Pope Benedict XVI met with 15,000
people in St. Peter’s Square during his general audience on Nov. 8. He
continued his catechesis on
The Holy Father pointed out that
Paul’s encounter with Jesus on the road to
By his words and examples, the Pope pointed out, “Paul helps us to grasp the absolutely fundamental and irreplaceable value of faith.” He teaches us, the Holy Father went on to say, that we are made righteous before God through faith and we encounter his merciful justice, enter into fellowship with him and are able to build a more authentic relationship with others. Our justification is pure grace, an unmerited gift of God’s radical love manifested in the cross and resurrection of Christ.
“Before his conversion, Paul was not a man who was estranged from God or his law,” Pope Benedict explained. “On the contrary, he was an observant Jew, whose observance bordered on fanaticism. However, in light of his encounter with Christ, he understood that he had been seeking to construct righteousness for himself in his own way and that, with all that righteousness, he had lived only for himself. He understood a new orientation in his life was absolutely necessary.”
Through faith and baptism, the
Holy Father continued, we share in the Lord’s death and rising to a new life.
We now live “in Christ” just as he lives “in us” in a mystical union that does
not dissolve the distinction between him and us.
“Therefore, let us face our lives, with its joys and sorrows, buoyed by these great sentiments that Paul offers us,” Pope Benedict XVI concluded. “By experiencing them, we will be able to understand the truth of what Paul himself writes: ‘For I know him in whom I have believed and am confident that he is able to guard what has been entrusted to me until that day.’”
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Two weeks ago during my last
catechesis, I attempted to describe the essential highlights of the life of the
apostle Paul. We saw how his encounter with Christ on the road to
Encounter With Christ
Looking at Paul, we can formulate the following basic question: How does a human being’s encounter with Christ occur? And what does the relationship that stems from it consist of? The answer that Paul gives can be understood in two ways. First of all, Paul helps us to grasp the absolutely fundamental and irreplaceable value of faith. In his Letter to the Romans, he writes the following: “For we consider that a person is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Romans 3:28). In the Letter to the Galatians, he tells us that “a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified” (Galatians 2:16).
“To be justified” means to be made righteous, that is, to be welcomed by God’s merciful justice and enter into communion with him and, in consequence, being able to establish a much more authentic relationship with all our brothers and sisters by virtue of the total forgiveness of our sins. Paul clearly tells us that this condition in life does not depend on any of the good works we may possibly do, but on a pure grace from God: “We are justified freely by his grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24).
Through these words, Paul expresses the basic content of his conversion — the new direction his life took as a result of his encounter with the risen Christ. Before his conversion, Paul was not a man who was estranged from God or his law. On the contrary, he was an observant Jew, whose faithful observance bordered on fanaticism. However, through the light of his encounter with Christ, he understood that he had been seeking to construct righteousness for himself in his own way and that, with all that righteousness, he had lived only for himself. He understood a new orientation in his life was absolutely necessary. He expresses this new orientation in the following words: “Insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20).
Paul, therefore, no longer lives for himself and for his own righteousness. He lives because of Christ and with Christ, offering himself up and no longer seeking himself or building himself up. This is the new righteousness — the new orientation that the Lord has given us and that is given to us through faith.
Before the cross of Christ, the highest expression of his self-giving, no one can boast of himself or his own righteousness, which he has sought by himself for himself! Elsewhere, Paul, echoing Jeremiah, clarified his thoughts when he wrote the following: “Whoever boasts, should boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:31; Jeremiah 9:22), and, “But may I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world!” (Galatians 6:14).
Our Identity as Christians
By reflecting upon the meaning of
justification not by works but by faith, we have come to the second component
that defines our identity as Christians, which
This is what Paul writes in the Letter to the Romans: “We who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death. ... We were indeed buried with him. ... We have grown into union with him. ... Consequently, you too must think of yourselves as [being] dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:3, 4, 5, 11).
This last expression is key: According to Paul, it is not enough to say that Christians are those who are baptized or those who are believers; for him, it is equally important to say that they are “in Christ Jesus” (see also Romans 8:1, 2, 39; 12:5; 16:3,7,10; 1 Corinthians 1:2,3, etc.).
On other occasions, Paul inverts the terms and writes that “Christ is in you” (Romans 8:10; 2 Corinthians 13:5) or “in me” (Galatians 2:20). This mutual union between Christ and the Christian, which is characteristic of Paul’s teaching, completes his teaching on faith. Faith, even though it unites us intimately to Christ, highlights the distinction between us and him.
According to Paul, however, the Christian’s life also has an element to it that we could call “mystical” since it entails identifying ourselves with Christ and Christ with us. In this sense, the apostle Paul goes so far as to describe our sufferings as the “Christ’s sufferings” that “overflow to us” (2 Corinthians 1:5), so that we always carry “in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body” (2 Corinthians 4:10).
We must apply all this to our daily life by following the example of Paul, who always lived under this great spiritual inspiration. On one hand, faith must keep us in a constant attitude of humility before God, and, more than that, of adoration and praise in relation to him. In fact, we owe what we are as Christians to him alone and to his grace.
Since nothing and no one can take
his place, we must not pay the homage we pay to him to anything or anyone else.
No idol must contaminate our spiritual universe. Otherwise, instead of enjoying
the freedom we have attained, we will once again fall into a form of
humiliating slavery. On the other hand, our radical devotion to Christ and the
fact that we “are in him” must infuse us with a sense of complete trust and
immense joy. Ultimately, we must cry out with
“If God is for us, who is against us?” (Romans 8:31). The answer is that nothing and no one “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39). Therefore, our lives as Christians are based on the most stable and secure rock that we can imagine. From this we draw all our energy, as the apostle Paul writes: “I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me” (Philippians 4:13).
Therefore, let us face our lives, with its joys and sorrows, buoyed by these great sentiments that Paul offers us. By experiencing them, we will be able to understand the truth of what Paul himself writes: “For I know him in whom I have believed and am confident that he is able to guard what has been entrusted to me until that day” (2 Timothy 1:12), that is, until the final day of our encounter with Christ our judge, the savior of the world and our savior.