POPE BENEDICT XVI began a different style of communications with the faithful on Good Friday this year however, by having the Vatican's "Preacher of the Household" deliver a stinging homily against Hollywood heresies, novelistic fantasies and much besides.
The homily is significant because here is what the Church thinks about the challenge posed by new information about olden times and the theories and speculations that are naturally spawned. But an appeal to authority, tradition, or even, divine revelation, may ring hollow in a world besotted of information. Perhaps another apostle, my own personal favorite -- St. Thomas the Doubter -- has finally established skepticism as a popular virtue. Dogmatism has found a worthy adversary.
Some may find herein a 21st century version of that great classic, the fire-and-brimstone sermon, or the outlines of a coming, cogent reply from the Roman Catholic Church magisterium to Judas, Mary Magdalene, the Gnostics, Leonardo da Vinci and Dan Brown, Harold Bloom, Marvin Meyer, Elaine Pagels and National Geographic. And all might agree we have found a modern Irenaeus in Benedict, whose first Papal Bull, Deus Caritas Est is liberally quoted by the Preacher. It is a thought-provoking sermon and I invite a serious reflection, discernment and commentary from regular readers. So here verbatim, is the Homily of the deliciously named Father Cantalamessa, with mine and your commentary in the comment thread...The footnotes alone are precious as they mention many authors, books and issues that are central to the current controversies fuelled by both pop culture and scientific challenges to official Church histories and narratives of its origins and foundations ...(via Zenit.org "the World from Rome")
VATICAN CITY, APRIL, 2006 Here is a translation of the Good Friday sermon preached today in St. Peter's Basilica, before Benedict XVI and the Roman Curia, by Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, Preacher to the Pontifical Household.
Father Cantalamessa's Good Friday Homily (via ZENIT.ORG)
"God Manifests His Love for Us"
1. Christians, be serious in taking action!
"The time is sure to come when people will not accept sound teaching, but their ears will be itching for anything new and they will collect themselves a whole series of teachers according to their own tastes; and then they will shut their ears to the truth and will turn to myths" (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
This word of Scripture -- and in a special way the reference to the itching for anything new -- is being realized in a new and impressive way in our days. While we celebrate here the memory of the passion and death of the Savior, millions of people are seduced by the clever rewriting of ancient legends to believe that Jesus of Nazareth was never crucified. In the United States a best-seller at present is an edition of The Gospel of Thomas, presented as the Gospel that "spares us the crucifixion, makes the resurrection unnecessary, and does not present us with a God named Jesus."
Some years ago, Raymond Brown, the greatest biblical scholar of the Passion, wrote: "It is an embarrassing insight into human nature that the more fantastic the scenario, the more sensational is the promotion it receives and the more intense the faddish interest it attracts. People who would never bother reading a responsible analysis of the traditions about how Jesus was crucified, died, was buried, and rose from the dead are fascinated by the report of some 'new insight' to the effect that he was not crucified or did not die, especially if the subsequent career involved running off with Mary Magdalene to India … These theories demonstrate that in relation to the passion of Jesus, despite the popular maxim, fiction is stranger than fact, and often, intentionally or not, more profitable."
There is much talk about Judas' betrayal, without realizing that it is being repeated. Christ is being sold again, no longer to the leaders of the Sanhedrin for thirty denarii, but to editors and booksellers for billions of denarii. No one will succeed in halting this speculative wave, which instead will flare up with the imminent release of a certain film, but being concerned for years with the history of Ancient Christianity, I feel the duty to call attention to a huge misunderstanding which is at the bottom of all this pseudo-historical literature.
The apocryphal gospels on which they lean are texts that have always been known, in whole or in part, but with which not even the most critical and hostile historians of Christianity ever thought, before today, that history could be made. It would be as if within two centuries an attempt were made to reconstruct a present-day history based on novels written in our age.
The huge misunderstanding is the fact that they use these writings to make them say exactly the opposite of what they intended. They are part of the gnostic literature of the 2nd and 3rd centuries. The gnostic vision -- a mixture of Platonic dualism and Eastern doctrines, cloaked in biblical ideas -- holds that the material world is an illusion, the work of the God of the Old Testament, who is an evil god, or at least inferior; Christ did not die on the cross, because he never assumed, except in appearance, a human body, the latter being unworthy of God (Docetism).
If, according to The Gospel of Judas, of which there has been much talk in recent days, Jesus himself orders the apostle to betray him, it is because, by dying, the divine spirit which was in him would finally be able to liberate itself from involvement of the flesh and re-ascend to heaven. Marriage oriented to births is to be avoided; woman will be saved only if the "feminine principle" (thelus) personified by her, is transformed into the masculine principle, that is, if she ceases to be woman.
The funny thing is that today there are those who believe they see in these writings the exaltation of the feminine principle, of sexuality, of the full and uninhibited enjoyment of this material world, contrary to the official Church which would always have frustrated all this! The same mistake is noted in regard to the doctrine of reincarnation. Present in the Eastern religions as a punishment due to previous faults and as something to which one longs to put an end with all one's might, it is accepted in the West as a wonderful possibility to live and enjoy this world indefinitely.
These are issues that would not merit being addressed in this place and on this day, but we cannot allow the silence of believers to be mistaken for embarrassment and that the good faith (or foolishness?) of millions of people be crassly manipulated by the media, without raising a cry of protest, not only in the name of the faith, but also of common sense and healthy reason. It is the moment, I believe, to hear again the admonishment of Dante Alighieri:
Christians, be serious in taking action:
Do not be like a feather to every wind,
Nor think that every water cleanses you.
You have the New and the Old Testament
And the Shepherd of the Church to guide you;
Let this be all you need for your salvation …
Be men, do not be senseless sheep.
2. The Passion Preceded the Incarnation!
But let us leave these fantasies to one side. They have a common explanation: We are in the age of the media and the media are more interested in novelty than in truth. Let us concentrate on the mystery that we are celebrating. The best way to reflect this year on the mystery of Good Friday would be to re-read the entire first part of the Pope's encyclical "Deus Caritas Est," Not being able to do so here, I would like at least to comment on some passages that refer more directly to the mystery of this day. We read in the encyclical:
"To fix one's gaze on the pierced side of Christ, of which John speaks, helps to understand what has been the point of departure of this encyclical letter: 'God is love.' It is there, on the cross, where this truth can be contemplated. And, beginning from there, we must now define what love is. And, from that gaze, the Christian finds the orientation of his living and loving."
Yes, God is love! It has been said that, if all the Bibles of the world were to be destroyed by some cataclysm or iconoclastic rage and only one copy remained; and if this copy was also so damaged that only one page was still whole, and likewise if this page was so wrinkled that only one line could still be read: if that line was the line of the First Letter of John where it is written that "God is love!" the whole Bible would have been saved, because the whole content is there.
I lived my childhood in a cottage only a few meters from a high-tension electrical wire, but we lived in darkness, or with the light of candles. Between us and the electrical wire was a railway, and with the war going on, nobody thought of overcoming the small obstacle. This is what happens with the love of God: It is there, within our grasp, capable of illuminating and warming everything in our life, but we live out our existence in darkness and cold. This is the only true reason for sadness in life.
God is love, and the cross of Christ is the supreme proof, the historical demonstration. There are two ways of manifesting one's love towards someone, said Nicholas Cabasilas, an author of the Byzantine East. The first consists of doing good to the person loved, of giving gifts; the second, much more demanding, consists of suffering for him. God has loved us in the first way, that is, with a munificent love, in creation, when he filled us with gifts, within and outside us; he has loved us with a suffering love in the redemption, when he invented his own annihilation, suffering for us the most terrible torments, for the purpose of convincing us of his love. Therefore, it is on the cross that one must now contemplate the truth that "God is love."
The word "passion" has two meanings: It can indicate a vehement love, "passionate," or a mortal suffering. There is continuity between the two things and daily experience shows how easily one passes from one to the other. It was also like this, and first of all, in God. There is a passion, Origen wrote, that precedes the incarnation. This is "the passion of love" that God has always nourished towards the human race and that, in the fullness of time, led him to come on earth and suffer for us.
3. Three Orders of Greatness
The encyclical "Deus Caritas Est" indicates a new way of engaging in the apologetics of the Christian faith, perhaps the only way possible today and certainly the most effective. It does not pit supernatural values against natural values, divine love against human love, eros against agape, but shows the original harmony, that must be continually discovered healed, due to human sin and frailty. The Gospel not only coincides with human ideals, but in the literal sense of realizing them, the Gospel restores, elevates and protects them. It does not exclude eros from life, but rather excludes the poison of egoism from eros.
There are three orders of greatness, Pascal said in his famous "Pensées." The first is the material order or of bodies: in it excels one who has many properties, who is gifted with athletic strength or physical beauty. It is a value that should not be disparaged, but it is the lowest. Above it is the order of genius and intelligence in which thinkers, inventors, scientists, artists, and poets are distinguished. This is an order of a different quality. To be rich or poor, beautiful or ugly does not add or subtract anything from genius. The physical deformity attributed to their person, does not take anything away from the beauty of Socrates' thought or Leopardi's poetry.
The value of genius is certainly higher than the preceding, but it is not yet the highest. Above it is another order of greatness, and it is the order of love, of goodness. (Pascal calls it the order of holiness and grace). A drop of holiness, Gounod said, is worth more than an ocean of genius. To be beautiful or ugly, learned or illiterate does not add or take anything away from a saint. His greatness is of a different order.
Christianity belongs to this third level. In the novel Quo Vadis, a pagan asks the Apostle Peter who had just arrived in Rome: Athens has given us wisdom, Rome power, and what does your religion offer us? Peter responds: Love! Love is the most fragile thing that exists in the world; it is represented, and it is, as a child. It can be killed with very little, as we have seen with horror these days that very little is needed to kill a child. But what do power and wisdom become, that is strength and genius, without love and goodness? They become Auschwitz, Hiroshima and Nagasaki and all the rest that we know well.
4. Forgiving love
"God's eros for man," continues the encyclical, "is also totally agape. This is not only because it is bestowed in a completely gratuitous manner, without any previous merit, but also because it is love which forgives" (no. 10).
This quality also shines in the highest degree in the mystery of the cross. "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends," Jesus said in the Cenacle (John 15:13). One could exclaim: a love does exist, O Christ, which is greater than giving one's life for one's friends. Yours! You did not give your life for your friends, but for your enemies! Paul says "one will hardly die for the righteous man -- though perhaps for a good man one will dare even to die. But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us" (Romans 5:6-8).
However, it does not take long to discover that the contrast is only apparent. The word "friends" in the active sense indicates those who love you, but in the passive sense it indicates those who are loved by you. Jesus calls Judas "friend" (Matthew 26:50) not because Judas loved him, but because He loved Judas! There is no greater love than to give one's life for enemies, considering them friends: this is the meaning of Jesus' phrase. Men can be enemies of God, but God will never be able to be an enemy of man. It is the terrible advantage of children over fathers (and mothers).
We must reflect in what way, specifically, the love of Christ on the cross can help the man of today to find, as the encyclical says, "the orientation of his living and loving." It is a love of mercy, that excuses and forgives, which does not wish to destroy the enemy, but, if anything, enmity (cf. Ephesians 2:16). Jeremiah, the closest among men to the Christ of the Passion, prays to God saying: "let me see the vengeance upon them" (Jeremiah 11:20); Jesus dies saying: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34).
It is precisely this mercy and capacity for forgiveness of which we are in need today, so as not to slide ever more into the abyss of globalized violence. The Apostle wrote to the Colossians: "Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive" (Colossians 3:12-13).
To have mercy means to be moved to pity (misereor) in the heart (cordis) in regard to one's enemy, to understand of what fabric we are all made and hence to forgive. What might happen if, by a miracle of history, in the Near East, the two peoples at war for decades, rather than blaming one another were to begin to think of the suffering of others, to be moved to pity for one another. A wall of division between them would no longer be necessary. The same thing must be said of so many other ongoing conflicts in the world, including those between the different religious confessions and Christian Churches.
How much truth there is in the verse of Pascoli: "Men, peace! In the prostrate earth, too great is the mystery." A common fate of death looms over all. Humanity is enveloped in so much darkness and bowed under so much suffering that we must have some compassion and solidarity for one another.
5. The duty to love
There is another teaching that comes to us from the love of God manifested on the cross of Christ. God's love for man is faithful and eternal: "I have loved you with an everlasting love," says God to man in the prophets (Jeremiah 31:3); and again, "I will not be false to my faithfulness" (Psalm 89:34). God has bound himself to love forever; he has deprived himself of the freedom to turn back. This is the profound meaning of the Covenant that in Christ became "new and eternal."
Questioned ever more frequently in our society is what relationship there might exist between the love of two young people and the law of marriage; what need love has, which is impulsive and spontaneous, to be "bound." Ever more numerous therefore are those who refuse the institution of marriage and choose so-called free love or simple, de facto, living together.
Only if one discovers the profound and vital relationship that exists between law and love, decision and institution, can one respond correctly to those questions and give young people a convincing reason to be "bound" to love forever and not to be afraid to make love a "duty."
"Only when the duty to love exists," wrote the philosopher who, after Plato, has written the most beautiful things about love, "only then is love guaranteed for ever against any alteration; eternally liberated in blessed independence; assured in eternal blessedness against any desperation." The meaning of these words is that the person who loves, the more intensely he loves, the more he perceives with anguish the danger his love runs. A danger that does not come from others, but from himself.
He knows well in fact that he is inconstant and that tomorrow, alas, he might get tired and no longer love or change the object of his love. And, now that he is in the light of love, he sees clearly what an irreparable loss this would entail, so he protects himself by "binding" himself to love with the bond of duty, thus anchoring in eternity his act of love in time.
Ulysses wanted to return to see his homeland and wife again, but he had to pass through the place of the Sirens that lured mariners with their singing and lead them to crash against the rocks. What did he do? He had himself tied to the vessel's mast, after having plugged the ears of companions with wax. Arriving at the spot, charmed, he cried out to be loosed to reach the Sirens, but his companions could not hear him and so he was able to see his homeland and embrace his wife and son again. It is a myth, but it helps to understand the reason for "indissoluble" marriage and, on a different plane, for religious vows.
The duty to love protects love from "desperation" and renders it "blessed and independent" in the sense that it protects from the desperation of not being able to love forever. Show me some one who is really in love -- said the same thinker -- and he will tell you if, in love, there is opposition between pleasure and duty; if the thought of "having" to love for the whole of life brings fear and anguish to the lover, or, rather, supreme joy and happiness.
Appearing one day in Holy Week to Blessed Angela of Foligno, Christ said a word to her that has become famous: "I have not loved you for fun!" Christ, indeed, has not loved us for fun. There is a gamesome and playful dimension in love, but it itself is not a game; it is the most serious thing and most charged with consequences that exists in the world; human life depends on it. Aeschylus compares love to a lion cub that is raised at home, "docile and tender at first even more than a child," with which one can even play but then growing up, is capable of slaughter and of staining the house with blood.
These considerations are not enough to change the present culture that exalts the freedom to change and the spontaneity of the moment, the practice off "use and discard" applied even to love. (Life, unfortunately, will do so when at the end we find ourselves with ashes in hand and the sadness of not having built anything lasting with love). But that they at least serve to confirm the goodness and beauty of the choice of those who have decided to live love between man and woman according to God's plan and to attract many young people to make the same choice.
Nothing more remains for us but to intone with Paul the hymn to the victorious love of God. He invites us to attain with him a marvelous experience of interior healing. He thinks about all the negative things and critical moments of his life: tribulation, anguish, persecution, hunger, nakedness, danger and the sword. He contemplates them in the light of the certainty of the love of God and shouts: "But in all this we emerge triumphant thanks to him who loves us!"
Lift up your gaze; from your personal life move to consider the world that surrounds you and the universal human destination, and again the same joyous certainty: "I am convinced that neither death nor life...nor present things nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:37-39).
We reclaim his invitation, this Friday of the Passion, and we repeat his words for us while, before long, we adore the cross of Christ.
* * *
 H. Bloom, in the interpretative essay that accompanies M. Meyer's edition, The Gospel of Thomas, Harper, San Francisco, s.d., p. 125.
 R. Brown, The Death of the Messiah, II, New York, 1998, pp. 1092-1096
 See logion 114 in The Gospel of Thomas, ed, Mayer, p. 63); in the Gospel of the Egyptians, Jesus says: "I have come to destroy woman's work" (cf. Clemens of Al., Stromata, III, 63). This explains why The Gospel of Thomas became the gospel of the Manicheans, while it was severely combated by ecclesiastical authors (for example, by Hippolytus of Rome), who defended the goodness of marriage and of creation in general.
 Paradiso, V, 73-80.
 Benedict XVI, Enc. "Deus Caritas Est," 12.
 Cf. N. Cabasilas, Life in Christ, VI, 2 (PG 150, 645).
 Cf. Origen, Homilies on Ezekiel, 6,6 (GCS, 1925, p. 384 f).
 Cf. B. Pascal, "Pensées," 793, ed. Brunschvicg.
 Henryk Sienkiewicz, Quo Vadis, chapt. 33.
 Giovanni Pascoli, "I due fanciulli."
 S. Kierkegaard, Acts of Love, I, 2, 40, ed. by C. Fabro, Milan, 1983, p. 177 ff.
 Cf. Odyssey, XII.
 The Book of Blessed Angela of Foligno, Instructio 23 (ed. Quaracchi, Grottaferrata, 1985, p. 612).
 Aeschylus, Agamemnon, vv. 717 ff.