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.
Pontifical Household Preacher Comments on Sunday’s Readings
ROME, JULY 6, 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 Kingdom of God is at Hand!
14th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 66:10-14c; Galatians 6:16-18; Luke 10:1-12, 17-20
Again we will comment on Sunday’s Gospel with the help of Benedict XVI’s book on Jesus. First, however, I would like to make an observation of a general nature. The criticism that has been made of the Pope’s book by some is that it sticks to what the Gospels say without taking into account the findings of modern historical research which, according to them, would lead to very different conclusions.
What we have here is a widespread idea that is nourishing a whole literature like Dan Brown’s “Da Vinci Code” and popularizing historical works based on the same presupposition.
I think that it is important to shed light on a fundamental equivocation in all of this. The idea of an historical investigation into Jesus that is unified, rectilinear, that moves unswervingly toward completely illuminating him, is a pure myth that some are trying to convince people of but which no serious historian today believes possible.
I quote one of the more well-known representatives of historical research on Jesus, the American Paula Fredriksen: “In recent scholarship, Jesus has been imagined and presented as a type of first-century shaman figure; as a Cynic-sort of wandering wise man; as a visionary radical and social reformer preaching egalitarian ethics to the destitute; as a Galilean regionalist alienated from the elitism of Judean religious conventions (like Temple and Torah); as a champion of national liberation and, on the contrary, as its opponent and critic — on and on.
“All these figures are presented with rigorous academic argument and methodology; all are defended with appeals to the ancient data. Debate continues at a roiling pitch, and consensus — even on issues so basic as what constitutes evidence and how to construe it — seems a distant hope.”
Often an appeal is made to new data and recent discoveries which would finally put historical research in an advantageous place with regard to the past. But the variety of the consequences that can be drawn from these new historical sources appears from the fact that they have given rise to two opposed and irreconcilable images of Christ that are still in play. On one hand, a Jesus who “is in all and for all Jewish”; on the other hand, a Jesus who is a child of the Helenized Galilee of his time, strongly influenced the philosophy of cynicism.
In light of this fact I ask: What was the Pope supposed to do, compose yet another historical reconstruction in which all the contrary objections debate and combat each other? What the Pope chose to do was to positively present the figure and teaching of Jesus as he is understood by the Church, taking his point of departure from the conviction that the Christ of the Gospels is, even from the historical point of view, the figure that is the most credible and certain.
After these clarifications, let us turn to this Sunday’s Gospel. It is the episode of the sending out of 72 disciples on mission. After having told them how they are supposed to go out (two by two, like lambs, without money), Jesus explains to them what they must say: “Tell them: ‘The kingdom of God is at hand.'”
We know that the phrase “The kingdom of God is at hand” is at the heart of Jesus’ preaching and is the premise of each of his teachings. The kingdom of God is at hand, so love your enemies; the kingdom of God is at hand, so if your hand is a scandal to you, cut it off. It is better to enter the kingdom of God without a hand than to remain outside of it with both hands. Everything takes its meaning from the kingdom.
There has always been discussion about what, precisely, Jesus meant by the expression “kingdom of God.” For some it would be a purely interior kingdom consisting in a life conformed to the law of God; for others, on the contrary, it would be a social and political kingdom to be realized by man, even by struggle and revolution if necessary.
The Pope reviews these various interpretations of the past and points to what they have in common: The center of interest moves from God to man; it is no longer a kingdom of God but a kingdom of man, who is its principal architect. This is an idea of a kingdom that, at the limit, is also compatible with atheism.
In Jesus’ preaching the coming of the kingdom of God means that, sending his Son into the world, God has decided, so to speak, to personally take in hand the fortunes of the world, to compromise himself with it, to act in the world from the inside. It is easier to intuit what the kingdom of God means than to explain it because it is a reality that transcends every explanation.
The idea is still much diffused that Jesus expected the end of the world to be imminent and therefore the kingdom of God that he preached is not to be realized in this world but in the one we call the “hereafter.”
In effect, the Gospels contain some affirmations that lend themselves to this interpretation. But if we look at the whole of Jesus’ teaching this does not jibe. According to C.H. Dodd, Jesus’ teaching is not an ethics for those who are expecting a rapid end to the world, but for those who have experienced the end of this world and the coming into it of the kingdom of God.
It is for those who know that “the old things are past” and that the world has become a “new creation,” since God has descended as king. In other words, Jesus did not announce the end of “the” world but the end of “a” world, and in that the facts have not told against him.
But John the Baptist also preached this change, speaking of an imminent judgment of God. In what, then, consists the newness of Christ? The newness is entirely enclosed within an adverb of time: “now.” With Jesus the kingdom of God is no longer only something “imminent.” It is present. “The new and exclusive message of Jesus,” the Pope writes, “consists in the fact that he says: God acts now — this is the hour in which God, in a way that goes beyond all previous modalities, reveals himself in history as its Lord, as the living God.”
From here flows that sense of urgency that is present in all of Jesus’ parables, especially the so-called parables of the kingdom. The decisive moment of history has arrived, now is the moment to make the decision that saves; the feast is ready; to refuse to enter because you have just taken a wife or bought a pair of oxen or for some other reason, is to be excluded forever and see your place taken by others.
From this last reflection let us move to a practical and contemporary application of the message we have heard. What Jesus said to the people of his time is also valid for us today. That “now” and “today” will remain immutable until the end of the world (Hebrews 3:13).
That means that the person who today hears, perhaps by chance, Christ’s word: “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand; convert and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:15), finds himself faced with the same choice as those who heard it 2000 years ago in a Galilean village: Either believe and enter the kingdom or refuse to believe and remain outside.
Unfortunately, the first option — believing — seems to be the last concern of many who read the Gospel and write books about it. Rather than submitting themselves to Christ’s judgment, many judge him.
Today more than ever Jesus is on trial. It is a kind of “universal judgment” turned upside down. Scholars run this risk above all. The scholar must “dominate” the object of the science that he cultivates and remain neutral before it; but how is one supposed to “dominate” or remain neutral before an object when it is Jesus Christ? In this case one must let himself instead be dominated by, and not be the dominator of his object.
The kingdom of God was so important for Jesus that he taught us to pray every day for its coming. We turn to God saying, “Thy kingdom come,” but God also turns to us and says through Jesus: “The kingdom of God is at hand, do not wait, enter!”
Pontifical Household Preacher Comments on Sunday’s Readings
ROME, JUNE 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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“Let the Dead Bury the Dead”
13th Sunday in Ordinary Time
1 Kings 19:16b,19-21; Galatians 4:31-5:13-18; Luke 9:51-62
Benedict XVI’s book “Jesus of Nazareth” appeared in April. I thought that I would take account of the Pope’s reflections in my commentary on some of the next Sunday Gospels.
First of all, I’d like to remark on the content and purpose of the book. It treats of Jesus in the period from his baptism in the Jordan to the moment of his transfiguration, that is, from the beginning of his public ministry almost to its epilogue.
The Pope says that if God gives him sufficient strength and time to write it, a second volume will deal with the accounts of Jesus’ death and resurrection along with the infancy narratives. These were not treated in the first volume.
The book presupposes historical-critical exegesis and uses its findings, but desires to go beyond this method, aiming at a properly theological interpretation, that is, one that is global, not narrow, and that takes seriously the witness of the Gospels and Scriptures as books inspired by God.
The purpose of the book is to show that the figure of Jesus that is arrived at in this way is “much more logical and, from the historical point of view, also more understandable than the reconstructions that we have seen in the last decades. I hold,” the Pope adds, “that precisely this Jesus — that of the Gospels — is a historically sensible and convincing figure.”
It is quite significant that the Pope’s choice to attend to the Jesus of the Gospels finds a confirmation in the more recent and authoritative orientation of the same historical-critical approach, in, for example, the Scottish exegete James Dunn’s monumental work “Christianity in the Making.”
According to Dunn, “the synoptic Gospels bear testimony to a pattern and technique of oral transmission which has ensured a greater stability and continuity in the Jesus tradition that has thus far been generally appreciated.”
But let us come to the Gospel reading for the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time. It recounts three different meetings Jesus had on the same journey. We will focus on one of these meetings. “And to another Jesus said, ‘Follow me.’ But he replied, ‘Lord, let me go first and bury my father.’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.'”
In his book, the Pope comments on the theme of family relations alluded to in the above Gospel passage in dialogue with the Jewish-American Rabbi Jacob Neusner. In his book “A Rabbi Talks with Jesus,” Rabbi Neusner imagines himself as present in the crowds when Jesus speaks.
Rabbi Neusner explains why, despite his great admiration for the “Rabbi of Nazareth,” he would not have been able to become his disciple. One of the reasons for this is Jesus’ position on family relations. Rabbi Neusner says that on many occasions Jesus seems to invite transgression of the fourth commandment, which says that we must honor our father and mother. Jesus asks someone, as we just heard, to forget about burying his own father and elsewhere he says that whoever loves father and mother more than him is not worthy of him.
Often the response to these objections is to cite other words of Jesus that strongly affirm the permanent validity of family bonds: the indissolubility of marriage, the duty to help one’s father and mother.
In his book, however, the Pope offers a more profound and illuminating answer to this objection, an objection that is not only Rabbi Neusner’s, but also that of many Christian readers of the Gospel. He takes his point of departure from something else Jesus says. “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers? … Whoever does the will of my Father who is in heaven is my brother, sister, and mother” (Matthew 12:48-50).
Jesus does not thereby abolish the natural family, but reveals a new family in which God is father, and men and women are all brothers and sisters thanks to a common faith in him, the Christ. Rabbi Neusner asks whether he has a right to do this. This spiritual family already existed: It was the people of Israel, united by observance of the Torah, that is, the Mosaic law.
A son was only permitted to leave his father’s house to study the Torah. But Jesus does not say, “Whoever loves father or mother more than the Torah is not worthy of the Torah.” He says, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me.” He puts himself in the place of the Torah and this can only be done by someone who is greater than the Torah and greater than Moses, who promulgated it.
Benedict XVI thinks that the rabbi is right to conclude: “Only God can demand of me what Jesus asks.” The Pope notes that the discussion about Jesus and family relations — like that about Jesus and observance of the Sabbath — thus brings us to the true heart of the matter, which is to know who Jesus is. If a Christian does not believe that Jesus acts with the authority itself of God and is himself God, then Rabbi Neusner, who refuses to follow Jesus, has a more coherent position than that particular Christian does. One cannot accept Jesus’ teaching if one does not accept his person.
Let us take some practical instruction from this discussion. The “family of God,” which is the Church, not only is not against the natural family, but is its guarantee and promoter. We see it today. It is a shame that some divergences of opinion in our society on questions linked to marriage and the family impede many from recognizing the providential work of the Church on behalf of the family. She is often without support in this decisive battle for the future of humanity.
Father Cantalamessa on the Pearl of Great PricePontifical Household Preacher Comments on Sunday’s Readings
ROME, JUNE 15, 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 Woman Came With an Alabaster Flask of Ointment
11th Sunday in Ordinary Time
2 Samuel 12:7-10,13; Galatians 2:16,19-21; Luke 7:36-8:3
There are some Gospel passages where the teaching is so much connected to the action that the former cannot be fully understood if it is detached from the latter.
The episode of the sinful woman in the house of Simon the Pharisee that will be read at Mass this Sunday is one of these. The opening scene is silent; there are no words, only silent gestures: A woman enters with an alabaster flask of ointment. She nestles at Jesus’ feet, washes them with tears, dries them with her hair, and kissing them, douses them with the ointment from her flask.
She is almost certainly a prostitute, because at that time this was what was meant when the term “sinful” was applied to a woman.
At this point the focus turns to the Pharisee who invited Jesus to dinner. The scene is still silent, but only in appearance. The Pharisee is “speaking to himself”: “When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would know who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, that she is a sinner.'”
The Gospel then takes Jesus’ word so as to present his judgment on the actions of the woman and on the thoughts of the Pharisee, and it does this with a parable: “‘A creditor had two debtors: One owed him five hundred denarii and the other fifty. Not having anything to pay him with, the creditor forgave both of them their debts. Who will love him more?’ Simon answered: ‘I suppose the one who he forgave the most.’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have judged well.'”
Jesus first of all allows Simon to be convinced that he is in fact a prophet since he read the thoughts in his heart; at the same time, with the parable, he is preparing everyone to understand what he is about to say in defense of the woman: “‘For this reason I say to you her many sins are forgiven her because she has loved much. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.’ Then he said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven you.'”
This year is the 800th anniversary of the conversion of Francis of Assisi. What do the conversions of the sinful woman of the Gospel and Francis have to do with each other? Unfortunately, when we speak of conversion our thought goes instinctively to what one leaves behind — sin, a disordered life, atheism — but this is the effect, not the cause of the conversion.
How a conversion happens is perfectly described by Jesus in the parable of the hidden treasure: “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field; a man finds it and hides it again, then he goes, full of joy, and sells all he has and buys the field.” It is not said that “a man sold everything he had and then went out in search of a hidden treasure.”
We know how the stories that begin this way end. One loses everything he has and does not find any treasure. These are stories of deluded people, visionaries. No, a man finds a treasure and sells all he has to acquire it. In other words, it is necessary to have found a treasure in order to have the strength and the joy to sell all.
This is done with a heart “full of joy,” like the man about whom the Gospel speaks. This is how it happened for the sinful woman of the Gospel and for Francis of Assisi. Both had met Jesus and it is this that gave them the strength to change.
The point of departure of the sinful woman of the Gospel and Francis seems to have been different, but this difference was an appearance, external. Deep down it was the same. The woman and Francis, like all of us after all, were searching for happiness and they saw that the life they were leading did not make them happy, but rather it left dissatisfaction and an emptiness in the depths of their heart.
I was reading recently the story of the famous convert of the 19th century, Hermann Cohen, a brilliant musician, idolized as a the young prodigy of his time in the salons of central Europe: a kind of modern version of the young Francis.
After his conversion he wrote to a friend: “I looked for happiness everywhere: in the elegant life of the salons, in the deafening noise of balls and parties, in accumulating money, in the excitement of gambling, in artistic glory, in friendship with famous people, in the pleasures of the senses. Now I have found happiness, I have an overflowing heart and I want to share it with you. … You say, ‘But I don’t believe in Jesus Christ.’ I say to you, ‘Neither did I and that is why I was unhappy.'”
Conversion is the way to happiness and a full life. It is not something painful, but the greatest joy. It is the discovery of the hidden treasure and the pearl of great price.
ROME, JUNE 8, 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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Do This in Memory of Me
Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ
Genesis 14:18-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Luke 9:11b-17
In the second reading of this feast, St. Paul presents us with the most ancient account we have of the institution of the Eucharist, written no more than about 20 years after the fact. Let us try to find something new in the Eucharistic mystery, using the concept of memorial: “Do this in memory of me.”
Memory is one of the most mysterious and greatest powers of the human spirit. Everything seen, heard and done from early childhood is conserved in this immense womb, ready to reawaken and to dance into the light either by an external stimulus or by our own will.
Without memory we will cease to be ourselves, we will lose our identity. Those who are struck by total amnesia, wander lost on the streets, without knowing their own name or where they live.
A memory, once it has come to mind, has the power to catalyze our whole interior world and route everything toward its object, especially if this is not a thing or a fact, but a living person.
When a mother remembers her child, who was born a few days ago and is left at home, everything inside her flies toward her baby, a movement of tenderness rises from her maternal depths and perhaps brings tears to her eyes.
Not just the individual has memory; human groups — family, tribe, nation — also have a collective memory. The wealth of a people is not so much measured by the reserves of gold it holds in its vaults, but rather by how many memories it holds in its collective consciousness. It is the sharing of many memories that cements the unity of a group. To keep such memories alive, they are linked to a place, to a holiday.
Americans have Memorial Day, the day in which they remember those who fell in all the wars; the Indians have the Gandhi Memorial, a green park in New Delhi that is supposed to remind the nation who he was and what he did. We Italians also have our memorials: The civil holidays recall the most important events in our recent history, and streets, piazzas and airports are dedicated to our most eminent people.
This very rich human background in regard to memory should help us better understand what the Eucharist is for the Christian people. It is a memorial because it recalls the event to which all of humanity now owes its existence as redeemed humanity: the death of the Lord.
But the Eucharist has something that distinguishes it from every other memorial. It is memorial and presence together, even if hidden under the signs of bread and wine. Memorial Day cannot bring those who have fallen back to life; the Gandhi Memorial cannot make Gandhi alive again. In a sense, the Eucharistic memorial, however, according to the faith of Christians, does do this in regard to Christ.
But together with all the beautiful things that we have said about memory, we must mention a danger that is inherent to it. Memory can be easily transformed into sterile and paralyzing nostalgia. This happens when a person becomes the prisoner of his own memories and ends up living in the past.
Indeed, the Eucharistic memorial does not pertain to this type of memory. On the contrary, it projects us forward; after the consecration the people say: “We proclaim your death, O Lord, and confess your resurrection, until you come.”
An antiphon attributed to St. Thomas Aquinas (“O sacrum convivium”) defines the Eucharist as the sacred feast in which “Christ is received, the memory of his passion is celebrated, the soul is filled with grace, and we are given the pledge of future glory.”
ROME, MAY 4, 2007 (Zenit.org).
A New Commandment
Fifth Sunday of Easter
Acts 14:20b-26; Revelation 21:1-5a; John 13:31-33a
The word “new” belongs to that restricted number of magic words that always and only evokes positive feelings. “Brand new,” “new clothes,” “new life,” “new year,” “new day.” The new makes news. They are synonymous. The Gospel is called “good news” precisely because it contains the new — par excellence.
Why do we like the new so much? It is not only because the new, the unused (a car, for example), generally works better. If this were the only reason, why do we welcome the New Year and a new day with such joy? The deepest reason is that the new, that which is still unknown, inexperienced, leaves more room for expectation, surprise, hope, dreams. And happiness is the child of these. If we were sure that the New Year would bring exactly the same things as the past year, no more and no less, we would not be very pleased about it.
The new is not opposed to the “ancient” but to the “old.” “Antique,” “antiquity,” “antique dealer,” are positive terms. What is the difference? The old is that which with the passing of time gets worse and loses its value; an antique is that which gets better and acquires value with the passing of time. That is why today Italian-speaking theologians try to avoid the expression “Vecchio Testamento” (“Old Testament”) and prefer to speak of the “Antico Testamento” (“Ancient Testament”).
Now, with these premises, let us draw near to the word of the Gospel. A question arises immediately: Why is a commandment that was already known in the Old Testament (cf. Leviticus 19:18) called “new”? Here the distinction between “ancient” and “old” proves useful. In this case “new” is not opposed to “ancient,” but to “old.”
The same Evangelist, John, writes in another place: “Dear ones, I do not propose to you a new commandment, but an ancient one. … Nevertheless it is a new commandment about which I write to you” (1 John 2:7-8). Is it a new commandment or an ancient one? Both.
Literally speaking, it is an ancient one because it was promulgated some time ago; but according to the Spirit it is new, because only in Christ is the strength to put it into practice also given. As I said, new is not opposed here to the ancient but to the old. The commandment to love one’s neighbor “as yourself” had become an old commandment, that is, weak and worn, on account of its being transgressed since the law imposed the obligation to love but did not give the strength to do so.
For this, grace is necessary. And in fact it was not when Jesus formulated the commandment of love during his life that it became a new commandment but when, dying on the cross and giving us the Holy Spirit, he makes us able to love each other by infusing in us the love he has for everyone.
Jesus’ commandment is new in an active and dynamic sense, because it “renews,” makes new, transforms everything. “And this love renews us, rendering us new persons, heirs of the New Testament, singers of a new song” (St. Augustine). If love could speak, it could make the words that God speaks in today’s second reading its own: “Behold, I make all things new.”
ROME, APRIL 27, 2007 (Zenit.org).-
I am the Good Shepherd
Fourth Sunday of Easter
Acts 13:14, 43-52; Revelations 7:9, 14b-17; John 10:27-30
In all three liturgical cycles the Fourth Sunday of Easter presents a passage from John’s Gospel about the good shepherd. After having led us among the fishermen last Sunday, this Sunday the Gospel takes us among the shepherds. These are two categories of equal importance in the Gospels. From the one comes the designation “fishers of men,” from the other “shepherd of souls.” Both are applied to the apostles.
The larger part of Judea was a plateau with inhospitable and rocky soil, more adapted to livestock than to agriculture. Grass was scarce and the flock had to continually travel from one spot to another; there were no walls for protection and because of this the shepherd always had to be with the flock. A traveler of the last century has left us a portrait of the shepherd of Palestine: “When you see him in a high pasture, sleepless, a gaze that searches in the distance, weather-beaten, leaning on his staff, ever attentive to the movements of the flock, you understand why the shepherd acquired such importance in the history of Israel that they gave this title to their kings and Christ assumed it as an emblem of self-sacrifice.”
In the Old Testament, God himself is represented as the shepherd of his people. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” (Psalm (23:1). “He is our God and we are his people whom he shepherds” (Psalm 95:7). The future Messiah is also described with the image of the shepherd: “Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care” (Isaiah 40:11). This ideal image of the shepherd finds its complete realization in Christ. He is the good shepherd who goes in search of the lost sheep; he feels compassion for the people because he sees them “as sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36); he calls his disciples “the little flock” (Luke 12:32). Peter calls Jesus “the shepherd of our souls” (1 Peter 2:25) and the Letter to the Hebrews speaks of him as “the great shepherd of the sheep” (Hebrews 13:20).
This Sunday’s Gospel passage highlights some of the characteristics of Jesus the good shepherd. The first has to do with the reciprocal knowledge that the sheep and shepherd have: “My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow me.” In certain countries of Europe sheep are raised principally for their meat; in Israel they were raised above all for wool and milk. For this reason they remained for many years in the company of the shepherd who knew the character of each one and gave them affectionate names.
What Jesus wants to say with these images is clear. He knows his disciples (and, as God, all men), he knows them “by name,” which for the Bible means their innermost essence. He loves them with a personal love that treats each as if they were the only one who existed for him. Christ only knows how to count to one, and that one is each of us.
The Gospel passage tells us something else about the good shepherd. He gives his life to his sheep and for his sheep, and no one can take them out of his hand. Wild animals — wolves and hyenas — and bandits were a nightmare for the shepherds of Israel. In such isolated places they were a constant threat. This was the moment in which is revealed the difference between the true shepherd — the one who shepherds the family’s flock, who does this for his life’s work — and the hired hand, who works only for the pay he receives, who does not love, and indeed often hates, the sheep.
Confronted with danger, the mercenary flees and leaves the sheep at the mercy of the wolf or bandits; the true shepherd courageously faces the danger to save the flock. This explains why the liturgy proposes the passage about the good shepherd to us during the time of Easter — the moment in which Christ showed that he is the good shepherd who gives his life for his sheep.