Sunday, June 29, 2008

Sent as missionaries to the world

Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, June 29, 2008:

Today begins a historic chapter in the history of the Church: The Jubilee Year of St Paul. Pope Benedict has declared this a year dedicated to remembering this great saint as we commemorate the 2,000th anniversary of his birth. The pope calls every Catholic to get to know St. Paul better during this year. Why? Because he is simply an extraordinary example of what God can do when we cooperate with His plans.

Paul is a man of great transformation. Through the grace of God, he went from being a murderer of Christians to being a martyr for Christ. Paul was first a devout Jew bent on crushing this Christian movement. At the height of his violent campaign, Jesus appeared to Paul, while he was on his way to Damascus to arrest the Christians there. That encounter completely changed his life, and the course of his history and ours.

He became the great missionary who tirelessly traveled for almost 30 years, starting Christian communities in city after city, preaching and suffering, and writing a major portion of the New Testament. Next to Jesus, Paul is the most prominent person in the New Testament. Of its 27 books, 13 are letters attributed to Paul. More than half of the Acts of the Apostles is devoted to his conversion and his activities spreading the good news about Jesus to the world.

Just think of the legacy that St. Paul has left us in Scripture alone. Many of the most well known texts of Scripture were those that God inspired St. Paul to write. Of the many, let me just share perhaps his most well known, the reflection on love from 1 Corinthians 13: “If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, love is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” Thank you St. Paul.

So, why has Pope Benedict dedicated this year to St Paul? The deeper reason comes from the urgent need all Christians have today to be reminded of our most basic identity: every Christian is meant to be a missionary; to spread Christ’s Kingdom, as St. Paul did at the dawn of Christianity. Pope Benedict said yesterday in his homily beginning this special year: “Paul is not simply a figure of the past, who we remember with veneration. He is also a teacher, apostle and herald of Jesus Christ for us as well. We are gathered not to reflect on a past history because Paul wants to talk to us today. That is why I have desired to convoke this Pauline Year: to listen to him and to learn from him today, as our teacher. We ask ourselves: ‘Who is Paul? What is he telling me? His faith is the experience of being loved by Jesus Christ in a completely personal manner. His faith is the recognition of the fact that Christ has confronted death not for someone unknown, but for love of him, Paul, and that, since He is Risen, He loves him still.”

The Pope wants us to be moved in the same way and become like St. Paul in our world today. That’s what this year is about. We are all called by God to be his missionaries, his ambassadors. Being a missionary means always being ready to talk about Christ and explain Church teaching. But it also means being like Christ, letting His saving goodness shine through the way we live.
In that sense, we all have at least three mission territories to work in. First, we are called to be missionaries in our families. Every Christian family should be a mini-church, a place where peace, forgiveness, and harmony reign. That takes constant prayer, effort, and sacrifice from parents and children alike. But the mere effort, yields joy, wisdom, and fulfillment, even when the results aren’t perfect.

Second, we are all called to be missionaries at work or school. We show God’s glory and goodness by being the very best and most dependable students, athletes, workers, and professionals that we can be. God wants us to develop and maximize the talents He has given us. He wants us to be trees producing the most excellent fruits.

Finally, we are all called to be missionaries here in our parish. A parish is meant to be a light for the community, a spiritual task force that builds unity, combats evil, and spreads virtue as the sun spreads light. Everyone is needed to complete this great mission.

As we begin this Year of St. Paul, let’s pledge to get to know him better. Read the words he left us. He wrote 13 letters, that’s just more than one a month for the next year. Ask Jesus to show each one of us how we can live our mission better, so that at the end of our lives we, like St. Paul, can say: “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.”

May God give you peace.

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