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Holiness and Fraternal Delegates,
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and the Priesthood,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
We are gathered before the tomb of St. Paul, who was born 2,000 years ago in Tarsus of Cilicia, in present-day Turkey. Who was this Paul? In the temple of Jerusalem, before an agitated crowd that wanted to kill him, he introduced himself with these words: "I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but educated in this city, instructed at the feet of Gamaliel in the exact observance of the Law of our fathers; I was full of zeal for God." At the end of his journey he would say of himself: "I have been made a herald and apostle, teacher of the Gentiles in the faith and in the truth."
Teacher of the Gentiles, apostle and herald of Jesus Christ, thus he characterized himself in a retrospective look over his life. However, he did not look only to the past. "Teacher of the Gentiles" -- this word opens to the future, which we recall with veneration. He is, also for us, our teacher, apostle and herald of Jesus Christ.
Therefore, we have come together not to reflect on a past history, irrevocably surpassed. Paul wants to speak with us today. That is why I wanted to convoke this special "Pauline year": to listen to him and to drink from him, as our teacher, in the faith and truth, in which are rooted the reasons for unity among the disciples of Christ. In this perspective, I wished to light -- for this bimillenary of the apostle's birth -- a special "Pauline Flame," which will remain lit during the whole year, in a special niche placed in the portico of the basilica. To solemnize this event, I have also opened the so-named Pauline Door, through which I entered the basilica accompanied by the patriarch of Constantinople, the cardinal archpriest and other religious authorities.
For me it is a motive of profound joy that the opening of the Pauline year assumes a special ecumenical character, given the presence of numerous delegates and representatives of other Churches and ecclesial communities, which I welcome with an open heart. I greet first of all His Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew I and the members of the delegation accompanying him, as well as the large group of laymen from several parts of the world who have come to Rome to participate in these moments of prayer and reflection with him and all of us. I greet the fraternal delegates of the Churches that have a special bond with the Apostle Paul -- Jerusalem, Antioch, Cyprus and Greece -- that form part of the geographic environment of the apostle's life before his arrival in Rome. I cordially greet the brothers of the different Churches and ecclesial communities of the East and West, together with all of you I have wished to take part in this solemn opening of the year dedicated to the Apostles of the Gentiles.
We are gathered, therefore, to questions ourselves about the great apostle of the Gentiles. Not only do we ask ourselves, "Who was Paul?" Above all, we ask ourselves "Who is Paul?" "What is he saying to me?" At this hour of the beginning of the Pauline year that we are inaugurating, I would like to choose three texts from the rich testimony of the New Testament, in which [Paul's] inner physiognomy appears, that which is specific about his character.
In the Letter to the Galatians, he has given us a very personal profession of faith, in which he opens his heart to the readers of all times and reveals what is the most profound source of his life: "I live in the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave himself up for me." All that Paul does starts from this center. His faith is the experience of being loved by Jesus Christ in a totally personal way; it is awareness of the fact that Christ faced death not for something anonymous, but for love of him, of Paul, and that, risen, Christ still loves him, has given himself for him. His faith is having been captured by the love of Jesus Christ, a love that affects him in his innermost being and transforms him. His faith is not a theory, an option about God or the world. His faith is the impact of the love of God on his heart. So, this faith itself is love of Jesus Christ.
For many, Paul appears as a combative man who knows how to use the sword of the word. Indeed, in his path as apostle, there was no lack of disputes. He did not seek a superficial harmony. In his first letter dedicated to the Thessalonians, he himself says: "We had the courage in our God to declare to you the Gospel of God in face of great opposition. … For we never used either words of flattery, as you know, or a cloak for greed." The truth was too great for him to be ready to sacrifice it in view of an external success. The truth he had experienced in his encounter with the Risen One merited for him struggle, persecution, and suffering. However, what motivated him in the depth of his being was being loved by Jesus Christ and the desire to transmit this love to others. Paul was someone able to love, and all his work and suffering is explained from this center.
The concepts underlying his proclamation can only be understood on the basis of this. Let us take only one of his key words: freedom. The experience of being loved to the end by Christ opened his eyes about truth and the path of human existence; that experience embraced everything. Paul was free as a man loved by God that, in virtue of God, was able to love together with him. This love is now the "law" of his life and, precisely thus, was the freedom of his life. He speaks and acts, moved by the responsibility of love; he is free, and given that he is one who loves, he lives totally in the responsibility of this love and does not take freedom as a pretext for pleasure and egoism. He who loves Christ as Paul loved him, can truly do what he wills, because his love is united to the will of Christ and, therefore, to the will of God, because his will is anchored in truth and because his will is no longer simply his will, arbiter of his autonomous I, but is integrated in the freedom of God and from it receives the path to follow.
In the search for St. Paul's inner physiognomy, I would like, in the second place, to recall the word that the Risen Christ spoke to him on the road to Damascus. Earlier the Lord asked him: "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" He answered: "Who are you, Lord?" And he received the reply: "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting." By persecuting the Church, Paul was persecuting Jesus himself. "You are persecuting me."
Jesus identifies himself with the Church in a single subject. In this exclamation of the Risen One -- which transformed Saul's life -- is contained the whole doctrine of the Church as Body of Christ. Christ did not return to Heaven, leaving a handful of followers to carry his cause forward. The Church is not an association that wishes to promote a certain cause. It is not about a cause. It is about the person of Jesus Christ, who also as Risen remained "flesh." He has flesh and bones," affirms the Risen One in Luke, in face of the disciples who thought he was a ghost. He has a body. He is personally present in the Church. "Head and Body" form a single subject, said Augustine. "'Know you not that your bodies are members of Christ?' wrote Paul to the Corinthians, and he adds: 'That, according to the Book of Genesis, man and woman become one flesh?'"
So Christ becomes one spirit with his own, one subject in the new world of the resurrection. In all this, the Eucharistic mystery is visualized, in which Christ constantly gives his Body and makes of us one Body: "Is not the bread we break communion with the body of Christ? Because, though being many, we are only one bread and one body, as we all share in one bread."
He addresses us with these words, at this moment, not just Paul but the Lord himself: "How were you able to lacerate my Body?" Before the face of Christ, this question becomes at the same time an urgent appeal: Bring us together again from all our divisions. Make this again a reality today: There is only one bread; therefore, we, despite being many, are only one body.
For Paul the word Church as Body of Christ is not just any analogy. It goes far beyond a comparison. "Why do you persecute me?"
Christ attracts us continually to his Body, he builds his Body from the Eucharistic center, which for Paul is the center of Christian existence, in virtue of which all, as well as each individual can experience in a totally personal way: "He has loved me and given himself up for me."
I would like to conclude with a later word of St. Paul, an exhortation to Timothy from prison, in face of death. "Endure with me sufferings for the Gospel," said the apostle to his disciple. This sentence, which is at the end of the roads traveled by the apostle as a testament, leads us back to the beginning of his mission. While, after his encounter with the Risen One, the blind Paul was in his room in Damascus, Ananias received the order to go where the feared persecutor was and lay his hands on him, so that he would recover his sight.
To Ananias' objection that this Saul was a dangerous persecutor of Christians, this answer was given: "This man must take my name to the Gentiles, to kings and to the children of Israel. I will show him all he will have to suffer for my name."
The task of proclamation and the call to suffering for Christ are inseparably together. The call to be teacher of the Gentiles is at the same time and intrinsically a call to suffering in communion with Christ, who has redeemed us through his passion. In a world in which lying is powerful, truth is paid for with suffering. He who wishes to avoid suffering, to keep it far from himself, will have pushed away life itself and its grandeur; he cannot be a servant of truth and thus a servant of faith. There is no love without suffering, without the suffering of denying ourselves, of the transformation and purification of the "I" for true freedom.
Wherever there is nothing worth suffering for, life itself also loses its value. The Eucharist -- center of our Christian being -- is based on the sacrifice of Jesus for us; it was born from the suffering of the love that found its culmination on the cross. We live from this love that gives itself. This gives us the courage and strength to suffer with Christ and for him, thus knowing that precisely in this way our life becomes great, mature and true.
In the light of all of St. Paul's letters we see how on his journey as teacher of the Gentiles, the prophecy of Ananias was fulfilled at the hour of the calling: "I will show him all that he will have to suffer for my name." His suffering makes him credible as teacher of truth, which does not seek its own benefit, its own glory or personal pleasure, but is committed to him who loved us and gave himself up for all of us.
At this hour in which we thank the Lord for having called Paul, making him the light of the Gentiles and teacher of us all, we pray: Give us also today the testimony of the Resurrection, touched by your love, and [make us] able to carry the light of the Gospel in our time. St. Paul, pray for us. Amen.