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Posted July 31, 2007

Year of St. Paul: Focus on the Bible

The church worldwide will celebrate a jubilee for the 2,000th anniversary of St. Paul’s birth from June 28, 2008, to June 29, 2009, Pope Benedict XVI announced. Pilgrimages, study conventions and special publications on Pauline texts will be encouraged. And an ecumenical focus will characterize the jubilee, the pope said. He commented, “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.”

The church in central Texas currently is observing a “Year of the Word.” In light of this, the Austin, Texas, diocesan Web site (www.austindiocese.org/yotw/) has an entire section of materials to promote understanding and discussions of Scripture – including discussions of St. Paul.

“In a largely oral culture, Paul’s letters are the first formally written documents of the New Testament,” according to a discussion about Paul on the Austin Web site. The article by Beth Balsam, an Austin religious educator, says: “Paul’s first letters were probably written in 50 A.D. to the church in Thessalonica. The first canonical Gospel, Mark, was not written until at least 65 and maybe as late as 75 A.D.”

In her article, Balsam writes: “Paul deeply understood the importance of community and the rich meaning of church as a ‘household of God’ (Ephesians 2:19) and ‘household of faith’ (Galatians 6:10).”

The Austin Web site, under the heading “Meeting With Scripture,” includes guidelines for beginning any meeting at a Catholic parish, school or organization with a 10- to 15-minute discussion of or reflection on Scripture. The Web site should prove a valuable resource for catechists and religious educators of all kinds.

What was the secret of St. Paul’s success? When Pope Benedict announced the coming jubilee, he said, “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.” Instead, the pope continued, “the success of [Paul’s] 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.”

The pope said that historians place Paul’s birth between the years 7 A.D. and 10 A.D.

Does Paul influence parish ministry today? When the U.S. bishops in 2005 issued a major statement on lay ecclesial ministry, they recalled how Paul “drew others into the work of spreading the Gospel and relied on them in very concrete ways.” The bishops said that Paul “repeatedly acknowledged and thanked those men and women, at times calling them ‘my co-workers in Christ Jesus.’”

Today, “all lay church employees and volunteers” function in “a workplace that shares … the characteristics of a faith community of co-workers, as described by St. Paul,” said the bishops.