Pope: Christianity an Encounter With a Person

Notes Key Point in Paul's Damascus Experience

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VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 3, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Christianity is not a moral code or a philosophy, but an encounter with a person, says Benedict XVI.

The Pope affirmed this today at the general audience held in Paul VI Hall. The Holy Father continued his series of catecheses on the thought and person of St. Paul, as the Church is marking the Pauline Jubilee Year.

Today's catechesis focused on St. Paul's experience of Christ on the road to Damascus, which the Pontiff called the "decisive moment of Paul's life."

"What happened on that road," the Pope asked.

To answer, he drew from two sources: the Acts of the Apostles and the letters written by Paul himself.

"The risen Christ appeared as a splendid light and addressed Saul, transforming his thinking and his very life," the Holy Father explained. "The splendor of the Risen One left him blind; presenting also externally what the interior reality was: his blindness in regard to the truth, to the light, which is Christ. And then, his definitive 'yes' to Christ in baptism reopens his eyes, and makes him truly see."

Intense event

Though Paul does not give details of the event, as Luke does in Acts, he makes it clear that it was the key moment of his life, Benedict XVI noted.

"[Paul] never spoke in detail about this event; I think he assumed that everyone knew the essentials of his story," the Pope said. "All knew that from being a persecutor, he was transformed into a fervent apostle of Christ. And this did not happen at the end of his own reflection but after an intense event, an encounter with the Risen One.

"Although not mentioning details, he refers to this most important event, that is, that he is also a witness of the resurrection of Jesus, the revelation of which he has received directly from Jesus himself, together with the mission of apostle."

The two sources -- the Acts of the Apostles and the Letters of St. Paul -- converge in a fundamental point, the Pope said: "The Risen One spoke with Paul, called him to the apostolate, made him a true apostle, a witness of the resurrection, with the specific charge to proclaim the Gospel to the pagans, to the Greco-Roman world.

"And, at the same time, Paul learned that, despite the immediateness of his relationship with the Risen One, he must enter the communion of the Church, be baptized, and live in harmony with the other apostles. Only in this communion with all will he be able to be a true apostle, as he wrote explicitly in the First Letter to the Corinthians."

A "conversion"

Benedict XVI clarified that Paul "never interprets this moment as an event of conversion."

This is because, the Pope contended, "this change of his life, this transformation of his whole being was not the result of a psychological process, of a maturation or intellectual and moral evolution, but it came from outside: It was not the result of his thinking but of the encounter with Jesus Christ. In this sense it was not simply a conversion, a maturing of his 'I,' rather, it was death and resurrection for himself: A life of his died and a new one was born with the Risen Christ. [...]

"At that moment, he did not lose all that was good and true in his life, in his heritage, but understood in a new way the wisdom, truth and depth of the law and the prophets; he appropriated them in a new way. At the same time, his reason opened to the wisdom of the pagans. Having opened himself to Christ with all his heart, he became able to engage in a wider dialogue with all, he made himself everything to all. Hence he could really be the apostle to the pagans."

The Holy Father further affirmed that Paul's experience has implications for the faithful of today.

"It means that also for us, Christianity is not a new philosophy or new morality. We are Christians only if we encounter Christ. Of course he does not show himself to us in that irresistible, luminous way, as he did with Paul to make him Apostle of the Gentiles," he said. "However, we can also encounter Christ in the reading of sacred Scripture, in prayer, in the liturgical life of the Church.

"We can touch Christ's heart and feel him touch ours. Only in this personal relationship with Christ, only in this encounter with the Risen One do we really become Christians. And in this way, our reason opens, the whole of Christ's wisdom opens and all the richness of the truth. Therefore, let us pray to the Lord to enlighten us, so that, in our world, he will grant us the encounter with his presence, and thus give us a lively faith, an open heart, and great charity for all, capable of renewing the world."