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Starting June 28, the day before the Feast of the Apostles Peter and Paul, the Church begins a Jubilee Year dedicated to St. Paul, roughly two thousand years after the birth of the Apostle of the Gentiles. Blinded on the road to Damascus, this persecutor of the first Christians and accomplice in the death of the first martyr, St. Stephen, Paul heard the voice of Christ ask him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” From that moment, he was converted into a fearless apostle of Christ and his mystical Body the Church.
St. Paul became the world’s greatest evangelist, the first to bring the gospel to Europe and other parts of the Mediterranean. He was also the Church’s first theologian, unpacking the contents of the faith for the churches he founded, particularly emphasizing the redemptive significance of Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection from the dead.
For him, everything was in reference to Jesus: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21). “My real life is the faith I have in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20). He persevered through countless trials: shipwreck, beatings, imprisonment, betrayals, persecution -- all for the sake of Christ and souls. “I make up in my flesh what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ, for the sake of his body, the Church” (Col 1:24). Toward the end of his life he would write to his disciple Timothy, “I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith” (2 Tim 4:7).
He died a martyr, executed in Rome near the Basilica of St. Paul Outside-the-Walls, which was built over his relics. That’s where the pope will initiate the Pauline Year on June 28. Hopefully, we can learn from St. Paul’s total devotion to Christ and his courage in spreading the Gospel to a pagan world. (For that matter, Pope Benedict is a good model too.)
June 21 was the 25th anniversary of the death of Father Joseph Muzquiz, who was ordained in 1944 and was one of the first three priests of Opus Dei. He was also one of the first three members of Opus Dei (the other two were laymen) to start Opus Dei in the United States, in Chicago in 1949. The mission of Opus Dei, which is now a personal prelature in the Church, is to spread the search for holiness through a Christian’s daily life and ordinary duties. As the Second Vatican Council proclaimed, all of us are called to holiness.
Like a latter-day St. Paul, Father Muzquiz was consumed with Jesus’ love for souls. He was always working and praying, disregarding his personal comfort and convenience to effectively help others. Father Muzquiz, who died in Plymouth, is buried in St. Joseph Cemetery in West Roxbury, alongside Father Sal Ferigle and others who worked tirelessly to do God’s work.
In Pope Benedict XVI’s Angelus message on June 22, he recalled the martyrdom of St. Paul, and asked that “this great spiritual and pastoral event (of the Jubilee Year) also give us renewed confidence in Jesus Christ, who calls us to announce and witness to his gospel, without any fear.”
“Witness” in Greek is “martyr.” Most of us, like Father Muzquiz, have a bloodless form of martyrdom close at hand: constantly giving ourselves lovingly to God and others in the little matters and ordinary duties of our state in life -- occupation, family, friends. St. Paul is a great example, teacher and intercessor on that path to holiness. During this Year of St. Paul, we can constantly ask ourselves, what would Paul do?
Dwight Duncan is a professor at Southern New England School of Law. He holds degrees in both civil and canon law.