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Paul: the life in the Church

Catechesis by Pope Benedict XVI (4th of 4 given in 2006)
General Audience, Wednesday 22 November 2006 - in Croatian, English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today, we are ending our encounters with the Apostle Paul by dedicating one last reflection to him. Indeed, we cannot take our leave of him without considering one of the decisive elements of his activity and one of the most important subjects of his thought: the reality of the Church. We must first of all note that his initial contact with the person of Jesus happened through the witness of the Christian community of Jerusalem. It was a turbulent contact. Having met the new group of believers, he immediately became a fierce persecutor of it. He acknowledged this himself at least three times in as many of his Letters: "I persecuted the Church of God" (I Cor 15: 9; Gal 1: 13; Phil 3: 6), as if to describe his behaviour as the worst possible crime.

History shows us that one usually reaches Jesus by passing through the Church! In a certain sense, this proved true, we said, also for Paul, who encountered the Church before he encountered Jesus. In his case, however, this contact was counterproductive; it did not result in attachment but violent rejection. For Paul, adherence to the Church was brought about by a direct intervention of Christ, who in revealing himself on the road to Damascus identified himself with the Church and made Paul realize that persecution of the Church was persecution of himself, the Lord. In fact, the Risen One said to Paul, persecutor of the Church: "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" (Acts 9: 4). In persecuting the Church, he was persecuting Christ. Paul, therefore, was at the same time converted to Christ and to the Church. This leads one to understand why the Church later became so present in Paul's thoughts, heart and activity. In the first place, she was so present that he literally founded many Churches in the various cities where he went as an evangelizer. When he spoke of his "anxiety for all the Churches" (2Cor 11: 28), he was thinking of the various Christian communities brought into being from time to time in Galatia, Ionia, Macedonia and in Achaea. Some of those Churches also caused him worry and chagrin, as happened, for example, in the Churches of Galatia, which he saw "turning to a different gospel" (Gal 1: 6), something he opposed with grim determination. Yet, he felt bound to the Communities he founded in a way that was far from cold and bureaucratic but rather intense and passionate. Thus, for example, he described the Philippians as "my brethren, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown" (Phil 4: 1). On other occasions he compared the various Communities to a letter of recommendation, unique in its kind: "You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on your hearts, to be known and read by all men" (2Cor 3: 2). At yet other times, he showed a real feeling for them that was not only paternal but also maternal, such as when he turned to those he was addressing, calling them: "My little children, with whom I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you" (Gal 4: 19; cf also 1Cor 4: 14-15; I Thes 2: 7-8).

Paul also illustrates for us in his Letters his teaching on the Church as such. Thus, his original definition of the Church as the "Body of Christ", which we do not find in other Christian authors of the first century, is well known (cf I Cor 12: 27; Eph 4: 12; 5: 30; Col 1: 24). We find the deepest root of this surprising designation of the Church in the Sacrament of the Body of Christ. St Paul said: "Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body" (I Cor 10: 17). In the same Eucharist, Christ gives us his Body and makes us his Body. Concerning this, St Paul said to the Galatians: "You are all one in Christ" (Gal 3: 28). By saying all this, Paul makes us understand that not only does the belonging of the Church to Christ exist, but also a certain form of equality and identification of the Church with Christ himself. From this, therefore, derive the greatness and nobility of the Church, that is, of all of us who are part of her: from our being members of Christ, an extension as it were of his personal presence in the world. And from this, of course, stems our duty to truly live in conformity with Christ. Paul's exhortations concerning the various charisms that give life and structure to the Christian community also derive from this. They can all be traced back to a single source, that is, the Spirit of the Father and of the Son, knowing well that in the Church there is no one who goes without them, for, as the Apostle wrote, "to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good" (I Cor 12: 7). It is important, however, that all the charisms cooperate with one another for the edification of the community and do not instead become the cause of a rift. In this regard, Paul asked himself rhetorically: "Is Christ divided?" (1Cor 1: 13). He knows well and teaches us that it is necessary to "maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call" (Eph 4: 3-4).

Obviously, underlining the need for unity does not mean that ecclesial life should be standardized or levelled out in accordance with a single way of operating. Elsewhere, Paul taught: "Do not quench the Spirit" (I Thes 5: 19), that is, make room generously for the unforeseeable dynamism of the charismatic manifestations of the Spirit, who is an ever new source of energy and vitality. But if there is one tenet to which Paul stuck firmly it was mutual edification: "Let all things be done for edification" (I Cor 14: 26). Everything contributes to weaving the ecclesial fabric evenly, not only without slack patches but also without holes or tears. Then, there is also a Pauline Letter that presents the Church as Christ's Bride (cf. Eph 5: 21-33). With this, Paul borrowed an ancient prophetic metaphor which made the People of Israel the Bride of the God of the Covenant (cf Hos 2: 4, 21; Is 54: 5-8). He did so to express the intimacy of the relationship between Christ and his Church, both in the sense that she is the object of the most tender love on the part of her Lord, and also in the sense that love must be mutual and that we too therefore, as members of the Church, must show him passionate faithfulness.

Thus, in short, a relationship of communion is at stake: the so to speak vertical communion between Jesus Christ and all of us, but also the horizontal communion between all who are distinguished in the world by the fact that they "call on the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ" (1Cor 1: 2). This is our definition: we belong among those who call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, we clearly understand how desirable it is that what Paul himself was hoping for when he wrote to the Corinthians should come to pass: "If an unbeliever or an uninitiated enters while all are uttering prophecy, he will be taken to task by all and called to account by all, and the secret of his heart will be laid bare. Falling prostrate, he will worship God, crying out, "God is truly among you'" (I Cor 14: 24-25). Our liturgical encounters should be like this. A non-Christian who enters one of our assemblies ought finally to be able to say: "God is truly with you". Let us pray to the Lord to be like this, in communion with Christ and in communion among ourselves."


"Je salue cordialement les pèlerins de langue française, en particulier la Délégation du Bureau international catholique de l’Enfance et les pèlerins de Thessalonique accompagnés par Mgr Yannis Spiteris. Que le Seigneur vous donne l’amour de son Église, à l’exemple de Paul, et la joie d’y trouver des frères !

My prayerful greetings go to all the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims present at today’s Audience, including the groups from England, Malta, Japan and the United States of America. I greet especially the Salvatorian Sisters, the American Friends of the Vatican Library, and the Delegation from the Association of the Order of Malta. May your visit to the city of the Apostles Peter and Paul renew your love for Christ and his Church, and may God’s blessing be upon you all.

Mit Freude heiße ich alle deutschsprachigen Pilger und Besucher willkommen. Durch die Taufe sind wir Glieder des Leibes Christi, der Kirche. Der hohen Berufung, Christus zu den Menschen zu bringen, wollen wir auch in unserem täglichen Leben gerecht werden. Tragt dazu bei, daß das Zeugnis der Kirche vor der Welt klar leuchten kann und dann auch wirklich Frucht bringt in Glaube, Hoffnung und Liebe. Dazu begleite ich euch alle mit meinem Segen.

Saludo a los peregrinos de lengua española, en particular a las Religiosas de la Compañía de Santa Teresa, a las Siervas del Hogar de la Madre, a los Antiguos Alumnos del Colegio Mayor San Pablo y a los demás grupos venidos de España, México y otros Países de Latinoamérica. Invito a todos a amar a la Iglesia y a vivir gozo en su seno la plena comunión. Muchas gracias por vuestra presencia.

Witam obecnych tu Polaków. Pozdrawiam chór Pueri Cantores z Tarnowa oraz wszystkich pielgrzymów towarzyszących Administratorowi Apostolskiemu z Atyrau w Kazachstanie, który jutro przyjmie święcenia biskupie. Wspierajcie swoją modlitwą jego i całą wspólnotę Kościoła, której służy. Wszystkim tu zebranym serdecznie błogosławię. Niech będzie pochwalony Jezus Chrystus!


Rivolgo il mio cordiale benvenuto ai pellegrini di lingua italiana. In particolare, saluto i fedeli delle Diocesi Abruzzesi-Molisane, qui convenuti con i loro Vescovi in occasione della Visita ad Limina Apostolorum. Nel ricordare con animo grato il mio recenteviaggio al Santuario di Manoppello, desidero incoraggiare tutti voi, cari amici, a proseguire negli sforzi intrapresi per far sì che il Vangelo sia il fondamentale punto di riferimento per tutte le vostre comunità. Dinanzi alla vastità della missione che è affidata alle vostre Chiese non lasciatevi mai prendere dalla stanchezza o dallo scoraggiamento. Il Signore sia con voi e renda fecondo ogni vostro sincero sforzo al suo servizio.

Saluto, poi, i fedeli della diocesi di Oristano, accompagnati dal loro Pastore, Mons. Ignazio Sanna, ed auguro che questa visita alle tombe degli Apostoli, susciti in ciascuno una sempre più generosa testimonianza cristiana.

Saluto infine i giovani, i malati e gli sposi novelli. Domenica prossima, ultima del Tempo Ordinario, celebreremo la solennità di Cristo, Re dell’universo. Cari giovani, ponete Gesù al centro della vostra vita, e da Lui riceverete luce e coraggio in ogni scelta quotidiana. Cristo, che ha fatto della Croce il suo trono regale, aiuti voi, cari malati, a comprendere il valore redentivo della sofferenza vissuta in unione con Lui. A voi, cari sposi novelli, nel ricordare che proprio oggi ricorre il 25° anniversario di promulgazione dell’Esortazione Apostolica Familiaris consortio, che diede grande impulso alla pastorale familiare nella Chiesa, auguro di percorrere il vostro cammino matrimoniale sempre uniti a Cristo."

Appello per il Libano

"Ho appreso con profondo dolore la notizia dell'assassinio dell'Onorevole Pierre Gemayel, Ministro dell'Industria del Governo Libanese. Nel condannare fermamente tale brutale attentato, assicuro la mia preghiera e la mia vicinanza spirituale alla famiglia in lutto e all'amato popolo libanese. Di fronte alle forze oscure che cercano di distruggere il Paese, invito tutti i Libanesi a non lasciarsi vincere dall'odio bensì a rinsaldare l'unità nazionale, la giustizia e la riconciliazione, e a lavorare insieme per costruire un futuro di pace. Invito infine i Responsabili dei Paesi che hanno a cuore le sorti di quella Regione a contribuire ad una soluzione globale e negoziata delle diverse situazioni di ingiustizia che la segnano da ormai troppi anni."