Pope Benedict XVI- Audiences
Paul of Tarsus
"Be Imitators of Me, As I Am of Christ"
H.H. Benedict XVI
October 25, 2006
Dear Brothers and Sisters:
We have concluded our reflections on the Twelve Apostles, called
directly by Jesus during his earthly life. Today we begin to
approach the figures of other important personalities of the early
Church. They also spent their lives for the Lord, for the Gospel and
for the Church. They were men and women who, as Luke writes in the
Acts of the Apostles, "have risked their lives for the sake of our
Lord Jesus Christ" (15:26).
The first of these, called by the Lord himself, by the risen one, to
also be an authentic apostle, is without a doubt Paul of Tarsus. He
shines like a star of first grandeur in the history of the Church,
and not only in that of the origins.
St. John Chrysostom exalts him as a personage who is superior even
to many angels and archangels (cf. "Panegyric" 7,3). In the Divine
Comedy, Dante Alighieri, inspired in Luke's account in the Acts of
the Apostles (cf. 9:15), describes him simply as "chosen vessel"
(Inferno 2, 28), which means: instrument chosen by God. Others have
called him the "Thirteenth Apostle" -- and he really insists much on
the fact of being an authentic apostle, having been called by the
Risen One, or even "the first after the Only One."
Certainly, after Jesus, he is the personality of the origins of whom
we are the most informed. In fact, not only do we have Luke's
account in the Acts of the Apostles, but also a group of letters
that come directly from his hand and that without intermediaries
reveals to us his personality and thought. Luke tells us that his
original name was Saul (cf. Acts 7:58; 8:1, etc.), in Hebrew Saul
[also] (cf. Acts 13:21), and he was a Jew of the Diaspora, given
that the city of Tarsus is situated between Anatolia and Syria.
Very soon he went to Jerusalem to study the Mosaic law in-depth at
the feet of the great rabbi Gamaliel (cf. Acts 22:3). He had also
learned a manual and common trade, tent-making (cf. Acts 18:3),
which later would allow him to support himself personally without
being a weight for the Churches (cf. Acts 20:34; 1 Corinthians 4:12;
2 Corinthians 12:13-14).
For him it was decisive to know the community of those who professed
themselves disciples of Jesus. Through them he had news of a new
faith, a new "way," as was said, which did not put the law of God at
the center, but rather the person of Jesus, crucified and risen, to
whom was attributed the remission of sins.
As a zealous Jew, he considered this message unacceptable, more than
that, scandalous, and felt the duty to persecute Christ's followers,
also outside Jerusalem. Precisely on the road to Damascus, at the
beginning of the 30s, according to his words, "Jesus Christ" made
Saul "his own." While Luke recounts the event with abundance of
details -- the way in which the light of the Risen One reached him,
changing his life fundamentally -- in his letters he goes directly
to the essential and speaks not only of a vision (cf. 1 Corinthians
9:1), but of an illumination (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:6), and above all
of a revelation and a vocation in the encounter with the Risen One
(cf. Galatians 1:15-16).
In fact, he will describe himself explicitly as "apostle by
vocation" (cf. Romans 1:1; 1 Corinthians 1:1; or "apostle by the
will of God" (2 Corinthians 1:1, Ephesians 1:1; Colossians 1:1), as
if wishing to underline that his conversion was not the result of
nice thoughts, of reflections, but the fruit of a divine
intervention, of an unforeseen divine grace. Henceforth, everything
that before was of value to him became, paradoxically, according to
his words, loss and refuse (cf. Philippians 3:7-10). And from that
moment he put all his energies at the exclusive service of Jesus
Christ and his Gospel. His existence would become that of an apostle
who wants to "become all things to all men" (1 Corinthians 9:22)
From here is derived a very important lesson for us: What matters is
to put Jesus Christ at the center of our lives, so that our identity
is characterized essentially by the encounter, by communion with
Christ and his word. In his light, every other value must be
recovered and purified of possible dross.
Another fundamental lesson left by Paul is the spiritual horizon
that characterizes his apostolate. Acutely feeling the problem of
the possibility for the Gentiles, namely, the pagans, to attain God,
who is Jesus Christ crucified and risen who offers salvation to all
men without exception, he dedicated himself to make this Gospel
known, literally "good news," that is, the proclamation of grace
destined to reconcile man with God, with himself and with others.
From the first moment he understood that this was a reality that did
not affect only the Jews, a certain group of men, but that it had
universal value and affected all.
The Church of Antioch of Syria was the starting point of his trips,
where for the first time the Gospel was proclaimed to the Greeks,
and where the name "Christians" was also coined (cf. Acts 11:20.26),
that is, believers in Christ. From there in the first instance he
started off to Cyprus and then on different occasions to regions of
Asia Minor (Pisidia, Laconia, Galatia), and later to those of Europe
(Macedonia, Greece). More revealing were the cities of Ephesus,
Philippi, Thessalonica, Corinth, not forgetting either Berea, Athens
Difficulties were not lacking in Paul's apostolate, which he faced
with courage for love of Christ. He himself recalls that he had to
endure "labors ... imprisonments ... beatings; danger of death, many
times ... Three times I have been beaten with rods; once I was
stoned. Three times I have been shipwrecked ... on frequent
journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my
own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the
wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brethren; in toil and
hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst,
often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other
things, there is the daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for all
the Churches" (2 Corinthians 11:23-28).
In a passage of the Letter to the Romans (cf. 15:24.28) is reflected
his intention to go to Spain, to the limits of the West, to proclaim
the Gospel everywhere to the ends of the then known earth. How can
such a man not be admired? How can we not thank the Lord for having
given us an apostle of this stature? Clearly, he would not have been
able to face such difficult and at times so desperate situations,
had he not had a reason of absolute value before which there could
be no limits. We know that for Paul this reason was Jesus Christ, of
whom he writes: "The love of Christ controls us ... he died for all,
that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him
who for their sake died and was raised" (2 Corinthians 5:14-15), for
us, for all.
In fact, the Apostle will give his supreme witness with his blood
under the emperor Nero here, in Rome, where we keep and venerate his
mortal remains. In the last years of the 1st century, Clement of
Rome, my predecessor in this Apostolic See, wrote: "Because of
jealousy and discord, Paul was obliged to show us how one obtains
the prize of patience ... After preaching justice to all in the
world, and after having arrived at the limits of the West, he
endured martyrdom before the political rulers; in this way he left
this world and reached the holy place, thus becoming the greatest
model of perseverance" (To the Corinthians, 5).
May the Lord help us to live the exhortation that the Apostle left
us in his letters: "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ" (1
[Translation by ZENIT]
[At the end of the audience, the Holy Father greeted pilgrims in
several languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
In our catechesis on the Church's apostolic ministry, we now turn
from the Twelve Apostles called by Jesus during his earthly life to
some other important figures of the early Church. Outstanding among
these is St. Paul, who has been called the "Thirteenth Apostle."
Paul was a devout follower of the law, whose initial hostility to
the Gospel suddenly melted when he encountered the risen Lord on the
road to Damascus.
His own accounts of this dramatic conversion speak not only about
his vision of Jesus, but also his call to be an apostle. From that
moment on, Paul's life was completely dedicated to the service of
Christ. From Paul we learn to make Christ the center of our lives
and to see all things in the light of God's universal, reconciling
Paul's zeal for the Gospel led him to preach the name of Jesus in
Asia and Europe, and to face countless trials with courage and
undying love for the Lord. Truly, the love of Christ impelled him
(cf. 2 Corinthians 5:14), even to his death as a martyr here in
Rome. Through the prayers of St. Paul, may we respond joyfully to
his challenge to become "imitators of me, as I am of Christ" (1
I am pleased to greet the many English-speaking pilgrims present,
especially those from England, Ireland, Nigeria, South Africa,
Tanzania, India, Indonesia, Japan and the United States of America.
My special greetings go to the pilgrims from the Dioceses of
Cheyenne and Wheeling-Charleston, led by their bishops.
I also greet the priests taking part in the Institute of Continuing
Theological Education of the Pontifical North American College. I
thank the Holy Rosary School Choir from Gauteng, South Africa, for
their praise of God in song. Upon all of you I cordially invoke an
abundance of joy and peace in the Lord.
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