Preacher: Paul Calls Christians Past Old Tensions

Says Problems of 3rd Millennium Need New Focus

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VATICAN CITY, DEC. 12, 2008 ( It is time to go beyond old points of division between Catholics and Protestants and focus on what is at stake at the start of the third millennium, says Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa.

The preacher of the Pontifical Household said this today in the second of his Advent reflections. Today’s meditation was titled «Called by God to Communicate With His Son, Jesus Christ.» His third Advent homily will be given next Friday, Dec. 19.

The reflection followed the methodology of «lectio divina,» offering a consideration of a passage from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians.

Father Cantalamessa began with a look at Paul’s conversion, not as a conversion to a doctrine, but to a person. «Before a change of thought, his was a change of heart, the encounter with a living person,» he said.

This conversion was Paul falling in love with Christ, the Capuchin said. «The effect of falling in love is double. On one hand there is a drastic reduction to one, a concentration on the person loved that makes all the rest of the world pass to a second plane; on the other hand, it renders one capable of suffering anything for the person loved, accepting the loss of everything. We see both these effects realized to perfection at the moment in which the Apostle discovers Christ.»

Father Cantalamessa said that Paul’s personal experience led him to «a global vision of Christian life that he indicates with the expression ‘in Christ,'» which occurs 83 times in Pauline writings.

«Rightly, beginning to be considered today, also in the heart of the Protestant world, is the vision synthesized in the expression ‘in Christ’ or ‘in the Spirit’ as more central and representative of Paul’s thought than the doctrine itself of justification through faith,» the preacher contended. «The Pauline Year might be revealed as the providential occasion to close a whole period of discussions and disagreements linked more to the past than to the present, and to open a new chapter in the use of the Apostle’s thought.

«To return to his letters, in the first place the Letter to the Romans, for the purpose for which they were written which was not, of course, that of furnishing future generations with a gymnasium in which to exercise their theological acumen, but that of edifying the faith of the community, formed in the main by simple and illiterate people.»


Father Cantalamessa went on to propose that it is time to «go beyond the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation.»

What good does it do, he considered, to take up Luther’s problem of how to liberate man from a sense of guilt, when today the problem is how to give again to man a true meaning of sin that has been lost.

«What sense does it make to continue to discuss how ‘justification of the godless comes about,’ when man is convinced of not having need of any justification,» the Capuchin asked.

He contended that the centuries of discussion between Catholics and Protestants about faith and works have «ended up by making us lose sight of the main point of the Pauline message, often shifting attention from Christ to doctrines on Christ, in practice, from Christ to men.»

«This message of the Apostle on the centrality of Christ is of great importance today,» Father Cantalamessa continued. «Many factors have led in fact to put his person in parenthesis today.»

Christ’s approach

The Pontifical Household preacher then turned his attention to what Paul’s example means for believers’ spiritual lives. He reflected on the topic in Catholic spirituality of the «thought of the presence of God.»

«On this point, St. Paul’s thought can help us to overcome the difficulty that has led to the decline of the spirituality of the presence of God,» Father Cantalamessa said. «He always speaks of a presence of God ‘in Christ.’ An irreversible and unsurpassable presence. There is no stage of the spiritual life in which one can make less of Christ, or go ‘beyond Christ.’ Christian life is a ‘hidden life with Christ in God.'»

«What derives on the practical plane?» he asked. «That we can do everything ‘in Christ’ and ‘with Christ,’ whether we eat, or sleep, or do any other thing, says the Apostle. The Risen One is not present only because we think about him, but is really beside us; it is not us who must, with thought and imagination, go back to his earthly life and represent to ourselves the episodes of his life […] it is he, the Risen One, who comes toward us.

«It is not us that, with imagination, must become contemporaries of Christ; it is Christ who really makes himself our contemporary.»

Empty hands

Finally, Father Cantalamessa considered Paul’s declaration that «forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.»

This «forgetting,» the preacher proposed, is detachment from any good that one has done in the service of the Church, «repeating to oneself, according to Christ’s suggestions: ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.'»

In this regard, he concluded with a Christmas reflection: «This emptying of one’s hands and pockets of every pretension, in a spirit of poverty and humility, is the best way to prepare for Christmas.

«We are reminded of it by a delightful Christmas legend that I would like to mention again. It narrates that among the shepherds who ran on Christmas night to adore the Child, there was one who was so poor that he had nothing to offer and was very ashamed. Reaching the grotto, all competed to offer their gifts. Mary did not know what to do to receive them all, having to hold the Child in her arms.

«Then, seeing the shepherd with his hands free, she entrusted Jesus to him. To have empty hands was his fortune and, on another plane, will also be ours.»

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