Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Paul's Message Is for Today, Says Pontiff

Looks at 3 Fundamental Elements in Apostle's Teaching

ROME, JUNE 30, 2008 (Zenit.org).- St. Paul is not a mere historical figure, but someone who has a message for us today, says Benedict XVI.

The Pope affirmed this at the solemn inauguration of the Pauline Jubilee Year, which began with Saturday evening's vespers, held at St. Paul's Outside the Walls. The jubilee runs through June 29, 2009.

"We have come together not to reflect on a past history, irrevocably surpassed. Paul wants to speak with us today," the Holy Father said in his homily. "That is why I wanted to convoke this special 'Pauline year': to listen to him and to drink from him, as our teacher, in the faith and truth, in which are rooted the reasons for unity among the disciples of Christ.

"We are gathered, therefore, to question ourselves about the great apostle of the Gentiles. Not only do we ask ourselves, 'Who was Paul?' Above all, we ask ourselves 'Who is Paul?' 'What is he saying to me?'"

The Pontiff then proposed three texts from Pauline letters to look at Paul's "inner physiognomy […] that which is specific about his character."

Beloved by Christ

The first passage cited by the Pope was Paul's profession of faith in the Letter to the Galatians: "I live in the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave himself up for me."

"All that Paul does starts from this center," the Holy Father explained. "His faith is the experience of being loved by Jesus Christ in a totally personal way; it is awareness of the fact that Christ faced death not for something anonymous, but for love of him, of Paul, and that, risen, Christ still loves him, has given himself for him.

"His faith is having been captured by the love of Jesus Christ, a love that affects him in his innermost being and transforms him. His faith is not a theory, an option about God or the world. His faith is the impact of the love of God on his heart. So, this faith itself is love of Jesus Christ."

This faith and love, the Bishop of Rome continued, were linked to truth.

"The truth was too great for [Paul] to be ready to sacrifice it in view of an external success," he said. "The truth he had experienced in his encounter with the Risen One merited for him struggle, persecution and suffering. However, what motivated him in the depth of his being was being loved by Jesus Christ and the desire to transmit this love to others. Paul was someone able to love, and all his work and suffering is explained from this center."

With this foundation, the Holy Father suggested, it is easy to understand the concepts in the Pauline proclamation. He used as an example one of Paul's key words, freedom.

"The experience of being loved to the end by Christ opened [Paul's] eyes about truth and the path of human existence; that experience embraced everything," he said. "Paul was free as a man loved by God that, in virtue of God, was able to love together with him. This love is now the 'law' of his life and, precisely thus, was the freedom of his life. He speaks and acts, moved by the responsibility of love; he is free, and given that he is one who loves, he lives totally in the responsibility of this love and does not take freedom as a pretext for pleasure and egoism."

Identified with Church

Benedict XVI offered as a second text Paul's conviction about Christ being identified with the Church, a conviction that arose from his conversion experience on the road to Damascus.

The Holy Father recalled how Paul responded to the voice that asked him, "Why do you persecute me?" with the question, "Who are you, Lord?"

"And he received the reply: 'I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.' By persecuting the Church," the Pope said, "Paul was persecuting Jesus himself. 'You are persecuting me.'"

He explained: "Jesus identifies himself with the Church in a single subject. In this exclamation of the Risen One -- which transformed Saul's life -- is contained the whole doctrine of the Church as Body of Christ. […] The Church is not an association that wishes to promote a certain cause. It is not about a cause. It is about the person of Jesus Christ. […] He is personally present in the Church. 'Head and Body' form a single subject, said Augustine.

"So Christ becomes one spirit with his own, one subject in the new world of the resurrection. In all this, the Eucharistic mystery is visualized, in which Christ constantly gives his Body and makes of us one Body."

The Pontiff said that now, Paul and Christ address us with the question, "'How were you able to lacerate my Body?' Before the face of Christ, this question becomes at the same time an urgent appeal: Bring us together again from all our divisions. Make this again a reality today: There is only one bread; therefore, we, despite being many, are only one body."

Ready to suffer

Finally, Benedict XVI offered as a third citation one of St. Paul's last exhortations, written from prison where he was facing death: "Endure with me sufferings for the Gospel."

"The task of proclamation and the call to suffering for Christ are inseparably together," the Pope affirmed. "The call to be 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, truth is paid for with suffering. He who wishes to avoid suffering, to keep it far from himself, will have pushed away life itself and its grandeur. […] There is no love without suffering, without the suffering of denying ourselves, of the transformation and purification of the 'I' for true freedom.

"Wherever there is nothing worth suffering for, life itself also loses its value. The Eucharist -- center of our Christian being -- is based on the sacrifice of Jesus for us; it was born from the suffering of the love that found its culmination on the cross. We live from this love that gives itself. This gives us the courage and strength to suffer with Christ and for him, thus knowing that precisely in this way our life becomes great, mature and true."

It was Paul's suffering that make him "credible as teacher of truth," the Holy Father proposed.

And he concluded with a prayer: "At this hour in which we thank the Lord for having called Paul, making him the light of the Gentiles and teacher of us all, we pray: Give us also today the testimony of the Resurrection, touched by your love, and [make us] able to carry the light of the Gospel in our time. St. Paul, pray for us. Amen."

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