Saturday, December 17, 2005

The religion of grace

Fr. Cantalamessa's third Advent sermon (Part 1. Part 2 on Sunday. If you don't know who he is, you've not been reading my blog. How's that for a conceited statement! :))... he's talking about St. Paul. How can I resist? :) (Via Zenit.)
Obedience, and in addition to that, among all the gentiles! His failure hadn't scratched in the least his certainty that the Gospel "is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes" (Romans 1:16). In that moment, the vast work of taking the Gospel to the ends of the world was yet to be done. Shouldn't it have seemed to be an impossible and absurd task? But Paul says: "for I know him in whom I have believed" (2 Timothy 1:12), and 2,000 years has justified his audacious faith.

I reflected over these things the first time that I visited Athens and Corinth and I told myself: "If today we had just a small grain of Paul's faith, we wouldn't let ourselves be intimidated by the fact that the world has yet to be evangelized, and even more, that it rejects, at times contemptuously, like the Areopagites, being evangelized."

Faith in Christ, for Paul, is everything. "Insofar as I now live in the flesh," he writes as a testament in the Letter to the Galatians, "I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me" (Galatians 2:20)
[snip]
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" (Titus 3:4-5). 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, 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.

Here is the novelty that distinguishes the Christian religion from any other. Any other religion draws out for man a path to salvation by means of practical observations and intellectual speculations, promising him, as a final prize, salvation and illumination, but leaving him substantially alone in achieving the task. Christianity does not begin with what man must do to save himself, but rather with what God has done to save him. The order is reversed.

It is true that to love God with all your heart is "the first and greatest of the commandments," but the commandments are not primary, they are secondary. Before the order of commandments comes the order of gift and of grace. Christianity is the religion of grace! If this is not taken into consideration in interreligious dialogue, the dialogue would be able to do no more than generate confusion and doubts in the hearts of many Christians.

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