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Reflections on the Eucharist: 'Same Prayer as the Repentant Thief' (Part 2 of 2)

12/21/2004 - 6:00 AM PST

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Father Raniero Cantalamessa's 3rd Sermon of Advent

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 21, 2004 (Zenit) - Here is a translation of the third Advent sermon, delivered Friday before the Pope and officials of the Roman Curia, by the Pontifical Household preacher, Father Raniero Cantalamessa.

The Capuchin priest offered a series of Eucharistic reflections in the light of the hymn "Adoro Te Devote." Part 1 appeared Sunday.

* * * Father Raniero Cantalamessa
I make the Same Prayer as the Repentant Thief
Third Sermon of Advent at the Pontifical Household

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3. One Believes with the Heart

We now move from the theological affirmation to the application in prayer, a movement present in every stanza of the Adoro Te Devote. The existential implication in this case is the invitation to a renewed act of faith in the full humanity and divinity of Christ: "Ambo tamen credens atque confitens": I firmly believe and profess both. The first stanza also contained a profession of faith: "Credo quidquid dixit Dei Filius," I believe all that the Son of God has spoken. But there it was only a question of faith in the real presence of Christ in the sacrament; here the problem is another; it is about knowing who it is who makes himself present on the altar; the object of faith is the person of Christ, not the sacramental action.

"Credens atque confitens": I believe and profess. We said that it was not enough to believe; we must also profess. But we must immediately add: it is not enough to profess, we must also believe! The most frequent sin of the laity is to believe without professing, hiding their faith out of human respect; the most frequent sin in us, men of the Church, might be that of professing without believing. In fact, it is possible that little by little faith becomes a "creed" that is repeated with the lips, as a declaration of belonging, a flag, without ever asking oneself if one really believes what one says, writes, and preaches. "Corde creditur," Paul reminded us, a phrase that St. Augustine translates as: "Faith rises from the roots of the heart."9

It is necessary, however, to distinguish lack of faith from the darkness of faith and temptations against it. In this Third Week of Advent we are again accompanied by the figure of John the Baptist, but under a new guise. It is the Baptist who in last Sunday's Gospel sends the disciples to ask Jesus: "Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?" (Matthew 11:3).

We must not avoid the drama that is hidden behind this episode of the Precursor's life. He is in prison, cut off from everything; he knows that his life is hanging from a thread; but the external darkness is nothing compared to the darkness that arises in his heart. He no longer knows if all that for which he lived is true or false. He had pointed to the Rabbi of Nazareth as the Messiah, as the Lamb of God, and pressed the people and also his disciples to be united to him and now suffers the piercing doubt that all this might have been an error of his, that Jesus is not the one awaited. How different this John the Baptist is from the one of the preceding Sundays thundering on the banks of the Jordan.

But how is it that Jesus, who seems so severe in face of the lack of faith of the people and reproaches his disciples for being "men of little faith," shows himself, in this circumstance, so understanding in his Precursor's uncertainty? He does not refuse to provide the "signs" requested, as he does in other cases: "Go and tell John what you hear and see ..." The envoys having left, Jesus expresses the greatest praise of the Baptist that ever came from his lips: "Among those born of women there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist," adding only in that circumstance: "Blessed is he who takes no offense in me" (Matthew 11:6). He knew how easy it is to "take offense" in him, in his apparent impotence, in the apparent denial of the facts.

The Baptist's test is one that is renewed in every age. There have been great souls who lived only by faith and who, in a phase of their life, often even the last, fell into the most painful darkness, tormented by the doubt of having failed everything and lived in deceit. From a bishop who was his friend, I learned that even Don Tonino Bello, unforgettable bishop of Molfetta, experienced a similar moment before dying. There is faith in these cases, stronger than ever, but hidden in a remote corner of the soul, which only God is able to read.

If God so glorified John the Baptist it means that when he was in darkness he never ceased believing in the Lamb of God whom he once pointed out to the world. The Apostle Paul's testament is also his: "I have finished the course, I have kept the faith" (2 Timothy 4:7).

Faith is the wedding ring that unites God and man in an alliance -- it is no ...

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