MARY, OUR MOTHER

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Ignatius Press Blog: It "was not simply a conversion ... but rather a death and a resurrection for Paul himself

On this, the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle, some remarks taken from Pope Benedict XVI's general audience of September 3, 2008:

Thus we can see that the two sources, the Acts of the Apostles and the Letters of St Paul, converge and agree on the fundamental point: the Risen One spoke to Paul, called him to the apostolate and made him a true Apostle, a witness of the Resurrection, with the specific task of proclaiming the Gospel to the Gentiles, to the Greco-Roman world. And at the same time, Paul learned that despite the immediacy of his relationship with the Risen One, he had to enter into communion with the Church, he himself had to be baptized, he had to live in harmony with the other Apostles. Only in such communion with everyone could he have been a true apostle, as he wrote explicitly in the First Letter to the Corinthians: "Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed" (15: 11). There is only one proclamation of the Risen One, because Christ is only one.

As can be seen, in all these passages Paul never once interprets this moment as an event of conversion. Why? There are many hypotheses, but for me the reason is very clear. This turning point in his life, this transformation of his whole being was not the fruit of a psychological process, of a maturation or intellectual and moral development. Rather it came from the outside: it was not the fruit of his thought but of his encounter with Jesus Christ. In this sense it was not simply a conversion, a development of his "ego", but rather a death and a resurrection for Paul himself. One existence died and another, new one was born with the Risen Christ. There is no other way in which to explain this renewal of Paul. None of the psychological analyses can clarify or solve the problem. This event alone, this powerful encounter with Christ, is the key to understanding what had happened: death and resurrection, renewal on the part of the One who had shown himself and had spoken to him. In this deeper sense we can and we must speak of conversion. This encounter is a real renewal that changed all his parameters. Now he could say that what had been essential and fundamental for him earlier had become "refuse" for him; it was no longer "gain" but loss, because henceforth the only thing that counted for him was life in Christ.

Nevertheless we must not think that Paul was thus closed in a blind event. The contrary is true because the Risen Christ is the light of truth, the light of God himself. This expanded his heart and made it open to all. At this moment he did not lose all that was good and true in his life, in his heritage, but he understood wisdom, truth, the depth of the law and of the prophets in a new way and in a new way made them his own. At the same time, his reasoning was open to pagan wisdom. Being open to Christ with all his heart, he had become capable of an ample dialogue with everyone, he had become capable of making himself everything to everyone. Thus he could truly be the Apostle to the Gentiles.

Turning now to ourselves, let us ask what this means for us. It means that for us too Christianity is not a new philosophy or a new morality. We are only Christians if we encounter Christ. Of course, he does not show himself to us in this overwhelming, luminous way, as he did to Paul to make him the Apostle to all peoples. But we too can encounter Christ in reading Sacred Scripture, in prayer, in the liturgical life of the Church. We can touch Christ's Heart and feel him touching ours. Only in this personal relationship with Christ, only in this encounter with the Risen One do we truly become Christians. And in this way our reason opens, all Christ's wisdom opens as do all the riches of truth.

Therefore let us pray the Lord to illumine us, to grant us an encounter with his presence in our world, and thus to grant us a lively faith, an open heart and great love for all, which is capable of renewing the world.

Related from Ignatius Press:

Saint Paul


Pope Benedict XVI

St. Paul is one of the most important figures in Christian history. As Saul of Tarsus he vigorously persecuted Christianity, even collaborating in the death of Christianity's first martyr, Stephen. His encounter with the resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus changed Paul's life, the Christian Church, and world history. More than anyone else in the early Church, Paul saw the universal nature of the Christian message. He became the "Apostle to the Gentiles" and the "Teacher of the Nations". As the human author of half of the New Testament, Paul is a figure who cannot be overlooked by anyone who wants to understand Jesus Christ and Christianity.

In this book, Pope Benedict XVI, a profound spiritual leader in his own right and a first-rate theologian and Bible commentator, explores the legacy of Paul. Pope Benedict follows the course of the Apostle's life, including his missionary journeys and his relationship with the other apostles of Jesus such as St. Peter and St. James, and Paul's martyrdom in Rome. Benedict also examines such questions as: Did Paul know Jesus during his earthly life and how much of Jesus' teaching and ministry did he know of? Did Paul distort the teachings of Jesus? What role did Jesus' death and resurrection play in Paul's teaching? What are we to make of Paul's teaching about the end of the world? What does Paul's teaching say about the differences between Catholic and Protestant Christians over salvation and the roles of faith and works in the Christian life? How have modern Catholic and Protestant scholars come together in their understanding of Paul? What does Paul have to teach us today about living a spiritual life?

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