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from issue no. 06/07 - 2008

Paul: a nobody loved by Jesus Christ (cf. 2Cor 12: 11 and Gal 2: 20)

Two excerpts form the homily of Pope Benedict XVI, during the celebration of First Vespers of the Solemnity of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul in the presence of the Ecumenic Patriarch Bartholomew I (Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls, Rome, Saturday, 28 June 2008)

Two excerpts from the homily of Pope Benedict XVI

Cathedral of Monreale (PA), 12th century: Saint Paul

Cathedral of Monreale (PA), 12th century: Saint Paul

Thus, we are gathered here to question ourselves on the great Apostle to the Gentiles. Let us not ask ourselves only: who was Paul? Let us ask ourselves above all: who is Paul? What does he say to me? At this moment, at the beginning of the “Pauline Year” that we are inaugurating, I would like to choose from the rich testimony of the New Testament, three texts in which his inner features, his specific character appear. In the Letter to the Galatians, St Paul gives a very personal profession of faith in which he opens his heart to readers of all times and reveals what was the most intimate drive of his life. “I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2: 20). All Paul’s actions begin from this centre. His faith is the experience of being loved by Jesus Christ in a very personal way. It is awareness of the fact that Christ did not face death for something anonymous but rather for love of him – of Paul – and that, as the Risen One, he still loves him; in other words, Christ gave himself for him. Paul’s faith is being struck by the love of Jesus Christ, a love that overwhelms him to his depths and transforms him. His faith is not a theory, an opinion about God and the world. His faith is the impact of God’s love in his heart. Thus, this same faith was love for Jesus Christ.

In the search for the inner features of St Paul I would like, secondly, to recall the words that the Risen Christ addressed to him on the road to Damascus. First the Lord asked him: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”. To the question: “Who are you, Lord?”, Saul is given the answer: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9: 4f.). In persecuting the Church, Paul was persecuting Jesus Himself. “You persecute me”. Jesus identifies with the Church in a single subject. This exclamation of the Risen One, which transformed Saul’s life, in summary already contains the entire doctrine on the Church as the Body of Christ. Christ did not withdraw himself into Heaven, leaving ranks of followers to carry out “his cause” on earth. The Church is not an association that desires to promote a specific cause. In her there is no question of a cause. In her it is a matter of the person of Jesus Christ, who, also as the Risen One, remained “flesh”. He has “flesh and bones” (Lk 24: 39), the Risen One says, in Luke’s Gospel, to the disciples who thought he was a ghost. He has a Body. He is personally present in his Church, “Head and Body” form one being, Augustine would come to say. “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?” Paul wrote to the Corinthians (1 Cor 6: 15). And he added: just as, according to the book of Genesis, man and woman become one flesh, thus Christ and his followers become one spirit, that is, one in the new world of the Resurrection (cf. 1 Cor 6: 16ff.). In all of this the Eucharistic mystery appears, in which Christ continually gives his Body and makes of us his Body: “The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Cor 10: 16f.). With these words, at this moment, not only Paul addresses us but also the Lord himself: how could you pierce my body? Before the Face of Christ, these words become at the same time an urgent plea: Bring us together from all our divisions. Grant that this may once again become reality today: there is one bread, therefore we, although we are many, are one body. For Paul, the words about the Church as the body of Christ are not just any comparison. They go far beyond a comparison. “Why do you persecute me?”. Christ ceaselessly draws us into his body, building his Body from the Eucharistic centre that for Paul is the centre of Christian existence by virtue of which everyone, as also every individual, can experience in a totally personal way: he has loved me and given himself for me.

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