Vatican City (AsiaNews) – A married politician who went on to become a monk, then priest and bishop, St. Paulinus of Nola, was the Father of the Church outlined today by Benedict XVI during his general audience as an “image of an authentic pastor of charity”.
Born in 355 in Bordeaux, the son of an imperial official, Paulinus moved to Campania after brilliant studies, where he became governor and set out on a political career. In charge of public works he oversaw the building of St. Felix’s tomb and was struck by the intense faith with which people honoured him. It is “the encounter with Christ, the starting point of a laborious journey”, at the end of which he converts and affirms that “man without Christ is nothing but dust”.
On returning to his homeland, he marries Therasia, a pious noble woman of Spanish origins and they have a son. He would have lived, the Pope observes, as a “pious layman”, but the following the death of his son appeared to him a sign that God expected more of him. In agreement with his wife, they leave behind them all of their earthly goods for the poor and move to Nola where they lived “in chaste community”. He committed himself to a priestly ministry for the poor and pilgrims. Together with his wife he founded a monastic community. In 409 the Christian community of Nola chose him as their bishop.
He maintained that his gifting his riches to the poor did not mean he despised earthly goods, but rather he had chosen “a far higher use for them, for charity”. To those who admired his gesture he would say that it was “far from representing full conversion”: it is “only the beginning of the stadium race, it is not the goal only the beginning”. Along with his love for charity and the word of God, “in his monastic community the poor felt at home: he did not limit himself to simple acts of charity but welcomed them as if they were Christ himself, he had an entire part of the monastery reserved for them”. It was an exchange of gifts “he called the poor his master, and giving that they were housed on the lower floor he would say that it was a housed built on their prayers”. “Thus it seemed to him that he gave rather than received, because he felt enriched by the exchange of hospitality for the prayerful gratitude of the pilgrims”.
He did not write theological treatise, but poetry, “bathed in the Word of God”. “For me – he wrote – faith is the only form of art, Christ my poetry”. Many of these compositions are dedicated to St Felix, as he was convinced that his intercession granted him the grace of conversion”.
In his works, the “Carmina” and in particular in his “Christmas Carmina” the sense of the Church as a mystery of unity emerges. The Pope notes, “he was a true master”, “a crossroads for the elected”, such as Augustine, Ambrose, Martin and others. Benedict XVI pointed to the friendship between Paulinus and Augustine, seen in their wealthy correspondence, as a model of “communion” for the entire Church. The theology of our times, he explained, has found in his work that idea of the “Gospel of communion as key to approaching the mystery of the Church”, expressed in the Second Vatican Council when it speaks of the Church as an “intimate communion with God”. “Paulinus helps us to feel the Church as a sacrament of intimate union between God and all of us, all of humankind”.
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