As most people know by now, Pope Benedict XVI pronounced
June 29, 2008 to June, 29, 2009 to be the Jubilee Year of St. Paul the Apostle,
in honor of the approximately 2000th anniversary of his birth. In 2007 when the
Holy Father announced the upcoming Jubilee Year, he commented that St. Paul’s
success as an evangelist did not come because of his merits as an eloquent
speaker or capable debater. Instead, the Apostle to the Gentiles persuaded
people through the testimony of his life: “his extraordinary personal
involvement in announcing the Gospel and his total dedication to Christ, despite
problems and persecutions” (catholicnews.com).
Pauline Basics and Trivia
Just who was this Model Evangelist?
Dates for his birth range from 5 to 10 A.D. He was born in the
Roman colony of Tarsus in what is now eastern Turkey. The Vatican website
conjectures that he received the name Saul in honor of his Jewish birth and the
name Paul as a gesture of gratitude to the Pauli family for the bestowal of
Roman citizenship on his family. St. Paul says of himself that he was born a
Roman citizen (Acts22:28). Newadvent.org says it was common practice among the
Jews in Roman colonies to give dual names to their children, one Hebrew and
another in Latin or Greek that sounded similar to the first. Whichever reason he
had two names, during his first missionary journey among the Gentiles he
preferred Paul. Saul in Greek had an unflattering definition.
It is likely
that his family were tentmakers, since St. Paul ascribes this profession to
himself. More precisely, however, they made the mohair of which tents were made.
While still young, he was sent to Jerusalem to study under the rabbi, Gamaliel,
and possibly stayed with relatives while there. We know from the Acts that he
had a married sister in the city.
In Acts 7, St. Paul is introduced as a
young man (neanias), meaning he was between the ages of twenty and forty, when
he supported the stoning of St. Stephen. His zeal for the faith has led to the
assumption that St. Paul was a Zealot, which would go a long way in explaining
his ardor in persecuting believers of the Way. It also makes sense of why forty
men would put themselves under a vow at one point to kill him (cf. Acts
23:12-22)—“It is very well known that the Zealot party punished all those who
betrayed their solemn oath” (vatican.va).
St. Paul’s conversion, from
scriptural evidence, seems to have occurred in 34 or 35 A.D., shortly after the
establishment of the Jerusalem Church. He returned to Tarsus and then went to
Arabia (modern Jordan). Three years later, he spent fifteen days with St. Peter
in Jerusalem but, due to the Zealots, could not join the church there. He was
sent back to Tarsus where he remained until St. Barnabas sought his help with
the church in Antioch of Syria (c. 43 A.D.). The community had been started by
Hellenist Jews who had fled Jerusalem during the persecution following St.
Stephen’s death. Having a church with Gentiles who were not Jewish proselytes
was a novel undertaking and the founding church assigned St. Barnabas to check
it out. Impressed by what he saw, he thought of the perfect man to help him with
directing this new community—the Church’s former most ardent persecutor.
Such were the beginnings of St. Paul and his amazing thirty-plus years of
ministry to win the world for Christ.
In Earthen Vessels
What made St. Paul so perfect
for the work Jesus called him to do?
One thing was his experience in
a Jewish culture outside Judea. As a Jew in a Roman colony, he was more familiar
with Gentile society than the Jews who lived in their native Palestine. (This
also applied to St. Barnabas, who was from Cyprus.) Yet, having been educated
under Gamaliel and joining the party of the Pharisees, he was well-educated in
the scriptures and traditions of his race and fully able to prove that Jesus was
the awaited Messiah. Whether his listeners were able to accept his arguments was
a matter of grace.
When St. Barnabas asked St. Paul to help him with the
church in Antioch, he must have had some idea of the man’s abilities. Perhaps
they were classmates under Gamaliel and St. Paul’s intelligence, zeal and
rhetoric made an impression on St. Barnabas. Maybe he was the first to recognize
the treasure hidden in the earthen vessel (cf. 2 Cor 4:7a) of St. Paul that God
could use to His glory.
The proof that St. Paul could relate to Jews and
Gentiles was his ability to evangelize, direct and edify both groups to the
extent that the church in Antioch grew into a large, thriving mixed community.
“This became the first separation from the synagogue environment”
It also became a church strong enough to be the base of
operations for missionary activity to Asia and Europe.
Of course, the
earthen vessel—St. Paul—required some modifications. When one reads his letters
in chronological order, one notices the change in tone and wording, particularly
when he speaks of himself. Not only does his doctrine become more developed, but
also his humility. By the time he wrote to the Corinthians about the glory of
God residing in and working through fragile, earthen vessels, St. Paul had
experienced an enormous amount of hardship for the sake of Christ. He had truly
learned that when he was at his weakest, the strength of God manifested itself
most clearly, so “that the surpassing power may be [seen to be] of God and not
from us” (2 Cor 4:7b).
But why honor St. Paul with his own
Our Holy Father wishes to hold up St. Paul as an example to
all believers. Our world is no longer Christian; it is primarily secular and
pagan, except for a certain few religious-political systems that seek to destroy
all faiths but their own. The Greeks and the Romans also attempted at various
points to impose one worldwide religion. The books of the Maccabees and early
Christian history relate these events. Today Christianity is facing destruction
When St. Paul accepted Christ’s commission to evangelize the Gentiles,
he was taking on the machine of the Roman religious-political system. A loyal
Roman citizen had to offer sacrifices to the genius of the emperor. True,
Judaism was tolerated, but in the same second-class-citizenship way that
Christians and other faiths are under Muslims. A big part of the reason that
Christianity was able to spread as much as it did in the beginning is that it
was seen as an offshoot of Judaism, which did have government permission to
exist. When that distinction was taken away, persecutions began in earnest.
In our secular, pagan society, Catholics are subjected to daily insults in
schools, workplaces, media and public facilities.
St. Paul did not back down
or run away from his vocation. Instead, he gave it his all. As he told St.
Timothy, “For I am already being poured out like a libation…I have competed
well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith” (2 Tim 4:6-7).
St. Paul, the pope also noted that our efforts to win others to Christ will only
be successful to the degree we are willing to “pay personally for [our] faith in
Christ, in every situation,” even to the point of martyrdom. “Where this
commitment is lacking, the appeal of the Gospel will be weaker, he said”
Our Holy Faith renewed a world possessed by a violent
religious-government system that engaged in many of the same sins we are
inundated with now by introducing it to Jesus Christ. To preach this Message
cost these believers prestige, income, physical hardship, imprisonment and even
death. Believers in non-Western countries are very familiar with all these
things for the sake of Our Lord. Much of the genocide taking place nowadays is
against Christians—yet they persevere. We need to let their faith—the faith of
the Apostle Paul—challenge us and our walk with Christ. Do we want a faith that
quits or the kind that reaches the finish line?
Gaining the Plenary Indulgence
If you can’t get to Rome this year to visit the papal basilica of St. Paul
Outside the Walls on the Via Ostiense, the site of the apostle’s grave, you can
still receive the Plenary Indulgence, either for yourself or for the deceased.
To do this, you must:
“Participate devotedly in a religious function or in a pious exercise held
publicly in honor of the Apostle of the Gentiles: on the days of the solemn
opening and closing of the Pauline Year in any place of worship; on other days
determined by the local ordinary, in holy places named for St. Paul and, for the
good of the faithful, in other places designated by the ordinary.”
The usual conditions apply: sacramental Confession, reception of the
Eucharist, and prayer for the intentions of the Holy Father, while being
“completely unattached to any form of sin.”
Also, the sick or others with legitimate reason who cannot leave their homes
may still obtain the Plenary Indulgence if, “with the soul completely removed
from attachment to any form of sin and with the intention of observing, as soon
as they can, the usual three conditions, ‘spiritually unite themselves to a
Jubilee celebration in honor of St. Paul, offering their prayers and suffering
to God for the unity of Christians.’”
Quoted material is from the Vatican Information Service.