4. The embrace of peace between the Catholicos and the Bishop of Rome, Successor of the Apostle Peter, and the blessing they will impart together in the Lord’s name, testify to their mutual recognition of the legitimacy of the apostolic succession. Even in the diversity of the tasks entrusted to each, we are co-responsible together for what binds us: to transmit faithfully the faith received from the Apostles, to witness to the love of Christ for every human being in the frequently tragic situations of the contemporary world, to strengthen our progress towards the full unity of all Christ’s disciples. To do this, we need periodically to consult one another, so that we can proclaim the Gospel in unison and serve it with an undivided heart.
I invite you all, dear brothers and sisters present here, to pray that the much appreciated visit to the Bishop of Rome by the Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia may encourage each one of us increasingly to live the mystery of communion in accordance with the truth and in charity. May the blood of our martyrs and the communion of our saints help us to be renewed in the Tradition we have in common. The recent visit of the Catholicos of All Armenians, His Holiness Karekin I, was an eloquent witness to our will to deepen our communion in a reciprocal diakonia: “If one member suffers, all suffer together” (1 Corinthians 12:26). Thus we have encouraged each other to serve one another through charity (cf. Galatians 5:13).
5. In recent years the celebration of the conversion of St Paul has become the annual feast of ecumenical commitment. In Rome, as all over the world, disciples of Christ belonging to the various Churches and Communities meet to raise a chorus of prayer to God for Christian unity. The association of this prayer with the liturgical feast of the conversion of St Paul highlights the fact that the unity and communion of all Christians can be attained only by way of conversion.
On this day we especially recall the words of Jesus’ priestly prayer: “That they may all be one, even as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be one in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21). Christ’s prayer discloses to us the profound dimension of conversion: to be converted to unity means to clear the way of the greatest obstacle to the world’s conversion to Christ.
Just as Paul of Tarsus discovered the true way that leads to salvation and understood that the crucified and risen Christ has led the people of Israel and all humanity to it, so also Christians must realize that the way of salvation comes through their unity in Christ, and that this requires a special spiritual commitment by all. The Second Vatican Council has explained the meaning of unitatis redintegratio among all Christians, illustrating its methods and means at the present moment in the Church’s history. In the Encyclical Ut unum sint I wished to recall, 30 years after its publication, the directives of this conciliar document, drawing timely applications from it.
6. Today we give thanks to the Blessed Trinity for the efforts made in recent years and, at the same time, we ask for light for the new steps to be taken on this path, in generous and faithful obedience to the impulses of the Holy Spirit.
During this Week of Prayer, ecumenical meetings and special celebrations have been held in every part of the world to ask God for the great gift of unity. The Church in Rome, particularly linked with the apostolic tradition of Saints Peter and Paul, has also participated in this unanimous prayer of all Christians. She is founded on the pillars of the Coryphaei of the Apostles. Due precisely to her particular identity, she wishes to offer signs of acceptance and communion to the community of Christ’s disciples throughout the world. With them, she also proclaims the greatness of the Lord’s name to all peoples of our time.
“Praise the Lord, all nations!
Acknowledgment: We thank the Vatican Publisher for allowing us to publish the Homily of Blessed Pope John Paul II, so that it could be accessed by more people all over the world; as a source of God’s encouragements to all of us.
HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI
Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
With great joy I address my warm greeting to all of you who are gathered in this Basilica on the liturgical Feast of the Conversion of St Paul for the conclusion of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity this year, in which we shall be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. It was in this Basilica that Bl. John XXIII announced the Council on 25 January 1959. The theme that has been offered for our meditation in the Week of Prayer which we are concluding today is “We Will All Be Changed by the Victory of Our Lord Jesus Christ” (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:51-58).
The meaning of this mysterious transformation, of which the brief Second Reading speaks to us this evening, is wonderfully demonstrated in St Paul’s personal experience. After the extraordinary event that occurred on the road to Damascus, Saul, who was zealous in his persecution of the nascent Church, was transformed into a tireless apostle of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
It is clear from what happened to this extraordinary evangelizer that his transformation was not the result of long inner reflection nor even the fruit of personal effort. It was first and foremost a work of the grace of God who acted in his own inscrutable ways. This explains why, in writing to the community of Corinth a few years after his conversion, St Paul affirms, as we heard in the first passage of this Vespers: “by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:10).
In addition, in considering attentively what happened to St Paul, one understands that the transformation he experienced in his life is not limited to the ethical level — such as conversion from immorality to morality — nor to the intellectual level — such as a change in his way of understanding reality — but, rather, is a matter of the radical renewal of his being, similar in many aspects to a rebirth. This transformation is founded on participation in the mystery of the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ and is described as a gradual process of conformation to him. In the light of this awareness, when St Paul was subsequently called to defend the legitimacy of his apostolic vocation and of the Gospel he proclaimed, he was to say: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
St Paul’s personal experience enables him to expect with well-founded hope the fulfillment of this mystery of transformation that will concern all who have believed in Jesus Christ, as well as all humanity and the whole of creation. In the short Second Reading proclaimed this evening, St Paul, after developing a long case aimed at strengthening the hope of the Resurrection in the faithful, describes in a few lines, employing the traditional imagery of the apocalyptic literature of his time, the great day of the Last Judgement in which humanity’s destiny will be fulfilled: “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet... the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:52).
On that day all believers will be brought into conformity with Christ and all that is perishable will be transformed by his glory. St Paul says: “For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality” (v. 53).
Then the triumph of Christ will at last be complete, because, St Paul tells us further, showing how the ancient prophesies of Scripture are brought about, death will be overcome once and for all and with it sin which caused it to enter the world and the Law that establishes sin without providing the power to overcome it: “‘Death is swallowed up in victory’. / ‘O death where is your victory? / O death, where is your sting?’ / The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the Law” (vv. 54-56).
St Paul tells us, therefore, that every man and woman, through baptism in the death and Resurrection of Christ, participates in the victory of the One who defeated death first, setting out on a journey of transformation that is manifested from this moment in a newness of life that will reach its fullness at the end of time.
It is indeed significant that the passage ends with an expression of gratitude: “thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 57). The song of triumph over death changes into a hymn of thanksgiving raised to the Victor. This evening, in celebrating vespers in praise of God, let us too join our voices, minds and hearts in this hymn of thanksgiving for what divine grace worked in the Apostle to the Gentiles and for the wonderful saving plan which God the Father brings about in us through the Lord Jesus Christ.