Rome (Agenzia Fides) - One becomes a Christian and proclaims the Gospel with passion, not because he studies the Bible or theology, but only through a real encounter with Jesus, who when he enters our lives "changes everything". Because "the only one who can change our hearts is the Holy Spirit", while one can study all the theology of this world and "become an atheist", or build to his measure the abstraction of a "Christianity without Christ". Because what saves lives, changes hearts and makes them happy, is not "the idea of Christ", but Christ himself and the action of his Grace. This is how Pope Francis returned to the proposal of the elementary and incomparable factors and dynamics that characterize the Christian experience in the history of the world. He did so during the General Audience today, Wednesday March 29, continuing the cycle of catechesis dedicated to the passion for evangelization and apostolic zeal. According to the announced program (see Fides, 11/1/2023), the journey of papal catechesis began today with the part dedicated to "some figures who, in different ways and at different times, have given exemplary witness of what passion for the Gospel means". And the first witness taken into consideration in the catechetical journey on missionary zeal was Paul of Tarsus, the Apostle of the Gentiles.
Saul (Paul's first name) was a zealous Jew who wanted to destroy the nascent Church precisely because of his zeal. After the conversion - Pope Francis remarked at the beginning of his speech - "his zeal remains, but it becomes the zeal of Christ". A radical, unmotivated and inexplicable change if it hadn't been for his encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus. "What changes", Pope Francis remarked "was the encounter with the risen Lord that transformed his entire being. Paul’s humanity, his passion for God and his glory was not annihilated, but transformed, “converted” by the Holy Spirit".
The change of heart and life is the great sign of Christ's work in us. Becoming Christian is not a masquerade, but the change that makes us a "new creation". What changes everything - said the Pope - "is not an idea, but rather the very life itself, as Paul himself says: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation”.
The encounter with Jesus Christ changes you from within, it makes you another person". The passion for the Gospel "is not a matter of comprehension or studies. You can study all the theology you want, you can study the Bible and all that, and become atheist or worldly" And in fact "in history there have been many atheist theologians. Study is useful but it does not generate the new life of grace". On the contrary, "the question to ask yourself is "where is Jesus in your life? I do the things the Church commands, but Jesus, where is he? Have you encountered Jesus, have you spoken with Jesus? And this is something that we very often lack". This is how we end up with "a Christianity, I would say, not without Jesus, but with an abstract Jesus". Instead, when Jesus enters life, as was the case with the apostle Paul, he is the one who "changes everything", continued the Pope, "many times, we have heard comments on people: “But look at him, he was a wretch and now he is a good man, she is a good woman… who changed them? Jesus, they found Jesus". But "if Jesus did not enter your life, it did not change". And there is the risk of also experiencing ecclesial gestures and practices as religious formalities. You do not experience the change that Paul experienced and that also happened to "all the saints when they found Jesus".
In the final part of the catechesis, the Pope turned his attention to an eloquent detail of the change that took place in Paul of Tarsus after his encounter with Christ, which made him, the persecutor of Christians, an Apostle of the Gospel. In Paul - Pope Francis remarked - "there is a sort of paradox: indeed, as long as he feels he is righteous before God, he feels authorized to persecute, to arrest, even to kill, as in the case of Stephen". Only after the encounter with the Risen One that he "discovered that he was blasphemer and persecutor". And only then he "starts to be truly capable of loving. And this - continued the Bishop of Rome, concluding his catechesis "is the way. If one of us says, “Ah, thank you Lord, because I am a good person, I do good things, I do not commit major sins…”, this is not a good path, this is the path of self-sufficiency, it is a path that does not justify you, it makes you turn up your nose… It is an elegant Catholic, but an elegant Catholic is not a holy Catholic, he is elegant. The true Catholic, the true Christian is one who receives Jesus within, which changes your heart. This is the question I ask you all today: what does Jesus mean for me? Did I let him enter my heart, or do I keep him within reach but so that he does not really enter within? Have I let myself be changed by him? Or is Jesus just an idea, a theology that goes ahead… And this is zeal, when one finds Jesus and feels the fire, like Paul, and must preach Jesus, must talk about Jesus, must help people, must do good things. When one finds the idea of Jesus, he or she remains an ideologue of Christianity, and this does not justify, only Jesus justifies us. May the Lord help us find Jesus, encounter Jesus, and may this Jesus change our life from within and help us to help others". (GV) (Agenzia Fides, 29/3/2023)
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