Saturday, June 28, 2008

The YEAR OF ST PAUL has begun!

Today’s Mass is particularly important, for St Peter and St Paul are the great ancestors or forefathers of the Christian community, the “twin pillars” of the Church. Through their ministries the Church was first nurtured in the faith of the Gospel. You can read all about that in the Acts of the Apostles. In 64 AD a severe persecution of Christians broke out in Rome under the emperor Nero. This is widely believed to be the year of St Peter’s martyrdom. He was crucified upside down in the Circus of Nero, just below the Vatican Hill. (The present St Peter’s covers some of the area previously occupied by the Circus.)
Indeed, if you ever get to Rome, make sure you plan well in advance to visit the “Scarvi” (“excavation”) under St Peter’s Basilica, and tread the soil that was the Vatican Hill 2,000 years ago. It’s an experience you’ll never forget. The tours are for pilgrims rather than tourists, and numbers are limited. Before leaving home, read THE BONES OF ST PETER or THE TOMB OF ST PETER which will fill you in on all you need to know about the amazing 20th century discovery of the necropolis. (The first of those books is so well written it’s as riveting as a good detective story . . . except it tells a true story!) You can even go HERE for an interactive map of the Scarvi. St Paul, after exercising a remarkable ministry from his house in Rome (for much of the time under “house arrest”) was beheaded outside the city between 64 and 67 AD. His tomb, underneath the Basilica “St Paul’s Outside the Walls” has been rediscovered in recent years. For info on that go HERE
Although their backgrounds, their lives, their conversions and the missions these apostles undertook were very different, they came together in Rome and witnessed to the Gospel of Jesus with the shedding of their blood. On the 29th June, Anglicans have tended to concentrate on St Peter (cf. the Book of Common Prayer), on account of the fact that in our tradition the 25th January (the Feast of the Conversion of St Paul) has been a "Red Letter Day". (In 2009, however, that feast will actually be celebrated by all western Christians on a Sunday because of the Year of St Paul!)

Twelve months ago, at the Basilica of St. Paul, near the saint’s tomb, Pope Benedict announced that today would usher in the YEAR OF ST PAUL. Speaking about the unity of the apostles St Peter and St Paul, and having referred to their differences and the tensions that were sometimes between them, he said: “A very ancient tradition which dates back to apostolic times claims that their last meeting before their martyrdom actually took place not far from here: the two are supposed to have embraced and blessed each other. And on the main portal of this Basilica they are depicted together, with scenes of both martyrdoms. Thus, from the outset, Christian tradition has considered Peter and Paul to have been inseparable, even if each had a different mission to accomplish.” 

Then focusing on St Paul, the Pope went on to say: “As in early times, today too Christ needs apostles ready to sacrifice themselves. He needs witnesses and martyrs like St Paul. Paul, a former violent persecutor of Christians, when he fell to the ground dazzled by the divine light on the road to Damascus, did not hesitate to change sides to the Crucified One and followed him without second thoughts. He lived and worked for Christ, for him he suffered and died. How timely his example is today!”

Underscoring the ecumenical dimensions of the Year of St Paul, the Holy Father said: “The Apostle of the Gentiles, who dedicated himself to the spreading of the good news to all peoples, spent himself for the unity and harmony of all Christians. May he guide us and protect us in this bimillenary celebration, helping us to advance in the humble and sincere search for the full unity of all the members of the mystical body of Christ.” 

We are united with these two Apostles in different ways: From their place in heaven their prayers continue to avail for us as we seek to live for Jesus and witness to the Gospel in our daily lives individually and as a community. They are part of that "great cloud of witnesses" (Hebrews. 12:1-2) praying for us and cheering us on as we, like them, "run the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and the perfecter of our Faith." Whenever we say the Apostles’ Creed (as at Evensong and in the baptismal rite), we profess the Faith that they handed down to us, and for which they uncompromisingly died. And as we do that we know that God is calling us to be EVANGELICAL, PENTECOSTAL CATHOLICS as they were, simultaneously sensitive and bold in our Holy Spirit empowered witness to the Saviour. (How long has it been since you actually led someone else to Jesus?) St Peter and St Paul continue to teach us the faith of Christ from the pages of Holy Scripture. The Gospel of Mark was unanimously regarded by the early Church to be a kind of digest of many sermons preached by St Peter at Rome (and very few modern Scripture scholars dispute this). On the other hand, nearly every Sunday we listen to a passage from one of the letters St Paul wrote to build up the life of the early Christian communities. Sometimes when the “Epistle” is read it is as if St Paul is taking us with him into the seventh heaven of revelation; other times he is ticking us off about our half-hearted following of the Lord; and just sometimes we hear him venting his wrath about things that were – and still are – wrong in the faith community! We offer today’s Mass seeking grace so to proclaim the Gospel with love, humility and confidence that our friends who do not yet believe will come to know Jesus as their Lord and Saviour, be filled with the Holy Spirit and incorporated into the Church of the Apostles in which St Peter and St Paul are the twin pillars, that great Community of Faith and Love, the Church of Jesus himself.



St IRENAEUS OF LYONS (130 - 202) ON THE CHURCH OF ROME AND THE APOSTOLIC SUCCESSION: "Since, however, it would be very tedious, in such a volume as this, to reckon up the successions of all the Churches, we do put to confusion all those who, in whatever manner, whether by an evil self-pleasing, by vainglory, or by blindness and perverse opinion, assemble in unauthorized meetings; [we do this, I say,] by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also [by pointing out] the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops.

"For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its preeminent authority - that is, the faithful everywhere - inasmuch as the Apostolic Tradition has been preserved continuously by those who are everywhere." (Adversus Haereses, Book III, chapter 3-2)

MICHAEL RAMSEY (100th Archbishop of Canterbury) ON THE THE APOSTOLIC SUCCESSION: "Faced by the spiritual perils, which Gnosticism typifies but which recur again and again, the Church appeals to the scriptures, which are slowly being formed into the Canon, and to the historic Episcopate which has taken the place of the Apostolate; and these are both facts which point the Christians away from what is partial or subjective, to Jesus in the flesh, and to the one universal Church. Both the Canon of Scripture and the Episcopate are “developments,” and it would seem highly arbitrary to select one of these and to call it essential, while rejecting or ignoring the other. It would be more reasonable to seek in both of them, through their close inner connexion and their place in the life of the one Body, the utterance of the Gospel of God." (The Gospel and the Catholic Church p. 63)

MICHAEL RAMSEY ON WHY WE LOOK TO THE AGE OF THE FATHERS: "Amidst totally different cultural scenes, calling as they do for new understandings, why do we look back to the age of the Fathers? We learn what we can from any and every Christian century, but we look back to the time of the Fathers because it tells us of the historical givenness of our faith and because of the continuing identity of the Holy Catholic Church. "It matters greatly that the Fathers took seriously issues about truth which are still with us. It matters that the God who is the world’s Saviour is also the world’s Creator, and it matters that this God does not send a sort of intermediary to bring salvation to the world but gives his own very self to unite humanity with himself. "But the appeal of Christians to history is not a mere journey into the past, for the past is living and its saints are near and with us in the family which unites earth to heaven and heaven to earth."Athanasius and Basil and Chrysostom, together with Ambrose and Augustine and Leo, are with us in this family. We share with them and with the Mother of our Lord and God in heaven’s own worship, and they are with us as we witness to our Saviour in a dark and stormy world." (from Glimpse of Glory) 

St AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO ON THE LORD’S PRESENCE IN THE BLESSED SACRAMENT: "He walked here in the same flesh, and gave us the same flesh to be eaten unto salvation. But no one eats that flesh unless first he adores it; and thus it is discovered how such a footstool of the Lord’s feet is adored; and not only do we not sin by adoring, we do sin by not adoring." (Explanations of the Psalms, 98,9).

St THERESE OF LISIEUX ON THE LITTLE WAY - BY FAITH ALONE: "When I think of the good God’s statement: ‘I shall come soon and bring my reward with me, repaying everyone according to his works’, then I say to myself that He will find Himself wonderfully embarrassed with me, because I have no works! So He will not be able to repay me according to my works. Very well, then, I trust that He will repay me according to His works.” (Quoted by Hans Urs von Balthasar in Two Sisters in the Spirit - Therese of Lisieux and Elizabeth of the Trinity)


Unknown said...

Thank you, Bishop. I love the blog. It just gets better all the time.

liturgy said...

A blogging bishop!
there's not enough.
More on the Pauline Year

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