commentaries on the Sunday readings(Cycle B - 2006)
On the Season of Advent (December 2005)
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
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).
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
"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!
Sunday of Ordinary Time B
God in Your Body (1 Corinthians
Father Raniero Cantalamessa,
the papal preacher,
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
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
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.
of Ordinary Time B
Repent and Believe in the Gospel!
3:1-5,10; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20)
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
"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.
Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle
The unclean spirit came out of him
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
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
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
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.
of Ordinary Time B
Cured Many Sick (Mark
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
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
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).
of Ordinary Time B
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
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
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
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.
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
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.'"
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
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"
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."
Sunday of Lent B
Being with Jesus in the Desert: Lenten commentary by Fr Cantalamessa on
(cycle B) (Genesis 9:8-15; Peter 3:18-22; Mark
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!
Second Sunday of Lent B
"From the cloud came a voice, 'This is my
beloved Son. Listen to him'.”
(Mark 9: 2-10)
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
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,
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."
Fourth Sunday of Lent B
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
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
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!"
Sunday of Easter (John 20:19-31): On Faith as a Gift
The Doubting Thomas (April 24,
"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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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."
Fifth Sunday of Eastertide:
He Prunes Every Branch that Bears Fruit
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
"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
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
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
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
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.
Sixth Sunday of Eastertide B
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
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.
of the Lord:
pontifical household preacher,
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.
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
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
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
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.
Father Cantalamessa on
Corpus Christi, the Body and Blood of Christ
Pontifical Household Preacher on the Day's Gospel Reading (June
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
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'
squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat" (Mark
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
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
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
Let us remember this when we feel the temptation to complain to the
Lord that he leaves us alone.
Ordinary Time B
He took the child by the
hand and said to her, “Talitha kum,” which means "Little girl, arise!"
Father Cantalamessa on
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
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,
"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"
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
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
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!
Sunday of Ordinary Time B
"And they took offense at him"
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"
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.
Fifteenth Sunday Ordinary Time II: Father Cantalamessa on the
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
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"
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."
Ordinary Time B
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
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
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.
Sunday of Ordinary Time B
fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted.' So they collected
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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?
Sunday of Ordinary Time B
Cantalamessa on Marital
Submission (this Sunday's second reading) (Aug 25, 2006)
"Husbands, Love Your Wives" (Ephesians
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
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
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
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?"
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
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
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
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
"Now you see -- he said -- how it is impossible to take back murmuring
and slander once they have left the mouth."
third Sunday of Ordinary Time B
Ephphatha! Be opened!
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"
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
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
The difference is that physical deafness does not depend on the
individual and he is altogether blameless, whereas moral deafness is
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
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.
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
2:12,17-20; James 3:16--4:3;
"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
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
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.
Sunday in Ordinary Time B
Cantalamessa on Salvation (Mark 9:38-43,
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,
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
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."
Sunday of Ordinary Time B
2:18-24; Hebrews 2:9-11; Mark
10:2-16 (on Marriage)
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Sunday in Ordinary Time B
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
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
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
Sunday in Ordinary Time (B) Isaiah
53:2a.,3a.,10-11; Hebrews 4:14-16; Mark 10:35-45
on Power: Pontifical Household Preacher Comments on Sunday's Readings
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
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
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"
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
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
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).
Sunday in Ordinary Time (B) Jeremiah
31:7-9; Hebrews 5:1-6; Mark
Cantalamessa on the Priesthood "Chosen from
and for men"
The Gospel passage recounts the cure of the blind man of Jericho,
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
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
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
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.
Saints' Day: Father Cantalamessa on Holiness
Holiness Is Not a Luxury
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."
31st Sunday in Ordinary Time
6:2-6; Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark
Love the Lord your God: Father Raniero Cantalamessa
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
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
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
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
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.
32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
(b) There came a poor
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
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
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
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
* * *
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).
Sunday in Ordinary Time: Solemnity of Christ the King
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
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.