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3rd Lenten Sermon of Father Cantalamessa

3/26/2007 - 6:00 AM PST

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"Blessed Are You Who Hunger Now, for You Will Satisfied"

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 26, 2007 (Zenit) - Here is a translation of the Lenten sermon delivered Friday by Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa in the presence of Benedict XVI and officials of the Roman Curia. The Pontifical Household preacher delivered the reflection in the Redemptoris Mater Chapel of the Apostolic Palace.

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1. The beatitudes and the historical Jesus

The research on the historical Jesus, so in fashion today -- whether it be conducted by scholars who are believers or the radical research of nonbelievers -- hides a grave danger: It can lead one to believe that only what, for this new approach, can be verified of the earthly Jesus is "authentic" while all the rest would be nonhistorical and therefore "inauthentic." This would mean unjustifiably limiting God's means for revealing himself to history alone. It would mean tacitly abandoning such a truth of faith as biblical inspiration and therefore the revealed character of Scripture.

It appears that the attempt not to narrow New Testament research to the historical approach is beginning to gain momentum among various biblical scholars. In 2005 a consultation on "Canon Criticism and Theological Interpretation" was held at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome with the participation of eminent New Testament scholars. The consultation had the purpose of promoting the aspect of biblical interpretation that takes the canonical dimension of the Scriptures into account and integrates it with historical research and the theological dimension.

From all this we conclude that the "word of God," and therefore that which is normative for the believer, is not the hypothetical "original nucleus" variously reconstructed by historians, but that which is written in the Gospels. The results of historical research must be taken seriously because they even guide the understanding of the posterior developments of the tradition; but we will continue to pronounce the exclamation "The Word of God!" at the end of the of the reading of the Gospel text, not at the end of the reading of the latest book on the historical Jesus.

These observations are particularly helpful when we deal with the use we should make of the Gospel beatitudes. It has come to be known that the beatitudes have reached us in two different versions. Matthew has eight beatitudes, Luke only four, followed by corresponding contrary "woes"; in Matthew the discourse is indirect: "Blessed are the poor ... blessed are the hungry"; in Luke the discourse is direct: "Blessed are you who are poor ... blessed are you who hunger"; Luke has "poor" and "hungry," Matthew has poor "in spirit" and hungry for "justice."

After all the critical work done to distinguish that which, in the beatitudes, comes from the historical Jesus and that which comes from Matthew and Luke,[1] the task of the believer of today is not to choose one of the versions as authentic and leave the other aside. What needs to be done rather is to gather up the message contained in both versions and -- according to the contexts and necessities of today -- give precedence, from time to time, to one or the other perspective as the two Evangelists themselves did in their time.

2. Who are the hungry and the satiated?

Following this principle, let us reflect today on the beatitude of the hungry, taking Luke's version as our point of departure: "Blessed are you who hunger, for you will be satisfied." We will see later that Matthew's version, which speaks of "hunger for justice" is not opposed to Luke's version but confirms and reinforces it.

The hungry of Luke's beatitude are not in a different category from the poor mentioned in the first beatitude. They are the same poor people considered in their most dramatic condition: the lack of food. In a parallel way the "satiated" are the rich, who in their prosperity, can satisfy not only their needs but also their wants in regard to food. It is Jesus himself who is concerned to explain who the satiated and who the hungry are. He does this with the parable of the rich man and the poor man Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). This parable also looks at poverty and prosperity under the aspect of lack of food and superabundance of food: the rich man "feasted sumptuously every day"; the poor man desired in vain "to be fed with what fell from the rich man's table."

The parable, however, explains not only who the hungry and the satiated are but also and above all why the former are called blessed and the latter are called unfortunate. "One day the poor man died and was carried by angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried ... and was tormented in Hades." This reveals where the two roads lead: the narrow one of poverty and the broad and spacious one of thoughtlessness.

Prosperity and being ...

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