The Church in the life and thought of St. Paul, the last in a series of lessons focussing on the figure of the Apostle, was the theme of Benedict XVI's catechesis during the general audience, held this morning in a rain-swept St. Peter's Square.
The Pope recalled how St. Paul's "first contact with the person of Jesus came about through the witness of the Christian community of Jerusalem. ... This gives us the opportunity to make a first important observation: normally we come to Jesus, either to accept Him or refuse Him, through the mediation of the community of believers."
"In a certain way this also happened to St. Paul," said the Pope, although in Paul's case "adherence to the Church was facilitated by a direct intervention of Christ, Who, revealing Himself on the road to Damascus, identified Himself with the Church and made Paul understand that to persecute the Church was to persecute Him. ... From this we can understand why the Church was so present in the thoughts, heart and activity of St. Paul."
He "founded many Churches in the various cities he visited as an evangelizer." And "in his Letters, Paul also explains his doctrine on the Church. ... Particularly well-known is his definition of the Church as the 'body of Christ,' which is not to be found in other first-century Christian writers."
"The deepest roots of this surprising definition of the Church," the Holy Father went on, "are to be found in the Sacrament of the body of Christ. ... In the Eucharist, Christ gives us His Body and makes us His Body. ... In this way, Paul brings us to understand that not only does the Church belong to Christ, but that there is also some form of equivalence and identification between the Church and Christ. Thence springs the greatness and nobility of the Church, in other words, of all of us who, as limbs of Christ, are part of the Church, almost an extension of His personal presence in the world."
"Thence also derive Paul's exhortations regarding the various charisms that animate and give structure to the Christian community," the Holy Father affirmed. "However, it is important that all such charisms work together to build the community and do not become a cause of its break-up."
"Of course, underscoring the need for unity does not mean that ecclesial life must be rendered uniform and dull. ... However, if there is one criterion that Paul holds dear it is that of mutual edification. ... One of the Pauline Letters even goes so far as to present the Church as the bride of Christ, ... both in the sense that love must be exchanged," and that "we must be passionately faithful to Him."
Benedict XVI concluded: "In the final analysis, what is involved is a relationship of communion: vertically between Jesus Christ and all of us, but also horizontally among all those who identify themselves in the world by calling 'on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ'."