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Catholics urged to learn from St. Paul's encounter with Christ's love
Beth Griffin
Source: Catholic News Service
Published: Sunday, June 7, 2009
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NEW YORK (CNS)—St. Paul's personal encounter with Christ's unconditional love was so central to his life and ministry that Pope Benedict XVI declared a Pauline year to help the contemporary Church learn anew from him, according to speakers at a May 27 conference in New York.
The special year also encourages the church to return to its roots in faith to weather current crises, said Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston and theologian Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete, the main speakers at the event, titled "Paul of Tarsus 2,000 Years Later."
It was co-sponsored by the Crossroads Cultural Center and the American Bible Society to address the relevance of St. Paul's teachings to the present-day church, as reflected by the Pope Benedict's talks during the Pauline year.
Both Cardinal DiNardo and Msgr. Albacete drew on the homily Pope Benedict preached when he opened the Pauline year at a June 28, 2008, vespers service in the Rome Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls. The year, which ends this June 29, marks the 2,000th anniversary of St. Paul's birth.
At the prayer service the pope led a procession through the "Pauline door" into the church. He also lit a torch. To Cardinal DiNardo, the door symbolizes St. Paul's conversion and the door it opened to him, and the torch symbolizes the light that first blinded him and later set him afire in his witness to truth.
"Paul went through an open door and became a bright torch," the cardinal said.
"The torch of faith was also to consume him and by his suffering enable him to enter into a more profound understanding and experience of the crucified and risen Christ," the cardinal said.
"The truth brought him to the love of God in Christ Jesus, poured into his heart through the life-giving Spirit. The open door of conversion brought him into a new space, a journey of divine love bearing fruit in love for the brothers," he said.
Cardinal DiNardo said he reads St. Paul for professional, pastoral and personal reasons, sometimes in the original Greek. He acknowledged that St. Paul's "thinking is sometimes very difficult."
The cardinal echoed themes from Pope Benedict's homily and highlighted aspects of St. Paul's experience that he said fit together as the theological virtues of faith, hope and love.
"The central event of Paul's life is his encounter with the crucified and risen Jesus," he said. "He never tires of proclaiming this event and the insights that flow from it."
Cardinal DiNardo said, "Once Paul had met the risen Christ, he had to witness to him. He had the urgency to share the truth, the genuineness of Christ crucified and risen, though he knew such talk was scandalous. Because of the public 'spectacle' of the cross, Paul insists and focuses on this event as the bottom-line truth."
He said faith offers a "freedom that bears fruit, not a freedom for license and self-will. All who come to faith have met the risen Christ in person, though not perhaps with the same drama as St. Paul."
Cardinal DiNardo said St. Paul's letters, although directed to local churches, show that St. Paul had an "incipient sense of the church beyond the borders" that includes "all who come to Christ and, through him, have access to the father."
"Such a view of the Church, inclusive of many gifts and ministries, will be of subsequent importance for the history of the Christian community," he said.
He added that no one "should never underestimate the role of St. Paul in making the church mindful of the 'new' act of love of God the father in sending his Son to live among us and save us by his cross and glory."
Msgr. Albacete said Pope Benedict insists that St. Paul, the teacher of the gentiles of his time, "must be seen as our teacher. Pope Benedict established the Pauline year in order to listen to him and learn from him the faith and truth that are the unity of those who follow Christ."
Msgr. Albacete said, "Paul teaches us, the gentiles of today, that Christian faith cannot be reduced to a system of symbols."
He said St. Paul's Second Letter to Timothy is "intrinsically a call to suffer with Christ." Because truth is paid for with suffering, suffering is what made St. Paul credible as a teacher of the truth, he said.

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