Sunday, June 28, 2009

St. Paul - Transformative Renewal and Adult Faith
Living the Truth in Love

L'Osservatore Romano is reporting the discovery of the oldest known image of St. Paul in the catacombs of St. Tecla on the via Ostiense, a short distance from the burial place of the Apostle to the Gentiles at Basilica di San Paolo Fuori le Mura.

Archaeologists from the Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archeology were using laser technology during restoration of various fourth century frescoes when they discovered "the severe and easily recognizable face of St. Paul." The circular portrait of Paul is accompanied by three other portraits that are thought to depict Saints Peter, John, and James, together with a central fresco of the Good Shepherd.

The announcement of the discovery of St. Paul's fresco portrait was accompanied by an announcement by Pope Benedict at First Vespers that bone fragments from below the main altar of the Basilica have been confirmed to belong to St. Paul. In this homily, Pope Benedict also returns to the theme of having an adult faith, which he discussed prior to the conclave in his "dictatorship of relativism" homily.

Homily of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
First Vespers of the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul

Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls
June 28, 2009

The year commemorating the birth of St. Paul ends tonight. We are gathered at the tomb of the Apostle, whose sarcophagus, preserved under the papal altar, was recently the object of careful scientific studies.

In the sarcophagus, which has never been opened over so many centuries, a very small hole was drilled in order to introduce a special passage which retrieved traces of a precious purple colored fabric with gold sequins, and an azure fabric with linen threads. Also retrieved were grains of red incense and of protein and bone substances, Moreover, tiny bone fragments subjected to carbon-14 dating by experts, who were not told of their provenance, were shown to be those of a person who lived in the first or second century.

This seems to confirm the unanimous and uncontested tradition that has come to us about the mortal remains of the apostle Paul.

All this fills our hearts with profound emotion. Many persons, during these months, have followed the footsteps of the Apostle - his exterior travels, but more than that, the interior ways that he went through during his life: the road to Damascus and his encounter with the risen Christ; the routes of the Mediterranean world which he traversed with the torch of the Gospel, encountering both contradiction and adherence; and finally, his martyrdom, through which he belongs for always to the Church of Rome. Indeed, he addressed to the Romans his greatest and most important letter.

The Pauline Year ends, but to walk together with Paul, with him and thanks to him, to come to know who Jesus is, as he did, to be illuminated and transformed by the Gospel - this will always be part of Christian existence. Always, going beyond the circle of believers, he remained the "teacher of the Gentiles" who brought the message of the Risen One to all men, because Christ knows and loves everyone - He died and resurrected for all of them. And so we wish to listen to him at this time as we solemnly begin the feast of the two Apostles who were united by a tight bond.

It is part of the structure of Paul's Letters that they - always in reference to a place and a particular situation - explained, first of all, the mystery of Christ - that they teach us the faith. The next part consisted in its application to our lives: what are the consequences of such faith? How does it shape our day-to-day existence?

In the Letter to the Romans, this second part starts with Chapter 12, in whose first two verses the Apostle quickly sums up the essential nucleus of Christian existence.

What does St. Paul tell us in that passage? First of all, he affirms, as a fundamental thing, that a new way of venerating God began with Christ - a new worship. And it consists in the living man himself becoming adoration, a "sacrifice" in his own body. It is no longer things that are offered to God. It is our very existence that should become a praise of God.

But how can this take place? The answer is given to us in the second verse: "Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God..." (Rom 12:2) The two decisive words in this verse are "transform" and "renew." We must become new men, transformed to a new mode of existence.

The world is always in search of something new, because, rightly, it is never satisfied with concrete reality. Paul tells us: the world cannot be renewed without new men. Only when there are new men will there also be a new world, a renewed and better world.

At the beginning must be man's renewal. This goes for each individual. Only if we ourselves become new can the world become new. This also means that it is not enough to adapt oneself to the present situation. We will return to this point when we reflect on the second text that I wish to meditate upon with you tonight.

The Apostle's "no" to the present age is clear and even convincing for those who follow the "schema" of our world. How does one renew oneself? Are we really capable of doing so?

With his words about becoming new, Paul alludes to his own conversion: to his encounter with the risen Christ, of which he says in the Second Letter to the Corinthians, "So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come" (2 Cor 5:17). The meeting with Christ was for him so overwhelming that he said about it: "I died..." (Gal 2,19; cf. Rom 6). He had become a new man, another man, because he no longer lived for himself and for himself, but for Christ and in Him.

In the course of years, however, he also saw that this process of renewal and transformation continues for all of one's life. We become new if we allow ourselves to be possessed and formed by the New Man, Jesus Christ. He is the New Man par excellence. In Him, the new human existence became reality, and we can really become new if we deliver ourselves into His hands and allow ourselves to be formed by Him.

Paul makes this process of "re-fusion" even clearer, saying that we become new if we transform our way of thinking. That which we translate here as "way of thinking" is the Greek term nous. it is a complex word. It can be translated as spirit, sentiment, reason, and precisely, even as "way of thinking."

Our very reasoning should become new. This surprises us. We may perhaps have expected that the renewal would apply to an attitude: something in the way we behave that should be changed, a precept of alteration. But no -- renewal must be through and through. Our way of looking at the world, of comprehending reality, all our thinking should change from its very bases.

The thinking of the old "I," the common way of thinking, is usually concerned with possession, well-being, influence, success, fame and the like. But in this way, it has a very limited bearing, and in the ultimate analysis, it is the "I" who is the center of the world.

We should learn to think more profoundly. And what this means, St. Paul tells in the second part of his sentence: one must learn to grasp the will of God so that it shapes our own will. In order that we ourselves can want what God wants, we must acknowledge that God wants what is good and what is beautiful.

It is a question therefore of a turnabout in our basic spiritual orientation. God must enter into the horizon of our thinking - what He wants and the way He conceived the world and myself. We must learn to take part in the thought and will of Jesus Christ. Then we will be new men among whom the new world will emerge.

The same thought of a necessary renewal of our essence as humans was further illustrated by Paul in two passages from the Letter to the Ephesians, on which let us reflect briefly. In the fourth chapter of the letter, the Apostle tells us that with Christ we should reach adulthood, mature manhood. We can no longer "be infants, tossed by waves and swept along by every wind of teaching..." (4:14).

Paul desired that Christians should have a mature faith, "an adult faith."
The term "adult faith" has become a widespread slogan in recent decades. One often hears to describe the attitude of those who no longer listen to the Church and her Pastors, but autonomously choose that which they want to believe or not to believe - therefore a "do-it-yourself" faith. And to express oneself against the Magisterium of the Church is presented as "courage."

In fact, no courage is needed for this, because one can always be sure of getting public applause. Rather, courage is required to adhere to the faith of the Church even if it contradicts the "schema" of the contemporary world. It is this non-conformism of faith which Paul calls an "adult faith."

On the other hand, he calls it infantile to run with the winds and currents of the time. Therefore, it is part of having "adult faith," for instance, to commit oneself to the inviolability of human life from the very first moment, thus opposing radically the principle of violence, in defense of the most helpless of human creatures.

It is part of adult faith to recognize marriage between a man and a woman for their whole life as the order of Creation, freshly re-established by Christ.

Adult faith does not allow itself to be carried along willy-nilly by any current. It goes against the winds of fashion. It knows that such winds are not the breath of the Holy Spirit! It knows that the Spirit of God is expressed and manifested in communion with Jesus Christ.

Nonetheless, even in this, Paul does not stop at saying "no," but leads us to the great "Yes." He describes adult faith, one that is truly adult in a positive way, with the expression: "living the truth in love" (cf. Eph 4:15).

The new way of thinking, given to us by faith, turns first of all to the truth. The power of evil is lies. The power of faith, the power of God, is truth. The truth about the world and about our own selves becomes visible if we look to God. And God is made visible to us in the face of Jesus Christ.

Looking at Christ, we recognize another thing: truth and love are inseparable. In God, both are inseparably one: this is precisely the essence of God. That is why for Christians, truth and love must go together. Love is the test of truth. We must always be measured anew by this criterion in which truth becomes love, and love makes us truthful.

Yet another important thought appears in St. Paul's verses. The Apostle tells us that by living truth in love, we contribute so that everything - the universe - grows towards Christ.

Paul, on the basis of his faith, was not interested only in our personal rectitude nor with the growth of the Church alone. He is interested in the universe: ta pánta. The ultimate goal of the work of Christ is the universe - the transformation of the universe, of the entire human world, of all creation.

Whoever, with Christ, serves truth in love, contributes to true progress in the world
. It is very clear here that Paul knew the idea of progress.

Christ - His life, suffering and resurrection - was the true great leap of progress for mankind, for the world. Now, however, the universe must grow in like measure. There is true progress in the world wherever the presence of Christ increases - because there, man becomes new and therefore the world itself becomes new.

Paul makes the same thing obvious to us from yet another angle. In the third chapter of the Letter to the Ephesians, he speaks of the need to be "strengthened... in the inner self," (3:16). He picks up here a subject that he dealt with, in a situation of tribulation, in his Second Letter to the Corinthians: "...although our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day" (3:16).

The interior man should reinforce himself - it is an imperative that is very appropriate for our time, when men often remain interiorly empty and so they must hold on to promises and drugs, which then have the consequence of further increasing their interior sense of emptiness. This interior void - the weakness of the interior man - is one of the great problems of our time.

Interiorness must be reinforced - the perceptiveness of the heart; the capacity to see and understand the world and man from within, with the heart.

We have need of reason illuminated by the heart, in order to learn to act according to truth in love. But this cannot be realized without an intimate relationship with God, without a life of prayer. We have need of an encounter with God, which is given to us in the Sacraments.

But we cannot speak to God in prayer, if we don't allow Him to speak first, if we don't listen to Him in the words that have been given to us.
In this respect, Paul tells us: "That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge" (Eph 3:17ff).

Love sees much farther than mere reason - that is what Paul is telling us with these words. He also tells us that only in communion with all the saints, that is, only in the great community of all believers - not against or without it - can we know the vastness of the mystery of Christ.

This vastness he circumscribes with words that express the dimensions of the cosmos: breadth, length, height and depth. The mystery of Christ has a cosmic vastness. He does not belong only to a specific group. The crucified Christ embraces the entire universe in all its dimensions. He takes the world in His hands and raises it up to God.

Starting with St. Irenaeus of Lyons - thus, by the end of the second century - the Fathers saw in these words of the breadth, length, height and depth of Christ's love a reference to the Cross. The love of Christ embraced, on the Cross, the lowest depths - the night of death - as well as the supreme height - the altitude of God Himself. And He took into His arms the breadth and vastness of mankind and the world in all their distances. He always embraces the universe - all of us.

Let us pray the Lord so that He may help us to appreciate something of the vastness of His love. Let us pray to Him in order that His love and His truth may move our hearts. Let us ask that Christ may live in our hearts and make us new men who behave according to truth in love. Amen.

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