Opening of the Year of St. Paul
Holy Mass – EWTN Chapel
June 29, 2008 – Homily
Bishop Robert J. Baker
Dear Friends in Christ,
On this solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, under the direction of our
Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, the church inaugurates today the year of
St. Paul. This special year is a wonderful blessing for the Universal
Church, and it is a distinct blessing for the Diocese of Birmingham in
Alabama. The patron saint of our diocese is St. Paul.
I'd like to make a few suggestions today on how Catholics might
benefit from joining our Holy Father in celebrating the Year of St.
When Pope Benedict proclaimed this special year a year ago, he
reminded us that St. Paul's extraordinary success in proclaiming the
Gospel did not come from any brilliant rhetoric or refined apologetic
and missionary strategies. It depended rather on his commitment to
proclaiming the Gospel with total dedication to Christ, the kind of
dedication that led him to fear neither risk, nor difficulty, nor
Remember Paul’s words to the Romans: “neither death, nor life, nor
angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor
powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will
be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord”
My first suggestions for this year of St. Paul is that we ask God for
the grace of total dedication of our lives to Christ in the spirit of a
St. Paul – the grace of conversion of mind and heart to Christ. Reading
and reflecting on the messages of St. Paul will help us to make that
step toward total commitment to Christ.
Getting to know St. Paul is getting to know Jesus Christ. He writes
to the Philippians, “to live is Christ” (1:21). St. Paul tells them,
“your attitude must be that of Christ” (2:5). Paul's goal, he tells the
Colossians, is to “make every man complete in Christ” (Col 1:29)
Whatever we do, “whether in speech or in action,” we are to “do it in
the name of the Lord Jesus,” giving “thanks to God the Father through
him” (Col. 3:17). Paul describes himself to the Corinthians as, “by
God’s will, an apostle of Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:1).
In this Year of St. Paul, might we consider one of our goals as
imitating St. Paul in that deep personal relationship with Jesus Christ,
leading to a fuller conversion of mind and heart to the Lord.
In this special year, could we consider using St. Paul as a guide to
get to know Christ better? And what a great spiritual guide he is. Once
he was embraced by the love of Jesus Christ, on the road to Damascus,
his entire life changed. He was a different man. Paul's identification
with Christ was so great that he could tell the Galatians that the life
he lived was no longer his own. “Christ is living in me” (Gal. 2:20).
St. Gregory of Nyssa, writing about St. Paul, says that “no one has
known Christ better than Paul, nor surpassed him in the careful example
he gave of what anyone should be who bears Christ’s name. So precisely
did he mirror his master that he became his very image. By a painstaking
imitation, he was transformed into his model and it seemed to be no
longer Paul who lived and spoke, but Christ himself.”
Wouldn't it be wonderful if words like that could be said of
ourselves as well, in fact about every person purporting to be a
disciple of Christ?
Could this year of grace be an opportunity to experience a deep
personal encounter with Jesus Christ that leads us, as it did Paul, to a
radical change of our lives, a total, 100% gift of our lives to Christ?
What obstacle is in the way? What attachment is leading us from
Christ? What keeps us from loving and serving the Lord and our neighbor
100%? We ask St. Paul to intercede for us in this year to help us find
our way to a deeper relationship with the Lord.
A second suggestion I would like to offer for your consideration in
this year of St. Paul is for all Catholics to try to experience a
greater bonding with our Church, to experience a sense of belonging to
our Church, of true community, that is common unity within our Church.
In his remarks at St. Patrick’s' Cathedral in New York April 19th,
Pope Benedict XVI mentioned that one of the great disappointments for
all of us which followed the Second Vatican Council, with its call for a
greater engagement in the Church's mission to the world, “has been the
experience of division between different groups, different generations,
different members of the same religious family.”
The Pope offered a solution to this dilemma that has taken a toll on
our Church and all within the Church these past several years. The Pope
says “we can only move forward if we turn our gaze together to Christ.”
Looking together to Christ, might we not be better able to find the
Christ that is in each other? Looking together to the Christ of the
Eucharist might we not be better able to find Christ more apparent in
Could this year of St. Paul be a time for all Catholics to make a
commitment to foster to a greater bonding with our Church – a united
Church instead of a divided Church? In his letter to the Ephesians
(5:23) St. Paul refers to Christ as the “head of his body, the Church,
as well as its Savior,” the Church for St. Paul is the Body of Christ.
We are one body in Christ Jesus. That body, to be healthy, needs to have
all its organs and organisms functioning together, the one in support of
the other, in unison, in harmony.
In this year of St. Paul could we make a concerted effort to avoid
that kind of carping criticism of our church, public or private, which
undermines the unity of the Church. Yes we should strive for the healthy
kind of critiques that are positive and uplifting, but never the kind
that demeans another person or destroys that person's reputation. That
is counterproductive to the experience of the community that is Church.
In this year of St. Paul, could we bond more fully with our Church
with the help of the Church's Sacraments? Father Mitch Pacwa's recent
Bible study guide for Catholics talks about the sacraments in St. Paul.
Six of the seven sacraments are found in St. Paul's writings. The
seventh, anointing of the sick is found elsewhere in the scriptures,
especially in the Letter of James.
For Paul the Eucharistic Bread which we break is a participation in
the Body of Christ, and the Cup of Blessing which we bless is a
participation in the Blood of Christ (1 Co. 10:16).
What hinders us from experiencing the support of the community of the
Church – a lack of warmth or welcome, some hurt that we experienced in
the past or some scandal related to certain persons in the Church? If
we are unreconciled with the Body of Christ that is the Church, could we
find our way to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, taking advantage of the
indulgences that are granted in conjunction with pilgrimages this year
to sacred sites, which could lift temporal punishment that lingers due
to our sins? Could we seek to be reconciled with God through his Church
in this Year of St. Paul?
My third suggestion would be that we add to our strong religious
experience of Christ and a profound experience of the community of the
Church a deeper knowledge of the Word of God and the contents of our
Perhaps also we are struggling with a lack of understanding of the
teachings of the Church or questions we have about teachings in the
Bible. Could we begin a quest this year to deepen our understanding of
the Church's teachings? Could we begin to read the letters of St. Paul
and parts of Acts of the Apostles if we haven't done so already,
spending ten minutes a day each day until we have read all of Paul’s
Letters and references to him in Acts of the Apostles? And might this
effort result in a deeper appreciation of the Word of God during this
Year of St. Paul?
Shortly after I became the Bishop of Birmingham, a sophomore student
at one of our Catholic high schools came to interview me. She had a
number of questions for me. What led me to be a priest, and so on?
Eventually we got around to talking about the year of St. Paul, and I
explained that my hope was that all who could would read all the Letters
of St. Paul. She told me, "Bishop, I’ve already done that!" That kind of
surprised me, but she floored me when she said that she planned to
memorize a scripture passage a day during the season of Lent. We were in
that holy season of Lent when she visited me. Imagine that, a fifteen
year old who was really into reading the Bible and taking its messages
seriously. Then she said to me, "By the way bishop, I’m a Methodist."
She was a Methodist who had been a Catholic school student.
There you have it! I thought later, if a 15 year old Methodist at a
Catholic school could have an appreciation for the Bible, so also could
a 15 year old Catholic student. So also could all Catholics!
Why not, all of us Catholics who can, make a special effort at
reading St. Paul's Letters in the year of St. Paul?
My fourth and final suggestion is to remind you that St. Paul was a
great missionary. St. Paul went all over the world of the Roman Empire
to enchant people with the person and message of Jesus Christ. Once he
found Christ, he could not keep his discovery secret. He suffered the
consequences of tireless devotion to the Gospel. He was stoned in Lystra.
He was imprisoned, shipwrecked, and accused of worshiping God in ways
contrary to the law. But he was always willing to pay the price of being
a devoted missionary for Jesus Christ.
A missionary is one who reaches out to those inside and outside the
Church, who is concerned about their situation, and wants to enchant
them or reenchant them with Christ and his Church, and invite them into
a relationship with Christ through the Church that the missionary has.
All confirmed Christians are called to be missionaries of the Gospel
of Jesus Christ. Enchanted by the gospel they naturally want to enchant
others with the gospel, in the manner of their own particular vocation
Too few Catholics have the kind of missionary zeal about them that
St. Paul had. In this special year of St. Paul, perhaps all of us can
become more dedicated missionaries for Christ, especially helping reach
out to fellow Catholics, our family members or friends, who have left
If a person has the message in his heart, he wants to share it.
Consider yourself one of those people called to mission in this special
year of St. Paul.
May St. Paul motivate us all to a deeper conversion of life to the
Lord, a deeper union in faith with our Church, the Body of Christ, a
greater understanding of its teachings and a greater dedication to
reading the Sacred Scriptures – and in this year of St. Paul, the
Letters of St. Paul. And finally may we all be motivated to share our
faith, to enchant others or reenchant them with the person and message
of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ – in the spirit of the great
missionary – St. Paul.
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the
fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you – always!
Prayer to the Apostle Paul
Glorious St. Paul, most zealous Apostle, martyr for the love of
Christ, give us a deep faith, a steadfast hope, a burning love for our
Lord. So that we can proclaim with you, "It is no longer I who live, but
Christ who lives in me." Help us to become apostles serving the Church
with a pure heart, witnesses to her truth and beauty amidst the darkness
of our days. With you we praise God our Father: "To him be the glory, in
the Church and in Christ, now and forever." Amen.