As the faithful listened to Pope Benedict’s next installment in his series of teachings on the saints of the early Church today, they heard about St. Paulinus of Nola. This saint, the Pope said, teaches Christians about the Church as “a sacrament of intimate union with God and of the unity of the whole human race."
Hailing from Italy, St. Paulinus rose to become the governor of the Campania region in southern Italy at a young age. In that role he stood out for his wisdom and humility, while his contact with "the simple and intense faith" of the people marked the start of his own path to conversion, which was not without difficulties and trials,” the Holy Father related.
"The meeting with Christ was the finishing point of an arduous journey," during which a series of adverse circumstances brought the saint "to a direct experience of the frailty of things," said the Pope.
St. Paulinus' journey to faith also included marriage, but following the death of his newborn child he and his wife Terasia decided to give their possessions to the poor and, living in fraternal chastity, to found a monastic community. His pastoral activity was characterized, the Holy Father went on, "by his particular concern for the poor, and he left behind him the image of a true pastor of charity."
Many of Paulinus’ friends were deeply impacted by his conversion and they criticized "his 'disdain' ... for worldly goods and his abandonment of his literary calling," said Benedict XVI. But Paulinus would respond to them by saying "that giving to the poor did not mean disdain for worldly goods, but rather their employment for the most exalted aim of charity. ... A new aesthetic now governed the saint's sensibility: the beauty of the incarnate God, crucified and risen."
Lessons from St. Paulinus
"St. Paulinus did not write theological treatises, but his odes ... are replete with a living theology," said Pope Benedict, "which is constantly examined as light for life.”
What stands out from his writings “is the idea of the Church as a mystery of unity. He experienced communion above all through the ardent cultivation of spiritual friendship. ... With remarkable warmth the saint of Nola praises friendship as a manifestation of the one body of Christ animated by the Holy Spirit," Benedict XVI related.
The final lesson that can be learned from St. Paulinus is “the concept of communion that theology in our own day has found the key for approaching the mystery of the Church." St. Paulinus’ life helps us to experience “the Church as she is presented to us by Vatican Council II, a sacrament of intimate union with God and of the unity of the whole human race," Pope Benedict XVI concluded.