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Father Cantalamessa's 3rd Advent Sermon (Part 1)

12/17/2005 - 5:00 AM PST

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The Righteousness That Comes From Faith in Christ

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 17, 2005 (Zenit) - Here is a translation of the Advent sermon delivered today by Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, Pontifical Household preacher, in the presence of Benedict XVI and members of the Roman Curia.

The sermon was the third in a series. 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."

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St. Paul's Faith in Christ

1. Justified by Faith in Christ

Last time we sought to make our faith in Christ more ardent through contact with the faith of John the Evangelist; this time we will try to do the same, but this time through making contact with the faith of the Apostle Paul.

When St. Paul, from Corinth, in the years 57-58, wrote the Letter to the Romans, he would have still been active and ardent in the memory of the rejection he encountered some years before in Athens in his discourse at the Areopagus. Nonetheless, at the beginning of the letter he speaks confidently of having received the grace of apostleship "to bring about the obedience of faith, for the sake of his name, among all the Gentiles" (Romans 1:5).

Obedience, and in addition to that, among all the gentiles! His failure hadn't scratched in the least his certainty that the Gospel "is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes" (Romans 1:16). In that moment, the vast work of taking the Gospel to the ends of the world was yet to be done. Shouldn't it have seemed to be an impossible and absurd task? But Paul says: "for I know him in whom I have believed" (2 Timothy 1:12), and 2,000 years has justified his audacious faith.

I reflected over these things the first time that I visited Athens and Corinth and I told myself: "If today we had just a small grain of Paul's faith, we wouldn't let ourselves be intimidated by the fact that the world has yet to be evangelized, and even more, that it rejects, at times contemptuously, like the Areopagites, being evangelized."

Faith in Christ, for Paul, is everything. "Insofar as I now live in the flesh," he writes as a testament in the Letter to the Galatians, "I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me" (Galatians 2:20).[1]

When one speaks of faith in St. Paul one thinks spontaneously of the great theme of justification by faith in Christ. And on this we wish to concentrate our attention, not to outline the umpteenth discussion on the topic, but to receive his consoling message. I was saying in the first meditation that there currently exists a need for kerygmatic preaching, suitable to incite faith where it has never existed, or where it has died. Gratuitous justification by faith in Christ is the heart of this type of preaching, and it is a shame that this is, in turn, practically absent from ordinary preaching in the Church.

In this respect something strange has occurred. To the objections raised by the reformers, the Council of Trent had given a Catholic response, that there is a place for faith and for good works, each one, it was understood, in its place. One is not saved by good works, but one cannot be saved without good works. Nevertheless, from this moment in which the Protestants insisted unilaterally on faith, Catholic preaching and spirituality ended up accepting the nearly exclusive and thankless work of calling to mind the need for good works and of one's personal contribution to salvation. The result is that the great majority of Catholics have lived entire lives without having ever heard a direct announcement of gratuitous justification by faith, without too many "buts."

After the agreement on this topic in 1999, between the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation, the situation changed in terms of principle, but it's still difficult to put it into practice. The desire is expressed in the text of that agreement that the common doctrine on justification be put into practice, making it part of the lived experience of the faithful, and not simply the subject of learned discussions among theologians. This is what we propose to achieve, at least in small part, in the present meditation. Before anything else, let us read the text:

"All have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God. They are justified freely by his grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as an expiation, through faith, by his blood, to prove his righteousness because of the forgiveness of sins previously committed, through the forbearance of God -- to prove his righteousness in the present time, that he might be righteous and justify the one who has faith in Jesus" (Romans 3:23-26).

Nothing of this text can be understood, even to the point that it could inspire fear more ...

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