During the homily at the first Vespers of the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, in which the Pauline Year was inaugurated, Pope Benedict XVI stressed that Saint Paul is still a “teacher, apostle and herald” to the world today, a saint whose experience of Christ’s love freed him to love God in return.
At 6 pm Roman time at the Roman Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls -- where the remains of the Apostle have been kept for centuries -- the Holy Father, in the company of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I and representatives of other Christian denominations, arrived in procession to the atrium. In front of the famous marble statue of St. Paul, they lit the candles that will remain burning during the entire Pauline year.
The procession continued to the presbytery of the Basilica, where Pope Benedict descended to the Apostle's tomb under the altar.
“Who was this Saint Paul?” asked the Pope. He described him using the saint's own words: “Teacher of the people, apostle and herald of Jesus Christ, this is how he portrays himself in a retrospective look on the course of his life. But his gaze looks not only to the past. His phrase “teacher of the people” is open to the future, to all the peoples and all generations.
“Paul is not simply a figure of the past, who we remember with veneration. He is also a teacher, apostle and herald of Jesus Christ for us as well.”
The Pope then explained that “we are therefore gathered not to reflect on a past history,” because “Paul wants to talk to us today. That is why I have desired to convoke this Pauline Year: to listen to him and to learn from him today, as our teacher, 'the faith and the truth' in which are rooted the reasons for the unity of the disciples of Christ.”
After expressing his joy for the “ecumenical nature” of the opening ceremony of the Pauline year, the Pope returned to Paul: “We ask ourselves: ‘Who is Paul? What is he telling me?’” He then quoted the letter of the Apostle to the Galatians: “I live in the faith of the Son of God, who has loved me and given himself for me” (Gal 2:20).
“Everything that Paul does starts from this core. His faith is the experience of being loved by Jesus Christ in a completely personal manner. His faith is the recognition of the fact that Christ has confronted death not for someone unknown, but for love of him, Paul, and that, since He is Risen, He loves him still,” Pope Benedict explained.
The Holy Father also explained that in his life, Paul “never looked for a superficial harmony.”
“The truth was for him too great to be sacrificed for an external success. The truth he had experienced in the encounter with the Risen Christ very much deserved the struggle, the persecution, the suffering.”
“But what most deeply motivated him,” Pope Benedict continued, “was the fact of being loved by Jesus Christ and the desire to transmit to others this love. Paul was someone capable of loving, and all his laboring and suffering is explained only from this core.”
The Holy Father then explained what he said was one of Saint Paul's key words: Freedom.
“The experience of being loved to the core by Christ opened his eyes to the truth and to the way of human existence. It was an experience that totally embraced him. Paul was free as a man loved by God, a man who, by virtue of God, was capable of loving with Him. This love is now 'the law' of his life and therefore the freedom of his life.”
“Freedom and responsibility are here united in an inseparable way. Because there is responsibility in love, he is free; because he is someone who loves, he lives completely in the responsibility of this love and does not take freedom as a pretext for arbitrariness or selfishness.”
Pope Benedict then explained that, in the conversion experience of St. Paul, when God tells Paul that he is persecuting God Himself by persecuting Christians, “Jesus identifies Himself with the Church as one single object. It is this revelation of the Risen Christ that transformed Paul's life, and in which is contained all of the teachings about the Church as the body of Christ... The Church is not an organization that wants to promote a certain cause. In her, it is not about a cause. It is about the person of Jesus Christ, who, even though He is Risen, has remained 'flesh'”
This, Pope Benedict said, “becomes today an urgent request: it brings us back together from all divisions. It is still a reality today: here is one bread, therefore we, though many, are one single body.”
Finally, the Holy Father explained that “the call to become the teacher of the people is at the same time also intrinsically a call to suffering in the communion of Christ, who has redeemed us through His Passion. In a world where falsehood is so powerful, the truth is redeemed through suffering. Whoever wants to avoid and keep away suffering keeps away life itself and its greatness; he cannot be a servant of the truth and therefore a servant of the faith. There is no love without suffering, without the suffering of self-renunciation, transformation and purification of the self by the real truth. Wherever there is nothing worthy of suffering for, life itself loses its value.”
The Pauline Year marks the two-thousandth anniversary of the Apostle’s birth. CNA has launched a special web site dedicated to the celebration.