EWTN host urges Catholics to spread Gospel message during Pauline Year - Catholic Courier

EWTN host urges Catholics to spread Gospel message during Pauline Year

GATES — During the yearlong jubilee to mark St. Paul’s approximate 2,000th birthday, Catholics should take time to focus on Jesus and spread the Gospel message far and wide as the saint did during his life, said Jesuit Father Mitch Pacwa.

Father Pacwa, who spoke at St. Theodore Parish July 18, suggested that parishes could continue St. Paul’s work by concentrating on evangelization. The priest acknowledged that the saint’s drive to evangelize had its own perils, including getting him beaten up, thrown in prison and ultimately beheaded.

"For the sake of Christ, he did it," Father Pacwa said. "For the sake of Christ, we need to do the same."

Father Pacwa’s talk in Gates was one of several local appearances. He also spoke July 19 at Holy Spirit Church in Webster and July 20 to the Upper New York Association of Diocesan Leaders at St. John Fisher College in Pittsford.

Father Pacwa, a Biblical scholar who hosts "Threshold of Hope" and "EWTN Live" on the EWTN Global Catholic Network, recently wrote a Bible-study guide for the Pauline Year, which runs through June 29, 2009.

During his Gates presentation, Father Pacwa gave an overview of St. Paul’s background and how that information helps clarify the saint’s point of view in his many writings. St. Paul was an impassioned evangelizer, the priest noted, especially to the Gentiles, who he successfully argued did not need to convert to Judaism to become baptized Christians.

Although the saint’s many letters have shaped Catholic thought and are regularly read during Sunday Masses, the priest noted that 16th-century disagreements over the letters’ meanings have led Catholics to neglect study of St. Paul.

Nevertheless, "he is and has been key to Catholic theology as well as all Christian theology," Father Pacwa said.

Known during his early life by the Hebrew name Saul, St. Paul was born an Israelite of the tribe of Benjamin. Additionally, Saul was born a Roman citizen in Greek-speaking Tarsus, which was then part of Asia Minor and which is now part of Turkey. Though history is unclear why he was born a Roman citizen, Father Pacwa said historical records indicate that his family members, who were tentmakers, may have been given citizenship for doing work for the Roman Empire.

Saul studied with Gamaliel, a prominent rabbi in Jerusalem, to learn the pharisaic tradition, which Father Pacwa described as a conservative political party or sect within the Jewish laity that strictly adhered to both written Mosaic law and oral tradition about the law.

Acts 8:1 places Saul at the trial of St. Stephen and notes that he gave consent to St. Stephen’s stoning. After the trial, Saul zealously went from house to house arresting Christians, and a high priest directed him to go to Damascus to arrest more converts to Christianity.

On the way to Damascus, Jesus appeared to Saul to ask why Saul was persecuting him. The encounter made Saul fall to the ground and rendered him temporarily blind.

"There is no mention of him being knocked off a horse," said Father Pacwa, referring to a common artistic depiction of St. Paul’s conversion.

Instead of arresting Christians when he arrived in Damascus, Saul engaged in prayer and fasting. The Lord commanded Ananias, a Christian who had heard of Saul’s reputation of persecution, to lay his hands on Saul. Ananias did so reluctantly, and scales fell from Saul’s eyes so he could see once again. Although Saul was then baptized, Father Pacwa noted, his process of learning about Jesus from the Apostles and disciples had just begun.

"He has an awful lot of hurdles to overcome in terms of understanding who Jesus is," Father Pacwa said. "From that point on, Jesus Christ becomes the absolute center of all of his thought."

Father Pacwa noted that since St. Paul was not an eyewitness to Jesus’ life, his letters do not mention many of the miracles Jesus performed or Jesus’ use of parables as a teaching tool. Instead, by drawing on his training as a pharisee, St. Paul focused on reconciling his new faith with his old.

Having been taught, for example, that those who hang on trees are cursed, St. Paul was troubled that Jesus would be considered a cursed man because he was crucified, the priest said. However, St. Paul resolved this by arguing in Galatians 3:13-14 that Christ took the curse upon himself so that all might be saved.

"St. Paul thinks like a Pharisee, yet he does not hold their teaching," Father Pacwa remarked.

Ann Marie Leonardi of Chili, a parishioner of St. Jude the Apostle Parish in Gates, said Father Pacwa’s July 18 talk motivated her to read more of St. Paul’s writings. It was a sentiment echoed by several in attendance.

"I have always admired Paul, but I didn’t know too much background about his life," said Jim Burke of Chili, who attends Our Lady of Victory Parish in Rochester and St. Pius Tenth Parish in Chili.

Richard Mendola Jr. of Gates, a parishioner of St. Theodore Parish, said Father Pacwa’s talk taught him a lot about St. Paul’s background, his history with Jews and Greeks, and how his thinking developed.

"I learned where all his thinking came from and how it transformed when he converted," Mendola said.

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