In his reflection for tomorrow’s Sunday readings, pontifical household preacher Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa links the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross with the creedal hymn in St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians:

Let us first say something about the origin of this feast. It recalls two events, distant from each other in time. The first is Constantine’s founding in 325 of two basilicas, one at the site of Golgotha and one over Christ’s sepulcher. The other event, in 628, is the Christians victory over the Persians, which led to the recovery of relics of the cross and their triumphal return to Jerusalem. With the passing of time, however, the feast came to take on a new meaning. It became a joyous celebration of the mystery of the cross, which Christ transformed from an instrument of shame and judgment to an instrument of salvation.

The readings reflect the latter significance of the feast. The second reading contains the celebrated hymn from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians in which the cross is seen as the cause of Christ’s “exaltation”: “He emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” The Gospel too speaks of the cross as a moment in which the Son of Man is lifted up “so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”

This letter dates to the mid-fifties, the passage cited above is believed to be St. Paul’s recitation of an early liturgical hymn on the divinity of Christ.  You might consider it a “proof text”; despite what you may have heard from modernist scholars, belief in Christ’s divinity wasn’t imposed on the faithful in later centuries by the Church’s hierarchy.


Pope Benedict continues his new Pauline catechesis with a discussion of Paul’s apostolicity:

It is precisely about this new condition of life, namely of his being an apostle of Christ, that I would like to speak today. In keeping with the Gospel, we normally identify the Twelve with the title of apostles, thus intending to indicate those who were life companions and hearers of Jesus’ teaching. But Paul also feels himself a true apostle and it seems clear, therefore, that the Pauline concept of apostolate is not restricted to the group of Twelve.

Obviously, Paul is able to distinguish well his own case from that of those “who were apostles before” him (Galatians 1:17): He recognizes for them an all-together special place in the life of the Church.

However, as everyone knows, Paul also sees himself as apostle in the strict sense. It is true that, at the time of the Christian origins, no one traveled as many kilometers as he did, by earth and sea, with the sole object of proclaiming the Gospel.Hence, he had an idea of the apostolate that went beyond that left to the group of Twelve, and handed down above all by St. Luke in the Acts (cf. Acts 1-2:26; 6:2). In fact, in the First Letter to the Corinthians Paul makes a clear distinction between “the Twelve” and “all the apostles,” mentioned as two different groups to benefit from the apparitions of the Risen One (cf. 14:5.7).

In that same text he then goes on to humbly name himself “the least of the apostles,” comparing himself to an abortion and affirming literally: “not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been ineffective. Indeed, I have toiled harder than all of them; not I, however, but the grace of God (that is) with me.” (1 Corinthians 15:9-10).

Pope Benedict resumes his Wednesday audience catechesis on St. Paul, this week sketching a brief biography:

It was the future Europe that requested the help and light of the Gospel. Spurred on by this vision, he entered Europe, sailing from Macedonia and thus entering Europe. Disembarking in Neapolis, he arrived in Philippi, where he founded an admirable Christian community. Then he went to Thessalonica, and left the latter because of difficulties caused by the Jews, traveled to Beroea, and then continued to Athens.In this capital of ancient Greek culture he preached to pagans and Greeks, first in the Agora and then in the Areopagus. And the speech in the Areopagus, referred to in the Acts of the Apostles, was a model of how to translate the Gospel into Greek culture, and of how to make the Greeks understand that this God of Christians and Jews, was not a God who was foreign to their culture, but the unknown God awaited by them, the true answer to the most profound questions of their culture.

After Athens he arrived in Corinth, where he stayed for a year and a half. And here we have a very certain chronological event, the most certain of his whole biography, because during this first stay in Corinth he had to appear before the governor of the senatorial province of Achaia, Proconsul Gallione, on accusations of illegal worship. …

A new book compiling Pope Benedict’s writings on St. Paul will be released next week:

WASHINGTON, D.C., AUG. 19, 2008 ( A book due out next week will feature reflections from Benedict XVI on St. Paul, as the Church continues to celebrate the Pauline Jubilee Year.

The U.S. bishops, in agreement with the Vatican Publishing House, are creating a series of books presenting reflections from the Pope. The series is called “Spiritual Thoughts” and the book on Paul is its second installment. The books contain excerpts from a variety of Benedict XVI’s speeches and homilies.

Paul Henderson, publishing director for the episcopal conference, said he views the release of a book on St. Paul as “a timely opportunity for Catholics to join the Pope and return to the Bible as the source of parish and personal renewal.”

Father David Toups, of the Secretariat of Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations, added: “The book series is an opportunity for U.S. Catholics to gain access to the Pope’s personal thoughts and deep spiritual insights.”

The first book of the series featured reflections from the Holy Father during his first year as Pope. After the work on Paul, the Spiritual Thoughts series will continue with other books on Mary, the saints, and excerpts from the second year of the pontificate.

The Spiritual Thoughts book on St. Paul will be available Aug. 29, and can be ordered online at

Saint Paul: The Thirteenth Apostle from the always reliable Daughters of St. Paul. This one is suitable for adolescents and young teens. Here is a description from the publisher, Pauline Books & Media:

From a persecutor of the early Christians, St. Paul was changed forever when he met Christ on the way to Damascus. Although he was not one of the original twelve apostles, he became known as the “thirteenth apostle.” He traveled great distances, preaching and writing as he went along, to bring the Gospel of Jesus to everyone. His great love for the Lord and for all people will inspire young readers to follow his example!

Includes a glossary and a concluding prayer, as well as five black and white illustrations. Also includes maps of St. Paul’s four missionary journeys.

Paperback / 128 pages / Dimensions: 4 1/2″ x 7″ / ISBN: 0819871028

St. Paul the Apostle by the late and prolific Fr. Lawrence Lovasik, S.V.D. It’s a short picture book with excellent text covering the Apostle’s missionary journeys. Ideal for young readers, e.g., K-2.

Both volumes are available via a variety of online booksellers or at your local Catholic bookstore.

My Amazon review of Fr. Mitch Pacwa’s St. Paul: A Bible Study for Catholics appears below:

In addition to what other reviewers have written, allow me to add a note about this book’s style and format. Fr. Pacwa respects the intelligence of his readers, and doesn’t hesitate to introduce deep theological points and insights rooted in etymology and history. Decades of preaching these concepts to a wide variety of audiences no doubt helps him do so. Likewise, the format is not of the “What-the-readings-mean-to-me” variety. Fr. Pacwa takes a cognitive approach to instruction, and readers are expected to probe and discuss meaty subject matter from the text. I intend to use this book for my weekly catechism group this fall; the fact that it is reasonably priced is an added bonus for the group’s members. Highly recommended.

Fr. Mitch Pacwa, S.J., of EWTN fame has been busy promoting the Pauline year (and his new St. Paul Bible study) in recent weeks. This morning he was featured on Cincinnati’s Son Rise Morning Show on Sacred Heart Radio, and earlier this month he visited my home diocese of Rochester (New York). Here’s a snippet from the local Catholic Courier:

Father Pacwa, who spoke at St. Theodore Parish July 18, suggested that parishes could continue St. Paul’s work by concentrating on evangelization. The priest acknowledged that the saint’s drive to evangelize had its own perils, including getting him beaten up, thrown in prison and ultimately beheaded.

“For the sake of Christ, he did it,” Father Pacwa said. “For the sake of Christ, we need to do the same.”

Father Pacwa’s talk in Gates was one of several local appearances. He also spoke July 19 at Holy Spirit Church in Webster and July 20 to the Upper New York Association of Diocesan Leaders at St. John Fisher College in Pittsford.

Father Pacwa, a Biblical scholar who hosts “Threshold of Hope” and “EWTN Live” on the EWTN Global Catholic Network, recently wrote a Bible-study guide for the Pauline Year, which runs through June 29, 2009.

During his Gates presentation, Father Pacwa gave an overview of St. Paul’s background and how that information helps clarify the saint’s point of view in his many writings. St. Paul was an impassioned evangelizer, the priest noted, especially to the Gentiles, who he successfully argued did not need to convert to Judaism to become baptized Christians.

Although the saint’s many letters have shaped Catholic thought and are regularly read during Sunday Masses, the priest noted that 16th-century disagreements over the letters’ meanings have led Catholics to neglect study of St. Paul.

Nevertheless, “he is and has been key to Catholic theology as well as all Christian theology,” Father Pacwa said.

Known during his early life by the Hebrew name Saul, St. Paul was born an Israelite of the tribe of Benjamin. Additionally, Saul was born a Roman citizen in Greek-speaking Tarsus, which was then part of Asia Minor and which is now part of Turkey. Though history is unclear why he was born a Roman citizen, Father Pacwa said historical records indicate that his family members, who were tentmakers, may have been given citizenship for doing work for the Roman Empire.

Saul studied with Gamaliel, a prominent rabbi in Jerusalem, to learn the pharisaic tradition, which Father Pacwa described as a conservative political party or sect within the Jewish laity that strictly adhered to both written Mosaic law and oral tradition about the law.

Acts 8:1 places Saul at the trial of St. Stephen and notes that he gave consent to St. Stephen’s stoning. After the trial, Saul zealously went from house to house arresting Christians, and a high priest directed him to go to Damascus to arrest more converts to Christianity.