VATICAN CITY, DEC. 16, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Grace is what differentiates Christianity from all other religions, says the preacher of the Pontifical Household.
Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa preached today the third in a series of Advent meditations in the presence of Benedict XVI and his aides in the Roman Curia in the Redemptoris Mater Chapel of the Apostolic Palace.
The theme for the series is “For What We Preach Is Not Ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord: Faith in Christ Today.”
His third meditation focused on the doctrine of justification by faith of St. Paul and “the righteousness that comes from faith in Christ.”
Father Cantalamessa noted that “Gratuitous justification by faith in Christ is … practically absent from ordinary preaching in the Church.”
The Pontifical Household preacher used the Letter to the Romans as his point of departure.
At the heart of this Pauline text, the Capuchin said, is what St. Augustine had said, before Luther, that “the ‘righteousness of God’ is used in the sense of our being made righteous by his gift …, and ‘the salvation of the Lord,’ in that we are saved by him.”
According to the papal preacher, the concept of “righteousness of God” was explained in the Letter to Titus: “But when the kindness and generous love of God our savior appeared, not because of any righteous deeds we had done but because of his mercy.”
It was not man who, all of a sudden, changed life and tradition and put himself to the task of doing good; the novelty is that God acted, he was the first to extend his hand out to sinful man, and his action fulfilled time.
He continued: “Saying ‘the righteousness of God appeared,’ is the same as saying: The goodness of God, his love and his mercy appeared.”
“It was not man who,” he said, “all of a sudden, changed life and tradition and put himself to the task of doing good; the novelty is that God acted, he was the first to extend his hand out to sinful man, and his action fulfilled time.”
And there is the “novelty that distinguishes the Christian religion” from all others: “Christianity does not begin with what man must do to save himself, but with what God has done to save him. … Christianity is the religion of grace!” he exclaimed.
But the “gratuitous justification by faith is not an invention of Paul,” pointed out Father Cantalamessa, “but rather the pure teaching of Jesus,” who, “at the start of his ministry,” proclaimed: “This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Convert, and believe in the gospel.”
“What Christ includes in the expression ‘Kingdom of God,’ that is, the salvific initiative of God, his offering of salvation to humanity, St. Paul calls ‘righteousness of God,’ but it deals with the same fundamental reality,” he said.
“When Jesus says: ‘Convert and believe in the Gospel,’ he was already teaching justification by faith,” he said.
From that point on, said the preacher, “Conversion no longer means to go back, to the old alliance and to the observance of the law; it means rather to take a step forward, to enter into a new alliance, to hold onto this Kingdom that has appeared, and to enter into it.”
Furthermore, he said, “‘Convert and believe’ does not mean two different and successive things, but rather the same action: convert, so as to believe; convert believing!” Pass from the old alliance, based on the law, to the new alliance, based on faith,” said the preacher.
“Gratuitous justification by faith in Christ,” he added, “should transform itself into lived experience for the believer.”
“We Catholics,” said Father Cantalamessa, “have an enormous advantage” in the sacraments, “in particular, the sacrament of reconciliation.
“This offers to us an excellent and infallible means to experiment anew each time justification by faith.”