Audiences 2005-2013 30908

Wednesday, 3 September 2008 - Saint Paul (3): St Paul's "Conversion".

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today's Catechesis is dedicated to the experience that Paul had on his way to Damascus, and therefore on what is commonly known as his conversion. It was precisely on the road to Damascus, at the beginning of the 30s in the first century and after a period in which he had persecuted the Church that the decisive moment in Paul's life occurred. Much has been written about it and naturally from different points of view. It is certain that he reached a turning point there, indeed a reversal of perspective. And so he began, unexpectedly, to consider as "loss" and "refuse" all that had earlier constituted his greatest ideal, as it were the raison d'être of his life (cf. Phil
Ph 3,7-8). What had happened?

In this regard we have two types of source. The first kind, the best known, consists of the accounts we owe to the pen of Luke, who tells of the event at least three times in the Acts of the Apostles (cf. Ac 9,1-19 Ac 22,3-21 Ac 26,4-23). The average reader may be tempted to linger too long on certain details, such as the light in the sky, falling to the ground, the voice that called him, his new condition of blindness, his healing like scales falling from his eyes and the fast that he made. But all these details refer to the heart of the event: the Risen Christ appears as a brilliant light and speaks to Saul, transforms his thinking and his entire life. The dazzling radiance of the Risen Christ blinds him; thus what was his inner reality is also outwardly apparent, his blindness to the truth, to the light that is Christ. And then his definitive "yes" to Christ in Baptism restores his sight and makes him really see.

In the ancient Church Baptism was also called "illumination", because this Sacrament gives light; it truly makes one see. In Paul what is pointed out theologically was also brought about physically: healed of his inner blindness, he sees clearly. Thus St Paul was not transformed by a thought but by an event, by the irresistible presence of the Risen One whom subsequently he would never be able to doubt, so powerful had been the evidence of the event, of this encounter. It radically changed Paul's life in a fundamental way; in this sense one can and must speak of a conversion. This encounter is the centre St Luke's account for which it is very probable that he used an account that may well have originated in the community of Damascus. This is suggested by the local colour, provided by Ananias' presence and by the names, of both the street and the owner of the house in which Paul stayed (Ac 9,11).

The second type of source concerning the conversion consists in St Paul's actual Letters. He never spoke of this event in detail, I think because he presumed that everyone knew the essentials of his story: everyone knew that from being a persecutor he had been transformed into a fervent apostle of Christ. And this had not happened after his own reflection, but after a powerful event, an encounter with the Risen One. Even without speaking in detail, he speaks on various occasions of this most important event, that, in other words he too is a witness of the Resurrection of Jesus, the revelation of which he received directly from Jesus, together with his apostolic mission. The clearest text found is in his narrative of what constitutes the centre of salvation history: the death and Resurrection of Jesus and his appearances to witnesses (cf. 1Co 15). In the words of the ancient tradition, which he too received from the Church of Jerusalem, he says that Jesus died on the Cross, was buried and after the Resurrection appeared risen first to Cephas, that is Peter, then to the Twelve, then to 500 brethren, most of whom were still alive at Paul's time, then to James and then to all the Apostles. And to this account handed down by tradition he adds, "Last of all... he appeared also to me" (1Co 15,8). Thus he makes it clear that this is the foundation of his apostolate and of his new life. There are also other texts in which the same thing appears: "Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship" (cf. Rm Rm 1,4-5); and further: "Have I not seen Jesus Our Lord?" (1Co 9,1), words with which he alludes to something that everyone knows. And lastly, the most widely known text is read in Galatians: "But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and had called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were Apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia; and again I returned to Damascus" (Ga 1,15-17). In this "self-apology" he definitely stresses that he is a true witness of the Risen One, that he has received his own mission directly from the Risen One.

Thus we can see that the two sources, the Acts of the Apostles and the Letters of St Paul, converge and agree on the fundamental point: the Risen One spoke to Paul, called him to the apostolate and made him a true Apostle, a witness of the Resurrection, with the specific task of proclaiming the Gospel to the Gentiles, to the Greco-Roman world. And at the same time, Paul learned that despite the immediacy of his relationship with the Risen One, he had to enter into communion with the Church, he himself had to be baptized, he had to live in harmony with the other Apostles. Only in such communion with everyone could he have been a true apostle, as he wrote explicitly in the First Letter to the Corinthians: "Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed" (1Co 15,11). There is only one proclamation of the Risen One, because Christ is only one.

As can be seen, in all these passages Paul never once interprets this moment as an event of conversion. Why? There are many hypotheses, but for me the reason is very clear. This turning point in his life, this transformation of his whole being was not the fruit of a psychological process, of a maturation or intellectual and moral development. Rather it came from the outside: it was not the fruit of his thought but of his encounter with Jesus Christ. In this sense it was not simply a conversion, a development of his "ego", but rather a death and a resurrection for Paul himself. One existence died and another, new one was born with the Risen Christ. There is no other way in which to explain this renewal of Paul. None of the psychological analyses can clarify or solve the problem. This event alone, this powerful encounter with Christ, is the key to understanding what had happened: death and resurrection, renewal on the part of the One who had shown himself and had spoken to him. In this deeper sense we can and we must speak of conversion. This encounter is a real renewal that changed all his parameters. Now he could say that what had been essential and fundamental for him earlier had become "refuse" for him; it was no longer "gain" but loss, because henceforth the only thing that counted for him was life in Christ.

Nevertheless we must not think that Paul was thus closed in a blind event. The contrary is true because the Risen Christ is the light of truth, the light of God himself. This expanded his heart and made it open to all. At this moment he did not lose all that was good and true in his life, in his heritage, but he understood wisdom, truth, the depth of the law and of the prophets in a new way and in a new way made them his own. At the same time, his reasoning was open to pagan wisdom. Being open to Christ with all his heart, he had become capable of an ample dialogue with everyone, he had become capable of making himself everything to everyone. Thus he could truly be the Apostle to the Gentiles.

Turning now to ourselves, let us ask what this means for us. It means that for us too Christianity is not a new philosophy or a new morality. We are only Christians if we encounter Christ. Of course, he does not show himself to us in this overwhelming, luminous way, as he did to Paul to make him the Apostle to all peoples. But we too can encounter Christ in reading Sacred Scripture, in prayer, in the liturgical life of the Church. We can touch Christ's Heart and feel him touching ours. Only in this personal relationship with Christ, only in this encounter with the Risen One do we truly become Christians. And in this way our reason opens, all Christ's wisdom opens as do all the riches of truth.
Therefore let us pray the Lord to illumine us, to grant us an encounter with his presence in our world, and thus to grant us a lively faith, an open heart and great love for all, which is capable of renewing the world.

To special groups

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I welcome all the English-speaking visitors present at today's Audience including the Missionary Sisters Servants of the Holy Spirit and a group of Maltese altar boys currently serving in Saint Peter's Basilica. May your visit to Rome strengthen your commitment to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. Upon all of you, I invoke God's abundant blessings of joy and peace.

Lastly I greet the young people, the sick and the newlyweds. Dear young people, in resuming your usual daily activities after the holidays, may you return to the regular pace of your intimate dialogue with God, diffusing his light around you. You, dear sick people, may you find support and comfort in Jesus, who continues his work of redemption in every person's life. And you, dear newlyweds, may you strive to keep constantly in touch with the Lord who gives salvation to all and to draw on his love so that your own may be ever more sound and lasting.

Paul VI Audience Hall

Wednesday, 10 September 2008 - Saint Paul (4): Saint Paul's Concept of Apostolate.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Last Wednesday I spoke of the great turning point in St Paul's life after his encounter with the Risen Christ. Jesus entered his life and transformed him from persecutor to Apostle. That meeting marked the start of his mission; Paul could not continue to live as he did before, he now felt that the Lord had invested him with the task of proclaiming his Gospel as an Apostle. It is precisely this new condition of life, that is, his being an apostle of Christ, that I would like to talk about today. Usually, in accordance with the Gospels, it is the Twelve that we identify with the title "Apostles", thereby desiring to point out those who were Jesus' companions in life and who listened to his teaching. Yet Paul too felt that he was a true Apostle and it clearly appears, therefore, that the Pauline concept of "apostolate" was not limited to the group of the Twelve. Obviously, Paul is able to markedly distinguish between his own case and that of those "who were Apostles before" him (
Ga 1,17); he recognizes that they have a very special place in the life of the Church. Yet, as everyone knows, St Paul understood himself as an Apostle in the strict sense. It is certain that at the time of the early Christians, no one covered as many kilometres as he did over land and across the seas, with the sole aim of proclaiming the Gospel.

Therefore he had a concept of apostolate that went beyond the exclusive association of the term with the group of the Twelve that was passed down primarily by St Luke in the Acts (cf. Ac 1,2 Ac 1,26 Ac 6,2). Indeed, in the First Letter to the Corinthians Paul makes a clear distinction between "the Twelve" and "all the apostles" mentioned as two different groups of beneficiaries of the Risen One's apparitions" (cf. 1Co 15,5 1Co 15,7). In that same passage he then goes on to mention himself humbly as the "the least of the apostles", even comparing himself to "one untimely born", and declaring himself "unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God which is with me" (1Co 15,9-10). The metaphor of the miscarriage expresses extreme humility; this will also be found in St Ignatius of Antioch's Epistle to the Romans: "I am not worthy, as being the very last of them, and one born out of due time. But I have obtained mercy to be somebody, if I shall attain to God" (9, 2). What the Bishop of Antioch was to say in relation to his imminent martyrdom, foreseeing that it would reverse his condition of unworthiness, St Paul says in relation to his own apostolic commitment: it is in this that is manifest the fruitfulness of the grace of God who knows precisely how to transform an unsuccessful man into a splendid apostle. From a persecutor to a founder of Churches: God brought this about in one who, from the evangelical point of view, might have been considered a reject!

Therefore, according to St Paul's conception, what is it that makes him and others apostles? In his Letters three principal characteristics of the true apostle appear. The first is to have "seen Jesus our Lord" (cf. 1Co 9,1), that is, to have had a life-changing encounter with him. Similarly, in his Letter to the Galatians (cf. Ga 1,15-16) Paul was to say that he had been called or chosen, almost, through God's grace with the revelation of his Son, in view of proclaiming the Good News to the Gentiles. In short, it is the Lord who appoints to the apostolate and not one's own presumption. The apostle is not made by himself but is made such by the Lord; consequently the apostle needs to relate constantly to the Lord. Not without reason does Paul say that he is "called to be an apostle" (Rm 1,1), in other words, "an apostle - not from men nor through human means, but "through Jesus Christ and God the Father" (Ga 1,1). This is the first characteristic: to have seen the Lord, to have been called by him.

The second characteristic is "to have been sent". The same Greek term apostolos means, precisely, "sent, dispatched", that is as ambassador and bearer of a message; he must therefore act as having been charged and as representing a sender. It is for this reason that Paul describes himself as an "apostle of Christ Jesus" (1Co 1,1 2Co 1,1), that is, his delegate, placed totally at his service, even to the point that he also calls himself "a servant of Christ Jesus" (Rm 1,1). Once again the idea of someone else's initiative comes to the fore, the initiative of God in Jesus Christ, to whom Paul is fully indebted; but special emphasis is placed on the fact that Paul has received from him a mission to carry out in his name, making every personal interest absolutely secondary.

The third requisite is the task of "proclaiming the Gospel", with the consequent foundation of Churches. Indeed, the title of "apostle" is not and cannot be honorary. It involves concretely and even dramatically the entire life of the person concerned. In his First Letter to the Corinthians Paul exclaims: "Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you my workmanship in the Lord?" (1Co 9,1). Similarly in the Second Letter to the Corinthians he says: "You yourselves are our letters of recommendation... a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God" (2Co 3,2-3).

Thus it should not come as a surprise that Chrysostom speaks of "a soul of diamond" (Panegyrics, 1, 8), and continues saying: "in the same way that fire, in setting light to different materials burns ever stronger.... So Paul's words won over to his cause all those with whom he came into contact, and those who were hostile to him, captivated by his discourses, became the fuel of this spiritual fire" (ibid., 7,11). This explains why Paul defines the apostles as "fellow workers" of God (1Co 3,9 2Co 6,1), whose grace acts within them. A typical element of a true apostle, which St Paul highlights effectively, is a sort of identification between Gospel and evangelizer, both destined to the same fate. In fact no one emphasized as well as Paul that the proclamation of the Cross of Christ appears "a stumbling block... and folly" (1Co 1,23), to which many react with incomprehension and rejection. This happened then and it should not come as a surprise that it also happens today. Consequently, the apostle shares in this destiny, in appearing as "a stumbling block... and folly", and Paul is aware of it; this is the experience of his life. He writes to the Corinthians, not without a vein of irony: "For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and to men. We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honour, but we in disrepute. "To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are ill-clad and buffeted and homeless, and we labour, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become, and are now, as the refuse of the world, the scum of all" (1Co 4,9-13). This is a self-portrait of St Paul's apostolic life: in all this suffering the joy of being a herald of God's blessing and of the grace of the Gospel prevails.

Paul, moreover, shares with the Stoic philosophy of his time the idea of a tenacious constancy in all the difficulties that arise; but he overcomes the merely humanistic perspective by recalling the element of the love of God and of Christ: "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, "For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered'. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. "For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rm 8,35-39). This is the certainty, the profound joy that guides the Apostle Paul through all these vicissitudes: nothing can separate us from the love of God and this love is the true treasure of human life.

As can be seen, St Paul gave himself to the Gospel with his entire existence; we could say 24 hours a day! And he exercised his ministry with faithfulness and joy, "that I might by all means save some" (1Co 9,22). And with regard to the Church, even knowing that he had a relationship of fatherhood with her (cf. 1Co 4,15), if not actually of motherhood (cf. Gal Ga 4,19), he adopted an attitude of complete service, declaring admirably: "Not that we lord it over your faith; we work with you for your joy" (2Co 1,24). This remains the mission of all Christ's apostles in all times: to be his fellow workers in true joy.

To special groups

I am happy to greet all the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims present at today’s audience, including the All Party Parliamentary Group from the United Kingdom, and the participants in the seminar on Social Communications at the Santa Croce Pontifical University. I also greet the groups from England, Ireland, Denmark, Sweden, South Africa, Zambia, India and the United States of America. May your pilgrimage renew your love for the Lord and his Church, and may God bless you all!

Lastly I greet the young people, the sick and the newlyweds. The day before yesterday we celebrated the liturgical feast of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary and in a few days we shall be celebrating the Memorial of the Name of Mary. The Second Vatican Council says that Our Lady goes before us on the path of faith because "she believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord" (Lc 1,45).

I ask the Blessed Virgin for you young people for the gift of an ever more mature faith; for you sick people, for a faith that is ever stronger and, for you newly-weds, for a faith that is ever deeper.
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Message to France with a view to the upcoming Apostolic Visit

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Next Friday I shall be setting out on my first Pastoral Visit to France as Successor of Peter. On the eve of my arrival there, I would like to address my cordial greeting to the French people and to all the inhabitants of this beloved nation. I am coming to you as a messenger of peace and brotherhood. Your country is not unknown to me. On several occasions I have had the joy to visit your country and appreciate its generous tradition of hospitality and tolerance, as well as the soundness of its Christian faith and its sophisticated human and spiritual culture. This time, the occasion for which I am coming is the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the apparitions of the Virgin Mary in Lourdes. After visiting Paris, your country's capital, it will give me great joy to join the throng of pilgrims who come to follow the stages of the Jubilee itinerary, treading in St Bernadette's footsteps to the Grotto of Massabielle. At the feet of Our Lady, my prayers for the intentions of the whole Church will be intense, especially for the sick and the people most neglected, but also for peace in the world. For all of you, and particularly for the young people, may Mary be the Mother who is ever open to the needs of her children, a light of hope that illumines and guides you on your way! Dear French friends, I invite you to join in my prayers that this journey will bear abundant fruits. In the happy expectation of being among you soon, I invoke upon each one of you, upon your families and upon your communities, the maternal protection of the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Lourdes. God bless you!

Paul VI Audience Hall

Wednesday, 17 September 2008 - Apostolic Journey to France

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today's meeting gives me the pleasant opportunity of reviewing the various events of the Pastoral Visit to France which I made a few days ago; a Visit that culminated, as you know, with the pilgrimage to Lourdes on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the Apparitions of Our Lady to St Bernadette. As I offer fervent thanks to the Lord who granted me such a providential opportunity, I once again express my deep gratitude to the Archbishop of Paris, to the Bishop of Tarbes and Lourdes, to their respective collaborators and to all who contributed in various ways to the success of my pilgrimage. I also cordially thank the President of the Republic and the other Authorities who welcomed me so courteously.

The Visit began in Paris, where I met in spirit the entire French people, thereby paying homage to a beloved nation in which, since the second century, the Church has played a fundamental civilizing role. It is interesting that precisely in this context the need developed for a healthy distinction between the political and religious spheres in accordance with Jesus' famous words: "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's" (
Mc 12,17). However, if the image of Caesar was stamped on Roman coins which for this reason were to be rendered to him, the human heart bears the imprint of the Creator, the one Lord of our life. Genuine secularism does not mean, therefore, leaving the spiritual dimension out of consideration but rather recognizing that it is precisely this that radically guarantees our freedom and autonomy from earthly realities, thanks to the dictates of creative Wisdom which the human conscience is capable of accepting and actuating.

The broad reflection on the theme I addressed at the meeting with the world of culture, "The origins of Western theology and the roots of European culture" fits into this perspective. The venue was chosen for its symbolic importance: the Collège des Bernardins, which the late Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger wished to develop as a centre of cultural dialogue. It is a 12th century building, built for the Cistercians, where young monks studied. Thus the monastic theology which also gave birth to our Western culture is also really present there. The starting point of my Discourse was a reflection on monasticism, whose goal was the search for God, quaerere Deum. At the time of the profound crisis of the ancient civilization, the monks, guided by the light of faith, chose the right pathway: the pathway of listening to the Word of God. Thus they were great scholars of the Sacred Scriptures and monasteries became schools of wisdom and "dominici servitii" school, "in the Lord's service", as St Benedict called them. So it was that the search for God, by its nature, brought the monks to a culture of the word. Quaerere Deum, in searching for God, they sought him by following his Word and must therefore have acquired an ever deeper knowledge of this Word. It is necessary to penetrate the secret of the language in order to understand its structure. In the search for God revealed to us in the Sacred Scriptures, the profane sciences, oriented to attaining a deeper knowledge of the secrets of languages, thus became important. Consequently, it was eruditio that developed in the monasteries which permitted the formation of culture. Today, for this very reason, quaerere Deum - seeking God, journeying towards God, is still, as it was in the past, the main path and foundation of every true culture.

Architecture too is an artistic expression of the search for God and there is no doubt that the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris constitutes an example of universal value. Inside this magnificent church where I had the joy of presiding at the celebration of Vespers of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I urged the priests, deacons, men and women religious and seminarians who had come from every part of France, to give priority to the religious listening to the Divine Word, looking to the Virgin Mary as a sublime model. In front of Notre-Dame I then greeted the young people who had arrived in enthusiastic throngs. As they were about to start a long prayer vigil, I consigned to them two treasures of the Christian faith: the Holy Spirit and the Cross. The Spirit opens to human intelligence horizons which transcend it and enable it to perceive the beauty and truth of God's love revealed on the Cross itself. This is a love from which nothing will ever be able to separate us and which is experienced by giving one's own life after the example of Christ. I then made a brief stop at the Institut de France, the headquarters of five national Academies: since I myself am a member of one of them, I was overjoyed to meet my colleagues here. My Visit culminated in the Eucharistic celebration on the Esplanade des Invalides. Re-echoing St Paul's words to the Corinthians, I invited the faithful of Paris and of all France to seek the living God who showed us his true Face in Jesus, present in the Eucharist, and urged us to love our brethren as he loved us.

I then went to Lourdes. Here I was immediately able to join thousands of the faithful on the "Jubilee Way", which retraces the places of St Bernadette's life: the parish church with the baptismal font in which she was baptized; the "Cachot", where she lived as a child in great poverty; the Grotto of Massabielle, where the Blessed Virgin appeared to her 18 times. In the evening I took part in the traditional torchlight procession, a wonderful manifestation of faith in God and of devotion to his and our Mother. Lourdes is truly a place of light, prayer, hope and conversion, founded on the rock of the love of God whose culminating revelation was in the glorious Cross of Christ.

By a happy coincidence, last Sunday the liturgy commemorated the Exaltation of the Cross, a sign of hope par excellence since it is the greatest possible witness of love. In Lourdes, at the school of Mary, the first and perfect disciple of the Crucified One, pilgrims learn to view the crosses of their own life in the very light of the glorious Cross of Christ. In fact, on appearing to Bernadette in the Grotto of Massabielle, the first gesture Mary made was the Sign of the Cross, in silence, without speaking. And Bernadette imitated her, making the Sign of the Cross in turn, although with a trembling hand. And so Our Lady began her initiation into the essence of Christianity: the Sign of the Cross is the epitome of our faith and by making it with an attentive heart, we enter into the full mystery of our salvation. That gesture of Our Lady contains the whole message of Lourdes! God so loved us that he gave himself for us: this is the message of the Cross, "a mystery of death and glory". The Cross reminds us that there is no true love without suffering, there is no gift of life without pain. Many people learn this truth in Lourdes, which is a school of faith and hope, because it is also a school of charity and service to our brethren. It is in this context of faith and prayer that the important meeting with the French Bishops took place; it was a moment of intense spiritual communion in which together we entrusted our common pastoral expectations and concerns to the Blessed Virgin.

The next stage was the Eucharistic procession with thousands of the faithful, including, as always, numerous sick people. Before the Blessed Sacrament, our spiritual communion with Mary became even more intense and profound, because she gives us eyes and a heart that can contemplate her Divine Son in the Holy Eucharist. The silence of those thousands of people before the Lord was moving. It was not an empty silence but filled with prayer and with an awareness of the presence of the Lord who loved us to the point of being lifted up on the Cross for our sake. Lastly, Monday, 15 September, the liturgical memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows, was devoted in a special way to the sick. After a brief Visit to the Hospital Chapel where Bernadette received her First Communion, I presided at the celebration of Holy Mass in front of the Basilica of the Rosary, during which I administered the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. With the sick people and their care givers, I chose to meditate on the tears that Mary shed beneath the Cross and on her smile that illuminates Easter morning.

Dear brothers and sisters, together let us thank the Lord for this Apostolic Visit rich in so many spiritual gifts. In particular, let us praise him because Mary, in appearing to St Bernadette, opened a privileged space in the world in which to encounter the divine love that heals and saves. In Lourdes, the Blessed Virgin asks everyone to consider the earth as the place of our pilgrimage toward the definitive Homeland, which is Heaven. Actually, we are all pilgrims and are in need of the Mother who guides us; and in Lourdes her smile invites us to continue with great trust, in the knowledge that God is good, God is love.
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I happily greet the English-speaking visitors present at today’s Audience, including pilgrims from England, Scotland, Ireland, Denmark, Australia, Burma, Japan, and the United States of America. God bless you all!

St. Peter's Square

Wednesday, 24 September 2008 - Saint Paul (5): Paul, the Twelve and the pre-Pauline Church.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today I would like to speak about the relationship between St Paul and the Apostles who had preceded him in following Jesus. These relations were always marked by profound respect and that frankness in Paul that stemmed from defending the truth of the Gospel. Although he was virtually a contemporary of Jesus of Nazareth, he never had the opportunity to meet him during his public life. For this reason, after being blinded on the road to Damascus, he felt the need to consult the Teacher's first Disciples, those whom he had chosen to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

In his Letter to the Galatians, Paul wrote an important account of the contacts he had had with some of the Twelve: first of all with Peter who had been chosen as Kephas, the Aramaic term which means rock, on whom the Church was being built (cf. Gal
Ga 1,18), with James, "the Lord's brother" (cf. Gal Ga 1,19), and with John (cf. Gal Ga 2,9). Paul does not hesitate to recognize them as "pillars" of the Church. Particularly important is his meeting with Cephas (Peter), in Jerusalem: Paul stayed with him for 15 days in order to "consult him" (cf. Gal Ga 1,19), that is, to learn about the earthly life of the Risen One who had "taken hold" of him on the road to Damascus and was radically transforming his life; from a persecutor of God's Church he had become an evangelizer of that faith in the crucified Messiah and Son of God which in the past he had sought to destroy (cf. Gal Ga 1,23).

What sort of information did Paul gather about Jesus Christ during the three years that succeeded the Damascus encounter? In the First Letter to the Corinthians, we may note two passages that Paul learned in Jerusalem and that were already formulated as central elements of the Christian tradition, a constitutive tradition. Paul passed them on verbally, as he had received them, with a very solemn formula: "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received". He insists, therefore, on the fidelity to what he himself has received and faithfully transmits to new Christians. These are constitutive elements and concern the Eucharist and the Resurrection; they are passages that were already formulated in the 30s. Thus we come to Jesus' death, his burial in the heart of the earth and his Resurrection (cf. 1Co 15,3-4). Let us take both passages: for Paul, Jesus' words at the Last Supper (cf. 1Co 11,23-25) are truly the centre of the Church's life: the Church is built on this centre, thus becoming herself. In addition to this Eucharistic centre, in which the Church is constantly reborn - also in all of St Paul's theology, in all of his thought - these words have a considerable impact on Paul's personal relationship with Jesus. On the one hand they testify that the Eucharist illumines the curse of the Cross, making it a blessing (Ga 3,13-14), and on the other, they explain the importance of Jesus' death and Resurrection. In St Paul's Letters, the "for you" of the Institution of the Eucharist is personalized, becoming "for me" (Ga 2,20) - since Paul realized that in that "you" he himself was known and loved by Jesus - as well as being "for all" (2Co 5,14). This "for you" becomes "for me" and "for her [the Church]" (Ep 5,25), that is, "for all", in the expiatory sacrifice of the Cross (cf. Rm Rm 3,25). The Church is built from and in the Eucharist and recognizes that she is the "Body of Christ" (1Co 12,27), nourished every day by the power of the Spirit of the Risen One.

The other text, on the Resurrection, once again passes on to us the same formula of fidelity. St Paul writes: "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve" (1Co 15,3-5). This "for our sins" also recurs in this tradition passed on to Paul, which places the emphasis on the gift that Jesus made of himself to the Father in order to set us free from sin and death. From this gift of Jesus himself, Paul draws the most engaging and fascinating expressions of our relationship with Christ: "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2Co 5,21); "You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich" (2Co 8,9). Worth remembering is the comment Martin Luther made, then an Augustinian monk, on these paradoxical words of Paul: "This is that mystery which is rich in divine grace to sinners, wherein by a wonderful exchange our sins are no longer ours but Christ's, and the righteousness of Christ is not Christ's but ours" (Comments on the Psalms of 1513-1515). And thus we are saved.

In the original kerygma (announcement), passed on by word of mouth, the use of the verb "is risen" rather than "was risen" - which would have been more logical to use, in continuity with "died... and was buried" - deserves mention. The verb form "is risen" has been chosen to stress that Christ's Resurrection has an effect on the existence of believers even today; we might translate it as: "is risen and continues to live" in the Eucharist and in the Church. Thus all the Scriptures bear witness to the death and Resurrection of Christ because, as Ugo di San Vittore was to write, "the whole of divine Scripture constitutes one book and this one book is Christ, for the whole of Scripture speaks of Christ and is fulfilled in Christ" (De arca Noe, 2,8). If St Ambrose of Milan could say that "in Scripture we read Christ", it is because the early Church reinterpreted all the Scriptures of Israel, starting from and returning to Christ.

The enumeration of the apparitions of the Risen One to Cephas, to the Twelve, to more than 500 brethren and to James, culminates with the mention of the apparition to Paul himself on the road to Damascus: "Last of all, as to one untimely born" (1Co 15,8). Since he had persecuted God's Church, in this confession he expresses his unworthiness to be considered an Apostle on a par with those who had preceded him: but God's grace within him was not in vain (1Co 15,10). Thus, the overwhelming affirmation of divine grace unites Paul with the first witnesses of Christ's Resurrection: "Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed" (1Co 15,11). The identity and unity of the Gospel proclamation is important; both they and I preach the same faith, the same Gospel of Jesus Christ who died and is risen and who gives himself in the Most Holy Eucharist.

The importance that he confers on the living Tradition of the Church, which she passes on to her communities, shows how mistaken is the view that attributes the invention of Christianity to Paul; before evangelizing Jesus Christ, his Lord, Paul has met him on the road to Damascus and visited him in the Church, observing his life in the Twelve and in those who followed him on the roads of Galilee. In the next Catecheses we will have the opportunity to examine the contributions that Paul made to the Church of the origins. However, the mission he received from the Risen One to evangelize the Gentiles needed to be confirmed and guaranteed by those who offered him and Barnabas their right hand in fellowship, as a sign of approval of their apostolate and their evangelization and of their acceptance into the one communion of Christ's Church (cf. Gal Ga 2,9). One then understands that the expression "even though we once regarded Christ from a human point of view" (2Co 5,16) does not mean that his earthly life has little importance for our development in the faith, but that since his Resurrection our way of relating to him has changed. He is at the same time the Son of God "who was descended from David according to the flesh and designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his Resurrection from the dead", as Paul was to recall at the beginning of his Letter to the Romans (Rm 1,3-4).

The more we try to trace the footsteps of Jesus of Nazareth on the roads of Galilee, the better we shall be able to understand that he took on our humanity, sharing it in all things except sin. Our faith is not born from a myth or from an idea, but from the encounter with the Risen One in the life of the Church.

To special groups

I offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors here today, including the choir from New Zealand and the groups from Britain and Ireland, Scandinavia, Africa, Australia and the Far East. I greet in particular the new students from the Venerable English College and the priests from Ireland who are taking part in a renewal course. May your pilgrimage renew your faith in Christ present in his Church, after the example of the Apostle St Paul. May God bless you all!

My thoughts go lastly to the young people, the sick and the newlyweds. Dear young people, always be faithful to the Gospel ideal and put it into practice in your daily activities. Dear sick people, may the Lord's grace be a support to you in your suffering every day. And to you, dear newlyweds, I address a fatherly welcome, inviting you to open your souls to divine love so that it may enliven your family existence.

Paul VI Audience Hall

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