The Word of the Cross

  We might also think of the 'gnostic' speakers we encounter more and more often in ecclesial environments, who interpret Christian faith according to their own non-Christian criteria and present their listeners with a form of Christianity emptied of the "foolishness of the cross" and 'enriched' with persuasive intellectual discourse. Celsus is no longer the second-century philosopher who ridiculed Christians because of their Lord - a crucified criminal - and because of the church's extremely low sociological profile: the new Celsus proclaims Jesus a master of philanthropy and commends Christians who are visible and effective in the pólis, but in doing so he relegates to obscurity the event that founded and that continues to inspire Christian life. At Celsus' side is the new emperor, who, like the one described by the great fourth-century church father Hilary of Poitiers, "is underhanded in his flattery; instead of beating us on the back, he pats us on the stomach; instead of confiscating our wealth (and thus giving us life) he makes us wealthy, leading us toward death; he does not lead us toward freedom by putting us in prison, but toward slavery by inviting us into his palace and honoring us; instead of striking our body, he claims the heart; instead of beheading us with the sword, he kills our soul with money" (Liber contra Constantium 5). This is how the cross, without being visibly or directly contested, is emptied of its meaning! Yet how insistently and forcefully John Paul II has asked Christians not to "empty the cross of its meaning!"