh that are not focused on love and sacrifice.

One can point out he advocated for celibacy and almost sounded anti flesh, as if he hated this body. However, a more balanced view would be that he called out for balance, between the spirit and the body.

Some Christian denominations go in the other direction. Their branch of Christianity is almost exclusively Pauline. This reflects that he is the most extensive contributor to the Christian Scriptures. I believe St. Paul would either be embarrassed or angered at such a development because his writings, his focus was always on Jesus.

Last week I attended Mass at a different church. The priest stated that he looked forward to the year so he could learn more about the saint. The priest stated that while the Letters of Saint Paul were read each week during liturgy he rarely addressed the writings in his homily. He stated that was because he found the writings too philosophical and abstract and he hoped this year would change that for him.

I was surprised. I found myself thinking if he found Paul challenging how did he ever get through the writings of St. John? However, I also found his honesty refreshing and I suspect he connected with a number of his congregates who shared his experience.

I love the writings of St. Paul. I don’t believe the writings of one of the core leaders of the Ancient Church should be an easy read. However, I find his readings grounded in love. I find his writings to be some of the most beautiful writings in Scripture. I believe it is important to have a model of such a strong man who can also express such tender feelings.

1 Corinthians 13:4: “Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant…”

So I look forward to learning as the world celebrates this Year of St. Paul. I look forward to Turkish Catholics as they mark this year in the land of St Paul. I look forward as Churches around the world study the works of this crucial early leader and saint.

Marking the Beginning of the Year of St. Paul in Singapore

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