Monday, January 25, 2010

The Conversion of St. Paul - Two Friends Turn 80

Last year, the Conversion of St. Paul fell on a Sunday and the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments permitted the feast to be celebrated on the Sunday (with the second reading from the epistle of the day) in recognition of the Universal Church's observance of the 2000th anniversary (approximately calculated) of the birth of Saul of Tarsus who became, after his encounter with the Risen Lord on the Road to Damascus, the great missionary Apostle of the Gentiles.

Here is an excerpt of a bilingual homily I gave at Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica that day, which was also the 50th anniversary of Blessed Pope John XXIII's convocation of the Second Vatican Council:

À la lumière de l'événement dramatique qui s'est déroulé sur la route de Damas, tel que rapporté trois fois dans les Actes des Apôtres, nous savons que ce que Paul avait considéré être son accomplissement d'éclat comme Juif vertueux, en rétrospective l'a vu comme « ordure » comparée à sa foi nouvelle en Jésus le Messie.

Lorsque Paul a fait allusion à sa nouvelle orientation dans la vie, il a fait référence à la révélation que Dieu a faite de Jésus en lui, et il souligne « Dieu qui m'a mis à part depuis le sein de ma mère et m'a appelé par sa grâce a jugé bon de révéler en moi son Fils » (Galates 1, 15-16).

Ce fut une réorientation de mode de vie si totale que Paul pouvait parler de ne plus vivre sa propre vie désormais, mais plutôt celle du Christ. « Je vis, mais ce n'est plus moi, c'est le Christ qui vit en moi. Car ma vie présente dans la chair, je la vis dans la foi au Fils de Dieu qui m'a aimé et s'est livré [à la mort] pour moi » (Galates 2, 20).

Sunday is our weekly experience of the Risen Lord so feasts that celebrate saints are not usually celebrated on the Lord’s Day. Today, we have the rare privilege of celebrating on a Sunday the Feast of St. Paul’s Conversion, which was his first encounter with the Risen Lord Jesus Christ. Pope Benedict XVI through the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments has granted permission for this observance at one Mass in each parish church on January 25, 2009 in recognition of its occurrence in the bi-millennial year of the birth of St. Paul.

The first reading for this Mass is an account of the powerful experience that Paul underwent as he proceeded to Damascus to persecute the fledgling church.

The narrative we have heard from chapter 9 of Acts is Luke’s description of what happened to Paul; later, in chapter 22, Luke depicts Paul recounting his change of life to a Jewish audience in Jerusalem. A third account, in Acts 26 has Paul tell of his call to bring light to nations who dwell in darkness in the presence of the Gentile King Agrippa and his Queen Bernice.

La rencontre de Paul avec Jésus le Messie vivant au milieu des membres du Corps du Christ ne l'a pas conduit à abandonner son culte antérieur ou son service de Dieu, mais elle l'a fait pointer dans une nouvelle direction - vers Jésus, le crucifié qui vit maintenant pour toujours dans son église.

L'Église voit avec sagesse que le changement d'orientation opéré à partir de la rencontre de Paul avec le Christ sur le chemin de Damas fut tellement profond et stupéfiant pour l'histoire des chrétiens qu'elle s'y réfère à juste titre, même dans un sens adapté, comme étant un événement de « conversion ».

Aussi, les disciples chrétiens qui sont appelés à laisser la vie du Christ ressuscité continuer à transformer leurs vies peuvent, à bon droit et dans un sens adapté, se référer avec raison à notre « conversion » continue.

Michelangelo's Conversion of St. Paul

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On Feting Friends

Today, I am en route to Rome to attend the next-to-last session of Vox Clara, the international commission of bishops advising the Congregation on Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments on the forthcoming translation of the Roman Missal into English.

This past weekend was very busy, so I will be blogging on skating on the Rideau Canal, about visits to Paroisse de La Tres Sainte-Trinite (Rockland) for Confirmations and to Good Shepherd Parish (Blackburn Hamlet, Gloucester) for the anticipated Sunday Eucharist and the Installation on Sunday of Servite Father Paul McKeown as Rector of Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica.

* * * * * *

But I cannot let the upcoming eightieth birthdays of two dear friends--a day apart--pass unnoticed.

Tomorrow, January 26 is the 80th birthday of Father Jacques Monet, s.j., with whom I worked very closely for five years (1982-1982) when I was Rector and he President of Regis College, Toronto.

Jacques is known as a wonderful raconteur, with a fabulous memory, which is a most suitable qualification for the professional historian that he is. A staunch monarchist from his youth, he understands and explains well the role of the office of Governor General in Canadian history and political and civic life (not to mention the Lieutenant Governors in the Provinces).

Some might think him a Luddite because he never learned to drive (but his taking of taxis he always claimed was less expensive and more reliable than driving and insuring a car--and just think how much smaller his carbon footprint is than most of ours!), writes with pen and ink (I have a whole collection of notes and postcards he has sent from everywhere and, thoughtfully, on many occasions), does not use a computer or have an email address; and yet, he is a master communicator (as was clear when he hosted the CBC's "Man Alive" for several years after Roy Bonisteel's term).

Much more could be said, but it's wonderful that he remains active (commuting between the Jesuit Archives of the two Canadian Provinces located in Montreal and his residence in Toronto) and, after a spell of ill health is back on his feet.

Jacques has many friends all over the world and I am proud to be named among them!

Happy Birthday, dear friend!

Faithful friends are a sturdy shelter:
whoever finds one has found a treasure.
Faithful friends are beyond price;
no amount can balance their worth.
Faithful friends are life-saving medicine;
and those who fear the Lord will find them.
Those who fear the Lord direct their friendship aright, for as they are, so are their neighbours also.
(Sirach 6:14-17, NRSV)

* * * * * *

A day later, on January 27, His Eminence Aloysius Cardinal Ambrozic reaches the same age of four score years.

His health has not been good in recent years and it pains his friends, acquaintances and his former flock in the Archdiocese of Toronto greatly.

Recently, he transferred from his private residential quarters to accommodations at the Cardinal Ambrozic Houses of Providence in the Scarborough district of Toronto:

Aloysius Ambrozic was born in Slovenia and fled his country after the Second World War, entered the Toronto seminary and was ordained a priest more than fifty years ago. Chosen to study Scripture so as to teach on the Faculty of St. Augustine's Seminary (SAS), he did a licence at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome before moving to the University of Wurzburg, Germany to do his doctoral dissertation under the late, great exegete Rudolf Schnackenburg on The Hidden Kingdom in Mark's gospel (volume 2 in the Catholic Biblical Association's Monograph Series).

When he returned to Toronto in the early 1970s he served as Dean at SAS and taught New Testament at the fledgling Toronto School of Theology (TST). I was excited by his seminars (redaction criticism in Mark; poverty and riches in the NT world) and was delighted that he accepted to direct my dissertation (Without Understanding: a redaction-critical study of the disciples' lack of understanding in Mark).

Thus did he become my Doktorvater! He gave me confidence in my abilities and encouragement throughout, stepping in only once when he thought one of my "bright ideas" would take me too far afield of my research field and add a year or more to the project.

He helped me with his patience to find my way out of the "slough of despond" that often afflicts doctoral students. For that and many other reasons I stand in debt to "Big Al", as he was irreverently tagged by his grad students (and that before his "elevation" in church offices).

When I served as his auxiliary bishop I always found him, as archbishop, most collegial in his guidance of the weekly episcopal council meetings. We knew where he stood, were free to voice our contrary or complementary observations and, as a result, were committed to the common voice he helped us find.

A shy man, who delighted in books and in his friends (and a glass of scotch), he was not always understood or appreciated. But I am grateful for his friendship and support (he attended my Mass of Thanksgiving after my ordination as a priest and, of course, presided at my episcopal ordination).

Your Eminence, we pray for your good health in these difficult days, and for your serenity and consolation in the days ahead.

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