Benedict on Paul

During the special Jubilee Year to St. Paul, which the Catholic Church celebrated from June 28, 2008 to June 28, 2009, Pope Benedict devoted a number of his General Audiences to provide teachings on St. Paul. (These occurred between July 2, 2008 and February 4, 2009.) This cycle of Catacheses is collected in a volume titled Saint Paul, published this year by Ignatius Press, which I read as part of the Catholic Company reviewer program.

Each of the general audiences addresses a particular topic relating to St. Paul (e.g., Pauls’ relationship with Jesus, the Doctrine of Justification, Paul’s Theology of the Sacraments) and has its own chapter, although there is obviously a great deal of overlap between the various themes. My recommendation is to read the book the way it was delivered, that is to read and reflect on each chapter separately rather than digesting the book on one or two long sittings. Different readers will find different chapters more or less compelling, but everyone will find something worth reflecting on in all of them.

For me, several points were particularly powerful. Two are the subjects of separate blog posts I made in the last week or so: Benedict’s elaboration on the meaning for us today of the words Paul puts on the lips of the Corinthians at the end of his first letter to them: Marana, tha!, Come, Lord Jesus! (which is here), and his explanation of original sin (which is here).

A third is Benedict’s beautiful elaboration on the importance to Paul’s conversation of his personal encounter with Jesus. As Benedict explains, Paul “was transformed, not by a thought, but by an event, by the irresistible presence of the Risen One,” the understanding of which is central to our understanding “the Christian ethic [as] not born from a system of commandments but [as] a consequence of our friendship with Christ.” The book also contains helpful commentary on our mission as disciples and on the importance of community and, of course, discussion of the meaning (and essential interrelatedness) of the cross and the Resurrection for St. Paul.

There is a lot to reflect on in this compilation of Benedict’s teachings on St. Paul and I suspect there are many passages here that I’ll come back to again and again.