Continuing his reflections on St. Paul, Pope Benedict XVI dedicated today's audience to two episodes that demonstrate Paul's respect and freedom in his relations with Peter and the other Apostles. The Holy Father reminded the faithful that only sincere dialogue, open to the truth of the Gospel, was able to guide the Church's way.
Speaking to the 20,000 faithful gathered in St. Peter's Square, Pope Benedict began his speech by noting that every Council and Synod of the Church is an "event of the Holy Spirit." St. Luke, shows us this reality when he recounts the first Council of the Church by introducing the Apostles' letter to the Christian communities: "It is the decision of the holy Spirit and of us."
The assembly of Jerusalem, the Pope explained, was a response to the problem of pagan followers of Jesus Christ and whether they were free from the Mosaic Law, that is, from the observance of the necessary norms to be just men. On that occasion, Paul laid out for the Twelve Apostles his gospel of freedom from the Law. "Christ is our justice and all those who conform to him are 'just,'" Pope Benedict summarized.
"If," he went on, "for Luke the Council of Jerusalem expressed the action of the Spirit, for Paul it represented the decisive recognition of the freedom that all the participants shared: freedom from the obligations arising from circumcision and from the Law."
"Nonetheless," the Holy Father continued, "Christian liberty is never to be identified with libertinism or with the freedom to do as one pleases; it is enacted in conformity with Christ and, hence, in true service to our bothers and sisters, especially those most in need."
This type of service brought to the Pope’s mind the collection organized by St. Paul for the poor of Jerusalem, which he explained "was an expression of his communities' debt towards the Mother Church of Palestine, from which they had received the priceless gift of the Gospel."
The incident in with unclean foods in Antioch, Syria, the Holy Father recalled, attests to the interior freedom that Paul was enjoying. The other epicenter of the Mosaic observance emerges: "the distinction between pure and impure food," the Pope noted. Paul accused Peter and the others of hypocrisy: "If you, though a Jew, are living like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?"
Writing to the Christians of Rome a few years later, Paul finds himself in a similar situation and asks the strong to not eat impure food so as to not scandalize the weak. Paul writes, "(I)t is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble." The incident in Antioch revealed itself as a lesson for Peter and for Paul. "For the kingdom of God is not a matter of food and drink, but of righteousness, peace, and joy in the holy Spirit."
"This is a lesson we too must learn," the Holy Father concluded. "With the different charisms entrusted to Peter and to Paul, let us all allow ourselves to be guided by the Spirit, seeking to live in the freedom that has its guide in our faith in Christ and its concrete form in service to others. It is vital to conform ourselves ever more closely to Christ. In this way we truly become free and find within ourselves the real centre and profound essence of the Law: love of God and of neighbor."