Speaking to the pilgrims gathered at the Paul VI Hall this morning, Pope Benedict turned his attention to the conversion of St. Paul, which he said shows us that Christianity is not “a new philosophy or a new form of morality,” but an encounter with the person of Christ, an event that ignites a personal relationship with Him.
Our knowledge of St. Paul’s conversion begins with the accounts in the Acts of the Apostles. Here, Saint Luke recounts the dramatic episode on the road to Damascus which transformed Paul from a fierce persecutor of the Church into a zealous evangelizer. The Pope also noted that in his own epistles, Paul describes the experience not so much in terms of a conversion, but as a call to apostleship and a commission to preach the Gospel.
Pope Benedict explained that Paul's encounter on the road to Damascus was not with concepts or ideas but "with the person of Jesus himself." Paul, the Pope continued, "met not only the historical Jesus of the past, but the living Christ who revealed himself as the one Savior and Lord." The encounter on the road to Damascus, he said, caused Paul's own being to die and another to be born with the living Christ. This historical event was "true renewal, which changed all his parameters."
Yet, Pope Benedict went on, "St. Paul did not consider the event as a conversion. And the reason", he explained, "is very clear: this transformation of his life was not the result of a psychological process, of an intellectual or moral evolution ... but the fruit of his meeting with Christ Jesus. ... St. Paul's renewal cannot be explained in any other way. Psychological analyses cannot clarify and resolve the problem; only an event, the forceful encounter with Christ, is the key to understanding what happened."
For us, the Holy Father concluded, Christianity "is not a new philosophy or a new form of morality. We are only Christians if we encounter Christ, even if He does not reveal Himself to us as clearly and irresistibly as he did to Paul in making him the Apostle of the Gentiles. We can also encounter Christ in reading Holy Scripture, in prayer, and in the liturgical life of the Church - touch Christ's heart and feel that Christ touches ours. And it is only in this personal relationship with Christ, in this meeting with the Risen One, that we are truly Christian."