Friday, December 05, 2008

Father Cantalamessa's 1st Advent Sermon

St. Paul: "Model of True Christian Conversion"

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 5, 2008 ( Here is the Advent homily Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the Pontifical Household, delivered today in the Vatican in the presence of Benedict XVI and the Roman Curia.

This is the first of three Advent sermons the preacher will deliver on the theme "'When the Fullness of Time Had Come, God Sent his Son, Born of a Woman: Going With St. Paul to Meet the Christ Who Comes."

The next two sermons will be held Dec. 12 and 19.

* * *

"But Whatever Gain I Had, I Counted as a Loss for the Sake of Christ"
The Conversion of St. Paul: Model of True Christian Conversion

The Pauline Year is a great grace for the Church, but it also presents a danger: that of reflecting on Paul, his personality and his doctrine without taking the next step from him to Christ. The Holy Father warned against this risk in the homily with which he proclaimed the Pauline Year in the general audience of last July 2, stating: "This is the purpose of the Pauline Year: to learn from St. Paul, to learn the faith, to learn about Christ."

This danger has occurred so many times in the past, to the point of giving a place to the absurd thesis according to which Paul, not Christ, is the real founder of Christianity. Jesus Christ was for Paul what Socrates was for Plato: a pretext, a name, under which to put his own thought.

The Apostle, as John the Baptist before him, is an index pointing to one "greater than he," of which he does not consider himself worthy to be an Apostle. The former thesis is the most complete distortion and the gravest offense that can be made to the Apostle Paul. If he came back to life, he would react to that thesis with the same vehemence with which he reacted in face of a similar misunderstanding of the Corinthians: "Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?" (1 Corinthians 1:13).

Another obstacle to overcome, also for us believers, is that of pausing on Paul's doctrine on Christ, without catching his love and fire for him. Paul does not want to be for us only a winter sun that illuminates but does not warm. The obvious intention of his letters is to lead readers not only to the knowledge of but also to love and passion for Christ.

To this end I wish to contribute the three meditations of Advent this year, beginning with this one today, in which we reflect on Paul's conversion, the event that, after the death and resurrection of Christ, has most influenced the future of Christianity.

1. Paul's Conversion Seen From Within

The best explanation of St. Paul's conversion is the one he himself gives when he speaks of Christian baptism as being "baptized into the death of Christ" -- "buried with him" to rise with him and "walk in newness of life" (cf. Romans 6:3-4). He relived in himself the paschal mystery of Christ, around which, in turn, all his thought will revolve. There are also impressive external analogies. Jesus remained three days in the sepulcher; for three days Saul lived as though dead: He could not see, stand, eat, then, at the moment of baptism, his eyes reopened, he was able to eat and gather his strength; he came back to life (cf. Acts 9:18).


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