Father Cantalamessa's commentaries on the Sunday readings of Year C (2007)

First Sunday of Advent C"Life is Expectation!"  Jeremiah 3:14-16; 1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2; Luke 21:25-28,34-36

Father Cantalamessa on First Sunday of Advent:  "Life Itself Is a Waiting Room"

Autumn is the ideal time to meditate on human things. We have before us the annual spectacle of leaves that fall from the trees. This has always been seen as an image of human destiny. "Here we are as leaves on the trees in autumn," says the poet Giuseppe Ungaretti. A generation comes, a generation goes …

But is this truly our ultimate destiny? Is it worse than the fate of these trees? After it is stripped, the tree regains its leaves in spring. But man, once he passes, never again returns. At least he does not return to this world. … Sunday's readings help us to give an answer to this most anxious of human questions.

There was a particular scene that I remember seeing in a film or reading about it in an adventure story as a child, a scene that left a deep impression. A railroad bridge had collapsed during the night. An unsuspecting train is coming at full speed. A railroad worker standing on the tracks calls out: "Stop! Stop!" and waves a lantern to signal the danger. But the distracted engineer does not see him and plunges the train into the river. … It seems to me something of an image of contemporary society, careening frenetically to the rhythm of rock 'n' roll, ignoring all the warnings that come not only from the Church but from many people who feel a responsibility for the future …

With the First Sunday of Advent, a new liturgical year begins. The Gospel that will accompany us in the course of this year, Cycle C, is the Gospel of St. Luke. The Church takes the occasion of these important moments of passage -- from one year to another, from one season to another -- to invite us to stop for a moment and reflect and ask ourselves some essential questions: "Who are we? From whence do we come? And, above all, where are we going?"

In the readings of Sunday's Mass, the verbs are in the future tense. In the First Reading we hear these words of Jeremiah: "The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and Judah. In those days, in that time, I will raise up for David a just shoot. …" To this expectation, realized in the coming of the Messiah, the Gospel passage brings a new horizon and content which is the glorious return of Christ at the end of time. "The powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory."

These are apocalyptic, catastrophic tones and images. But what we have is a message of consolation and hope. They tell us that we are not heading for an eternal void and an eternal silence but we are on our way to an encounter, an encounter with him who created us and loves us more than mother and father.

Elsewhere the Book of Revelation describes this final event of history as an entering into a wedding feast. Just recall the parable of the ten virgins who enter with the bridegroom into the banquet hall, or the image of God who, at the threshold of the life to come, waits for us to wipe away the last tear from our eyes.

From the Christian point of view, the whole of human history is one long wait. Before Christ, his coming was awaited; after him, we await his glorious return at the end of time. For just this reason the season of Advent has something very important to say to us about our lives. A great Spanish author, Calderón de la Barca, wrote a celebrated play called "Life is a Dream." With just as much truth it must be said that life is expectation! It is interesting that this is exactly the theme of one of the most famous plays of our times: Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot" …

Of a woman who is with child it is said that she is "expecting"; the offices of important persons have "waiting rooms." But if we reflect on it, life itself is a waiting room. We get impatient when we have to wait, for a visit, for a practice. But woe to him who is no longer waiting for something. A person who no longer expects anything from life is dead. Life is expectation, but the converse is also true: Expectation is life!

What distinguishes the waiting of the believer from every other waiting; from, for example, that of the two characters who are waiting for Godot? In that play a mysterious person is awaited (who, according to some, would be God, hence, "God-ot"), without any certainty that he will really come. He was supposed to come in the morning; he sends word to say that he will come in the afternoon. In the afternoon he does not come, but surely he will come in the evening, and in the evening, perhaps tomorrow morning. … The two tramps are condemned to wait for him, they have no other alternative.

This is not how it is for the Christian. He awaits one who has already come and who walks by his side. For this reason after the First Sunday of Advent in which the final return of Christ is looked for, on the following Sundays we will hear John the Baptist who speaks of his presence among us: "In your midst," he says, "there is one whom you do not know!" Jesus is present among us not only in the Eucharist, in the word, in the poor, in the Church … but, by grace, he lives in our hearts and the believer experiences this.

The Christian's waiting is not empty, a letting the time pass. In Sunday's Gospel Jesus also talks about the way that the disciples must wait, how they must conduct themselves in the meantime to not be taken by surprise: "Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life. … Be vigilant at all times."

Of these moral duties we will speak another time. Let us conclude with a memory from a film. There are two big stories about icebergs in the movies. The one is that of the Titanic, which we know well. … The other is narrated in a Kevin Kostner film of several years back, "Rapa Nui." A legend of Easter Island, which is in the Pacific Ocean, tells of an iceberg that, in reality, is a ship and that passes close to the island every century or so. The king or hero can climb aboard and ride toward the kingdom of immortality.

There is an iceberg that runs across the course which each of us travel; it is sister death. We can pretend to not see her or to be heedless of her like the people who were enjoying themselves on that tragic night aboard the Titanic. Or we can make ourselves ready and climb onto her and let ourselves be taken to the Kingdom of the blessed. The season of Advent should also serve this purpose …

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception    Genesis 3:9-15, 20;     Ephesians 1:3-6, 11-12;    Luke 1:26-38
"Chosen to Be Holy and Immaculate"  Father Cantalamessa on the Immaculate Conception

So that we see how the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception is not simply a celebration of the privileges of Mary but touches us and involves us in a profound way, we have to understand it in the light of the words of Paul in the second reading: "God the Father chose us in Jesus Christ before the creation of the world, to be holy and immaculate in his sight in charity."

We are all, therefore, called to be holy and immaculate; it is our truest destiny; God's project for us. A little later, in the same Letter to the Ephesians, Paul contemplates this plan of God, no longer regarding it as applicable to men taken individually, everyone for himself, but as applicable to the universal Church, Bride of Christ: "Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her to sanctify her, purifying her with baptism and the word, because he wanted her to appear in splendor, without blemish or wrinkle but holy and immaculate" (Ephesians 5:25-27).

A human race holy and immaculate -- this is God's great purpose in creating the Church. A human race that can finally appear before him, that need not flee from his presence, its countenance disfigured by shame, as Adam and Eve after the sin. A human race that, above all, he can love and draw into communion with him, through his Son in the Holy Spirit.

In this universal design of God, what does the Immaculate Conception of Mary, which we celebrate today, represent? The liturgy responds to this question in the preface of today's Mass when, turning to God, it sings: "In her you designated the beginning of the Church, Bride of Christ without blemish or wrinkle. ... You predestined her above every creature to be an advocate of grace and a model of holiness for your people."

This, therefore, is what we celebrate in Mary today: the beginning of the Church, the first fulfillment of God's design. She is the one in whom there is a promise and guarantee that the whole plan will be accomplished. "Nothing is impossible with God!" Mary is the proof of this. In her there already shines forth all the future splendor of the Church, as, on a peaceful morning, the azure countenance of the sky is reflected in a single dew drop. And it is also for this above all that Mary is called "Mother of the Church."

However, Mary is not only she who stands behind us, at the beginning of the Church. She also stands before us as "model of holiness for the people of God." We are not born immaculate as, by a singular privilege bestowed by God, she was born; indeed, evil settles into us in every fiber and in every form. We are full of "wrinkles" that must be made smooth and "blemishes" that must be washed away. It is in connection with this work of purification and recovery of the image of God that Mary stands before us as a powerful reminder.

The liturgy speaks of her as a "model of holiness." The image is correct, provided that we move beyond human analogies. Our Lady is not like human models, who pose and remain still so that they can be painted by an artist. Mary is a model who works with us and in us, who guides our hand as we trace the outlines of the model par excellence, Jesus Christ, so that we might be "conformed to his image" (Romans 8:29).

She is "advocate of grace" before she is model of holiness. Devotion to Mary, when it is enlightened and ecclesial, does not really draw believers away from the one Mediator, but brings them to him. Those who have had a true and authentic experience of Mary in their lives know that it brings them to the Gospel and to a deeper knowledge of Christ. She stands before all Christians always repeating what she said at Cana: "Do whatever he tells you."

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Second Sunday of Advent C    Baruch 5:1-9;    Philippians 1:4-6,8-11;     Luke 3:1-6
   Father Cantalamessa on  John the Baptist: Prophet of the Most High

* * *

This Sunday's Gospel is concerned entirely with the figure of John the Baptist. From the moment of his birth John the Baptist was greeted by his father as a prophet: "And you, child, will be called prophet of the Most High because you will go before the Lord to prepare the ways for him" (Luke 1:76).

What did the precursor do to be defined as a prophet, indeed, "the greatest of the prophets" (cf. Luke 7:28)? First of all, in the line of the ancient prophets of Israel, he preached against oppression and social injustice. In Sunday's Gospel we can hear him say: "He who has two tunics must give one to him who has none; and he who has something to eat must do likewise."

To the tax collectors who so often drained away the money of the poor with arbitrary requests, he says: "Do not mistreat anyone or commit extortion" (Luke 3:11-14). There are also the sayings about making the mountains low, raising up the valleys, and straightening the crooked pathways. Today we could understand them thus: "Every unjust social difference between the very rich (the mountains) and the very poor (the valleys) must be eliminated or at least reduced; the crooked roads of corruption and deception must be made straight."

Up to this point we can easily recognize our contemporary understanding of a prophet: one who pushes for change; who denounces the injustices of the system, who points his finger against power in all its forms – religious, economic, military – and dares to cry out in the face of the tyrant: "It is not right!" (Matthew 14:4).

But there is something else that John the Baptist does: He gives to the people "a knowledge of salvation, of the remission of their sins" (Luke 1:77). Where, we might ask ourselves, is the prophecy in this case? The prophets announced a future salvation; but John the Baptist does not announce a future salvation; he indicates a salvation that is now present. He is the one who points his finger toward the person and cries out: "Behold, here it is" (John 1:29). "That which was awaited for centuries and centuries is here, he is the one!" What a tremor must have passed though those present who heard John speak thus!

The traditional prophets helped their contemporaries look beyond the wall of time and see into the future, but John helps the people to look past the wall of contrary appearances to make them see the Messiah hidden behind the semblance of a man like others. The Baptist in this way inaugurated the new Christian form of prophecy, which does not consist in proclaiming a future salvation ("in the last times"), but to reveal the hidden presence of Christ in the world.

What does all of this have to say to us? That we too must hold together those two aspects of the office of prophet: On one hand working for social justice and on the other announcing the Gospel. A proclamation of Christ that is not accompanied by an effort toward human betterment would result in something disincarnate and lacking credibility. If we only worked for justice without the proclamation of faith and without the regenerative contact with the word of God, we would soon come to our limits and end up mere protestors.

From John the Baptist we also learn that proclamation of the Gospel and the struggle for justice need not remain simply juxtaposed, without a link between them. It must be precisely the Gospel of Christ that moves us to fight for respect for human beings in such a way as to make it possible for each man to "see the salvation of God." John the Baptist did not preach against abuses as a social agitator but as a herald of the Gospel "to make ready for the Lord a people well prepared" (Luke 1:17).

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Third Sunday of Advent   Zephaniah 3:14-18;     Philippians 4:4-7;     Luke 3:10-18
Father Cantalamessa on Kindness  "Rejoice Always: A Balm in Human Relationships"

The third Sunday of Advent is pervaded by the theme of joy. This Sunday is traditionally called "Laetare" Sunday, that is, the Sunday of "rejoicing," from the words of St. Paul in the second reading: "Rejoice in the Lord always; I say again, rejoice."

In the first reading we hear the words of the prophet Zephaniah: "Rejoice, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel! Be glad and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!" In the responsorial psalm this extraordinary vocabulary of joy is enriched with still other terms: "My strength and my courage is the Lord, and he has been my salvation. With joy you will draw water at the fountain of salvation. … Shout with exultation, O city of Zion."

Let us remain for a while with this word. (The Gospel passage continues the message of John the Baptist that we commented on last Sunday.) In the poem "Il sabato del villaggio" ("The village sabbath") Giacomo Leopardi has expressed the idea that in the present life the only authentic and possible joy is the joy of expectation, the joy of the sabbath. It is a "day full of hope and joy," full of joy precisely because it is full of hope. The expectation of the feast is better than the feast itself.

The possession of the good that was longed for brings nothing but disillusionment and boredom, because every finite good reveals itself to be inferior to what was desired and is tiresome; only expectation is the bearer of living joy. But this is precisely what Christian joy is in this world: the joy of the sabbath, the prelude to the Sunday without end, which is eternal life. St. Paul says that Christians must be "joyful in hope" (Romans 12:12), which does not mean that we must "hope to be happy" (after death), but that we must be "joyful in hope," already happy now by the simple fact of hoping.

The Apostle does not limit himself only to the command to rejoice; he also indicates how a community that wants to bear witness to joy and make it credible to others must conduct itself. He says: "Your affability should be known by all men."

The Greek word that we translate as "affability" signifies a whole complex of attitudes that runs from clemency to the capacity to know how to believe and to show oneself to be lovable, tolerant, and hospitable. We could translate it with the word "kindness." It is necessary that we first of all rediscover the human value of this virtue. Kindness is a virtue which is at risk, or, more exactly, it is a virtue that is extinct in the society in which we live.

Gratuitous violence in films and on television, language that is intentionally vulgar, the competition to go beyond the limits in regard to brutality and explicit sex is making us used to every expression of ugliness and vulgarity.

Kindness is a balm in human relationships. Family life would be so much better if there were more kindness in our gestures, in our words, and above all, in the sentiments of our hearts. Nothing extinguishes the joy of being together more than a certain vileness in our behavior. "A kind answer," says Scripture, "calms wrath, but a barbed one brings ire" (Proverbs 15:14). "A kind mouth multiplies friends, and gracious lips prompt friendly greetings" (Sirach 6:5). A kind person generates fond feelings and admiration wherever he goes.

Alongside this human value we must also rediscover the Gospel value of kindness. In the Bible the terms "meek" and "mild" do not have the passive sense of "subjected," "repressed," but the active sense of a person who acts with respect, courtesy, clemency toward others.

Kindness is indispensable above all for those who want to help others find Christ. The Apostle Peter recommends to the first Christians to be "ready to give a reason for their hope," but adds immediately: "But this must be done with sweetness and respect" (1 Peter 3:15 ff), which is to say, with kindness.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Father Raniero Cantalamessa on the Fourth Sunday of Advent Year C 2006
"The Lord Is on High but Cares for the Lowly"   Micah 5:2-5;   Hebrews 10:5-10;    Luke 1:39-48a

He has looked upon his handmaid's lowliness

The last Sunday of Advent is the one that must prepare us immediately for Christmas. By now we should be done with our shopping and be more open to also think about the religious meaning of this festive time.

Today's Gospel is the one that recounts Mary's visit to Elizabeth, which ends with the Magnificat: "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior. For he has looked upon his handmaid's lowliness."

With the Magnificat Mary helps us to take in an important aspect of the Christmas mystery on which I would like to insist: Christmas as the feast of the lowly and as the ransoming of the poor.

Mary says: "He has cast down the powerful from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things and the rich he has sent away empty."

In today's world there are two new emerging social classes which are no longer the ones we knew in the past. On one hand, there is the cosmopolitan society that knows English, that moves easily in the airports of the world, that knows how to use computers and to "navigate" the internet. For this group the world is already a "global village."

On the other hand, there is the great mass of those who have just left the country of their birth and have limited and only indirect access to the great means of social communication. It is these two groups which today are, respectively, the new "powerful" and the new "lowly."

Mary helps us to put things right again and to not let ourselves be deceived. She tells us that often the deepest values are hidden among the lowly; that the more decisive events in history (such as the birth of Jesus), takes place among the lowly and not on the world's great stages.

Today's first reading tells us that Bethlehem was "a little one among the towns of Judea," and yet in her the Messiah was born. Great writers, like Manzoni and Dostoyevsky, have immortalized, in their works, the values and stories of the "lower class."

The "preferential option" for the poor was something that God decided on well before the Second Vatican Council. Scripture says that "the Lord is on high but cares for the lowly" (Psalm 138:6); he "resists the proud but gives his grace to the humble" (1 Peter 5:5).

In revelation God continually appears as one who pays attention to the wretched, the afflicted, the abandoned and those who are nothing in the eyes of the world. All of this contains a lesson that is extremely relevant for us today. Our temptation is to do exactly the opposite of what God does: to want to look to those who are on top, not at those who are on the bottom; to those who are prosperous, not to those who are in need.

We cannot be content just remembering that God considers the lowly. We ourselves must become little, humble, at least in our hearts.

The Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem has only one entrance, and you cannot pass through it without bending down. Some have said that it was built this way so that the Bedouins could not enter seated on their camels. But there is another explanation that has always been given, and which, in any case, contains a deep spiritual truth. This door is supposed to remind pilgrims that in order to penetrate the deep meaning of Christmas it is necessary to humble oneself and become little.

In the days that follow we will hear our old Italian carol sung: "Tu scendi dalle stelle, o re del cielo…" (You descend from the starry skies, O King of heaven…). But if God has descended "from the starry skies," should we not also come down from our pedestals of superiority and power and live together as brothers reconciled?

We too must climb down from the camels to enter into the stable of Bethlehem.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Christmas Day: Why did God become man?  Isaiah 52:7-10; Hebrews 1:1-16; John 1:1-18
                                 Father Cantalamessa on Christmas

Let us go right to the apex of the prologue of John's Gospel, which is read at the third Mass on Christmas day.

In the Credo there is a line that on this day we recite on our knees: "For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven." This is the fundamental and perennially valid answer to the question -- "Why did the word become flesh?" -- but it needs to be understood and integrated.

The question put another way is in fact: "Why did he become man 'for our salvation?'" Only because we had sinned and needed to be saved?

There is a vein of the theology inaugurated by Blessed Duns Scotus, a Franciscan theologian, which loosens a too exclusive connection to man's sin and regards God's glory as the primary reason for the Incarnation. "God decreed the incarnation of his Son in order to have someone outside of him who loved him in the highest way, in a way worthy of God."

This answer, though beautiful, is still not the definitive one. For the Bible the most important thing is not, as it was for Greek philosophers, that God be loved, but that God "loves" and loved first (cf. 1 John 4:10, 19). God willed the incarnation of the Son not so much as to have someone outside the Trinity that would love him worthily as to have someone to love in a way worthy of him, that is, to love without measure!

At Christmas, when the child Jesus is born, God the Father has someone to love in an infinite way because Jesus is together man and God. But not only Jesus, but us together with him. We are included in this love, having become members of the body of Christ, "sons in the Son." John's prologue reminds of this: "To those who welcomed him he gave the power to become sons of God."

Therefore, Christ did descend from heaven "for our salvation," but what moved him to come down for our salvation was love, nothing else but love.

Christmas is the supreme proof of God's "philanthropy," as Scripture calls it (Titus 3:4), that is, of God's love (philea) for man (anthropos). John too responds to the why of the Incarnation in this way: "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that whoever should believe in him would not die but have life everlasting" (John 3:16).

So, what should be our response to the message of Christmas? The Christmas carol "Adeste Fideles" says: "How can we not love one who has so loved us?"

There is much that we can do to solemnize Christmas, but the truest and most profound thing is suggested to us by these words. A sincere thought of gratitude, a feeling of love for him who came to live among us is the best gift we can give to the child Jesus, the most beautiful ornament in the manger.

To be sincere, however, love needs to be translated into concrete gestures. The simplest and most universal -- when it is pure and innocent -- is the kiss.

Let us kiss Jesus, then, as we desire to kiss all children just born. But let us not just kiss the statue of plaster or porcelain but the child Jesus in flesh and blood. When we have kissed those who are wretched, suffering, we have kissed him!

To kiss someone, in this sense, is to help in a real way, but it is also to speak a good word, to give encouragement, to pay a visit, to smile, and sometimes -- why not -- to give an actual kiss. These are the most beautiful candles that we can light in our manger.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Sunday after Christmas: Feast of the Holy Family  1 Samuel 1:20-22,24-28; 1 John 3:1-2,21-24; Luke 2:41-52
               Father Cantalamessa on the Family:  when we are not pursuing the child's good …
 
On the family

"Son, why have you done this to us? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety." In these words of Mary we see that all three of the essential components of a family are mentioned: father, mother and child. This year we cannot talk about the family without touching on the problem that in the present moment is most disturbing society and causing the Church concern: the discussion in Parliament about the recognition of cohabiting couples.

The state cannot be prevented from responding to new situations present in society, from recognizing some civil rights of persons, even of the same sex, who have decided to live together. That which is essential for the Church -- and which must be essential for all those interested in the future good of society -- is that this is not translated into a weakening of the institution of the family, which is already so threatened by modern society.

We know that the best way to weaken a reality or a word is to thin it out, to make it banal, making it embrace different and even contradictory things. This happens if homosexual couples are put on the same footing with a marriage between a man and a woman. The meaning itself of the word "matrimony" -- from the Latin for maternal office -- reveals the insensitivity of such a project.

Above all, I must say that I just do not see the reason for making these two things equal, given that there are other ways of safeguarding the rights in question. I do not understand the suggestion that there has been an offense to the dignity of homosexual persons whom all today feel the need to respect and love. I know personally the rectitude and suffering of some of these persons.

What we are saying applies even more to the problem of homosexual couples adopting children. Adoption by homosexual couples is unacceptable because it is an adoption exclusively for the benefit of the couple and not the child, who could just as well be adopted by a normal couple, that is, by a father and mother. There are many who have been waiting for years.

Homosexual women have a maternal instinct and they want to satisfy it by adopting a child; homosexual men experience the need to see a young life grow beside them and want to satisfy this need by adopting a child. But what attention is given to the needs and sentiments of the child in this case? Rather than having a father and mother, the child will find himself having two mothers or two fathers with all the psychological problems and problems of identity that this brings with it in and outside the home. At school, what effect will this situation, which makes the child different from his companions, have on the child?

Adoption is disturbed in its deeper significance: It is no longer a giving of something but a looking for something. True love, Paul says, "does not seek its own interests." It is true that even in normal adoptions the parents sometimes seek their own good. They want to have someone with whom they can share their reciprocal love, someone who can benefit from all their labors. But in this case the good of those who adopt coincides with that of the adptees, it is not opposed to it. Objectively speaking, we are not pursuing the child's good but his harm if we allow him to be adopted by a homosexual couple when it would have been possible for him to be adopted by a normal couple.

The Gospel passage of the feast ends with a small portrait of family life that gives us insight into the whole life of Jesus from 12 to 30 years: "He went with them and returned to Nazareth and was obedient to them. His mother stored up all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom, age and grace before God and men." May the Virgin obtain for all the children of the world the gift to be able to grow up in grace surrounded by the affection of a father and a mother.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Solemnity of Holy Mary, Mother of God      Numbers 6:22-27;     Galatians 4:4-7;    Luke 2:16-21
              Father Cantalamessa on the Mother of God:  "Mary Meditated on All These Things in Her Heart"

The council taught us to look upon Mary as a "figure" of the Church, that is, as the Church's perfect exemplar, as the first fruits of the Church. But can Mary be a model of the Church even as "Mother of God," the title with which she is honored this day? Can we become mothers of Christ?

Not only is this possible, but some fathers of the Church have said that, without this imitation, Mary's title is useless to me: "What does it matter," they said, "if Christ was once born to Mary in Bethlehem but is not born by faith in my soul?"

Jesus himself was the first to apply this title, "Mother of Christ," to the Church when he declared: "My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and put it into practice" (Luke 8:21).

Today's liturgy presents Mary to us as the first of those to become mother of Christ through attentive listening to his word. The Church has chosen for this feast the Gospel passage where it is written that "Mary, for her part, treasured all these words, meditating on them in her heart." How one concretely becomes a mother of Christ is explained to us by Jesus himself: hearing the word and putting it into practice.

There are two types of incomplete or interrupted motherhood. One is the old one which we know: early termination of the pregancy. This happens when a woman conceives a life but does not give birth to it because, in the meantime, either for natural causes or the sin of men, the child dies. Until a short time ago this was the only known form of incomplete motherhood.

Today, however, we know another which consists, on the contrary, in giving birth to a child without having conceived it. This happens when child is first conceived in a test tube and then inserted into the womb of a woman. In some terrible and squalid cases, the womb is borrowed, sometimes rented, to bear a human life conceived elsewhere. In this case, that which the woman gives birth to does not come from her, is not "first conceived in her heart."

Unfortunately, also on the spiritual plane there are these two sad possibilities. There are those who conceive Jesus without giving birth to him. Such are those who welcome the word without putting it into practice, those who have one spiritual abortion after another, formulating plans for conversion which are then systematically forgotten and abandoned at the halfway point; they behave toward the word as hasty observers who see their faces in a mirror and then go away immediately forgetting what they looked like (cf. James 1:23-24). In sum, these are those who have faith but not works.

On the other hand, there are those who give birth to Christ without having conceived him. Such are those who do many works, perhaps even good ones, which do not come from the heart, from love of God and right intention, but rather from habit, from hypocrisy, from the desire for their own glory or interests, or simply from the satisfaction of doing something, acting. In sum, these are those who have works but not faith.

These are the negative cases of an incomplete maternity. St. Francis of Assisi describes for us the positive case of a complete maternity which makes us resemble Mary: "We are mothers of Christ," he writes, "when we carry him in our hearts and our bodies through divine love and pure and sincere conscience; we give birth to him through holy works, which should shine as an example before others!"

We -- the saint says -- conceive Christ when we love him with sincerity of heart and with rectitude of conscience, and we give birth to him when we accomplish holy works that manifest him to the world.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The Epiphany of the LordThe Signs of the Times    Isaiah 60:1-6;   Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6;   Matthew 2:1-12
"We Celebrate Three Wondrous Events on This Holy Day"  (Father Cantalamessa)

"We celebrate three wondrous events on this holy day: Today the star leads the Magi to the stable, today the water is changed into wine at the wedding feast at Cana, today Christ is baptized by John in the Jordan for our salvation." With these words the liturgy describes today's feast; it consists in the triple revelation of Christ: to the magi, at the wedding feast at Cana, and in Jesus' baptism in the Jordan. Since ancient times, that which has brought about the unification of these three events in a single feast is their common theme of manifestation (in Greek "epiphania"). In these events Jesus progressively reveals what he is in reality, the Messiah and savior.

Christ reveals himself to all peoples and to each category of persons with signs appropriate and comprehensible to them. To simple shepherds he sends an angel; to the wise who scrutinize the courses of the heavenly bodies he sends a star; to the Jews attached to signs, he gives a sign, that is, a miracle: He changes water into wine.

With what signs does Christ manifest himself to the men of our time? The Second Vatican Council gave important attention to the "signs of the times" ("Gaudium et Spes," No. 11). Among these are the sense of solidarity and the interdependence that is developing between nations, Christian ecumenism, the promotion of the laity, the liberation of women, the new sense of religious freedom.

When Jesus spoke of the "signs of the times," he meant above all the messianic signs: "The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are healed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the good news preached to them" (Matthew 11:5). Are there such signs today? Certainly there are! The blind receive the light of faith and hope through contact with the word of God; the spiritually lame (and sometimes the physically lame) get up and walk; those who are prisoners in themselves, of evil, or of men, are freed from their chains; in sum, people are converted and live through the power of Christ and his Spirit.

Jesus insists on one of these signs in particular: "The good news is announced to the poor" (Luke 7:22). Is not the concern, typical of our time, that the Gospel be preached to the poor, a sign that Christ is at work in the Church? Perhaps today we are able to discover a new meaning in that saying of Jesus: "The poor you will always have with you but you will not always have me" (Matthew 26:11); that is to say: When I am no longer with you physically, the poor who represent me will be with you: do to them what you would do to me!

The bringing of the Gospel to the poor may sometimes appear too slow and uncertain and not always consistent, but it would be unjust to deny that there is alive in the whole Church an interest, a zeal -- which is also a positive sign -- a strong feeling in regard to the poor, whether they be individuals or an entire people. It is a new consciousness that "manifests" the power of the word of Christ.

These are some of the signs of the epiphany of Christ that continue to manifest themselves among us. We all have the task of discovering and evaluating these signs and becoming ourselves a sign of the presence of Christ in the world!

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time      Isaiah 62:1-5;    1 Corinthians 12:4-11;    John 2:1-11
           Father Cantalamessa on Christ at Cana: 
Inviting Jesus to the wedding

The Gospel of the second Sunday in Ordinary Time is the episode of the wedding feast at Cana (John 2:1-11). What did Jesus want to tell us by participating in a wedding feast?

Above all, in this way he in fact honored the marriage between man and woman, implicitly reaffirming that it is a beautiful thing, willed by the Creator and blessed by him. But he wanted also to teach us something else. With his coming the marriage between God and humanity promised through the prophets was realized under the name of the "new and eternal covenant."

At Cana, symbol and reality meet: The human marriage of two young people is the occasion to speak to us of another marriage, that between Christ and the Church, which will be achieved in "his hour" on the cross.

If we want to find out how the relationship between a man and woman in marriage should be according to the Bible, we must look at the relationship between Christ and the Church. Let us try to do it following the thought of St. Paul on this theme as it is expressed in Ephesians 5:35-33. At the origin and center of every matrimony, according to this vision, there must be love: "You, husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her."

This affirmation -- that matrimony is based on love -- seems to us to be discounted today. But that marriage should be based on love is something that has only been recognized for little over a century, and it is still not recognized everywhere.

For centuries and millenniums, marriage was a transaction between families, a way of providing for the conservation of a patrimony or a social obligation. The parents and the families were the protagonists, not the spouses, who often did not know each other until the day of the wedding.

Jesus, Paul says in the text of Ephesians, gave himself up "that he might present the Church to himself in splendor without spot or wrinkle or any such thing." Is it possible for the human husband to emulate Christ the bridegroom even in this? Can he remove his wife's wrinkles? Certainly!

There are wrinkles that result from a lack of love, from being left alone. The woman who feels herself to still be important to her husband does not have wrinkles, or if she does, they are a different kind of wrinkles and they make her beauty grow rather than diminish it.

And wives, what can they learn from their model which is the Church? The Church makes herself beautiful only for her husband and not to please anyone else. She is proud and thrilled about her husband and does not cease to praise him. Translated onto the human plane this reminds fianceés and wives that their esteem and admiration is a very important thing for their fiancé or husband.

Sometimes to them this is the thing that counts the most in the world. It would be a grave thing to deny them this, to never have a word of appreciation for their work, for their ability to organize, their courage, their dedication to the family; for what he says, if he is a politician, for what he writes, if he is a writer, for what he paints, if he is an artist. Love is nourished by esteem and dies without it.

But there is something that the model of divine love calls husbands to above all: fidelity. God is faithful, always, despite everything. Today, this discourse about fidelity has become something rather delicate and no one any longer dares to risk it. And yet the principal reason for the disintegration of many marriages is precisely here, in infidelity. Some deny this, saying that adultery is the effect and not the cause of marriage crises. In other words, betrayal happens because there is nothing that exists any longer with one's spouse.

On occasion this is also true; but often what we have is a vicious circle. There is betrayal because the marriage is dead, but the marriage is dead precisely because treachery has already begun, perhaps at first only in the heart. That which is the most odious is when the traitor himself casts the fault entirely on the other and assumes the attitude of the victim.

But let us return to the Gospel episode, because it contains hope for all marriages, even the better ones. What happens in all marriages happens in the wedding feast at Cana. It begins with enthusiasm and joy (the wine is the symbol of this); but this initial enthusiasm, like the wine at Cana, comes to wane with the passage of time. Then things are done no longer for love and with joy, but out of habit. It descends upon the family, if we are not careful, like a cloud of sadness and boredom. Of this couple it must sadly be said: "They have no more wine!"

This Gospel episode points out to the couple a way to not fall into this situation or get out of if they are already in it: Invite Jesus to your wedding! If he is present, he can always be asked to repeat the miracle of Cana: transform the water into wine -- the water of habit, of routine, of frigidity, into the wine of love and joy better than the initial love and joy, just as the miraculous wine at Cana.

Inviting Jesus to your wedding means honoring the Gospel in your house, praying together, receiving the sacraments, taking part in the life of the Church.

Married couples are not always in the same place, religiously speaking. Perhaps one of them is a believer and the other is not, or at least not in the same way. In this case, the one who knows Jesus should invite him to the wedding and do it in such a way -- with kindness, respect for the other, love and coherence of life -- that Jesus soon becomes the friend of both. A "friend of the family!"

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Father Cantalamessa on Evangelical History
Pontifical Household Preacher Comments on the Readings for the third Sunday of Ordinary Time C

Are the Gospels Historical Records?   Nehemiah 8:2-4a,5-6,8-10;   1 Corinthians 12:12-31a;    Luke 1:1-4;4:14-21

Before beginning the account of the life of Jesus, the Evangelist Luke explains the criteria that guided him. He says that he is referring to facts attested to by eye witnesses, which he verified by "accurate research," so that those who read what he writes may realize the solidity of the teachings contained in the Gospel. This provides us with an occasion to consider the problem of the historicity of the Gospels.

Until some centuries ago, the critical sense did not exist in people. What was referred to in the past was taken as having been an historical event. In the last two or three centuries the historical sense was born which brought people to submit things to a critical test to ascertain their validity before they would believe them to be facts of the past. This procedure has been applied to the Gospels.

Let us sum up the various stages that the life and teaching of Jesus have passed through before they have reached us.

First stage: Jesus' earthly life. Jesus did not write anything, but in his preaching he used some common expediencies of ancient culture which facilitated keeping a text in one's memory: brief phrases, parallels and antitheses, rhythmic repetitions, images, parables.… Think of lines from the Gospels like: "The last will be first and the first will be last"; "Wide is the door and broad is the way that leads to perdition…; "Narrow is the gate and hard is the way that leads to life" (Matthew 7:13-14).

Phrases like these, once heard, would even be difficult for people today to forget. The fact that Jesus himself did not write the Gospels does not mean that the words that they contain are not his. Unable to write words on paper, the men of ancient times wrote them on the mind.

Second stage: the oral preaching of the apostles. After the resurrection, the apostles immediately began to proclaim to all the life and words of Christ, taking account of the needs and the circumstances of the different listeners. There purpose was not to do history but to bring people to faith. With the clearer understanding that they now had, they were able to transmit to others that which Jesus said and did, adapting it to the needs of those to whom they turned.

Third stage: the written gospels. About 30 years after Jesus' death, some authors began to write down this preaching that had come to them orally. The four Gospels that we know were born in this way. Of the many things that had come down to them, the evangelists selected some, they summarized others, and others they explained to adapt them to the needs that the communities for whom they were writing had at the moment. The need to adapt Jesus' words to new and diverse demands influenced the order in which the facts are recounted in the four Gospels, as well as their coloration and importance, but they did not otherwise alter their fundamental truth.

That the evangelists had, insofar as it was possible at the time, a historical concern and not only a concern with edification, is demonstrated by the precision with which they situate the event of Christ in time and place. A little further on, Luke furnishes us with all the political and geographical coordinates of the beginning of Jesus' public ministry (cf. Luke 3:1-2).

In conclusion, the Gospels are not historical books in the modern sense of detached and neutral accounts of facts. They are historical, rather, in the sense that what they transmit reflects the substance of what happened. But the argument most in favor of the fundamental historical truth of the Gospels is that which we experience inside ourselves every time we are profoundly touched by the word of Christ. What other word, ancient or new, ever had the same power?

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Second Sunday of Lent    Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18;     Philippians 3:17-4:1;     Luke 9:28b-36
He went up the mountain to pray       Father Cantalamessa on the Transfiguration  (Luke 9:28b-36)


Sunday's Gospel narrates the Transfiguration. In his Gospel Luke gives the reason why Jesus "went up the mountain" that day: He went up "to pray."

It was prayer that made his raiment white as snow and his countenance splendid like the sun. Following the program we announced in our commentary for last Sunday, we would like to take this episode as a point of departure for examining how prayer takes up Christ's whole life and what this prayer tells us about the profound identity of his person.

Someone has said: "Jesus is a Jewish man who does not regard himself as identical with God. Indeed, one does not pray to God if one is God." Leaving aside for a moment what Jesus thought about himself, this claim does not take account of an elementary truth: Jesus is also a man and it is as a man that he prays.

God, of course, could not have hunger or thirst either, or suffer, but Jesus hungers and thirsts and suffers because he is human.

On the contrary, it is precisely Jesus' prayer that allows us to consider the profound mystery of his person. It is a historically attested fact that in prayer Jesus turns to God calling him "Abba," that is, dear father, my father, papa. This way of addressing God, although not unknown before Jesus' time, is so characteristic of Jesus that we are obliged to see it as evidence of a singular relationship with the heavenly Father.

Let us listen to this prayer of Jesus reported by Matthew: "At that time Jesus said in reply, 'I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to mere children. Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him'" (Matthew 11:26-27).

Between Father and Son there is, as we see, total reciprocity, "a close, familiar relationship." In the parable of the murderous tenants of the vineyard this singular relationship of father and son that Jesus has with God again clearly emerges; it is a relationship different from all the others who are called "servants" (cf. Mark 12:1-10).

At this point, however, an objection is made: Why then did Jesus never openly give himself the title "Son of God" during his life, but instead always spoke of himself as the "Son of man"? The reason for this is the same as that for which Jesus never calls himself the Messiah, and when others call him this name he is reticent, or even forbids them to spread it around. Jesus acted in this way because those titles were understood by the people in a very precise way that did not correspond to the idea that Jesus had of his mission.

Many were called "Son of God": kings, prophets, great men. The Messiah was understood to be the one sent by God who would lead a military fight against Israel's enemies and rulers. It was in this direction that the demon tried to push Jesus in the desert.

His own disciples did not understand this and continued to dream of a destiny of glory and power. Jesus did not understand himself to be this type of Messiah: "I did not come to be served," he said, "but to serve." He did not come to take anyone's life away, but rather "to give his life in ransom for many."

Christ first had to suffer and die before it was understood what kind of Messiah he was. It is symptomatic that the only time that Jesus proclaims himself Messiah is when he finds himself in chains before the High Priest, about to be condemned to death, without any other possibility of equivocations. "Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed God?" the High Priest asks him, and he answers: "I am!" (Mark 14:61ff).

All the titles and categories with which men, friends and enemies, try to saddle Jesus during his life appear narrow, insufficient. He is a teacher, "but not like other teachers," because he teaches with authority and in his own name. He is the son of David, but also David's Lord; he is greater than a prophet, greater than Jonah, greater than Solomon.

The question that the people posed, "Who on earth is he?" expresses well the sentiment that surrounded him like a mystery, something that could not be humanly explained.

The attempt of some scholars and critics to reduce Jesus to a normal Jew of his time, who would not have in fact said or done anything special, is in total contrast to the most certain historical data that we have of him. Such views can only be understood as guided by a prejudicial refusal to admit that something transcendent could appear in human history. These reductive approaches to Jesus cannot explain how such an ordinary being became -- as these same critics say -- "the man who changed the world."

Let us now go back to the episode of the Transfiguration to draw from it some practical teaching. Even the Transfiguration is a mystery "for us," it hits close to home.

In the second reading St. Paul says: "The Lord Jesus transfigured our miserable body, conforming it to his glorious body." Tabor is an open window on our future; it assures us that the opacity of our body will one day be transformed into light. But Tabor also tells us something about the present. It highlights what our body already is, beneath its miserable appearance: the temple of the Holy Spirit.

For the Bible the body is not an inessential element of human beings; it is an integral part. Man does not have a body, he is a body. The body was created directly by God, assumed by the Word in the incarnation and sanctified by the Spirit in baptism.

The man of the Bible is enchanted by the splendor of the human body: "You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother's womb. I praise you, so wonderfully you made me" (Psalm 139). The body is destined to share the same glory in eternity as the soul. "Body and soul: either they will be two hands joined in eternal adoration or two wrists bound together in eternal captivity" (Charles P?guy).

Christianity preaches the salvation of the body, not salvation from the body, as the Manichean and Gnostic religions did in antiquity and as some Eastern religions do today.

And what can we say to those who suffer? What can we say to those who witness the deformation of their own bodies or those of loved ones? The most consoling message of the Transfiguration is perhaps for them. "He will transfigure our miserable body, conforming it to his glorious body."

Bodies humiliated by sickness and death will be ransomed. Even Jesus will be disfigured in the passion, but will rise with a glorious body with which he will live for eternity and, faith tells us, with which he will meet us after death.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time C  
Unless you have charity...  
Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19; 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13; Luke 4:21-30

Father Cantalamessa, papal household preacher, on Seeking and Giving Love 

This Sunday's Gospel narrates the rejection Jesus meets at Nazareth, his hometown, the first time he returns after beginning his public ministry. This rejection elicits the famous remark, "No prophet is accepted in his own country."

We commented on Mark's account of this episode last year; we can therefore focus our attention on the second reading where we find a very important message. This is Paul's celebrated hymn to charity. Charity is the religious term for love. This is, then, a hymn to love, perhaps the most celebrated and sublime ever written.

When Christianity appeared on the world's stage, love had already employed various singers. The most illustrious was Plato who wrote an entire treatise on it. The common name for love at that time was "eros" (this is where we get "erotic" and "eroticism" from).

Christianity sensed that this passionate and desirous love was not adequate to express the novelty of the biblical concept. For this reason it avoided the term "eros" and substituted that of "agape," which could be translated as "spiritual love" or "charity" -- although the latter term has come to acquire a too restricted meaning: doing charity, works of charity.

The difference between "eros" and "agape" is this. Desirous or erotic love is exclusive; it is consummated between two persons; the interference of a third person would mean its destruction, its betrayal. Sometimes the birth of a child can throw this kind of love into a crisis.

The giving type of love, "agape," on the contrary embraces everyone, no one can be excluded, not even enemies. The classical formula of "eros" is pronounced by Violetta in Verdi's opera "La Traviata": "Love me, Alfredo. Love me as much as I love you."

The classical formula of "agape" is that of Jesus who says: "As I have loved you, love one another." This latter is a love that is meant to circulate, to expand.

Another difference is this. Erotic love, in the more typical form of "falling in love," does not last long, or it lasts only by changing its object, that is, by falling in love with different people successively. Of charity, however, St. Paul says that it "remains," indeed it is the only thing that remains in eternity, even after faith and hope have ceased.

But between these two loves -- that of seeking and that of giving -- there is not separation and contraposition, but rather development and growth.

"Eros" is the point of departure for us and "agape" is the point of arrival. Between them there is room for a whole education and growth in love. Let us take the most common case which is love between two persons.

In the love between a husband and wife "eros" prevails at the beginning, attraction, reciprocal desire, the conquering of the other, and so a certain egoism. If this love does not make an effort to enrich itself along the way with a new dimension, one of gratuity, of reciprocal tenderness, of a capacity to forget oneself for the other, and to project itself into children, we all know how it will end.

Paul's message is quite relevant today. The entertainment and advertising worlds seem bent on inculcating in young people that love is reducible to "eros" and that "eros" is reducible to sex. Life is presented as a continual idol in a world where everything is beautiful, young, and healthy; where there is no growing old, no sickness, and everyone can spend as much as they want.

But this is a colossal lie that generates unrealistic expectations, which, once they are not met, provoke frustration, rebellion against family and society, and often open the door to crime. The word of God makes it such that the critical sense in people is not altogether extinguished when this illusory vision of life is daily proposed to them.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time C   Father Cantalamessa on Fish and Sheep
       
Fishers of men                     Isaiah 6:1-2a,3-8;    1 Corinthians 15:1-11;    Luke 5:1-11  

The miraculous catch was the proof that convinced a fisherman like Simon Peter.

After they returned to shore he fell down at Jesus' feet saying, "Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man." But Jesus answered him with these words that represent the culmination of the story, and the reason for which it was recorded: "Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be a fisher of men."

Jesus uses two images to illustrate the task of his co-workers: fishermen and shepherds.

For fear that modern man find these images little respectful of his dignity and reject them, let us explain their meaning. Today no one likes to be "fished for" by another, or be a sheep in a flock.

The first observation that should be made is this: Ordinarily in fishing the fisherman is after his own good and not that of the fish. The same goes for the shepherd. He shepherds and cares for his flock not for the good of the flock, but for his own good because the flock furnishes him with milk, wool and food.

In the Gospel we find just the opposite: the fisherman who serves the fish; the shepherd who sacrifices for the sheep to the point of giving his life for them. When we talk about men being "fished" for it is not a disgrace, but salvation.

Imagine people who find themselves cast upon the waves in the high seas after a shipwreck, at night, in the cold; seeing a rope or a lifeboat lowered for them is not humiliation, but their supreme hope. This is how we must understand the work of fishers of men: They are like those who lower a lifeboat into the sea, often in the midst of a storm, for those who are in danger of their lives.

But the difficulty which I noted reappears in another form. Let's say that we do need shepherds and fishermen. Why is it that some should have the role of fishermen and others of fish, and some that of shepherds and others that of sheep and flock. The relationship between fisherman and fish, as that between shepherd and sheep, suggests the idea of inequality, of superiority. No one likes being just a number in the flock and recognizing a shepherd over him.

Here we need to rid ourselves of a certain prejudice. In the Church no one is only a fisherman or only a shepherd, and no one is only a fish or a sheep. We are all, in different ways, all at the same time. Christ is the only one who is simply a fisherman and simply a shepherd.

Before becoming a fisher of men Peter himself was fished for and fished for again, many times. He was, literally, fished for when, walking on the waves, he was overcome with fear and was on the point of sinking; he was fished for again, above all, after his betrayal of Jesus. He had to experience what it meant to be a "lost sheep" so that he could learn what it meant to be a good shepherd; he had to be fished out of the depths of the abyss into which he had fallen in order to learn what it meant to be a fisher of men.

If, in a different way, all the baptized are both fished for and fishermen themselves, then here there opens up a large field of action for the laity. We priests are better prepared to be shepherds than we are to be fishermen. We find it easier to nourish with the word and the sacraments the people who spontaneously come to church than we do going out to look for those who have strayed and are far away. The role of the fisherman remains in large part to be discovered. The laity, because of their direct insertion in society, are irreplaceable co-workers in this task.

Once the nets were lowered at Jesus' word, Peter and the others who were with him in the boat caught such a quantity of fish that the nets broke. Then the evangelist writes that "they beckoned to their partners in the other boat to come and help them." Even today the successor of Peter and those who are with him in the boat -- the bishops and priests -- beckon to those in the other boat -- the laity -- to come and help them.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Sixth Sunday Ordinary Time C    Father Cantalamessa on the Rich-Poor Divide

Blessed are you who are poor!    Jeremiah 17:5-8; 1 Corinthians 15:12,16-20; Luke 6:17,20-26

The passage of the Gospel for this Sunday, which is on the beatitudes, provides us with an occasion to verify some things that we said two Sundays ago about the historical nature of the Gospels. We said then that in referring to Jesus' words, each of the four Evangelists, without betraying the fundamental meaning, developed one aspect or another of what Jesus said, adapting it to the needs of the community for whom they wrote.

While Matthew reports Eight Beatitudes pronounced by Jesus, Luke reports only four. In compensation, however, Luke reinforces the Four Beatitudes, opposing a corresponding malediction to each, introduced by a "woe."

Also, while Matthew's discourse is indirect: "Blessed are the poor"; Luke's is indirect: "Blessed are you who are poor!" Matthew puts the accent on spiritual poverty -- "the poor in spirit" -- and Luke puts it on material poverty.

But, as is plain, these are details that do not change in the least the substance of things. Both of the two Evangelists, with his particular way of reporting Jesus' teaching, sheds light on a new dimension which would have otherwise remained in shadow. Luke's list of the beatitudes is not as complete, but he perfectly grasps the basic meaning.

When we speak of the beatitudes, our thoughts go immediately to the first one: "Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours." But in reality, the horizon is much larger.

Here Jesus is outlining two ways to understand life: either "for the kingdom of God" or "for one's own consolation." That is, life is either exclusively in function of this earthly life, or also in function of eternal life.

This is what Luke's account draws attention to: "Blessed are you -- Woe to you": "Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours.... Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation."

Two categories, two worlds. The poor, the hungry, those who weep and those who are persecuted and banished because of the Gospel, belong to the category of the blessed. The rich, the satiated, those who laugh now and those who are praised by all, belong to the category of the unfortunate.

Jesus does not simply canonize all the poor, the hungry, those who weep, and the persecuted, just as he does not simply demonize all the rich, the satiated, those who laugh and are praised. The distinction is deeper; it has to do with knowing what we put our trust in, on what sort of foundation we are building the house of our life, whether it is on that which will pass away, or on that which will not pass away.

The passage from today's Gospel is truly a double-edged sword: It separates, traces, two diametrically opposed destinies. It is like the prime meridian which divides east and west.

But, fortunately, there is an essential difference. The prime meridian is fixed: The lands that are in the east cannot past to the west, just as the equator which divides the poverty of the global south from the rich, opulent north is fixed.

The line that divides the blessed and the unfortunate in our Gospel is not like this; it is a mobile barrier. Not only can one pass from one side to the other, but this whole passage of the Gospel was intended by Jesus as an invitation to pass from one sphere to the other.

He invites us not to become poor, but to become rich! "Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours!" The poor possess a kingdom and they have it right now! Those who decide to enter this kingdom are from now on sons of God, free, brothers, full of hope and immortality. Who would not want to be poor in this way?

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time C    1 Samuel 26:2,7-9;12-13;22-23;   1 Corinthians 15:45-49;   Luke 6:27-38

Father Cantalamessa on the Golden Rule:   Do not Judge

This Sunday's Gospel contains a type of moral code that should characterize the life of a disciple of Christ. The whole of it is summarized in the so-called golden rule of moral action: "Do to others as you would like them to do to you."

This is a rule that, if put into practice, would be enough to change the face of the families and the society in which we live. The Old Testament knew it in a negative form: "Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you" (Tobias 4:15); Jesus proposes it in a positive form: "Do to others as you would like them to do to you," which is much more demanding.

But the Gospel passage also raises some questions. "To him who strikes you on the cheek, give him the other cheek; to him who takes away your cloak, give him your shirt as well. Give to whoever asks. Of him who takes your goods, do not ask for them back."

Does Jesus therefore command his disciples to not oppose evil, to let the violent do as they will? How can this be reconciled with the obligation to combat despotism and crime, to energetically denounce them, even when to do so is dangerous? Or how can it be reconciled with the idea of "zero tolerance" in the face of the increase in petty crime?

Not only does the Gospel not condemn this demand for law and order, it in fact reinforces it. There are situations in which charity does not oblige us to turn the other cheek, but to go directly to the police and report the misdeed.

The golden rule that is valid in all cases, we have heard, is to do to others as we would have them do to us. If you are, for example, the victim of theft, of a mugging, of blackmail, if someone rear-ends your car and demolishes it, you would certainly be happy if someone who witnessed the incident were ready to testify on your behalf.

The Gospel tells you that this is what you must do. You cannot let yourself off the hook with easy excuses: "I didn't see anything, I don't know anything." Fear and refusal to be a "nark" or "rat" is what allows crime to prosper.

But let us look at some other words from Sunday's Gospel which are in a sense even more dangerous: "Do not judge and you will not be judged; do not condemn and you will not be condemned." So, should we leave the way open for wrongdoing with impunity? And what are we to think of magistrates who are full-time, professional judges? Are they condemned by the Gospel from the very beginning?

The Gospel is not as naive and unrealistic as it might at first seem. It does not so much charge us to remove judgment from our lives as it does to remove the poison from our judgment! That is, that part of our judgment which is resentment, rejection and revenge, which often is mixed in with the objective evaluation of the deed. Jesus' command to "not judge and you will not be judged" is immediately followed, as we have seen, by the command: "Do not condemn and you will not be condemned" (Luke 6:37).

The second phrase explains the meaning of the first one.

The word of God prohibits ruthless judgments, judgments that are merciless. It criticizes those who condemn the sinner together with the sin.

Today civil society rightly, and almost universally, rejects the death penalty. In capital punishment, the aspect of revenge on the part of society and the annihilation of the guilty party prevails over the notions of self-defense and of discouraging crime, both of which could be just as efficaciously served with other sorts of punishment.

Among other things, sometimes it is the case that the person who is executed is completely different from the one who committed the crime. This is due to the fact that sometimes the one convicted of the crime has repented and radically changed.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


First Sunday of Lent        Deuteronomy 26:4-10;    Romans 10:8-13;    Luke 4:1-13
                                        He was tempted by the devil      Father Cantalamessa on Evil

The Gospel of Luke, which we read this year, was written, as he says in the introduction, so that the believing reader would be able to "know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed." This purpose is quite relevant today.

Faced as we are with attacks on the historical veracity of the Gospels from every quarter and with the continual manipulation of the figure of Christ, it is more important than ever that the Christian and the honest reader of the Gospel know the truth of the teachings and reports that the Gospel contains.

I have decided to use my commentaries on the Gospels from the beginning of Lent to the Sunday after Easter for this purpose. Taking each Sunday Gospel as our point of departure, we will consider different aspects of the person and the teaching of Christ to determine who Jesus truly is, whether he is a simple prophet and great man, or something more and different than these.

In other words, we will be doing some religious education. Such phenomena as Dan Brown's "Da Vinci Code," with the imitators and discussions it has given rise to, have shown to us the alarming religious ignorance that reigns in our society. This ignorance provides ideal terrain for every sort of unscrupulous commercial venture.

Tomorrow's Gospel, for the first Sunday of Lent, treats of Jesus' temptation in the desert. Following the plan I have announced, I would like to begin from this Gospel and expand the discussion to focus on the general question of Jesus' attitude toward demonic forces and those people possessed by demons.

It is one of the most historically certain and undeniable facts that Jesus freed many people from the destructive power of Satan. We do not have the time here to refer to each of these episodes. We will limit ourselves to throwing light on two things: The first is the explanation that Jesus gave about his power over demons; the second is what this power tells us about Jesus and his person.

Faced with the clamorous liberation of one possessed person which Jesus had performed, his enemies, unable to deny the fact, say: "He casts out demons in the name of Beelzebul, the prince of demons" (Luke 11:15). Jesus shows that this explanation is absurd. If Satan were divided against himself, his reign would have ended long ago, but instead it continues to prosper. The true explanation is rather that Jesus casts out demons by the finger of God, that is, by the Holy Spirit, and this shows that the kingdom of God has arrived on earth.

Satan was "the strong man" who had mankind in his power, but now one "stronger than him" has come and is taking his power away from him. This tells us something quite important about the person of Christ. With his coming there has begun a new era for humanity, a regime change. Such a thing could not be the work of a mere man, nor can it be the work of a great prophet.

It is essential to note the name or the power by which Jesus casts out demons. The usual formula with which the exorcist turns to the demon is: "I charge you by...," or "in the name of ... I order you to leave this person." He calls on a higher authority, generally God, and for Christians, Jesus. But this is not the case for Jesus himself: His words are a dry "I order you."

I order you! Jesus does not need to call upon a higher authority; he is himself the higher authority.

The defeat of the power of evil and of the demons was an integral part of the definitive salvation (eschatological) proclaimed by the prophets. Jesus invites his adversaries to draw the conclusions of what they see with their eyes. There is nothing more to wait on, to look forward to; the kingdom and salvation is in their midst.

The much discussed blasphemy against the Holy Spirit has its explanation here. To attribute to the spirit of evil, to Beelzebul, or to magic that which is so manifestly the work of the Spirit of God meant to stubbornly close one's eyes to the truth, to oppose oneself to God himself, and therefore to deprive oneself of the possibility of forgiveness.

The historical approach that I wish to take in these commentaries during Lent should not keep us from seeing also the practical importance of the Gospel we are treating. Evil is still terribly present to us today. We witness manifestations of evil that often exceed our ability to understand; we are deeply disturbed and speechless when faced with certain events reported by the news. The consoling message that flows from the reflections we have made thus far is that there is in our midst one who is "stronger" than evil.

Some people experience in their lives or in their homes the presence of evil that seems to be diabolical in origin. Sometimes it certainly is -- we know of the spread of satanic sects and rites in our society, especially among young people -- but it is difficult in particular cases to determine whether we are truly dealing with Satan or with pathological disturbances. Fortunately, we do not have to be certain of the causes. The thing to do is to cling to Christ in faith, to call on his name, and to participate in the sacraments.

Tomorrow's Gospel suggests a means to us that is important to cultivate especially during the season of Lent. Jesus did not go into the desert to be tempted; his intention was to go into the desert to pray and listen to the voice of the Father.

Throughout history there have been many men and women who have chosen to imitate Jesus as he withdraws into the desert. But the invitation to follow Jesus into the desert is not made only to monks and hermits. In a different form it is made to everyone.

The monks and hermits have chosen a place of desert. We have chosen a desert time. To pass time in the desert means to create a little emptiness and silence around us, to rediscover the road to our heart, to remove ourselves from the noise and external distractions, to enter into contact with the deepest source of our being and our faith.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Third Sunday of Lent     Exodus 3:1-8a,13-15;    1 Corinthians 10:1-6,10,12;     Luke 13:1-9
Jesus the Preacher:     Father Cantalamessa on the Right to Convert

The Gospel for the Third Sunday of Lent offers us an example of Jesus' preaching. He takes his cue from some recent news (Pontius Pilate's execution of some Galileans and the death of twelve persons in the collapse of a tower) to speak about the necessity of vigilance and conversion.

In accord with his style he reinforces his teaching with a parable: "A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard...." Following the program that we have set out for this Lent, we will move from this passage to look at the whole of Jesus' preaching, trying to understand what it tells us about the problem of who Jesus was.

Jesus began his preaching with a solemn delcaration: "The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel" (Mark 1:15). We are used to the sound of these words and we no longer perceive their novelty and revolutionary character. With them, Jesus came to say that the time of waiting is over; the moment of the decisive intervention of God in human history, which was announced by the prophets, is here; now is the time! Now everything is decided, and it will be decided according to the position that people take when they are confronted with my words.

This sense of fulfillment, of a goal finally reached, can be perceived in different sayings of Jesus, whose historical authenticity cannot be doubted. One day, taking his disciples aside, he says: "Blessed are the eyes which see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear and did not hear it" (Luke 10:23-24).

In the sermon on the mount Jesus said among other things: "You have heard that it was said (by Moses!) ... but I say to you." The impression that these words of Christ had on his contemporaries must have been fairly uniform. Such claims leave us few options for explanation: Either the person was crazy or simply spoke the truth. A lunatic, however, would not have lived and died as he did, and would not have continued to have such an impact on humanity 20 centuries after his death.

The novelty of the person and preaching of Jesus comes clearly to light when compared to John the Baptist. John always spoke of something in the future, a judgment that was going to take place; Jesus speaks of something that is present, a kingdom that has come and is at work. John is the man of "not yet"; Jesus is the man of "already."

Jesus says: "Among those born of woman there is none greater than John and yet the littlest one of the kingdom of God is greater than him" (Luke 7:28); and again: "The law and the prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached and everyone enters it violently" (Luke 16:16). These words tell us that between the mission of John and Jesus there is a qualitative leap: The littlest one in the new order is in a better position that the greatest one of the old order.

This is what brought the disciples of Bultmann (Bornkamm, Konzelmann, et al.) to break with their master, putting the great parting of the waters between the old and the new, between Judaism and Christianity, in the life and preaching of Christ and not in the post-Easter faith of the Church.

Here we see how historically indefensible is the thesis of those who want to enclose Jesus in the world of the Judaism of his time, making him a Jew just like the others, one who did not intend to make a break with the past or to bring anything substantially new. This would be to set back the historical research on Jesus to a stage that we left behind quite some time ago.

Let us go back, as we usually do, to this Sunday's Gospel passage to glean some practical guidance. Jesus comments on Pilate's butchery and the collapse of the tower thus: "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish." We deduce a very important lesson from this. Such disasters are not, as some think, divine castigation of the victims; if anything, they are an admonition for others.

This is an indispensable interpretive key which allows us to see that we should not lose faith when we are confronted with the terrible events that occur every day, often among the poorest and most defenseless. Jesus helps us to understand how we should react when the evening news reports earthquakes, floods, and slaughters like that ordered by Pilate. Sterile reactions like, "Oh those poor people!" are not what is called for.

Faced with these things we should reflect on the precariousness of life, on the necessity of being vigilant and of not being overly attached to that which we might easily lose one day or the next.

The word with which Jesus begins his preaching resounds in this Gospel passage: conversion. I would like to point out, however, that conversion is not only a duty, it is also a possibility for all, almost a right. It is good and not bad news! No one is excluded from the possibility of changing. No one can be regarded as hopeless. In life there are moral situations that seem to have no way out. Divorced people who are remarried; unmarried couples with children; heavy criminal sentences ... every sort of bad situation.

Even for these people there is the possibility of change. When Jesus said that it was easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven, the apostles asked: "But who can be saved?" Jesus' answer applies even to the cases I have mentioned: "For men it is impossible, but not for God."

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Fourth Sunday of Lent    Joshua 5:9a, 10-12;   2 Corinthians 5:17-21;    Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

Father Cantalamessa on the Prodigal Son

The Gospel for the Fourth Sunday of Lent is one of the most celebrated pages of Luke's Gospel and of all four Gospels: the parable of the prodigal son. Everything in this parable is surprising; men had never portrayed God in this way. This parable has touched more hearts than all the sermons that have been preached put together. It has an incredible power to act on the mind, the heart, the imagination, and memory. It is able to touch the most diverse chords: repentance, shame, nostalgia.

The parable is introduced with these words: "All the tax collectors and sinners were drawing near to him to listen to him. The Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, 'This man receives sinners and eats with them.' So he told them this parable ..." (Luke 15:1-2). Following this lead, we would like to reflect on Jesus' attitude toward sinners, going through the whole Gospel, guided also by our plan for these Lenten commentaries, that is, to know better who Jesus was, what can be historically known about him.

The welcome that Jesus reserves for sinners in the Gospel is well known, as is the opposition that this procures him on the part of the defenders of the law who accuse him of being "a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners" (Luke 7:34). Jesus declares in one of his better historically attested to sayings, "I have not come to call the just but sinners" (Mark 2:17). Feeling welcomed and not judged by him, sinners listened to him gladly.

But who were the sinners, what category of persons was designated by this term? Someone, trying to completely justify Jesus' adversaries, the Pharisees, has argued that by this term is understood "the deliberate and impenitent transgressors of the law," in other words, the criminals, those who are outside the law. If this were so, then Jesus' adversaries would have been entirely right to be scandalized and see him as an irresponsible and socially dangerous person. It would be as if a priest today were to regularly frequent members of the mafia and criminals and accept their invitations to dinner with the pretext of speaking to them of God.

In reality, this is not how things are. The Pharisees had their vision of the law and of what conformed to it or was contrary, and they considered reprobate all those who did not follow their rigid interpretation of the law. In their view, anyone who did not follow their traditions or dictates was a sinner. Following the same logic, the Essenes of Qumran considered the Pharisees themselves to be unjust and violators of the law! The same thing happens today. Certain ultraorthodox groups consider all those who do not think exactly as they do to be heretics.

An eminent scholar has written: "It is not true that Jesus opened the gates of the kingdom to hard-boiled and impenitent criminals, or that he denied the existence of 'sinners.' What Jesus opposed were the walls that were erected within Israel and those who treated other Israelites as if they were outside the covenant and excluded from God's grace" (James Dunn).

Jesus does not deny the existence of sin and sinners. This is obvious from the fact that he calls them "sick." On this point he is more rigorous than his adversaries. If they condemn actual adultery, Jesus condemns adultery already at the stage of desire; if the law says not to kill, Jesus says that we must not even hate or insult our brother. To the sinners who draw near to him, he says "Go and sin no more"; he does not say: "Go and live as you were living before."

What Jesus condemns is the Pharisees' relegating to themselves the determination of true justice and their denying to others the possibility of conversion. The way that Luke introduces the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector is significant: "He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others" (Luke 18:9). Jesus was more severe with those who condemned sinners with disdain than he was with sinners themselves.

But the novel and unheard of thing in the relationship between Jesus and sinners is not his goodness and mercy toward them. This can be explained in a human way. There is, in his attitude, something that cannot be humanly explained, that is, it cannot be explained so long as Jesus is taken to be a man like other men. What is novel and unheard of is Jesus' forgiveness of sins.

Jesus says to the paralytic: "My son, your sins are forgiven you."

"Who can forgive sins but God alone?" Jesus' horrified adversaries cry out. And Jesus replies: "'So that you might know that the Son of Man has the authority to forgive sins, Get up!' he said to the paralytic, 'Pick up your mat and go home.'" No one could verify whether the sins of that man were forgiven but everyone could see that he got up and walked. The visible miracle attested to the invisible one.

Even the investigation of Jesus' relationship with sinners contributes therefore to an answer to the question: Who was Jesus? A man like other men, a prophet, or something different still? During his earthly life Jesus never explicitly affirmed himself to be God (and we explained why in a previous commentary), but he did attribute to himself powers that are exclusive to God.

Let us now return to Sunday's Gospel and to the parable of the prodigal son. There is a common element that unites the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son, which are told in succession in Chapter 15 of Luke's Gospel. What do the shepherd who finds the lost sheep and the woman who finds her coin say? "Rejoice with me!" And what does Jesus say at the end of each parable? "There will be more joy in heaven for a converted sinner than for ninety-nine just people who do not need to convert."

The leitmotiv of the three parables is therefore the joy of God. (There is joy "before the angels of God," is an entirely Jewish way to speak of joy "in God.") In our parable joy overflows and becomes a feast. That father is overcome with joy and does not know what to do: He orders the best robe for his son, a ring with the family seal, the killing of the fatted calf, and says to all: "Let us eat and make merry, for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found."

In one of his novels Dostoyevsky describes a scene that has the air of having been witnessed in reality. A woman holds a baby a few weeks old in her arms and -- for the first time, according to her -- he smiles at her. All contrite, she makes the sign of the cross on his forehead and to those who ask her the reason for this she says: "Just as a mother is happy when she sees the first smile of her child, God too rejoices every time a sinner gets on his knees and addresses a heartfelt prayer to him" ("The Idiot").

Who knows whether a person who is listening does not decide finally to give this joy to God, to smile at him before he dies ...

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Palm Sunday     Isaiah 50:4-7;     Philippians 2:6-11;     Luke 22:14-23, 56
Father Cantalamessa on the Passion of Christ:   "We Are All Responsible for Jesus' Death"

A Historical Look at the Passion of Christ


On Palm Sunday we will hear in its entirety St. Luke's account of the Passion. Let us pose the crucial question, that question which the Gospels were written to answer: How is it that a man like this ended up on the cross? What were the motives of those responsible for Jesus' death?

According to a theory that began to circulate last century, after the tragedy of the Shoah, the responsibility for Christ's death falls principally -- indeed perhaps even exclusively -- on Pilate and the Roman authorities, whose motivation was of a more political than religious nature. The Gospels supposedly vindicated Pilate and accused the Jewish leaders of Christ's death in order to reassure the Roman authorities about the Christians and to court their friendship.

This thesis was born from a concern which today we all share: to eradicate every pretext for the anti-Semitism that has caused much suffering for the Jewish people at the hands of Christians. But the gravest mistake that can be made for a just cause is to defend it with erroneous arguments. The fight against anti-Semitism should be put on a more solid foundation than a debatable (and debated) interpretation of the Gospel accounts of the Passion.

That the Jewish people as such are innocent of Christ's death rests on a biblical certainty that Christians have in common with Jews but that for centuries was strangely forgotten. "The son shall not be charged with the guilt of his father, nor shall the father be charged with the guilt of his son" (Ezekiel 18:20). Church teaching knows only one sin that is transmitted from father to son, original sin, no other.

Having made it clear that I reject anti-Semitism, I would like to explain why it is not possible to accept the complete innocence of the Jewish authorities in Christ's death and along with it the claim about the purely political nature of Christ's condemnation.

Paul, in the earliest of his letters, written around the year 50, basically gives the same version of Christ's condemnation as that given in the Gospels. He says that "the Jews put Jesus to death" (1 Thessalonians 2:15). Of the events that took place in Jerusalem shortly before his arrival, Paul must have been better informed than we moderns, having at one time tenaciously approved and defended the condemnation of the Nazarene.

The accounts of the Passion cannot be read ignoring everything that preceded them. The four Gospels attest -- on nearly every page, we can say -- a growing religious difference between Jesus and an influential group of Jews (Pharisees, doctors of the law, scribes) over the observance of the Sabbath, the attitude toward sinners and tax collectors, and the clean and unclean.

Once the existence of this contrast is demonstrated, how can one think that it had no role to play in the end and that the Jewish leaders decided to denounce Jesus to Pilate -- almost against their will -- solely out of fear of a Roman military intervention?

Pilate was not a person who was so concerned with justice as to be worried about the fate of an unknown Jew; he was a hard, cruel type, ready to shed blood at the smallest hint of rebellion. All of that is quite true. He did not, however, try to save Jesus out of compassion for the victim, but only to score a point against Jesus' accusers, with whom he had been in conflict since his arrival in Judea. Naturally, this does not diminish Pilate's responsibility in Christ's condemnation, a responsibility which he shares with the Jewish leaders.

It is not at all a case of wanting to be "more Jewish than the Jews." From the reports about Jesus' death present in the Talmud and in other Jewish sources (however late and historically contradictory), one thing emerges: The Jewish tradition never denied the participation of the religious leaders of the time in Christ's condemnation. They did not defend themselves by denying the deed, but, if anything, they denied that the deed, from the Jewish perspective, constituted a crime and that Christ's condemnation was an unjust condemnation.

So, to the question, "Why was Jesus condemned to death?" after all the studies and proposed alternatives, we must give the same answer that the Gospels do. He was condemned for religious reasons, which, however, were ably put into political terms to better convince the Roman procurator.

The title of "Messiah," which the accusation of the Sanhedrin focused on, becomes in the trial before Pilate, "King of the Jews," and this will be the title of condemnation that will be affixed to the cross: "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews." Jesus had struggled all his life to avoid this confusion, but in the end it is this confusion that will decide his fate.

This leaves open the discussion about the use that is made of the accounts of the Passion. In the past they have often been used (in the theatric representations of the Passion, for example) in an inappropriate manner, with a forced anti-Semitism.

This is something that everyone today firmly rejects, even if something still remains to be done about eliminating from the Christian celebration of the Passion everything that could still offend the sensibility of our Jewish brothers. Jesus was and remains, despite everything, the greatest gift of Judaism to the world, a gift for which the Jews have paid a high price ...

The conclusion that we can draw from these historical considerations, then, is that religious authorities and political authorities, the heads of the Sanhedrin and the Roman procurator, both participated, for different reasons, in Christ's condemnation.

We must immediately add to this that history does not say everything and not even what is essential on this point. By faith we know that we are all responsible for Jesus' death with our sins.

Let us leave aside historical questions now and dedicate a moment to contemplating him. How did Jesus act during the Passion? Superhuman dignity, infinite patience. Not a single gesture or word that negated what he preached in his Gospel, especially the beatitudes. He dies asking for the forgiveness of those who crucified him.

And yet nothing in him resembles the stoic's prideful disdain of suffering. His reaction to suffering and cruelty is entirely human: he trembles and sweats blood in Gethsemane, he wants this chalice to pass from him, he seeks the support of his disciples, he cries out his desolation on the cross: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

There is one among the traits of this superhuman greatness of Christ that fascinates me: his silence. "Jesus was silent" (Matthew 26:63). He is silent before Caiaphas, he is silent before Pilate, he is silent before Herod, who hoped to see Jesus perform a miracle (cf. Luke 23:8). "When he was reviled he did not revile in return," the First Letter of Peter says of him (2:23).

The silence is broken only for a single moment before death -- the "loud cry" from the cross after which Jesus yields up his spirit. This draws from the Roman centurion the confession: "Truly this man was the Son of God."

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Second Sunday of Easter    Acts 4:32-35;    1 John 5:1-6;     John 20:19-31
    Father Cantalamessa on Preaching to the World

* * *

The Gospel of this Sunday "in Albis" tells of the two appearances of the risen Jesus to the apostles in the cenacle. In this first appearance Jesus says to the apostles: "'Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, so I send you.' After having said this he breathed on them and said: 'Receive the Holy Spirit.'" It is the solemn moment of sending. In Mark's Gospel the same sending is expressed with the words: "Go and preach the Gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15).

Luke's Gospel, which has accompanied us this year, expresses this movement from Jerusalem to the world with the episode of the two disciples who travel from Jerusalem to Emmaus with the risen Christ, who explains the Scriptures to them and breaks bread for them. There are three or four villages that claim to be the ancient Emmaus of the Gospel. Perhaps even this particular town, like the whole episode, has a symbolic value. Now Emmaus is every town; the risen Jesus accompanies his disciples along all the roads of the world and in all directions.

The historical problem that we will deal with in this last conversation of the series has precisely to do with Christ's commission of the apostles. The questions that we ask ourselves are: Did Jesus really order his disciples to go into the whole world? Did he think that a community would be born from his message, that this message would have a following? Did he think that there should be a Church? We ask ourselves these questions because, as we have done in these commentaries, there are those who give a negative answer to these questions, an answer that is contrary to the historical data.

The undeniable fact of the election of the Twelve Apostles indicates that Jesus had the intention of giving life to a community and foresaw his life and teaching having a following. All the parables whose original nucleus contains the idea of an expansion to the Gentiles cannot be explained in another way. One thinks of the parable of the murderous tenants of the vineyard, of the workers in the vineyard, of the saying about the last who will be first, of the "many who will come from the east and west to the banquet of Abraham," while others will be excluded -- and countless other sayings.

During his life Jesus never left the land of Israel, except for some brief excursion into the pagan territories in the north, but this is explained by his conviction that he was above all sent for the people of Israel, to then urge them, once converted, to welcome the Gentiles into the fold, according to the universalistic proclamations of the prophets.

It is often claimed that in the passage from Jerusalem to Rome, the Gospel message was profoundly modified. In other words, it is said that between the Christ of the Gospels and the Christ preached by the different Christian churches, there is not continuity but rupture.

Certainly there is a difference between the two. But there is an explanation for this. If we compare a photograph of an embryo in the maternal womb with the same child at the age of 10 or 30, it could be said that we are dealing with two different realities; but we know that everything that the man has become was already contained and programmed into the embryo. Jesus himself compared the kingdom of heaven to a small seed, but he said it was destined to grow and become a great tree on whose branches the birds of the sky would come to perch (Matthew 13:32).

Even if they are not the exact words that he used, what Jesus says in John's Gospel is important: "I have many other things to tell you, but you are not ready for them now (that is, you are not able to understand them); but the Holy Spirit will teach you all things and will lead you to the whole truth." Thus, Jesus foresaw a development of his doctrine, guided by the Holy Spirit. It is plain why in today's Gospel reading the sending on mission is accompanied by the gift of the Holy Spirit.

But is it true that the Christianity that we know was born in the third century, with Constantine, as is sometimes insinuated? A few years after Jesus' death, we already find the fundamental elements of the Church attested to: the celebration of the Eucharist, a Passover celebration with a different content from that of Exodus ("our Passover," as Paul calls it); Christian baptism that will soon take the place of circumcision; the canon of Scripture, which in its core stems from the first decades of the second century; Sunday as a new day of celebration that quite early on will take the place of the Jewish Sabbath. Even the hierarchical structure of the Church (bishops, priests and deacons) is attested to by Ignatius of Antioch at the beginning of the second century.

Of course, not everything in the Church can be traced back to Jesus. There are many things in the Church that are historical, human products, as well as the products of human sin, and the Church must periodically free itself from this, and it does not cease to do so. But in essential things the Church's faith has every right to claim a historical origin in Christ.

We began the series of commentaries on the Lenten Gospels moved by the same intention that Luke announces at the beginning of his Gospel: "So that you may know the truth of the things about which you have been instructed." Having arrived at the end of the cycle, I can only hope to have achieved, in some measure, the same purpose, even if it is important to recall that the living and true Jesus is properly reached not by history but through the leap of faith. History, however, can show that it is not crazy to make that leap.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Third Sunday of Easter   Acts 5:27b-32, 40b-41; Revelation 5:11-14; John 21:1-19   
Do You Love Me?   Father Cantalamessa on Infinite Chances

Reading the Gospel of John, we understand that originally it ended with Chapter 20. If Chapter 21 was added on later, why did the Evangelist or some disciple of his feel the need to insist yet again on the reality of Christ's resurrection.

The teaching that is drawn from this Gospel passage is that Jesus is risen not just in "a manner of speaking," but really, in his new body. "We ate and drank with him after his resurrection from the dead," Peter will say in the Acts of the Apostles, probably referring to this episode (Acts 10:4).

In John's Gospel, Jesus' dialogue with Peter follows the scene in which he eats the roasted fish with the apostles. Three questions: "Do you love me?" Three answers: "You know that I love you." Three conclusions: "Feed my sheep!"

With these words Jesus confers on Peter, de facto -- and according to the Catholic interpretation, to his successors -- the office of supreme and universal shepherd of the flock of Christ. He confers on him that primacy that he promised him when he said: "You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church. To you I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 16:18-19).

The most moving thing about this page of the Gospel is that Jesus remains faithful to the promise made to Peter despite Peter's not having been faithful to his promise to never betray him even at the cost of his life (cf. Matthew 26:35).

Jesus' triple question is explained by his desire to give Peter the possibility of canceling out his triple denial of Jesus during the passion.

God always gives men a second chance, and often a third, a fourth and infinite chances. He does not remove people from his book at their first mistake.

What does this do for us? His master's confidence and his master's forgiveness made Peter a new person; strong, faithful unto death. He fed Christ's faithful in the difficult moments in the Church's beginning, when it was necessary to leave Galilee and take to the roads of the world.

Peter will be able in the end to keep his promise to give his life for Christ. If we would learn the lesson contained in Christ's interaction with Peter, putting our confidence in someone even after they have made a mistake, there would be a lot fewer failures and marginalized people in the world!

The dialogue of Jesus and Peter should be transferred to the life of each one of us. St. Augustine, commenting on this passage of the Gospel, says: "Questioning Peter, Jesus also questions each of us." The question: "Do you love me?" is addressed to each disciple.

Christianity is not an ensemble of teachings and practices; it is something much more intimate and profound. It is a relationship of friendship with the person of Jesus Christ. Many times during his earthly life he asked people: "Do you believe?" and never "Do you love me?" He does this only now, after giving us proof of how much he loves us in his passion and death.

Jesus makes love for him consist in serving others: "Do you love me? Feed my sheep." He does not want to benefit from the fruits of this love but he wants his sheep to. He is the recipient of Peter's love but not its beneficiary. It as if he said to Peter: "Consider what you do for my flock as done to me."

This implicates us as well. Our love for Christ should not be something private and sentimental but should express itself in the service of others, in doing good to others. Mother Teresa of Calcutta often said: "The fruit of love is service and the fruit of service is peace."

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Fourth Sunday of Easter    Acts 13:14, 43-52;    Revelations 7:9, 14b-17;    John 10:27-30
I am the Good Shepherd       Father Cantalamessa (Papal household preacher) on the Good Shepherd

* * *

In all three liturgical cycles the Fourth Sunday of Easter presents a passage from John's Gospel about the good shepherd. After having led us among the fishermen last Sunday, this Sunday the Gospel takes us among the shepherds. These are two categories of equal importance in the Gospels. From the one comes the designation "fishers of men," from the other "shepherd of souls." Both are applied to the apostles.

The larger part of Judea was a plateau with inhospitable and rocky soil, more adapted to livestock than to agriculture. Grass was scarce and the flock had to continually travel from one spot to another; there were no walls for protection and because of this the shepherd always had to be with the flock. A traveler of the last century has left us a portrait of the shepherd of Palestine: "When you see him in a high pasture, sleepless, a gaze that searches in the distance, weather-beaten, leaning on his staff, ever attentive to the movements of the flock, you understand why the shepherd acquired such importance in the history of Israel that they gave this title to their kings and Christ assumed it as an emblem of self-sacrifice."

In the Old Testament, God himself is represented as the shepherd of his people. "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want" (Psalm (23:1). "He is our God and we are his people whom he shepherds" (Psalm 95:7). The future Messiah is also described with the image of the shepherd: "Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care" (Isaiah 40:11). This ideal image of the shepherd finds its complete realization in Christ. He is the good shepherd who goes in search of the lost sheep; he feels compassion for the people because he sees them "as sheep without a shepherd" (Matthew 9:36); he calls his disciples "the little flock" (Luke 12:32). Peter calls Jesus "the shepherd of our souls" (1 Peter 2:25) and the Letter to the Hebrews speaks of him as "the great shepherd of the sheep" (Hebrews 13:20).

This Sunday's Gospel passage highlights some of the characteristics of Jesus the good shepherd. The first has to do with the reciprocal knowledge that the sheep and shepherd have: "My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow me." In certain countries of Europe sheep are raised principally for their meat; in Israel they were raised above all for wool and milk. For this reason they remained for many years in the company of the shepherd who knew the character of each one and gave them affectionate names.

What Jesus wants to say with these images is clear. He knows his disciples (and, as God, all men), he knows them "by name," which for the Bible means their innermost essence. He loves them with a personal love that treats each as if they were the only one who existed for him. Christ only knows how to count to one, and that one is each of us.

The Gospel passage tells us something else about the good shepherd. He gives his life to his sheep and for his sheep, and no one can take them out of his hand. Wild animals -- wolves and hyenas -- and bandits were a nightmare for the shepherds of Israel. In such isolated places they were a constant threat. This was the moment in which is revealed the difference between the true shepherd -- the one who shepherds the family's flock, who does this for his life's work -- and the hired hand, who works only for the pay he receives, who does not love, and indeed often hates, the sheep.

Confronted with danger, the mercenary flees and leaves the sheep at the mercy of the wolf or bandits; the true shepherd courageously faces the danger to save the flock. This explains why the liturgy proposes the passage about the good shepherd to us during the time of Easter -- the moment in which Christ showed that he is the good shepherd who gives his life for his sheep.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Fifth Sunday of Easter    Acts 14:20b-26;    Revelation 21:1-5a;     John 13:31-33a
           Father Cantalamessa,  Pontifical Household Preacher,  on the New Commandment

The word "new" belongs to that restricted number of magic words that always and only evokes positive feelings. "Brand new," "new clothes," "new life," "new year," "new day." The new makes news. They are synonymous. The Gospel is called "good news" precisely because it contains the new -- par excellence.

Why do we like the new so much? It is not only because the new, the unused (a car, for example), generally works better. If this were the only reason, why do we welcome the New Year and a new day with such joy? The deepest reason is that the new, that which is still unknown, inexperienced, leaves more room for expectation, surprise, hope, dreams. And happiness is the child of these. If we were sure that the New Year would bring exactly the same things as the past year, no more and no less, we would not be very pleased about it.

The new is not opposed to the "ancient" but to the "old." "Antique," "antiquity," "antique dealer," are positive terms. What is the difference? The old is that which with the passing of time gets worse and loses its value; an antique is that which gets better and acquires value with the passing of time. That is why today Italian-speaking theologians try to avoid the expression "Vecchio Testamento" ("Old Testament") and prefer to speak of the "Antico Testamento" ("Ancient Testament").

Now, with these premises, let us draw near to the word of the Gospel. A question arises immediately: Why is a commandment that was already known in the Old Testament (cf. Leviticus 19:18) called "new"? Here the distinction between "ancient" and "old" proves useful. In this case "new" is not opposed to "ancient," but to "old."

The same Evangelist, John, writes in another place: "Dear ones, I do not propose to you a new commandment, but an ancient one. ... Nevertheless it is a new commandment about which I write to you" (1 John 2:7-8). Is it a new commandment or an ancient one? Both.

Literally speaking, it is an ancient one because it was promulgated some time ago; but according to the Spirit it is new, because only in Christ is the strength to put it into practice also given. As I said, new is not opposed here to the ancient but to the old. The commandment to love one's neighbor "as yourself" had become an old commandment, that is, weak and worn, on account of its being transgressed since the law imposed the obligation to love but did not give the strength to do so.

For this, grace is necessary. And in fact it was not when Jesus formulated the commandment of love during his life that it became a new commandment but when, dying on the cross and giving us the Holy Spirit, he makes us able to love each other by infusing in us the love he has for everyone.

Jesus' commandment is new in an active and dynamic sense, because it "renews," makes new, transforms everything. "And this love renews us, rendering us new persons, heirs of the New Testament, singers of a new song" (St. Augustine). If love could speak, it could make the words that God speaks in today's second reading its own: "Behold, I make all things new."

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Sixth Sunday of Easter    Acts 15:1-2,22-29;   Revelations 21:10-14, 22-23;    John 14:23-29
                  Father Cantalamessa, Pontifical Household Preacher, on Peace

* * *

My Peace I Give to You (John 14:23-29)
   
"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you" (John 14:27). What peace does Jesus speak of in this Gospel passage? He is not talking about an external peace that would consist in an absence of wars and conflicts between different people or nations. He speaks of that peace on other occasions, for example, when he says: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God."

In today's Gospel passage he speaks of another peace, an interior peace of the heart, of the person with himself and with God. This much is clear from what Jesus immediately adds in this passage from John: "Do not let your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid." This is the most fundamental peace. Without this peace, no other peace can exist. A billion drops of dirty water do not make a clean ocean and a billion troubled hearts do not make up a human race at peace.

The word that Jesus uses is "shalom." The Jews greeted each other with this word and still do; Jesus himself greeted the disciples with it on Easter evening and he orders the disciples to greet people in the same way: "In whatever house you enter say first, 'Peace be to this house'" (Luke 10:5-6).

To understand the meaning of the peace that Christ gives we have to look to the Bible. In the Bible "shalom" says more than simple absence of war and disorder. It positively indicates well-being, rest, certainty, success, glory. The Scriptures speak indeed of "the peace of God" (Philippians 4:7) and of the "God of peace" (Romans 15:32). Peace does not mean only what God gives but also what God is. In one of her hymns the Church calls the Trinity "ocean of peace."

This tells us that the peace of heart that we all desire can never be totally and stably possessed without God, outside of him. In the "Divine Comedy" Dante Alighieri synthesized all of this in that verse that many consider the most beautiful in this work: "In his will is our peace."

Jesus makes us understand what is opposed to this peace -- worry, anxiety, fear: "Do not let your hearts be troubled." Easy to say -- someone might object. How do we placate anxiety and disquiet, the worry that devours us all and keeps us from enjoying peace? Some people are by temperament more disposed than others to these things. If there is some danger, they blow it out of proportion, if there is some difficulty, they increase it by 100%. Everything becomes a reason for anxiety.

The Gospel does not promise a remedy for all these problems; to a certain extent they are part of our human condition, exposed as we are to forces and dangers much bigger than ourselves. But the Gospel does indicate some remedy. The chapter from which Sunday's Gospel passage is taken begins: "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Have faith in God and have faith in me too" (John 14:1). Trusting in God is the remedy.

After World War II, a book was published by the title "Last Letters from Stalingrad." They were letters by German soldiers who were awaiting the final Russian assault on Stalingrad, in which all were killed. The letters went with the last plane that was able to make it out of the city. In one of the letters, found after the end of the war, a young soldier wrote to his parents: "I am not afraid of death. My faith gives me this beautiful certainty."

Now we know what we are wishing each other at Mass at the kiss of peace. We wish each other well-being, health, good relationships with God, with ourselves and with our neighbor. In other words, we are wishing each other a heart filled with "the peace of Christ that surpasses all understanding." 

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Ascension of the Lord      Acts 1:1-11;    Ephesians 1:17-23;     Luke 24:46-53
                 You Will Be My Witnesses             Father Cantalamessa on Witness

If we do not want the Ascension to be a sad "farewell," but rather a true feast, then we must understand the radical difference between a disappearance and a departure. With the ascension, Jesus has not departed, he has not become absent; he has only disappeared from our sight. Those who leave are no longer here; those who only go out of our sight, however, can still be near us -- it is only that something prevents our seeing them. Jesus does disappear from the apostles' sight at the ascension but he does so to be present in another more intimate way.

He is no longer outside them but within them. This is similar to the Eucharist. So long as the host is outside of us we see it, we adore it; when we receive the host we no longer see it, it has disappeared, but it has disappeared to be within us. It is present in a new, more powerful way.

But it will be asked: If Jesus is no longer visible, how will men come to know of his presence? The answer is that he wants to make himself present through his disciples! In his Gospel and in the Acts of the Apostles, the Evangelist Luke closely links the Ascension with the theme of testimony: "You are witnesses of these things" (Luke 24:48).

The "you" indicates in the first place the apostles who were with Jesus. After the apostles, this "official" testimony -- official because it is connected to their office -- passes to their successors, the bishops and priests. But the "you" also regards all the baptized and believers in Christ. "Each individual layman," says a document of the Second Vatican Council, "must stand before the world as a witness to the resurrection and life of the Lord Jesus and a symbol of the living God" ("Lumen Gentium," 38).

Pope Paul VI has famously said that "the world needs witnesses more than it needs teachers." It is relatively easy to be a teacher. It is much less easy to be a witness. In fact, the world is full of both true and false teachers, but has few witnesses. Between the two roles there is the same difference as that between saying and doing. "Actions," an English proverb says, "speak louder than words."

The witness is one who speaks with his life. A believing father and mother must be "the first witnesses of faith" for their children. (The Church asks this for them from God in the blessing that follows the rite of matrimony).

Let us give a specific example. At this time of year many children are preparing for first Communion and confirmation. A believing mother or father can help the child review the catechism, explain the meaning of the words to him, and help him memorize the responses. Such parents are doing a beautiful thing and if only there were more who did this!

But what would a child think if after all that his parents said and did for his first Communion, they never go to Mass on Sunday, they never make the sign of the cross and never pray? They have been teachers, but they haven't been witnesses.

Naturally, the testimony of the parents must not limit itself to the time of the first Communion or confirmation of their children. With the way they correct and forgive the child and forgive each other, with the way they speak with respect of those who are not present, with the way they conduct themselves before a poor person begging for alms, with the comments they make in the presence of the children when they are listening to the news, parents have the possibility of bearing witness to their faith every day.

The souls of children are like sheets of photographic film: Everything they see and hear in the years of childhood leaves a trace and one day the "film" will be "developed" and will bear its fruits -- for good or for bad.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Pentecost Sunday      Acts 2:1-11;     1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13;      John 20:19-23
                 Father Cantalamessa on Pentecost: Send Forth Your Spirit and They Shall be Created

The Gospel presents Jesus, who in the cenacle on Easter evening, "breathed on them and said: 'Receive the Holy Spirit.'" This breathing of Jesus recalls God's action who, in the creation, "formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being" (cf. Genesis 2:7). With his gesture Jesus indicates that the Holy Spirit is the divine breath that gives life to the new creation as he gave life to the first creation. The responsorial psalm highlights this theme: "Send forth your Spirit, and they shall be created, and you shall renew the face of the earth."

Proclaiming that the Holy Spirit is Creator means saying that his sphere of action is not restricted to the Church, but extends to the entire creation. No place and no time is without his active presence. He acts in and out of the Bible; he acts before Christ, during the time of Christ, and after Christ, even if he never acts apart from Christ. "All truth, by whomever it is spoken," Thomas Aquinas has written, "comes from the Holy Spirit." The action of the Spirit of Christ outside the Church is not the same as his action in the Church and in the sacraments. Outside he acts by his power; in the Church he acts by his presence, in person.

The most important thing about the creative power of the Holy Spirit is not, however, to understand it and explain its implications, but to experience it. But what does it mean to experience the Spirit as Creator? To understand it, let us take the creation account as our point of departure. "In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, and the Spirit of the Lord brooded over the waters" (Genesis 1:1-2). We conclude from this that the universe already existed in the moment when the Spirit intervened, but it was formless and dark, chaos. It is after his action that the creation assumes precise contours; light is separated from darkness, dry land from the sea, and everything takes on a definite shape.

Thus, it is the Holy Spirit who transforms the creation from chaos into cosmos, who makes it something beautiful, ordered, polished ("cosmos" comes from the same root as "cosmetic" and it means beautiful!), he makes a "world," in the double sense of this word. Science teaches us today that this process went on for billions of years, but the Bible -- with its simple and image-filled language -- wants to tell us that the slow evolution toward life and the present order of the world did not happen by chance, following blind material impulses. It followed, rather, a project that the Creator inserted in it from the beginning.

God's creative action is not limited to the initial instant; he is always in the act of creating. Applied to the Holy Spirit, this means that he is always the one who transforms chaos into cosmos, that is, he makes order out of disorder, harmony out of confusion, beauty out of deformity, youth out of age. This occurs on all levels: in the macrocosm as in the microcosm, that is, in the whole universe as in the individual person.

We must believe that, despite appearances, the Holy Spirit is working in the world and makes it progress. How many new discoveries, not only in the study of nature but also in the field of morality and social life! A text of Vatican II says that the Holy Spirit is at work in the evolution of the social order of the world ("Gaudium et Spes," 26). It is not only evil that grows but good does too, with the difference being that evil eliminates itself, ends with itself, while the good accumulates itself, remains. Certainly there is much chaos around us: moral, political, and social chaos. The world still has great need of the Spirit of God. For this reason we must not tire in invoking him with the words of the Psalm: "Send forth your Spirit, Lord, and renew the face of the earth!"

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity     Proverbs 8:22-31;    Romans 5:1-5;    John 16:12-15
Pontifical Household Preacher Father Cantalamessa on Equal Dignity: Equal and Different

The Gospel for the solemnity, drawn from Jesus' farewell discourses, deals with three mysterious subjects which are inextricably united, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit: "When the Spirit of truth comes, he will lead you into the whole truth." "All that the Father has is mine" -- the Son! Reflecting on these and similar texts the Church arrived at its faith in the Trinitarian God.

Many ask: But what is this puzzle of three who are one and one who are three? Would it not be easier to believe in a God who is just one, as the Muslims do? The answer is simple. The Church believes in the Trinity, not because it likes to complicate things, but because this truth has been revealed by Christ. The difficulty of understanding the mystery of the Trinity is an argument in favor of, and not against, its truth. No man left to himself would have ever come up with this mystery.

After the mystery has been revealed to us, we intuit that, if God exists, it can be no other way: one and three at the same time. There can only be love between two or more persons; if therefore "God is love," there must be in God one who loves, one who is loved, and the love that unites them.

Christians are monotheists; they believe in a God who is one, but not solitary. Who would God love if he were absolutely alone? Perhaps himself? But then his love would not be really love, but rather egoism or narcissism.

I would like to consider the great and formidable teaching about life that comes to us from the Trinity. This mystery is the maximum affirmation that there can be both equality and diversity: equal in dignity but different in characteristics. And is this not the most important thing that we must learn if we are going to live well in this world? That we can be, that is, different by the color of our skin, because of culture, sex, race and religion, and yet enjoy equal dignity as human persons?

This teaching has its first and most natural field of application in the family. The family must be an earthly reflection of the Trinity. It is made up of persons of different sex (man and woman) and age (parents and children) with all the consequences that derive from these differences: different sentiments, different attitudes and tastes. The success of a marriage and a family depends on the measure by which this diversity knows how to tend toward a higher unity: unity of love, intentions and collaboration.

It is not true that a man and a woman must have the same temperament and gifts; that for them to agree, they must both be either cheerful, vivacious, extroverted and instinctive, or both introverted, quiet and reflective. Indeed we know what negative consequences can follow, even at the physical level, from marriage between relatives within a restricted circle.

Husband and wife do not have each to be the "better half" of the other in the sense of two halves perfectly equal, as an apple cut in two, but in the sense that one is the missing half of the other and the complement of the other. This was God's intention when he said: "It is not good for man to be alone; I will make him a help similar to him" (Genesis 2:18). This all presupposes the strength to accept the difference of the other, which is the most difficult thing for us to do and in which only the most mature marriages succeed.

From this we also see how erroneous it is to consider the Trinity a mystery that is remote from our lives, one to be left to the speculation of theologians. On the contrary, it is a mystery that is very close to us. The reason is very simple: We were created in the image of the Trinitarian God, we bear this imprint and we are called to realize the same sublime synthesis of unity and diversity.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ C  Gen 14:18-20;  1 Cor. 11:23-26;  Luke 9:11b-17
                             Father Cantalamessa on Memory: Do This in Memory of Me

In the second reading of this feast, St. Paul presents us with the most ancient account we have of the institution of the Eucharist, written no more than about 20 years after the fact. Let us try to find something new in the Eucharistic mystery, using the concept of memorial: "Do this in memory of me."

Memory is one of the most mysterious and greatest powers of the human spirit. Everything seen, heard and done from early childhood is conserved in this immense womb, ready to reawaken and to dance into the light either by an external stimulus or by our own will.

Without memory we will cease to be ourselves, we will lose our identity. Those who are struck by total amnesia, wander lost on the streets, without knowing their own name or where they live.

A memory, once it has come to mind, has the power to catalyze our whole interior world and route everything toward its object, especially if this is not a thing or a fact, but a living person.

When a mother remembers her child, who was born a few days ago and is left at home, everything inside her flies toward her baby, a movement of tenderness rises from her maternal depths and perhaps brings tears to her eyes.

Not just the individual has memory; human groups -- family, tribe, nation -- also have a collective memory. The wealth of a people is not so much measured by the reserves of gold it holds in its vaults, but rather by how many memories it holds in its collective consciousness. It is the sharing of many memories that cements the unity of a group. To keep such memories alive, they are linked to a place, to a holiday.

Americans have Memorial Day, the day in which they remember those who fell in all the wars; the Indians have the Gandhi Memorial, a green park in New Delhi that is supposed to remind the nation who he was and what he did. We Italians also have our memorials: The civil holidays recall the most important events in our recent history, and streets, piazzas and airports are dedicated to our most eminent people.

This very rich human background in regard to memory should help us better understand what the Eucharist is for the Christian people. It is a memorial because it recalls the event to which all of humanity now owes its existence as redeemed humanity: the death of the Lord.

But the Eucharist has something that distinguishes it from every other memorial. It is memorial and presence together, even if hidden under the signs of bread and wine. Memorial Day cannot bring those who have fallen back to life; the Gandhi Memorial cannot make Gandhi alive again. In a sense, the Eucharistic memorial, however, according to the faith of Christians, does do this in regard to Christ.

But together with all the beautiful things that we have said about memory, we must mention a danger that is inherent to it. Memory can be easily transformed into sterile and paralyzing nostalgia. This happens when a person becomes the prisoner of his own memories and ends up living in the past.

Indeed, the Eucharistic memorial does not pertain to this type of memory. On the contrary, it projects us forward; after the consecration the people say: "We proclaim your death, O Lord, and confess your resurrection, until you come."

An antiphon attributed to St. Thomas Aquinas ("O sacrum convivium") defines the Eucharist as the sacred feast in which "Christ is received, the memory of his passion is celebrated, the soul is filled with grace, and we are given the pledge of future glory."

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

11th Sunday in Ordinary Time    2 Samuel 12:7-10,13;   Galatians 2:16,19-21;   Luke 7:36-8:3
A Woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment: Fr Cantalamessa on the Pearl of Great Price

There are some Gospel passages where the teaching is so much connected to the action that the former cannot be fully understood if it is detached from the latter.

The episode of the sinful woman in the house of Simon the Pharisee that will be read at Mass this Sunday is one of these. The opening scene is silent; there are no words, only silent gestures: A woman enters with an alabaster flask of ointment. She nestles at Jesus' feet, washes them with tears, dries them with her hair, and kissing them, douses them with the ointment from her flask.

She is almost certainly a prostitute, because at that time this was what was meant when the term "sinful" was applied to a woman.

At this point the focus turns to the Pharisee who invited Jesus to dinner. The scene is still silent, but only in appearance. The Pharisee is "speaking to himself": "When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this he said to himself, 'If this man were a prophet, he would know who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, that she is a sinner.'"

The Gospel then takes Jesus' word so as to present his judgment on the actions of the woman and on the thoughts of the Pharisee, and it does this with a parable: "'A creditor had two debtors: One owed him five hundred denarii and the other fifty. Not having anything to pay him with, the creditor forgave both of them their debts. Who will love him more?' Simon answered: 'I suppose the one who he forgave the most.' Jesus said to him, 'You have judged well.'"

Jesus first of all allows Simon to be convinced that he is in fact a prophet since he read the thoughts in his heart; at the same time, with the parable, he is preparing everyone to understand what he is about to say in defense of the woman: "'For this reason I say to you her many sins are forgiven her because she has loved much. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.' Then he said to her, 'Your sins are forgiven you.'"

This year is the 800th anniversary of the conversion of Francis of Assisi. What do the conversions of the sinful woman of the Gospel and Francis have to do with each other? Unfortunately, when we speak of conversion our thought goes instinctively to what one leaves behind -- sin, a disordered life, atheism -- but this is the effect, not the cause of the conversion.

How a conversion happens is perfectly described by Jesus in the parable of the hidden treasure: "The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field; a man finds it and hides it again, then he goes, full of joy, and sells all he has and buys the field." It is not said that "a man sold everything he had and then went out in search of a hidden treasure."

We know how the stories that begin this way end. One loses everything he has and does not find any treasure. These are stories of deluded people, visionaries. No, a man finds a treasure and sells all he has to acquire it. In other words, it is necessary to have found a treasure in order to have the strength and the joy to sell all.

This is done with a heart "full of joy," like the man about whom the Gospel speaks. This is how it happened for the sinful woman of the Gospel and for Francis of Assisi. Both had met Jesus and it is this that gave them the strength to change.

The point of departure of the sinful woman of the Gospel and Francis seems to have been different, but this difference was an appearance, external. Deep down it was the same. The woman and Francis, like all of us after all, were searching for happiness and they saw that the life they were leading did not make them happy, but rather it left dissatisfaction and an emptiness in the depths of their heart.

I was reading recently the story of the famous convert of the 19th century, Hermann Cohen, a brilliant musician, idolized as a the young prodigy of his time in the salons of central Europe: a kind of modern version of the young Francis.

After his conversion he wrote to a friend: "I looked for happiness everywhere: in the elegant life of the salons, in the deafening noise of balls and parties, in accumulating money, in the excitement of gambling, in artistic glory, in friendship with famous people, in the pleasures of the senses. Now I have found happiness, I have an overflowing heart and I want to share it with you. ... You say, 'But I don't believe in Jesus Christ.' I say to you, 'Neither did I and that is why I was unhappy.'"

Conversion is the way to happiness and a full life. It is not something painful, but the greatest joy. It is the discovery of the hidden treasure and the pearl of great price.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Solemnity of the Nativity of John the Baptist   Isaiah 49:1-6; Acts 13:22-26; Luke 1:57-66,80
                      He will be called JohnFather Cantalamessa on the Birth of John the Baptist

This year the Solemnity of the Nativity of John the Baptist is celebrated in the place of the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time. This is an ancient feast that goes back to the fourth Century.

Why June 24? In announcing the birth of Christ to Mary, the angel tells her that her cousin Elizabeth is in her sixth month. So, John the Baptist had to be born six months before Jesus and in this way the chronology is respected.

The reason why it is June 24 instead of June 25 is because of the ancient way of calculating, which was according to calends, ides and nones. Naturally, these dates have a liturgical and symbolic value rather than a historic one. We do not know the exact day and year of Jesus' birth and so we do not know exactly when John was born either.

The devotion to John the Baptist spread rapidly and many churches throughout the world were dedicated to him. There have been 23 Popes who have taken his name. To the last one, John XXIII, the phrase from the fourth Gospel has been applied: "There came a man sent by God and his name was John." Few know that the seven musical notes -- do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti -- have something to do with John the Baptist. They are derived from the first seven syllables of the first strophe of a liturgical hymn composed in his honor.

The passage from Sunday's Gospel reading talks about the choice of the name John. But what we hear in the first reading and the psalm is also important. The first reading, from Isaiah, says: "The Lord called me from birth, from my mother's womb he gave me my name. He made of me a sharp-edged sword and concealed me in the shadow of his arm. He made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me."

The psalm returns to this idea, namely, that God knows us from our mother's womb: "Truly you have formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother's womb.... When I was being made in secret, fashioned as in the depths of the earth. Your eyes foresaw my actions."

We have a very reductive and juridical idea of the person that causes a lot of confusion in the debate over abortion. It seems that a child acquires the dignity of a person only when this is recognized by human authorities.

For the Bible the person is he who is known by God, he who God calls by name; and God, we are assured, knows us from our mother's womb, his eyes saw us when we were still being fashioned in the womb.

Science tells us that in the embryo the whole human being who will be is becoming, projected in each tiny detail; to this our faith adds that what we have is not some unknown project of nature but a project of the creator's love. St. John the Baptist's mission is entirely traced out before his birth: "And you, child, will be called prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways."

The Church holds that John the Baptist was already sanctified in his mother's womb by the presence of Christ. That is why she celebrates the feast of his birth. This gives us an occasion to touch on a delicate problem, which has become acute today because of the millions of babies who, above all because of the frightening spread of abortion, die without receiving baptism. What are we to say of them? Are they also in some way sanctified in the womb of their mother? Is there salvation for them?

My answer is without hesitation: Certainly there is salvation for them. The risen Christ says of them too: "Let the children come to me." According to an opinion that has become common since the Middle Ages, unbaptized children go to limbo, an intermediate place in which there is no suffering nor is there the enjoyment of the vision of God.

But what we have here is an idea that has never been defined by the Church as a truth of faith. It was a hypothesis of theologians that, in light of the development of Christian conscience and the understanding of Scripture, we can no longer maintain.

When I expressed this opinion of mine a while ago in one of these commentaries, there were various reactions. Some expressed their gratitude to me for taking this position which lifted a weight from their heart; others reproved me for abandoning the traditional doctrine and minimizing the importance of baptism. Now the discussion is closed because the International Theological Commission, which works for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, published a document in which they affirm the same thing.

I think it would be helpful to return to the question in light of this important document so as to explain some of the reasons that brought the Church to this conclusion.

Jesus instituted the sacraments as the ordinary means of salvation. Therefore, they are necessary, and those who, though able to receive them, refuse or neglect to receive them against their conscience, put their eternal salvation in serious jeopardy. But God is not bound by these means. He can also save by extraordinary means, when the person, by no fault of his own, is deprived of baptism. He did this, for example, with the Holy Innocents, who also died without baptism.

The Church has always admitted the possibility of a baptism of desire and a baptism of blood, and many of these babies have certainly known a baptism of blood, even if of a different nature.

I do not think that the Church's clarification will encourage abortion; if it did, it would be tragic and we would need to seriously worry, not about the salvation of the unbaptized children, but of the baptized parents. It would be making fun of God.

This clarification will give, on the contrary, some ease to the believers who, like everyone, are dismayed in the face of the terrible fate of so many children in today's world.

Let us return to John the Baptist and to Sunday's feast. In announcing the birth of the child to Zechariah the angel says to him: "Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son who you will call John. You will have joy and gladness and many will rejoice at his birth" (Luke 1:13-14). Many did indeed rejoice at his birth if, 20 centuries later, we are still here to speak of that child.

I would like also to convey those words to all the fathers and mothers who, like Elizabeth and Zechariah, are expecting or experiencing the birth of a child: You too can have the joy and gladness in the child God has entrusted to you and rejoice in his birth your whole life long and for eternity!

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time   1 Kings 19:16b,19-21; Galatians 4:31-5:13-18; Luke 9:51-62
                             Father Cantalamessa on Pope's Book:  "Let the Dead Bury the Dead"

* * *

Benedict XVI's book "Jesus of Nazareth" appeared in April. I thought that I would take account of the Pope's reflections in my commentary on some of the next Sunday Gospels.

First of all, I'd like to remark on the content and purpose of the book. It treats of Jesus in the period from his baptism in the Jordan to the moment of his transfiguration, that is, from the beginning of his public ministry almost to its epilogue.

The Pope says that if God gives him sufficient strength and time to write it, a second volume will deal with the accounts of Jesus' death and resurrection along with the infancy narratives. These were not treated in the first volume.

The book presupposes historical-critical exegesis and uses its findings, but desires to go beyond this method, aiming at a properly theological interpretation, that is, one that is global, not narrow, and that takes seriously the witness of the Gospels and Scriptures as books inspired by God.

The purpose of the book is to show that the figure of Jesus that is arrived at in this way is "much more logical and, from the historical point of view, also more understandable than the reconstructions that we have seen in the last decades. I hold," the Pope adds, "that precisely this Jesus -- that of the Gospels -- is a historically sensible and convincing figure."

It is quite significant that the Pope's choice to attend to the Jesus of the Gospels finds a confirmation in the more recent and authoritative orientation of the same historical-critical approach, in, for example, the Scottish exegete James Dunn's monumental work "Christianity in the Making."

According to Dunn, "the synoptic Gospels bear testimony to a pattern and technique of oral transmission which has ensured a greater stability and continuity in the Jesus tradition that has thus far been generally appreciated."

But let us come to the Gospel reading for the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time. It recounts three different meetings Jesus had on the same journey. We will focus on one of these meetings. "And to another Jesus said, 'Follow me.' But he replied, 'Lord, let me go first and bury my father.' But Jesus answered him, 'Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.'"

In his book, the Pope comments on the theme of family relations alluded to in the above Gospel passage in dialogue with the Jewish-American Rabbi Jacob Neusner. In his book "A Rabbi Talks with Jesus," Rabbi Neusner imagines himself as present in the crowds when Jesus speaks.

Rabbi Neusner explains why, despite his great admiration for the "Rabbi of Nazareth," he would not have been able to become his disciple. One of the reasons for this is Jesus' position on family relations. Rabbi Neusner says that on many occasions Jesus seems to invite transgression of the fourth commandment, which says that we must honor our father and mother. Jesus asks someone, as we just heard, to forget about burying his own father and elsewhere he says that whoever loves father and mother more than him is not worthy of him.

Often the response to these objections is to cite other words of Jesus that strongly affirm the permanent validity of family bonds: the indissolubility of marriage, the duty to help one's father and mother.

In his book, however, the Pope offers a more profound and illuminating answer to this objection, an objection that is not only Rabbi Neusner's, but also that of many Christian readers of the Gospel. He takes his point of departure from something else Jesus says. "Who is my mother? Who are my brothers? ... Whoever does the will of my Father who is in heaven is my brother, sister, and mother" (Matthew 12:48-50).

Jesus does not thereby abolish the natural family, but reveals a new family in which God is father, and men and women are all brothers and sisters thanks to a common faith in him, the Christ. Rabbi Neusner asks whether he has a right to do this. This spiritual family already existed: It was the people of Israel, united by observance of the Torah, that is, the Mosaic law.

A son was only permitted to leave his father's house to study the Torah. But Jesus does not say, "Whoever loves father or mother more than the Torah is not worthy of the Torah." He says, "Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me." He puts himself in the place of the Torah and this can only be done by someone who is greater than the Torah and greater than Moses, who promulgated it.

Benedict XVI thinks that the rabbi is right to conclude: "Only God can demand of me what Jesus asks." The Pope notes that the discussion about Jesus and family relations -- like that about Jesus and observance of the Sabbath -- thus brings us to the true heart of the matter, which is to know who Jesus is. If a Christian does not believe that Jesus acts with the authority itself of God and is himself God, then Rabbi Neusner, who refuses to follow Jesus, has a more coherent position than that particular Christian does. One cannot accept Jesus' teaching if one does not accept his person.

Let us take some practical instruction from this discussion. The "family of God," which is the Church, not only is not against the natural family, but is its guarantee and promoter. We see it today. It is a shame that some divergences of opinion in our society on questions linked to marriage and the family impede many from recognizing the providential work of the Church on behalf of the family. She is often without support in this decisive battle for the future of humanity.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time     Isaiah 66:10-14c; Galatians 6:16-18; Luke 10:1-12, 17-20
The Kingdom of God is at Hand!      Father Cantalamessa on the Kingdom of God

* * *

Again we will comment on Sunday's Gospel with the help of Benedict XVI's book on Jesus. First, however, I would like to make an observation of a general nature. The criticism that has been made of the Pope's book by some is that it sticks to what the Gospels say without taking into account the findings of modern historical research which, according to them, would lead to very different conclusions.

What we have here is a widespread idea that is nourishing a whole literature like Dan Brown's "Da Vinci Code" and popularizing historical works based on the same presupposition.

I think that it is important to shed light on a fundamental equivocation in all of this. The idea of an historical investigation into Jesus that is unified, rectilinear, that moves unswervingly toward completely illuminating him, is a pure myth that some are trying to convince people of but which no serious historian today believes possible.

I quote one of the more well-known representatives of historical research on Jesus, the American Paula Fredriksen: "In recent scholarship, Jesus has been imagined and presented as a type of first-century shaman figure; as a Cynic-sort of wandering wise man; as a visionary radical and social reformer preaching egalitarian ethics to the destitute; as a Galilean regionalist alienated from the elitism of Judean religious conventions (like Temple and Torah); as a champion of national liberation and, on the contrary, as its opponent and critic -- on and on.

"All these figures are presented with rigorous academic argument and methodology; all are defended with appeals to the ancient data. Debate continues at a roiling pitch, and consensus -- even on issues so basic as what constitutes evidence and how to construe it -- seems a distant hope."

Often an appeal is made to new data and recent discoveries which would finally put historical research in an advantageous place with regard to the past. But the variety of the consequences that can be drawn from these new historical sources appears from the fact that they have given rise to two opposed and irreconcilable images of Christ that are still in play. On one hand, a Jesus who "is in all and for all Jewish"; on the other hand, a Jesus who is a child of the Helenized Galilee of his time, strongly influenced the philosophy of cynicism.

In light of this fact I ask: What was the Pope supposed to do, compose yet another historical reconstruction in which all the contrary objections debate and combat each other? What the Pope chose to do was to positively present the figure and teaching of Jesus as he is understood by the Church, taking his point of departure from the conviction that the Christ of the Gospels is, even from the historical point of view, the figure that is the most credible and certain.

After these clarifications, let us turn to this Sunday's Gospel. It is the episode of the sending out of 72 disciples on mission. After having told them how they are supposed to go out (two by two, like lambs, without money), Jesus explains to them what they must say: "Tell them: 'The kingdom of God is at hand.'"

We know that the phrase "The kingdom of God is at hand" is at the heart of Jesus' preaching and is the premise of each of his teachings. The kingdom of God is at hand, so love your enemies; the kingdom of God is at hand, so if your hand is a scandal to you, cut it off. It is better to enter the kingdom of God without a hand than to remain outside of it with both hands. Everything takes its meaning from the kingdom.

There has always been discussion about what, precisely, Jesus meant by the expression "kingdom of God." For some it would be a purely interior kingdom consisting in a life conformed to the law of God; for others, on the contrary, it would be a social and political kingdom to be realized by man, even by struggle and revolution if necessary.

The Pope reviews these various interpretations of the past and points to what they have in common: The center of interest moves from God to man; it is no longer a kingdom of God but a kingdom of man, who is its principal architect. This is an idea of a kingdom that, at the limit, is also compatible with atheism.

In Jesus' preaching the coming of the kingdom of God means that, sending his Son into the world, God has decided, so to speak, to personally take in hand the fortunes of the world, to compromise himself with it, to act in the world from the inside. It is easier to intuit what the kingdom of God means than to explain it because it is a reality that transcends every explanation.

The idea is still much diffused that Jesus expected the end of the world to be imminent and therefore the kingdom of God that he preached is not to be realized in this world but in the one we call the "hereafter."

In effect, the Gospels contain some affirmations that lend themselves to this interpretation. But if we look at the whole of Jesus' teaching this does not jibe. According to C.H. Dodd, Jesus' teaching is not an ethics for those who are expecting a rapid end to the world, but for those who have experienced the end of this world and the coming into it of the kingdom of God.

It is for those who know that "the old things are past" and that the world has become a "new creation," since God has descended as king. In other words, Jesus did not announce the end of "the" world but the end of "a" world, and in that the facts have not told against him.

But John the Baptist also preached this change, speaking of an imminent judgment of God. In what, then, consists the newness of Christ? The newness is entirely enclosed within an adverb of time: "now." With Jesus the kingdom of God is no longer only something "imminent." It is present. "The new and exclusive message of Jesus," the Pope writes, "consists in the fact that he says: God acts now -- this is the hour in which God, in a way that goes beyond all previous modalities, reveals himself in history as its Lord, as the living God."

From here flows that sense of urgency that is present in all of Jesus' parables, especially the so-called parables of the kingdom. The decisive moment of history has arrived, now is the moment to make the decision that saves; the feast is ready; to refuse to enter because you have just taken a wife or bought a pair of oxen or for some other reason, is to be excluded forever and see your place taken by others.

From this last reflection let us move to a practical and contemporary application of the message we have heard. What Jesus said to the people of his time is also valid for us today. That "now" and "today" will remain immutable until the end of the world (Hebrews 3:13).

That means that the person who today hears, perhaps by chance, Christ's word: "The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand; convert and believe in the Gospel" (Mark 1:15), finds himself faced with the same choice as those who heard it 2000 years ago in a Galilean village: Either believe and enter the kingdom or refuse to believe and remain outside.

Unfortunately, the first option -- believing -- seems to be the last concern of many who read the Gospel and write books about it. Rather than submitting themselves to Christ's judgment, many judge him.

Today more than ever Jesus is on trial. It is a kind of "universal judgment" turned upside down. Scholars run this risk above all. The scholar must "dominate" the object of the science that he cultivates and remain neutral before it; but how is one supposed to "dominate" or remain neutral before an object when it is Jesus Christ? In this case one must let himself instead be dominated by, and not be the dominator of his object.

The kingdom of God was so important for Jesus that he taught us to pray every day for its coming. We turn to God saying, "Thy kingdom come," but God also turns to us and says through Jesus: "The kingdom of God is at hand, do not wait, enter!"

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time C   Deuteronomy 30:10-14; Colossians 1:15-20; Luke 10:25-37
          Father Cantalamessa on the Good Samaritan

* * *

We have been commenting on some of the Sunday Gospels taking our inspiration from Benedict XVI's book "Jesus of Nazareth." A portion of the book treats the parable of the Good Samaritan. The parable cannot be understood if we do not take account of the question to which Jesus intended to respond: "Who is my neighbour?"

Jesus answers this question of a doctor of the law with a parable. In the music and literature of the world there are certain phrases that have become famous. Four notes in a certain sequence and every listener immediately exclaims: "Beethoven’s Fifth: destiny is knocking at the door!" Many of Jesus' parables share this characteristic. “A man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho ... ” and everyone immediately knows: the parable of the good Samaritan!

In the Judaism of the time there was discussion about who should be considered an Israelite’s neighbour. In general it came to be understood that the category of “neighbour” included all one’s fellow countrymen and Gentile coverts to Judaism. With his choice of persons (a Samaritan who comes to the aid of a Jew!) Jesus asserts that the category of neighbour is universal, not particular. Its horizon is humanity not the family, ethnic, or religious circle. Our enemy is also a neighbour! It is known that the Jews in fact “did not have good relations with the Samaritans” (cf. John 4:9).

The parable teaches that love of neighbour must not only be universal but also concrete and proactive. How does the Samaritan conduct himself in the parable? If the Samaritan had contented himself with saying to the unfortunate man lying there in his blood, “You unlucky soul! How did it happen? Buck up!” or something similar, and then went on his way, would not all that have been ironic and insulting? Instead he did something for the other: “He approached the victim, poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them. Then he lifted him up on his own animal, took him to an inn, and cared for him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper with the instruction, ‘Take care of him. If you spend more than what I have given you, I shall repay you on my way back’.”

The true novelty in the parable of the Good Samaritan is not that Jesus demands a concrete, universal love. The novelty stands in something else, the Pope observes in his book. At the end of the parable Jesus asks the doctor of the law who was questioning him, “Which of these [the Levite, the priest, the Samaritan] seems to you to have been the neighbour of the one who was attacked by the brigands?”

Jesus brings about an unexpected reversal in the traditional concept of neighbour. The Samaritan is the neighbour and not the wounded man, as we would have expected. This means that we must not wait till our neighbour appears along our way, perhaps quite dramatically. It belongs to us to be ready to notice him, to find him. We are all called to be the neighbour! The problem of the doctor of the law is reversed. From an abstract and academic problem, it becomes a concrete and living problem. The question to ask is not “Who is my neighbour?” but “Whose neighbour can I be here and now?”

In his book the Pope proposes a contemporary application of the parable of the good Samaritan. He sees the entire continent of Africa symbolized in the unfortunate man who has been robbed, wounded, and left for dead on the side of the road, and he sees in us, members of the rich countries of the northern hemisphere, the two people who pass by if not precisely the brigands themselves.

I would like to suggest another possible application of the parable. I am convinced that if Jesus came to Israel today and a doctor of the law asked him again, “Who is my neighbour?” he would change the parable a bit and in the place of the Samaritan he would put a Palestinian! If a Palestinian were to ask him the same question, in the Samaritan’s place we would find a Jew!

But it is too easy to limit the discussion to Africa and the Middle East. If one of us were to pose Jesus the question “Who is my neighbour?” what would he answer? He would certainly remind us that our neighbour is not only our fellow countrymen but also those outside our community, not only Christians but Muslims also, not only Catholics but Protestants also. But he would immediately add that this is not the most important thing. The most important thing is not to know who my neighbour is but to see whose neighbour I can be here and now, for whom I can be the Good Samaritan.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------
 

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time    Genesis 18:1-10a;    Colossians 1:24-28;   Luke 10:38-42
 The Friends of Jesus:  Father Cantalamessa on Friendship

* * *

"Jesus entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary who sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. Martha was burdened with much serving."

The village is Bethany and the house is that of Lazarus and his two sisters. Jesus loved to stop there and take some rest when he was traveling near Jerusalem.

Mary was stupefied that for once she had the master all to herself and could listen in silence to the words of eternal life that he spoke when he was taking his rest. So she sat there at his feet, as is still done today in the East. It is not difficult to imagine Martha's half-resentful, half-joking tone when, passing by them, she says to Jesus: "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me."

It was at this point that Jesus said something that by itself is a mini Gospel: "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her."

The tradition has seen in the sisters a symbol of the active and the contemplative life respectively; the liturgy with the choice of the first reading (Abraham who welcomes the three angels at the terebinth of Mamre) shows an example of hospitality in the episode.

I think, however, that the more evident theme is that of friendship. "Jesus loved Martha, together with her sister and Lazarus," we read in John's Gospel (11:5).

When they bring him the news of Lazarus' death he says to his disciples: "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep but I am going to wake him up" (John 11:11).

Faced with the sorrow of the two sisters he also breaks down and weeps, so much so that those who are present exclaim: "See how much he loved him!" (John 11:13).

It is wonderful and consoling to know that Jesus knew and cultivated that sentiment that is so beautiful and precious for us men -- friendship.

Of friendship we must say what St. Augustine said of time: "I know what time is but if someone asks me to explain it, I no longer know what it is." In other words, it is easier to intuit what friendship is that to explain it in words.

It is a mutual attraction and deep understanding between two people, but it does not have a sexual component as does conjugal love. It is a union of two souls, not two bodies. In this sense the ancients said that friendship is to have "one soul in two bodies." It can be a stronger bond than that of family. Family consists in having the same blood in one's veins. In friendship one has the same tastes, ideals, interests.

It is essential to friendship that it is founded on a common search for the good and the true. That which binds people who get together to do evil is not friendship but complicity, it is "an association that corrupts," as is said in judicial jargon.

Friendship is also different from love of neighbor. The latter must embrace everyone, even those who do not return it, even enemies, while friendship demands reciprocity, that is, that the other corresponds to your love.

Friendship is nourished by confidences, that is, by the fact that I confide in another that which is deepest and most personal in my thoughts and experiences.

Sometimes I say to young people: Do you want to find out who your true friends are and rank them? Try to remember what have been the most secret experiences of your life -- positive or negative -- and ask yourself to whom you confided them: those are your true friends. And if there is something in your life, so deep and you have revealed it to one person only, that person is your best friend.

The Bible is full of praise of friendship. "A faithful friend is a strong support; whoever finds one has found a treasure" (Sirach 6:14ff.). The proof of friendship is fidelity.

According to a popular saying, "When the money goes, friends go." True friendship does not fade at the friend's first problem. We know who our true friend is during the time of trial. History is full of great friendships that have been immortalized in literature. But the history of Christian sanctity also knows examples of famous friendships.

A delicate problem with friendship is whether it is possible once one is married. It is not said that one must completely cut off all the friendships one has cultivated before getting married but there must be a rearrangement if the newlyweds are not to experience difficulties and crises.

The surest friendships are those that a couple cultivates together. Among those friendships that are cultivated separately those with persons of the same sex create fewer problems than those with persons of the opposite sex.

Often in these cases the presumption that one is above all suspicion and danger is punished. Films with titles like "My Best Friend's Bride" [Ed.N. Father Cantalamessa refers to the Italian translation given to the title of the movie "My Best Friend's Wedding"] speak volumes about the problem, but apart from this extreme they also create serious practical problems. You cannot go out with friends every night leaving the other (usually the wife!) alone at home.

For consecrated persons, the more certain friendships are those that are shared with the whole community. In talking about Lazarus, Jesus does not say "my friend Lazarus" but "our friend Lazarus." Lazarus and the sisters became friends of the apostles too according to the well-known principle, "My friends' friends are my friends." This is how the great friendships were between some saints -- the one between Francis of Assisi and Clare, for example. Francis is the brother and father of all the sisters; Clare is the sister and mother of all the brothers.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
  
17th Sunday in Ordinary Time   Genesis 18:20-21, 23-32; Colossians 2:12-14; Luke 11:1-13
                  Father Cantalamessa on Jesus' Prayer

Sunday's Gospel begins with these words: "Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, 'Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples.' He said to them, 'When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come.'"

We can get an idea of what Jesus' countenance and his whole person looked like when he prayed by considering the fact that his disciples, just watching him pray, fell in love with prayer and asked the Master to teach them to pray. Jesus responds to them, as we have just now heard, by teaching them the Our Father.

Again in our commentary for this Sunday we will draw inspiration for our reflections on the Gospel from Benedict XVI's book on Jesus. "Without the rootedness in God," the Pope writes, "the person of Jesus remains elusive, unreal and inexplicable. This is the point on which my book is based: It considers Jesus from the perspective of his communion with the Father. This is the true center of his personality."

These claims are amply justified by the Gospels. Therefore, no one can deny that historically the Jesus of the Gospels lives and works in continual reference to the heavenly Father, that he prays and teaches how to pray, that he bases everything on faith in God. If this dimension is taken away from the Jesus of the Gospels, nothing is left of him.

From this historical evidence there follows a fundamental consequence and that is that it is not possible to know the true Jesus if we detach from faith, if we try to approach him as nonbelievers or declared atheists. I am not speaking at this point of faith in Christ, in his divinity (which comes later), but of faith in God, in the most common understanding of the term.

Many nonbelievers today write about Jesus, convinced that they are the ones who know the real Jesus, not the Church, not the believers. I do not have the intention of saying -- nor does the Pope, I believe -- that nonbelievers have no right to concern themselves with Jesus. Jesus is the "patrimony of humanity" and no one, not even the Church, has a monopoly on him. The fact that even nonbelievers write about Jesus and are passionate about him can only give us pleasure.

What I want to draw attention to are the consequences that follow from such a point of departure. If we detach from or deny faith in God, it is not only divinity that is eliminated or the so-called Christ of faith, but the historical Jesus is also completely eliminated, not even the man Jesus is left.

If God does not exist, Jesus is only one of the many deluded people who have prayed, worshipped, and spoken to their own shadow or the projection of their own essence, as Feuerbach would say. But how do we explain the fact that the life of this man "changed the world"? It would be like saying that truth and reason did not change the world but illusion and irrationality. How do we explain that after 2,000 years this man continues to affect us like no one else? Can all of that be the fruit of an equivocation, of an illusion?

There is but one way out of this dilemma and we must acknowledge the consistency of those (especially in the circle of the "Jesus Seminar" of California) who have taken that route. According to them, Jesus was not a Jewish believer; at bottom he was a philosopher of the Cynic type; he did not preach the kingdom of God, or an immanent end of the world; he only pronounced wise maxims in the style of a Zen master. His purpose was to restore in men their self-awareness, to convince them that they did not need him nor another god, because they themselves possessed a divine spark. These are the things, however, that the New Age movement has been preaching for decades.

The Pope understood it correctly: Without the rootedness in God, the figure of Jesus is elusive, unreal, and, I would add, contradictory. I do not think that this must be taken to mean that only those who interiorly adhere to Christianity can understand something about it; but it should put those on guard who think that only by being outside of it, outside the dogmas of the Church, can something objective be said about it.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time    Jeremiah 38:4-6, 8-10; Hebrews 12:1-4; Luke 12:49-57
           Father Cantalamessa on Division:   I have come to bring division to the earth

This Sunday’s Gospel reading contains some of the most provocative words ever spoken by Jesus: "Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law."

And to think that the person who pronounced these words was the same whose birth was greeted by the words: "Peace on earth to men of good will," and that during his life he proclaimed: "Blessed are the peacemakers." The same person, when he was arrested, commanded Peter to "Put your sword back into its sheath!" (Matthew 26:52). How do we explain this contradiction?

It is very simple. It is a matter of seeing which peace and unity Jesus came to bring and which is the peace and unity he came to take away. He came to bring the peace and unity of the good, that which leads to eternal life, and he came to take away the false peace and unity, which serves only to lull the conscience to sleep and leads to ruin.

It is not that Jesus came purposefully to bring division and war, but his coming inevitably brings division and contrast because he places people before a decision. And, faced with the necessity of making a decision, we know that human freedom will react in different ways. Jesus’ word and person will bring to the surface that which is most hidden in the depths of the human heart. The elderly Simeon had predicted it, taking the baby Jesus in his arms: "Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed" (Luke 2:35).

He himself will be the first victim of this contradiction, the first to suffer from the "sword" that he came to bring to the earth, he will give his life on account of it. After him the person most directly involved in this drama is Mary his mother, of whom Simeon says: "A sword will also pierce your soul."

Jesus himself distinguishes the two types of peace. He says to the apostles: "Peace I leave you, my peace I give to you; not as the world gives peace do I give peace to you. Do not let your heart be troubled and do not be afraid" (John 14:27). After having destroyed with his death the false peace and solidarity of the human race in evil and sin, he inaugurates the new peace and unity that is the fruit of the Holy Spirit. This is the peace that he offers to the disciples on Easter night, saying "Peace be with you!"

Jesus says that this "division" can also work its way into the family: between father and son, mother and daughter, brother and sister, daughter-in-law and mother-in-law. And, unfortunately, we know that this is sometimes painfully true. The person who has found the Lord and seriously wants to follow him often finds himself in the difficult situation of having to choose: Either make those at home happy and neglect God and religious practice or follow the latter and put himself in conflict with his own, who give him trouble for every little thing he does for God and piety.

But the contrast penetrates even deeper, within the person himself, and it becomes a struggle between flesh and spirit, between the call to egoism and sensuality, and that of conscience. The division and conflict begin inside of us. Paul illustrated this marvelously: "For the flesh has desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you may not do what you want" (Galatians 5:17).

Man is attached to his little peace and freedom, even if it is precarious and illusory, and this image of Jesus who comes to bring disruption carries the risk of making us indisposed toward Christ, considering him as an enemy of our tranquility. It is necessary to overcome this impression and realize that this too is Jesus’ love, perhaps the most pure and genuine love.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time    Isaiah 66:18-21;   Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13;   Luke 13:22-30
Father Cantalamessa on the Narrow Gate

* * *

Enter Through the Narrow Gate


There is a question that has always nagged believers: Will there be many or few people saved? During certain periods this problem became so acute as to cause some people terrible anxiety.

This Sunday's Gospel informs us that Jesus himself was once asked this question. "Jesus passed through towns and villages, teaching as he went and making his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, 'Lord, will only a few people be saved?'"

The question, as we see, focuses on the number -- How many will be saved? Will it be many or few? In answering the question, Jesus shifts the focus from "how many" to "how" to be saved, that is, by entering "through the narrow gate."

We see this same attitude in regard to Jesus' second coming. The disciples ask "when" the return of the Son of Man will happen and Jesus answers indicating "how" we should prepare ourselves for that return, and what to do during the time of waiting (cf. Matthew 24:3-4).

Jesus' way of responding to these questions is not strange or discourteous. He is just acting in the way of one who wants to teach his disciples how to move from a life of curiosity to one of true wisdom; from the allure of idle questions to the real problems we need to grapple with in life.

From this we already see the absurdity of those who, like the Jehovah Witnesses, believe they know the precise number of the saved: 144,000.

This number, which recurs in the Book of Revelations has a purely symbolic value (the square of 12 -- the number of the tribes of Israel -- multiplied by 1,000) and is explained by the expression that immediately follows: "A great multitude that no man could number" (Revelations 7:4, 9).

Above all, if 144,000 is really the number, then we can both close up shop. Above the gate to heaven there must be a sign like the ones parking lots put up: "Full."

If, therefore, Jesus is not so much interested in revealing to us the number of the saved as he is in telling us how to be saved, we can understand what he is trying to tell us here. In substance, there are two things: one negative and the other positive.

It is useless, or rather it is not enough, to belong to a certain ethnic group, race, tradition, or institution, not even the chosen people from whom the Savior himself comes. What puts us on the road to salvation is not a title of ownership ("We ate and drank in your presence..."), but a personal decision, followed by a consistent way of life. This is even more clear in Matthew's text which contrasts two ways and two gates, one narrow and the other wide (cf. Matthew 7:13-14).

Why are these ways respectively called "narrow" and "wide"? Is it perhaps that the way of evil is always easy and pleasant to follow and the way of goodness always hard and tiresome?

Here we must be careful not to cede to the usual temptation of believing that here below everything goes magnificently well for the wicked and everything goes terribly for the good.

The way of the wicked is wide, but only at the beginning. As one goes down this way it gradually becomes narrow and bitter. In any case, it becomes very narrow at the end because it finishes in a blind alley.

The joy that is experienced in it has the characteristic of diminishing more and more as one tastes it, and it finally causes nausea and sadness. We see this in certain forms of intoxication experienced in drugs, alcohol and sex. A larger dose or stronger stimulation is needed each time to produce pleasure of the same intensity.

Finally the organism no longer responds and it begins to break down, even physically.

The way of the just is instead narrow at the beginning, when one starts off on it, but it then becomes a spacious boulevard because hope, joy and peace of heart are found in it.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
   
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time     Sirach 3:19-21, 30-31;   Heb 12:18-19, 22-24a;   Luke 14:1, 7-14
Father Cantalamessa on Modesty:  Be Modest in What You Do!

The beginning of this Sunday's Gospel helps us to correct a widely diffused prejudice: "One Sabbath when he went to dine at the house of a ruler who belonged to the Pharisees, they were watching him." Reading the Gospel from a certain angle we have ended up making the Pharisees the prototype for all vices: hypocrisy, duplicity, falsity; Jesus' enemies par excellence. The terms "Pharisee" and "Pharisaical" have entered into the vocabulary of many languages with negative connotations.
 
Such an idea of the Pharisees is not correct. There were certainly many among them who corresponded to this negative image and it is with these that Jesus has serious problems. But not all of them were like this. Nicodemus, who comes to see Jesus one night and who later defended him before the Sanhedrin, was a Pharisee (cf. John 3:1; 7:50ff.). Saul was a Pharisee before his conversion and was certainly a sincere and zealous person then, if misguided. Gamaliel, who defended the apostles before the Sanhedrin, was a Pharisee (cf. Acts 5:34ff.).
 
Jesus' relationships with the Pharisees were not only conflictual. They often shared the same convictions, such as faith in the resurrection of the dead and the love of God and neighbor as the first and most important commandment of the law. Some, as we see in Sunday's Gospel, even invited Jesus to dinner at their house. Today there is agreement that the Pharisees did not want Jesus to be condemned as much as their rival sect, the Sadducees, who belonged to Jerusalem's priestly caste.
 
For all these reasons, it would be a very good thing to stop using the terms "Pharisee" and "Pharisaical" in a disparaging way. This would also help dialogue with the Jews who recall with great respect the role played by the Pharisees in their history, especially after the destruction of Jerusalem.
 
During the dinner that Sabbath, Jesus taught two important things: one directed to those who were invited and the other to their host. To the host Jesus says (perhaps privately or only in the presence of his disciples): "When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors ..." This is what Jesus himself did when he invited the poor, the afflicted, the meek, the hungry, the persecuted -- the persons named in the beatitudes -- to the great banquet of the kingdom.
 
But this time I would like to focus on what Jesus says to the invitees. "When you are invited to a wedding feast, do not take a place of honor ..." Jesus does not intend to give a lesson in good manners here. Neither does he wish to encourage the subtle calculation of those who take a lower place with the secret hope of gaining a more honorable place from the host. The parable could deceive us if we do not think about the banquet and the host that Jesus has in mind. The banquet is the most universal one of the kingdom and God is the host.
 
In life, Jesus wants to say, Choose the last place, try to work more for the benefit of others than for your own benefit. Be modest in evaluating your merits, allow others to do this instead ("No one is a good judge of his own case"), and already in this life God will lift you up. He will lift you up in his grace; he will make you rise in the ranks of Jesus' friends and true disciples, which is the only thing that really matters.
 
He will also exalt you in the esteem of others. It is a surprising fact but a true one: It is not only God who "comes to the humble but holds the proud at a distance" (cf. Psalm 107:6); men do the same, whether or not they are believers. Modesty, when it is sincere and not affected, conquers, makes those who practice it loved, makes their company desirable, their opinion appreciated. True glory flees from those who seek it and seeks those who flee from it.
 
We live in a society that has an extreme need to hear this Gospel message of humility again. Running to take the first seats, perhaps without scruple using others as steppingstones, being opportunistic and viciously competitive -- these are things that are universally condemned but, unfortunately, they are also universally practiced. The Gospel has an impact on society, even when it speaks of humility and modesty.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time     Wisdom 9:13-18b; Philemon 9b-10, 12-17; Luke 14:25-33
If anyone follows me ...    Father Cantalamessa on Following Christ

The Gospel reading for today is one of those that we would be tempted to smooth out and sweeten because it seems too hard for men of today: "If anyone follows me without hating his father, his mother."

Let us immediately make one thing clear: It is true that the Gospel is sometimes provocative, but it is never contradictory. A little further on in the same Gospel of Luke Jesus firmly re-emphasizes the duty of honoring father and mother (Luke 18:20), and in regard to husband and wife he says that they must be one flesh and that man does not have a right to separate that which God has joined together. How, then, can he tell us to hate father and mother, wife, children, brothers and sisters?

We need to keep in mind a certain fact. The Hebrew language does not have comparatives -- it is not possible in Hebrew, for example, to speak of loving something "more" or "less" than another thing. It is only possible to speak of loving or hating. The phrase, "If anyone follows me and does not hate father and mother" should be understood in this way: "If anyone follows me, without preferring me to father and mother." To see that this is so we only need to look at the same matter in the Gospel of Matthew where Jesus says: "Whoever loved father and mother more than me is not worthy of me" (Matthew 10:37).

It would be a big mistake to think that this love for Christ enters into competition with the different human loves: for parents, husband and wife, children, brothers and sisters. Christ is no one's rival in love and he is not jealous of anyone.

In Paul Claudel's play "The Satin Slipper," the female protagonist, a fervent Christian, who is deeply in love with Rodrigo, exclaims to herself, almost finding it hard to believe: "Is it permitted, then, this love between creatures? Truly, God is not jealous?" And her guardian angel answers: "How could he be jealous of what he himself has made?" (Act 3, Scene 8).

Love for Christ does not exclude the other loves, but rather orders them. Indeed, it is in him that every genuine love finds its foundation and support and the necessary grace to be fully lived out. This is the meaning of the "grace of state" that the sacrament of marriage confers to Christian husbands and wives. It assures that in their love they will be sustained and guided by the love that Christ had for his Church.

Jesus does not disappoint nor deceive anyone; he asks everything because he wants to give everything; indeed, he has given everything. Someone might ask themselves: "But what right does this man have, who lived 20 centuries ago in an obscure corner of the world, to ask this absolute love of everyone? We do not need to look too far to find the answer, which is in his earthly life about which history tells us: It is because he first gave everything for man. "He loved us and gave himself up for us" (cf. Ephesians 5:2).

In the same Gospel Jesus reminds us what the benchmark and sign is of true love for him: "taking up your own cross." Taking up our own cross does not mean seeking out suffering.

Jesus did not seek out his cross; he took on himself in obedience to the Father what men put on his shoulders and with his obedient love transformed it from an instrument of torture into a sign of redemption and glory.

Jesus did not come to make human crosses heavier, but rather to give them meaning. It has been rightly said that "whoever looks for Jesus without the cross will find the cross without Jesus," that is, he will certainly find the cross but not the strength to carry it.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time   Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-32
       His father ran out to meet him: Father Cantalamessa on the Joy of Fatherhood

* * *

In this Sunday's liturgy the entire 15th chapter of Luke's Gospel is read. The chapter contains the three "mercy parables": the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son.

"A man had two sons": Anyone who has even the most minimal familiarity with the Gospel on hearing these five words will immediately exclaim, "the parable of the prodigal son!"

On other occasions I have focused on the spiritual significance of the parable; this time I would like to consider an aspect that has received little attention, but which is very relevant at this moment and close to life. At the bottom of the parable is simply the story of a reconciliation between father and son, and we all know that such a reconciliation is essential to the happiness of fathers and children.

Who knows why literature, art, theatre and advertisements all concentrate on a single human relationship: the erotic one between man and woman, between husband and wife? It would seem that this is the only thing in life.

Advertisements and the cinema do nothing else but cook up the same dish using a thousand sauces. But we leave another human relationship, that is just as universal and vital, unexplored, one that is another great source of the joy of life: the relationship between father and children, the joy of paternity.

The only piece of literature that really deals with this theme is Franz Kafka's letter to his father. Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev's famous novel "Fathers and Sons" does not actually treat of the relationship between natural fathers and children but between different generations.

If we serenely and objectively look into the human heart we will find that, in the majority of cases, a good, understanding, and untroubled relationship with his children is, for a mature, adult man, no less important and fulfilling than the relationship between a man and a woman. We know how important this relationship is for both sons and daughters and the tremendous void that is left by its disintegration.

As cancer usually attacks the most delicate organs in men and women, so also does the destructive power of sin and evil attack the most vital relationships in human existence. There is nothing worse in the relationship between a man and a woman than abuse, exploitation and violence, and there is nothing that is exposed to deformation like the relationship between fathers and children: authoritarianism, paternalism, rebellion, rejection, lack of communication.

We should not generalize. There are beautiful relationships between fathers and children and I myself have known various ones. We know, however, that there are also more numerous negative cases and difficult relationships between fathers and children. In the prophet Isaiah we read this exclamation of God: "I raised and reared these children but they have rebelled against me" (Isaiah 1:2). I believe that many fathers today know from experience what these words mean.

The suffering is reciprocal; it is not like the parable in which the fault is entirely the son's. There are fathers whose most profound suffering in life is being rejected or even despised by their children. And there are children whose most profound and unadmitted suffering is to feel misunderstood, to not be esteemed, to be rejected by their father.

I have focussed on the human and existential implications of the parable of the prodigal son. But we are not only dealing with this, that is, with the amelioration of the quality of life in this world.

The undertaking of a great reconciliation between fathers and children and a profound healing of their relationship is something that is important for a new evangelization. We know how much the relationship with an earthly father can influence, positively or negatively, one's relationship with the heavenly Father and thus the Christian life as well.

When the precursor, John the Baptist, was born the angel said that one of his tasks would be "to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children to the fathers" [cf. Luke 1:17]. Today this is a task that is more important than ever.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time  Amos 8:4-6;  1 Timothy 2:1-8;   Luke 16:1-13


* * *

Make friends with wealthFather Cantalamessa on Dishonest Wealth


This Sunday's Gospel presents us with a parable that in certain respects has important contemporary relevance: the parable of the dishonest steward. The central character of the parable is the farm manager of a landowner, a well-known figure in our Italian countryside when the sharecropping system was still in existence.

Like all good parables, this one is like a miniature play, full of movement and scene changes. The actors in the first scene are the steward and the master and the scene ends with the master firing the steward: "You can no longer be my steward."

The steward does not even try to defend himself. His conscience is not clear. He knows that he is guilty of what the master has discovered.

The second scene is a soliloquy of the steward, who is now alone. He has not yet accepted defeat. He immediately thinks about what he can do to get himself out of this situation and save his future.

The third scene -- steward and tenant farmers -- reveals to us the plan that the steward has devised. He asks the tenants, "And how much do you owe?"

"One hundred measures of wheat," is one reply.

"Here is your promissory note," he says. "Take it and write down eighty." A classic case of corruption and falsehood that makes us think of similar situations in our own society, often on a much larger scale.

The conclusion is disconcerting: "The master praised the dishonest steward for acting prudently."

Is Jesus approving and encouraging corruption? We need to recall to our minds the particular nature of teaching in parables. The moral doctrine that is aimed at is not in the parable taken as a whole, in every detail, but only in that aspect of the parable that the narrator wishes to pick out.

And the idea that Jesus intended to bring out with this parable is clear. The master praises the steward for his resourcefulness and for nothing else. It is not said that the master changed his mind about his decision to fire the man.

Indeed, given the initial conduct of the master and the quickness with which he discovers the new scam we can easily imagine the outcome, which the parable does not report. After having praised the steward for his astuteness, the master orders him to immediately restore the fruit of his dishonest transactions or pay it off in prison if he lacks the means.

It is cleverness that Jesus also praises, outside the parable. In fact, he adds: "The children of this world are more clever in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light."

That man, when he was faced with an emergency situation in which his whole future was at stake, showed a capacity for radical decision-making and great resourcefulness. He acted quickly and intelligently -- even if dishonestly -- to save himself. This, Jesus observes to his disciples, is what you too must do, to save yourselves, not for a worldly future but for an eternal future.

"Life," Seneca said, "is not given to anyone as a possession but as something that we are stewards of." We are all "stewards," so we have to act like the man in the parable. He did not put things off until tomorrow; he did not "sleep on it." There is something too important at stake to be left to chance.

The Gospel itself makes different practical applications of this teaching of Christ. The one that it insists the most on is the one regarding the use of wealth and money: "I tell you, make friends with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings."

In other words, do as that steward did; make friends with those who, when one day you find yourself in trouble, will welcome you. These friends, we know, are the poor.

We know this from what Christ says about his being the recipient of what we do for them. The poor, St. Augustine said, are, so to speak, our couriers and porters: They allow us to begin transferring our belongings now to the house that is being built for us in the hereafter.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time     Amos 6:1, 4-7; 1 Timothy 6:11-16; Luke 16:19-31
                    Father Cantalamessa on the First World and Lazarus

* * *

A Rich Man who Dressed in Purple Garments and Fine Linen


The principal thing to bring to light in regard to the parable of the rich man in this Sunday’s Gospel is his contemporary relevance. At the global level the two characters are the two hemispheres: The rich man represents the northern hemisphere (western Europe, America, Japan) and the poor man, Lazarus, with a few exceptions, represents the southern hemisphere. Two characters, two worlds: the first world and the Third World. Two demographically and geographically unequal worlds: The one that we call the Third World in fact represents two-thirds of the world. This is a usage that is beginning to take hold. The third world is beginning to be called the “two-thirds world.”

The same contrast between the rich man and Lazarus exists also within both worlds. The rich live side by side with the poor Lazaruses in the third world -- and the solitary luxury that exists in these countries stands out all the more in the midst of the miserable majority -- and there are the poor Lazaruses who live side by side with the rich in the first world. Some persons in the entertainment business, in sports, finance, industry, and commerce have contracts worth millions, and all of this is in the sight of millions of people who, with their meager wages or unemployment subsidy, do not know how they are going to be able to pay the rent or pay for medicine and education for their children.

The most detestable thing in the story that Jesus tells is the rich man’s ostentation, the way he makes a show of his wealth with no consideration for the poor man. His life of luxury is manifested in two areas, in dining and in clothing: The rich man feasted sumptuously and dressed in purple garments and fine linen, which in those days was the vesture of kings. The contrast is not only between a person who stuffs himself with food and a person who dies of hunger but also between one who changes his clothes every day and one who does not own a thread.

Here in Italy there was once a piece of clothing presented at a fashion show that was made of gold coins and cost over a billion lira. We have to say this without hesitation: The global success of Italian fashion and the business it has created have gone to our heads. We do not care about anything anymore. Everything that is done in the fashion sector, even the most obvious excesses, enjoys special treatment. Fashion shows that sometimes fill television news so much that other more important news is put aside, bring to mind the scenes in the parable of the rich man.

But so far we have not touched on anything new. What is novel and unique in this evangelical denouncement has to do with the perspective from which the events are seen. Everything in the parable is seen retrospectively from the epilogue to the story: “When the poor man died, he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried.” If we put this story on the screen we could very well begin with this ending beyond the grave and then return to the previous events in a kind of “flashback.”

Many similar denouncements of wealth and luxury have been made over the centuries but today they sound rhetorical and resentful or pietistic and anachronistic. But Jesus’ denouncement, after 2,000 years, retains intact its explosive power. Jesus does not belong to either party in this matter but is one who is above rich and poor and is concerned with both -- and perhaps more with the rich since the poor are less in danger!

The parable of the rich man is not motivated by any resentment toward the wealthy, by a desire to take their place, as are many human denouncements, but by a sincere concern for their salvation. God wants to save the rich from their wealth.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time    Habakkuk 1:2-3; 2:2-4; 2 Timothy 1:6-8, 13-14; Luke 17:5-10
       Increase Our Faith       Father Cantalamessa on the Leap of Faith

* * *

This Sunday's Gospel begins with the apostles asking Jesus: "Increase our faith!"

Instead of satisfying their desire, Jesus seems to want to make it grow further. He says: "If you had faith the size of a mustard seed ..."

Without a doubt, faith is the dominant theme this Sunday. We hear about it also in the first reading, in the celebrated line of Habakkuk, taken up again by St. Paul in his Letter to the Romans: "The just shall live by faith" (1:17).

Faith has a few different meanings. This time I would like to reflect on the more common and elementary understanding of faith: believing or not believing in God.

This is not the faith by which one decides whether one is Catholic or Protestant, Christian or Muslim, but the faith by which one decides whether one is a believer or a nonbeliever, believer or atheist. A Scripture text says: "Those who come to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him" (Hebrews 11:6). This is the first step of faith, without it, we cannot take the other steps.

To speak of faith in such a general way we cannot base ourselves only on the Bible since it only has validity for Christians and, in part, for Jews, but not for anyone else. It is fortunate for us that God wrote two "books": One is the Bible, the other is creation. The one is composed of letters and words, the other of things.

Not everyone knows or is able to read the book of Scripture; but everyone, from every place and culture, can read the book of creation. "The heavens tell of the glory of God and the firmament declares the work of his hands" (Psalm 19:2). Paul writes: "Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made" (Romans 1:20).

It is urgent that we show how unfounded the opinion is that says that science has already liquidated the problem and exhaustively explained the world without any need to invoke the idea of a reality beyond it called God. In a certain sense, today science brings us closer to faith in a creator than in the past.

Let us consider the famous theory that explains the origin of the universe with the "big bang," the great explosion at the beginning. In a billionth of a billionth of a second, we go from one situation in which there is not yet anything, neither space nor time, to a situation in which time has begun, space exists, and, in an infinitesimal particle of matter, there is already, in potency, the whole subsequent universe of billions of galaxies, as we know it today.

One could say: "There is no sense in asking about what there was before that instant, because there is no 'before,' when time does not exist."

But I say: "How can we not ask that question!"

"Trying to go back behind the history of the cosmos," it will be said, "is like going through the pages of a large book starting at the end. Once we arrive at the beginning we see that the first page is missing."

I believe biblical revelation has something to tell us precisely about this first page. Science cannot be asked to declare on this "first page," which is outside time, but neither must science close the circle, making everyone think that everything is resolved.

There is no pretense of "demonstrating" God's existence, in the common understanding of this term. Here below we see as through a mirror, says St. Paul.

When a ray of light enters into a room, it is not the ray of light itself that is seen, but the dance of the dust that receives and reveals the light. It is the same with God: We do not see him directly, but as in a reflection, in the dance of things. This explains why God is not reached without the "leap" of faith.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time     2 Kings 5:14-17; 2 Timothy 2:8-15; and Luke 17:11-19
What Use Are Miracles?      Father Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap

While Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem, 10 lepers met him at the entrance to a village. Staying at a distance they call out to him, "Jesus, Master, have pity on us!" Jesus has pity on them and says to them: "Go and show yourselves to the priests."

Along the way the 10 lepers discover themselves to be miraculously cured. The first reading also tells of a miraculous healing of a leper: that of Naaman the Syrian by the prophet Elisha. The liturgy's intention is clearly to invite us to reflect on the meaning of miracles and in particular of miracles that bring about the cure of a sickness.

Let us say that prerogative to do miracles is one of the most attested in Jesus' life. Perhaps the most dominant idea that the people had of Jesus during his life, more dominant than that of a prophet, was that of a miracle worker. Jesus himself presents this fact as proof of the Messianic authenticity of his mission: "The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are healed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised" (cf. Matthew 11:5). Miracles cannot be eliminated from Jesus' life without destroying the plot of the whole Gospel.
 
Together with accounts of the miracles, Scripture offers us criteria for judging their authenticity and purpose. In the Bible, miracles are never ends in themselves; much less are they supposed to elevate the person who does them and show off his extraordinary powers, as is almost always the case with healers and wonder workers who advertise themselves. Miracles are rather an incentive for and a reward of faith. It is a sign and it must serve to draw attention to what it signifies. This is why Jesus is saddened when, after having multiplied the loaves of bread, he sees that they did not understand what this was a sign of (cf. Mark 6:51).
 
In the Gospel itself, miracles are ambiguous. Sometimes they are regarded positively and sometimes negatively -- positively, when they are welcomed with gratitude and joy, when they awaken faith in Christ and hope in a future world without sickness and death; negatively, when they are asked for or demanded for faith. "What sign do you do that we might believe in you?" (John 6:30). This ambiguity continues in a different form in today's world. On the one hand, there are those who seek out miracles at all costs; it is always a hunt for the extraordinary, and people stop at their immediate utility. On the other hand, their are those who deny miracles altogether; indeed they look upon miracles with a certain irritation, as if it were a manifestation of degenerate religiosity, without recognizing that in doing so they are pretending to teach God himself what is true religiosity and what isn't.
 
Some recent debates that have arisen around the Padre Pio phenomenon have shown how much confusion is still around today about miracles. It is not true, for example, that the Church considers every unexplainable event a miracle (we know that even the medical world is full of this!). It considers as miracles only those unexplainable facts that, because of the circumstances in which they take place (which are rigorously ascertained), have the character of a divine sign, that is, they give confirmation to someone or an answer to a prayer. If a woman, who is without pupils from birth begins to see at a certain point while still being without pupils, this can be cataloged as an unexplainable fact. But if this happens while she is confessing to Padre Pio, as did in fact happen, then it is no longer possible to speak simply of an unexplainable fact.
 
Our atheist friends with their critical attitude in regard to miracles make a contribution to faith itself because they make us attentive to easy falsifications in this area. But they too must guard against an uncritical attitude. It is just as mistaken always to believe whatever is claimed as a miracle as it is always to refuse to believe without looking at the evidence. It is possible to be credulous but it is also possible to be ... incredulous, which is not very different.

  
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time       Exodus 17:8-13a; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:2; Luke 18:1-8.
The Need to Pray Always      Father Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap

Sunday’s Gospel begins thus: “Jesus told them a parable about the need to pray always and not to lose heart.” The parable is the one about the troublesome widow. In answer to the question “How often must we pray?” Jesus answers, “Always!”

Prayer, like love, does not put up with calculation. Does a mother ask how often she should love her child, or a friend how often he should love a friend? There can be different levels of deliberateness in regard to love, but there are no more or less regular intervals in loving. It is the same way with prayer.

This ideal of constant prayer is realized in different forms in the East and West. Eastern Christianity practised it with the “Jesus Prayer”: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me!”

The West formulated the principle of constant prayer in a more flexible way so that it could also be proposed to those who do not lead a monastic life. St. Augustine teaches that the essence of prayer is desire. If the desire for God is constant, so also is prayer, but if there is no interior desire, then you can howl as much as you want -- to God you are mute.

Now, this secret desire for God, a work of memory, of need for the infinite, of nostalgia for God, can remain alive, even when one has other things to do: “Praying for a long time is not the same thing as kneeling or folding your hands for a long time. In consists rather in awakening a constant and devout impulse of the heart toward him whom we invoke.”

Jesus himself gave us the example of unceasing prayer. Of him, it is said that he prayed during the day, in the evening, early in the morning, and sometimes he passed the whole night in prayer. Prayer was the connecting thread of his whole life.

But Christ’s example tells us something else important. We are deceiving ourselves if we think that we can pray always, make prayer a kind of respiration of the soul in the midst of daily activity, if we do not set aside fixed times for prayer, when we are free from every other preoccupation.

The same Jesus who we see praying always, is also the one who, like every other Jew of his period, stopped and turned toward the temple in Jerusalem three times a day, at dawn, in the afternoon during the temple sacrifices, and at sundown, and recited ritual prayers, among which was the “Shema Yisrael!” -- “Hear, O Israel!” On the Sabbath he also participated, with his disciples, in the worship at the synagogue; different scenes in the Gospels take place precisely in this context.

The Church -- we can say, from its first moment of life -- has also set aside a special day dedicated to worship and prayer: Sunday. We all know what, unfortunately, has happened to Sunday in our society: Sports, from being something for diversion and relaxation, have often become something that poisons Sunday ... We must do whatever we can so that this day can return to being, as God intended it in commanding festive repose, a day of serene joy that strengthens our communion with God and with each other, in the family and in society.

We modern Christians should take our inspiration from the words that, in 305, St. Saturnius and his fellow martyrs addressed to the Roman judge who had them arrested for participating in the Sunday rite: “The Christian cannot live without the Sunday Eucharist. Do you not know that the Christian exists for the Eucharist and the Eucharist for the Christian?”

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time  Sirach 35:12-14, 16-18; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14.
          The Pharisee and the Publican      Father Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap

The Pharisee represents the conservative who feels himself in line with God and man, and looks with contempt on his neighbor. The publican is the person who has committed an error, but he recognizes it and humbly asks God for forgiveness. The latter doesn't think of saving himself on his own merits, but rather through the mercy of God. The preference of Jesus between these two is clear, as the last line of the parable indicates: The latter returns to his house justified, that is, forgiven and reconciled with God; the Pharisee returns home just as he left it -- preserving his sense of righteousness, but losing God's.

Hearing this commentary, and repeating it here, leaves me dissatisfied. It's not because it is mistaken, but it doesn't respond to our modern times. Jesus told these parables to those who were listening to him in the moment. In a culture charged with faith and religious practice like that of Galilee and Judea of his time, hypocrisy consisted in flaunting the observance of the law and of holiness, because these were the things that brought applause.

In our secularized and permissive culture, values have changed. What is admired and opens the path to success is the contrary of that other time: It is the rejection of traditional moral norms, independence, the liberty of the individual. For the Pharisees the key word was "observance" of the norms; for many, today, the key word is "transgression." To say that an author, a book or a show is a "transgressor" is to give it one of the most desired compliments of today.

In other words, today we should turn the terms around to get at the original intention. The publicans of yesterday are the new Pharisees of today! Today the publican, the transgressor, says to God: "I thank you Lord, because I am not one of those believing Pharisees, hypocritical and intolerant, that worry about fasting, but in real life are worse than we are." Paradoxically, it seems as if there are those who pray like this: "I thank you, Lord, because I'm an atheist!"

Rochefoucauld said that hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue. Today it is frequently the tribute that virtue pays to vice. This is shown, in fact, especially among youth, who show themselves worse and more shameless than they are, so as not to appear less than others.

A practical conclusion, valid as much in the traditional interpretation alluded to at the beginning, as in the development given here, is this one: Very few -- perhaps no one -- are always in the role of the Pharisee or always in the role of the publican, that is, righteous in everything or sinners in everything. Most of us have a little of both in us. The worst thing would be to act like the publican in our daily lives and like the Pharisee in church. The publicans were sinners, men without scruple, who put money and business above everything else. The Pharisees, on the contrary, were, very austere and attentive to the law in their daily lives. We thus seem like the publican in daily life and the Pharisee in the temple, if, like the publican we are sinners, and like the Pharisee, we believe ourselves just.

If we must resign ourselves to being a little of both, then let us be the opposite of what we have just described: Pharisees in daily life and publicans in church! Like the Pharisee, we must try in daily life to not be thieves and unjust, but to follow God's commandments and pay our dues; like the publican, when we are before God, we must recognize that the little that we have done is entirely God's own gift, and let us implore, for ourselves and for all, God's mercy.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The feast of All Saints         Revelation 7:2-4,9-14; 1 John 3:1-3; Mathew 5:1-12a.
Who Are the Saints?       By Father Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap

ROME, OCT. 31, 2007 - For some time now, scientists have been sending signals into the cosmos, hoping for a response from some intelligent being on some lost planet. The Church has always maintained a dialogue with the inhabitants of another world -- the saints. That is what we proclaim when we say, "I believe in the communion of the saints." Even if inhabitants outside of the solar system existed, communication with them would be impossible, because between the question and the answer, millions of years would pass. Here, though, the answer is immediate because there is a common center of communication and encounter, and that is the risen Christ.

Perhaps in part because of the time of the year in which it falls, the feast of All Saints' Day has something special that explains its popularity and the many traditions linked to it in some sectors of Christianity. The motive is what John says in the second reading. In this life, "we are God's children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed." We are like the embryo in the womb of a mother yearning to be born. The saints have been "born" (the liturgy refers to the day of death as "the day of birth," "dies natalis.") To contemplate the saints is to contemplate our destiny. All around us, nature strips itself and the leaves fall, but meanwhile, the feast of the saints invites us to gaze on high; it reminds us that we are not destined to wither on this earth forever, like the leaves.

The Gospel reading is the beatitudes. One in particular inspires the selection of this passage: "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, they shall be satisfied." The saints are those who have hungered and thirsted for justice, that is, in biblical language, for sanctity. They have not resigned themselves to mediocrity; they have not been content with half-measures.

The first reading of the feast helps us to understand who the saints are. They are "those who have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb." Sanctity is received from Christ; it is not our own production. In the Old Testament, to be a saint meant "to be separated" from all that is impure; in the Christian understanding, it is, rather, the opposite, that is, to "be united" to Christ.

The saints, that is, the saved, are not only those mentioned in the calendar or the book of the saints. The "unknown saints" also exist: those who risked their lives for their brothers, the martyrs of justice and liberty, or of duty, the "lay saints," as someone has called them. Without knowing it, their robes have also been washed in the blood of the Lamb, if they have lived according to their consciences and if they have been concerned with the good of their brothers.

A question spontaneously arises: What do the saints do in heaven? The answer is, also here, in the first reading: The saved adore, they prostrate themselves before the throne, exclaiming, "Blessing and glory, wisdom and thanksgiving …" The true human vocation is fulfilled in them, that of being "praise to the glory of God" (Ephesians 1:14). Their choir is directed by Mary, who continues her hymn of praise in heaven, "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord." It is in this praise that the saints find their happiness and joy. "My spirit rejoices in God." A man is who he loves and who he admires. Loving and praising God, we identify ourselves with God, participate in his glory and in his own happiness.

One day, a saint, St. Symeon the New Theologian, had a mystical experience of God that was so strong he exclaimed to himself, "If paradise is no more than this, it is enough for me." But the voice of Christ told him, "You are very poor if you content yourself with this. The joy you have experienced in comparison to paradise is like the sky painted on paper in comparison to the real sky."

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

32nd Sunday Ordinary Time: 2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14; 2 Thessalonians 2:15-3:5; Luke 20:27-38
 God Is Not God of the Dead: Father Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap
 
 In reply to the question that the Sadducees had posed to trap him about the woman who had had seven husbands on earth, Jesus above all reaffirms the fact of the resurrection, correcting at the same time the Sadducees' materialistic caricature of it.
 
 Eternal beatitude is not just an increase and prolongation of terrestrial joys, the maximization of the pleasures of the flesh and the table. The other life is truly another life, a life of a different quality. It is true that it is the fulfillment of all man's longings on earth, yet it is infinitely more, on a different level. "Those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. They can no longer die, for they are like angels."
 
 At the end of the Gospel passage, Jesus explains the reason why there must be life after death. "That the dead will rise even Moses made known in the passage about the bush, when he called out 'Lord, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob,' and he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive." Where in that is the proof that the dead rise? If God is defined as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and is a God of the living, not of the dead, then this means that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are alive somewhere, even if they have been dead for centuries at the time that God talks to Moses.
 
 Interpreting Jesus' answer to the Sadducees in an erroneous way, some have claimed that marriage has no follow-up in heaven. But with his reply Jesus rejects the caricature that the Sadducees present of heaven, a caricature that suggests that it is a simple continuation of the earthly relationships of the spouses. He does not deny that they might rediscover in God the bond that united them on earth.
 
 Is it possible that a husband and wife, after a life that brought them into relation with God through the miracle of creation, will not in eternal life have anything more in common, as if all were forgotten, lost? Would this not be contrary to Jesus' word according to which that which God has united must not be divided? If God united them on earth, how could he divide them in heaven? Could an entire life spent together end in nothing without betraying the meaning of this present life, which is a preparation for the kingdom, the new heaven and the new earth?
 
 It is Scripture itself, and not only the natural desire of the husband and wife, that supports this hope. Marriage, Scripture says, is "a great sacrament" because it symbolizes the union between Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:32). Is it possible that it be eliminated in the heavenly Jerusalem, where there will be celebrated the eternal wedding feast of Christ and the Church of which the marriage of man and woman is an image?
 
 According to this vision, matrimony does not entirely end with death but is transfigured, spiritualized -- it loses those limits that mark life on earth -- in the same way that the bonds between parents and children or between friends will not be forgotten. In the preface of the Mass for the dead, the liturgy says that with death "life is changed, not taken away"; the same must be said of marriage, which is an integral part of life.
 
 But what about those who have had a negative experience of earthly marriage, an experience of misunderstanding and suffering? Should not this idea that the marital bond will not break at death be for them, rather than a consolation, a reason for fear? No, for in the passage from time to eternity the good remains and evil falls away. The love that united them, perhaps for only a brief time, remains; defects, misunderstandings, suffering that they inflicted on each other, will fall away. 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. This is also what happens to the love between Faust and Margaret in Goethe's story: "Only in heaven the unreachable -- that is, the total and pacific union between two creatures who love each other -- will become reality." In God all will be understood, all will be excused, all will be forgiven.
 
 And what can be said about those who have been legitimately married to different people, widowers and widows who have remarried. (This was the case presented to Jesus of the seven brothers who successively had the same woman as their wife.) Even for them we must repeat the same thing: That which was truly love and self-surrender between each of the husbands or wives, being objectively a good coming from God, will not be dissolved. In heaven there will not be rivalry in love or jealousy. These things do not belong to true love but to the intrinsic limits of the creature.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Thirty third Sunday in Ordinary Time C  
Malachi 4:1-2a; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-12; Luke 21:5-19.
If Anyone Will Not Work, Let Him Not Eat         By Father Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap

It seems that in one of the first Christian communities, that of Thessalonica, there were believers who drew mistaken conclusions from these discourses of Christ. They thought that it was useless to weary themselves, to work or do anything since everything was about to come to an end. They thought it better to take each day as it came and not commit themselves to long-term projects and only to do the minimum to get by.

St. Paul responds to them in the second reading: "We hear that some are conducting themselves among you in a disorderly way, by not keeping busy but minding the business of others. Such people we instruct and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to work quietly and to eat their own food." At the beginning of the passage, St. Paul recalls the rule that he had given to the Christians in Thessalonica: "If anyone will not work, let him not eat."

This was a novelty for the men of that time. The culture to which they belonged looked down upon manual labor; it was regarded as degrading and as something to be left to slaves and the uneducated. But the Bible has a different vision. From the very first page it presents God as working for six days and resting on the seventh day. And all of this happens in the Bible before sin is spoken of. Work, therefore, is part of man's original nature and is not something that results from guilt and punishment. Manual labor is just as dignified as intellectual and spiritual labor. Jesus himself dedicates 17 years to the former -- supposing he began to work around 13 -- and only a few years to the latter.

A layman has written: "What sense and what value does our ordinary work as laypeople have before God? It is true that we laypeople also do a lot of charity work, engage in the apostolate, and volunteer work; but we must give most of our time and energies to ordinary jobs. If this sort of work has no value for heaven, we will have very little for eternity. No one we have asked about this has been able to give us satisfactory answers. They say: "Offer it all to God!" but is this enough?

My reply: No, the value of our work is not only conferred on it by the "good intention" we put into it or the morning offering we make to God; it also has a value in itself, as a participation in God's creative and redemptive work and as service to our brothers. We read in one of the Vatican II documents, in "Gaudium et Spes," that it is by "his labor [that] a man ordinarily supports himself and his family, is joined to his fellow men and serves them, and can exercise genuine charity and be a partner in the work of bringing divine creation to perfection. Indeed, we hold that through labor offered to God man is associated with the redemptive work of Jesus Christ" (No. 67).

The work that one does is not as important as that for which he does it. This re-establishes a certain parity, beneath distinctions -- which are sometimes unjust and scandalous -- in position and pay. A person who has done the most humble jobs in life can be of greater "value" than those people who hold positions of great prestige.

It was said that work is a participation in the creative action of God and in the redemptive action of Christ and that it is a source of personal and social growth, but we know that it is also weariness, sweat and pain. It can ennoble but it can also empty and wear down. The secret is to put one's heart into what one's hands do. It is not so much the amount or type of work done that tires us out, as much as it is the lack of enthusiasm and motivation. To the earthly motivations for work, faith adds eternal motivations: "Our works," the Book of Revelation says, "will follow us" (14:13).

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Jesus Christ, King of the Universe and of Hearts 
2 Samuel 5:1-3;   Colossians 1:12-20;    Luke 23:35-43.
Commentary by Father Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap

The solemnity of Christ the King was instituted only recently. It was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925 in response to the atheist and totalitarian political regimes that denied the rights of God and the Church. The climate in which the feast was born was, for example, that of the Mexican revolution, when many Christians went to their deaths crying out to their last breath, “Long live Christ the King!”

But if the feast is recent, its content and its central idea are not; they are quite ancient and we can say that they were born with Christianity. The phrase “Christ reigns” has its equivalent in the profession of faith: “Jesus is Lord,” which occupies a central place in the preaching of the apostles.

Sunday’s Gospel passage narrates the death of Christ, because it is at that moment that Christ begins to rule over the world. The cross is Christ’s throne. “Above him there was an inscription that read, ‘This is the King of the Jews.'” That which in the intention of his enemies was the justification of his condemnation, was, in the eyes of the heavenly Father, the proclamation of his universal sovereignty.


To see what this feast has to do with us, we need only recall to our minds a very simple distinction. There are two universes, two worlds or cosmoses: the “macrocosm,” which is the whole universe external to us, and the “microcosm,” or the little universe, which is each individual man. The liturgy itself, in the reform that followed Vatican II, felt the need to accent the human and spiritual aspect of the feast over the, so to speak, political aspect of the feast. The prayer of the feast no longer asks, as it once did, “that all the families of nations, now kept apart by the wound of sin, may be brought under the sweet yoke of [Christ’s] rule” but that “every creature, freed from the slavery of sin, serve and praise [Christ] forever.”

Let us consider again the inscription placed above Christ: “This is the King of the Jews.” The onlookers challenged him to manifest his royalty openly and many, even among his friends, expected a spectacular demonstration of his kingship. But he chose only to show his kingship in his solicitousness for one man, who was, in fact, a criminal: “‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ He replied to him, ‘Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.'"

From this point of view, the most important question to ask on the feast of Christ the King is not whether he reigns in the world but whether he reigns in me; it is not whether his kingship is recognized by states and governments, but whether it is recognized and lived in me.

Is Christ the King and Lord of my life? Who rules in me, who determines the goals and establishes priorities: Christ or someone else? According to St. Paul, there are two ways to live: either for ourselves or for the Lord (Romans 14:7-9). Living “for ourselves” means living like someone who takes himself to be the beginning and the end; it is a life closed in on itself, drawn only by its own satisfaction and glory, without any perspective of eternity. Living “for the Lord,” on the contrary, means living for the Lord, that is, with a view to him, for his glory, for his kingdom.

What we have here is truly a new existence, in the face of which, death itself has lost its definitiveness. The greatest contradiction that man has always experienced -- that between life and death -- has been overcome. The contradiction is no longer between “living” and “dying” but between living “for ourselves” and living “for the Lord.”
 

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------