Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa gave his first of three Friday Lenten meditations this morning in the Redemptoris Mater chapel of the Apostolic Palace. He emphasized the importance and meaning of grace within the Church and warned of a tendency in the Western world to reject it.
L'Osservatore Romano summarized the meditation of the preacher of the Pontifical Household in the simple sentence, "God is accepted as a gift, one does not conquer him."
"Every human religion or religious philosophy begins by telling man what he should do to save himself," said Fr. Cantalamessa. On the other hand, he explained, Christianity doesn't tell man what to do, but tells him what God has done for him.
Jesus didn't tell people to repent and believe so that Kingdom would come to us, rather he said, "The Kingdom of God is among you," which makes it a question not of "conversion first, then salvation, but first salvation and then conversion," Fr. Cantalamessa pointed out.
Within Christianity, the papal preacher explained, there are duties and commandments, but the level of the commandments take second place, "before them is the level of the gift, of grace." "It is from the gift that duty springs, not vice versa," he said.
Moreover, Fr. Cantalamessa underscored that the act of being saved "by grace" carries with it the ability to recognize one's dependence, and this, "is the most difficult thing."
This truth is illustrated in St. Bernard's explanation of the sin of Satan, asserted Fr. Cantalamessa, who explained that Satan "prefered to be the most unhappy of the creatures on his own merit, rather than the happiest by the grace of another; he prefered to be 'unhappy but sovereign, rather than happy but dependent."
The Capuchin priest emphasized that Satan's attitude can be seen in certain elements of Western society today. "The rejection of Christianity," in addition to denying the Church and Christians, "is the rejection of grace."
So, he summarized, the duty of the priest as a teacher of the faith is to help the Church to live "the news of grace" through the announcement of Christ crucified.
Two Friday meditations at the Vatican's Redemptoris Mater chapel remain on Fr. Cantalamessa's schedule for this Lent.