Last Sunday, the Solemnity of the Apostles Peter and Paul, marked the beginning of a year dedicated to the figure and teaching of the Apostle Paul. During today’s general audience in the Paul VI Audience Hall, Pope Benedict XVI began a new series of catecheses aimed at understanding more deeply the thought of Saint Paul and its continuing relevance.
The Holy Father said, "The apostle Paul … stands before us as an example of total dedication to the Lord and His Church, in addition to being an example of complete openness to humanity and culture.
In order "to understand what he has to say to we Christians of today, ... let us pause to consider the environment in which he lived and worked ... which in many ways ... is not so very different" from our own, said Benedict.
"The universal vision typical of the personality of Saint Paul, at least of the Christian Paul after the events on the way to Damascus, must certainly be founded on faith in Jesus Christ," Pope Benedict observed. "In fact, for the Apostle 'There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.'"
The Pope noted how St. Paul has also been called "'the man of three cultures'.” "Paul, as we know, was a Jew, and consequently a member of a distinct cultural minority in the Roman Empire. At the same time, he spoke Greek, the language of the wider Hellenistic culture, and was a Roman citizen. Paul's proclamation of the Risen Christ, while grounded in Judaism, was marked by a universalistic vision and it was facilitated by his familiarity with three cultures. He was thus able to draw from the spiritual richness of contemporary philosophy, and Stoicism in particular, in his preaching of the Gospel."
"The crisis of traditional Greco-Roman religion in Paul's time had also fostered a greater concern for a personal experience of God," Pope Benedict XVI explained. "As we see from his sermon before the Areopagus in Athens, Paul was able to appeal to these currents of thought in his presentation of the Good News. Against this broad cultural background, Paul developed his teaching, which we will explore in the catecheses of this Pauline Year."
Bringing his address to a close, the Holy Father returned to the purpose of the Pauline Year. "This is the goal of the Pauline Year: to learn from Saint Paul, to learn the faith, to learn about Christ, finally to learn the way of upright life."
At the end of his public audience, the Holy Father greeted English-speaking pilgrims from different corners of the globe, including groups from the United States, Canada and The Bahamas, as well as England, Ireland and Norway.