In searching for the best guide for conveying Christ’s full mystery toward the salvation of contemporary humanity, Blessed James Alberione discovered St. Paul. He made himself one of the most ardent disciples and imitators of the Apostle in modern times. In fact, there are very few (if any!) who can be said to have personified and preceded today’s intensity for “a new evangelization” as the likes of St. Paul and Blessed James Alberione.
It was through the latter’s multi-form institutions and the technical ingenuity of media communication used as an apostolate, that he strove to revive within the Church the extraordinary figure of the Apostle of the Gentiles. He asked himself: What would St. Paul do today? How would he love Christ in today’s milieu? What would he do to announce the message to people of our time? Thus St. Paul became the patron of two of his Congregations, a countless number of churches and chapels, hundreds of book and media centers, film agencies, Web sites and blogs, and innumerable related media efforts, which he meant to be nourished and sustained with the great openness and courage of the Pauline spirit.
Shadowing St. Paul’s dynamism, Alberione’s commitment to the promotion of the Gospel in today’s public square was extremely constructive to the Church of our age. Knowingly or not, people needed and hungered for this. And under the aegis of the Founder, it evolved into the twin commitment of: 1) making the Gospel media intelligible, 2) bringing it to people where they were.
In a way, it’s easier for us to grasp something of the person and scope of Paul in the Acts of the Apostles than in his Letters. Acts isn’t so much a study of Paul’s thought as it is the recounting of his adventurous, challenging and far-flung missionary activity. Here we meet Paul the passionate Christian communicator, the praise-of-God contemplative, the gifted organizer, the fearless defender of his flock and protector of its maturing faith. And we sense his ambitious and suffered yearning to enrich every culture with the knowledge and truth of the Risen Christ. For this we must delve into the clarity, insights and teaching power of his own Letters. It’s here that the Gospel hits the ground running.
To be noted is that while Paul’s teaching and formation of the Word among the early Christians was all-engrossing, it nearly always took place in the context of Liturgy, of the re-enactment of the paschal mystery. Invariably connected to acts of worship and prayer, it brought about in these fledgling believers an attentiveness to the living presence of the Lord among them. So under Paul they were ready to learn, they were open to learn. They were also ready to adore.
This aspect of evangelization is never to be minimized. And it makes Paulines reflect: doesn’t the Eucharistic centrality in the apostolic heart of Father Alberione mirror Paul also in this? Keep in mind that the earliest written account of the institution of the Lord’s Supper in the New Testament is that of St. Paul in the First Letter to the Corinthians.
Now, it may be demanding to understand Paul through his Letters, because his thought is deep and vibrant, full of spiritual and theological erudition, but at times, in volcanic agitation when the logic and purity of faith is misinterpreted or maliciously misrepresented. But Paul’s person is always steadfast, as if driven by an unconquerable love of Christ, ever a work in progress in his great soul.
Be convinced: the key to understanding St. Paul and how he arrived where he arrived in bringing the Gospel to the then known world is that he encountered Jesus — and came to grasp, know, love and be drawn into the wholeness of Christ, the Master, way, truth and life…as few others in all of salvation history.
“I live now, no longer I, but Christ lives in me.” We miss the whole point of Father Alberione’s total love for St. Paul if we have not understood this. Even if St. Paul writes and teaches magnificently of the cross, he attaches himself to the Risen Christ, to the living Christ he met on the way to Damascus, to the Christ of today. Over and over, the Fou
nder echoed a parallel refrain to his religious sons and daughters: “we are to be this St. Paul alive today.”
This dictum of Father Alberione recalls the splendid oration that Pope Benedict XVI gave during the Solemn Vespers that opened the epochal Year of St. Paul (June 28th, 2008). The Pope recalled that when Paul was in prison facing death he exhorted Timothy: “with the strength that comes from God bear your share of hardship which the Gospel entails” (2 Tm 1:8). No doubt, Benedict says, these words hearken back to the beginning of Paul’s mission, back to his encounter with the Risen Christ on the road to Damascus, back to his forced retreat in blindness following that moment, and back to the visit of Ananias, who heard the Lord say of Saul, the now subdued persecutor and the future Apostle to the Gentiles, “I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:15f).
“The task of proclamation and the call to suffer for Christ’s sake are inseparable,” Pope Benedict states, since this proclamation calls for a profound relationship with Christ who redeemed us through his suffering. “The one who desires to avoid suffering, to keep it at bay, keeps life itself and its greatness at bay; he cannot be a servant of truth and thus a servant of faith.” On the other hand, suffering transforms and purifies love for true freedom. The Holy Father concludes by reminding the Church that the Eucharist we celebrate is born from the suffering of the cross, from the love that gives itself so we may have life. This love is the source of our courage and strength, and we know that “in this very way our life becomes great and mature and true.”
Brother Aloysius Milella (in the top photo with Blessed James Alberione) has been a Pauline for 65 years. He has had various editorial assignments in Pauline publishing and media sectors, as well as directive responsibilities in vocation promotion and community offices. He was the first lay brother of the Society of St Paul to serve as a General Councilor.