In yesterday's general audience, held in St. Peter's Square in the presence of more than 15,000 people, Benedict XVI continued his catechesis on the figure of St. Paul.
The meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus, the Pope explained, "literally revolutionized his life. Christ became his raison d'etre and the profound inspiration behind all his apostolic labors. ... In truth, Christ Jesus is the apex of the history of salvation and, hence, the true point of reference in dialogue with other religions."
"Paul helps us to understand the absolutely fundamental and irreplaceable value of the faith," said the Holy Father, quoting the Apostle's words: "we have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ, and not by works of the Law." Being justified, the Holy Father continued, "means being made righteous, in other words being accepted by God's merciful justice and, ... being able to establish a much more authentic relationship with our fellows."
In the light of his meeting with Christ, Paul, who was not a man who had lived outside the Law, understood "that he had been seeking to construct his own justice, and that with that justice he had lived for himself. He understood that it was absolutely necessary to give a new direction to his life. ... Before the cross of Christ, the extreme expression of His sacrifice, no one can boast of themselves, of their own justice."
"Reflecting upon the meaning of justification not by works but by faith we have come to the second defining component of Christian identity," said Pope Benedict. Indeed, Christian identity has two elements: "not seeking oneself by oneself, but receiving oneself from Christ and giving oneself to Christ," and "participating personally in Christ's own story, to the point of immerging oneself in Him and sharing both His death and His life."
"For Paul," he concluded, "it is not enough to say that Christians are baptized or that they are believers. For him, it is equally important to say that they are 'in Christ Jesus.' ... That which we, as Christians, are, we owe it only to Him and to His grace. And because nothing and no one can take His place, then to nothing else and to no one else do we pay the homage we pay to Him. No idol must contaminate our spiritual universe. Otherwise, instead of enjoying the freedom we have acquired, we would fall into a form of humiliating slavery. ... Our radical devotion to Christ and the fact that we 'are in Him' must infuse us with a sense of complete trust."
In greetings at the close of the general audience, the Pope addressed himself especially to young people of different nations and religious traditions who recently gathered in Assisi, Italy, to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the Inter-religious Meeting of Prayer for Peace called by John Paul II.
Speaking English, the Holy Father thanked the various religious leaders "who enabled the young people to take part in this event, and the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue which organized it.
"Dear young friends," he added, "our world urgently needs peace! The Assisi meeting emphasized the power of prayer in building peace. Genuine prayer transforms hearts, opens us to dialogue, understanding and reconciliation, and breaks down the walls erected by violence, hatred and revenge. May you now return to your own religious communities as witnesses to 'the spirit of Assisi,' messengers of that peace which is God's gracious gift, and living signs of hope for our world."