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On Paul's Collaborators

"Holiness Doesn't Consist in Not Making Mistakes or Never Sinning"

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 1, 2007 (Zenit) - Here is a translation of Benedict XVI's address at Wednesday's general audience. The Pope dedicated his address to the figures of three of St. Paul's collaborators: Barnabas, Silas and Apollos.

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Continuing our journey among the leaders of the Christian origins, today we look at other collaborators of St. Paul. We must acknowledge that the Apostle is an eloquent example of a man open to collaboration: In the Church, he does not want to do everything on his own, but makes use of numerous and diverse colleagues.

We cannot reflect on all these precious helpers, as they are many. Suffice it to recall, among others, Epaphras (cf. Colossians 1:7; 4:12; Philemon 23), Epaphroditus (cf. Philippians 2:25; 4:18), Tychicus (cf. Acts 20:4; Ephesians 6:21; Colossians 4:7; 2 Timothy 4:12; Titus 3:12), Urbanus (cf. Romans 16:9), Gaius and Aristarchus (cf. Acts 19:29; 20:4; 27:2; Colossians 4:10).

And women such as Phoebe (cf. Romans 16:1), Tryphaena and Tryphosa (cf. Romans 16:12), Persis, mother of Rufus, of whom he says, "also his mother and mine" (cf. Romans 16:12-13), not forgetting spouses such as Prisca and Aquila (cf. Romans 16:3; 1 Corinthians 16:19; 2 Timothy 4:19).

Today, among this great army of men and women collaborators of St. Paul, we are interested in three of these persons who had a particularly significant role in the evangelization of the origins: Barnabas, Silas and Apollos.

"Barnabas," which means "son of encouragement" (Acts 4:36) or "son of consolation," is the nickname of a Levite Jew born a native of Cyprus. Having moved to Jerusalem, he was one of the first to embrace Christianity, after the Lord's resurrection.

With great generosity, he sold a field that belonged to him, giving the money to the Apostles for the needs of the Church (cf. Acts 4:37). He became the guarantor of Saul's conversion to the Christian community of Jerusalem, which still mistrusted its former persecutor (cf. Acts 9:27).

Sent to Antioch of Syria, he went to look for Paul in Tarsus, where he had gone, and spent a whole year with him, dedicating himself to the evangelization of that important city, in whose Church Barnabas was known as prophet and doctor (cf. Acts 13:1).

So Barnabas, at the moment of the first conversions of pagans, understood that Saul's hour had arrived; Saul had gone to Tarsus, his city. He went there to look for him. In that important moment he virtually restored Paul to the Church; he gave it, in a certain sense, once again, the Apostle of the Gentiles.

From the Church of Antioch, Barnabas was sent on mission, together with Paul, undertaking the Apostle's so-called first missionary journey. In reality, it was Barnabas' missionary journey, given that he was the person in charge. Paul joined him as a collaborator, crossing the regions of Cyprus and central-south Anatolia, in present-day Turkey, through the cities of Atalia, Perga, Antioch of Psidia, Lycaonia, Lystra and Derbe (cf. Acts 13-14).

Together with Paul he then went to the so-called Council of Jerusalem where, after a profound examination of the question, the Apostles with the elders decided to abandon the practice of circumcision (cf. Acts 15:1-35).

Only thus, in the end, did they allow it officially to be the Church of the pagans, a Church without circumcision: We are children of Abraham simply through faith in Christ.

The two, Paul and Barnabas, confronted each other later, at the start of the second missionary journey, because Barnabas wanted to get John Mark as a companion, while Paul did not want to, given that the youth had separated from them in the previous journey (cf. Acts 13:13; 15:36-40).

Hence, also among saints there are oppositions, discords and controversies. And this is very consoling for me, as we see that the saints have not "fallen from heaven."

They are men like us, with complicated problems. Holiness does not consist in not making mistakes or never sinning. Holiness grows with the capacity for conversion, repentance, willingness to begin again, and above all with the capacity for reconciliation and forgiveness.

And in this way, Paul, who had been somewhat hard and bitter with Mark, in the end meets him again. In the last letters of St. Paul, to Philemon and in the second to Timothy, Mark appears precisely as "my collaborator."

We are not made saints because we never make a mistake, but because of our capacity to forgive and reconcile. And we can all learn this way of holiness. In any case, Barnabas, with John Mark, returned to Cyprus (cf. Acts 15:39) around the year 49.

From then on all traces of him were lost. Tertullian attributes to him the Letter to the Hebrews, which is not improbable as, being of the tribe of Levi, Barnabas might have been interested in the topic of priesthood. And the Letter to the Hebrews interprets Jesus' priesthood for us in an extraordinary way.

Silas, another of Paul's companions, is the Greek form of a Hebrew name (perhaps "sheal": to request, to invoke), which constitutes the same root of the name "Saul" (which also proceeds the Latin form "Silvanus").

The name Silas is only mentioned in the book of the Acts of the Apostles, whereas Silvanus appears in Paul's letters. He was a Jew from Jerusalem, one of the first to become a Christian, and he enjoyed great esteem in that Church (cf. Acts 15:22), being considered a prophet (cf. Acts 15:32).

He was in charge of taking "to the brethren of Antioch, Syria and Cilicia" (Acts 15:23) the decisions made by the Council of Jerusalem and of explaining them.

Evidently they thought that he was able to carry out a sort of mediation between Jerusalem and Antioch, between Judeo-Christians and Christians of pagan origin, and in this way serve the unity of the Church in the diversity of rites and origins.

When Paul separated from Barnabas, he took Silas as his new fellow traveler (cf. Acts 15:40). With Paul, he arrived in Macedonia (in the cities of Philippi, Thessalonica and Berea), where he stayed, while Paul continued to Athens and afterward to Corinth.

Silas reached him in Corinth, where he collaborated in the preaching of the Gospel; in fact, in Paul's second letter to that Church, he speaks of "Jesus Christ, whom we preached among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I" (2 Corinthians 1:19).

This explains why he appears as co-author, along with Paul and Timothy, of the two Letters to the Thessalonians.

This also seems important to me. Paul does not act as a "soloist," as an isolated individual, but together with these collaborators in the "we" of the Church.

This "I" of Paul is not an isolated "I," but an "I" in the "we" of the Church, in the "we" of the apostolic faith.

And Silvanus is mentioned also at the end of the First Letter of Peter, when one reads: "By Silvanus, a faithful brother as I regard him, I have written briefly to you" (5:12).

Thus we also see the communion of the Apostles. Silvanus serves Paul, serves Peter, because the Church is one and the missionary proclamation is one.

The third companion of Paul that we wish to recall today is Apollos, probable abbreviation of Apollonius or Apolodorous. Despite its being a name of pagan origin, he was a fervent Jew of Alexandria of Egypt.

In the book of the Acts of the Apostles, Luke describes him as an "eloquent man, well versed in the Scriptures ... fervent in spirit" (18:24-25).

Apollos' arrival on the scene of the first evangelization took place in the city of Ephesus: He had traveled there to preach and there he had the good fortune of meeting the Christian spouses Priscilla and Aquila (cf. Acts 18:26), who "took him and expounded to him the way of God more accurately" (cf. Acts 18:26).

From Ephesus he crossed to Achaia until he arrived in the city of Corinth: He arrived there with the support of a letter of the Christians of Ephesus, who asked the Corinthians to give him a good reception (cf. Acts 18:27).

In Corinth, as Luke writes, "he gave great assistance to those who had come to believe through grace. He vigorously refuted the Jews in public, establishing from the Scriptures that the Messiah is Jesus" (Acts 18:27-28).

His success in that city had a problematic ending, as some members of that Church, fascinated by his manner of speaking, opposed others in his name (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:12; 3:4-6; 4:6).

Paul, in the First Letter to the Corinthians expresses his appreciation for Apollos' work, but reproaches the Corinthians for lacerating the Body of Christ, separating in opposing factions.

He draws an important lesson from what happened: Both Apollos and I, he says, are no more than "diakonoi," that is, simple ministers, through whom you came to the faith (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:5).

Each one has a different task in the field of the Lord: "I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave growth. ... for we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building" (1 Corinthians 3:6-9).

On returning to Ephesus, Apollos resisted Paul's invitation to return immediately to Corinth, postponing the journey to a later date, which we ignore (cf. 1 Corinthians 16:12).

We have no more news of him, though some experts think that he is the possible author of the Letter to the Hebrews, whose author, according to Tertullian, was Barnabas.

These three men shine in the firmament of witnesses of the Gospel by a common characteristic, in addition to each one's personal characteristics. In common, in addition to the Jewish origin, they have the dedication to Jesus Christ and the Gospel, as well as the fact that the three were collaborators of the Apostle Paul.

In this original evangelizing mission they found the meaning of life and thus they are presented to us as luminous models of selflessness and generosity.

Let us think, finally, once again, of that phrase of St. Paul: Both Apollos and I are ministers of Jesus, each one in his way, as it is God who gives growth. This is valid for us also today, for the Pope, as well as for cardinals, bishops, priests and laity.

We are all humble ministers of Jesus. We serve the Gospel in the measure that we can, according to our gifts, and we ask God to make his Gospel, his Church grow today.

[At the end of the Audience, the Holy Father greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In today's catechesis, we consider three of the most important companions of St. Paul in his missionary preaching of the Gospel: Barnabas, Silas and Apollos.

Barnabas, a native of Cyprus, was among the first to accept the Gospel and he defended before the Jerusalem community the sincerity of Paul's conversion. He accompanied Paul on his first missionary journey, took part in the Council of Jerusalem (cf. Acts 15) and later, after separating from Paul, accompanied the young John Mark to preach in Cyprus.

Silas, also known as Silvanus, was a Jew from Jerusalem and a respected member of the early community, entrusted with communicating the decision of the Council of Jerusalem to the Christians of Antioch. He was of great help to Paul on his second missionary journey, both in Macedonia and in Corinth.

Apollos, despite his pagan name, was a devout Jew from Alexandria and known as a powerful preacher and teacher in the communities of Ephesus and Corinth.

Reflecting on the example of these three great co-workers of the Apostle Paul, dedicated to the Lord and his Good News, may we be inspired to a deeper faith in Christ and an ever more generous commitment to the spread of the Gospel!

I welcome the English-speaking visitors present at today's audience, including the students and professors from the Minsk State University.

May your visit to Rome strengthen your commitment to be generous witnesses to Christ's love and truth.

Upon you all, I invoke God's blessings of joy and peace!

© Copyright 2007 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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