Pope and Patriarch issue messages on St. Paul
Pope Benedict and [Eastern Orthodox] Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople spoke on universality of faith and the example of Paul, who combined the Latin, Greek, and Jewish cultures.
Tuesday, July 01, 2008
(Spero News) Pope Benedict XVI went on Saturday 28 June at 6pm to the Roman Basilica of St Paul's outside the Walls to preside First Vespers of the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul on the occasion of the opening of a special Year of Saint Paul with the participation of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I as well as representatives of other Christian Churches and communities.
Before entering the Basilica, the Pope, the Ecumenical Patriarch and a representative of the Archbishop of Canterbury, lit a lamp in the Hall of the Basilica which will burn throughout the Year of Saint Paul. The procession entered the Basilica through the Door of St Paul and after veneration at the tomb of the Apostle, Vespers began.
In his homily Pope Benedict said "For us Paul is not a figure of the past whom we recall with veneration. For us He is a teacher, an apostle and a herald of Jesus Christ. We have come here together not to reflect on past history, never to return. Paul wishes to speak with us - today. This is why I have called a special Year of St Paul: to listen to him and learn from him as our teacher, the faith and the truth, in which are rooted the reasons for unity of all disciples of
After greeting the numerous delegates and representatives of other Christian Churches and communities the Pope asked: "Who is Paul? What does he say to me?".
The reply is found in three New Testament texts illustrated by the Holy Father. In the Letter to the Galations "he gave us a most personal profession of faith... his faith is the experience of being loved by Jesus Christ in a personal way; it is knowledge of the fact that Christ faced death not for something anonymous but for love of him - of Paul - and that, as the Risen Lord, He still loves him, Christ gave himself for him. His faith is being struck by the love of Jesus Christ, a love which overwhelms and transforms him. His faith is not a theory, an opinion on God and the world. His faith is the impact of God's love on his heart. So this faith is in fact love for Jesus Christ".
In the Letter to the Thessalonians we read "for Paul the truth was too great to be sacrificed for any external success. The truth he had experience in his encounter with the Risen Christ was for him worth strife, persecution, suffering. He was deeply motivated by the fact that he felt loved by Jesus Christ and felt a desire to share this love with others. Paul was a man struck by a great love, and his work and suffering are explained by this nucleus".
The Holy Father then illustrated one key word: freedom. "Paul was free as a man loved by God and who, through God, was able to love with Him…anyone who loves Christ as Paul loved Him, can do anything, because his love is united with the will of Christ and so with the will of God; because his will is anchored in the truth and his will is not only his will, arbitrary of the autonomous I, instead it is integrated in the freedom of God and from this receives the way it is to walk".
Citing Jesus' words to Paul on the road to Damascus - "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" - the Pope explained "by persecuting the Church, Paul was persecuting Jesus Himself... Christ did not retire to heaven leaving a host of followers on earth to 'run his cause'.
The Church is not an association which promotes a cause. In the Church it is not a matter of a cause. It is a question of the person of Jesus Christ, who even as the Risen Lord was still 'flesh'... he has a body. He is personally present in his Church... In all this we glimpse the Eucharistic Mystery, in which Christ continues to give his Body and make us into his Body... Continually Christ draws us into his Body, he builds up his Body starting from the Eucharistic
centre, which for Paul is the heart of Christian life, through which all of us and as every individual can experience, in a personal way: He loved me and gave himself for me".
The Pope concluded him homily with these words: "We thank the Lord because he called Paul making him light of the nations and teacher for us all and we pray: give us today witnesses of the resurrection, filled with your love and able to carry the light of the Gospel in our times. Saint, pray for us! Amen."
Before the final Blessing the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew I addressed those present and he said "radical conversion and the apostolic kerygma of Saul of Tarsus 'shook' history in the literal sense of the word and outlined the actual identity of Christianity...
This holy place outside the Walls is most appropriate for commemorating and celebrating a man who combined the Greek language and the Roman mentality of his day, stripping Christianity, once and for all, of any mental restriction and forging for ever the Catholic foundation of the ecumenical Church. Let us hope that the life and the Letters of St Paul may continue to be for us a source of inspiration that all peoples may obey faith in Christ."