By Pope Benedict XVI
The following excerpt comes from the Pope's homily inaugurating the Pauline Year, presented June 28, 2008, at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome. The English translation is by Matthew Sherry, St. Louis, Mo., and first appeared on the website Chiesa.com (chiesa.espresso.repubblica.it/ articolo/205564?eng=y). It is used with the kind permission of Sandro Magister.
Dear brothers and sisters, we are gathered at the tomb of St. Paul, who was born 2,000 years ago in Tarsus in Cilicia, in modern-day Turkey. Who was this Paul? ... At the end of his journey, he would say of himself: "I was appointed ... teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth" (1 Tm 2:7; see also 2 Tm 1:11).
Teacher of the Gentiles, apostle and proclaimer of Jesus Christ: This is how he characterizes himself in a retrospective look at the course of his life.
But with this, attention is not turned only to the past. Teacher of the Gentiles: These words are opened to the future, to all peoples and all generations. Paul is not for us a figure of the past, whom we re-member with veneration. He is also our teacher, apostle and proclaimer of Jesus Christ for us as well.
We have therefore gathered not to reflect on a story from the past, left behind forever. Paul wants to speak with us today. This is why I wanted to establish this special Pauline year: to listen to him and learn from him now, as our teacher, the "faith and truth" in which are rooted the reasons for unity among the disciples of Christ. ...
We have gathered here to ask ourselves about the great Apostle to the Gentiles. We do not ask ourselves only: Who was Paul? Above all, we ask ourselves: Who is Paul? What is he saying to me?
At this time, at the beginning of the Pauline year that we are inaugurating, I would like to select from the rich testimony of the New Testament three texts in which his [interior features] appear, the specifics of his character.
In the Letter to the Galatians, he has given us a very personal profession of faith, in which he opens his heart before the readers of all times and reveals the deepest driving force of his life.
"I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me" (Gal 2:20).
Everything that Paul does begins from this center. His faith is the ex-perience of being loved by Jesus Christ in a completely personal way; it is the awareness of the fact that Christ has faced death not for some anonymous person, but out of love for him -- for Paul -- and that, as the Risen One, He still loves him, Christ has given himself for him.
His faith comes from being transfixed by the love of Jesus Christ, a love that shakes him to his core and transforms him. His faith is not a theory, an opinion about God and the world. His faith is the impact of the love of God on his heart. And thus his faith is itself love for Jesus Christ.
Paul is presented by many as a combative man who knows how to wield the sword of the word. In fact, there was no lack of disputes along his journey as an apostle.
He did not seek a superficial harmony. In the first of his letters, ad-dressed to the Thessalonians, he himself says:
"We drew courage ... to speak to you the gospel of God with much struggle. Nor, indeed, did we ever appear with flattering speech, as you know" (1 Thes 2:2,5).
The truth was too great for him to be willing to sacrifice it in view of a superficial success. The truth that he had experienced in his encounter with the Risen One was for him very much worth struggle, persecution, suffering.
But what motivated him most profoundly was his being loved by Jesus Christ, and his desire to transmit this love to others. Paul was a man struck by a great love, and all of his work and suffering can be explained only by beginning from this center. The concepts founded on his proclamation can be understood only on the basis of this.
Let's take just one of his key words: freedom. His experience of being loved to his very depths by Christ had opened his eyes to the truth and the way of human existence; this experience embraced everything. Paul was free as a man loved by God who, by virtue of God, was capable of loving together with Him.
This love is now the "law" of his life, and precisely in this way is the freedom of his life. He speaks and acts as a man moved by the responsibility of love.
Freedom and responsibility are united here in an inseparable way. Because he stands in the responsibility of love, he is free; because he is someone who loves, he lives completely in the responsibility of this love, and does not take freedom as a pretext for willfulness and egoism.
In this same spirit, St. Augustine formulated a phrase that later be-came famous: "Dilige et quod vis fac" (Tract. in 1 Jn 7:7-8) -- that is, "Love, and do what you will."
He who loves Christ as Paul loved Him, truly can do what he wishes, because his love is united with the will of Christ, and thus with the will of God; because his will is anchored in the truth and because his will is not simply his own will, the willfulness of the autonomous ego, but is integrated into the freedom of God, and from this is shown the path to take.
In the search for the interior [features] of St. Paul I would like, in the second place, to recall the words that the Risen Christ addressed to him on the road to Damascus. First, the Lord asked him: "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?"
To the question, "Who are you, sir?" he was given the answer: "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting" (Acts 9:4-5).
By persecuting the Church, Paul is persecuting Jesus himself. "You are persecuting me." Jesus identifies himself with the Church, as a single subject.
This exclamation of the Risen One, which transformed Saul's life, essentially contains the entire doctrine on the Church as Body of Christ. Christ did not withdraw to heaven, leaving on the earth a group of followers who carry forward "His cause." The Church is not an association that wants to promote a certain cause. In it there is no question of a cause.
In it is the question of the person of Jesus Christ, who even as the Risen One has remained "flesh." He has "flesh and bones" (Lk 24:39), as the Risen One affirms in Luke before the disciples who thought he was a ghost. He has a body.
He is personally present in His Church; "Head and Body" form a single subject, as Augustine would say.
"Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?" Paul writes to the Corinthians (1 Cor 6:15). And he adds: Just as, according to the Book of Genesis, man and woman become one flesh, so also Christ becomes one spirit with His followers, a single subject in the new world of the resurrection (see 1 Cor 6:16-17).
Through all of this appears the Eucharistic mystery, in which Christ continually gives His Body and makes us His Body:
"The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf" (1 Cor 10:16-17).
With these words, it is not only Paul who is addressing us now, but the Lord himself: How could you have lacerated My body?
Before the face of Christ, this word becomes at the same time an urgent request: Bring us back to-gether again, from all our divisions. Make this a reality again today.
There is only one bread, because we, although we are many, are only one body. For Paul, the description of the Church as the Body of Christ is not just any kind of comparison. It goes far beyond a comparison.
"Why do you persecute Me?" Christ continually draws us within His Body; He builds up His Body, starting from the Eucharistic center, which for Paul is the center of Christian existence, by virtue of which all, and everyone individually, can personally experience: He loved me and gave himself for me.
I would like to conclude with some words from St. Paul near the end, an exhortation to Timothy from prison, composed in the face of death. "Bear your share of hardship for the gospel," the apostle says to his disciple (2 Tm 1:8).
These words, which come as a testament at the end of the apostle's journey, refer back to the beginning of his mission. While, after his en-counter with the Risen One, Paul found himself blind at a home in Damascus, Ananias was charged with going to the feared persecutor and laying hands on him, so that he might receive his sight again.
To the objection from Ananias, that this Saul was a dangerous persecutor of Christians, came the an-swer: This is the man who must carry My name before peoples and kings; "I will show him what he will have to suffer for my name" (Acts 9:16).
The task of proclamation and the call to suffer for Christ go together inseparably. The call to become the teacher of the Gentiles is at the same time and intrinsically a call to suffering in communion with Christ, who has redeemed us through His passion. In a world in which lying is powerful, suffering is the price of truth. Those who want to avoid suffering, to keep it away from them, are keeping away life itself and its greatness; they cannot be servants of the truth, and therefore servants of the faith.
There is no love without suffering, without the suffering of renouncing oneself, of the transformation and purification of the ego for true freedom. Wherever there is nothing worth suffering for, there life itself loses its value. The Eucharist -- the center of our Christian existence -- is founded on the sacrifice of Christ for us; it is born from the suffering of love, which found its culmination on the cross.
We live by this love that is given to us. It gives us the courage and the strength to suffer with Christ and for Him in this world, knowing that precisely in this way our life becomes great and mature and true.
In the light of all the letters of St. Paul, we see how in his journey as a teacher of the Gentiles, the prophecy of Ananias at the time of his calling was fulfilled: "I will show him what he will have to suffer for my name." His suffering made him credible as a teacher of truth, not seeking his own benefit, his own glory, his personal gratification, but dedicating himself to Him who loved us and gave himself for all of us.
At this time we thank the Lord, because He called Paul, making him light of the Gentiles and teacher of us all, and we pray to him: Give us today as well witnesses of the Resurrection, struck by your love and capable of bearing the light of the Gospel in our time.
St. Paul, pray for us! Amen. TCA
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