So, in a spare moment today, I looked at the leaflet that had been inserted in our parish newsletter to mark the beginning of the Year of St Paul. It has been produced by the Liturgy Office of the Bishop's Conference of England and Wales, and is made up of extracts from the document The Gift of Scripture. I did not find it much help, experiencing again the two difficulties that I found I had when The Gift of Scripture was first published.
Let's take a sentence like this one:
The genuine letters of St Paul were written long before the first written Gospel and are consequently the earliest writings of the New Testament.
It sounds as if it is academically rigorous - the reference to "genuine letters" and "written long before". But it is actually rather vague - you do really need to add a bit of explanation about letters that are attributed to St Paul but which are not thought by scholars to be written by him, instead of just leaving it hanging, and the phrase "long before" really needs to have a figure put to it because "long" and "long" in this context could imply something quite different to a reader who has not the academic background to recognise what it is referring to.
And it could be rather more helpful pastorally, too. How can I use, in a pastoral context, this observation about the letters of St Paul being the earliest New Testament writings? Does it provide me with a theme for a first Friday Adoration?
[And that is before I comment on the 4.5 column inches commenting on St Paul's teaching on women - and the suggestion that Pauline texts referring to women need to be understood as arising from particular social and religious settings and need to be read in the wider context of the whole of Scripture etc ... why devote so much to this in the first place? And if you are going to, please give me enough information to actually be able to do what you suggest!]
It's not that I want to criticise The Gift of Scripture in the sense of attacking it - it's just that I find I can't actually make use of it, either academically or pastorally.
Rather more useful turn out to be two articles in recent issues of The Sower. These are by Sr M Johanna Paruch, and treat of St Paul as a "catechetical saint". The first article appeared in the April-June 2008 issue - and I can see in it the references to Acts 9 and Acts 22, and to Galatians, that will allow me to put together a kind of biography of St Paul. And in the second article, published in the July-September 2008 issue, I can spot the theme of the absolute cohesion of Christ and the Church - again, I can actually use this. Another article in this July-September issue also identifies themes under the headings "The Person of Paul" and "Paul's methods in establishing others in the Faith" that will also be useful.
For more information about The Sower visit http://www.thesowerreview.org/.