Archive for the ‘Homily’ Category

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?”



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. 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.

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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.

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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.

 



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.



Pontifical Household Preacher Comments on Sunday’s Readings

ROME, JULY 20, 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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The Friends of Jesus
18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Genesis 18:1-10a; Colossians 1:24-28; Luke 10:38-42

“Jesus entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary who sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. Martha was burdened with much serving.”

The village is Bethany and the house is that of Lazarus and his two sisters. Jesus loved to stop there and take some rest when he was traveling near Jerusalem.

Mary was stupefied that for once she had the master all to herself and could listen in silence to the words of eternal life that he spoke when he was taking his rest. So she sat there at his feet, as is still done today in the East. It is not difficult to imagine Martha’s half-resentful, half-joking tone when, passing by them, she says to Jesus: “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.”

It was at this point that Jesus said something that by itself is a mini Gospel: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”

The tradition has seen in the sisters a symbol of the active and the contemplative life respectively; the liturgy with the choice of the first reading (Abraham who welcomes the three angels at the terebinth of Mamre) shows an example of hospitality in the episode.

I think, however, that the more evident theme is that of friendship. “Jesus loved Martha, together with her sister and Lazarus,” we read in John’s Gospel (11:5).

When they bring him the news of Lazarus’ death he says to his disciples: “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep but I am going to wake him up” (John 11:11).

Faced with the sorrow of the two sisters he also breaks down and weeps, so much so that those who are present exclaim: “See how much he loved him!” (John 11:13).

It is wonderful and consoling to know that Jesus knew and cultivated that sentiment that is so beautiful and precious for us men — friendship.

Of friendship we must say what St. Augustine said of time: “I know what time is but if someone asks me to explain it, I no longer know what it is.” In other words, it is easier to intuit what friendship is that to explain it in words.

It is a mutual attraction and deep understanding between two people, but it does not have a sexual component as does conjugal love. It is a union of two souls, not two bodies. In this sense the ancients said that friendship is to have “one soul in two bodies.” It can be a stronger bond than that of family. Family consists in having the same blood in one’s veins. In friendship one has the same tastes, ideals, interests.

It is essential to friendship that it is founded on a common search for the good and the true. That which binds people who get together to do evil is not friendship but complicity, it is “an association that corrupts,” as is said in judicial jargon.

Friendship is also different from love of neighbor. The latter must embrace everyone, even those who do not return it, even enemies, while friendship demands reciprocity, that is, that the other corresponds to your love.

Friendship is nourished by confidences, that is, by the fact that I confide in another that which is deepest and most personal in my thoughts and experiences.

Sometimes I say to young people: Do you want to find out who your true friends are and rank them? Try to remember what have been the most secret experiences of your life — positive or negative — and ask yourself to whom you confided them: those are your true friends. And if there is something in your life, so deep and you have revealed it to one person only, that person is your best friend.

The Bible is full of praise of friendship. “A faithful friend is a strong support; whoever finds one has found a treasure” (Sirach 6:14ff.). The proof of friendship is fidelity.

According to a popular saying, “When the money goes, friends go.” True friendship does not fade at the friend’s first problem. We know who our true friend is during the time of trial. History is full of great friendships that have been immortalized in literature. But the history of Christian sanctity also knows examples of famous friendships.

A delicate problem with friendship is whether it is possible once one is married. It is not said that one must completely cut off all the friendships one has cultivated before getting married but there must be a rearrangement if the newlyweds are not to experience difficulties and crises.

The surest friendships are those that a couple cultivates together. Among those friendships that are cultivated separately those with persons of the same sex create fewer problems than those with persons of the opposite sex.

Often in these cases the presumption that one is above all suspicion and danger is punished. Films with titles like “My Best Friend’s Bride” [Ed.N. Father Cantalamessa refers to the Italian translation given to the title of the movie “My Best Friend’s Wedding”] speak volumes about the problem, but apart from this extreme they also create serious practical problems. You cannot go out with friends every night leaving the other (usually the wife!) alone at home.

For consecrated persons, the more certain friendships are those that are shared with the whole community. In talking about Lazarus, Jesus does not say “my friend Lazarus” but “our friend Lazarus.” Lazarus and the sisters became friends of the apostles too according to the well-known principle, “My friends’ friends are my friends.” This is how the great friendships were between some saints — the one between Francis of Assisi and Clare, for example. Francis is the brother and father of all the sisters; Clare is the sister and mother of all the brothers.

Pontifical Household Preacher Comments on Sunday’s Readings

ROME, JULY 13, 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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The Good Samaritan
15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Deuteronomy 30:10-14; Colossians 1:15-20; Luke 10:25-37

We have been commenting on some of the Sunday Gospels taking our inspiration from Benedict XVI’s book “Jesus of Nazareth.” A portion of the book treats the parable of the Good Samaritan. The parable cannot be understood if we do not take account of the question to which Jesus intended to respond: “Who is my neighbor?”

Jesus answers this question of a doctor of the law with a parable. In the music and literature of the world there are certain phrases that have become famous. Four notes in a certain sequence and every listener immediately exclaims: “Beethoven’s Fifth: destiny is knocking at the door!” Many of Jesus’ parables share this characteristic. “A man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho … ” and everyone immediately knows: the parable of the good Samaritan!

In the Judaism of the time there was discussion about who should be considered an Israelite’s neighbor. In general it came to be understood that the category of “neighbor” included all one’s fellow countrymen and Gentile coverts to Judaism. With his choice of persons (a Samaritan who comes to the aid of a Jew!) Jesus asserts that the category of neighbor is universal, not particular. Its horizon is humanity not the family, ethnic, or religious circle. Our enemy is also a neighbor! It is known that the Jews in fact “did not have good relations with the Samaritans” (cf. John 4:9).

The parable teaches that love of neighbor must not only be universal but also concrete and proactive. How does the Samaritan conduct himself in the parable? If the Samaritan had contented himself with saying to the unfortunate man lying there in his blood, “You unlucky soul! How did it happen? Buck up!” or something similar, and then went on his way, would not all that have been ironic and insulting? Instead he did something for the other: “He approached the victim, poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them. Then he lifted him up on his own animal, took him to an inn, and cared for him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper with the instruction, ‘Take care of him. If you spend more than what I have given you, I shall repay you on my way back’.”

The true novelty in the parable of the Good Samaritan is not that Jesus demands a concrete, universal love. The novelty stands in something else, the Pope observes in his book. At the end of the parable Jesus asks the doctor of the law who was questioning him, “Which of these [the Levite, the priest, the Samaritan] seems to you to have been the neighbor of the one who was attacked by the brigands?”

Jesus brings about an unexpected reversal in the traditional concept of neighbor. The Samaritan is the neighbor and not the wounded man, as we would have expected. This means that we must not wait till our neighbor appears along our way, perhaps quite dramatically. It belongs to us to be ready to notice him, to find him. We are all called to be the neighbor! The problem of the doctor of the law is reversed. From an abstract and academic problem, it becomes a concrete and living problem. The question to ask is not “Who is my neighbor?” but “Whose neighbor can I be here and now?”

In his book the Pope proposes a contemporary application of the parable of the good Samaritan. He sees the entire continent of Africa symbolized in the unfortunate man who has been robbed, wounded, and left for dead on the side of the road, and he sees in us, members of the rich countries of the northern hemisphere, the two people who pass by if not precisely the brigands themselves.

I would like to suggest another possible application of the parable. I am convinced that if Jesus came to Israel today and a doctor of the law asked him again, “Who is my neighbor?” he would change the parable a bit and in the place of the Samaritan he would put a Palestinian! If a Palestinian were to ask him the same question, in the Samaritan’s place we would find a Jew!

But it is too easy to limit the discussion to Africa and the Middle East. If one of us were to pose Jesus the question “Who is my neighbor?” what would he answer? He would certainly remind us that our neighbor is not only our fellow countrymen but also those outside our community, not only Christians but Muslims also, not only Catholics but Protestants also. But he would immediately add that this is not the most important thing. The most important thing is not to know who my neighbor is but to see whose neighbor I can be here and now, for whom I can be the Good Samaritan.