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1st Lenten Sermon of Father Cantalamessa (Part 1 of 2)

3/18/2006 - 5:00 AM PST

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"And Being in Agony He Prayed More Earnestly"

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 18, 2006 (Zenit) - Here is a translation of the Lenten sermon delivered today by Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa in the presence of Benedict XVI and officials of the Roman Curia. The Pontifical Household preacher delivered it in the Mater Redemptoris Chapel of the Apostolic Palace.

This is Part 1 of the translation. Part 2 will appear Sunday.

* * *

"And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly" (Luke 22:44)

Jesus in Gethsemane

1. Baptized in his death

In the Advent meditations, I tried to bring to light the need we have at present to rediscover the "kerygma," that is, that original core of the Christian message in the presence of which the act of faith in God normally flowers. This core, the passion and death of Christ, represents its essential element.

From the objective point of view, or the point of view of faith, it is the resurrection, not the death of Christ, which is the qualifying element: "It is no great thing to believe that Jesus has died," writes St. Augustine, "pagans and reprobates also believe this; all believe it. But what is really great is to believe that he has risen. The faith of Christians is the resurrection of Christ."[1] But from the subjective point of view or the point of view of life, the Passion, not the Resurrection, is the most important element for us. "Of the three things that constitute the most sacred triduum -- crucifixion, burial and resurrection of the Lord -- we," St. Augustine also wrote, "realize in the present life the meaning of the crucifixion, while we hold by faith and hope what burial and resurrection mean."[2]

It has been written that the Gospels are "accounts of the Passion preceded by a long Introduction" (M. Kahler). But sadly the latter, which is the most important part of the Gospels, is also the least appreciated in the course of the liturgical year, as it is read only once a year, in Holy Week, when, because of the duration of the rites, it is moreover impossible to pause to comment and explain it. There was a time when preaching on the Passion occupied a place of honor in all popular missions. Today, when these occasions have become rare, many Christians reach the end of their lives without ever having experienced Calvary.

With our Lenten reflections we intend to fill, at least in some measure, this lacuna. We need to remain a while with Jesus in Gethsemane and on Calvary in order to be prepared for Easter. It is written that there was a miraculous pool in Jerusalem and that the first to plunge into it, when its waters were stirred, was cured. We must now throw ourselves, in spirit, into this pool, or into this ocean, which is the passion of Christ.

In baptism, we have been "baptized in his death," "buried with him" (Romans 6:3 ff.): That which happened once mystically in the sacrament, must be realized existentially in life. We must give ourselves a salutary bath in the Passion to be renewed, reinvigorated and transformed by it. "I buried myself in the passion of Christ, wrote Blessed Angela of Foligno, and I was given the hope that in it I would find my liberation."[3]

2. Gethsemane, a historical fact

Our journey through the Passion begins, as that of Jesus, from Gethsemane. Jesus' agony in the Garden of Olives is a fact affirmed in the Gospels on four foundations, that is, by the four evangelists. John, in fact, also speaks of it, in his own way, when he puts on Jesus' lips the words: "Now is my soul troubled (which remind us of the "my soul is sad" of the synoptic Gospels) and the words: "Father, save me from this hour!" (which reminds us of the "remove this cup from me" of the synoptic Gospels (John 12:27 ff.). There is also an echo of it, as we shall see, in the Letter to the Hebrews.

It is something altogether extraordinary that an event so minutely "apologetic" should have found such an outstanding place in tradition. Only one historical event, strongly affirmed, explains the relevance given to this moment of the life of Jesus. Each one of the evangelists gave the episode a different hue according to his own sensitivity and the needs of the community to which they wrote. But they did not add anything truly "foreign" to the event; rather each one brought to life some of the infinite spiritual implications of the event. They did not do, as we say today, "eis-egesis," but "ex-egesis."

Those which, according to the letter, are reciprocally contrasting and exclusive affirmations in the Gospels, are not so according to the Spirit. If an external and material coherence is absent, a profound concord, instead, is not lacking. The Gospels are four branches of a tree, separated on the top, but united in the trunk (the common oral tradition of the Church) and, through it, in the root, which is the historical ...

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