Pastoral letter of Archbishop Denis Hart for the Year of Saint Paul
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Each Sunday at Mass we read from the writings of Saint Paul, who demonstrated the love of Jesus Christ as the thing which challenged him to capture the prize of eternal life as Christ had captured him.
LOVE OF JESUS
Paul was born a Jew, became a Pharisee, and exercised his zeal in persecuting alternative movements within Judaism, including Christianity. He violently persecuted the Church of God, trying to destroy it.
(Galatians 1:13) His conversion on the road to Damascus recorded at the beginning of chapters 9, 22 and 26 in the Acts of the Apostles, focused him in a transforming love of Christ. He says in
“Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”
His love of Jesus became the abiding passion of his life. He strove to reach the goal in the same way that Christ had captured him.
ZEAL FOR THE GOSPEL
The encounter on the road to Damascus was totally transforming. He undertook a vibrant, apostolic Christianity. As he says in Galatians 1:15-16:
”When God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles…”
He worked tirelessly because he considered his coming to faith in Christ and his vocation to be a missionary to be identical. The only righteousness that he came to demonstrate was so that believers, whether Jew or Gentile, might become holy and one with God through Baptism and the Spirit. By his conversion God had broken down the barriers, which separated one nation from another. God’s perfect design frustrated by sin was transformed, as he says in Romans:
“For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many.” (Romans 5:15)
From the time of his conversion, Paul’s three great missionary journeys encouraged and challenged believers in many of the twenty surrounding countries and localities. His constant return to Jerusalem at the end of these journeys is a reminder that his mission is apostolic. While he was based first at Damascus, later at Antioch, his constant journeying showed his zeal for all the churches. His mission was crowned with his address and trials in Jerusalem, his transport to Malta, shipwrecks and his death in Rome because as a Roman citizen he claimed the right to be tried there. He was beheaded in 64 or 67.
Paul’s many letters are a clear indication, as he wrote to the people of Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Colossae and Thessalonica, that his zeal was that every person he met should be formed in the same love of Christ and zeal for the Gospel that he spread with such energy. This is further attested with his writings to his companions Timothy, Titus and Philemon. His tireless work is a constant call to hope and new life in Christ.
“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.” (2 Cor. 5:17)
THE CHALLENGE OF SAINT PAUL TODAY
Paul of Tarsus underwent such a transformation at his call on the road to Damascus that his awareness of Jesus Christ as the goal of his life, the one who gave hope to the world, is a similar challenge to each of us. Study of Saint Paul at this time in history helps us to realise that God gives us faith so that we may share in his mission to offer the hope that the Gospel brings. We are called “out of darkness into God’s wonderful light”. In a modern society, often oppressed by individualism, cynicism and loneliness, Paul offers us Jesus Christ as grace for life and shows us the importance of each one sharing Paul’s passionate devotion to the Lord, his witness to God as a God of grace, light and hope, and the power of the Spirit in every age and particularly in our own, to energise Christian life.
This is our challenge and hope as we seek to reflect in a more detailed way on Saint Paul and his work, that we come to know the power of Jesus Christ for our own communal and personal life. It is our mission, like his, to reach out to others with the hope of the Gospel.
Denis J. Hart
ARCHBISHOP OF MELBOURNE