Vatican City (AsiaNews) - Christianity "is not a philosophy or a moral norm; we are Christians only if we encounter Jesus". As for Paul on the road to Damascus, this encounter changes both our way of thinking and our life itself, clearing away what was essential up until that moment, while it is "only life in Christ that matters". To the 8,000 people present today in the audience hall at the Vatican, Benedict XVI again spoke of the figure of St Paul. Last week, he had sketched out his biography, while today he dwelt upon the meaning of the "experience on the road to Damascus, what is commonly called his conversion".
"The decisive moment in Paul's life took place during the third decade of the first century. Much has been written about this from various points of view, and it is certain that here there was a turning point, a change of perspective". "He began to think about everything that had constituted the reason for his existence up until then as a waste of time, as rubbish".
The pope recalled that Luke narrates the event in three sections of the Acts of the Apostles. "The average reader", he adds, "dwells upon the details, like the light from the sky, the fall, the blindness . . ." But these details "are all related to the center of this episode: the Risen One appears like a splendid light and speaks to Saul; he transforms his way of thinking and his life itself". In the ancient Church, baptism was also called illumination, because it makes us see the light. "What is referred to theologically takes place physically for Paul. Paul was transformed not by any thought of his own, but by an event, by the presence of the Risen One. This encounter is the center of Luke's account; it changed [Paul's] life, and in this sense it can be called a conversion".
St Paul himself speaks of his "conversion" in his letters. "He never talked about the details", Benedict XVI emphasized, "and I think this is because he was able to assume that everyone knew the story about how he was changed from a persecutor into a disciple". "Although he does not speak about the details, he mentions various times that he, too, is a witness of the Resurrection of Jesus, from whom he received directly his mission as an Apostle". The pope cited the letters to the Romans, the Corinthians, and the Galatians in this regard. In the latter of these, in particular, Paul talks about when "he who chose me from my mother's womb" called him to proclaim him among the pagans, and thus he "emphasizes that he is also a true witness of the Risen One" and "has his own mission, received directly from Jesus".
"This new direction for his life", the pope emphasized, "was not the result of a psychological process, of a moral and intellectual maturation, but came from the outside; it was not the result of his maturation, but of his encounter with Christ, an event that transformed him". "in this sense, he died, and the resurrection was his own as well; the past was dead, and he rose with the risen Christ". "No amount of psychological analysis can clarify this, only the event itself; the encounter is the key for understanding what happened. In this deeper sense, we may speak of a conversion, of a real event that changed all of the standards; what had been essential is now rubbish, and only life in Christ matters".
This means that Christianity is not a new philosophy or a moral norm for us either; we are Christian only if we encounter Jesus". "Of course, he does not appear to us in this dazzling, irresistible way. but we can encounter him in the liturgy, in life with the Church". "It is only in this personal relationship with the Risen One that we truly become Christians, and thus open our reason to all of the wisdom of Christ, to all of the richness of the truth". "Let us ask", he concluded, "for the gift of a lively faith, for a large and open heart, for a charity for all of that renews the world".