Gospel Commentary for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Father Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap
ROME, OCT. 19, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Sunday’s Gospel begins thus: “Jesus told them a parable about the need to pray always and not to lose heart.” The parable is the one about the troublesome widow. In answer to the question “How often must we pray?” Jesus answers, “Always!”
Prayer, like love, does not put up with calculation. Does a mother ask how often she should love her child, or a friend how often he should love a friend? There can be different levels of deliberateness in regard to love, but there are no more or less regular intervals in loving. It is the same way with prayer.This ideal of constant prayer is realized in different forms in the East and West. Eastern Christianity practiced it with the “Jesus Prayer”: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me!”
The West formulated the principle of constant prayer in a more flexible way so that it could also be proposed to those who do not lead a monastic life. St. Augustine teaches that the essence of prayer is desire. If the desire for God is constant, so also is prayer, but if there is no interior desire, then you can howl as much as you want — to God you are mute.
Now, this secret desire for God, a work of memory, of need for the infinite, of nostalgia for God, can remain alive, even when one has other things to do: “Praying for a long time is not the same thing as kneeling or folding your hands for a long time. In consists rather in awakening a constant and devout impulse of the heart toward him whom we invoke.”
Jesus himself gave us the example of unceasing prayer. Of him, it is said that he prayed during the day, in the evening, early in the morning, and sometimes he passed the whole night in prayer. Prayer was the connecting thread of his whole life.
But Christ’s example tells us something else important. We are deceiving ourselves if we think that we can pray always, make prayer a kind of respiration of the soul in the midst of daily activity, if we do not set aside fixed times for prayer, when we are free from every other preoccupation.
The same Jesus who we see praying always, is also the one who, like every other Jew of his period, stopped and turned toward the temple in Jerusalem three times a day, at dawn, in the afternoon during the temple sacrifices, and at sundown, and recited ritual prayers, among which was the “Shema Yisrael!” — “Hear, O Israel!” On the Sabbath he also participated, with his disciples, in the worship at the synagogue; different scenes in the Gospels take place precisely in this context.
The Church — we can say, from its first moment of life — has also set aside a special day dedicated to worship and prayer: Sunday. We all know what, unfortunately, has happened to Sunday in our society: Sports, from being something for diversion and relaxation, have often become something that poisons Sunday … We must do whatever we can so that this day can return to being, as God intended it in commanding festive repose, a day of serene joy that strengthens our communion with God and with each other, in the family and in society.
We modern Christians should take our inspiration from the words that, in 305, St. Saturnius and his fellow martyrs addressed to the Roman judge who had them arrested for participating in the Sunday rite: “The Christian cannot live without the Sunday Eucharist. Do you not know that the Christian exists for the Eucharist and the Eucharist for the Christian?”
Commentary for the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Father Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap
ROME, OCT. 12, 2007 (Zenit.org).- While Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem, 10 lepers met him at the entrance to a village. Staying at a distance they call out to him, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” Jesus has pity on them and says to them: “Go and show yourselves to the priests.”
Along the way the 10 lepers discover themselves to be miraculously cured. The first reading also tells of a miraculous healing of a leper: that of Naaman the Syrian by the prophet Elisha. The liturgy’s intention is clearly to invite us to reflect on the meaning of miracles and in particular of miracles that bring about the cure of a sickness.
Let us say that prerogative to do miracles is one of the most attested in Jesus’ life. Perhaps the most dominant idea that the people had of Jesus during his life, more dominant than that of a prophet, was that of a miracle worker. Jesus himself presents this fact as proof of the Messianic authenticity of his mission: “The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are healed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised” (cf. Matthew 11:5). Miracles cannot be eliminated from Jesus’ life without destroying the plot of the whole Gospel.
Together with accounts of the miracles, Scripture offers us criteria for judging their authenticity and purpose. In the Bible, miracles are never ends in themselves; much less are they supposed to elevate the person who does them and show off his extraordinary powers, as is almost always the case with healers and wonder workers who advertise themselves. Miracles are rather an incentive for and a reward of faith. It is a sign and it must serve to draw attention to what it signifies. This is why Jesus is saddened when, after having multiplied the loaves of bread, he sees that they did not understand what this was a sign of (cf. Mark 6:51).
In the Gospel itself, miracles are ambiguous. Sometimes they are regarded positively and sometimes negatively — positively, when they are welcomed with gratitude and joy, when they awaken faith in Christ and hope in a future world without sickness and death; negatively, when they are asked for or demanded for faith. “What sign do you do that we might believe in you?” (John 6:30). This ambiguity continues in a different form in today’s world. On the one hand, there are those who seek out miracles at all costs; it is always a hunt for the extraordinary, and people stop at their immediate utility. On the other hand, their are those who deny miracles altogether; indeed they look upon miracles with a certain irritation, as if it were a manifestation of degenerate religiosity, without recognizing that in doing so they are pretending to teach God himself what is true religiosity and what isn’t.
Some recent debates that have arisen around the Padre Pio phenomenon have shown how much confusion is still around today about miracles. It is not true, for example, that the Church considers every unexplainable event a miracle (we know that even the medical world is full of this!). It considers as miracles only those unexplainable facts that, because of the circumstances in which they take place (which are rigorously ascertained), have the character of a divine sign, that is, they give confirmation to someone or an answer to a prayer. If a woman, who is without pupils from birth begins to see at a certain point while still being without pupils, this can be cataloged as an unexplainable fact. But if this happens while she is confessing to Padre Pio, as did in fact happen, then it is no longer possible to speak simply of an unexplainable fact.
Our atheist friends with their critical attitude in regard to miracles make a contribution to faith itself because they make us attentive to easy falsifications in this area. But they too must guard against an uncritical attitude. It is just as mistaken always to believe whatever is claimed as a miracle as it is always to refuse to believe without looking at the evidence. It is possible to be credulous but it is also possible to be … incredulous, which is not very different.
* * *
Father Raniero Cantalamessa is the Pontifical Household preacher. The readings for this Sunday are 2 Kings 5:14-17; 2 Timothy 2:8-15; and Luke 17:11-19.
Pontifical Household Preacher Comments on Sunday’s Readings
ROME, OCT. 5, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of a commentary by the Pontifical Household preacher, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, on the readings from this Sunday’s liturgy.
* * *
Increase Our Faith
27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Habakkuk 1:2-3; 2:2-4; 2 Timothy 1:6-8, 13-14; Luke 17:5-10
This Sunday’s Gospel begins with the apostles asking Jesus: “Increase our faith!”
Instead of satisfying their desire, Jesus seems to want to make it grow further. He says: “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed …”
Without a doubt, faith is the dominant theme this Sunday. We hear about it also in the first reading, in the celebrated line of Habakkuk, taken up again by St. Paul in his Letter to the Romans: “The just shall live by faith” (1:17).
Faith has a few different meanings. This time I would like to reflect on the more common and elementary understanding of faith: believing or not believing in God.
This is not the faith by which one decides whether one is Catholic or Protestant, Christian or Muslim, but the faith by which one decides whether one is a believer or a nonbeliever, believer or atheist. A Scripture text says: “Those who come to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). This is the first step of faith, without it, we cannot take the other steps.
To speak of faith in such a general way we cannot base ourselves only on the Bible since it only has validity for Christians and, in part, for Jews, but not for anyone else. It is fortunate for us that God wrote two “books”: One is the Bible, the other is creation. The one is composed of letters and words, the other of things.
Not everyone knows or is able to read the book of Scripture; but everyone, from every place and culture, can read the book of creation. “The heavens tell of the glory of God and the firmament declares the work of his hands” (Psalm 19:2). Paul writes: “Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made” (Romans 1:20).
It is urgent that we show how unfounded the opinion is that says that science has already liquidated the problem and exhaustively explained the world without any need to invoke the idea of a reality beyond it called God. In a certain sense, today science brings us closer to faith in a creator than in the past.
Let us consider the famous theory that explains the origin of the universe with the “big bang,” the great explosion at the beginning. In a billionth of a billionth of a second, we go from one situation in which there is not yet anything, neither space nor time, to a situation in which time has begun, space exists, and, in an infinitesimal particle of matter, there is already, in potency, the whole subsequent universe of billions of galaxies, as we know it today.
One could say: “There is no sense in asking about what there was before that instant, because there is no ‘before,’ when time does not exist.”
But I say: “How can we not ask that question!”
“Trying to go back behind the history of the cosmos,” it will be said, “is like going through the pages of a large book starting at the end. Once we arrive at the beginning we see that the first page is missing.”
I believe biblical revelation has something to tell us precisely about this first page. Science cannot be asked to declare on this “first page,” which is outside time, but neither must science close the circle, making everyone think that everything is resolved.
There is no pretense of “demonstrating” God’s existence, in the common understanding of this term. Here below we see as through a mirror, says St. Paul.
When a ray of light enters into a room, it is not the ray of light itself that is seen, but the dance of the dust that receives and reveals the light. It is the same with God: We do not see him directly, but as in a reflection, in the dance of things. This explains why God is not reached without the “leap” of faith.
Pontifical Household Preacher Comments on Sunday’s Readings
ROME, SEPT. 28, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of a commentary by the Pontifical Household preacher, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, on the readings from this Sunday’s liturgy.
* * *
A Rich Man who Dressed in Purple Garments and Fine Linen
26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Amos 6:1, 4-7; 1 Timothy 6:11-16; Luke 16:19-31
The principal thing to bring to light in regard to the parable of the rich man in this Sunday’s Gospel is his contemporary relevance. At the global level the two characters are the two hemispheres: The rich man represents the northern hemisphere (western Europe, America, Japan) and the poor man, Lazarus, with a few exceptions, represents the southern hemisphere. Two characters, two worlds: the first world and the Third World. Two demographically and geographically unequal worlds: The one that we call the Third World in fact represents two-thirds of the world. This is a usage that is beginning to take hold. The third world is beginning to be called the “two-thirds world.”
The same contrast between the rich man and Lazarus exists also within both worlds. The rich live side by side with the poor Lazaruses in the third world — and the solitary luxury that exists in these countries stands out all the more in the midst of the miserable majority — and there are the poor Lazaruses who live side by side with the rich in the first world. Some persons in the entertainment business, in sports, finance, industry, and commerce have contracts worth millions, and all of this is in the sight of millions of people who, with their meager wages or unemployment subsidy, do not know how they are going to be able to pay the rent or pay for medicine and education for their children.
The most detestable thing in the story that Jesus tells is the rich man’s ostentation, the way he makes a show of his wealth with no consideration for the poor man. His life of luxury is manifested in two areas, in dining and in clothing: The rich man feasted sumptuously and dressed in purple garments and fine linen, which in those days was the vesture of kings. The contrast is not only between a person who stuffs himself with food and a person who dies of hunger but also between one who changes his clothes every day and one who does not own a thread.
Here in Italy there was once a piece of clothing presented at a fashion show that was made of gold coins and cost over a billion lira. We have to say this without hesitation: The global success of Italian fashion and the business it has created have gone to our heads. We do not care about anything anymore. Everything that is done in the fashion sector, even the most obvious excesses, enjoys special treatment. Fashion shows that sometimes fill television news so much that other more important news is put aside, bring to mind the scenes in the parable of the rich man.
But so far we have not touched on anything new. What is novel and unique in this evangelical denouncement has to do with the perspective from which the events are seen. Everything in the parable is seen retrospectively from the epilogue to the story: “When the poor man died, he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried.” If we put this story on the screen we could very well begin with this ending beyond the grave and then return to the previous events in a kind of “flashback.”
Many similar denouncements of wealth and luxury have been made over the centuries but today they sound rhetorical and resentful or pietistic and anachronistic. But Jesus’ denouncement, after 2,000 years, retains intact its explosive power. Jesus does not belong to either party in this matter but is one who is above rich and poor and is concerned with both — and perhaps more with the rich since the poor are less in danger!
The parable of the rich man is not motivated by any resentment toward the wealthy, by a desire to take their place, as are many human denouncements, but by a sincere concern for their salvation. God wants to save the rich from their wealth.
Pontifical Household Preacher Comments on Sunday’s Readings
ROME, SEPT. 21, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of a commentary by the Pontifical Household preacher, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, on the readings from this Sunday’s liturgy.
* * *
Make friends with wealth
25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Amos 8:4-6; 1 Timothy 2:1-8; Luke 16:1-13
This Sunday’s Gospel presents us with a parable that in certain respects has important contemporary relevance: the parable of the dishonest steward. The central character of the parable is the farm manager of a landowner, a well-known figure in our Italian countryside when the sharecropping system was still in existence.
Like all good parables, this one is like a miniature play, full of movement and scene changes. The actors in the first scene are the steward and the master and the scene ends with the master firing the steward: “You can no longer be my steward.”
The steward does not even try to defend himself. His conscience is not clear. He knows that he is guilty of what the master has discovered.
The second scene is a soliloquy of the steward, who is now alone. He has not yet accepted defeat. He immediately thinks about what he can do to get himself out of this situation and save his future.
The third scene — steward and tenant farmers — reveals to us the plan that the steward has devised. He asks the tenants, “And how much do you owe?”
“One hundred measures of wheat,” is one reply.
“Here is your promissory note,” he says. “Take it and write down eighty.” A classic case of corruption and falsehood that makes us think of similar situations in our own society, often on a much larger scale.
The conclusion is disconcerting: “The master praised the dishonest steward for acting prudently.”
Is Jesus approving and encouraging corruption? We need to recall to our minds the particular nature of teaching in parables. The moral doctrine that is aimed at is not in the parable taken as a whole, in every detail, but only in that aspect of the parable that the narrator wishes to pick out.
And the idea that Jesus intended to bring out with this parable is clear. The master praises the steward for his resourcefulness and for nothing else. It is not said that the master changed his mind about his decision to fire the man.
Indeed, given the initial conduct of the master and the quickness with which he discovers the new scam we can easily imagine the outcome, which the parable does not report. After having praised the steward for his astuteness, the master orders him to immediately restore the fruit of his dishonest transactions or pay it off in prison if he lacks the means.
It is cleverness that Jesus also praises, outside the parable. In fact, he adds: “The children of this world are more clever in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.”
That man, when he was faced with an emergency situation in which his whole future was at stake, showed a capacity for radical decision-making and great resourcefulness. He acted quickly and intelligently — even if dishonestly — to save himself. This, Jesus observes to his disciples, is what you too must do, to save yourselves, not for a worldly future but for an eternal future.
“Life,” Seneca said, “is not given to anyone as a possession but as something that we are stewards of.” We are all “stewards,” so we have to act like the man in the parable. He did not put things off until tomorrow; he did not “sleep on it.” There is something too important at stake to be left to chance.
The Gospel itself makes different practical applications of this teaching of Christ. The one that it insists the most on is the one regarding the use of wealth and money: “I tell you, make friends with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”
In other words, do as that steward did; make friends with those who, when one day you find yourself in trouble, will welcome you. These friends, we know, are the poor.
We know this from what Christ says about his being the recipient of what we do for them. The poor, St. Augustine said, are, so to speak, our couriers and porters: They allow us to begin transferring our belongings now to the house that is being built for us in the hereafter.
Pontifical Household Preacher Comments on Sunday’s Readings
ROME, SEPT. 14, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of a commentary by the Pontifical Household preacher, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, on the readings from this Sunday’s liturgy.
* * *
His father ran out to meet him
24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-32
In this Sunday’s liturgy the entire 15th chapter of Luke’s Gospel is read. The chapter contains the three “mercy parables”: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son.
“A man had two sons”: Anyone who has even the most minimal familiarity with the Gospel on hearing these five words will immediately exclaim, “the parable of the prodigal son!”
On other occasions I have focused on the spiritual significance of the parable; this time I would like to consider an aspect that has received little attention, but which is very relevant at this moment and close to life. At the bottom of the parable is simply the story of a reconciliation between father and son, and we all know that such a reconciliation is essential to the happiness of fathers and children.
Who knows why literature, art, theater and advertisements all concentrate on a single human relationship: the erotic one between man and woman, between husband and wife? It would seem that this is the only thing in life.
Advertisements and the cinema do nothing else but cook up the same dish using a thousand sauces. But we leave another human relationship, that is just as universal and vital, unexplored, one that is another great source of the joy of life: the relationship between father and children, the joy of paternity.
The only piece of literature that really deals with this theme is Franz Kafka’s letter to his father. Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev’s famous novel “Fathers and Sons” does not actually treat of the relationship between natural fathers and children but between different generations.
If we serenely and objectively look into the human heart we will find that, in the majority of cases, a good, understanding, and untroubled relationship with his children is, for a mature, adult man, no less important and fulfilling than the relationship between a man and a woman. We know how important this relationship is for both sons and daughters and the tremendous void that is left by its disintegration.
As cancer usually attacks the most delicate organs in men and women, so also does the destructive power of sin and evil attack the most vital relationships in human existence. There is nothing worse in the relationship between a man and a woman than abuse, exploitation and violence, and there is nothing that is exposed to deformation like the relationship between fathers and children: authoritarianism, paternalism, rebellion, rejection, lack of communication.
We should not generalize. There are beautiful relationships between fathers and children and I myself have known various ones. We know, however, that there are also more numerous negative cases and difficult relationships between fathers and children. In the prophet Isaiah we read this exclamation of God: “I raised and reared these children but they have rebelled against me” (Isaiah 1:2). I believe that many fathers today know from experience what these words mean.
The suffering is reciprocal; it is not like the parable in which the fault is entirely the son’s. There are fathers whose most profound suffering in life is being rejected or even despised by their children. And there are children whose most profound and unadmitted suffering is to feel misunderstood, to not be esteemed, to be rejected by their father.
I have focused on the human and existential implications of the parable of the prodigal son. But we are not only dealing with this, that is, with the amelioration of the quality of life in this world.
The undertaking of a great reconciliation between fathers and children and a profound healing of their relationship is something that is important for a new evangelization. We know how much the relationship with an earthly father can influence, positively or negatively, one’s relationship with the heavenly Father and thus the Christian life as well.
When the precursor, John the Baptist, was born the angel said that one of his tasks would be “to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children to the fathers” [cf. Luke 1:17]. Today this is a task that is more important than ever.
Father Cantalamessa on Following Christ
Pontifical Household Preacher Comments on Today’s Readings
ROME, SEPT. 9, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of a commentary by the Pontifical Household preacher, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, on the readings from today’s liturgy.
* * *
If anyone follows me …
23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Wisdom 9:13-18b; Philemon 9b-10, 12-17; Luke 14:25-33
The Gospel reading for today is one of those that we would be tempted to smooth out and sweeten because it seems too hard for men of today: “If anyone follows me without hating his father, his mother.”
Let us immediately make one thing clear: It is true that the Gospel is sometimes provocative, but it is never contradictory. A little further on in the same Gospel of Luke Jesus firmly re-emphasizes the duty of honoring father and mother (Luke 18:20), and in regard to husband and wife he says that they must be one flesh and that man does not have a right to separate that which God has joined together. How, then, can he tell us to hate father and mother, wife, children, brothers and sisters?
We need to keep in mind a certain fact. The Hebrew language does not have comparatives — it is not possible in Hebrew, for example, to speak of loving something “more” or “less” than another thing. It is only possible to speak of loving or hating. The phrase, “If anyone follows me and does not hate father and mother” should be understood in this way: “If anyone follows me, without preferring me to father and mother.” To see that this is so we only need to look at the same matter in the Gospel of Matthew where Jesus says: “Whoever loved father and mother more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37).
It would be a big mistake to think that this love for Christ enters into competition with the different human loves: for parents, husband and wife, children, brothers and sisters. Christ is no one’s rival in love and he is not jealous of anyone.
In Paul Claudel’s play “The Satin Slipper,” the female protagonist, a fervent Christian, who is deeply in love with Rodrigo, exclaims to herself, almost finding it hard to believe: “Is it permitted, then, this love between creatures? Truly, God is not jealous?” And her guardian angel answers: “How could he be jealous of what he himself has made?” (Act 3, Scene 8).
Love for Christ does not exclude the other loves, but rather orders them. Indeed, it is in him that every genuine love finds its foundation and support and the necessary grace to be fully lived out. This is the meaning of the “grace of state” that the sacrament of marriage confers to Christian husbands and wives. It assures that in their love they will be sustained and guided by the love that Christ had for his Church.
Jesus does not disappoint nor deceive anyone; he asks everything because he wants to give everything; indeed, he has given everything. Someone might ask themselves: “But what right does this man have, who lived 20 centuries ago in an obscure corner of the world, to ask this absolute love of everyone? We do not need to look too far to find the answer, which is in his earthly life about which history tells us: It is because he first gave everything for man. “He loved us and gave himself up for us” (cf. Ephesians 5:2).
In the same Gospel Jesus reminds us what the benchmark and sign is of true love for him: “taking up your own cross.” Taking up our own cross does not mean seeking out suffering.
Jesus did not seek out his cross; he took on himself in obedience to the Father what men put on his shoulders and with his obedient love transformed it from an instrument of torture into a sign of redemption and glory.
Jesus did not come to make human crosses heavier, but rather to give them meaning. It has been rightly said that “whoever looks for Jesus without the cross will find the cross without Jesus,” that is, he will certainly find the cross but not the strength to carry it.
Pontifical Household Preacher Comments on Sunday’s Readings
ROME, AUG. 24, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of a commentary by the Pontifical Household preacher, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, on the readings from this Sunday’s liturgy.
* * *
Enter Through the Narrow Gate
21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 66:18-21; Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13; Luke 13:22-30
There is a question that has always nagged believers: Will there be many or few people saved? During certain periods this problem became so acute as to cause some people terrible anxiety.
This Sunday’s Gospel informs us that Jesus himself was once asked this question. “Jesus passed through towns and villages, teaching as he went and making his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, ‘Lord, will only a few people be saved?’”
The question, as we see, focuses on the number — How many will be saved? Will it be many or few? In answering the question, Jesus shifts the focus from “how many” to “how” to be saved, that is, by entering “through the narrow gate.”
We see this same attitude in regard to Jesus’ second coming. The disciples ask “when” the return of the Son of Man will happen and Jesus answers indicating “how” we should prepare ourselves for that return, and what to do during the time of waiting (cf. Matthew 24:3-4).
Jesus’ way of responding to these questions is not strange or discourteous. He is just acting in the way of one who wants to teach his disciples how to move from a life of curiosity to one of true wisdom; from the allure of idle questions to the real problems we need to grapple with in life.
From this we already see the absurdity of those who, like the Jehovah Witnesses, believe they know the precise number of the saved: 144,000.
This number, which recurs in the Book of Revelations has a purely symbolic value (the square of 12 — the number of the tribes of Israel — multiplied by 1,000) and is explained by the expression that immediately follows: “A great multitude that no man could number” (Revelations 7:4, 9).
Above all, if 144,000 is really the number, then we can both close up shop. Above the gate to heaven there must be a sign like the ones parking lots put up: “Full.”
If, therefore, Jesus is not so much interested in revealing to us the number of the saved as he is in telling us how to be saved, we can understand what he is trying to tell us here. In substance, there are two things: one negative and the other positive.
It is useless, or rather it is not enough, to belong to a certain ethnic group, race, tradition, or institution, not even the chosen people from whom the Savior himself comes. What puts us on the road to salvation is not a title of ownership (“We ate and drank in your presence…”), but a personal decision, followed by a consistent way of life. This is even more clear in Matthew’s text which contrasts two ways and two gates, one narrow and the other wide (cf. Matthew 7:13-14).
Why are these ways respectively called “narrow” and “wide”? Is it perhaps that the way of evil is always easy and pleasant to follow and the way of goodness always hard and tiresome?
Here we must be careful not to cede to the usual temptation of believing that here below everything goes magnificently well for the wicked and everything goes terribly for the good.
The way of the wicked is wide, but only at the beginning. As one goes down this way it gradually becomes narrow and bitter. In any case, it becomes very narrow at the end because it finishes in a blind alley.
The joy that is experienced in it has the characteristic of diminishing more and more as one tastes it, and it finally causes nausea and sadness. We see this in certain forms of intoxication experienced in drugs, alcohol and sex. A larger dose or stronger stimulation is needed each time to produce pleasure of the same intensity.
Finally the organism no longer responds and it begins to break down, even physically.
The way of the just is instead narrow at the beginning, when one starts off on it, but it then becomes a spacious boulevard because hope, joy and peace of heart are found in it.
Pontifical Household Preacher Comments on Sunday’s Readings
ROME, AUG. 19, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of a commentary by the Pontifical Household preacher, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, on the readings from today’s liturgy.
* * *
I have come to bring division to the earth
20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jeremiah 38:4-6, 8-10; Hebrews 12:1-4; Luke 12:49-57
This Sunday’s Gospel reading contains some of the most provocative words ever spoken by Jesus: “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”
And to think that the person who pronounced these words was the same whose birth was greeted by the words: “Peace on earth to men of good will,” and that during his life he proclaimed: “Blessed are the peacemakers.” The same person, when he was arrested, commanded Peter to “Put your sword back into its sheath!” (Matthew 26:52). How do we explain this contradiction?
It is very simple. It is a matter of seeing which peace and unity Jesus came to bring and which is the peace and unity he came to take away. He came to bring the peace and unity of the good, that which leads to eternal life, and he came to take away the false peace and unity, which serves only to lull the conscience to sleep and leads to ruin.
It is not that Jesus came purposefully to bring division and war, but his coming inevitably brings division and contrast because he places people before a decision. And, faced with the necessity of making a decision, we know that human freedom will react in different ways. Jesus’ word and person will bring to the surface that which is most hidden in the depths of the human heart. The elderly Simeon had predicted it, taking the baby Jesus in his arms: “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:35).
He himself will be the first victim of this contradiction, the first to suffer from the “sword” that he came to bring to the earth, he will give his life on account of it. After him the person most directly involved in this drama is Mary his mother, of whom Simeon says: “A sword will also pierce your soul.”
Jesus himself distinguishes the two types of peace. He says to the apostles: “Peace I leave you, my peace I give to you; not as the world gives peace do I give peace to you. Do not let your heart be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27). After having destroyed with his death the false peace and solidarity of the human race in evil and sin, he inaugurates the new peace and unity that is the fruit of the Holy Spirit. This is the peace that he offers to the disciples on Easter night, saying “Peace be with you!”
Jesus says that this “division” can also work its way into the family: between father and son, mother and daughter, brother and sister, daughter-in-law and mother-in-law. And, unfortunately, we know that this is sometimes painfully true. The person who has found the Lord and seriously wants to follow him often finds himself in the difficult situation of having to choose: Either make those at home happy and neglect God and religious practice or follow the latter and put himself in conflict with his own, who give him trouble for every little thing he does for God and piety.
But the contrast penetrates even deeper, within the person himself, and it becomes a struggle between flesh and spirit, between the call to egoism and sensuality, and that of conscience. The division and conflict begin inside of us. Paul illustrated this marvelously: “For the flesh has desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you may not do what you want” (Galatians 5:17).
Man is attached to his little peace and freedom, even if it is precarious and illusory, and this image of Jesus who comes to bring disruption carries the risk of making us indisposed toward Christ, considering him as an enemy of our tranquility. It is necessary to overcome this impression and realize that this too is Jesus’ love, perhaps the most pure and genuine love.