Offering the last of his reflections on St. Paul during his weekly General Audiences, Pope Benedict XVI explained the special presence of the Church in the life, thoughts, and heart of the Apostle, and discussed how, for Paul, the greatness and nobility of the Church lies in being, “almost an extension” of Christ’s personal presence in the world.
The Holy Father recalled for the rain-drenched crowd gathered in St. Peter’s Square, how St. Paul's, "first contact with the person of Jesus came about through the witness of the Christian community of Jerusalem.”
“This gives us the opportunity to make a first important observation,” the Pope pointed out, “normally we come to Jesus - either to accept Him or refuse Him - through the mediation of the community of believers."
"In a certain way this also happened to St. Paul," said the Pope, although in Paul's case "adherence to the Church was facilitated by a direct intervention of Christ, Who, revealing Himself on the road to Damascus, identified Himself with the Church and made Paul understand that to persecute the Church was to persecute Him ... From this we can understand why the Church was so present in the thoughts, heart and activity of St. Paul."
He "founded many Churches in the various cities he visited as an evangelizer." And "in his Letters, Paul also explains his doctrine on the Church.”
“Particularly well-known,” the Holy Father noted, “is his definition of the Church as the 'body of Christ,' which is not to be found in other first-century Christian writers."
"The deepest roots of this surprising definition of the Church," he said, "are to be found in the Sacrament of the body of Christ.”
“In the Eucharist, Christ gives us His Body and makes us His Body,” the Pope continued. “In this way, Paul brings us to understand that not only does the Church belong to Christ, but that there is also some form of equivalence and identification between the Church and Christ.”
“Thence springs the greatness and nobility of the Church, in other words, of all of us who, as limbs of Christ, are part of the Church, almost an extension of His personal presence in the world," he said.
"Thence also derive Paul's exhortations regarding the various charisms that animate and give structure to the Christian community," the Holy Father affirmed. "However, it is important that all such charisms work together to build the community and do not become a cause of its break-up."
"Of course,” he added, “underscoring the need for unity does not mean that ecclesial life must be rendered uniform and dull.”