Posts Tagged ‘sunday’

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.



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 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!”