Paul proclaimed Christ 'with his every breath' - Catholic Courier

Paul proclaimed Christ ‘with his every breath’

Subtlety was not a facet of St. Paul’s makeup, as his epistles and the Acts of the Apostles illustrate time and again.

"He’s a typical Type A personality," remarked Father George Heyman, director of continuing education at St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry in Pittsford, referring to Paul’s ambitious, high-achieving ways in alternately praising, admonishing and redirecting the Christian faithful.

Paul willingly devoted his life to Christ "even though it would include walking thousands of miles, meeting thousands of new people in new cities and new towns. It would include being beaten, stoned, imprisoned, shipwrecked, a whole host of other unpleasant things — and finally killed, all because of his commitment to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ with his every breath," said Sister Mary Kay Ryan, SSJ, faith-formation coordinator of Cayuga County’s Good Shepherd Catholic Community.

His zeal produced actions and writings so profound that St. Paul quickly was regarded as the most influential evangelists of the good news first told by Christ. That distinction persists today, which is why the universal Catholic Church is dedicating an entire year to Paul in honor of his approximate 2,000th birthday. The Pauline year runs through June 29, the feast day of Ss. Peter and Paul, and has been marked in the Rochester Diocese by numerous lectures, Scripture studies and other Pauline-related special observances.

"Much of what he has said has made its way into our culture, our traditions. Outside of Jesus he’s had the largest impact on Christian thought, even more than the other apostles," said Deacon George Kozak, parish deacon at St. Anthony, Groton; All Saints, Lansing; and Holy Cross, Dryden, in Tompkins County.

Redirected energy

Could Paul really have been the same person introduced in the Acts of the Apostles as Saul, a Jew who persecuted Christians for their beliefs by approving of the stoning of St. Stephen and dragging Christians from their houses to prison? Yet after being struck down on the road to Damascus and hearing Jesus’ voice, Saul’s impassioned ways instead became a ceaseless mission to promote salvation through Christ.

Why did God choose Saul, who became Paul? Father Heyman ventured that the Lord might have sensed the value of his fervor, if only it could be put to good use.

"It’s hard to tell what was in God’s mind, but he knew Paul would be a messenger and conveyor of Jesus in a way no other person could be," Father Heyman said.

Paul successfully spread his radical conviction that Gentiles could become followers of Christ without having to adopt Jewish customs or laws. Sister Ryan noted that Paul was so relentless in his efforts that he often changed traveling companions because they couldn’t keep pace with him. Pope Benedict XVI likewise observed that Paul was not shy in letting people know how hard he worked.

"When he had already given the best of himself, devoting himself tirelessly to preaching the Gospel, he wrote with renewed fervor: ‘I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God which is with me’ (I Cor 15:10). Tirelessly, as though the work of the mission depended entirely upon his own efforts, St. Paul was nevertheless always motivated by the profound conviction that all his energy came from God’s grace at work in him," the pope said during his Jan. 25, 2008, homily on the feast of the conversion of St. Paul.

Paul also didn’t hold back in predicting eternal peril for those who opposed or ignored his teachings on morality and faith in Jesus. Deacon Kozak said Paul knew full well his public viewpoints would lead to his imprisonment and death; in fact, much of his writing was conducted from prison, and he was ultimately martyred in Rome. Yet he did not leave this earth until "a fire within him," as Deacon Kozak put it, had turned enough doubters into believers for Christianity to spread throughout the world.

"He’s a person who made a 180-degree turn in his life, for him to start taking the message to Gentiles when he was such a strong rabbinic person," Deacon Kozak said. "What would turn a devout rabbinic person into a devout follower of Jesus? There has to be something that keeps him on this destructive path."

Lasting significance

St. Paul’s pioneering efforts have been highlighted through a host of events marking his jubilee year in this diocese . Sister Ryan, who reflected on Paul at weekend Masses on the feast of his conversion, noted that Good Shepherd Parish also is presenting a series of Pauline DVDs, discussions and prayer opportunities. In Tompkins County, Deacon Kozak conducted Bible-study courses last year on Paul’s Letter to the Romans and First Letter to the Corinthians. Meanwhile, St. Bernard’s has sponsored an array of Pauline initiatives, including sending Father Heyman throughout the diocese to give lectures.

According to Father Heyman, Paul was not necessarily thinking 2,000 years ahead when he penned his reflections.

"He was the first person to put on paper how this (Christianity) makes sense in a lived experience," Father Heyman observed, adding that Paul’s letters were originally meant to address local problems "but also became fuel and sustenance and learning for others, and they became best-sellers for the church. Paul doesn’t think he’s writing the Bible when he starts writing; he’s trying to address real specific, down-to-earth concerns in light of this new-found faith in Jesus."

When modern-day disagreements arise within the Catholic Church, it’s worth recalling the dissension that St. Paul addressed, Father Heyman added.

"Dealing with local issues, he met conflict and supported the church. In 2009 the church still meets conflict and concern, but we endure, we go forward," the priest said.

Meanwhile, Deacon Kozak remarked that if somebody with such a checkered past could become such a great champion of Christianity, then conversion is possible in all of us.

"First of all, you don’t have to be perfect to be a follower of Jesus. He (St. Paul) definitely wasn’t," Deacon Kozak said.

What’s more important, he said, is for Catholics to evangelize with the same conviction and ceaselessness as St. Paul.

"We need to have that fire. We need to be so fired up about our faith that we just can’t help ourselves for being Christians," Deacon Kozak said.

EDITOR’S NOTE: A symposium on the life and thought of St. Paul will take place from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Friday, April 17, at St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry, 120 French Road, Pittsford. The symposium also will be available at St. Bernard’s videoconferencing sites. Sessions will be led by local New Testament scholars Father George Heyman, Gay Byron and Anne Meredith. Cost is $15 per individual session and $35 for all three. For details, and to register, visit or call 585-271-3657.

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