Below is an excerpt of a very fine homily from Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher to the Papal Household. It was delivered on Good Friday at St. Peter's Basilica. You can find the whole text at http://zenit.org/english/visualizza.phtml?sid=87735
"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. (Paradiso, V, 73-80)