Archive for January, 2009

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.