Continuing his catechesis on St. Paul, Pope Benedict XVI dedicated today's audience to Paul's teachings on the Church. The Holy Father recalled Paul’s invitation to understand and love the Church ever more deeply, and to work to build her in faith and charity.
Speaking to thousands of faithful gathered in St. Peter's Square, Pope Benedict began his address by noting that the word "Church" in Greek, " ekklesia," comes from the Old Testament and means "assembly of the people of Israel," "summoned by God."
In his First Letter to the Thessalonians, Paul addresses the new Thessalonian community of believers in Christ as the "Church of the Thessalonians." In addition to local Christian communities, the word "Church" refers to the Church as a whole. "The Church of God" precedes the local Christian communities.
The Pope observed that the word "Church" almost always appears with the qualifier "of God." "The unity of God," he continued, "creates the unity of the Church wherever She is." In his Letter to the Ephesians, Paul elaborates on the unity of the Church and presents it as the one Church of God as "spouse of Christ."
In his youth, Paul was an adversary of the Church of Christ because he saw the new movement as a threat to the tradition of the people of God. However, after his encounter with the Risen Christ, Paul understood that the God of Israel had expanded His call to all nations. All were called to be part of the one people of God of the "Church of God" in Christ.
Pope Benedict explained that the fundamental value of Christ and of the "word" that he was proclaiming became suddenly clear for Paul. The Apostle to the Gentiles knew that one was not Christian by coercion. The institutional component was tied to the "living" word, to the proclamation of the living Christ, in which God opens Himself to all peoples.
The Paschal Mystery is at the center of Paul's preaching. This Mystery, the Holy Father expounded, "is realized in the sacraments of Baptism and of the Eucharist and then, becomes reality in Christian charity."
Paul's work of evangelization was aimed at establishing communities of believers in Christ. Paul preferred the word "ekklesia" because it implied directly the idea of a call "ab extra" (from the outside). Believers are called by God, who gathers them in a community, His Church.
The Pauline concept of the Church as "Body of Christ" has two dimensions. Firstly, there is the sociological character, which appears in Paul's Letter to the Romans and his First Letter to the Corinthians. All members, even the smallest and apparently insignificant, are necessary for the body to be able to live and to realize its proper functions. The Apostle observes that in the Church there are many vocations, "all necessary to build the living unity of this spiritual organism."
Secondly, the Church is not only an organism, but truly becomes the body of Christ in the Eucharist. There is the realization of the spousal mystery, where all become one body and one spirit in Christ.
Paul demonstrates that the Church is the body of Christ, the "Church of God" and "temple of God." The Pope said that the relationship between Church and temple has two dimensions: those of a sacred building and physical space. Pope Benedict stated, "If before temples were considered places of the presence of God, now one knows and sees that God does not live in buildings made of stone. The place of the presence of God in the world is the living community of believers."
The Holy Father concluded by recalling Paul's Letter to Timothy, in which Paul describes the Church as "house of God." This definition refers to the Church as a community structure, in which there are warm interpersonal relations of a familiar character. The greatness of the Church and of a Christian's calling is that Christians are a temple of God in the world, a place where God is truly present, as well as a family of God, which must realize God's love in the world.