Pope Benedict XVI- General Audiences
On St. Paul, an Apostle of Christ
"Love Is the True Wealth of Human Life"
H.H. Benedict XVI
September 10, 2008
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Last Wednesday I spoke about 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 into apostle. That meeting marked the
start of his mission. Paul could not continue to live as he did before.
Now he felt invested by the Lord with the charge to proclaim his Gospel
as an apostle.
It is precisely about this new condition of life, namely of his being an
apostle of Christ, that I would like to speak today. In keeping with the
Gospel, we normally identify the Twelve with the title of apostles, thus
intending to indicate those who were life companions and hearers of
Jesus' teaching. But Paul also feels himself a true apostle and it seems
clear, therefore, that the Pauline concept of apostolate is not
restricted to the group of Twelve.
Obviously, Paul is able to distinguish well his own case from that of
those "who were apostles before" him (Galatians 1:17): He recognizes for
them an all-together special place in the life of the Church.
However, as everyone knows, Paul also sees himself as apostle in the
strict sense. It is true that, at the time of the Christian origins, no
one traveled as many kilometers as he did, by earth and sea, with the
sole object of proclaiming the Gospel.
Hence, he had an idea of the apostolate that went beyond that left to
the group of Twelve, and handed down above all by St. Luke in the Acts
(cf. Acts 1-2:26; 6:2). In fact, in the First Letter to the Corinthians
Paul makes a clear distinction between "the Twelve" and "all the
apostles," mentioned as two different groups to benefit from the
apparitions of the Risen One (cf. 14:5.7).
In that same text he then goes on to humbly name himself "the least of
the apostles," comparing himself to an abortion and affirming literally:
"not fit 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 to me has not
been ineffective. Indeed, I have toiled harder than all of them; not I,
however, but the grace of God (that is) with me." (1 Corinthians
The metaphor of the abortion expresses extreme humility; it is also
found in the Letter to the Romans of St. Ignatius of Antioch: "I am the
least of all, I am an abortion, but it will be given to me to be
something, if I reach God" (9:2). What the bishop of Antioch will say in
relation to his imminent martyrdom, foreseeing that it would reverse his
unworthy condition, St. Paul says in relation to his own apostolic
commitment: It is in this that the fruitfulness of God's grace is
manifested, who knows how to transform an unsuccessful man into a
splendid apostle. From persecutor to founder of Churches: This is what
God has done in one who, from the evangelical point of view, could have
been considered rejected!
According to St. Paul's conception, what has God made of him and of the
other apostles? In his letters three main characteristics appear, which
constitute the apostle. The first is to have "seen the Lord" (cf. 1
Corinthians 9:1), namely, to have had a decisive encounter with him,
virtually chosen, by the grace of God with the revelation of his Son in
view of the joyful proclamation to the pagans. In a word, it is the Lord
who constitutes the apostolate, not one's presumption. The apostle does
not make himself, but is made by the Lord. Hence, the apostle needs to
refer constantly to the Lord. It is no accident that Paul says he was
"called to be an apostle" (Romans 1:1), that is, "not from human beings
nor through a human being but through Jesus Christ and God the Father"
(Galatians 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 Greek term "apostolos"
itself means, in fact, "sent, ordered," that is, ambassador and bearer
of a message; therefore he must act as charged with and representative
of a mandate. It is because of this that Paul describes himself as
"Apostle of Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 1:1; 2 Corinthians 1:1),
namely, his delegate, placed totally at his service, so much so as to
call himself "a slave of Jesus Christ" (Romans 1:1). Once again the idea
appears in the first place of another initiative, that of God in Jesus
Christ, to whom one is fully obliged, but above all the fact is
underlined that a mission was received from him to fulfill in his name,
putting absolutely in second place all personal interests.
The third requisite is the exercise of the "proclamation of the Gospel,"
with the consequent foundation of Churches. The title "apostle," in
fact, is not and cannot be honorific. It entails concretely and even
dramatically the whole existence of the subject in question. In the
First Letter to the Corinthians, Paul exclaims: "Am I not an apostle?
Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord?" (9:1).
Similarly in the Second Letter to the Corinthians he affirms: "You are
our letter ... a letter of Christ administered by us, written not in ink
but by the Spirit of the living God" (3:2-3).
Do not be surprised, then, if [St. John] Chrysostom speaks of Paul as "a
diamond soul" (Panegirici, 1,8), and continues saying: "In the same way
that fire applying itself to different materials is reinforced even more
... so Paul's word won to his cause all those with whom he related, and
those who made war on him, captivated by his speeches, became fuel for
this spiritual fire" (ibid., 7,11). This explains why Paul describes
apostles as "God's co-workers" (1 Corinthians 3:9; 2 Corinthians 6:1),
whose grace acts with them.
A typical element of the true apostle, brought well into the light by
St. Paul, is a sort of identification between the Gospel and the
evangelizer, both destined to the same end. No one like Paul, in fact,
has evidenced how the proclamation of the cross of Christ appears as "a
stumbling block" and "foolishness" (1 Corinthians 1:23), to which many
react with incomprehension and rejection. This occurred at that time,
and it should not be surprising that the same happens also today. The
apostle also shares in the destiny of appearing as "a stumbling block"
and "foolishness," and Paul knows it; this is the experience of his
To the Corinthians he wrote, not without a trace of irony: "For as I see
it, God has exhibited us apostles as the last of all, like people
sentenced to death, since we have become a spectacle to the world, to
angels and human beings alike. We are fools on Christ's account, but you
are wise in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are held in
honor, but we in disrepute. To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty,
we are poorly clad and roughly treated, we wander about homeless and we
toil, working with our own hands. When ridiculed, we bless; when
persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we respond gently. We have become
like the world's rubbish, the scum of all, to this very moment" (1
Corinthians 4:9-13). It is a self-portrait of St. Paul's apostolic life:
In all these sufferings the joy prevails of being bearers of God's
blessing and of the grace of the Gospel.
Paul, moreover, shares with the Stoic philosophy of his time the idea of
a tenacious constancy in all the difficulties that come his way; but he
surpasses the merely humanistic perspective, recalling the component of
the love of God and of Christ. "What will separate us from the love of
Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or
nakedness, or peril, or the sword? As it is written: 'For your sake we
are being slain all the day; we are looked upon as sheep to be
slaughtered.' No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through
him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor
angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor
powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to
separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans
This is the certainty, the profound joy that guides the Apostle Paul in
all these affairs: Nothing can separate us from the love of God. And
this love is the true wealth of human life.
As can be seen, St. Paul gave himself to the Gospel with all this life;
we can say 24 hours out of 24! And he carried out his ministry with
fidelity and joy, "to save at least some" (1 Corinthians 9:22).
And in his encounters with the Churches, though knowing he had a
relationship of paternity with them (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:15) if not
really of maternity (cf. Galatians 4:19), he put himself in an attitude
of complete service, stating admirably: "Not that we lord it over your
faith; rather, we work together for your joy, for you stand firm in the
faith" (2 Corinthians 1:24). This remains the mission of all the
apostles of Christ in all times: to be fellow workers of true joy.
[Translation by ZENIT]
[The Pope then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In todayís catechesis we turn to Saint Paulís view of what it means to
be an apostle of Jesus Christ. Though he did not belong to the group of
the Twelve, called by Jesus during his ministry, Paul nevertheless
claims the title for himself because he was chosen and transformed by
the grace of God, and shared the three principal characteristics of the
true apostle. The first is to have seen the Lord (1 Cor 9:1) and to have
been called by him. One becomes an apostle by divine vocation, not by
personal choice. The second characteristic also underlines the divine
initiative: an apostle is someone who is sent and therefore acts and
speaks as a delegate of Christ, placed totally at his service. The third
characteristic is dedication to the work of proclaiming the Gospel and
founding Christian communities. Saint Paul can point to his many trials
and sufferings that speak clearly of his courageous dedication to the
mission (cf. 2 Cor 11:23-28). In this context he sees an identification
between the life of the apostle and the Gospel that he preaches; the
apostle himself is despised when the Gospel is rejected. Saint Paul was
steadfast in his many difficulties and persecutions, sustained above all
by the unfailing love of Christ (cf. Rom 8:35-39). May the example of
his apostolic zeal inspire and encourage us today!
I am happy to greet all the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims
present at todayís 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!
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