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Father Cantalamessa on Christ Yesterday and Today (Part I)

"How Are They to Believe In Him of Whom They Have Never Heard?"

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 5, 2005 (Zenit) - Here is a translation of the first Advent sermon delivered this year by Father Raniero Cantalamessa, Pontifical Household preacher, to Benedict XVI and members of the Roman Curia in preparation for Christmas.

The following sermon was given Friday. Preaching in the Redemptoris Mater Chapel of the Apostolic Palace, Father Cantalamessa is offering a series of reflections on the theme "For What We Preach Is Not Ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord" (2 Corinthians 4:5): Faith in Christ Today."

Part 2 of this sermon will appear Tuesday. Father Cantalamessa will deliver the subsequent sermons the next three Fridays.

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Faith in Christ Today and at the Beginning of the Church

Holy Father, I would like to say two things at this time: First to thank you for your confidence in asking me to continue in the office of Pontifical Household preacher, and to affirm my total obedience and fidelity to you, as Successor of Peter.

I believe there is no more beautiful way of greeting the beginning of a new pontificate than to recall and try to reproduce the event in which Christ founded the primacy of Peter. Simon becomes Cephas, rock, in the moment that, by the Father's revelation, he professes his faith in the divine origin of Jesus. "On this rock -- as St. Augustine paraphrases Christ's words -- I will build the faith you have professed. I will build my Church on the fact that you have said: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."[1]

For this reason I have chosen "faith in Christ" as the theme of the Advent preaching. In this first meditation, I would like to sketch what I believe is the current situation in our society concerning faith in Christ and the remedy that the Word of God offers us to address it. In subsequent meetings we will meditate on what the faith in Christ of John, Paul, the Council of Nicaea and the lived faith of Mary, his Mother, says to us today.

1. Presence-Absence of Christ

What role does Jesus have in our society and culture? I think that in this regard, one can speak of a presence-absence of Christ. At a certain level -- that of the mass media in general, Jesus Christ is very present, he is no less than a "superstar," according to the title of a well-known musical about him. In an interminable series of stories, films and books, writers manipulate the figure of Christ, at times under the pretext of new phantomlike historical documents about him.

"The Da Vinci Code" is the latest and most aggressive instance of this long series. It has already become a fashion, a literary genre. There is speculation on the vast resonance that Jesus' name has and on what he represents for a large part of humanity to ensure great publicity at low cost. And this is literary parasitism.

From a certain point of view, we can therefore say that Jesus Christ is very present in our culture. But if we look at the ambit of faith, to which he belongs in the first place, we note, on the contrary, a perturbing absence, if not an outright rejection of his person.

Above all, at the theological level. A certain theological current maintains that Christ did not come for the salvation of Jews (for whom it would be enough to remain faithful to the Old Covenant), but only for the Gentiles. Another current maintains that he is not necessary either for the salvation of the Gentiles, the latter having, thanks to their religion, a direct relationship with the eternal logos, without needing to go through the incarnate word and his paschal mystery. We must ask, for whom is Christ still necessary?

Even more worrying is what is observed in society in general, including those who define themselves "Christian believers." In what, in fact, do those in Europe and other places believe who define themselves "believers?" In the majority of cases, they believe in a supreme being, a creator; they believe in "the beyond."

But this is a deist faith, not yet a Christian faith. Taking into account Karl Barth's well-known distinction, the latter is religion, not yet faith. Different sociological researches note this fact also in countries and regions of ancient Christian tradition, as the region in which I myself was born, in the Marcas. In practice, Jesus Christ is absent in this type of religiosity.

Even the dialogue between science and faith, which has again become so timely, leads to putting Christ in brackets. The former, in fact, has God, the creator as object. The historical person of Jesus of Nazareth has no place there. The same occurs in the dialogue with philosophy, which loves to be concerned with metaphysical concepts more than historical realities.

In brief, what is repeated on a world scale is what occurred at the Areopagus of Athens, on the ...

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