Vatican City (AsiaNews) - Being "collaborators of the true joy" that consists in the certainty that whatever may happen, "nothing can separate us from the love of God, and this is the true treasure of human life". It is this that constitutes, at all times, the mission of the apostles of Christ, according to the teaching of St Paul. For the fourth time, Benedict XVI today dedicated his general audience to St Paul, and in particular to the "apostolate".
Normally, the pope noted in addressing the 8,000 people present in the Paul VI audience hall, "in following the Gospels, we identify 12 men with the title of apostle, in that they were the companions of Jesus". "But Paul is also a true apostle". The Pauline concept of apostolate is not restricted, "he distinguishes his own case from those who were apostles before him, acknowledging their special place in the Church's life, but he calls himself an apostle in the strict sense". "Of course, at the origin of Christianity, no one traveled as far as he did by land and by sea, solely to proclaim the Gospel".
In the letter to the Corinthians, there is a clear distinction between the twelve and the others, and Paul calls himself "one untimely born", "the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am". "The metaphor of untimely birth expresses extreme humility". In the same letter to the Corinthians, there is a sort of "self-portrait of Paul's apostolic life", when he talks about the "scandal" and "foolishness" of the cross, of giving blessings in exchange for curses. But "the joy of being bearers of the blessing of God and of the grace of the Gospel is worth more".
Benedict XVI then highlighted how in the letters, there appear "three main characteristics" of being an apostle: "the first: having seen the Lord, having had an encounter with him that is decisive for one's life". In fact, "it is the Lord who makes an apostle", and this apostle needs to be in constant relationship with the Lord. "One is not an apostle by vocation, but by means of Jesus". The second characteristic is "that of being sent. The Greek word apostolos means one who is sent, dispatched, the bearer of a message". "He must act as an expression of the one who sends him, as a delegate of Jesus". "Once again it emerges that the initiative belongs to someone else, it belongs to God, in Christ". "This emphasizes the fact that the mission has been received from him". The third characteristic is "the exercise of the proclamation of the Gospel, with the consequent foundation of Churches". "'Apostle' is not an honorary title, it consumes the entire being of its subject". "This is why Paul describes apostles as coworkers of God".
At the conclusion of the audience, the pope sent a greeting to the "beloved nation" of France, where he will go as a "messenger of peace and fraternity" in two days. Benedict XVI recalled the country's "generous tradition of welcome and tolerance, together with the solidity of its Christian faith and its great human and spiritual culture". He finally recalled that, after Paris, he will visit Lourdes for the 150th anniversary of the Marian apparitions there, and will pray in particular for the sick and for peace in the world.