Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Year of Paul

Mosaic and Shrine to St Paul at Veria, Greece

In a Homily delivered last year (Thursday, 28 June 2007) at St Paul Outside-the-Walls, Pope Benedict XVI set out what he envisaged of the Pauline Year just about to start:

"This evening we turn our gaze to St Paul, whose relics are preserved with deep veneration in this Basilica.

At the beginning of the Letter to the Romans, as we have just heard, St Paul greeted the community of Rome, introducing himself as "a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle" (1: 1). He uses the term "servant", in Greek, doulos, to indicate a relationship of total and unconditional belonging to the Lord Jesus; moreover, it is a translation of the
Hebrew, 'ebed, thus alluding to the great servants whom God chose and called for an important and specific mission.

Paul knew he was "called to be an apostle", that is, that he had not presented himself as a candidate, nor was his a human appointment, but solely by a divine call and election.

The Apostle to the Gentiles repeats several times in his Letters that his whole life is a fruit of God's freely given and merciful grace (cf. I Cor 15: 9-10; II Cor 4: 1; Gal 1: 15).

He was chosen to proclaim "the Gospel of God" (Rom 1: 1), to disseminate the announcement of divine Grace which in Christ reconciles man with God, himself and others.

From his Letters, we know that Paul was far from being a good speaker; on the contrary, he shared with Moses and Jeremiah a lack of oratory skill. "His bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account" (II Cor 10: 10), his adversaries said of him.

The extraordinary apostolic results that he was able to achieve cannot, therefore, be attributed to brilliant rhetoric or refined apologetic and missionary strategies.

The success of his apostolate depended above all on his personal involvement in proclaiming the Gospel with total dedication to Christ; a dedication that feared neither risk, difficulty nor persecution.

"Neither death, nor life", he wrote to the Romans, "nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (8: 38-39).

From this we can draw a particularly important lesson for every Christian. The Church's action is credible and effective only to the extent to which those who belong to her are prepared to pay in person for their fidelity to Christ in every circumstance.

When this readiness is lacking, the crucial argument of truth on which the Church herself depends is also absent.

Dear brothers and sisters, as in early times, today too Christ needs apostles ready to sacrifice themselves. He needs witnesses and martyrs like St Paul. Paul, a former violent persecutor of Christians, when he fell to the ground dazzled by the divine light on the road to Damascus, did not hesitate to change sides to the Crucified One and followed him without second thoughts. He lived and worked for Christ, for him he suffered and died. How timely his example is today!

And for this very reason I am pleased to announce officially that we shall be dedicating a special Jubilee Year to the Apostle Paul from 28 June 2008 to 29 June 2009, on the occasion of the bimillennium of his birth, which historians have placed between the years 7 and 10 A.D.

It will be possible to celebrate this "Pauline Year" in a privileged way in Rome where the sarcophagus which, by the unanimous opinion of experts and an undisputed tradition, preserves the remains of the Apostle Paul, has been preserved beneath the Papal Altar of this Basilica for 20 centuries.

It will thus be possible to have a series of liturgical, cultural and ecumenical events taking place at the Papal Basilica and at the adjacent Benedictine Abbey, as well as various pastoral and social initiatives, all inspired by Pauline spirituality.

In addition, special attention will be given to penitential pilgrimages that will be organized to the Apostle's tomb to find in it spiritual benefit. Study conventions and special publications on Pauline texts will also be promoted in order to make ever more widely known the immense wealth of the teaching they contain, a true patrimony of humanity redeemed by Christ.

Furthermore, in every part of the world, similar initiatives will be implemented in the dioceses, shrines and places of worship, by Religious and by the educational institutions and social-assistance centres which are named after St Paul or inspired by him and his teaching.

Lastly, there is one particular aspect to which special attention must be paid during the celebration of the various moments of the 2,000th Pauline anniversary: I am referring to the ecumenical dimension.

The Apostle to the Gentiles, who was especially committed to taking the Good News to all peoples, left no stones unturned for unity and harmony among all Christians.

May he deign to guide and protect us in this bimillenial celebration, helping us to progress in the humble and sincere search for the full unity of all the members of Christ's Mystical Body. Amen."