Fr Cantalamessa's commentaries on the Sunday readings(Cycle B - 2006)

  On the Season of Advent
(December 2005)

(Mark 13:33-37) Life Is a Dream!  (on Advent's Wake-up Call)

Jesus' way of speaking implies a very precise view of the world: the present time is like a long night; the life we lead is like a dream; the frenetic activity we engage in is, in fact, a dream. A Spanish writer of the 17th century, Calderón de la Barca, wrote a famous play on the subject: "Life Is a Dream."

In sleep, our life reflects above all brevity. Sleep occurs outside of time. In sleep things do not last as in reality. Situations that would take days and weeks, in sleep happen in a few minutes. It is an image of our life: Reaching old age, one looks back and has the impression that life has been no more than an instant.

Another characteristic of sleep is irreality or vanity. One can dream one is at a banquet and eats and drinks to the point of satiety; one awakes and is again hungry. A poor man, one night, dreams he has become rich: He exults in his sleep, he shows off, he even disdains his own father, pretending he does not recognize him, but he awakens and realizes he is just as poor as he was before! This also happens when one comes out of the dream of this life. One has been rich down here, but then dies and finds himself exactly in the situation of the poor man who awoke after dreaming he was rich. What remains of all his riches if he has not used them well? Empty hands.

There is a characteristic of sleep that does not apply in life, the absence of responsibility. One might have killed or robbed in dreams; one awakes and there is no guilt; one's certificate of criminal antecedents is without a stain. Not so in life; we know it well. What one does in life leaves its trace, and what a trace! It is written in fact that God "will render to every man according to his works" (Romans 2:6).

On the physical plane there are substances that "induce" and aid to sleep; they are called sleeping pills and are well known by a generation such as our own, sick with insomnia. Also on the moral plane there is a terrible sleeping pill. It is called habit.

A habit is like a vampire. The vampire -- at least according to what is believed -- attacks people who are asleep and, while it sucks their blood, at the same time it injects a soporific substance which makes sleep even lovelier, so that the unfortunate individual sinks into ever more profound sleep and the vampire can suck all the blood it needs. The habit of vice also lulls the conscience, so that one no longer feels remorse; one believes one is very well and does not realize that one is dying spiritually.

The only salvation, when this "vampire" has attached itself to an individual, is that something unexpected happen to awaken one from one's dream. This is what the Word of God that we hear so often during Advent is determined to do, cry out so that we wake up!

We conclude with a word of Jesus that opens our hearts to confidence and hope: "Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes; truly, I say to you, he will gird himself and have them sit at table , and he will come and serve them" (Luke 12:37).

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The Baptism of Jesus   (Mark 1: 7-11)
Papal Preacher, Father Cantalamessa, on the Baptism of Jesus and our Baptism

Rediscovering Our Baptism

"At that time Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. As soon as he came out of the water he saw that the heavens opened and that the Spirit, in the form of a dove, descended on him. And a voice was heard that came from the heavens: 'You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.'"

Was it that Jesus also needed to be baptized, as we do? Of course not. With that gesture, he wanted to show that he had become one of us. Above all, he wanted to put an end to the baptism of "water" and inaugurate that "of the Spirit." It was not the water in the Jordan that sanctified Jesus, but Jesus who sanctified the water. Not only the water of the Jordan, but that of all fonts of the world.

The feast of the Baptism of Jesus is the annual occasion to reflect on our own baptism. A question people often ask themselves about baptism is: Why baptize small children? Why not wait until they are older and can decide freely for themselves? It is a serious question, but it can conceal a deceit. In procreating a child and giving him life, do parents first ask for his permission? Convinced that life is an immense gift, they rightly assume that one day the child will be grateful for it. A person is not asked for permission to be given a gift, and baptism is essentially this: the gift of life given to man by the merits of Christ.

Of course, all this assumes that the parents themselves are believers and have the intention to help the child develop the gift of faith. The Church acknowledges their decisive competency in this area and does not want a child to be baptized against their will.

Moreover, no one today says that, by the simple fact that a person is not baptized, he will be condemned and go to hell. Children who die without baptism, as well as people who have lived, through no fault of their own, outside the Church, can be saved (the latter, it is understood, if they live according to the dictates of their conscience).

Let us forget the idea of limbo as the place without joy or sadness in which children who are not baptized will end up. The fate of children who are not baptized is no different from that of the Holy Innocents, which we celebrated just after Christmas. The reason is that God is love and "wants all to be saved," and Christ also died for them!

Quite different, however, is the case of the one who neglects receiving baptism out of laziness or indifference, though aware, perhaps, in the depth of his conscience, of its importance and necessity. In this case, Jesus' word retains all its severity: only "he who believes and is baptized will be saved" (cf. Mark 16:16). There are increasingly more people in our society who for different reasons have not been baptized in childhood. There is the risk that they will grow up and make no decision, one way or another. Parents are no longer concerned about it because they now think that it is not their duty; the children because they have other things to think about; and also because it has not yet entered the common mentality that the person himself must take the initiative to be baptized.

In order to address this situation, the Church gives much importance at present to the so-called Christian initiation of adults. The latter offers the young person or adult who is not baptized the occasion to be formed, to prepare and to decided with full liberty. It is necessary to surmount the idea that baptism is only something for children.

Baptism expresses its full meaning precisely when it is desired and decided upon personally, as a free and conscious adherence to Christ and his Church, although the validity and gift of being baptized as children must not be disregarded for the reasons above explained. Personally, I am grateful to my parents for having had me baptized in the first days of my life. It is not the same to live one's childhood and youth with or without sanctifying grace!

Father Cantalamessa follows up with a further comment:

ROME, JAN. 24, 2006

Some readers have said that they are perplexed by my affirmation that unbaptized children will not go to limbo but to heaven, which I expressed in my recent commentary on the Gospel of the feast of Christ's Baptism, published by ZENIT News. This gives me the opportunity to clarify the reasons for my affirmation.

Jesus instituted the sacraments as ordinary means to salvation. They are ordinarily necessary and people who can receive them and refuse are accountable before God. But God didn't bind himself to these means. Also of the Eucharist Jesus says: "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man you shall not have life" (John 6:53), but this doesn't mean that anyone who has never received the Eucharist is not saved.

Baptism of desire and the feast of the Holy Innocents are confirmations of this. Some may counter that Jesus is involved in the death of Innocents who died because of him, which is not always the case of unbaptized babies. True, but also of what is done to the least of his brothers Jesus says: "You have done it to me" (Matthew 25:40).

The doctrine of limbo has never been defined as dogma by the Church; it was a theological hypothesis mostly depending on St. Augustine's doctrine of original sin and was abandoned in practice long ago and theology too now dismisses it.

We should take seriously the truth of God's universal will for salvation ("God wants everybody to be saved," 1 Timothy 2:4), and also the truth that "Jesus died for all." The following text of the Catechism of the Catholic Church seems to hold exactly the same position:

"As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus' tenderness toward children which caused him to say: 'Let the children come to me, do not hinder them,' allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism. All the more urgent is the Church's call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy Baptism" (CCC, 1261).

I don't think that to affirm that unbaptized babies are saved will encourage abortion. People who neglect Church doctrine on abortion are scarcely concerned about other doctrines of the same Church. Even if there were grounds for such a fear, the abuse of a doctrine should never prevent us from holding it.

I must confess that the mere idea of a God eternally depriving an innocent creature of his vision simply because another person has sinned, or because of an accidental miscarriage, makes me shudder …… and I am sure would make any unbeliever happy to stay away from the Christian faith. If hell consists essentially in the deprivation of God, limbo is hell!

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Second Sunday of  Ordinary Time B

Glorify God in Your Body (1 Corinthians 6:13c-15a,17-20)
Father Raniero Cantalamessa, the papal preacher, on Purity

The Gospel passage allows us to be present at the formation of the first nucleus of disciples, from which will first develop the College of Apostles and then the whole Christian community. John is still on the banks of the Jordan River with two of his disciples when he sees Jesus go by and does not hesitate to cry out again: "Behold the Lamb of God!" The two disciples understand, and, leaving the Baptist for good, they start to follow Jesus.

Seeing that they are following him, Jesus turns to them and asks: "What do you seek?" To break the ice, they respond: "Teacher, where are you staying?" "Come and see," he replies. They went, they saw him and that day they stayed with him. That moment became decisive for them in their lives, remembering even the hour it occurred: it was close to four o'clock in the afternoon.

In the second reading, St. Paul illustrates a feature that must characterize the life of Christ's disciple: purity. "The body," he says among other things, "is not meant for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. …… So glorify God in your body." Given that it is a topic much discussed and vital for our present-day society, it is worthwhile to give it our attention.

Perhaps those who are able to understand best the subject of purity are precisely those who are truly in love. Sex becomes "impure" when it reduces the other (or one's own body) to an object, a thing, but this is something that true love refuses to do. Many of the excesses taking place in this area are somewhat artificial; they are due to an external imposition dictated by commercial or consumerist motives. It is not, as one is lead to believe, the "spontaneous evolution of customs." It is a guided, imposed evolution.

One of the excuses that contributes most to fostering the sin of impurity in the common mentality and to divest it of all responsibility is the idea that in any case, it harms no one, it does not harm the rights or liberty of others except, it is said, in the case of rape or violation.

But it is not true that the sin of impurity ends with the one who commits it. All abuse, no matter where and who commits it, contaminates man's moral environment, causes an erosion of values and creates what Paul defines "the law of sin," illustrating as he does its terrible power to drag people to ruin (cf. Romans 7:14ff).

The first victims of all this are in fact young people. Phenomena so condemned, such as the exploitation of minors, rape, pedophilia, but also certain atrocities committed not on minors, but by minors -- are not born from nothing. They are, at least in part, the result of the climate of exasperated excitation in which we live and in which the most fragile succumb.

It was not easy, once it began, to stop the mudslide that some time ago struck Sarno and other populations of Campania, destroying them. It was necessary to avoid the felling of trees and other environmental damages that made the mudslide inevitable. The same is true for certain tragedies connected to sex: Having destroyed the natural defenses, the tragedies become inevitable.

But today it is not enough to have a purity based on fears, taboos, prohibitions, the mutual escape of man and woman, as if each one of them were, always and necessarily, a trap for the other and a potential enemy, instead of, as the Bible says, "a help." It is necessary to stress defenses that are no longer external but internal, based on personal convictions. Purity must be cultivated for itself, for the positive value it represents for the individual, and not only because of concerns of health or good name to which its transgression exposes one.

Purity ensures the most precious thing that exists in the world: the possibility to approach God. "Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God," said Jesus. They will not see him just one day, after their death, but already now: In the beauty of creation, of a face, of a work of art; they will see him in their own hearts.

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Third Sunday of Ordinary Time B

Repent and Believe in the Gospel!  (Jonah 3:1-5,10; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20)
Father Cantalamessa, pontifical household preacher, on True Conversion
 
After John was arrested, Jesus went to Galilee preaching the Gospel of God and said: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the Gospel." We must immediately eliminate two prejudices. First: conversion does not refer only to nonbelievers, or to those who say they are "lay"; all of us indistinctly have need to be converted. Second: conversion, understood in a genuinely evangelical sense, is not synonymous with resignation, effort and sadness, but with freedom and joy; it is not a regressive but a progressive state.

Before Jesus, to convert always meant a "going back" (the Hebrew term, "shur," means to reverse course, to go back on one's steps). It indicated the act of the one who, at a certain point of life, realized that he was "not on course"; then he paused, reconsidered; decided on a change of attitude and returned to observance of the law and the Covenant with God. He made a real change of direction, a "U-turn." Conversion, in this case, has a moral meaning; it consists of changing customs, of reforming one's life.

This meaning changes on Jesus' lips. To convert no longer means to go back to the ancient Covenant and observance of the law; rather, it means to make a great leap forward and to enter the Kingdom, to cling to the salvation which has come to men gratuitously, by the free and sovereign initiative of God.

Conversion and salvation have exchanged places. There no longer is, as before, the conversion of man and therefore salvation as God's recompense; rather, salvation is first, as generous and gratuitous offer of God, and then conversion as man's response. In this consist the "glad tidings," the joyful character of evangelical conversion. God does not wait for man to make the first step, to change his life, to do good works, almost as if salvation is compensation for his efforts. No; grace precedes, it is God's initiative. In this, Christianity is distinguished from all other religions: it does not begin with preaching duty but gift; it does not begin with the law, but with grace.

"Repent and believe": This phrase does not mean therefore two different and successive things, but the same fundamental action: Convert, that is, believe! By believing, be converted. Faith is the door through which one enters the Kingdom. If it had been said: The door is innocence, the door is exact observance of all the commandments, the door is patience, purity, one might say: it's not for me; I'm not innocent, I am lacking in this or that virtue. But we are told: The door is faith. It is not impossible for anyone to believe, because God has created us free and intelligent precisely to make the act of faith in him possible for us.

Faith has different faces: There is the faith-assent of the intellect, faith-trust. In our case, it is a faith-appropriation, that is, an act by which one appropriates for oneself something, almost by arrogance. St. Bernard even uses the verb usurp: "What I cannot obtain on my own I usurp from the side of Christ!"

"To convert and believe" means, precisely, to do a kind of sudden and ingenuous action. With it, even before making an effort and acquiring merits, we obtain salvation, we also appropriate to ourselves a "kingdom." And it is God himself who invites us to do so, he loves to see this ingenuity, and he is the first to be surprised that "so few respond."

"Convert!" is not, as we see, a threat, a thing that makes one sad and obliges one to walk with one's head bowed, thus taking longer. On the contrary, it is an incredible offer, an invitation to freedom and joy. It is Jesus' "good news" to men of all times.

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Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle B

The unclean spirit came out of him  (Mark 1:21-28)
Papal preacher, Father Raniero Cantalamessa, on Unclean Spirits 

"Then a man with an unclean spirit cried out: 'What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.' Jesus then rebuked him saying: 'Be silent and come out of him!' And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him." What to think of this episode narrated in this Sunday's Gospel and of many other similar incidents present in the Gospel? Do "unclean spirits" still exist? Does the devil exist?

When we speak of belief in the devil, we must distinguish two levels: the level of popular beliefs and the intellectual level (literature, philosophy and theology). On the popular level, or the level of customs, our present situation is not that different from the Middle Ages, or the 14th-16th centuries, sadly famous for the importance given to diabolical phenomena. There no longer are, it is true, Inquisition trials, deaths at the stake for the possessed, witch hunts and similar things; but practices that have the devil at the center are even more widespread than they were then, and not only among the poor and popular classes. It has become a social (and commercial!) phenomenon of vast proportions. More than that, it could be said that the more one tries to expel the devil out the door, so much more does he return through the window; the more he is excluded from faith, the stronger he gets in superstition.

Things are very different at the intellectual and cultural level. Here the most absolute silence already reigns about the devil. The enemy no longer exists. R. Bultmann, the author of the demystification, wrote: "One cannot make use of electric light and the radio, one cannot make use of medical means and clinics in case of illness and at the same time believe in the world of spirits."

I believe that one of the reasons that many find it difficult to believe in the devil is because they look for him in books, whereas the devil is not interested in books, but rather in souls. Paul VI reaffirmed forcefully the biblical and traditional doctrine on this "dark agent and enemy that is the devil." He wrote, among other things: "Evil is no longer only a deficiency, but an efficiency, a living, spiritual, perverted and perverting being, terrible reality, mysterious and dreadful."

In this realm, however, the crisis has not happened in vain, without bearing even positive fruits. In the past, talk of the devil was often exaggerated; he was seen where he was not; many offenses and injustices were committed with the pretext of fighting him; much discretion and prudence is necessary not to fall in the enemy's game. To see the devil everywhere is no less deflecting than to see him nowhere. St. Augustine said: "The devil rejoices when he is accused. More than that, he wants you to accuse him; he accepts gladly all your recrimination, if this serves to dissuade you from making your confession!"

Therefore, one understands the Church's prudence in discouraging the indiscriminate practice of exorcism by people who have not received any mandate to exercise this ministry.

Our cities are full of people who make exorcism one of the many paid practices and they boast of removing "spells, the evil eye, bad luck, malignant negativities on people, houses, enterprises, commercial activities." It is surprising that in a society such as ours, so alert to commercial frauds and willing to denounce cases of excessive credit and abuses in the exercise of a profession, many people are found willing to swallow such hoaxes.

That day, even before Jesus said anything in the synagogue of Capernaum, the unclean spirit felt ejected and obliged to come out in the open. It was Jesus' "holiness" that seemed "untenable" for the unclean spirit. The Christian who lives in grace and is temple of the Holy Spirit, bears in himself some of this holiness of Christ, and it is precisely the latter which operates, in the environments where he lives, a silent and effective exorcism.

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Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time B

He Cured Many Sick  (Mark 1:29-39) 
Papal preacher, Father Cantalamessa: The sick are the Church's most active members

The Gospel passage of this Sunday
(Mark 1:29-39) gives us a faithful report of a typical day of Jesus. When he left the synagogue, Jesus went first to Peter's house, where he cured his mother-in-law, who was in bed with a fever; in the afternoon, they took all the sick to him and he cured many, affected by different illnesses. In the morning, he rose while it was still dark and went to a solitary place to pray; then he left to preach the Kingdom to other towns.

From this account we deduce that Jesus' day consisted of a mixture of curing the sick, prayer and preaching of the Kingdom. Let us dedicate our reflection to the love of Jesus for the sick, also because in a few days, in the liturgical memorial of the Virgin of Lourdes, Feb. 11, the World Day of the Sick will be observed.

The social transformations of our century have changed profoundly the conditions of the sick. In many situations science gives reasonable hope of a cure, or at least prolongs in many the period of the illness' evolution in cases of incurable sicknesses. But sickness, as death, is not yet and will never be altogether defeated. It is part of the human condition. Christian faith can alleviate this condition and also give it meaning and value.

It is necessary to express two approaches: one for the sick themselves and another for those who look after them. Before Christ, sickness was considered closely linked to sin. In other words, people were convinced that sickness was also the consequence of some personal sin that had to be expiated.

With Jesus, this attitude changed somewhat. "He took our infirmities and bore our diseases" (Matthew 8:17). On the cross, he gave new meaning to human suffering, including sickness: It is no longer punishment, but redemption. Illness unites us to him; it sanctifies, refines the soul, prepares the day in which God will dry every tear and there will be no longer sickness, or weeping, or pain.

After the long hospitalization that followed the attack in St. Peter's Square, Pope John Paul II wrote a letter on suffering in which, among other things, he said: "To suffer means to become particularly susceptible, particularly open to the working of the salvific powers of God, offered to humanity in Christ" (cf. "Salvifici Doloris" No. 23). Sickness and suffering open between us and Jesus on the cross an altogether special channel of communication. The sick are not passive members of the Church, but the most active, most precious members. In God's eyes, one hour of their suffering, endured with patience, can be worth more than all the activities of the world, if they are done only for oneself.

Now a word for those who must look after the sick, at home or in health structures. The sick person certainly has need of care, of scientific competence, but he has even more need of hope. No medicine alleviates the sick person more than to hear the doctor say: "I have good hopes for you." When it is possible to do so without deception, hope must be given. Hope is the best "oxygen tent" for a sick person. The sick must not be left alone. One of the works of mercy is to visit the sick, and Jesus warned us that one of the points of the Last Judgment will be precisely this: "I was sick and you visited me. I was sick and you did not visit me" (Matthew 25:36,43).

Something we can all do for the sick is to pray. Almost all the sick of the Gospel were cured because some one presented them to Jesus and pleaded for them. The simplest prayer, which we can all make our own, is the one that the sisters Martha and Mary addressed to Jesus, in the circumstance of the sickness of their brother Lazarus: "Lord, he whom you love is ill" (John, 11:3).

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Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time B

"A Leper Came to Jesus" (Mark 1:40-45):  Society's New Leprosies
A commentary by Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher to the Pontifical Household.

In the readings of the day the word leprosy resounds, which, just by hearing it being pronounced, caused anguish and fear for millennia! Two extraneous factors contributed to increase terror in the face of this sickness, to the point of making it the symbol of the greatest misfortune that could befall a human creature and isolate the poor unfortunate victims in the most inhuman ways.

The first was the conviction that this disease was so contagious that it infected anyone who might have been in contact with the sick person; the second, equally groundless, was that leprosy was a punishment for sin.

The one who contributed most to change the attitude and legislation in respect of lepers was Raoul Follereau (1903-1977). In 1954 he instituted the World Day of Leprosy, promoted scientific congresses and finally, in 1975, was successful in having legislation on the segregation of lepers revoked.

In regard to the phenomenon of leprosy, the readings of this Sunday enable us to know first the attitude of the Mosaic law and then of the Gospel of Christ. The First Reading from Leviticus states that the person suspected of suffering from leprosy must be taken to a priest who, verifying it, "declares him impure." To make matters worse, the poor leper, excluded from human fellowship, must himself keep people away from him, warning them of the danger. Society's sole concern is to protect itself.

Let us now see how Jesus conducts himself in the Gospel: A leper came to him beseeching him:

"'If you will, you can make me clean.' Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, 'I will; be clean.' And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean."

Jesus is not afraid of contagion; he allows the leper to come to him and kneel before him. More than that: at a time when it was thought that mere proximity to a leper contaminated, he "stretched out his hand and touched him." We must not think that all this was spontaneous and cost Jesus nothing. As man, he shared in this, as in many other points, the convictions of his time and of the society in which he lived. But his compassion for the leper was stronger in him than the fear of leprosy.

In this circumstance, Jesus pronounces a simple and sublime phrase: "I will; be clean." "If you will, you can," the leper had said, thus manifesting his faith in the power of Christ Jesus, who shows he can do it by doing it.

This comparison between the Mosaic law and the Gospel in the case of leprosy makes us ask ourselves the question: By which of the two attitudes am I inspired? It is true that leprosy is no longer the disease that causes most fear (though there are still millions of lepers in the world), as it is possible, if caught in time, to be completely cured of it. And in the majority of countries it has been altogether eradicated. But other diseases have taken its place. For some time there has been talk of "new leprosies" and "new lepers." With these terms is understood not so much the incurable illnesses of today, as the diseases (AIDS and drug dependency) against which society protects itself, as it did with leprosy, isolating the sick person and relegating him to the margins of society.

What Raoul Follereau suggested be done vis-à-vis traditional lepers, and which contributed so much to alleviate their isolation and suffering, should be done (and thank God many do) with the new lepers. Often such a gesture, especially if it is done having to overcome oneself, marks the beginning of a real conversion for the one doing it. The most famous case is that of Francis of Assisi, who dates the beginning of his new life from his meeting with a leper.

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Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time B

"Jesus said to the paralytic, 'My child, your sins are forgiven you'."   (Mark 2:1-12)
Father Cantalamessa, papal preacher, comments on Jesus' cure of the paralytic.

One day when Jesus was at home (maybe in the home of Simon Peter, in Capernaum), such a large crowd gathered so that there was no room to enter the door. A group of people who had a paralyzed family member or friend thought how to overcome the obstacle, uncovering the roof and lowering the sick one on a sheet before Jesus. He, seeing their faith, said to the paralytic: "Child, your sins are forgiven."

Some scribes who were present thought in their hearts: "Blasphemy! Who can forgive sins, but God alone?" Jesus doesn't contradict their affirmation, but shows by deeds that he has the same power over the earth as God: "But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth" -- he said to the paralytic, "I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home."

What happened that day in the house of Simon is what Jesus continues doing today in the Church. We are that paralytic, each time we present ourselves, slaves of sin, to receive pardon from God.

An image from nature will help us (at least it has helped me) to understand why only God can forgive sins.

It deals with the image of a stalagmite. The stalagmite is one of those limestone columns that form in the depths of certain old grottoes by the falling of calcareous water from the roof of the cave. The column that hangs from the roof of the grotto is called a stalactite, that which forms above; the point on which the drop falls, is the stalagmite.

The question is not the water and its flow to the exterior; rather it is that in each drop of water there is a trace of limestone which is deposited and builds on the earlier ones. So it is, with the passage of the millenniums, these columns form, with an iridescent glow, beautiful to behold, but if seen better they appear like the bars of a cell or like the sharp teeth of a wild beast with its mouth wide open.

The same occurs in our life. Our sins, in the course of the years, have fallen into the depths of our heart like so many drops of calcareous water. Each one has left there a little limestone -- that is, of murkiness, hardness and resistance to God -- which is building on what the previous sin had left. As happens in nature, the buildup is taken away, thanks to confessions, the Communions, prayer.

But each time something will remain that has not dissolved, and that is because the repentance and purpose of amendment were not "perfect." And so our personal stalagmite has grown like a column of limestone, like a rigid bust of plaster that traps our will. One understands then the blow that is the famous "heart of stone" of which the Bible speaks: It is the heart that we ourselves have created, by force of consents and sins.

What is to be done in this situation? I cannot eliminate this stone with my will alone, because it is precisely in my will. Thus is understood the gift that represents the redemption achieved by Christ. In many ways Christ continues his work of forgiving sins. But there exists a specific way which it is obligatory to resort to when we deal with serious breaks with God, and that is the sacrament of penance.

The most important thing that the Bible has to tell us about sin is not that we are sinners, but rather that we have a God who forgives sin and, once forgiven, he forgets about it, cancels it, and makes something new. We must transform repentance into praise and acts of thanksgiving, like the people did that day, in Capernaum, when they had been at the miracle of the paralytic: "They were all astounded and glorified God, saying, 'We have never seen anything like this.'"

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Eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time B

Why do your disciples not fast?   (Mark 2: 18-22)
Father Cantalamessa, papal preacher, comments on the usefulness of true fasting

"Now John's disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to him, 'Why do John's disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?' And Jesus said to them, 'Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come, when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day.'"

Thus, Jesus does not deny the practice of fasting, but renews it in its forms, times and contents. Fasting has become an ambiguous practice. In antiquity, only religious fasting was known; today, political and social fasting exists (hunger strikes!), health and ideological fasting (vegetarians), pathological fasting (anorexia), aesthetic fasting (to be thin).

There is, above all, a fast imposed by necessity: that of millions of human beings who lack the indispensable minimum and die of hunger.

In themselves, these fasts have nothing to do with religious or aesthetic reasons. In aesthetic fasting at times (not always) one even "mortifies" the vice of gluttony only to obey another capital vice, that of pride or vanity.

It is important, therefore, to discover the genuine biblical teaching on fasting. In regard to fasting, we find in the Bible the attitude of "yes, but," of approval and of critical reservation.

Fasting, in itself, is something good and recommendable; it translates some fundamental religious attitudes: reverence before God, acknowledgment of one's sins, resistance to the desires of the flesh, concern for and solidarity with the poor. …… As with all human things, however, it can fall into "presumption of the flesh." Suffice it to think of the words of the Pharisee in the temple: "I fast twice a week" (Luke 18:12).

If Jesus was to speak to us his disciples of today, what would he stress most, the "yes" or the "but"? At present we are very sensitive to the reasons of the "but" and of critical reservation. We regard as more important the need to "share bread with the hungry and clothe the naked"; we are in fact ashamed to call ours a "fast," when what would be for us the height of austerity -- to be on bread and water -- for millions of people would already be an extraordinary luxury, especially if it is fresh bread and clean water.

What we should discover instead are the reasons for the "yes." The Gospel's question might be stated in our days in another way: "Why do the disciples of Buddha and Mohammed fast and your disciples do not fast?" (It is well known with what seriousness Muslims observe Ramadan.)

We live in a culture dominated by materialism and unbridled consumerism. Fasting helps us not to be reduced to pure "consumers"; it helps us to acquire the precious "fruit of the Spirit," which is "self-control," it predisposes us to the encounter with God who is spirit, and it makes us more attentive to the needs of the poor.

But we must not forget that there are alternative forms of fasting and abstinence from food. We can practice fasting from tobacco, alcohol and drinks of high alcoholic content (which not only benefits the soul but also the body), fasting from violent and sexual pictures that television, shows, magazines and Internet bombard us with daily.

Likewise, this kind of modern "demons" are not defeated except "with fasting and prayer."

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First Sunday of Lent B

Being with Jesus in the Desert: Lenten commentary by Fr Cantalamessa on Mark 1: 12-15
              (cycle B) (Genesis 9:8-15; Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:12-15)

Let us concentrate on the first phrase of the Gospel: "The Spirit drove Jesus to the desert." It contains an important appeal at the beginning of Lent. Jesus had just received the messianic investiture in the Jordan, to take the Good News to the poor, heal afflicted hearts, preach the Kingdom. But he is not in haste to do any of these things. On the contrary, obeying an impulse of the Holy Spirit, he withdraws to the desert where he remains for 40 days, fasting, praying, meditating and struggling. All this in profound solitude and silence.

There have been in history legions of men and women who have chosen to imitate Jesus in his withdrawal to the desert. In the East, beginning with St. Anthony Abbot, they withdrew to the deserts of Egypt or Palestine; in the West, where there was no deserts of sand, they withdrew to solitary places, remote mountains and valleys.

But the invitation to follow Jesus in the desert is addressed to all. Monks and hermits chose a site in the desert; we must at least choose a time in the desert. To spend some time in the desert means to empty ourselves and be immersed in silence, rediscover the way of our heart, remove ourselves from the exterior racket and pressures to come into contact with the most profound sources of our being.

Well lived, Lent is a kind of cure of the poisoning of the soul. In fact, there is not only the contamination of carbon monoxide; there is also acoustic and luminous contamination. We are all somewhat inebriated with noise and externals. Man sends his waves to the periphery of the solar system, but in the majority of cases ignores what is in his own heart. To escape, to relax, to amuse oneself -- are words that mean to come out of oneself, to remove oneself from reality.

There are "escape" shows (the TV provides them in avalanche), "escape" literature. They are called, significantly, fiction. We prefer to live in fiction than in reality. Today there is much talk of "aliens," but aliens or alienated we already are by our own doing in our own planet, without the need of others coming from outside.

Young people are the most exposed to this inebriation with noise. "Let heavier work be laid upon the men that they may labor at it," Pharaoh said to his taskmasters, "and not listen to the words of Moses and not think of breaking out of slavery" (Exodus 5:9). Today's "Pharaohs" say, in a more tacit but no less peremptory way: "Increase the racket over these young people, so that they will be reckless and not think, not decide on their own, but follow the fashion, buy what we want them to buy, and consume the products we tell them to."

What can we do? Being unable to go to the desert, we must create a bit of desert within ourselves. In this regard, St. Francis of Assisi gives us a practical suggestion. "We have," he said, "a hermitage always with us; wherever we go and whenever we wish it we can enclose ourselves in it as hermits. The hermitage is our body and the soul is the hermit within!" We can go into this "portable" hermitage without being seen by anyone, even while we are traveling on a very crowded bus. It all consists in knowing how to "go into ourselves" every now and then.

May the Spirit that "drove Jesus to the desert" lead us also, help us in the struggle against evil and prepare us to celebrate Easter renewed in the spirit!

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Second Sunday of Lent B

"From the cloud came a voice, 'This is my beloved Son. Listen to him'.”  (Mark 9: 2-10)
Pontifical Household Preacher, Father Cantalamessa, on Where is Jesus speaking today?

"This is my beloved Son; listen to him." With these words, God the Father gave Jesus Christ to humanity as its sole and definitive Teacher, superior to the laws and the prophets.

Where is Jesus speaking today, so that we can hear him? He speaks to us above all through our conscience. It is a sort of "repeater," set within us, of the very voice of God. But conscience is not enough on its own. It is easy to make it say what we like to hear.

Thus it needs to be illuminated and supported by the Gospel and the teaching of the Church. The Gospel is the place par excellence in which Jesus speaks to us today. But we know by experience that the words of the Gospel can also be interpreted in different ways.

It is the Church, instituted by Christ precisely for this end, which assures us of an authentic interpretation: "He who hears you hears me." Because of this it is important that we endeavor to know the doctrine of the Church, to know it firsthand, as she herself understands and proposes it, not in the interpretation -- often distorted and reductive -- of the media.

Almost as important as knowing where Jesus is speaking today is to know where he does not speak.

Needless to say, he does not speak through wizards, fortunetellers, necromancers, horoscope orators, alleged extraterrestrial messages; he does not speak in spiritualistic sessions, in occultism.

In Scripture, we read this warning in this regard: "Let there not be found among you anyone who immolates his son or daughter in the fire, nor a fortuneteller, soothsayer, charmer, diviner, or caster of spells, nor one who consults ghosts and spirits or seeks oracles from the dead. Anyone who does such things is an abomination to the Lord" (Deuteronomy 18:10-12).

These were the pagans' typical ways of referring to the divine, who read the future by consulting the stars, or animals' entrails, or birds' flight. With that phrase of God -- "Listen to him!" -- all that came to an end. There is only one mediator between God and men; we are no longer obliged to move "blindly" to know the divine will, or to consult this or that source. In Christ we have all the answers.

Lamentably, today those pagan rites are again fashionable. As always, when true faith decreases, superstition increases. Let us take the most innocuous thing of all, the horoscope.

It can be said that there is no newspaper or radio station that does not offer daily its readers or hearers their horoscope. For mature persons, gifted with a minimum capacity for criticism and irony, it is no more than an innocuous joke, a kind of game or pastime.

Meanwhile, however, let us consider the long-term effects. What mentality is formed, especially in children and adolescents? A mentality according to which success in life does not depend on effort, diligence in studies and constancy in work, but of imponderable external factors; being able to acquire certain powers -- one's own or others' -- for one's own benefit.

Worse still: All this leads one to think that, in good and evil, the responsibility is not ours, but of the "stars," as Don Ferrante thought, of Manzonian memory.

I must allude to another realm in which Jesus does not speak and where, however, he is made to speak all the time: that of private revelations, heavenly messages, apparitions and voices of various kinds.

I do not say that Christ or the Virgin cannot also speak through these means. They have done so in the past and they can do so, of course, also today.

It is only that before taking for granted that it is Jesus or the Virgin, and not someone's sick imagination, or worse, of fraudsters who speculate with people's good faith, it is necessary to have guarantees.

In this area, it is necessary to wait for the judgment of the Church, and not precede it. Dante's words are still timely: "Christians, be firmer when you move: do not be like feathers in the wind."

St. John of the Cross said that ever since the Father said about Jesus on Tabor: "Listen to him!" God made himself, in a certain sense, dumb. He has said it all; he has nothing new to reveal.

Those who ask for new revelations or answers, offend him, as if he has yet to explain himself clearly. God continues to say to all the same word: "Listen to him, read the Gospel: You will find there, no more and no less, all that you seek."

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Fourth Sunday of Lent B

“Yes, God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son”.  (John 3: 14-21)
Pontifical Household preacher, Father Cantalamessa, on Why Jesus Calls Us Friends (March 24, 2006)

In this Sunday's Gospel
(John 3: 14-21) we find one of the most beautiful and consoling phrases of the Bible: "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life."

To speak to us of love, God has made use of the experiences of love that man has in the natural realm. Dante says that in God exists, as though bound in only one volume, "what in the world is unbound." All human loves -- conjugal, paternal, maternal, friendly -- are pages of a notebook, or flames of a fire, which have in God their source and fullness.

Above all, in the Bible, God speaks to us of his love through the image of paternal love. Paternal love is made of encouragement, of impulse. A father wants his child to grow, pushing him to give the best of himself. This is why it is rare to hear a father praise his son unconditionally in his presence. He fears he will think he is perfect and make no further efforts.

A feature of paternal love is also correction. But a true father is also he who gives freedom and security to his son, which makes him feel protected in life. Herein is the reason why God presents himself to man throughout revelation as his "rock and bastion," a "fortress always close in anxieties."

At other times God speaks to us with the image of maternal love. He says: "Can a woman forget her suckling child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you" (Isaiah 49:15). A mother's love is made of acceptance, compassion, tenderness; it is a "profound" love.

Mothers are always accomplices of their children and must often defend them and intercede for them before their father. One always speaks of God's power and force; but the Bible also speaks to us of a weakness of God, of an impotence of his. It is "maternal" weakness.

Man knows by experience another type of love, spousal love, of which it is said that it is as "stern as death" and whose flames "are a blazing fire" (Song of Songs 8:6). God has also taken recourse to this kind of love to convince us of his intense love for us. All the terms typical of the love between man and woman, including the term "seduction," are used in the Bible to describe God's love for man.

Jesus fulfilled all these forms of love -- paternal, maternal, spousal (how many times he compares himself to a bridegroom!); but he added another: the love of friendship. He said to his disciples: "No longer do I call you servants ... but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you" (John 15:15).

What is friendship? Friendship can be a stronger bond than kinship itself. Kinship consists in having the same blood; friendship in having the same tastes, ideals and interests. It is born of trust, that is, of the fact that I confide to another my most intimate and personal thoughts and experiences.

Now: Jesus says that he calls us friends, because everything he knew of his heavenly Father he has made known to us, he has confided to us.

He has made us sharers of the family secrets of the Trinity! For example, the fact that God prefers the little ones and the poor, that he loves us as a father, that he has a place prepared for us. Jesus gives to the word "friends" its fullest meaning.

What must we do after recalling this love? Something very simple: to believe in God's love, to accept it, to repeat overwhelmed with St. John: "we know and believe the love God has for us!"

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Second Sunday of Easter (John 20:19-31): On Faith as a Gift
The Doubting Thomas  (April 24, 2006)

(John 20:19-31)

"Unless I Place My Hand in His Side, I Will Not Believe"

"Eight days later, his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. The doors were shut, but Jesus came and stood among them, and said: 'Peace be with you.' Then he said to Thomas, 'Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing.' Thomas answered him, 'My Lord and my God!' Jesus said to him, 'Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.'"

With the emphasis on the incident of Thomas and his initial incredulity ("Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, I will not believe"), the Gospel addresses the man of the technological age who believes only what he can verify. Among the apostles, we can call Thomas our contemporary.

St. Gregory the Great says that, with his incredulity, Thomas was more useful to us than all the other apostles who believed right away. Acting in this way, so to speak, he obliged Jesus to give us a "tangible proof of the truth of his resurrection." Faith in the resurrection benefited by his doubts. This is true, at least in part, when applied to the numerous "Thomases" of today who are the nonbelievers.

The criticism of nonbelievers and dialogue with them, when carried out in respect and reciprocal loyalty, are very useful to us. Above all they make us humble. They oblige us to take note that faith is not a privilege or an advantage for anyone. We cannot impose it or demonstrate it, but only propose it and show it with our life. "What have you that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?" says St. Paul (1 Corinthians 4:7). In the end, faith is a gift, not a merit, and as all gifts it can only be lived in gratitude and humility.

The relationship with nonbelievers also helps us to purify our faith of clumsy representations. Very often what nonbelievers reject is not the true God, the living God of the Bible, but his double, a distorted image of God that believers themselves have contributed to create. Rejecting this God, nonbelievers oblige us to go back to the truth of the living and true God, who is beyond all our representations and explanations, and not to fossilize or trivialize him.

But there is also a wish to be expressed: that St. Thomas might find today many imitators not only in the first part of his story -- when he states he does not believe -- but also at the end, in that magnificent act of faith that leads him to exclaim: "My Lord and my God!"

Thomas is also imitable because of another fact. He does not close the door; he does not remain in his position, considering the problem resolved once and for all. In fact, we find him eight days later with the other apostles in the Cenacle. If he had not wished to believe, or to "change his opinion," he would not have been there. He wants to see, to touch: Therefore, he is searching. And at the end, after he has seen and touched with his hand, he exclaims to Jesus, not as someone defeated but as victorious: "My Lord and my God!" No other apostle had yet gone out to proclaim Christ's divinity with so much clarity.

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Third Sunday of Easter -- B (April 28, 06)
  The Lord Has Risen Indeed! 
Father Cantalamessa on Resurrection as "New Creation":

The Gospel enables us to be present at one of the many apparitions of the Risen One. The disciples of Emmaus have just arrived out of breath to Jerusalem and are recounting what happened to them on the road, when Jesus appears in person in their midst saying: "Peace to you!" At first, fear, as if they saw a spirit; then amazement, disbelief; finally, joy. What is more, disbelief and joy at the same time: "And while they still disbelieved for joy, and wondered."

Theirs is an altogether special disbelief. It is the attitude of someone who believes (otherwise, there would be no joy) but does not know how to realize it. As someone who says: "Too wonderful to be true." We can call it, paradoxically, an incredulous faith. To convince them, Jesus asks them for something to eat, because there is nothing like eating together to comfort and create communion.

All this tells us something important about the Resurrection. The latter is not only a great miracle, an argument or a proof in favor of the truth of Christ. More than that, it is a new world in which one enters with faith accompanied by wonder and joy. Christ's resurrection is the "new creation."

It is not just about believing that Jesus has risen; it is about knowing and experiencing "the power of the resurrection" (Philippians 3:10).

This more profound dimension of Easter is particularly felt by our Orthodox brothers. For them, Christ's resurrection is everything. In Eastertide, when they meet someone they greet one another saying: "Christ has risen!", and the other replies: "He has risen indeed!"

This custom is so rooted in the people that the following anecdote is told that occurred at the beginning of the Bolshevik Revolution. A public debate had been organized on the resurrection of Christ. First the atheist spoke, demolishing for good, in his opinion, Christians' faith in the resurrection.

When he came down, the Orthodox priest went to the dais, who was to speak in defense. The humble priest looked at the crowd and said simply: "Christ is risen!" Before even thinking, all answered in unison: "He has risen indeed!" And the priest came down from the dais in silence.

We know well how the resurrection is represented in the Western tradition, for example, in Piero della Francesca. Jesus comes out of the sepulcher raising the cross as a standard of victory. His face inspires extraordinary trust and security. But his victory is over his external, earthly enemies. The authorities had put seals in his sepulcher and guards to keep watch, and, lo, the seals are broken and the guards asleep. Men are present only as inert and passive witnesses; they do not really take part in the Resurrection.

In the Eastern image, the scene is altogether different. It is not developed under an open sky, but underground. In the resurrection, Jesus does not come out but descends. With extraordinary energy he takes Adam and Eve by the hand, who were waiting in the realm of the dead, and pulls them with him to life and resurrection. Behind the two parents, an innumerable multitude of men and women who awaited the redemption. Jesus tramples on the gates of hell which he himself has just dislocated and broken. Christ's victory is not so much over visible but over invisible enemies, which are the worst: death, darkness, anguish, the devil.

We are involved in this representation. Christ's resurrection is also our resurrection. Every man who looks is invited to be identified with Adam, and every woman with Eve, and to stretch out their hands to allow themselves to be gripped and pulled by Christ out of the sepulcher. This is the new universal Easter exodus. God has come "with powerful arm and outstretched hand" to liberate his people from a much harsher and universal slavery than that of Egypt.

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Fourth Sunday of Eastertide:
I Am the Good Shepherd  (John 10: 11-18)
Father Cantalamessa on the Flock of Christ

The Fourth Sunday of Eastertide is called "Good Shepherd Sunday." To understand the importance that the theme of the shepherd has in the Bible, one must go back to history.

The Bedouins of the desert give us today an idea of what was, at one time, the life of the tribes of Israel. In that society the relationship between the shepherd and the flock is not only of an economic type, based on interest. An almost personal relationship was developed between the shepherd and the flock. Days and days were spent together in solitary places, without any one around. The shepherd ended up by knowing everything about each sheep; the sheep recognized the voice of the shepherd, who talked frequently to the sheep, and distinguishes his voice among all others.

This explains why God made use of this symbol to express his relationship with humanity. One of the Psalter's most beautiful psalms describes the security of the believer in having God as shepherd: "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want."

Subsequently the title shepherd is given, by extension, also to those who act for God on earth: kings, priests, leaders in general. But in this case the symbol is divided: It no longer evokes images of protection and security, but also of exploitation and oppression.

Along with the image of the good shepherd appears that of the evil shepherd, of the mercenary. In the prophet Ezekiel we come across a terrible accusation against evil shepherds who only feed themselves, followed by God's promise to look after his flock himself (Ezekiel 34:1ff).

In the Gospel Jesus takes up the idea of the good and evil shepherd, but with a novelty. "I am the good shepherd!" he says. God's promise has become a reality, exceeding all expectations. Christ does what no shepherd does, no matter how good he is: He is prepared to "Give my life for the sheep."

The man of today rejects with contempt the role of the sheep and the idea of a flock, but he does not realize that he is completely inside it. One of the most obvious phenomena of our society is its "massification." We let ourselves be led in a supine manner by all kinds of manipulation and concealed persuasion.

Others create models of well-being and behavior, ideals and objectives of progress, and we follow them; we go behind them, afraid to be out of step, conditioned and kidnapped by advertising. We eat what they tell us, we dress as they show us, we speak as we hear them speak, in slogans. The criteria by which the majority let themselves be led in their choices is "Così fan tutti" (Everybody does it), of Mozartian memory.

Look how the life of the masses develops in a large modern city: It is the sad image of a flock that goes out together, is agitated, and crowds the cars of trains and subways and then, in the evening, returns to the sheepfold empty of self and of freedom. We smile in amusement when we see a people filmed in fast-forward, moving by leaps and bounds, speedily, as puppets, but it is the image we would have of ourselves if we looked with less superficial eyes.

The Good Shepherd, who is Christ, proposes that, with him, we experience liberation. To belong to his flock is not to fall into "massification," but to be preserved from it. "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom" (2 Corinthians 3:17), says St. Paul.

Here the person emerges, with his unique richness and true destiny. The son of God emerges, still hidden, of which the second letter of this Sunday speaks: "Beloved, now we are children of God, though we do not yet know what we shall be."

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Fifth Sunday of Eastertide:
He Prunes Every Branch that Bears Fruit

"He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and everyone that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit" (John 15:1-2)   Pontifical Household Preacher, Father Cantalamessa

"I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and everyone that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit" (John 15:1-2).

In his teaching, Jesus often begins with things that are familiar to those listening to him, things that everyone could see. This time he speaks to us with the image of the vine and the branches.

Jesus sets forth two situations. The first is negative: The branch is dry, it bears no fruit, and so it is cut off and thrown away. The second is positive: The branch is living and healthy, and so it is pruned.

This contrast already tells us that pruning is not a hostile act to the branch. The vinedresser expects much from it; he knows it can bear fruit; he has confidence in it. The same happens on the spiritual plane. God intervenes in our lives with the cross. It does not mean he is irritated with us but, in fact, the opposite.

But, why does the vinedresser prune the branch and make the vine "weep," as is usually said. For a very simple reason: If it is not pruned, the strength of the vine is wasted; it will bear perhaps more bunches than it should, with the consequence that not all will ripen and that the rating of the wine will be lower. If it remains a long time without being pruned, the vine even becomes wild and produces only vine tendrils and wild grapes.

The same happens in our lives. To live is to choose, and to choose is to deny oneself. The person who wants to do too many things in life, or cultivates innumerable interests and hobbies, is dispersed, and will not be outstanding in anything.

One must have the courage to make choices, to put some secondary interests to one side to concentrate on the primary. To prune!

This is even truer in the spiritual life. Holiness is like a sculpture. Leonardo da Vinci defined sculpture as "the art of removing." The other arts consist in adding something: color to the canvas in painting, stone on stone in architecture, note after note in music.

Only sculpture consists of removing, of taking away the pieces of marble that are in excess, so that the figure can emerge that one has in mind. Christian perfection is also obtained like this, by removing and making useless pieces fall off, namely, desires, ambitions, projects, carnal tendencies that disperse us and do not let us finish anything.

One day, Michelangelo walking through a garden in Florence saw a block of marble in a corner protruding from the earth, half covered by grass and mud.

He stopped suddenly, as if he had seen someone, and turning to friends, who were with him, exclaimed: "An angel is imprisoned in that marble; I must get him out." And, armed with a chisel, he began to work on that block until the figure of a beautiful angel emerged.

God also looks at us and sees us this way: as shapeless blocks of stone. He then says to himself: "Therein is hidden a new and beautiful creature that waits to come out to the light; more than that, the image of my own son Jesus Christ is hidden there, I want to bring it out!" We are predestined to "be conformed to the image of his son" (Romans 8:29).

Then, what does He do? He takes the chisel, which is the cross, and begins to work on us. He takes the pruning shears, and begins to prune us.

We must not worry ourselves thinking of what terrible crosses he may send us! Normally, he does not add anything to what life presents us in terms of suffering, effort, tribulations. He makes all these things serve for our purification. He helps us to not waste them.

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Sixth Sunday of Eastertide B
"What I command you is to love one another"  (John 15: 9-17)  (The duty to love)

To "Have" to Love

"This is my commandment: That you love one another as I have loved you. ... What I command you is that you love one another."

Love is a commandment? Can love be made a commandment without destroying it? What relationship can there be between love and duty, given that one represents spontaneity and the other obligation?

We must know that two types of commandments exist. There is a commandment or obligation that comes from outside, from a will other than my own, and a commandment or obligation that comes from within, which is born from the thing itself. The stone thrown into the air or the apple that falls from the tree is "obliged" to fall, it cannot do anything else, not because it is imposed on it, but because there is an inner force of gravity that attracts it to the center of the earth.

In the same way, there are two great ways according to which man can be induced to do or not do something: by constriction or by attraction. The law and ordinary commandments induce him the first way: by constriction, with the threat of punishment. Love induces him the second way: by attraction, by an interior impulse.

Each one, in fact, is attracted by what he loves, without suffering any constriction from outside. Show a child a toy and you will see him try to take it. Who pushes him? No one, he is attracted by the object of his desire. Show a good to a soul thirsting for truth and it will go out to it. Who pushes it? No one; it is attracted by its desire.

But if it is so -- that is, that we are spontaneously attracted by goodness and truth which is God, what need is there, one might ask, to make this love a commandment and a duty? The fact is that we are surrounded by other goods and run the risk of missing the target, of tending to false goods and thus losing the supreme good.

As a spaceship going to the sun must follow certain rules so as not to fall into the sphere of gravity of an intermediary planet or satellite, the same is true for us in our tending to God. The Commandments, beginning with "the first and greatest of all," which is to love God, serves this purpose.

All this has a direct impact on human life and also on human love. There are increasingly numerous young people who reject the institution of marriage and choose so-called free love, or simply living together. Marriage is an institution; once contracted, it obliges one to be faithful and to love one's partner for life. But, what need is there to transform love, which is instinct, spontaneity, vital impulse, into a duty?

The philosopher Soren Kierkegaard gives a convincing answer: "Only when there is a duty to love, is love guaranteed forever against any alteration; eternally liberated in happy independence; assured in eternal bliss against all despair."

He means: The man who truly loves, wants to love forever. Love needs to have eternity as its horizon; otherwise it is no more than a game, a "kind misunderstanding" or a "dangerous pastime."

That is why, the more intensely we love, the more we perceive with anguish the danger in loving, a danger that does not come from others, but from ourselves. We know that love is variable, and that tomorrow, alas, we might get tired and not love any more. And, now that we are in love, we see with clarity the irreparable loss that that would imply, and here we take the precaution of "binding" ourselves to love forever.

Duty removes love from variability and anchors it in eternity. One who loves is happy to "have" to love; it seems to him to be the most beautiful and liberating commandment in the world.

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The Ascension of the LordFather Cantalamessa, pontifical household preacher,
On our true Heaven
     (Acts 1:1-11; Ephesians 1:17-23; Mark 16:15-20)

The solemnity of the Ascension of Jesus "to heaven" is an occasion to clarify once and for all our ideas on what we understand by "heaven." Among almost all peoples, heaven is identified with the dwelling of the divinity. The Bible also uses this spatial language. "Glory to God in the highest heaven and peace on earth to men."

With the advent of the scientific age, this religious meaning of the word "heaven" entered into crisis. For modern man, heaven is the space in which our planet moves and the whole solar system, and no more. We know the quip attributed to a Soviet astronaut, on his return from his trip through the cosmos: "I have traveled much through space and I haven't found God anywhere!"

So it is important that we try to clarify what we, Christians, understand when we say "Our Father, who art in heaven," or when we say that someone has "gone to heaven." On such things, the Bible adapts itself to popular speech: But it well knows and teaches that God "is in heaven, on earth and everywhere," that it is he who "has created the heavens," and if he has created them, he cannot be "closed" in them.

That God is "in the heavens" means that he "dwells in inaccessible light": that he is as far from us "as heaven rises over earth." In other words, that he is infinitely different from us. Heaven, in the religious sense, is more a state than a place. God is outside of space and time and so is his paradise.

In the light of what we have said, what does it mean to proclaim that Jesus "went up to heaven"? We find the answer in the Creed. "He went up to heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father." That Christ went up to heaven means that "he is seated at the right hand of the Father, that is, that also as man he has entered God's world, who has been constituted, as St. Paul says in the second reading, Lord and head of everything. Jesus went up to heaven, but without leaving the earth. He has only gone out of our visual world. He himself assures us: "Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Matthew 28:16-20).

The words of the angel -- "Galileans, why are your looking up to heaven?" -- therefore contain a warning, if not a veiled reproach. We must not stay looking up to heaven to discover where Christ is, but rather live awaiting his return, continuing his mission, taking his Gospel to the ends of the earth, improving the quality of life on earth.

As for us, "to go to heaven" or "to paradise" means to be "with Christ" (Philippians 1:20). "I am going to prepare a place for you ... so that where I am you may be also" (John 14:2-3).

"Heaven," understood as a place of rest, of eternal recompense of the good, was formed the moment Christ resurrected and went up to heaven. Our true heaven is the Risen Christ, whom we will go to meet and with him, be one "body" after our resurrection, and in a provisional and imperfect way immediately after death. Therefore, Jesus did not ascend to an already existing heaven that awaited him, but he went to form and inaugurate heaven for us.

There are those who ask: But what will we do "in heaven" with Christ for all eternity? Won't we be bored? I answer: Is it boring to be well and with excellent health? Ask those who are in love if they are bored being together. When one experiences a moment of very intense and pure joy, does not the desire arise that it last forever, that it never end? Down here such states do not last forever, because there is no object that can satisfy indefinitely.

It is different with God. Our minds will find the Truth in him and the Beauty that we will never cease to contemplate; and our hearts will find the Good that we will never tire to enjoy.

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Trinity Sunday: a close mystery

Pontifical Household preacher, Father Cantalamessa

Christian life develops completely in the sign and presence of the Trinity. At the dawn of life, we were baptized "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit," and at the end, at our bedside, the words are recited: "Go forth from this world, O Christian soul, in the name of God, the Almighty Father who created you, in the name of Jesus Christ who redeemed you, and in the name of the Holy Spirit who sanctifies you."

Between these two extreme moments, there are others called of "transition" that, for a Christian, are marked by the invocation of the Trinity. In the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, spouses are united in marriage and priests are consecrated by a bishop. In the past, contracts, sentences and all important acts of civil and religious life began in the name of the Trinity.

It is not true, therefore, that the Trinity is a remote mystery, irrelevant to everyday life. On the contrary, they are the three most "intimate" persons in life: They are not outside of us, as a wife or husband is, but within us. "They make their home in us" (John 14:23); we are their "temple."

But, why do Christians believe in the Trinity? Isn't it already difficult enough to believe that God exists, and then we add that he is "one and triune"? Christians believe that God is one and triune because they believe that God is love! The revelation of God as love, made by Jesus, has "obliged" one to admit the Trinity. It is not a human invention.

If God is love, he has to love someone. There is no love "in the void," without an object. But, whom does God love to be defined love. Men? But men have existed only for thousands of years, no more. The cosmos? The universe? The universe has existed only for billions of years. Before, whom did God love, to be able to define himself love? We cannot say that he loved himself, because this would not be love but egoism and narcissism.

This is the answer of Christian revelation: God is love because from eternity he has "in his bosom" a son, the Word, the one he loves with an infinite love, that is, with the Holy Spirit. In every love there are always three realities or subjects: one who loves, one who is loved, and the love that unites them.

The Christian God is one and triune because he is communion of love. In love, unity and plurality are reconciled; love creates unity in diversity: unity of intentions, of thought, of will; diversity of subjects, of characteristics and, in the human realm, of sex. In this connection, the family is the least imperfect image of the Trinity. It was no accident that when creating the first human couple God said: "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness" (Genesis 1:26-27).

According to modern atheists, God is no more than a projection that man makes of himself, as one who confuses with another person his own image reflected in a stream. This might be true in regard to any other idea of God, but not in regard to the Christian God. What need would man have to divide himself in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, if God is really no more than the projection that man makes of his own image? The doctrine of the Trinity is, on its own, the best antidote to modern atheism.

Do you find all this too difficult? Have you understood little? I will tell you not to worry. When one is on the shore of a lake or a sea, and wishes to know what is on the other side, what is most important is not to sharpen one's sight and try to scan the horizon, but to get into the boat that takes one to that shore.

With the Trinity, what is most important is not to ruminate on the mystery, but to remain in the faith of the Church, which is the boat that takes one to the Trinity.

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Father Cantalamessa on Corpus Christi, the Body and Blood of Christ
Pontifical Household Preacher on the Day's Gospel Reading  (June 16, 2006)

In Your Midst Stands One Whom You Do Not Know!

I believe that the most necessary thing to do on the feast of Corpus Christi is not to explain some aspect of the Eucharist, but to revive wonder and marvel before the mystery.

The feast was born in Belgium, in the early 13th century; Benedictine monasteries were the first to adopt it. Urban IV extended it to the whole Church in 1264; it seems that he was also influenced by the Eucharistic miracle of Bolsena, venerated today in Orvieto.

Why was it necessary to institute a new feast? Doesn't the Church recall the institution of the Eucharist on Holy Thursday? Doesn't she celebrate it every Sunday and, more than that, every day of the year?

In fact, Corpus Christi is the first feast whose object is not an event of the life of Christ, but a truth of faith: His real presence in the Eucharist. It responds to a need: to solemnly proclaim such faith.

It is needed to avoid the danger of getting used to such a presence and no longer pay attention to it, thus meriting the reproach that St. John the Baptist made to his contemporaries: "In your midst stands one whom you do not know!"

This explains the extraordinary solemnity and visibility that this feast acquired in the Catholic Church. For a long time, the Corpus Christi procession was the only procession in the whole of Christendom, and also the most solemn.

Today processions have given way to manifestations and sit-ins (generally of protest); but although the exterior form has declined, the profound sense of celebration and the motive that inspired it remain intact: to keep alive the wonder before the greatest and most beautiful of the mysteries of the faith.

The liturgy of the feast faithfully reflects this characteristic. All its texts (readings, antiphons, songs, prayers) are suffused with a sense of wonder.

Many of them end with an exclamation: "O sacred banquet in which Christ is received!" (O sacrum convivium). "O victim of salvation!" (O salutaris hostia).

If the feast of Corpus Christi did not exist, it would have to be invented. If there is a danger that believers face at present in regard to the Eucharist, it is to trivialize it.

There was a time when it was not received so frequently, and fasting and confession had to precede it. Today virtually everyone approaches it. Let us understand one another. It is progress; it is normal that participation in Mass also implies Communion; that is why it exists. But all this entails a mortal risk.

St. Paul says: Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily, will be guilty of the Body and Blood of the Lord. Let each one examine himself and then eat the bread and drink the cup, because he who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment unto himself.

I believe it is a salutary grace for a Christian to go through a period in which he fears to approach Communion, that he tremble before the thought of what is about to occur and not cease to repeat, as John the Baptist: "And you come to me?" (Matthew 3:14).

We cannot receive God except as "God," that is, respecting all his holiness and majesty. We cannot domesticate God!

The preaching of the Church should not fear -- now that communion has become something so habitual and "easy" -- to use every now and then the language of the letter to the Hebrews and to tell the faithful: "But you have come ... to a judge who is God of all ... and to Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks more graciously than the blood of Abel" (Hebrews 12:22-24).

In the early times of the Church, at the moment of communion a cry resounded in the assembly: "Let him who is holy approach, let him who is not repent!"

One who did not get used to the Eucharist and spoke of it with overwhelming wonder was St. Francis of Assisi. "Let humanity fear, let the entire universe tremble, and the heavens exult, when on the altar, in the hands of the priest, is Christ, son of the living God. ... O admirable rapture and amazing designation! O sublime humility! O humble sublimity, that the Lord of the universe, God and son of God, so humbles himself as to hide under the small appearance of bread!"

However, it must not be so much the grandeur and majesty of God which causes wonder before the Eucharistic mystery, but rather his condescension and love. The Eucharist above all is this: memorial of the love of which there is no greater: to give one's life for ones' friends.

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"A violent squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat"  (Mark 4:35-41)
Father Cantalamessa, Pontifical Household Preacher on the Gospel of the 12th Sunday Ordinary Time

The Gospel of this Sunday is the calming of the storm. In the evening, after a day of intense work, Jesus got into a boat and told the apostles to go the other side. Exhausted, he fell asleep in the stern.

Meanwhile, a great storm arose which threatened to destroy the boat. Frightened, the apostles woke Jesus, saying to him: "Teacher, do you not care if we perish?" After rising, Jesus ordered the sea to be calm: "Peace! Be still!" The wind ceased and there was a great calm. Then he said to them: "Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?"

We are going to try to understand the message addressed to us today in this page of the Gospel.

The crossing of the Sea of Galilee indicates the voyage of life. The sea is my family, my community, my heart itself. In small seas, as we know, great and unforeseen storms can be unleashed. Who has not known some of these storms, when all is darkened and the little boat of our life begins to fill with water on all sides, while God seems to be absent or asleep. An alarming diagnosis from the doctor, and all of a sudden we are at the height of the storm.

What to do? What can we hold fast to and on what side must we lower the anchor? Jesus does not give us the magic recipe to escape all storms. He has not promised us that we will avoid all difficulties. He has promised us, however, the strength to surmount them if we ask him for it.

St. Paul tells us about a serious problem he had to face in his life, which he calls "a thorn in my flesh." "Three times" -- that is, countless times -- he says he prayed to the Lord to free him from it, and what did the Lord answer him?

Let us read it together: "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." From that day, he tells us, he even began to glory in his weaknesses, persecutions and anxieties, to the point of being able to say: "When I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).

Trust in God: This is the message of the Gospel. On that day, what saved the disciples from shipwreck was the fact of taking Jesus in the boat, before beginning the crossing. This is also for us the best guarantee against the storms of life: to take Jesus with us. The means to take Jesus in the boat of one's life and of one's family is faith, prayer and observance of the commandments.

When a storm is unleashed in the sea, at least in the past, seamen used to pour oil on the waves to calm them. On the waves of fear and anxiety we must pour trust in God.

St. Peter exhorted the early Christians to trust in God in persecutions, saying: "Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you" (1 Peter 5:7). The lack of faith of the disciples that Jesus reproached on that occasion was due to the fact that they doubted that he was "concerned" about their lives and safety: "Do you not care if we perish?"

God takes care of us, he is concerned about our lives! A frequently cited anecdote speaks of a man who had a dream. He saw two pairs of footprints that had been imprinted in the desert sand and understood that one pair of footprints was his and the other pair was that of Jesus, who was walking by his side.

At a certain moment, one pair of footprints disappeared, and he understood that this happened exactly at a difficult moment of his life. Then he complained to Christ, who left him alone in the moment of trial. "But, I was with you!" replied Jesus. "How is it possible that you were with me, when there was only one pair of footprints in the sand?" the man said. "They were mine," replied Jesus. "In those moments, I carried you on my shoulders."

Let us remember this when we feel the temptation to complain to the Lord that he leaves us alone.

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Thirteenth Sunday Ordinary Time B
He took the child by the hand and said to her, “Talitha kum,” which means "Little girl, arise!"
 (Mark 5:21-43) Father Cantalamessa on revitalizing youth 
 

The passage of this Sunday's Gospel is made up of scenes that occur rapidly in different places.

First of all is the scene on the lakeshore. Jesus is surrounded by a crowd when a man falls down at his feet and begs him: "My daughter is at the point of death. Please, come lay your hands on her that she may get well and live." Jesus leaves his half-finished address and goes to the man's home.

The second scene takes place on the road. A woman who suffered from hemorrhage, went up behind Jesus to touch his garment and felt she is cured.

While Jesus was speaking with her, someone arrived from Jairus' house to tell him: "Your daughter has died; why trouble the teacher any longer?" Jesus, who heard everything, said to the ruler of the synagogue: "Do not be afraid; just have faith."

And next comes the crucial scene, in Jairus' house.

There was great confusion, people weeping and shouting, which is understandable given the death of the adolescent which had just occurred.

"So he went in and said to them, 'Why this commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but asleep.' ... Then he put them all out. He took along the child's father and mother and those who were with him and entered the room where the child was.

"He took the child by the hand and said to her, 'Talitha koum,' which means, 'Little girl, I say to you, arise!'

"The girl, a child of twelve, arose immediately and walked around. ... He gave strict orders that no one should know this and said that she should be given something to eat" (Mark 5:39-43).

The Gospel passage suggests an observation. The degree of historicity and reliability of the Gospels is again continually discussed. We recently witnessed the attempt to put at the same level, as if it had the same authority, the four canonical Gospels and the apocryphal gospels of the second and third centuries.

However, this attempt is simply absurd, and it also shows a good deal of bad faith. The apocryphal gospels, especially those of Gnostic origin, were written several generations later by persons who had lost all contact with the events, and who, moreover, were not in the least interested in making history, but in putting on Christ's lips the teachings of their own schools.

The canonical Gospels, on the contrary, were written by eyewitnesses of the events or persons who had been in contact with eyewitnesses.

Mark, whose Gospel we are reading this year, was in close relationship with the Apostle Peter, of whom he refers many episodes that had him as protagonist.

This Sunday's passage gives us an example of that historical character of the Gospels. The clear portrait of Jairus and his anguished request for help; the episode of the woman they meet on the way to her home; the messengers' skeptical attitude toward Jesus; Christ's tenacity; the atmosphere of the people mourning for the dead girl; Jesus' command mentioned in the original Aramaic language; Jesus' moving concern that the resurrected girl be given something to eat. All makes one think of an eyewitness' account of the event.

Now, a brief application of Sunday's Gospel to life: There is not only the death of the body but also the death of the heart.

Death of the heart exists when one lives in anxiety, discouragement and chronic sadness. Jesus' words "Talitha kum," Little girl, arise, are not addressed only to dead boys and girls, but also to living boys and girls.

How sad it is to see young people … sad. And there are very many around us. Sadness, pessimism, the desire not to live, are always bad things, but when one sees or hears young people express them, the heart is even more oppressed.

In this connection, Jesus also continues today to resurrect dead boys and girls. He does so with his word, and also by sending them his disciples who, in his name, and with his very love, repeat to today's young people that cry of his: "Talitha kum," youth, arise! Live again!

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Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time B
"And they took offense at him"  (Mark 6:1-6)  Father Cantalamessa on a Prophet Without Honor

When Jesus was already popular and famous because of his miracles and teaching, he returned one day to his place of origin, Nazareth, and as usual, he began to teach in the synagogue. However, this time there was no enthusiasm, no Hosanna!

More than listening to what he was saying and judging him accordingly, the people began to engage in inappropriate considerations. "Whence did he get this wisdom? He has not studied; we know him well; he is the carpenter, the son of Mary!" "And they took offense at him," that is, they had a problem in believing him because they knew him well.

Jesus commented bitterly: "A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house." This phrase has become proverbial in the abbreviated form: Nemo propheta in patria, no one is a prophet in his country. But this in only a curiosity. The evangelical passage also gives us an implicit warning which we can summarize thus: be careful not to commit the same mistake as the Nazarenes! In a certain sense, Jesus returns to his country every time his Gospel is proclaimed in the countries which were, at one time, the cradle of Christianity.

Our Italy, and Europe in general, are, for Christianity, what Nazareth was for Jesus: "the place where he was raised" (Christianity was born in Asia, but grew up in Europe, a bit like Jesus who was born in Bethlehem but was raised in Nazareth!) Today they run the same risk as the Nazarenes: not to recognize Jesus. The Constitutional Charter of the new united Europe is not the only place from which he is "expelled" at present.

The episode of the Gospel teaches us something important. Jesus leaves us free; he proposes his gifts, he does not impose them. That day, in face of the rejection of his fellow countrymen, Jesus did not give way to threats and invectives. He did not say, indignant, as it is said the African Publius Scipio did, when leaving Rome: "Ungrateful country, you will not have my bones!" He simply went to another place.

Once he was not received in a certain village. The indignant disciples suggested that fire be brought down from heaven, but Jesus turned and rebuked them (Luke 9:54).

That is how he acts also today. "God is timid." He has far more respect for our freedom than we ourselves have for one another's. This creates a great responsibility. St. Augustine said: "I am afraid of Jesus passing" (Timeo Jesum transeuntem). He might, in fact, pass without my realizing it, pass without my being ready to receive him.

His passing is always a passing of grace. Mark says succinctly that, having arrived in Nazareth on the Sabbath, Jesus "began to teach in the synagogue." However, the Gospel of Luke specifies also what he taught and said that Sabbath. He said he had come "to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord" (Luke 4:18-19).

What Jesus proclaimed in the synagogue of Nazareth was, therefore, the first Christian jubilee of history, the first great "year of grace," of which all jubilees and "holy years" are a commemoration.

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Fifteenth Sunday Ordinary Time II:  Father Cantalamessa on the Apostolic Mission
Pontifical Preacher comments on this Sunday's Liturgy
(Amos 7:12-15; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:7-13)

"Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two"  (Mark 6:7-13 )

"And he called to him the Twelve, and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics."

Bible scholars explain that, as usual, Mark, on referring to Christ's deeds and words, takes into account the situation and needs of the Church at the time he is writing the Gospel, that is, after the resurrection of Christ. But the main event and the instructions that Christ gives to the apostles in this passage refer to the earthly Jesus.

It is the beginning and like the general trials of the apostolic mission. For the moment it is a limited mission to the neighboring peoples, that is, to Jewish fellow countrymen. After Easter, this mission will be extended to the whole world, also to pagans: "Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation" [Mark 16:15].

This fact is of decisive importance to understand the life and mission of Christ. He did not come to realize some personal prowess. He did not want to be a meteorite that goes across the sky only to disappear later into nothingness. He did not come, in other words, only for those few thousands of people who had the possibility to see and hear him in person during his life. He thought his mission should continue, be permanent, so that each person, in all times and places of history, would have the possibility to hear the Good News of God's love and be saved.

That is why he chose collaborators and began to send them ahead to preach the Kingdom and cure the sick. He did with his disciples what a good rector does today with his seminarians, who, on the weekends, sends his young men to parishes so that they will begin to have pastoral experience, or sends them to charitable institutions to help those who look after the poor, those outside the European community, to prepare for what one day will be their mission.

Jesus' invitation "Go!" is addressed first to the apostles, and today to their successors: the Pope, bishops and priests, but not only to them. The latter must be the guides, animators of the others in the common mission. To think otherwise would be as if saying that war can be waged only with generals and captains, without soldiers; or that a soccer team can be established only with one trainer and referee, without players.

After this sending of the apostles, the Gospel of Luke reads, Jesus "appointed seventy-two others, and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to come" (Luke 10:1). These seventy-two disciples were probably all those he had gathered up to that moment, or at least all those who followed him with a certain continuity. Jesus, therefore, sent all his disciples, also laymen.

The post-Conciliar Church has witnessed a flowering of this awareness. The laity of ecclesial movements are the successors of these seventy-two disciples. The Vigil of Pentecost gave an idea of the dimensions of this phenomenon with those hundreds of thousands of young people who arrived in St. Peter's Square to celebrate Vespers of the Solemnity with the Pope. What was most impressive was the joy and enthusiasm of those present. Clearly, for those youths to live and proclaim the Gospel is not a burden to be accepted out of duty, but a joy, a privilege, something that makes the living of life more beautiful.

The Gospel uses only one word to say what the apostles should preach to the people ("that they repent,") whereas it describes at length how they must preach. In this regard, there is an important teaching in the fact that Jesus sent them two by two. Going two by two was customary in those times, but with Jesus it assumes a new meaning, no longer only practical. Jesus sent them two by two -- explained Saint Gregory the Great -- to inculcate charity, because with less than two persons there can be no charity. The first testimony to give of Jesus is that of mutual love: "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35).

We must be careful not to misinterpret Jesus' phrase about shaking the dust off their feet when they were not received. In Christ's intention, this was meant to be a testimony "for" them, not against them. It should serve to make them understand that the missionaries had not gone for selfish reasons, to take money or other things from them; more than that, they did not even want to take away their dust. They had gone for their salvation and, rejecting them, deprived themselves of the greatest good of the world.

It is something that must also be stressed today. The Church does not proclaim the Gospel to increase her power or the number of her members. If she acted like this, she would be the first to betray the Gospel. She does so because she wants to share the gift received, because she has received from Christ the mandate: "Freely you received, freely you must give."

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Sixteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time B

"He said to them, 'Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while'.” (Mk 6:30-34)
Father Cantalamessa, pontifical household preacher, on How to live a vacation  (July 21, 2006)

In the Gospel passage Jesus invites his disciples to separate themselves from the crowd and their work and to go away with him to a "lonely place."

He taught them to do what he did: to balance action and contemplation, to go from contact with people to secret and regenerating dialogue with oneself and with God.

The theme is of great importance and timeliness. The rhythm of life has acquired a speed that surpasses our capacity to adapt.

The scene in "Modern Times" of Charlie Chaplain absorbed in the assembly line is the exact image of this situation. In this way one loses the capacity for critical separation which allows one to exercise dominion over the flow, often chaotic and disordered, of circumstances and daily experiences.

Jesus, in the Gospel, never gives the impression of being agitated by hurry. Sometimes he even wastes time: All look for him and he does not let himself be found, absorbed as he is in prayer. Sometimes, as in our Gospel passage, he even invites his disciples to lose time with him: "Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest a while." He often recommends that one not be harassed. Our bodies benefit so much from such "respites."

Among these "pauses" are precisely the summer vacations which we are living. For the majority of people, they are the only occasion to rest a while, to converse in a relaxed manner with their own spouse, to play with the children, to read a good book or to contemplate nature in silence; in short, to relax. To make of holidays a more frenetic time than in the rest of the year would be to ruin them.

To the commandment: "Remember to keep the Sabbath holy," one should add: "Remember to keep vacations holy." "Stop (literally: vacate, take a vacation!) Know that I am God," says God in the Psalms.

A simple thing to do might be to enter a mountain church or chapel at a time when it is empty, and to spend some time there "apart," alone with ourselves, before God.

This need for times of solitude and listening is posed in a special way to those who proclaim the Gospel and to animators of the Christian community, who must stay constantly in contact with the source of the Word that they must transmit to their brothers. The laity should rejoice, not feel neglected, every time that their priest leaves for a time for intellectual and spiritual recharging.

It must be said that Jesus' vacation with the apostles was of brief duration, because the people, seeing him going away, went ahead of him on foot to the place of disembarkation. But Jesus does not get irritated with the people who give him no peace, but is "moved," seeing them abandoned to themselves, as sheep without a shepherd," and he begins to "teach them many things."

This shows us that one must be ready to interrupt even one's deserved rest in face of a situation of grave need of one's neighbor.

One cannot, for example, abandon to his fate, or leave in a hospital, an elderly person one is in charge of, to enjoy one's vacation without disturbances. We cannot forget the many persons whose loneliness they have not chosen, but suffer, and not for a week or a month, but for years, perhaps throughout their lives.

Also here there is room for a small practical suggestion: To look around and see if there is some one to help feel less alone in life, with a visit, a call, an invitation to see them one day in the place of vacation -- whatever the heart and circumstances suggest.

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Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time B

“'Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted.' So they collected them"
     (John 6:1-15)    Papal Household Preacher, Father Cantalamessa, says to waste not.

For several Sundays, the Gospel has been taken from Jesus' discourse on the bread of life in the synagogue of Capernaum, to which the Evangelist John refers. This Sunday's passage comes from the multiplication of loaves and fishes, which is an introduction to the Eucharistic discourse.

It is no accident that the presentation of the Eucharist begins with the account of the multiplication of loaves. What is stated with it is that, in man, the religious dimension cannot be separated from the material dimension. Provision cannot be made for man's spiritual and eternal needs without being concerned, at the same time, about his earthly and material needs.

It was precisely the latter which for an instant was the temptation of the apostles. In another passage of the Gospel one reads that they suggested to Jesus that he dismiss the crowd so that it would find something to eat in neighboring villages.

But Jesus answered: "You give them something to eat!" (Matthew 14:16). With this, Jesus is not asking his disciples to perform miracles. He is asking that they do what they can. To place in common and share what each one has. In arithmetic, multiplication and division are two opposite operations, but in this case they are the same. There is no "multiplication" without "partition" (or sharing)!

This connection between the material and spiritual bread was visible in the way the Eucharist was celebrated in the early days of the Church. The Lord's Supper, then called "agape," took place in the context of a fraternal meal, in which both ordinary bread and Eucharistic bread was shared.

That is why differences between some one who had nothing to eat and some one who became "inebriated" were perceived as scandalous and intolerable (1 Corinthians 11:20-22). Today the Eucharist is no longer celebrated in the context of an ordinary meal, but the contrast between those who have what is superfluous and those who lack what is necessary has not diminished, what is more, it has assumed global dimensions.

On this point, the end of the account also has something to say to us. When all were satiated, Jesus ordered: "Gather up the fragments left over, that nothing may be lost."

We live in a society where waste is habitual. In 50 years, we have gone from a situation in which one went to school or Sunday Mass carrying one's shoes to the threshold, so as not to wear them out, to a situation in which virtually new shoes are discarded so as to adapt oneself to the changing fashion.

The most scandalous waste occurs in the food sector. Research carried out by the United States Department of Agriculture reveals that one-fourth of food products end up every day in the garbage, not to speak of what is deliberately destroyed before it reaches the market.

Jesus did not say that day: "Destroy the left-over fragments so that the price of bread and fish will not fall in the market." But it is exactly what is done today.

Under the influence of repetitive advertising, "Spend, don't save!" is at present the codeword in the economy.

Of course, it is not enough to save. Prudence must enable individuals and societies of rich countries to be more generous in their aid to poor countries, otherwise it is more like avarice than prudence.

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Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time B

"Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him."

Papal Household Preacher, Father Cantalamessa, on Bread and Wine (August 18, 2006)
Pontifical Household Preacher on This Sunday's Gospel

The Gospel passage continues the reading of chapter 6 of John. The new element is that to the discourse on bread Jesus adds that of wine; to the image of food he adds that of drink, the gift of his flesh and of his blood. Here, Eucharistic symbolism reaches its culmination and totality.

Last week we said that to understand the Eucharist, it is important to begin with the signs chosen by Jesus. Bread is the sign of food, of communion among those who eat it together; through it he comes to the altar and all human work is sanctified. Let us ask the same question for the blood.

What does the word blood mean to us and what does it evoke? In the first place, it evokes all the suffering that exists in the world. If, therefore, in the sign of bread man's work comes to the altar, in the sign of blood all human pain also comes there. It comes to be sanctified and to receive meaning and the hope of rescue thanks to the blood of the immaculate Lamb, to which it is united as drops of water mixed with wine in the chalice.

But, why, precisely, did Jesus choose wine to signify his blood? Just because of the affinity of color? What does wine represent for men? It represents joy, celebration; it does not represent usefulness so much (as bread does) but delight. It is not only made to drink, but also to toast. Jesus multiplied the loaves because of the people's need, but in Cana he multiplied the wine for the delight of the guests. Scripture says that "wine gladdens man's heart and bread strengthens it" (Psalm 104:15).

If Jesus had chosen bread and water for the Eucharist, he would only have indicated the sanctification of suffering ("bread and water" are in fact synonymous with fasting, austerity and penance). By choosing bread and wine he also wished to indicate the sanctification of joy. How wonderful it would be if we also learned to live the joys of life in a Eucharistic manner, that is, in thanksgiving to God. God's presence and look do not cloud our honest joys; on the contrary, they enlarge them.

But, in addition to joy, wine also evokes a grave problem. In the second reading we hear this warning of the Apostle: "Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit." He suggests that inebriation with wine be combated with "the sober inebriation of the Spirit," one inebriation replaced with another.

At present there are many initiatives of recovery among people with problems of alcoholism. They try to use all the means suggested by science and psychology. They cannot but be encouraged and supported. But those who believe should not neglect the spiritual means, which are prayer, the sacraments and the word of God.

In the work, "The Russian Pilgrim," a true story is told. A soldier addicted to alcohol and threatened with being discharged went to a holy monk to ask him what he should do to overcome his vice. The monk ordered him to read a chapter of the Gospel every night before going to bed.

The soldier acquired a Gospel and began to read it diligently. But soon after he returned desolate to the monk to tell him: "Father, I am too ignorant and I don't understand anything of what I read! Give me something else to do."

The monk replied: "Just continue reading. You don't understand, but the devils understand and tremble." The soldier did so and was freed from his vice. Why not give this a try?

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Twenty first Sunday of Ordinary Time B

Father Cantalamessa on Marital Submission (this Sunday's second reading)  (Aug 25, 2006)

"Husbands, Love Your Wives"
(Ephesians 5:21-32)

This time I would like to focus attention on the second reading of the day (Ephesians 5:21-32) because it has a theme of great interest for the family.

Reading Paul's words with modern eyes, one immediately sees a difficulty. Paul recommends to husband that they "love" their wives (and this is good), but he also recommends to women that they be submissive to their husbands, and this -- in a society strongly (and justly) conscious of the equality of the sexes -- seems unacceptable.

In fact, it's true. On this point St. Paul is conditioned in part by the mentality of his age. However, the solution is not in eliminating from relations between husbands and wives the word "submission," but, perhaps, in making it mutual, as love must also be mutual.

In other words, not only must husbands love their wives, but wives must also love their husbands. Not only must wives be subject to their husbands, but also husbands to their wives, in mutual love and mutual submission.

In this case, to be subject means to take into account the wishes, opinion and sensitivity of one's spouse; to discuss, not to decide on one's own; to be able to give up one's own point of view. In short, to remember that both are "spouses," that is, literally, persons who are under "the same yoke," freely chosen.

The Apostle gives Christian spouses as model the relationship of love that exists between Christ and the Church, but he explains immediately in what such love consisted: "Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her." True love is manifested in "giving" oneself to the other.

There are two ways of expressing one's love for the beloved. The first is to give presents, to fill the other with gifts; the second, much more demanding, consists in suffering for one's spouse.

God loved us in the first way when he created us and filled us with goods: Heaven, earth, flowers, our bodies, everything is a gift of his. But then, in the fullness of time, in Christ, he came to us and suffered for us, unto death on the cross.

This is also true in human love. At the beginning, the newly married express their love with gifts. But the time comes for all when presents are not enough. It is necessary to be able to suffer with and for the beloved. One must love despite the limitations one discovers in the other, and despite the moments of poverty and illnesses.

This is true love which is like Christ's.

In general, the first kind of love is called "seeking love" (with a Greek word, eros); the second kind, "giving love" (with the Greek word agape).

The sign that a couple is passing from seeking to giving love, from eros to agape, is this: Instead of saying "What more could my husband do for me (respectively, my wife) which he still does not do?" one begins to ask: "What more could I do for my husband (or my wife) which I still have not done?"

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Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time B
What defiles man? (Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23)  Father Cantalamessa on "Ecology of the Heart"

In the passage from this Sunday's Gospel (Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23), Jesus cuts at the root the tendency to give more importance to external gestures and rites than to the heart's dispositions, the desire to appear better than one is, in short, hypocrisy and formalism.

But today we can draw from this page of the Gospel a teaching not only of an individual order but also social and collective. The distortion that Jesus criticized, of giving more importance to external cleanliness than to purity of heart, is reproduced today on a worldwide scale.

There is very much preoccupation about exterior and physical contamination from the atmosphere, the water, the hole in the ozone layer; instead, there is almost absolute silence about interior and moral defilement.

We are indignant on seeing marine birds emerging from waters contaminated with petroleum stains, covered with tar and unable to fly, but we do not show the same concern for our children, vitiated and spent at an early age because of the mantle of wickedness that already extends to every aspect of life.

Let's be very clear: It is not a question of opposing the two kinds of contamination. The struggle against physical contamination and care of hygiene is a sign of progress and civilization which must not be given up at any price. However, Jesus told us, on that occasion, that it was not enough for us to wash our hands, our vessels and all the rest; this does not go to the root of the problem.

Jesus then launches the program of an ecology of the heart. Let us take some of the "defiling" things enumerated by Jesus: slander with the related vice of saying evil things about one's neighbor.

Do we really want to undertake the task of healing our hearts? If so, we must engage in an all out battle against the habit of gossiping, of criticizing, of murmuring against absent persons, of making quick judgments. This is a most difficult poison to neutralize once it has spread.

Once a woman went to confession to St. Philip Neri, accusing herself of having spoken badly of some people. The saint absolved her, but gave her a strange penance. He told her to go home, to get a chicken and return to him, plucking its feathers along the way. When she was in his presence again, he said to her: "Now go back home and collect one by one the feathers that you let fall when you were coming here."

"Impossible!" exclaimed the woman. "In the meantime the wind has dispersed them in all directions." That's the point St. Philip wished to make.

"Now you see -- he said -- how it is impossible to take back murmuring and slander once they have left the mouth."
               
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Twenty third Sunday of Ordinary Time B    Ephphatha! Be opened!  (Mark 7:31-37)

Father Cantalamessa on Curing Our Deafness


"And people brought to him a deaf man who had a speech impediment and begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him off by himself away from the crowd. He put his finger into the man's ears and, spitting, touched his tongue; then he looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him, "Ephphatha!" (that is, "Be opened!"), and (immediately) the man's ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly" (Mark 7:32-35).

Jesus did not perform miracles as someone waving a magic wand or clicking his fingers. That sigh that escaped from him at the moment of touching the ears of the deaf man tells us that he identified with the people's sufferings; he participated intensely in their misfortune, made it his burden.

On one occasion, after Jesus had cured many sick people, the evangelist comments: "He took our infirmities and bore our diseases" (Matthew 8:17).

Christ's miracles were never an end in themselves; they were signs. What Jesus once did for a person on the physical plane indicates what he wants to do every day for every person on the spiritual plane.

The man cured by Jesus was deaf and dumb; he could not communicate with others, hear his voice and express his feelings and needs. If deafness and dumbness consist in the inability to communicate plainly with one's neighbor, to have good and beautiful relationships, then we must acknowledge immediately that we are all more or less deaf and dumb, and this is why Jesus addressed to all that cry of his: Ephphatha, Be opened!

The difference is that physical deafness does not depend on the individual and he is altogether blameless, whereas moral deafness is blameworthy.

Today the term "deaf" is avoided and we prefer to speak of "auditive disability," precisely to distinguish the simple fact of not hearing about moral deafness.

We are deaf, to give an example, when we do not hear the cry for help raised to us and we prefer to put between ourselves and our neighbor the "double glaze" of indifference. Parents are deaf when they do not understand that certain strange and disordered attitudes of their children hide a cry for attention and love.

A husband is deaf when he cannot see in his wife's nervousness the sign of exhaustion or the need for a clarification. And the same applies to the wife.

We are deaf when we shut ourselves in, out of pride, in an aloof and resentful silence, while perhaps with just one word of excuse or forgiveness we could return peace and serenity to the home.

We men and women religious have times of silence in the day, and we sometimes accuse ourselves in confession, saying: "I have broken the silence." I think that at times we should accuse ourselves of the opposite and say: "I have not broken the silence."

What decides the quality of communication, however, is not simply to speak or not to speak, but to do so or not to do so out of love. St. Augustine said to people in an address: It is impossible to know in every circumstance exactly what should be done: to speak or to be silent, to correct or to let things go.

Here is a rule that is valid for all cases: "Love and do what you will." Be concerned to have love in your heart then, if you speak, it will be out of love, if you are silent it will be out of love, and everything will be alright because only good comes from love.

The Bible helps us to understand where the rupture of communication begins, where our difficulty originates to relate in a healthy and beautiful way to one another. While Adam and Eve were in good relations with God, their mutual relationship was also beautiful and ecstatic: "This is flesh of my flesh." As soon as their relationship with God was interrupted, through disobedience, the mutual accusations began: "It was he, it was she ..."

It is from there that one must begin again. Jesus came to "reconcile us with God" and thus to reconcile us with one another. He does so above all through the sacraments. The Church has always seen in the seemingly strange gestures that Jesus did with the deaf-mute (he put his fingers into his ears and touched his tongue) a symbol of the sacraments thanks to which he continues "touching" us physically to heal us spiritually.

That is why in baptism the minister carries out gestures on the one being baptized as Jesus did on the deaf-mute: He puts his fingers into his ears and touches the tip of his tongue, repeating Jesus' word: "Ephphatha, Be opened!"

The sacrament of the Eucharist in particular helps us to overcome the inability to communicate with our neighbor, making us experience the most wonderful communion with God.
                                               
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Twenty fifth Sunday Ordinary Time B
Father Cantalamessa on Being No. 1, for Christ: "Whoever Is Great in Service, Is Great"

If Any One Would Be First ...  Wisdom 2:12,17-20;     James 3:16--4:3;    Mark 9:30-37

"And he sat down and called the Twelve; and he said to them, 'If any one would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.'" Does Jesus condemn with these words the desire to excel, to do great things in life, to give the best of oneself, and favors instead laziness, a defeatist spirit and the negligent?

So thought the philosopher Nietzsche, who felt the need to combat Christianity fiercely, guilty in his opinion of having introduced into the world the "cancer" of humility and self-denial. In his work "Thus Spoke Zarathustra" he opposes this evangelical value with the "will to power," embodied by the superman, the man of "great health," who wishes to raise, not abase, himself.

It might be that Christians sometimes have misinterpreted Jesus' thought and have given occasion to this misunderstanding. But this is surely not what the Gospel wishes to tell us. "If any would be first": therefore, it is possible to want to be first, it is not prohibited, it is not a sin. With these words, not only does Jesus not prohibit the desire to be first, but he encourages it. He just reveals a new and different way to do so: not at the cost of others, but in favor of others. He adds, in fact: "he must be last of all and servant of all."

But what are the fruits of one or the other way of excelling? The will to power leads to a situation in which one imposes oneself and the rest serve; one is "happy" -- if there can be happiness in it -- and the rest unhappy; only one is victor, all the rest are vanquished; one dominates, the rest are dominated.

We know with what results the idea of the superman was implemented by Hitler. But it is not just Nazism; almost all the evils of humanity stem from that root. In the Second Reading of this Sunday, James asks himself the anguishing and perennial question: "What causes wars?" In the Gospel, Jesus gives us the answer: the desire for predominance. Predominance of one nation over another, of one race over another, of a party over the others, of one sex over the other, of one religion over another.

In service, instead, all benefit from the greatness of one. Whoever is great in service, is great and makes others great; rather than raising himself above others, he raises others with him. Alessandro Manzoni concludes his poetic evocation of Napoleon's ventures with the question: "Was it true glory? In posterity the arduous sentence." This doubt, about whether or not it was truly glory, is not posed for Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Raoul Follereau and all those who daily serve the cause of the poor and those wounded by wars, often risking their own lives.

Only one doubt remains. What to think of antagonism in sports and competition in business? Are these things also condemned by Christ's words? No, when they are contained within the limits of good sportsmanship and good business, these things are good, they serve to increase the level of physical capability and ... to lower prices in trade. Indirectly, they serve the common good. Jesus' invitation to be the last certainly doesn't apply to cycling or Formula 1 races!

But precisely, sport serves to clarify the limit of this greatness in relation to service. "In a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize," says St. Paul (1 Corinthians 9:24). Suffice it to remember what happens at the end of a 100-meter flat race: The winner exults, is surrounded by photographers and carried triumphantly in the air. All the rest go away sad and humiliated. "All run, but only one receives the prize."

St. Paul extracts, however, from athletic competitions also a positive teaching: "Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable [crown, eternal life, from God]." A green light, therefore, to the new race invented by Christ in which the first is the one who makes himself last of all and serves all.

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Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time B

Father Raniero Cantalamessa on Salvation  (Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48)
Pontifical Household Preacher on this Sunday's Gospel:  He that is not against us is for us

One of the apostles, John, saw demons cast out in the name of Jesus by one who did not belong to the circle of disciples and forbade him to do so. On recounting the incident to the master, he is heard to reply: "Do not forbid him ... For he that is not against us is for us" (Mark 9:39, 40).

This is a topic of great current importance. What to think of those who are outside, who do something good and show signs of the spirit, yet without believing in Christ and adhering to the Church. Can they also be saved?

Theology has always admitted the possibility, for God, of saving some people outside the ordinary ways, which are faith in Christ, baptism and membership in the Church.

This certainty has been affirmed in the modern age, after geographic discoveries and increased possibilities of communication among peoples made it necessary to take note that there are innumerable people who, through no fault of their own, have never heard the proclamation of the Gospel, or have heard it in an improper way, from conquistadors and unscrupulous colonizers that made it quite difficult to accept.

The Second Vatican Council said that "the Holy Spirit offers everyone the possibility, in a way known only to God, to be associated with this paschal mystery of Christ and, therefore, to be saved" ["Gaudium et Spes," no. 22. Editor's note].

Has our Christian faith changed? No, as long as we continue to believe two things: First, that Jesus is, objectively and in fact, the only mediator and savior of the whole human race, and that also those who do not know him, if they are saved, are saved thanks to him and his redeeming death. Second, that also those who, still not belonging to the visible Church, are objectively "oriented" toward her, form part of that larger Church, known only to God.

In our Gospel passage, Jesus seems to require two things from these people "outside": that they are not "against" him, that is, that they do not positively combat the faith and its values, namely, that they do not willingly place themselves against God.

Second, that, if they are unable to serve and love God, that they at least serve and love his image, which is man, especially the needy. It says, in fact, continuing with our passage, still speaking of those "outside": "whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ, will by no means lose his reward."

However, having clarified the doctrine, I believe it is also necessary to rectify something more: our interior attitude, our psychology as believers. One can understand, but not share, the poorly concealed contrariety of certain believers on seeing every exclusive privilege fall which is linked to their faith in Christ and membership in the Church: "Then, of what use is it to be good Christians?"

We should, on the contrary, rejoice immensely given these new openings of Catholic theology. To know that our brothers outside of the Church also have the possibility of being saved: What is there more liberating and confirming of God's infinite generosity and will than "that all men be saved" (1 Timothy 2:4)? We should make the desire of Moses our own as recorded in Sunday's first reading: "Would that the Lord might bestow his spirit on them all! (Numbers 11:29)."

Knowing this, should we leave everyone in peace in their own conviction and cease to promote faith in Christ, given that one can also be saved in other ways? Of course not.

But what we should do is emphasize the positive more than the negative reason. The negative is: "Believe in Jesus, because whoever does not believe in him will be eternally condemned"; the positive reason is: "Believe in Jesus, because it is wonderful to believe in him, to know him, to have him next to one as savior, in life and in death."

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Twenty seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time B

Scripture today:     Genesis 2:18-24;     Hebrews 2:9-11;     Mark 10:2-16  (on Marriage)
Father Cantalamessa: The two shall become one: "Rediscover the Art of Repairing!"

The topic of this 27th Sunday of Ordinary Time is marriage. The first reading (Genesis 2:18-24) begins with the well-known words: "The Lord God said, 'It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.'"

In our days the evil of marriage is separation and divorce, whereas in the time of Jesus it was repudiation. In a certain sense, the latter was a worse evil, because it also implied an injustice in regard to the woman, which, sadly, persists in certain cultures. Man, in fact, had the right to repudiate his wife, but the wife did not have the right to repudiate her husband.

There were two opposite opinions in Judaism, in regard to repudiation. According to one of them, it was lawful to repudiate one's wife for any reason, hence, at the discretion of the husband. According to another, however, a grave reason was necessary, established by the law.

One day they subjected Jesus to this question, hoping that he would adopt a position in favor of one or the other thesis. However, they received an answer they did not expect: "Because of the hardness of your hearts he [Moses] wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, 'God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother (and be joined to his wife), and the two shall become one flesh.' So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate."

The law of Moses about repudiation is seen by Christ as an unwanted disposition, but tolerated by God (as polygamy and other disorders), because of hardness of heart and human immaturity. Jesus did not criticize Moses for the concession made; he recognized that in this matter the human lawmaker cannot fail to keep in mind the reality in fact.

However, he re-proposed to all the original ideal of the indissoluble union between man and woman -- "one flesh" -- that, at least for his disciples, must be the only form possible of marriage.

However, Jesus did not limit himself to reaffirming the law; he added grace to it. This means that Christian spouses not only have the duty to remain faithful until death; they also have the necessary aids to do so. From Christ's redeeming death comes a strength -- the Holy Spirit -- which permeates every aspect of the believer's life, including marriage. The latter is even raised to the dignity of a sacrament and of living image of the spousal union with the Church on the cross (Ephesians 5:31-32).

To say that marriage is a sacrament does not only mean -- as often believed -- that in it the union of the sexes is permitted, licit and good, which outside of it would be disorder and sin; it means even more yet, to say that marriage becomes a way of being united to Christ through love of the other, a real path of sanctification.

This positive view is the one that Benedict XVI happily showed in his encyclical "Deus Caritas Est" on love and charity. In it the Pope does not compare the indissoluble union in marriage to another form of erotic love; but presents it as the most mature and perfect form, not only from the Christian, but also from the human point of view.

"It is part of love's growth toward higher levels and inward purification that it now seeks to become definitive, and it does so in a twofold sense: both in the sense of exclusivity (this particular person alone) and in the sense of being 'forever.' Love embraces the whole of existence in each of its dimensions, including the dimension of time. It could hardly be otherwise, since its promise looks toward its definitive goal: love looks to the eternal" (No. 60).

This ideal of conjugal fidelity has never been easy (adultery is a word that resounds ominously even in the Bible!). But today the permissive and hedonist culture in which we live has made it immensely more difficult. The alarming crisis that the institution of marriage is going through in our society is easy for all to see.

Civil laws, such as that in Spain, permit (and indirectly, in this way, encourage!) beginning divorce proceedings just a few months after life in common. Words like: "I am sick of this life," "I'm going," "If it's like this, each one on his own!" are uttered between spouses at the first difficulty.

Let it be said in passing: I believe that Christian spouses should accuse themselves in confession of the simple fact of having uttered one of these words, because the sole fact of saying them is an offense to the unity, and constitutes a dangerous psychological precedent.

In this marriage suffers the common mentality of "use and discard." If a device or tool is in some way damaged or dented, no thought is given to repairing it -- those who did such repairs have disappeared -- there is only thought of replacing it. Applied to marriage, this mentality is deadly.

What can be done to contain this tendency, cause of so much evil for society and so much sadness for children? I have a suggestion: Rediscover the art of repairing!

Replace the "use and discard" mentality with that of "use and repair." Almost no one does repairs now. But if this art of repairing is no longer done for clothes, it must be practiced in marriage. Repair the big tears, and repair them immediately.

St. Paul gave very good counsels in this respect: "Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil," "forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other," "Bear one another's burdens" (Ephesians 4:26-27; Colossians 3:13; Galatians 6:2).

What is important is that one must understand that in this process of tears and repairs, of crises and surmounted obstacles, marriage is not exhausted, but is refined and improves. I perceive an analogy between the process that leads to a successful marriage and one that leads to holiness.

In their path toward perfection, the saints often go through the so-called dark night of the senses, in which they no longer experience any feeling, or impulse.

They have aridity, are empty, do everything through will power alone and with effort. After this, comes the "dark night of the spirit," in which not only feelings enter into crisis, but also the intelligence and will. There is even doubt that one is on the right road; if it has not all been an error; complete darkness, endless temptations. They go forward only through faith.

Does everything end then? On the contrary! All this was but purification. After they have passed through these crises, the saints realize how much more profound and selfless their love of God now is, in relation to that of the beginning.

For many couples, it will not be difficult to recognize their own experience. They have also frequently gone through the night of the senses in their marriage, in which the latter have no rapture of ecstasy, and if there ever was, it is only a memory of the past. Some also experience the dark night of the spirit, the state in which the profoundest option is in crisis, and it seems that there is no longer anything in common.

If with good will and the help of someone these crises are surmounted, one realizes to what point the impulse and enthusiasm of the first days was but little compared to the stable love and communion matured over the years.

If at first husband and wife loved one another for the satisfaction it gave them, today perhaps they love one another a bit more with a love of tenderness, free of egoism and capable of compassion; they love one another for the things they have gone through and suffered together.

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Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time B    Father Cantalamessa: God Is Not Against the Rich
"How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!" (Mark 10:17-30)


A preliminary observation is necessary to clarify any possible ambiguities when reading what this Sunday's Gospel says about wealth.

Jesus never condemns wealth or earthly goods in themselves. Among his friends is, also, Joseph of Arimathea, a "rich man"; Zaccheus is declared "saved," though he kept half his goods for himself which, given his office of tax collector, must have been considerable.

What Jesus condemns is exaggerated attachment to money and property; to make one's life depend on these and to accumulate riches only for oneself (Luke 12:13-21).

The word which God uses for excessive attachment to money is "idolatry" (Colossians 3:5; Ephesians 5:5). Money is not one of many idols; it is the idol par excellence, literally, "molten gods" (Exodus 34:17).

It is the anti-God because it creates a sort of alternative world, it changes the object of the theological virtues. Faith, hope and charity are no longer placed in God, but in money. Effected is a sinister inversion of all values.

"Nothing is impossible for God," says Scripture, and also: "Everything is possible for the one who believes." But the world says: "Everything is possible for the one who has money."

Avarice, in addition to being idolatry, is also the source of unhappiness. The avaricious is an unhappy man. Distrusting everyone, he isolates himself. He has not affection, not even for those of his own flesh, whom he always sees as taking advantage and who, in turn, really nourish only one desire in regard to him: That he die soon to inherit his wealth.

Tense to the point of breaking to save money, he denies himself everything in life and so does not enjoy either this world or God, as his self-denial is not for him.

Instead of having security and tranquility, he is an eternal hostage of his money. However, Jesus does not leave any one without the hope of salvation, including the rich man. The question is not "whether the rich man is saved" (this has never been in discussion in Christian tradition), but "What rich man is saved?"

Jesus points out to the rich a way out of their dangerous situation: "Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes" (Matthew 6:20); "make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous mammon, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal habitations" (Luke 16:9).

It might be said that Jesus was advising the rich to transfer their capital abroad! But not to Switzerland -- to heaven! Many, says St. Augustine, exert themselves to put their money under earth, depriving themselves of the pleasure of seeing it, at times all their life, just to be sure it is safe.

Why not put it no less than in heaven, where it would be much safer, and where it will be found again one day forever? And how to do this? It is simple, continues St. Augustine: God offers you the carriers in the poor. They are going there where you hope to go one day. God's need is here, in the poor, and he will give it back to you when you go there.

However, it is clear that today almsgiving and charity is no longer the only way to use wealth for the common good, or perhaps the most advisable.

There is also honesty in paying one's taxes, to create new jobs, to give a more generous salary to workers when the situation allows it, to initiate local enterprises in developing countries.

In sum, when one makes money yield, makes it flow, they are channels for the water to circulate, not artificial lakes that keep it for themselves.

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29th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)   Isaiah 53:2a.,3a.,10-11;   Hebrews 4:14-16;   Mark 10:35-45
Father Cantalamessa on Power: Pontifical Household Preacher Comments on Sunday's Readings

  On Power

After the Gospel on riches, this Sunday's Gospel gives us Christ's judgment on another of the great idols of the world: power.

Power, like money, is not intrinsically evil. God describes himself as "the Omnipotent" and Scripture says "power belongs to God" (Psalm 62:11).

However, given that man had abused the power granted to him, transforming it into control by the strongest and oppression of the weakest, what did God do?

To give us an example, God stripped himself of his omnipotence; from being "omnipotent," he made himself "impotent."

He "emptied himself, taking the form of a servant" (Philippians 2:7). He transformed power into service. The first reading of the day contains a prophetic description of this "impotent" Savior. "He grew up like a sapling before him, like a shoot from the parched earth. ... He was spurned and avoided by men, a man of suffering, accustomed to infirmity."

Thus a new power is revealed, that of the cross: "Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise" (1 Corinthians 1:27). In the Magnificat, Mary sings in advance this silent revolution brought by the coming of Christ: "He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones" (Luke 1:52).

Who is accused under this denunciation of power? Only dictators and tyrants? Would that it were so! It would refer, in this case, to exceptions. Instead, it affects us all. Power has infinite ramifications, it gets in everywhere, as certain sands of the Sahara when the sirocco wind blows. It even gets into the Church.

The problem of power, therefore, is not posed only in the political realm. If we stay in that realm, we do no more than join the group of those who are always ready to strike others' breast for their own faults. It is easy to denounce collective faults, or those of the past; it is far more difficult when it comes to personal and present faults.

Mary says that God "dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart; he has thrown down the rulers from their thrones" (Luke 1:51ff.). She singles out implicitly a precise area in which the "will to power" must be combated: our own hearts.

Our minds -- the thoughts of the heart -- can become a kind of throne on which we sit to dictate laws and thunder against those who do not submit to us. We are, at least in our wishes if not in deeds, the "mighty on thrones."

Sadly, in the family itself it is possible that our innate will to power and abuse might manifest itself, causing constant suffering to those who are victims of it, which is often -- not always -- the woman.

What does the Gospel oppose to power? Service: a power for others, not over others!

Power confers authority, but service confers something more, authority that means respect, esteem, a true ascendancy over others. The Gospel also opposes power with nonviolence, that is, power of another kind, moral, not physical power.

Jesus said that he could have asked the Father for twelve legions of angels to defeat his enemies who were just about to crucify him (Matthew 26:53), but he preferred to pray for them. And it was in this way that he achieved victory.

Service is not always expressed, however, in silence and submission to power. Sometimes it can impel one to raise one's voice against power and its abuses. This is what Jesus did. In his life he experienced the abuse of the political and religious power of the time. That is why he is close to all those -- in any environment (the family, community, civil society) --who go through the experience of an evil and tyrannical power.

With his help it is possible not "to be overcome by evil," as he was not -- more than that, to "overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:21).

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30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)      Jeremiah 31:7-9;    Hebrews 5:1-6;     Mark 10:46-52
Father Raniero Cantalamessa on the Priesthood  "Chosen from and for men"

The Gospel passage recounts the cure of the blind man of Jericho, Bartimaeus.

Bartimaeus is someone who does not miss an opportunity. He heard that Jesus was passing by, understood that it was the opportunity of his life and acted swiftly. The reaction of those present -- "and many rebuked him, telling him to be silent" -- makes evident the unadmitted pretension of the wealthy of all times: That misery remain hidden, that it not show itself, that it not disturb the sight and dreams of those who are well.

The term "blind" has been charged with so many negative meanings that it is right to reserve it, as the tendency is today, to the moral blindness of ignorance and insensitivity. Bartimaeus is not blind; he is only sightless. He sees better with his heart than many of those around him, because he has faith and cherishes hope. More than that, it is this interior vision of faith which also helps him to recover his external vision of things. "Your faith has made you well," Jesus says to him.

I pause here in the explanation of the Gospel because I am anxious to develop a topic present in this Sunday's second reading, regarding the figure and role of the priest. It is said of a priest first of all that he is "chosen from among men." He is not, therefore, an uprooted being or fallen from heaven, but a human being who has behind him a family and a history like everyone else.

"Chosen from among men" also means that the priest is made of the same fabric as any other human creature: with the emotions, struggles, doubts and weaknesses of everybody else. Scripture sees in this a benefit for other men, not a motive for scandal. In this way, in fact, the priest will be more ready to have compassion, as he is also cloaked in weakness.

Chosen from among men, the priest is moreover "appointed to act on behalf of men," that is, given back to them, placed at their service -- a service that affects man's most profound dimension, his eternal destiny.

St. Paul summarizes the priestly ministry with a phrase: "This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God" (1 Corinthians 4:1). This does not mean that the priest is indifferent to the needs -- including human -- of people, but that he is also concerned with these with a spirit that is different from that of sociologists and politicians. Often the parish is the strongest point of aggregation, including social, in the life of a country or district.

We have sketched the positive vision of the priest's figure. We know that it is not always so. Every now and then the news reminds us that another reality also exists, made of weakness and infidelity --- of this reality the Church can do no more than ask forgiveness.

But there is a truth that must be recalled for a certain consolation of the people. As man, the priest can err, but the gestures he carries out as priest, at the altar or in the confessional, are not invalid or ineffective because of it. The people are not deprived of God's grace because of the unworthiness of the priest. It is Christ who baptizes, celebrates, forgives; the priest is only the instrument.

I like to recall in this connection, the words uttered before dying by the country priest of Georges Bernanos: "All is grace."

Even the misery of his alcoholism seems to him to be a grace, because it has made him more merciful toward people. God is not that concerned that his representatives on earth be perfect, but that they be merciful.

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All Saints' DayFather Cantalamessa on Holiness
                   Holiness Is Not a Luxury     Revelation 7:2-4,9-14;   John 3:1-3;   Matthew 5:1-12a

The saints the liturgy celebrates on this solemnity are not only those canonized by the Church and mentioned in our calendars. They are all those who are saved and form the heavenly Jerusalem. Speaking of the saints, St. Bernard said: "Let us not be slow in imitating those we are happy to celebrate." It is, therefore, the ideal occasion to reflect on the "universal call of all Christians to holiness."

The first thing to do in speaking about holiness is to free the word from the fear it inspires, due to some mistaken representations that we make of it. Holiness can entail extraordinary phenomena, but it is not identified with them. If all are called to holiness it is because, properly understood, it is within everyone's reach, it is part of the normality of the Christian life.

God is the "only Holy One" and "the source of all holiness." When one attempts to see how man enters into the sphere of God's holiness and what it means to be holy, the ritualistic idea in the Old Testament immediately prevails in one's mind.

The means of God's holiness are objects, places, rites and prescriptions. Heard, it is true, especially in the prophets and the Psalms, are different voices, exquisitely moral, but voices that remain isolated. In Jesus' time, the idea still prevailed among the Pharisees that holiness and justice consist in ritual purity and scrupulous observance of the law.

Looking at the New Testament, we see profound changes. Holiness does not reside in the hands, but in the heart; it is not decided outside but within man, and it is summarized in charity.

The mediators of God's holiness are no longer places (the Temple of Jerusalem or the Mountain of the Beatitudes), rites, objects or laws, but a person, Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ is the very holiness of God that comes to us in person, not in a distant reverberation of his. He is "the Holy One of God" (John 6:69).

We come into contact with Christ's holiness in two ways, and it is communicated to us: by appropriation and by imitation. Holiness is above all a gift, grace. Given that we belong to Christ more than to ourselves, having been "purchased at great price," it follows from this, inversely, that the holiness of Christ belongs to us more than our own holiness. It is what gives flight to the spiritual life.

Paul teaches how this "audacious blow" is given when he states solemnly that he does not want to be found with a righteousness of his own, or holiness based on observance of the law, but only with that which is through faith in Christ (Philippians 3:5-10). Christ, he says, has made himself "our righteousness and sanctification and redemption" (1 Corinthians 1:30). He is "for us": therefore, for all intents and purposes, we can claim his holiness as our own.

Along with this fundamental means of the faith and the sacraments, imitation must also have a place, that is, personal effort and good works. Not as a separate and different means, but as the only appropriate means to manifest the faith, translating it into act.

When Paul writes: "For this is the will of God, your sanctification," it is clear that he understands precisely this holiness which is the fruit of personal commitment. He adds, in fact, as though to explain in what the sanctification he is talking about consists: "that you abstain from immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor" (1 Thessalonians 4:3-9).

"There is but one sadness in the world, and it is not to be saints," said Leon Bloy, and Mother Teresa was right when a journalist asked her point-blank how she felt being acclaimed as being holy around the world, and she answered: "Holiness is not a luxury; it is a necessity."

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31st Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)    Deuteronomy 6:2-6;    Hebrews 7:23-28;     Mark 12:28b-34
                                        Love the Lord your God: Father Raniero Cantalamessa on Priorities

One day one of the scribes came to Jesus asking him which was the first commandment of the law and Jesus answered, citing the words of the law: "Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God is one God. And you shall love the Lord your God, with your whole heart, and with your whole soul, and with your whole mind, and with your whole strength." But Jesus immediately added that there is a second commandment similar to this, and it is to "love your neighbor as yourself."

If we are to understand the meaning of the scribe's question and Jesus' response, we need to bear in mind the following. In the Judaism of Jesus' time there were two opposite tendencies.

On the one hand there was a tendency to endlessly multiply the commandments and precepts of the law, creating norms and obligations for every minimal detail of life. On the other hand there was the desire to look underneath this suffocating congeries of norms to find those things that really count for God, the spirit of all the commandments.

The scribe's question and Jesus' response are situated in this approach to the essentials of the law, in this desire not to get lost in the thousand other secondary precepts. It is precisely this lesson about method that above all we must learn from today's gospel. There are things in life that are important but not urgent (in the sense that nothing will happen if we let them slide); and vice versa, there are things that are urgent but not important. The danger is that we will systematically sacrifice the important things to pursue those that are urgent but often secondary.

How do we avoid this danger? A story will help us understand how. One day an old professor was asked to speak as an expert to some large North American corporations on personal time management. He decided to try an experiment. Standing before a group ready to take notes, he pulled out from under the table a large, empty glass vase. He placed a dozen tennis-ball-size rocks in the vase until it was full. When he was not able to add more rocks he asked those present: "Does the vase seem full to you?" and they all answered "Yes!" He waited a moment and then asked: "Are you sure?"

He again bent down and pulled a box full of pebbles from under the table and carefully poured the pebbles into the vase, moving the vase a little so that the pebbles could reach the rocks at the very bottom. He asked: "Is the vase full this time?"

His audience, having become more prudent, began to understand and said: "Perhaps not yet." "Very good!" the old professor replied. Again he bent down and this time picked up a bag of sand and poured it into the vase with care. The sand filled all the spaces between the rocks and the pebbles.

He then asked again: "Is the vase full now?" And they all answered without hesitation: "No!" "Indeed," the old professor said and, as they expected, took the pitcher of water from the table and poured it into the vase up to the brim.

At this point he looked up at his audience and asked: "What great truth does this experiment show us?" The bravest of the group, reflecting on the theme of the course -- time management -- replied: "This shows us that even when our schedule is full, with a little effort we can always add some other task, some other thing to do."

"No," the professor answered, "It's not that. The experiment shows us something else. If you don't put the big rocks in the vase first, then you will never be able to put them in afterward."

There was a moment of silence and everyone took in the evidence for this affirmation.

The professor continued: "What are the big rocks, the priorities, in your life? Health? Family? Friends? Defending a cause? Accomplishing something that is close to your heart?

"The important thing is to put these big rocks on your agenda first. If you give priority to a thousand other little things -- the pebbles, the sand -- your life will be filled with meaninglessness and you will never find time to dedicate yourself to the truly important things.

"So, never forget to pose this question to yourself: 'What are the important things in my life?' Put these things at the head of your agenda."

Then, with a friendly gesture the old professor bid farewell to his audience and left the room.

To the "big rocks" mentioned by the professor -- health, family, friends -- we need to add two others, which are the biggest of all, the two greatest commandments: love God and your neighbor.

Truly, loving God, more than a commandment, is a privilege, a concession. If one day we find him, we will not cease to thank God for commanding us to love him and we will not desire to do anything else but cultivate this love.

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32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (b)  There came a poor widow
Father Cantalamessa on Marriage in Heaven  1 Kings 7:10-16;  Hebrews 9:24-28;  Mark 12:38-44

One day, Jesus was standing before the temple treasury, watching people deposit their offerings. He saw a poor widow come and put in all she had, two copper coins, which make a penny. He turned to his disciples and said, "Truly I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than the others. All have given from their excess, but she, in her poverty, put in all she had, all she had to live on."

We might call this Sunday the "Sunday of the widows." The story of a widow was also told in the first reading, the widow of Zarephath who gave up all she had left to eat (a handful of flour and a drop of oil) to prepare a meal for the prophet Elijah.

This is a good occasion in which to turn our attention toward both the widows and the widowers of today. If the Bible speaks so often of widows and never of widowers it is because in ancient society the woman who was left alone was at a greater disadvantage than the man who was left alone. Today there is no longer this difference. Actually, in general it now seems that women who are alone manage much better than men.

On this occasion I would like to treat a theme that is of definite interest not only to widows and widowers but also to all those who are married, especially during this month in which we remember the dead. Does the death of a husband or wife, which brings about the legal end of a marriage, also bring with it the total end of communion between the two persons? Does something of that bond which so strongly united two persons on earth remain in heaven, or will all be forgotten once we have crossed the threshold into eternal life?

One day, some Sadducees presented Jesus with the unlikely case of a woman who was successively the wife of seven brothers, asking him whose wife she would be after the resurrection. Jesus answered: "When they rise from the dead they will neither marry nor be given in marriage but will be like angels in heaven" (Mark 12:25).

Interpreting this saying of Jesus wrongly, some have claimed that marriage will have no follow-up in heaven. But with his reply Jesus is rejecting the caricature the Sadducees presented of heaven, as if it were going to be a simple continuation of the earthly relationship of the spouses. Jesus does not exclude the possibility that they might rediscover in God the bond that united them on earth.

According to this vision, marriage does not come to a complete end at death but is transfigured, spiritualized, freed from the limits that mark life on earth, as also the ties between parents and children or between friends will not be forgotten. In a preface for the dead the liturgy proclaims: "Life is transformed, not taken away." Even marriage, which is part of life, will be transfigured, not nullified.

But what about those who have had a negative experience of earthly marriage, an experience of misunderstanding and suffering? Should not this idea that the marital bond will not break at death be for them, rather than a consolation, a reason for fear? No, for in the passage from time to eternity the good remains and evil falls away. The love that united them, perhaps for only a brief time, remains; defects, misunderstandings, suffering that they inflicted on each other, will fall away.

Indeed, this very suffering, accepted with faith, will be transformed into glory. Many spouses will experience true love for each other only when they will be reunited "in God," and with this love there will be the joy and fullness of the union that they did not know on earth. In God all will be understood, all will be excused, all will be forgiven.

Some will ask of course about those who have been legitimately married to different people, widowers and widows who have remarried. (This was the case presented to Jesus of the seven brothers who successively had the same woman as their wife.) Even for them we must repeat the same thing: That which was truly love and self-surrender between each of the husbands or wives, being objectively a good coming from God, will not be dissolved. In heaven there will not be rivalry in love or jealousy. These things do not belong to true love but to the intrinsic limits of the creature.

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33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (b)  Daniel 12:1-3;   Hebrews 10:11-14, 18;   Mark 13:24-32
                                                                      Father Cantalamessa on the End of the World

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The Gospel of the second to last Sunday of the liturgical year is the classic text on the end of the world. There has always been someone who has taken it upon themselves to wave this page of the Gospel in the face of their contemporaries and provoke psychosis and fear. My advice is to be calm and to not let yourself be in the least bit troubled by these visions of catastrophe.

Just read the last line of the same Gospel passage: "But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." If neither the angels nor the Son (insofar as he is man and not insofar as he is God) know the day or hour of the end, is it possible that a member of some sect or some religious fanatic would know and be authorized to announce it? In the Gospel Jesus assures us of the fact of his return and the gathering his chosen ones from the "four winds"; the when and the how of his return (on the clouds between the darkening of the sun and the falling of the stars) is part of the figurative language of the literary genre of these discourses.

Another observation might help explain certain pages of the Gospel. When we talk about the end of the world on the basis of the understanding of time that we have today, we immediately think of the absolute end of the world, after which there can be nothing but eternity. But the Bible goes about its reasoning with relative and historical categories more than with absolute and metaphysical ones. Thus, when the Bible speaks of the end of the world, it intends quite often the concrete world, that which in fact exists for and is known by a certain group of people, their world. It is, in sum, the end of a world that is being treated not the end of the world, even if the two perspectives at times intertwine.

Jesus says: "This generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place." Is he mistaken? No, it was the world that was known to his hearers that passed away, the Jewish world. It tragically passed away with the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. When, in 410, the Vandals sacked Rome, many great figures of the time thought that it was the end of the world. They were not all that wrong; one world did end, the one created by Rome with its empire. In this sense, those who, with the destruction of the twin towers on September 11, 2001, thought of the end of the world, were not mistaken ...

None of this diminishes the seriousness of the Christian charge but only deepens it. It would be the greatest foolishness to console oneself by saying that no one knows when the end of the world will be and forgetting that, for any of us, it could be this very night. For this reason Jesus concludes today's Gospel with the recommendation that we "be vigilant because no one knows when the exact moment will be."

We must, I think, completely change the attitude with which we listen to these Gospels that speak of the end of the world and the return of Christ. We must no longer regard as a punishment and a veiled threat that which the Scriptures call "the blessed hope" of Christians, that is, the return of our Lord Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13). The mistaken idea we have of God must be corrected. The recurrent talk about the end of the world which is often engaged in by those with a distorted religious sentiment, has a devastating effect on many people. It reinforces the idea of a God who is always angry, ready to vent his wrath on the world. But this is not the God of the Bible which a psalm describes as "merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, who will not always accuse or keep his anger forever ... because he knows that we are made of dust" (Psalm 103:8-14).

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34th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Solemnity of Christ the King    Daniel 7:13-14; Revelation 1:5-8; John 18:33b-37
"Behold, appearing on the clouds ..." 


Father Cantalamessa
on the complete Jesus, most human and yet transcendent"

In today's Gospel
(John 18:33b-37), Pilate asks Jesus, "Are you the King of the Jews?" and Jesus answers, "You say I am a king." A short while before this, Caiaphas had asked him the same question in another way: "Are you the Son of the blessed God?" and Jesus had replied affirmatively this time as well: "I am!"

Indeed, according to the Gospel of St. Mark, Jesus reinforced this answer, citing and applying to himself that which the prophet in the Book of Daniel had said of the Son of Man who comes on the clouds of heaven and receives the kingdom that will not end (First Reading). A glorious vision in which Christ appears in the story and above it, temporal and eternal.

Alongside this glorious image of Christ we find, in the readings for the solemnity, the image of Jesus humble and suffering, more concerned with making his disciples kings than with ruling them. In the passage taken from Revelation, Jesus is described as he "who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, who has made us into a kingdom, priests for his God and Father."

It has always proved difficult to hold these two prerogatives of Christ together -- majesty and humility -- deriving from his two natures, divine and human. The man of today has no problem seeing in Jesus the friend and brother of all, but he finds it hard to also proclaim him Lord and recognize Jesus' royal power over him.

If we look at the films about Jesus this difficulty is evident. In general the cinema has opted for Jesus the meek, persecuted, misunderstood, so close to man as to share his fate, his rebellions, his desire for a normal life. In this line are linked "Jesus Christ Superstar" and Martin Scorcese's more crude and sacreligious "The Last Temptation of Christ." Pier Paolo Pasolini, in "Vangelo secondo Matteo" (The Gospel According to Matthew), also gives us the Jesus who is the friend of the apostles and of men, close to us, even if he does not lack a certain dimension of mystery, expressed with much poetry, above all through some poignant moments of silence.

Only Franco Zeffirelli, in his "Jesus of Nazareth," made the effort to hold together the majesty and humility. Jesus appears in Zeffirelli's film as a man among men, affable and close, but, at the same time, as one who, with his miracles and his resurrection, places us before the mystery of his person, a person who transcends the merely human.

I do not wish to disqualify the attempts to repropose the Jesus event in accessible and popular terms. In his time Jesus was not offended if "the people" considered him one of the prophets. However, he asked the apostles, "But you, who do you say that I am?" making it clear that the answers proposed by the people were insufficient.

The Jesus that the Church presents to us today on the solemnity of Christ the King is the complete Jesus, most human and yet transcendent. In Paris the stick that was used to establish the length of the meter is preserved with special care so that this unity of measurement, introduced by the French Revolution, will not be altered with the passage of time. In the same way, in the community of believers which is the Church, the true image of Jesus of Nazareth is preserved. This image must serve as the criterion for measuring the legitimacy of every representation of him in literature, cinema and art.

It is not a fixed and inert image, kept under glass like the meter stick, but an image of a living Christ who grows in the comprehension of the Church, who will continually give rise to new questions and provocations of human culture and progress.

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