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Pope Benedict on Paul of Tarsus

10/26/2006 - 6:00 AM PST

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"Be Imitators of Me, As I Am of Christ"

VATICAN CITY, OCT. 26, 2006 (Zenit) - Here is a translation of Benedict XVI's address at Wednesday's general audience, dedicated to presenting the figure of Paul of Tarsus.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters:

We have concluded our reflections on the Twelve Apostles, called directly by Jesus during his earthly life. Today we begin to approach the figures of other important personalities of the early Church. They also spent their lives for the Lord, for the Gospel and for the Church. They were men and women who, as Luke writes in the Acts of the Apostles, "have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ" (15:26).

The first of these, called by the Lord himself, by the risen one, to also be an authentic apostle, is without a doubt Paul of Tarsus. He shines like a star of first grandeur in the history of the Church, and not only in that of the origins.

St. John Chrysostom exalts him as a personage who is superior even to many angels and archangels (cf. "Panegyric" 7,3). In the Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri, inspired in Luke's account in the Acts of the Apostles (cf. 9:15), describes him simply as "chosen vessel" (Inferno 2, 28), which means: instrument chosen by God. Others have called him the "Thirteenth Apostle" -- and he really insists much on the fact of being an authentic apostle, having been called by the Risen One, or even "the first after the Only One."

Certainly, after Jesus, he is the personality of the origins of whom we are the most informed. In fact, not only do we have Luke's account in the Acts of the Apostles, but also a group of letters that come directly from his hand and that without intermediaries reveals to us his personality and thought. Luke tells us that his original name was Saul (cf. Acts 7:58; 8:1, etc.), in Hebrew Saul [also] (cf. Acts 13:21), and he was a Jew of the Diaspora, given that the city of Tarsus is situated between Anatolia and Syria.

Very soon he went to Jerusalem to study the Mosaic law in-depth at the feet of the great rabbi Gamaliel (cf. Acts 22:3). He had also learned a manual and common trade, tent-making (cf. Acts 18:3), which later would allow him to support himself personally without being a weight for the Churches (cf. Acts 20:34; 1 Corinthians 4:12; 2 Corinthians 12:13-14).

For him it was decisive to know the community of those who professed themselves disciples of Jesus. Through them he had news of a new faith, a new "way," as was said, which did not put the law of God at the center, but rather the person of Jesus, crucified and risen, to whom was attributed the remission of sins.

As a zealous Jew, he considered this message unacceptable, more than that, scandalous, and felt the duty to persecute Christ's followers, also outside Jerusalem. Precisely on the road to Damascus, at the beginning of the 30s, according to his words, "Jesus Christ" made Saul "his own." While Luke recounts the event with abundance of details -- the way in which the light of the Risen One reached him, changing his life fundamentally -- in his letters he goes directly to the essential and speaks not only of a vision (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:1), but of an illumination (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:6), and above all of a revelation and a vocation in the encounter with the Risen One (cf. Galatians 1:15-16).

In fact, he will describe himself explicitly as "apostle by vocation" (cf. Romans 1:1; 1 Corinthians 1:1; or "apostle by the will of God" (2 Corinthians 1:1, Ephesians 1:1; Colossians 1:1), as if wishing to underline that his conversion was not the result of nice thoughts, of reflections, but the fruit of a divine intervention, of an unforeseen divine grace. Henceforth, everything that before was of value to him became, paradoxically, according to his words, loss and refuse (cf. Philippians 3:7-10). And from that moment he put all his energies at the exclusive service of Jesus Christ and his Gospel. His existence would become that of an apostle who wants to "become all things to all men" (1 Corinthians 9:22) without reservations.

From here is derived a very important lesson for us: What matters is to put Jesus Christ at the center of our lives, so that our identity is characterized essentially by the encounter, by communion with Christ and his word. In his light, every other value must be recovered and purified of possible dross.

Another fundamental lesson left by Paul is the spiritual horizon that characterizes his apostolate. Acutely feeling the problem of the possibility for the Gentiles, namely, the pagans, to attain God, who is Jesus Christ crucified and risen who offers salvation to all men without exception, he dedicated himself to make this Gospel known, literally "good news," that is, the proclamation of grace destined to reconcile man with God, with himself and with others. From the first ...

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