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Father Cantalamessa on Christ Yesterday and Today (Part II)

"What Place Does Christ Occupy in My Life?"

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 6, 2005 (Zenit) - Here is a translation of Part 2 of the Advent sermon delivered Friday by Father Raniero Cantalamessa, Pontifical Household preacher, to Benedict XVI and members of the Roman Curia in preparation for Christmas.

Father Cantalamessa is offering a series of Advent 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 1 appeared Monday. Father Cantalamessa will deliver subsequent sermons the next three Fridays.

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Faith in Christ Today and at the Beginning of the Church

Faith comes therefore from listening to preaching. But what is, precisely, the object of "preaching"? It is known that on the lips of Jesus it is the great news that is the background of his parables and from all his teachings springs: "The Kingdom of God has come to you!" But, what is the content of the preaching on the lips of the apostles? The answer: the work of God in Jesus of Nazareth! It is true, but there is something that is even more concrete, which is the germinating nucleus of everything and that, in regard to the rest, is like the plowshare, that kind of sword in front of the plow that first breaks the earth and allows the plow to mark out the furrow and turn over the earth.

This more concrete nucleus is the exclamation: "Jesus is the Lord!" pronounced and accepted in the wonder of a "statu nascenti" faith, namely, in the very act of being born. The mystery of this word is such that it cannot be pronounced "except by the Holy Spirit" (1 Corinthians 12:3). It alone can bring one to salvation who believes in his resurrection: "because, if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved" (Romans 10:9).

"Like the wake of a ship," Charles Péguy would say, "it enlarges until it disappears and is lost, but it begins with a point that is the point of the ship itself," so -- I add -- the preaching of the Church goes enlarging itself, until it is an immense doctrinal edifice, but it begins with a point and that point is the kerygma: "Jesus is the Lord!"

Therefore that which in Jesus' preaching was the exclamation "the Kingdom of God has come!" in the preaching of the apostles is the exclamation: "Jesus is the Lord!" And yet there is no opposition, but perfect continuity between the Jesus that preaches and the Christ preached, because to say: "Jesus is the Lord!" is as if to say that in Jesus, crucified and risen, the kingdom and sovereignty of God over the world has at last been realized.

We must understand each other well so as not to fall into an unreal reconstruction of the apostolic preaching. After Pentecost, the apostles did not go around the world repeating always and only: "Jesus is the Lord!" What they did when they found themselves announcing the faith for the first time in a specific environment was, rather, to go directly to the heart of the Gospel, proclaiming two events: Jesus died -- Jesus rose, and the motive for these two events: he died "for our sins," he rose "for our justification" (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:4; Romans 4:25). Dramatizing the issue, in the Acts of the Apostles Peter does no more than repeat to those who listened to him: "You killed Jesus of Nazareth; God has resurrected him, making him Lord and Christ."[6]

The proclamation: "Jesus is the Lord!" is nothing other therefore than the conclusion -- now implicit, now explicit -- of this brief history, recounted in an always living and new way, though substantially identical, and is at the same time that in which this history is summarized and becomes operative for the one who hears it. "Christ Jesus ... emptied himself ... and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him ... that at the name of Jesus ... every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord" (Philippians 2:6-11).

The proclamation "Jesus is the Lord!" alone, does not constitute therefore the entire preaching, but it is its soul and so to speak the sun that illuminates it. It establishes a kind of communion with the history of Christ through the "particle" of the word and makes one think, by analogy, in the communion that takes place with the body of Christ through the particle of bread in the Eucharist.

To come to faith is the sudden and astonished opening of the eyes to this light. Recalling the moment of his conversion, Tertullian described it as the coming forth from a great dark womb of ignorance, startled by the light of Truth.[7] It was like the opening of a new world; the First Letter of Peter describes it as being called "out of darkness into marvelous light" (2 Peter 2:9; Colossians ...

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