VATICAN CITY, MARCH 26, 2004 (Zenit.org).- To understand that the passion, death and resurrection of Christ constitute the most important event in history, it is necessary to understand the allegorical meaning of Scripture, says the Papal Household preacher.
The spiritual or allegorical meaning of the New Testament accounts on those moments of Jesus’ life was the subject of Father Raniero Cantalamessa’s meditation, addressed today to John Paul II and officials in the Roman Curia as part of a series of Lenten reflections.
Having explained the historical meaning of these accounts in a previous meditation, the Capuchin addressed the technically allegorical meaning of the Scriptures, namely, “what must be believed” when reading them.
He said this is seen clearly in these formulas: “He died for our sins; he rose for our justification.”
“‘Died,’ ‘rose’ indicate events; they are historical affirmations,” Father Cantalamessa said. “‘For our sins,’ ‘for our justification’ are historical affirmations, but of faith; they indicate the mystical meaning of the events.”
“In essence, this is precisely the meaning of faith, which makes the death and resurrection of Christ historical events, if by historical we refer not only to the naked fact, but to the event and its meaning,” he said.
“In this connection, the death and resurrection of Christ is the most historical event of the history of the world, as it is the one that has had the most influence on humanity’s end. Also in these days we are seeing how everything that affects this event has the power to stir consciences and to elicit reactions,” the priest said.
Father Cantalamessa said that the person who best explained “the meaning for the faith of the event of Christ’s Easter is the Apostle Paul,” who stresses two elements: “a negative aspect, which consists in the elimination of sin, or justification of the impious; and a positive aspect, which consists of the gift of the Spirit and of the new life.”
After the Protestant Reformation, theological controversies have resulted in almost exclusive emphasis on the negative, “the elimination of sin,” the Capuchin said.
“However, in reality, for Paul, of the two aspects of salvation — justification of the impious and the gift of the Spirit — the latter is the most important. He speaks of it in all his letters, while he speaks of justification by faith only in letters in which he has to defend his own mission with the Gentiles,” the priest said.
“For Paul, justification of the impious and the remission of sins are no more than the conditions to receive the most beautiful and complete gift of Christ’s Easter, namely, his Spirit,” he added.
“Many are convinced that the birth and magnetic development of the Pentecostal and charismatic movement within the different Christian churches can be explained, in part, as a reaction to a too-unilateral insistence on the problem of justification by faith which has left in the shadows the doctrine and the experience of the Spirit,” Father Cantalamessa said.
Because of this, the preacher added, “according to statistics,” the Charismatic Renewal is today “‘the fastest growing segment of Christianity.'”
This view “might help at last to find the solution to problems that have been with us for centuries on which not even the joint declaration of the Catholic Church and the Lutheran Federation,” on the doctrine of justification, has succeeded in finding full agreement, he said.
“In the theology and spirituality of the Pentecostal movement, justification by faith is not seen only as an external element of justice which leaves the believer as he was previously,” Father Cantalamessa said. On the contrary, he insisted, there is an understanding that “the Holy Spirit really transforms the person, giving him a new heart and dwelling in the person.”
“It would be very sad if all this remained confined within only one ecclesial movement and did not spread, as a consequence, in substance and in form, to the whole Church, as a current of fruitful grace,” the priest said.
However, he said, it is not enough to determine the meaning of faith contained in Easter — liberation from sin and the gift of the Spirit.
“It is also necessary to be concerned about the intensity with which one believes,” the Capuchin said. “We are talking about existential faith. What can we do to reinforce it, to make it grow, if it is essentially a gift of God, not the fruit of our will?”
“We must begin by revitalizing the capacity to wonder before it,” he said. “A Negro spiritual says: ‘But I am praying, I can pray!’ as if realizing with surprise that the singer is doing something that he thought was impossible, as if he said: ‘I am flying.'”
The preacher added: “We must do the same with faith. We must be conscious of the enormous gift, of the incredible privilege of being able to believe. We must be amazed and not cease to thank God the Father for it. We must exclaim, in amazement, as the man who was blind from birth and cured by Jesus: ‘I see, I see!'”