Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
March 30, 2009
Studying St. Paul brings his teachings to life
Acts of the Apostles study group discovers the power imbued in Paul's conversion on the road to Damascus
This stained glass image of St. Paul is at St. Paul's Anglican Church, Edmonton.
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON — With Pope Benedict’s encouragement, local Catholics are studying St. Paul so they can revitalize their faith in the light of his teachings and life.
And for a couple of participants in a local study group on St. Paul, the year of St. Paul has helped overcome the notion that his writings are “foreign territory.”
“Catholics, by and large, are more familiar with the Gospels,” said Gerard McLarney, the university lecturer who leads the group. “Paul’s letters are present in each Sunday’s liturgy, but since we only get a few paragraphs — only a glimpse of what’s going on — sometimes it’s hard to keep the whole story connected, and see how it all fits together.”
Periodically, the Church sets aside an entire year to focus on some particular aspect of faith. Holy years, for example, are a tradition drawn from the Old Testament, which describes years of jubilee that occurred every seven years.
Pope Benedict declared that the Church would observe the celebration of a special jubilee year for the Apostle Paul, from June 28, 2008 until June 29 of this year. This Pauline year commemorates the 2,000th anniversary of the saint’s birth.
Jason Haas, a graduate from Peace River Bible Institute with a four-year global ministries major bachelor’s degree, claims to have read the New Testament well over 100 times.
St. Paul’s conversion was especially significant, he said, because God demonstrated perfect patience in saving him so that people who later believed in Jesus might have a model to follow.
“All the rest of the writers of the New Testament walked with Jesus before he was glorified and seated at the Father’s right hand. Paul knew of Jesus strictly because Jesus called him out of unbelief on the road to Damascus.
“Perhaps this is why so many believers today relate well with his teachings because few of us can say that we met Jesus in any physical way,” said Haas.
ST. PAUL‘S JOURNEY
Carla Mallett attends the Acts of the Apostles study group at St. Theresa Church in Millwoods. By going to daily Mass, she learns the story of St. Paul’s journey, as well as the zeal of the early Christians facing terrific persecution.
“I really like St. Paul and his teachings, and what he has to say. I find it very helpful because he tells it like it is and tells you what you should be doing and how you should be doing it.
McLarney, a lecturer at St. Joseph’s College, said the piecemeal approach to studying St. Paul’s writings is like flipping through a dictionary for definitions of individual words, but not comprehending the whole language. This study group, going from October 2008 until May, is aimed at unifying the story.
The small but dedicated contingent meets every third Wednesday, 7:15 to 8:45 p.m. Of the 27 books in the New Testament, Paul’s name is credited to 13 of them. The chronological order of his books in the New Testament goes from longest (Acts) to shortest (Philemon).
“We focus on Paul’s journey through the Acts of the Apostles, as opposed to looking at Romans, Corinthians, etc.,” said McLarney.
Unlike Peter who was sent to the Jews, St. Paul was an apostle of the Gentiles. The importance of St. Paul is that he upheld and defended non-Jewish membership in the New Covenant.
“Paul is able to take the stories of Israel, whether it’s Isaiah, Jeremiah or Moses, and bring them to a Gentile audience. They can’t read Hebrew and they’ve probably never heard of Isaiah or Moses.
“He was able to explain the significance of who Jesus is to them,” said McLarney.
His conversion from Saul of Tarsus, a heinous murderer, to world-changing apostle also makes him important to the early Church — and still resonates with people today.
“That’s another thing very important about Paul, his powerful conversion. People can identify with conversion. There are other monumental figures in Christianity with similar conversion stories, usually not as dramatic,” said McLarney, citing St. Augustine and St. Francis of Assisi as famous examples.
ONCE OPPOSED JESUS
In agreement is Scott MacDonald, a Catholic schoolteacher. “For St. Paul to vehemently support Jesus even though he was originally in opposition to him, says a lot about how significant his conversion to Christianity was.”
Aside from Bible study, praying, or donating to a missionary order in St. Paul’s name, mini-pilgrimages to churches dedicated to St. Paul is another suggestion for celebrating the Year of St. Paul.