“This,” he continued, “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...”
At his Wednesday general audience, the pope continued his reflections on evangelization and apostolic zeal with a catechesis centered on St. Paul’s transformation from a persecutor of Christians to a great evangelist.
St. Paul “was a man who was zealous about the law of Moses for Judaism, and after his conversion, this zeal continued, but to proclaim, to preach Jesus Christ,” Pope Francis explained. “Paul loved Jesus. Saul — Paul’s first name — was already zealous, but Christ converts his zeal.”
To better explain zeal, the pope referenced St. Thomas Aquinas, who taught that passion, from a moral perspective, is neither good nor bad: it depends on if it is used virtuously or sinfully.
Pope Francis' General Audience in St. Peter's Square on March 29, 2023. Daniel Ibanez/CNA
“In Paul’s case, what changed him is not a simple idea or a conviction: It was the encounter, this word, it was the encounter with the risen Lord — do not forget this, it is the encounter with the Lord that changes a life — it was the encounter with the risen Lord that transformed his entire being,” the pope said.
“Paul’s humanity,” he added, “his passion for God and his glory was not annihilated, but transformed, ‘converted’ by the Holy Spirit.”
The pope noted that part of the change that takes place in Paul is his conversion from feeling righteous before God, and thus authorized to persecute, to arrest, and even to kill — to someone who, enlightened by God, recognizes himself to be a “blasphemer and persecutor.”
After recognizing what he had done, Paul becomes truly capable of loving, Francis said.
“If Jesus did not enter your life, it did not change,” he said. “You cannot be Christian only from the outside. No, Jesus must enter and this changes you, and this happened to Paul. It is finding Jesus, and this is why Paul said that Christ’s love drives us, it is what takes you forward.”