Saint Paul: A Bible Study For Catholics

Scriptural Foundations Fall 08 - Unfinished Reflection Paper by Carlo Juanola

 

              All people are called by God to know the means of their redemption and salvation.  Fr. Mitch Pacwa’s book, St. Paul: A Bible Study Guide For Catholics, conveys the life and mission of St. Paul.  The book focuses on understanding how St. Paul’s teachings explain the sacramental theology of the Catholic Church.  In my retreat apostolate I deal with youth and adults who are both connected and disconnected in their sacramental spirituality.  This book helps me in my lay apostolate by understanding St. Paul’s mission in helping people see how the ‘mysteries of God’ unite all believers to be one with Christ.  
            Fr. Mitch Pacwa’s explanation of the word Sacrament from an etymology standpoint was an empowering revelation to me.  In the past, I had been asked by a non-Catholic Christian, “Where in the Bible does it say ‘Sacrament’?” At the time, I was only able to refer to specific scriptural passages that support the belief in the sacraments, but I did not know the etymology of the word.   Now I can say as a matter of fact that the word ‘sacrament’ is indeed scriptural.  Specifically, the word is derived from the verse of 1 Corinthians 4:1: “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the ‘mysteries’ of God” (Pacwa 13).   According to Fr. Mitch Pacwa, St. Jerome’s Latin translation of the Bible uses the word sacramentum to translate the Greek word musterion, which means ‘mystery’ (Pacwa 13).    It is in this sense that the bible study guide speaks of St. Paul as a “steward of the mysteries of God," in order to discuss his teachings on the sacraments. 
Fr. Mitch Pacwa’s bible study conveys how the story of St. Paul’s own conversion is a testimony of how Jesus reveals Himself through the Church.  For example, St. Paul’s conversion is conveyed in the following passage:  “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:4-5).   In other words, to persecute the Church is to persecute Jesus himself (Pacwa 23).  If God reveals Himself through the Church as conveyed in St. Paul’s conversion, then the Church reveals God though the sacraments as conveyed in St. Paul’s writings.   
 I was listening to Catholic radio in the car this year, and I heard Fr. Mitch Pacwa explain the conversion of St. Paul.   As he gave his explanation over the radio, I was astounded because it validated our admonitions to the youth in our retreats regarding the importance of the sacraments.   Currently, I am encouraging our staff to renew our efforts in stressing how God radically reveals Himself through the Church and the sacraments.  In fact, we had recently used the story of St. Paul’s conversion as an exercise in our retreat workshop to reflect on how Jesus Christ is recognized and persecuted in the world today.  Fr. Mitch Pacwa reiterates this same sentiment that Jesus continues to radically identify himself though his disciples (Pacwa 23). 
                        According to Fr. Mitch Pacwa, the sacraments are “biblically founded means that convey Christ’s grace upon His Church, signifying the spiritual realities they represent through physical signs and actions” (Pacwa 14).    In our youth retreats, we have always explained that the sacraments are a sign of God’s presence, but we have never really delved into the scriptural background behind them as Fr. Mitch Pacwa has.  It is a blessing to gain insight into the scriptural background of the sacraments because it enhances and strengthens ones service in the Church.   If the sacraments are a defining characteristic of Catholic life as Fr. Mitch Pacwa conveyed, then it is all the more imperative that the servants of the Church seek to understand it (Pacwa 14). 
            In the section where St. Paul’s teaching on baptism is discussed, it touches upon the relationship that exists between Jewish law and the righteousness that comes through faith in Jesus Christ.  The level of discussion is very scholarly and beneficial for older readers and adult bible study.  However, since I deal with a lot of youth, I can see how it would probably be ignored or passed by younger readers because the meaning of this relationship is not so readily apparent to me.  According to Fr. Mitch Pacwa, the relationship shows how Christians live in a time when Christ has come, and therefore to a filial relationship with God (Pacwa 24).  In contrast, I feel it was probably better explained in class that the role of the Law was to reveal our ungodliness, sinfulness, and the need for a savior (Liles 2008). 


To be continued . . .
Session 2: To Be Forgiven: St. Paul on Baptism and Reconciliation
Session 3: To Be Sealed With The Holy Spirit: St. Paul on Confirmation
Session 4: The Breaking of the Bread: St. Paul on the Eucharist
Session 5: Offering Sacrifice: St. Paul on Holy Orders
Session 6: To Become One Flesh: St. Paul on Matrimony
The Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick is not derived from St. Paul’s writings but from the Gospel narratives.

Session 4: The Breaking of the Bread: St. Paul on the Eucharist
[Only one of St. Paul’s epistles contains teaching on the Eucharist: 1 Corinthians.
The earliest written occurrence of the phrase “break bread” is in 1 Corinthians 10:16-17, which is part of a discussion against having anything to do with idols:
“The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation [communion – koinonia] in the blood of Christ?  The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?  Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for all partake of the one bread. “
(1 Cor 10:16-17)]
According to Fr. Mitch Pacwa, the Church teaches that these verses refer to the celebration of the Mass.  He goes on to convey that 1 Corinthians 11:24 includes in its description of the institution that, giving thanks (eucharistesas), Jesus broke the bread he had taken up, as Mark 14:22, Matt 26:26, and Luke 22:19 also do.   

            The discussion questions for St. Paul’s teaching on all the sacraments are very instructive and thought provoking.  Fr. Mitch Pacwa encourages growth in our understanding by asking questions just as Jesus asked questions when he was questioned.  The questions help to internalize St. Paul’s experiences and teachings by relating them to our own lives.  In this way, we can recognize that there is a truth that is unchangeable no matter what time or place we live in.  For example, Fr. Mitch Pacwa conveyed in his introduction on how St. Paul was persecuted, beaten, and later executed for preaching the message of Christ.  Even today, those same evils that existed in St. Paul’s time, such as greed and pride, still exist but in different ways.  People still fail to see Jesus Christ today just as they did in the time of St. Paul.  Similarly, those who live and work for Christ continue to be persecuted just as St. Paul was in his time. 
This study of St. Paul’s teachings on the sacraments is the essence of what the Catholic Church teaches and believes.  That is why, according to Fr. Mitch Pacwa, St. Paul is truly a Catholic apostle.   It is no wonder that that his epistles are so prevalent among the readings at Mass on Sundays and weekdays alike (Pacwa 15).  I whole heartedly agree that Catholics need to immerse themselves in St. Paul’s writings in order to better understand the teachings of their Church.  
Conclusion:
            All of us are called to be stewards of the mysteries of God.  Fr. Mitch Pacwa enlightens us that the Sacraments in the life of our Church today are derived from these ‘mysteries of God’ that St. Paul talks about in scripture.  Fr. Mitch Pacwa also makes relevant the teachings of St. Paul to our lives today by challenging readers with insightful questions and reflections on scripture passages.   As the Holy Spirit compelled St. Paul to be a steward of these mysteries to the Jews and Gentiles, so too does the Holy Spirit compel both Catholics and non-Catholics alike to understand these same mysteries of God in our lives today. In the spirit of St. Paul, we too are called to testify to the presence of God when we preach, exhort, admonish, and inspire people around us to be one body in Christ.   It is my hope that if I can help our Catholic youth gain a better understanding of St. Paul’s writings, then they will develop a stronger connection with God, the Church, and the sacraments. 

 

 

References


Hardon, Fr. John A., S.J. Catchism on The Lay Apostolate. Kentucky: Eternal Life Publishing 1998. Pg 6

Pacwa, Fr. Mitch, S.J. St. Paul: A Bible Study Guide For Catholics. Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor 2008. Pp 13, 14,

The New Saint Joseph Baltimore Catechism No. 2. New York: Catholic Book Publishing Corp. 1969. “What is a Sacrament?”: Paragraph 304.

The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Second Edition. San Francisco: Ignatius Press 2006. Acts 9:4-5; 1 Cor4:1; Acts 9:17-19

Liles, Anthony.  Class notes from December 1st, 2008