Posts Tagged ‘Cantalamessa’

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. 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 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!”