Archive for October, 2008

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.

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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.

 



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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.

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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.

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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.

 



Pontifical Household Preacher Comments on Sunday’s Readings

ROME, JULY 27, 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.

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Jesus at Prayer
17th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Genesis 18:20-21, 23-32; Colossians 2:12-14; Luke 11:1-13

Sunday’s Gospel begins with these words: “Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples.’ He said to them, ‘When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come.'”

We can get an idea of what Jesus’ countenance and his whole person looked like when he prayed by considering the fact that his disciples, just watching him pray, fell in love with prayer and asked the Master to teach them to pray. Jesus responds to them, as we have just now heard, by teaching them the Our Father.

Again in our commentary for this Sunday we will draw inspiration for our reflections on the Gospel from Benedict XVI’s book on Jesus. “Without the rootedness in God,” the Pope writes, “the person of Jesus remains elusive, unreal and inexplicable. This is the point on which my book is based: It considers Jesus from the perspective of his communion with the Father. This is the true center of his personality.”

These claims are amply justified by the Gospels. Therefore, no one can deny that historically the Jesus of the Gospels lives and works in continual reference to the heavenly Father, that he prays and teaches how to pray, that he bases everything on faith in God. If this dimension is taken away from the Jesus of the Gospels, nothing is left of him.

From this historical evidence there follows a fundamental consequence and that is that it is not possible to know the true Jesus if we detach from faith, if we try to approach him as nonbelievers or declared atheists. I am not speaking at this point of faith in Christ, in his divinity (which comes later), but of faith in God, in the most common understanding of the term.

Many nonbelievers today write about Jesus, convinced that they are the ones who know the real Jesus, not the Church, not the believers. I do not have the intention of saying — nor does the Pope, I believe — that nonbelievers have no right to concern themselves with Jesus. Jesus is the “patrimony of humanity” and no one, not even the Church, has a monopoly on him. The fact that even nonbelievers write about Jesus and are passionate about him can only give us pleasure.

What I want to draw attention to are the consequences that follow from such a point of departure. If we detach from or deny faith in God, it is not only divinity that is eliminated or the so-called Christ of faith, but the historical Jesus is also completely eliminated, not even the man Jesus is left.

If God does not exist, Jesus is only one of the many deluded people who have prayed, worshipped, and spoken to their own shadow or the projection of their own essence, as Feuerbach would say. But how do we explain the fact that the life of this man “changed the world”? It would be like saying that truth and reason did not change the world but illusion and irrationality. How do we explain that after 2,000 years this man continues to affect us like no one else? Can all of that be the fruit of an equivocation, of an illusion?

There is but one way out of this dilemma and we must acknowledge the consistency of those (especially in the circle of the “Jesus Seminar” of California) who have taken that route. According to them, Jesus was not a Jewish believer; at bottom he was a philosopher of the Cynic type; he did not preach the kingdom of God, or an immanent end of the world; he only pronounced wise maxims in the style of a Zen master. His purpose was to restore in men their self-awareness, to convince them that they did not need him nor another god, because they themselves possessed a divine spark. These are the things, however, that the New Age movement has been preaching for decades.

The Pope understood it correctly: Without the rootedness in God, the figure of Jesus is elusive, unreal, and, I would add, contradictory. I do not think that this must be taken to mean that only those who interiorly adhere to Christianity can understand something about it; but it should put those on guard who think that only by being outside of it, outside the dogmas of the Church, can something objective be said about it.