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How Are They to Believe In Him of Whom They Have Never Heard? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Wednesday, 19 December 2007 10:23
My time to blog is limited these days: trying to respond to e-mails and phone calls, prepare for events in January, try to organize a birthday gathering for one of my sisters next month, cards and gifts, Christmas preparations, etc. is starting to overwhelm.

But in trying to respond to one e-mail this morning, I had occasion to review Fr. Cantalemessa's first homily of Advent, 2005 for Pope Benedict and the Roman Curia - (part 1 and part 2) It is very long so I can only quote snippets.

But the whole makes a wonderful meditation for the last week of Advent and seems especially appropriate in light of the recent CDF Note on evangelization. His theme: "How Are They to Believe In Him of Whom They Have Never Heard?"

Cantalemessa starts with a great question:

A certain theological current maintains that Christ did not come for the salvation of Jews (for whom it would be enough to remain faithful to the Old Covenant), but only for the Gentiles. Another current maintains that he is not necessary either for the salvation of the Gentiles, the latter having, thanks to their religion, a direct relationship with the eternal logos, without needing to go through the incarnate word and his paschal mystery. We must ask, for whom is Christ still necessary?

And a bracing observation:

In what, in fact, do those in Europe and other places believe who define themselves "believers?" In the majority of cases, they believe in a supreme being, a creator; they believe in "the beyond."

But this is a deist faith, not yet a Christian faith. Taking into account Karl Barth's well-known distinction, the latter is religion, not yet faith. . . . In practice, Jesus Christ is absent in this type of religiosity.
. . .

Suffice it to glance at the New Testament to understand how far away we are, in this case, from the original meaning of the word "faith" in the New Testament. For Paul, the faith that justifies sinners and bestows the Holy Spirit (Galatians 3:2), in other words, salvific faith, is faith in Jesus Christ, in his paschal mystery of death and resurrection. Also for John, the faith that "overcomes the world" is faith in Jesus Christ. He writes: "Who is it that overcomes the world but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?" (1 John 5:4-5).

His conclusion:

To re-evangelize the post-Christian world it is indispensable, I believe, to know the path followed by the Apostles to evangelize the pre-Christian world! The two situations have much in common. And this is what I would now like to bring to light: How was the first evangelization carried out? What way did faith in Christ follow to conquer the world?

This tradition presents two aspects, or two components: a component called "preaching," or announcement (kerygma) which proclaims what God has wrought in Jesus of Nazareth, and a component called "teaching" (didache) which presents ethical norms for correct conduct on the part of believers. . . faith as such flowers only in the presence of the kerygma, or the announcement. "How are they to believe -- writes the Apostle speaking of faith in Christ -- in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher?" Literally, "without some one who proclaims the kerygma" (choris keryssontos). And he concludes: "So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ" (Romans 10:17), where by "preaching" the same thing is understood, that is, the "gospel" or kerygma.

This more concrete nucleus is the exclamation: "Jesus is the Lord!" pronounced and accepted in the wonder of a "statu nascenti" faith, namely, in the very act of being born. The mystery of this word is such that it cannot be pronounced "except by the Holy Spirit" (1 Corinthians 12:3). It alone can bring one to salvation who believes in his resurrection: "because, if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved" (Romans 10:9).

"Like the wake of a ship," Charles Péguy would say, "it enlarges until it disappears and is lost, but it begins with a point that is the point of the ship itself," so -- I add -- the preaching of the Church goes enlarging itself, until it is an immense doctrinal edifice, but it begins with a point and that point is the kerygma: "Jesus is the Lord!"

Therefore that which in Jesus' preaching was the exclamation "the Kingdom of God has come!" in the preaching of the apostles is the exclamation: "Jesus is the Lord!" And yet there is no opposition, but perfect continuity between the Jesus that preaches and the Christ preached, because to say: "Jesus is the Lord!" is as if to say that in Jesus, crucified and risen, the kingdom and sovereignty of God over the world has at last been realized.

We must understand each other well so as not to fall into an unreal reconstruction of the apostolic preaching. After Pentecost, the apostles did not go around the world repeating always and only: "Jesus is the Lord!" What they did when they found themselves announcing the faith for the first time in a specific environment was, rather, to go directly to the heart of the Gospel, proclaiming two events: Jesus died -- Jesus rose, and the motive for these two events: he died "for our sins," he rose "for our justification" (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:4; Romans 4:25). Dramatizing the issue, in the Acts of the Apostles Peter does no more than repeat to those who listened to him: "You killed Jesus of Nazareth; God has resurrected him, making him Lord and Christ."[6]

The proclamation: "Jesus is the Lord!" is nothing other therefore than the conclusion -- now implicit, now explicit -- of this brief history, recounted in an always living and new way, though substantially identical, and is at the same time that in which this history is summarized and becomes operative for the one who hears it. "Christ Jesus ... emptied himself ... and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him ... that at the name of Jesus ... every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord" (Philippians 2:6-11).

We have seen that, in the beginning, the kerygma was distinguished from the teaching (didache) as well as from the catechesis. The last things tend to form the faith, or to preserve its purity, while the kerygma tends to awaken it. It has, so to speak, an explosive or germinating character; it is more like the seed that gives origin to the tree than to the ripe fruit that is at the top of the tree and that, in Christianity, is constituted rather by charity. The kerygma is not obtained at all by concentration, or by summary, as if it was the core of the tradition; but it is apart, or better, at the beginning of everything. From it all the rest is developed, including the four Gospels.

On this point an evolution was interrupted due to the general situation of the Church. In the measure that one moves to a regime of Christianity, in which everything around one is Christian, or considers itself as such, one is less aware of the importance of the initial choice by which one becomes a Christian, so much so that baptism is normally administered to children, who do not have the capacity to make it their own choice. What is most accentuated of faith is not so much the initial moment, the miracle of coming to faith, but rather the fullness and orthodoxy of the contents of faith itself.

3. Rediscover the Kerygma

This situation greatly affects evangelization today. The Churches with a strong dogmatic and theological tradition (as the Catholic Church is par excellence), run the risk of finding themselves at a disadvantage if underneath the immense patrimony of doctrine, laws and institutions, they do not find that primordial nucleus capable of awakening faith by itself.

To present oneself to the man of today, often lacking any knowledge of Christ, with the whole range of this doctrine is like putting one of those heavy brocade capes all of a sudden on the back of a child. We are more prepared by our past to be "shepherds" than to be "fishers" of men; that is, better prepared to nourish people that come to the Church then to bring new people to the Church, or to catch again those who have fallen away and live outside of her. . .

In many people, everything continues to turn, from the beginning to the end, around the first conversion, the so-called new birth, whereas for us, Catholics, this is only the beginning of Christian life. After that must come catechesis and spiritual progress, which implies self-denial, the night of faith, the cross, until the resurrection. The Catholic Church has a very rich spirituality, innumerable saints, the magisterium and, above all, the sacraments.

It is necessary, therefore, to propose the fundamental announcement clearly and sparely at least once among us, not only to the catechumens, but to all, given that the majority of today's believers have not gone through the catechumenate. The grace that some of the new ecclesial movements constitute at present for the Church consists precisely in this. They are the place where adult persons at last have the occasion to hear the kerygma, renew their own baptism, consciously choose Christ as their own personal Lord and Savior and commit themselves actively in the life of their Church.

. To Choose Jesus as Lord

We began with the question: "What place does Christ have in present-day society?" But we cannot end without asking ourselves the most important question in a context such as this: "What place does Christ occupy in my life?" Let's call to mind Jesus' dialogue with the apostles in Caesarea Philippi: "Who do men say the Son of man is? ... But who do you say I am?" (Matthew 16:13-15). The most important thing for Jesus does not seem to be what the people think of him, but what his closest disciples think of him.

I referred earlier to the objective reason that explains the importance of the proclamation of Christ as Lord in the New Testament: It makes present and operative in the one who pronounces it the salvific events that it recalls. But there is also a subjective and existential reason. To say "Jesus is the Lord!" means, in fact, to make a decision. It is as though saying: Jesus Christ is "my" Lord; I recognize his full right over me, I hand the reins of my life over to him; I do not want to live any more "for myself," but "for him who died and rose for me" (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:15).

To proclaim Jesus as one's Lord means to subject to him all the region of our being, to make the Gospel penetrate everything we do. It means, to recall a phrase of the venerated John Paul II, "to open, more than that, to open wide the doors to Christ."

For whom do we work and why do we do so? For ourselves or for Christ, for our glory or for Christ's? It is the best way this Advent to prepare a welcoming crib for Christ who comes at Christmas.


O Come, let us adore him.
 

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