‘I know that St Peter was a Catholic; was St Paul one as well?’
The Year of St Paul begins on 28th June 2008 and runs until June 29th 2009. This is the Year offered to us by the Church during which we can learn to appreciate even better the catholicity of St Paul. A consideration of this parishioner’s apparently naïve question can yield surprising insights and might provide us with food for thought when we are wondering what we might highlight during the coming Year. An immediate response to the question would be to point out that the Year begins on the Feast of St Peter and St Paul: the Church holds the two great Apostles together in her celebrations, in her memory, in her prayers. They are both of them together pillars and foundations of the Church; together they inspire the mission of the Church in every age. If we know that St Peter was a Catholic, we might think it a rational presumption that St Paul was as well!
As Catholics, we have the blessing of guidance from the See in which both St Peter and St Paul spent their final days. The first thing we can do is to avail ourselves of the grace of this Year dedicated to St Paul, and encourage those whom we are catechising to do the same. On May 10th the Holy See announced the indulgences which would be made available for participation in the Year. ‘Indulgences’ can remind us vividly of St Paul’s own deep awareness of the mercy of God. The Year is to be a Year of Grace, a Year of God’s special outpouring of loving-kindness.
In his Letter to the Romans, undoubtedly the greatest and most demanding of his Letters, Paul reflects on the history of salvation, in which human disobedience is met with ever-greater acts of divine kindness and indulgence, culminating in the disobedience of all, so that God ‘may have mercy on all’. He sings, ‘O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgements and how inscrutable his ways!’ (Rom.11:33) God’s goodness and mercy so far transcend all that we can comprehend, as he turns all misery and sin into an opportunity for blessing: O felix cupla! This great hymn of praise is the pivot on which the Letter to the Romans turns, and St Paul then leads us into a profound consideration of human ethics and behaviour. Faced with the reality of God’s merciful action in our lives, how should we act? Listen to his language as he begins this section: ‘I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercy of God…’ (12:1). Paul’s ‘therefore’ is meant seriously: act out of the mercy which you yourself have received. Paul’s ethics are a treatise on the practice of mercy.