Thursday, December 13, 2007

General Audience: St. Paulinus of Nola

Pope Benedict XVI is seen during his weekly general audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican December 12, 2007. REUTERS/Dario Pignatelli (VATICAN)

~from yesterday's catechesis translated by Papa Ratzinger Forum

The Father of the Church to whom we turn our attention today is St. Paulinus of Nola. A contemporary of St. Augustine, to whom he was linked by a warm friendship, Paulinus exercised his ministry in Campania, at Nola, where he was a monk, then a priest and bishop.

But he was a native of Aquitaine in the south of France, from Bordeaux, where he was born to a well-placed family. Here he received a fine literary education, having the poet Ausonius as his teacher.

He left his homeland for the first time to pursue a precocious political career which saw him rise, while still young, to be governor of Campania. In this public position, he became admired for his gifts of wisdom and kindness. It was at this time that grace allowed the seed of conversion to germinate in his heart.

The stimulus came from the simple and intense faith with which the people honored the tomb of a saint, the martyr Felix, in the sanctuary of present-day Cimitile. As the public authority, Paulinus became interested in the shrine and ordered the construction of a hospice for the poor and a road in order to facilitate and provide more convenient access for so many pilgrims.

But while he worked to build a city on earth, he was also discovering the road towards the heavenly city. Thje encounter with Christ was the point of arrival in a laborious journey that was sown with trials. Sad circumstances, starting with the diminution of political authority, made him experience at first hand the transience of things.

Once he came to the faith, he would write: "Man without Crhist is dust and shadows" (Carme X, 289). Wanting to cast light on the sense of existence, he went to Milan to study in the school of St. Ambrose. He completed his Christian formation in his native land, where he was baptized by Bishop Delphin of Bordeaux.

His course of faith also included matrimony. He married Terasia, a pious noblewoman from Barcelona, with whom he had a son. He would have continued to live as a good Christian layman, had not the death of their son just a few days after his birth intervened to shake him up, showing him that God had a different plan for his life.

In effect, he felt himself called on to vow himself to Christ in a rigorous life of asceticism.

With the full consent of his wife Terasia, he sold all his possessions to give to the poor, and together with her, he left Aquitaine for Nola, where the couple took up lodging next to the Basilica of St. Felix, lving together in chaste fraternity, in a form of life which others soon joined.

The community rhythm was typically monastic, but Paulinus, who had been ordained a priest in Barcelona, took to engaging himself in the priestly ministry by attending to the pilgrims.

This earned him the sympathy and trust of the Christian community who, upon the death of their bishop, around 409, chose him to be his successor in the Seat of Nola...

...To those who admired his decision to abandon material wealth, he reminded them that the gesture was still far from representing full conversion: "The abandonment or the sale of the temporal goods one possessed does not constitute the fulfillment but only the beginning of the course to be run... It is not the goal but only the starting point. In fact, the athlete does not win until he strips himself, because he takes off his clothes to begin the struggle, and only he who has fought out of duty is worthy of being crowned victor" (cfr Ep. XXIV, 7 to Sulpicio Severo).

Besides asceticism and the Word of God, there was charity: in the monastic community, the poor were at home. Paulinus did not limit his help to alms: he welcomed them as if they were Chtrist himself. He had reserved for them a part of the monastery, and doing so, it seemed to him that he was not giving as much as receiving, in the exchange of gifts between the hospitality that is offered and the prayerful gratitude of the recipients.

He called the poor his 'patrons' (cfr Ep. XIII,11 to Pammachio) and, observing that they were lodged in the lower floor, he loved to say that their prayers made up the foundation of the house (cfr Carme XXI, 393-394).
St, Paulinus did not write theological treatises, but his poems and his dense epistolary are rich with a theology that was lived, interwoven with the Word of God that was constantly scrutinized as light for life.

In particular, there emerges a sense of the Church as a mystery of unity. Communion was lived by him above all through a distinctive practice of spiritual friendship. Paulinus was a true master of this, making his life a crosssroads of chosen souls: from Martin of Tours to St. Jerome, from Ambrose to Augustine, from Deplhin of Bordeaux to Njceta of Remesiana, from Vitritius of Rouen to Rufinus of Aquileia, from Pammachius to Sulpicius Severus, and so many others, well-known or less.

Hidden among all this are the intense pages he wrote to Augustine. Beyond the contents of the individual letters, one is impressed by the warmth with which the Saint of Nola sings about friendship itself as a manifestation of the only Body of Christ animated by the Holy Spirit.

Here is a significant excerpt at the start of the correspondence between the two friends: "It is not to be wondered if we, though far apart, are present to each other, and without having met, we know each other, because we are members of the smae body, we have one head, we are flooded by the same grace, we live of the same bread, we walk along one path, we live in the same house" (Ep. 6, 2).

We can see it is a beautiful description of what it means to be a Christian, to be the Body of Christ, to live in the communion of the Church.Tthe theology of our time has found precisely in the concept of communion the key to approaching the mystery of the Church.

The testimony of St. Paulinus of Nola helps us to feel the Church as it is presented to us by the Second Vatican Council - as a sacrament of intimate union with God, and therefore the unity of us all, and finally, that of the entire human race (cfr Lumen gentium, 1).

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