VATICAN CITY, MARCH 5, 2010 ( Human religions or philosophies tell a person what he must do to be saved. Christianity is different because it tells a person what God has already done to save him.

This reflection was made today by Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the Pontifical Household, in his first Lenten sermon of the year, given in the presence of Benedict XVI and the Roman Curia.

The Capuchin is focusing his homilies on the priesthood. In Advent he meditated on the priest as servant of Christ, in the power and the unction of the Holy Spirit. During Lent, he is looking at the priest as steward of the mysteries of God.

He illustrated today what sets Christianity apart from other religions.

"Christianity does not begin by telling man what he must do, but what God has done for him," he said. "Jesus did not begin to preach saying: 'Repent and believe in the Gospel so that the Kingdom will come to you'; he began by saying: 'The Kingdom of God is among you: repent and believe in the Gospel.' Not conversion first and then salvation, but salvation first and then conversion."

The preacher suggested that this awareness of Christianity's uniqueness is fundamental in interreligious dialogue.

"We Christians will not enter into dialogue with other faiths, affirming the difference or superiority of our religion; this would be the very negation of dialogue," he said. "Rather, we will insist on that which unites us, the common objectives, acknowledging in the others the same right -- at least subjective -- of considering their faith the most perfect and the definitive one. Without forgetting, after all, that whoever lives with consistency and in good faith a religion of works and of the law is better and more pleasing to God than one who belongs to the religion of grace, but neglects completely either to believe in faith or to carry out the works of faith."

But an open heart in dialogue should not induce Christians to undermine "faith in the novelty and uniqueness of Christ."

"It is not a question of affirming the superiority of a religion over others, but of recognizing the specificity of each one, to know who we are and what we believe," he said.

And it is not hard to understand why grace is a difficult concept for modern man, Father Cantalamessa contended.
He explained: "To be saved 'by grace' means to recognize someone's dependence and this is the most difficult thing. Noteworthy is Marx's affirmation: 'A being does not appear independent unless and only in so far as he is lord of himself, and he is not lord of himself unless and only in so far as he owes his existence to himself. A man who lives by the "grace" of another is considered a dependent being [...]. But I would live completely by the grace of another, if he had created my life, if he was the source of my life and the latter was not my own creation.'

"The reason why a creator God is rejected is also the reason why a savior God is rejected."

This basic attitude of pride was at the heart of Satan's sin, Father Cantalamessa suggested.

Citing St. Bernard, he explained: "[Satan] preferred to be the most unhappy of creatures on his own merit, rather than the most happy by the grace of another; he preferred to be 'unhappy but sovereign, rather than happy but dependent.'

"The rejection of Christianity, in progress at certain levels of our Western culture, when it is not rejection of the Church and of Christians, is rejection of grace."