The feast of Ss. Peter and Paul is remarkable as a response to the problem of the moment. That problem is the loss of the knowledge of God as experience. Benedict XVI poises his entire theological weight over this one concrete point and has made it the onus of his entire Magisterium as pope.
Modernity has lost the experience of God, and hence – since man is made in God’s image and likeness – he is in a state of alienation from his true self. In a word, to be turned back on self – as image of Person-in-relation - is to be in a state of alienation from who one is. Benedict has set the stage of the mystical Reality of God as Love in his first encyclical, and identifies the very being of the human person as longing – “hope” - for that mystical Reality. God does not love. He is Love (Agape-Self-gift). Man does not hope. He is hope. God as Love and we as Hope unite to form a way of knowing that Benedict calls “experiential.” It is impossible to subsume the eternal process of self-gift under a de-existentialized category that is an abstraction. The knowledge of self and God cannot be achieved via a reductive conceptualism. To be, it must be an experiential consciousness.
Both Peter and Paul knew Christ by way of a lived conversion, and therefore, knew Him experientially. Peter as Simon, Son of John, returned with the twelve from preaching and found Christ praying alone to the Father. They joined Him: “And it came to pass as he was praying in private, that his disciples also were with him, and he asked them, saying, ‘Who do the crowds say that I am?’ And they answered and said, ‘John the Baptist; and others, Elias; and others, that one of the ancient prophets has risen again.’
“And he said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered and said, ‘The Christ of God.’”
The key to understanding this in its full force is the text of Matthew 11, 27: “No one knows the Son except the Father; nor does any one know the Father except the Son and him to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” This goes hand in hand with John 1, 18: “No one has at any time seen God. The only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has revealed him.”
In a word, it is impossible to know or see God the Father. He totally transcends our level of sensible and intellectual experience. However, the complete and total revelation of the Father is His Son Who is equally God but a distinct Person – who has taken our human nature as His own and stands before us and says: “Feel me and see; for a spirit does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have” (Lk. 24, 39).
Therefore, the key to experiencing the Father is to experience the Son on two levels: one, the level of feeling and seeing; the second, the level of entering into prayer with Christ where we experience ourselves as going out of ourselves as Christ did “praying in private.” This is a distinct kind of experience that is not sensible perception but the experience of the “I” in relation to the Father. As Christ is that and exercises that as God-man, I can do that and experience what Christ experiences. I can then “know” Him – intellegere: “legere ab intus” read Him from within. And if I can see and know Him, I “know” the Father because “I and the Father are one” (Jn. 10, 30); “Philip, he who sees me, sees the Father” (Jn. 14, 9).
Saul knew of Christ by hearsay, and therefore by the senses. But on the road to
“The fact is that a complete turnabout took place there, a total change of perspective. Henceforth, unexpectedly, he began to consider as "loss" and "rubbish" all that before was for him the highest ideal, almost the raison d'etre of his existence (Philippians 3:7-8). What happened?
“In this respect, we have two sources. The first type, the most well-known, are the accounts owed to Luke's pen, who on three occasions narrates the event in the Acts of the Apostles (cf. 9:1-19; 22:3-21; 26:4-23). The average reader, perhaps, might be tempted to pause too long on certain details, such as the light from the sky, the fall to the ground, the voice that called, the new state of blindness, the curing when something like scales fall from his eyes and the fasting. However, all these details point to the heart of the event: The Risen Christ appeared as a splendid light and addressed Saul, transforming his thinking and his very life. The splendor of the Risen One left him blind; presenting also externally what the interior reality was, his blindness in regard to the truth, to the light, which is Christ. And then, his definitive "yes" to Christ in baptism reopens his eyes, and makes him truly see.
“In the early Church, baptism was also called "illumination," because this sacrament gives light, makes one truly see. All that is indicated theologically was realized in Paul also physically: Once cured of his interior blindness, he sees well. Hence,
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“As we see in these passages, Paul never interprets this moment as an event of conversion. Why? There are many theories, but the reason is very obvious. This change of his life, this transformation of his whole being was not the result of a psychological process, of a maturation or intellectual and moral evolution, but it came from outside: It was not the result of his thinking but of the encounter with Jesus Christ. In this sense it was not simply a conversion, a maturing of his "I," rather, it was death and resurrection for himself: a life of his died and a new one was born with the Risen Christ.
In no other way can this renewal of Paul be explained. All psychological analyses cannot clarify or resolve the problem. Only the event, the intense encounter with Christ is the key to understand what happened: death and resurrection, renewal on the part of him who revealed himself and spoke with him. It is in this more profound sense that we can and must speak of conversion. This meeting was a real renewal that changed all his parameters. One can now say that what before was essential and fundamental for him, now has become "rubbish" for him; there is no longer "gain" but loss, because now only life in Christ is what counts.
However, we must not think that Paul locked himself blindly in an event. In reality, the opposite occurred, because the risen Christ is the light of truth, the light of God himself. This enlarged his heart, and opened it to all. At that moment, he did not lose all that was good and true in his life, in his heritage, but understood in a new way the wisdom, truth, and depth of the law and the prophets; he appropriated them in a new way. At the same time, his reason opened to the wisdom of the pagans. Having opened himself to Christ with all his heart, he became able to engage in a wider dialogue with all, he made himself everything to all. Hence he could really be the apostle to the pagans.
How Does This Relate To Us?
Benedict XVI goes on: “Let us now look at our situation. What does this mean for us? It means that also for us, Christianity is not a new philosophy or new morality. We are Christians only if we encounter Christ. Of course he does not show himself to us in that irresistible, luminous way, as he did with Paul to make him Apostle of the Gentiles.
However, we can also encounter Christ in the reading of sacred Scripture, in prayer, in the liturgical life of the Church. We can touch Christ's heart and feel him touch ours. Only in this personal relationship with Christ, only in this encounter with the Risen One do we really become Christians. [And now, Benedict enters into the topic of the “broadening of reason” that he has insisted on especially in the last 2 years].And in this way, our reason opens, the whole of Christ's wisdom opens and all the richness of the truth. Therefore, let us pray to the Lord to enlighten us, so that, in our world, he will grant us the encounter with his presence, and thus give us a lively faith, an open heart, and great charity for all, capable of renewing the world.”