VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Plenty of non-Christians believe that Jesus was a real person and that what he taught can make the world a better place, but what makes a person a Christian is believing that Jesus is God, said the preacher of the papal household.

“Belief in the divinity of Jesus is the highest peak, the Everest of faith. Believing in a God who was born in a manger and who died on a cross requires much more than believing in a far-off God does,” said Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa March 12 as he offered a Lenten meditation to Pope Francis and officials of the Roman Curia.

Speaking in the Vatican audience hall, where the pope and officials could sit socially distanced from one another, the cardinal said that too often modern Christians — just like their nonbelieving counterparts — focus so much on improving how they live what Christ taught, especially through acts of charity, that they forget to stop and think about one of Jesus’ frequent questions to his disciples: “Who do you say that I am?”

“The cornerstone of the edifice of Christian faith is the divinity of Christ,” he said. “Without that, everything shatters and crumbles.”

Today, like 2,000 years ago, “Jesus is not interested in what people say about him but what his disciples — we — believe about him,” the cardinal said. It’s not about “repeating ancient formulas,” but coming to a personal recognition of the divinity of Jesus and allowing that recognition to motivate repentance, conversion and true charity.

Cardinal Cantalamessa said that many people today seem to think that people are not looking for the ultimate meaning of their lives, but the reflections many people made and are making during the COVID-19 pandemic and its lockdowns would seem to suggest otherwise. And while people may find meaning in their careers, in fame, in power, in relationships or even in their youthful energy, those things all will fade away.

But faith in Christ, fully human and fully divine, gives people the most profound sense of meaning, he said.

“Those who believe in Christ do not walk in darkness. They know where they came from, where they are going and what they must do in the meantime,” he said. “But most of all, they know they are loved by one who, in order to demonstrate it, died on a cross.”