Speaking to 9,000 pilgrims gathered at the Paul VI Hall this morning, Pope Benedict reflected on St. Paul as an apostle of Jesus Christ. Though he did not belong to the group of the Twelve that Jesus called during his ministry, Paul nevertheless claims the title for himself, he explained.
The Pope recalled St. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, where Paul writes, "For I am the least of the apostles, 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." The grace of God transformed Paul from a persecutor to a founder of Churches.
St. Paul, the Holy Father continued, "shared the three principal characteristics of a true apostle."
The first is to have seen the Lord and to have been called by him. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul says that he had been called by the grace of God. One becomes an apostle by divine vocation, not by personal choice, Pope Benedict said.
The second characteristic, the Holy Father taught, 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." Pope Benedict went on to expound on the Greek word apóstolos, which means "one who is sent, dispatched, the bearer of a message."
“The title of apostle is not and cannot be a merely honorary title. It truly, even dramatically, involves the entire existence of the person concerned,” the Pontiff underscored.
The third characteristic of an apostle is "dedication to the work of proclaiming the Gospel and founding Christian communities." The Pope explained, "Apostle' is not an honorary title, it consumes the entire being of its subject." He recounted Paul's exclamation in the first letter to the Corinthians: "Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord?"
This type of dedication to the Gospel, including suffering for its sake, is exemplified by St. Paul, Benedict XVI said. Indeed, St. John Chrysostom described Paul as having a "soul of diamond," he added.
St. Paul, the Holy Father noted, "can point to his many trials and sufferings that speak clearly of his courageous dedication to the mission. 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." Pope Benedict asserted, "Saint Paul was steadfast in his many difficulties and persecutions, sustained above all by the unfailing love of Christ."
The Pope concluded by repeating a passage from St. Paul's second letter to the Corinthians: “‘Not that we lord it over your faith; rather, we work together for your joy, for you stand firm in the faith.’ This remains the mission of all the apostles of Christ in all times: to be collaborators of true joy," Benedict emphasized.
After his discourse on St. Paul as an apostle, the Holy Father greeted the French, to whose country he will go in two days to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Marian Apparitions at Lourdes.