Fr Cantalamessa Advent and Lenten homilies Dec. 2013 & April 2014, A-2 & Dec. 2014, & April 2015 (Lent), Feb 2016 (Lent)


Father Cantalamessa on Francis of Assisi's Method for Church Reform
"to prepare ourselves for Christmas in the company of Francis of Assisi"

ROME, December 06, 2013  - Here is a translation of the first Advent homily, delivered today by Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the pontifical household.

The sermon is titled "Francis of Assisi and the Reform of the Church by the Way of Holiness."

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The aim of these three Advent meditations is to prepare ourselves for Christmas in the company of Francis of Assisi. In this first meditation, I would like to highlight the nature of his return to the Gospel. In his study on the “True and False Reform of the Church,” the theologian Yves Congar sees in Francis the clearest example of the reform of the Church by way of holiness.[i] We wish to understand in what his reform by way of holiness consists and what his example implies in every age of the Church, including our own.

Francis’ Conversion

To understand something of Francis’ adventure it is necessary to begin with his conversion. Sources record different descriptions of this event, with notable variances between them. Fortunately we have an absolutely reliable source, which dispenses us from selecting among the different versions. We have the testimony of Francis himself in his Testament, his own ipsissima vox, as is said of Christ’s words surely reported in the Gospel. It says:

“The Lord told me, Friar Francis, begin to do penance like this: when I was in sin it seemed to me too bitter to see lepers and the Lord himself led me among them and I used mercy with them. And departing from them, what seemed to me bitter was changed into sweetness for me of soul and body. And shortly afterward, I left the world”.

It is on this text that historians rightly base themselves, but with a limitation that is insurmountable for them. The historians, including the best intentioned and most respectful of the peculiarity of Francis’ life, as was Raoul Manselli among the Italians, do not succeed in understanding the ultimate reason for his radical change. They stop – and rightly out of respect for their method – at the threshold, speaking of a “secret of Francis,” destined to remain so forever.

What can be proven historically is Francis’ decision to change his social status. From belonging to the well-to-do class, which counted in the city for nobility and wealth, he chose to place himself at the opposite extreme, sharing the life of the least, of those who did not count at all, the so-called “minors,” afflicted by all sorts of poverty.

Historians rightly insist on the fact that in the beginning Francis did not choose poverty and even less so pauperism; he chose the poor! The change was motivated more by the commandment: “Love they neighbor as thyself,” than by the counsel: “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell all that you have and give it to the poor, then come and follow me.” It was compassion for poor people, more than the search for his own perfection that moved him, charity more than poverty.

All this is true, but it still does not touch the bottom of the problem. It is the effect of the change, not its cause. The true choice is much more radical: it was not about choosing between wealth and poverty, or between the rich and the poor, between belonging to one class rather than another, but of choosing between himself and God, between saving his life or losing it for the Gospel.

There have been some (for instance, in times closer to us, Simone Weil) who came to Christ out of love of the poor and there have been others who came to the poor out of love of Christ. Francis belongs to the latter. The profound motive for his conversion was not of a social nature, but evangelical. Jesus had formulated the law once and for all with one of the most solemn and certainly most authentic phrases of the Gospel:

“If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it”.  (Matthew 16: 24-25).

By kissing the leper, Francis denied himself in what was most “bitter” and repugnant to his nature. He did violence to himself. This fact did not escape his first biographer who describes the episode thus:

“One day he stopped before a leper: he did violence to himself, approached him and kissed him. From that moment he decided to despise himself increasingly, until by the mercy of the Redeemer he obtained a full victory.” [ii]

Francis did not go by his spontaneous will to the lepers, moved by human and religious compassion. “The Lord,” he writes, “led me among them.” It is on this small detail that historians do not know – nor can give a judgment, but it is, in fact, at the origin of everything. Jesus had prepared Francis’ heart so that his freedom would respond at the right moment to grace. Preparing for this moment were the dream of Spoleto and the question if he preferred to serve the servant or the master, his sickness, the imprisonment at Perugia and that strange anxiety that no longer allowed him to find joy in amusements and made him search for solitary places.

Without thinking that it was Jesus in person under the semblance of a leper (as later they sought to do rethinking the similar case of the life of Saint Martin of Tours [iii]), at that moment, for all intents and purposes, the leper represented Jesus for Francis. Francis’ conversion is of the same nature as that of Paul. At a certain point, what for Paul had been before a “gain” changed and became a “loss,” “for the sake of Christ” (Philippians 3:5 ff.); for Francis what had been bitter became sweetness, also here “for the sake of Christ.” After this moment, both can say: “It is no longer I who live, Christ lives in me.”

All this obliges us to correct a certain image of Francis made popular by the subsequent literature and taken up by Dante in the Divine Comedy. The famous metaphor of Francis’ nuptials with Lady Poverty, which has left profound traces in Franciscan art and poetry, could be deviant. You do not fall in love with a virtue, not even poverty; you fall in love with a person. Francis’ nuptials were, as those of other mystics, a marriage with Christ.

To companions who asked him if he intended to have a wife, seeing him one evening strangely absent and luminous, the young Francis answered: “I will take the most noble and beautiful bride you have ever seen.” This answer is usually interpreted badly. From the context it appears clear that the bride is not poverty, but the hidden treasure and the precious pearl, namely, Christ. “Bride,” comments Celano who refers to the episode, “is the true religion that he embraced, the Kingdom of Heaven and the hidden treasure that he sought.” [iv]

Francis did not wed poverty or even the poor; he wed Christ and it was for love of him that he wed, so to speak “in second nuptials” Lady Poverty. It will always be so in Christian holiness. At the base of love of poverty and of the poor, there is either love of Christ, or the poor will be instrumentalized in one way or another and poverty will easily become a polemical event against the Church, or a display of greater perfection in regard to others in the Church, as happened also, unfortunately, with some of the Poverello’s followers. In either case, poverty becomes one of the worst forms of wealth, that of one’s own righteousness.

2. Francis and the Reform of the Church

How was it that from such an interior and personal event as was the conversion of the young Francis, a movement got underway that changed the face of the Church of his time and has had such a strong effect in history up to our days?

It is necessary to look at the situation of the time. In Francis’ time the reform of the Church was a need acknowledged more or less by all. The body of the Church experienced tensions and profound lacerations. On one side was the institutional Church – Pope, Bishops, high clergy – worn out by perennial conflicts and by its very close alliance with the empire. A Church seen as distant, involved in matters far beyond the interests of the people. Then there were the great Religious Orders, often flourishing because of their culture and spirituality after the various reforms of the 11thcentury, among them the Cistercians, but fatally identified with the great land proprietors, the feudal lords of the time, near and at the same time remote from the problems and tenor of life of the common people.

On the opposite side there was a society that began to emigrate from the countryside to the city in search of greater freedom from the different servitudes. This part of society identified the Church with the dominant classes from which they felt the need to free themselves. Because of this they would gladly line up with those that contradicted her and combatted her: heretics, radical and poverty movements, while they sympathized with the lower clergy often not at the spiritual height of the prelates but closer to the people.

There were, therefore, strong tensions that everyone sought to exploit to their advantage. The Hierarchy sought to respond to these tensions by improving its organization and suppressing the abuses, both within itself (fighting simony and the concubinage of priests), and without, in the society. The hostile groups sought instead to have the tensions explode, radicalizing the contrast with the Hierarchy, giving rise to more or less schismatic movements. All of them raised against the Church the ideal of evangelical poverty and simplicity, making of it a polemical weapon, more than a spiritual ideal to be lived in humility, going so far as putting in dispute the ordained ministry of the Church, the priesthood and the papacy.

We are used to seeing Francis as the providential man who picks up these popular instances of renewal, to defuse them from every controversial charge and relates them or carries them out in the Church in profound communion and in subjection to her – Francis, therefore, as a sort of mediator between the rebellious heretics and the institutional Church. In a well-known manual of the history of the Church, his mission is presented thus:

“Given that the wealth and power of the Church seemed often a source of grave evils, and the heretics of the time furnished arguments for the main accusations against her, in some pious souls the noble desire was awakened to revive the poor life of Christ and of the primitive Church, and thus be able to influence the people more effectively by word and example.” [v]

Placed naturally in the first place among these souls, together with Saint Dominic, is Francis of Assisi. The Protestant historian Paul Sabatier, so meritorious of Franciscan studies, has rendered almost canonical among historians, and not only among the lay and Protestant, the thesis according to which Cardinal Ugolino (the future Gregory IX) intended to seize Francis for the Curia, domesticating the critical and revolutionary charge of his movement. In practice it was the attempt to make Francis a precursor of Luther, that is a reformer by way of criticism, rather than holiness.  

I do not know if this intention can be attributed to one of Francis’ great protectors and friends. It seems difficult to attribute it to Cardinal Ugolino and even less so to Innocent III, of whom is noted the reforming action and the support given to several new forms of spiritual life that arose at his time, including in fact the Friars Minor, the Dominicans, the Milanese Humiliati. In any case, one thing is absolutely certain: that intention never crossed Francis’ mind. He never thought of being called to reform the Church.

It is necessary to be careful and not come to mistaken conclusions from the famous words of the Crucifix of San Damiano, “Go, Francis and repair my Church that, as you see, is in ruins.” The sources themselves assure us that he understood those words in the rather modest sense of having to repair materially the little church of San Damiano.

It was his disciples and biographers that interpreted – and, it must be said, rightly so – those words as referring to the institutional Church and not only to the church building. He remained always with his literal interpretation and in fact he continued to repair other small churches that were in ruins in the outskirts of Assisi.

Even the dream in which Innocent III saw the Poverello sustaining with his back the falling Church of the Lateran does not say anything more. Supposing that the event is historical (a similar event is narrated in fact also in regard to Saint Dominic), the dream was the Pope’s, not Francis’! He never saw himself as we see him today in Giotto’s frescoes. This is what it means to be a reformer by way of holiness, being so without knowing it!

3. Francis and the Return to the Gospel

If he did not wish to be a reformer, what then did Francis want to be and do? In regard to this we also have the good fortune of having the direct testimony of the Saint in his Testament:

“And after the Lord gave me friars, no one showed me what I should do; but the Most High Himself revealed to me that I must live according to the way of the holy Gospel. And I with few words and simply, had it written, and the Lord Pope confirmed it to me.”

He alludes to the moment in which, during a Mass, he heard the passage of the Gospel where Jesus sends his disciples: “He sent them out to preach the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick. And he said to them, ‘Take nothing for your journey, no staff, no bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics” (Luke 9:2-3). [vi] It was a dazzling revelation of those that give direction to a whole life. From that day on his mission was clear: a simple and radical return to the real Gospel lived and preached by Jesus. To restore in the world the way and style of life of Jesus and of the Apostles described in the Gospels. Writing the Rule for his friars, he began thus: “The Rule and life of the friars is this, namely to observe the holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ”.

Francis did not theorize his discovery, making it a program for the reform of the Church. He fulfilled the reform in himself and thus pointed out tacitly to the Church the only way to come out of the crisis: to draw near again to the Gospel, to draw near again to men and, in particular, to the humble and the poor.

This return to the Gospel is reflected first of all in Francis’ preaching. It is surprising, but everyone noted it: the Poverello speaks almost always of “doing penance.” Henceforth, narrates Celano, he began to preach penance with great fervor and exultance, edifying all with the simplicity of his word and the magnificence of his heart. Wherever he went, Francis said, recommended, implored that they do penance. [vii]

What did Francis intend with this word which he had so much at heart? On this matter we fell (at least I fell for a long time) into error. We reduced Francis’ message to a simple moral exhortation, to a beating of the breast, afflicting and mortifying oneself to expiate sins, while it has all the vastness and breath of the Gospel of Christ. Francis did not exhort to do “penances,” but to do “penance” (in the singular!) which, we will see, is altogether another thing.

With the exception of a few cases that we know, the Poverello wrote in Latin. And what do we find in the Latin text of his Testament when he writes: “The Lord gave me, friar Francis, to begin thus to do penance”? We find the expression “poenitentiam agere.” It is known that he loved to express himself with the very words of Jesus. And that word – to do penance – is the word with which Jesus began to preach and that he repeated in every city and village where he went:

“After John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the Gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:15).

The word that today is translated as “be converted” or “repent,” in the text of the Vulgate used by the Poverello sounded as “poenitemini” and in Acts 2:37 yet more literally “poenitentiam agite,” do penance. Francis did nothing other than re-launch the great appeal to conversion with which Jesus’ preaching is opened in the Gospel and that of the Apostles on the day of Pentecost. What he meant by conversion he did not need to explain: his whole life showed it.

Francis did in his time what was intended at the time of Vatican Council II with the motto: “pull down the bastions”: break the isolation of the Church and bring her back to contact with the people. One of the factors of the obscuring of the Gospel was the transformation of authority understood as service, to authority understood as power, which produced infinite conflicts within and outside the Church. Francis resolved the problem on his own in an evangelical sense. In his Order, an absolute novelty, the Superiors would be called ministers, that is, servants, and all the other friars, namely, brothers.

Another wall of separation between the Church and the people was the science and culture of which the clergy and monks had, in practice, a monopoly. Francis knew this and that is why he took the drastic position that we know on this point. He was not concerned with science-knowledge, but with science-power; that which privileged one who could read over one who could not read and allowed him to command his brother haughtily: “Bring me the Breviary!” During the famous chapter of the reed mats he answered some of his friars, who wanted to push him to adapt himself to the attitude of the learned “Orders” of the time, with words of fire that, we read, left the friars penetrated by fear:

“Brothers, my brothers, God has called me to walk on the path of simplicity and he showed it to me. Hence I do not want you to mention to me other Rules, not that of Saint Augustine, not that of Saint Bernard or of Saint Benedict. The Lord revealed to me his wish that I be a madman in the world: this is the science to which God wants us to dedicate ourselves! He will confound you through your very science and learning.” [viii]

He always had the same coherent attitude. He wanted for himself and his friars the most rigid poverty, but, in the Rule, he exhorts them “not to show contempt and to judge the men that they see dressed in soft and colorful clothes and using delicate food and drinks, but rather each one should judge and despise himself.” [ix] Choose to be an illiterate, but do not condemn science. Once he was assured that science would not extinguish “the spirit of holy prayer and devotion,” he himself allowed friar Anthony (the future St. Anthony of Padua) to dedicate himself to teaching theology and Saint Bonaventure did not believe he was betraying the spirit of the founder, opening the Order to studies in the great universities.

Yves Congar sees in this one of the essential conditions of “true reform” in the Church, the reform, that is, that remains such and is not transformed into schism: in other words, the capacity not to absolutize one’s intuition, but to remain in communion with the whole that is the Church. [x] The conviction, says Pope Francis in his recent Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium, that “the whole is greater than the part.”

3. How to Imitate Francis

What does Francis’ experience say to us today? What can we all imitate of him right now? Be it those that God calls to reform the Church by the way of holiness, be it those who feel called to renew her by way of criticism, be it those who he himself calls to reform her by way of the office that they hold? The same thing from which Francis’ spiritual adventure began: his conversion from the I to God, his denial of self. It is thus that true reformers are born, those who really change something in the Church, people who are dead to themselves. Better still, those who decide seriously to die to themselves, because it is an enterprise that lasts the whole of life and also beyond, if, as Saint Teresa of Avila said jokingly, our self-love dies 20 minutes after us.

Silvanus of Mount Athos, a holy Orthodox monk, said: “To be truly free, it is necessary to begin to bind oneself.” Men such as these are free with the freedom of the Spirit; nothing stops them and nothing frightens them anymore. They become reformers by way of holiness, and not only by way of office.

But what does Jesus’ proposal mean to deny oneself? Can it still be proposed to a world that speaks only of self-realization, self-affirmation? Denial is never an end in itself, or an ideal in itself. The most important thing is positive: If one wants to follow me; it is the following of Christ, to possess Christ. To say no to oneself is the means; to say yes to Christ is the end. Paul represents it as a sort of law of thespirit: “If with the help of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live” (Romans 8:13). This, as we see, is a dying to live; it is the opposite of the philosophical vision according to which human life is “a living to die” (Heidegger).

It is about knowing which foundation we want to give to our existence: if our “I” or “Christ”; in Paul’s language, if we wish to live “for ourselves” or “for the Lord” (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:15; Romans 14:7-8). To live “for oneself” means to live for one’s own comfort, one’s own glory, one’s own advancement; to live “for the Lord” means to always put in the first place, in our intentions, the glory of Christ, the interests of the Kingdom and of the Church. Every “no,” small or big, said to oneself out of love, is a yes said to Christ.

We must avoid deluding ourselves. It is not about knowing everything about Christian denial, its beauty and necessity; it is about passing to the act, to practice it. A great ancient spiritual teacher said: “It is possible to break ten times one’s will in a very brief time; and I will tell you how. One is strolling and sees something; his thought tells him: “Look there,” but he answers his thought: “no, I will not look,” and thus he breaks his own will. Then he meets others who are talking evil about someone and his thought tells him: “You, too, say what you know,” and he breaks his will by being silent,” [xi]

This ancient Father gives, as we see, all examples drawn from the monastic life. But they can be easily updated and adapted to the life of each one, clergy and laity. You encounter, if not a leper as Francis, a poor man that you know will ask you for something; your old man pushed you to go to the opposite side of the street, but, instead, you do violence to yourself and go to meet him, perhaps giving him only a greeting or a smile, if you cannot do more. You are given the occasion for an illicit profit: you say no and you have denied yourself. You are contradicted in an idea; wounded in your pride, you want to fight back energetically, be silent and wait: you will have broken your I. You think you have received a wrong, a mistreatment or an office inadequate to your merits: you would like to have everyone note it, closing yourself in a tacit reproof. You say no, you break the silence, smile and reopen the dialogue. You have denied yourself and saved charity. And so on.

A sign that one is at a good point of the struggle against one’s I is the capacity or at least the effort to rejoice for the good done or the promotion received by another, as if it were for oneself.

“Blessed is that servant,” writes Francis in one of his Admonitions, “who does not become proud over the good that the Lord says and works through him more than for the good that He says and does through another.”

A difficult aim (I certainly do not speak about it as one who has arrived there) but Francis’ life has showed us what can be born from the denial of oneself made in response to grace. The final aim is to be able to say with Paul and with him: “It is no longer I who live, Christ lives in me.” And it will mean full joy and peace, already on this earth. With his “perfect happiness” Francis is a living witness to “the joy of the Gospel”, the Evangelii gaudium.


i Y. Congar, True and False Reform of the Church, Milan, Jaka Books, 1972, p. 194.

ii Celano, Vita Prima, VOO, 17 (FF 348).

iii Cf. Celano, Vita Seconda, V, 9 (FF592).

iv Cf. Celano, Vita Prima, III, 7 (FF, 331).

v Bihhmeyer – Tuckle, II, p. 239.

vi Legend of the Three Companions, VIII (FF 1431, f.).

vii FF, 358; 1436 f.; 1508.

viii Legenda perugina 114 (FF 1673).

ix Sealed Rule, chapter II.

x On the conditions of a true reform see Congar, op, cit., pp. 177 ff.

xi Dorotheus of Gaza, Spiritual Works, I, 20 (SCH 92, p. 177).


2nd Avent Homily: "to prepare ourselves for Christmas in the company of Francis of Assisi"

ROME, December 13, 2013 - Here is a translation of the second Advent sermon by Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the pontifical household. Father Cantalamessa gave the sermon today, continuing with last week's reflection on St. Francis of Assisi. Today's reflection is titled "Humility as Truth and Service in Francis of Assisi."

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Objective and Subjective Humility

Last time we saw that Francis of Assisi is a living demonstration that the most useful reform of the Church is that of the way of holiness, which always consists in a courageous return to the Gospel and which must begin from oneself. In this second meditation I would like to reflect further on an aspect of the return to the Gospel, a virtue of Francis. According to Dante Alighieri, all the glory of Francis depends on his “having made himself little,”[1] namely, on his humility. However, in what did Saint Francis’ proverbial humility consist?

In all the languages the Bible has gone through to reach us, namely Hebrew, Greek, Latin and English, the word “humility” has two fundamental meanings: one objective, which indicates in fact lowliness, littleness or poverty and one subjective, which indicates the feelingand recognition that one has of one’s own littleness. The latter is what we understand by the virtue of humility.

When Mary says in the Magnificat: “He has regarded the humility (tapeinosis) of his handmaid,” she means humility in the objective sense, not the subjective! Because of this, very appropriately the term is translated in many languages as “littleness”, not as humility. Moreover, how can one think that Mary exalts her humility and attributes God’s choice to it without by that fact alone destroying Mary’s humility? And yet at times it has been written rashly that Mary does not recognize in herself any virtue other than that of humility, as if, in this way, she did herself a great honor, and not instead a great wrong to this virtue.

The virtue of humility has an altogether special statute: it is possessed by those who think they do not  have it, and it is not possessed by those who think they have it. Jesus alone can declare himself “lowly of heart” and truly be so; this, we will see, is the unique and unrepeatable characteristic of the humility of the Man-God. Did Mary, therefore, not have the virtue of humility? She certainly did have it, and to the highest degree, but only God knew this, she did not. Precisely this, in fact, constitutes the unequaled merit, of true humility: that its perfume is received only by God, not by the one who emanates it. Saint Bernard wrote: “The true humble person wants to be regarded as vile, not proclaimed humble.”[2]

Francis’ humility is in this line. In this regard, The Little Flowers refer to a significant episode and, in its core, certainly historical.

“Once when Saint Francis was returning from the forest and from prayer, being on the way out of the forest, the one called Friar Masseo wanted to test how humble he was, and encountering him he said almost provocatively: “Why to you, why to you, why to you?” Saint Francis answered: “What is it that you want to say?” Friar Masseo said: “I say why does the whole world follow you, and every person seems to want to see you, to hear you, and to obey you? You are not a good looking man in body, you are not of great learning, you are not noble, why then does everyone want to follow you?” Hearing this, Saint Francis, altogether overjoyed in spirit […] turned to Friar Masseo and said: “Do you want to know why me? Do you want to know why me? Do you want to know why the whole world follows me? This I learned that the most holy eyes of God did not see among sinners any one more vile, more insufficient, or a greater sinner than me.”[3]

Humility as Truth

Francis’ humility has two sources of illumination, one of a theological nature and one of a Christological nature. Let us reflect on the first. We find in the Bible acts of humility that do not come from man, from the consideration of his misery or his own sin, but which have as their sole reason God and his holiness. Such is Isaiah’s exclamation, “I am a man of unclean lips,” in face of the sudden manifestation of the glory and holiness of God in the Temple (Isaiah 6:5 f); such, also is Peter’s cry to Jesus after the miraculous catch: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8).

We are before essential humility, that of the creature who becomes conscious of himself in the presence of God. As long as a person measures himself with himself, with others or with society, he will never have the exact idea of what he is; he is lacking the measure. “What an infinite accent,” wrote Kierkegaard, “falls on the I the moment it obtains God as measure!”[4] Francis had this humility in an eminent way. A saying that he repeated often was: “What a man is before God, that he is, and nothing more.”[5]

The Little Flowers recount that one night Friar Leo wanted to watch from afar what Francis was doing during his night prayer in the forest of La Verna and from a distance he heard him murmur some words for a long time. The next day the Saint called him and, after having reproved him courteously for having contravened his order, revealed to him the content of his prayer:

“You know, friar sheep of Jesus Christ, that when I was saying those words that you heard, my soul was shown two lights, one of information and knowledge of myself, the other of information and knowledge of the Creator. When I said: Who are you, O most sweet God of mine? Then I was in a light of contemplation, in which I saw the abyss of the infinite goodness and wisdom and power of God; and when I said: Who am I? I was in the light of contemplation, in which I saw the sad depth of my vileness and misery?”[6]

It was what Saint Augustine asked God and which he considered the height of all wisdom: “Noverim me, noverim te. Let me know myself and let me know You; let me know myself to humble myself and let me know You to love You.”[7]

Friar Leo’s episode is certainly embellished, as always in The Little Flowers, but the content corresponds perfectly with the idea that Francis had of himself and of God. Proof of it is the beginning of the Canticle of creatures with the infinite distance that he puts between God, “Most High, Omnipotent, Good Lord,” to whom is owed praise, glory, honor and blessing, and the miserable mortal who is not even worthy of “mentioning,” that is of pronouncing his name.

In this light, which I have called theological, humility appears to us essentially as truth. “I asked myself one day,” wrote Saint Teresa of Avila, “why the Lord so loves humility and suddenly there came to my mind, without any reflection on my part, that it must be because he is total Truth, and humility is truth.”[8]

It is a light that does not humiliate but, on the contrary, gives immense joy and exalts. To be humble in fact does not mean to be unhappy with oneself or to recognize one’s own misery, or even one’s littleness. It is to look at God before oneself and to measure the abyss that separates the finite from the infinite. The more one realizes this, the more one becomes humble. Then one begins to enjoy one’s own nothingness, because it is thanks to it that a face can be offered to God whose littleness and misery has fascinated the heart of the Trinity from eternity.

Angela of Foligno, a great disciple of the Poverello, whom Pope Francis has recently proclaimed Saint, exclaimed when close to death: “O nothingness unknown, O nothingness unknown. The soul cannot have a better vision in this world than to contemplate its nothingness and dwell in it as in a prison cell.”[9] There is a secret in this counsel, a truth that is experienced by testing it. One then discovers that this cell really exists and that one can really enter it every time one wishes. It consists in the quiet and tranquil sentiment of being nothing before God, but a nothing loved by Him!

When one is inside the cell of this luminous prison, one no longer sees one’s neighbor’s defects, or they are seen in another light. One understands that it is possible, with grace and exercise, to realize what the Apostle says, which at first glance seems excessive, namely, to “consider all others better than oneself” (cf. Philippians 2:3), or at least one understands how this was possible for the saints.

To be locked in that prison is, therefore, altogether different from being locked in oneself; instead, it is to open oneself to others, to being, to the objectivity of things, the opposite of what the enemies of Christian humility have always thought. It is to close oneself to egoism, not in egoism. It is the victory over one of the evils that modern psychology also judges ruinous for the human person: narcissism. In that cell, moreover, the enemy does not come in. One day Anthony the Great had a vision; he saw in an instant all the infinite snares of the enemy spread out over the earth and, moaning, he said: “Who then will be able to avoid all these snares?” And he heard a voice answer him: “Anthony, humility!”[10]. “Nothing, writes the author of the Imitation of Christ, will succeed in puffing up one who is firmly fixed in God.”[11]

Humility as Service of Love

We have talked about humility as the truth of the creature before God. Paradoxically, however, what most fills Francis’ soul with wonder is not God’s greatness but his humility. In the Praises of God Most High, which are handwritten by him and kept in Assisi, among God’s perfections– “You are Holy, You are Strong. You are Triune and One. You are Love, Charity. You are Wisdom …” -- at a certain point Francis inserts an unheard of: “You are humility!” It is not a title put there by mistake. Francis grasped a most profound truth about God which should also fill us with wonder.

God is humility because He is love. In face of human creatures, God finds himself lacking in every capacity not only constrictive but also defensive. If human beings choose, as they have done, to reject his love, He cannot intervene with authority to impose Himself on them. He can do nothing other than respect the free choice of men. One can reject Him, eliminate Him: He will not defend Himself, He will let them do it. Or better, his way of defending himself and of defending men against their very annihilation, will be that of loving again and always, eternally. By its nature love creates dependence and dependence creates humility. So it is, also, mysteriously, in God.

Love furnishes, therefore, the key to understand God’s humility: one needs little power to show off, instead one needs a lot to put oneself aside, to cancel oneself. God is this unlimited power of concealment of himself and as such He reveals himself in the Incarnation. One has the visible manifestation of God’s humility by contemplating Christ who kneels before his disciples to wash their feet – and they were, we can imagine it, dirty feet -- and even more so, when, reduced to the most radical impotence on the cross, He continues to love, without ever condemning.

Francis grasped this very close connection between God’s humility and the Incarnation. Here are some of his fiery words:

“Look, he humbles himself every day, as when from the royal seat he descended into the womb of the Virgin; every day He himself comes to us in humble appearance; every day He descends from the bosom of the Father on the altar in the hands of the priest.”[12] “O sublime humility! O humble sublimity, that the Lord of the universe, God and Son of God, so humiliates himself as to hide himself for our salvation, under the little appearance of bread! Look, brothers, at the humility of God and open your hearts before Him.”[13]

Thus we have discovered the second reason for Francis’ humility: the example of Christ. It is the same reason that Paul indicated to the Philippians when he recommended that they have the same sentiments of Christ Jesus who “humbled himself and became obedient unto death” (Philippians 2:5.8). Before Paul, it was Jesus himself who invited the disciples to imitate his humility: “Learn from me, who am gentle and humble in heart!” (Matthew 11:29).

In what thing, we could ask ourselves, does Jesus tell us to imitate his humility? In what was Jesus humble? Running through the Gospels we do not find even the most minimal admission of fault on Jesus’ lips, not when he converses with men, or when he converses with the Father. This – said incidentally -- in one of the most hidden but also most convincing proofs, of the divinity of Christ and of the absolute unicity of his conscience. In no saint, in no great one in history and in no founder of religion, does one find such an innocent conscience.

All acknowledge, more or less, having committed some error or of having something to be forgiven, at least by God. Gandhi, for instance, had a very acute awareness of having on some occasions taken erroneous positions; he also had his regrets. Jesus never did. He could say addressing his adversaries: “Which of you convicts me of sin?” (John 8:46). Jesus proclaims he is “Teacher and Lord” (cf. John 13:13), to be more than Abraham, than Moses, than Jonah, than Solomon. Where, then, is Jesus’ humility to be able to say: “learn from me who am humble?”

Here we discover something important. Humility does not consist principally in being little -- one can be little without being humble; nor does it consist principally in feeling that oneself is little, because one can feel oneself little and be so really and this would be objectivity, but not yet humility -- without counting that feeling oneself little and insignificant could stem from an inferiority complex and lead to withdrawal into oneself and to despair, rather than to humility. Therefore humility, per se, in the most perfect degree, is not in being little, it is not in feeling that oneself is little or proclaiming oneself little. It is in making oneself little, and not out of some necessity or personal utility, but out of love, to “raise” others.

Thus was Jesus’ humility; He made himself so little, in fact, to the point of “annulling” himself for us. Jesus’ humility is the humility that descends from God and that has its supreme model in God, not in man. In the position in which He finds himself, God cannot “elevate himself”; nothing exists above Him. If God comes out of Himself and does something outside the Trinity, this cannot be but a lowering of himself and a making himself little; in other words, He will only be able to be humility, or as some Greek Fathers said, synkatabasis, that is, condescendence.

Saint Francis makes of “Sister Water” the symbol of humility, describing it as “useful, humble, precious and chaste.” Water, in fact, never “elevates” itself, never “ascends,” but always “descends,” until it has reached the lowest point. Steam rises and that is why it is the traditional symbol of pride and vanity; water descends and is, therefore, the symbol of humility.

Now we know what Jesus’ word means: “Learn from me who am humble.” It is an invitation to make oneself little out of love, to wash, as he did, the feet of our brothers. However, in Jesus we also see the seriousness of this choice. It is not in fact about descending and making oneself little every now and then, as a king who, in his generosity, every so often deigns to come down among the people and perhaps, also, to serve them in something. Jesus makes himself “little,” as “he made himself flesh,” that is permanently, to the end. He chooses to belong to the category of the little ones and the humble.

This new face of humility is summarized in one word: service. One day – we read in the Gospel – the disciples discussed among themselves who was “the greatest”; then Jesus, “sat down” (so as to give greater solemnity to the lesson he was about to impart) called the Twelve to himself and said to them: “If any one would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35). He who wishes to be “first” must be “last,” that is, must descend, must lower himself. But then he explains immediately what he intends by the last: he must be the “servant” of all. The humility proclaimed by Jesus is, therefore, service. In Matthew’s Gospel, this lesson of Jesus is corroborated with an example: “even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve” (Matthew 20:28).

A Humble Church

Let us draw some practical considerations on the virtue of humility in all its manifestations, whether in relations with God or in relations with men. We must not be deluded thinking we have attained humility just because the word of God has led us to discover our nothingness and has shown us that it must be translated into fraternal service. The point to which we have attained humility is seen when the initiative passes from us to others, namely when it is no longer we who recognize our defects and wrongs, but others who do so; when we are not only capable of telling ourselves the truth, but also of gladly letting others do so. Prior to acknowledging himself before Friar Matteo as the vilest of men, Francis had accepted, gladly and for a long time, to be derided, held by friends, relatives and the whole country of Assisi as being ungrateful, exalted, one who would never have done anything good in life.

The point we are at in the struggle against pride is seen, in other words, by the way we react, externally or internally, when we are contradicted, corrected, criticized or left aside. To pretend to kill one’s pride by striking it oneself, without anyone intervening from outside, is like using one’s arm to punish oneself: one will never do oneself harm. It is as if a doctor wished to remove a tumor from himself on his own.

When I seek to receive glory from a man for something I say or do, it is almost certain that he who is before me seeks to receive glory from me because of the way he listens and the way he responds. And thus it is that everyone seeks his own glory and no one obtains it and if, perchance, he obtains it, it is nothing but “vainglory,” that is, empty glory, destined to be dissolved in smoke with death. However, the effect is equally terrible; in fact Jesus attributed the impossibility of believing to the search for one’s glory. He said to the Pharisees: “How can you believe, who receive glory from one another, and do not seek the glory that comes from the one God?” (John 5:44).

When we find ourselves snared again in thoughts and aspirations of human glory, we must throw into the mixture of such thoughts, as a burning torch, the word that Jesus himself used and that he left us: “I do not seek my own glory!” (John 8:50). The struggle for humility lasts the whole of life and extends to every aspect of it. Pride is able to nourish itself, be it of evil or good; in fact, as opposed to what happens with every other vice, the good, not the evil, is the preferred terrain of cultivation for this terrible “virus.” The philosopher Pascal wrote wittily:

“Vanity has such deep roots in man’s heart that a soldier, a servant of armies, a cook, a porter, boasts and pretends he has his admirers and the philosophers themselves desire him. And those who write against vainglory aspire to boast of having written well, and those who read them, boast of having read them; and I, who write this, nourish perhaps the same desire; and also, perhaps, those who read me.”[14]

So that man “will not rise up in pride,” God often fixes him to the ground with a sort of anchor; He puts beside him, as He did to Paul, a “messenger of Satan to harass him,” “a thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7). We do not know exactly what this “thorn in the flesh” was for the Apostle, but we know well what it is for us! Everyone who wants to follow the Lord and serve the Church has it. They are humiliating situations through which one is recalled constantly, sometimes night and day, to the harsh reality of what we are. It can be a defect, a sickness, a weakness, an impotence, which the Lord leaves us, despite all our supplications; a persistent and humiliating temptation, perhaps, in fact, a temptation of pride; a person with whom one is constrained to live and that, despite the rectitude of both parties, has the power to expose our fragility, to demolish our presumption.

However, humility is not a private virtue. There is a humility that must shine in the Church as institution and people of God. If God is humility, the Church must also be humility; if Christ served, the Church must also serve, and serve out of love. For too long the Church as a whole has represented before the world the truth of Christ, but perhaps she has not represented sufficiently the humility of Christ. Yet it is with humility, better than with any apologetics, that hostilities and prejudices are placated in her confrontations and the way is smoothed for the reception of the Gospel.

There is an episode of Manzoni’s The Betrothed which contains a profound psychological and evangelical truth. Friar Christopher, having finished his novitiate, decided to ask forgiveness publicly to the parents of the man that, before he became a friar, he killed in a duel. The family aligns itself, forming a sort of Caudine Forks, so that the gesture would be the most humiliating possible for the friar and of greatest satisfaction for the family’s pride. But when they saw the young friar proceed with his head bowed, kneeling before the brother of the man killed and asking for forgiveness, the arrogance fell, they were the ones who felt embarrassed and asked for pardon, so that in the end all crowded around the friar to kiss his hand and to commend themselves to his prayers.[15] These are the miracles of humility.

In the prophet Zephaniah God says: “I will leave in the midst of you a people humble and lowly. They shall seek refuge in the name of the Lord” (Zephaniah 3:12). This word is still timely and perhaps the success of the evangelization in which the Church is committed will depend on it.

Now it is I who, before ending, must remind myself of a saying that was dear to Saint Francis. He usually repeated: “Charles emperor, Orlando, Oliviero, all the paladins reported a glorious and memorable victory … However, there are now many that, only with the telling of their feat, want to receive honors and glory from other men.”[16] He used this example to say that the saints practiced the virtues and that others seek glory only by recounting them.[17]

So that I will not also be of their number, I make an effort to put into practice the counsel given by an ancient desert Father, Isaac of Nineveh, to one who was constrained by the duty to speak of spiritual things, which he had not yet attained in his own life: “Speak, he said, as one who belongs to the class of disciples and not with authority, after having humiliated your soul and making yourself smaller than any of your listeners.” With this spirit, Holy Father, Venerable Fathers, brothers and sisters, I have dared to speak to you of humility.


1 Paradiso XI, 111.

2 St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Sermons on the Canticle, XVI, 10 (PL 183, 853).

3 Little Flowers, chapter X.

4 S. Kierkegaard, The Mortal Sickness, II, chapter 1, in Works, published by C. Fabro, Sansoni, Florence1972, pp. 662 f.

5 Admonitions, XIX (FF 169); cf. also St. Bonaventure, Major Legend, VI, 1 (FF 1103).

6 Considerations of the Sacred Stigmata, III (FF 1916).

7 St. Augustine, Soliloquies, I. 1, 3; II, 1, 1 (PL 32, 870.885).

8 St. Teresa of Avila, Interior Castle, VI dim., chapter 10.

9 The Book of Blessed Angela of Foligno, Quaracchi, 1985, p. 737.

10 Apophtegmata Patrum, Antonio 7: PG 65, 77.

11 Imitation of Christ, II, chapter 10.

12 Admonitions, I (FF 144).e

13 Letter to the Whole Order (FF 221).

14 B. Pascal, Pensees, n. 150 Br.

15 A. Manzoni, The Betrothed, chapter IV.

16 Admonitions VI (FF 155).

17 Celano, Second Life, 72 (FF 1626).



Father Cantalamessa's 1st Lent Homily 2014
With Jesus in the Desert

ROME, March 14, 2014 -  Here is the first Lenten homily given this year by the preacher of the Pontifical Household, Capuchin Father Raneiro Cantalamessa.

* * * 

Every year Lent begins with the account of Jesus going into the desert for forty days. In this introductory meditation we seek to discover what Jesus did during this time, and what themes are present in the evangelical account, to apply them to our life.

“The Spirit led Jesus into the desert”

The first theme is that of the desert. Jesus had just received the messianic investiture in the Jordan to take the good news to the poor, to heal afflicted hearts, to preach the Kingdom (cf. Luke 4:18 f). However, he is not in a hurry to do any of these things. On the contrary, obeying an impulse of the Holy Spirit, he goes into the desert where he stays for forty days. The desert in question is the desert of Judah, which extends from the walls of Jerusalem to Jericho, in the valley of the Jordan. Tradition identifies the place as Mount Quarentyne overlooking the Jordan valley.

In history there have been groups of men and women who have chosen to imitate Jesus and withdraw into the desert. In the East, beginning with Saint Anthony Abbot, they withdrew into the deserts of Egypt or Palestine. In the West, where there were no sand deserts, they withdrew into solitary places, remote mountains and valleys. However, the invitation to follow Jesus in the desert is not addressed only to monks and hermits. In a different way, it is addressed to all. Monks and hermits chose a space of desert, we have to choose at least a time of desert.

Lent is the occasion that the Church offers to everyone, indistinctly, to live a time of desert without thus having to abandon daily activities. Saint Augustine made this famous appeal:

“Re-enter your heart! Where do you want to go, far from yourself? Re-enter from your wandering which has led you outside the way; return to the Lord. He is quick. First re-enter into your heart, you who have become a stranger to yourself, because of your wandering outside: you do not know yourself, and seek him who has created you! Return, return to your heart, detach yourself from your body …. Re-enter into your heart: there examine him whom you perceived as God, because the image of God is there, Christ dwells in man’s interior.[1]

To re-enter into one’s heart! But, what is represented by the word heart, of which there is so often talk in the Bible and in human language? Outside the ambit of human physiology, where it is but a vital organ of the body, the heart is the most profound metaphysical place of a person, the innermost being of every man, where each one lives his being a person, namely his subsisting in himself, in relation to God, from whom he has his origin and in whom he finds his purpose, to other men and to the whole of creation. In ordinary language the heart also designates the essential part of reality. “To go to the heart of the problem” means to go to the essential part of it, on which all the other parts of the problem depend.

Thus, the heart indicates the spiritual place, where one can contemplate the person in his most profound and true reality, without veils and without pausing on externals. Every person is judged by their heart, by what he bears within himself, which is the source of his goodness and his wickedness. To know the heart of a person means to have penetrated the intimate sanctuary of his personality, by which that person is known for what he really is and is worth.

To return to the heart means, therefore, to return to what is most personal and interior to us. Unfortunately, interiority is a value in crisis. Some causes of this crisis are old and inherent to our nature itself. Our “composition,” that is, our being constituted of flesh and spirit, inclines us toward the external, the visible, the multiplicity. Like the universe, after the initial explosion (the famous Big Bang), we are also in a phase of expansion and of moving away from the center. We are perennially “going out” through those five doors or windows which are our senses.

Saint Teresa of Avila wrote a work titled The Interior Castle, which is certainly one of the most mature fruits of the Christian doctrine of interiority. However there is, alas, also an “exterior castle” and today we see that it is possible to be shut-in also in this castle. Shut outside of home, incapable of returning. Prisoners of externals! How many of us must make our own the bitter observation that Augustine made in regard to his life before his conversion: “Late have I loved Thee, beauty so ancient and so new, late have I loved Thee! Lo, you were within, but I outside, seeking there for you and upon the shapely things you have made I rushed headlong – I, misshapen. You were with me, but I was not with you. They held me back far from you those things which would have no being were they not in you.”[2]

What is done outside is exposed to the almost inevitable danger of hypocrisy. The look of other persons has the power to deflect our intention, like certain magnetic fields deflect the waves. Our action loses its authenticity and its recompense. Appearance prevails over being. Because of this, Jesus invites to fasting and almsgiving in a hidden way and to pray to the Father “in secret” (cf. Matthew 6:1-4).

Inwardness is the way to an authentic life. There is so much talk today of authenticity and it is made the criterion of success or lack thereof in life. However, where is authenticity for a Christian? When is it that a person is truly himself? Only when he has God as his measure. “There is so much talk – writes the philosopher Kierkegaard – of wasted lives. However, wasted only is the life of a man who never realized that a God exists and that he, his very self, stands before this God.”[3]

Persons consecrated to the service of God are the ones who above all are in need of a return to interiority. In an address given to Superiors of a contemplative religious Order, Paul VI said:

“Today we are in a world which seems to be gripped by a fever that infiltrates itself even in the sanctuary and in solitude. Noise and din have invaded almost everything. Persons are no longer able to be recollected. They are prey of a thousand distractions, they habitually dissipate their energies behind the different forms of modern culture. Newspapers, magazines, books invade the intimacy of our homes and of our hearts. It is more difficult to find the opportunity for the recollection in which the soul is able to be fully occupied in God.”

However, let us try to see what we can do concretely, to rediscover and preserve the habit of inwardness. Moses was a very active man. But we read that he had a portable tent built and at every stage of the exodus, he fixed the tent outside the camp and regularly entered it to consult the Lord. There, the Lord spoke with Moses “face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Exodus 33:11).

However, we cannot always do this. We cannot always withdraw into a chapel or a solitary place to renew our contact with God. Therefore, Saint Francis of Assisi suggested another device closer at hand. Sending his friars on the roads of the world, he said: We always have a hermitage with us wherever we go and every time we so wish we can, as hermits, re-enter in this hermitage. “Brother body is the hermitage and the soul is the hermit that dwells within to pray to God and to meditate.” It is like having a desert “in the house,” in which one can withdraw in thought at every moment, even while walking on the street. We conclude this first part of our meditation listening, as addressed to us, the exhortation that Saint Anselm of Aosta addresses to the reader in one of his famous works:

“Come now, miserable mortal, flee for a brief time from your occupations, leave for a while your tumultuous thoughts. Move away at this moment from your grave anxieties and put aside your exhausting activities. Attend to God and repose in him. Enter into the depth of your soul, exclude everything, except God and what helps you seek him and, having closed the door, say to God: I seek your face. Your face I seek, Lord.”[4]

Fasting accepted by God

The second great theme present in the account of Jesus in the desert is fasting. “After having fasted forty days and forty nights, he was hungry” (Matthew 4:1). What does it mean for us today to imitate Jesus’ fasting? Once understood by the word fasting, was a limit of one’s intake of food and drink and to abstain from meat. This fasting from food still keeps its vitality and is highly recommended, when, of course, its motivation is religious and not only hygienic and aesthetic, but it is not the only kind of fasting or the most necessary.

Today the most necessary and meaningful form of fasting is called sobriety. To willingly deprive oneself from little and great comforts, of what is useless, and sometimes also damaging to one’s health. This fasting is solidarity with the poverty of so many. Who does not remember Isaiah’s words that the liturgy speaks to us at the beginning of every Lent?

“Is not this the fast that I choose:

To share your bread with the hungry,

And bring the homeless poor into your house;

When you see the naked to cover him,

and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?” (Isaiah 58:6-7).

Such fasting is also a protest against a consumerist mentality. In a world, which has made of superfluous and useless comfort one of the ends of one’s activity, to renounce the superfluous, to be able to do without something, to stop oneself from taking recourse to the most comfortable solution, from choosing the easiest thing, the object of greater luxury -- to live, in sum with sobriety, is more effective than imposing on oneself artificial penances. It is, moreover, justice towards the generations that will follow ours that must not be reduced to live from the ashes of what we consumed and wasted. Sobriety is also an ecological value of respect for creation.

More necessary than fasting from food today is fasting from images. We live in a civilization of images; we have become devourers of images. Through television, internet, the press, advertising, we let a flood of images enter us. Many of them are unhealthy, they engender violence and malice, they do nothing other than incite the worst instincts we bear within us. They are made expressly to seduce. However, perhaps the worst thing is that they give a false and unreal idea of life, with all the consequences that derive from that in the subsequent impact with reality, especially for young people. They pretend unwittingly that life offers all that advertising presents.

If we do not create a filter, a barricade, we quickly reduce our imagination and our spirit to a rubbish dump. The evil images do not die on reaching us but ferment. They are transformed into impulses to imitate, they condition our freedom horribly. Feuerback, a materialist philosopher, said: “Man is what he eats”; today, perhaps we should say: “man is what he sees.”

Another of these alternative fasts which we can do during Lent is that of evil words. Saint Paul recommends: “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for edifying, that it may impart grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29).

Evil words are not only bad language; they are also cutting, negative words that systematically bring to light a brother’s weak side, words that sow discord and suspicions. In the life of a family or a community, such words have the power to shut everyone in himself, to freeze, creating bitterness and resentment. They literally “mortify,” that is, they give death. Saint James said that the tongue is full of mortal poison; with it we can bless or curse God, resurrect a brother or kill him (cf. James 3:1-12). A word can do more evil than a fist.

Reported in Matthew’s Gospel is a word of Jesus that made the readers of all times of the Gospel tremble: “I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render an account for every careless word they utter” (Matthew 12:36). Jesus certainly does not intend to condemn every useless word, in the sense of those not “strictly necessary.” Taken in the passive sense, the term argon (a = without, ergon = work) used in the Gospel indicates an unfounded word, hence calumny; taken in the active sense, it means an un-founding word, a word which produces nothing and does not even serve for necessary relaxation. Saint Paul recommended to his disciple Timothy: “Avoid such godless chatter, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness” (2 Timothy 2:16), a recommendation that Pope Francis has repeated to us more than once.

The useless word (argon) is the contrary of the word of God, which is described in fact, by contrast, as energes, (1 Thessalonians 2:13; Hebrews 4:12), that is, effective, creative, full of energy and useful for everything. In this sense, what men will have to render account for in the day of judgment is, in the first place, the empty word, without faith and without anointing, pronounced by one who should instead pronounce the words of God which are “spirit and life,” especially at the moment in which he exercises the ministry of the Word.

Tempted by Satan

We pass to the third element of the evangelical narrative on which we wish to reflect: Jesus’ fight against the devil, the temptations. First of all a question: does the devil exist? That is, does the word devil truly indicate some personal reality gifted with intelligence and will, or is it simply a symbol, a way of speaking to indicate the sum of moral evil of the world, the collective unconscious, the collective alienation and so on?

The main proof of the existence of the devil in the Gospels is not in numerous episodes of deliverance of the possessed, because in interpreting these facts we must take into account ancient beliefs about the origin and nature of certain sicknesses. The proof is Jesus who was tempted in the desert by the devil. The proof is also the many Saints who fought in life with the prince of darkness. They are not “Don Quixotes” who fought against windmills. On the contrary, they were very concrete men of very healthy psychology. Saint Francis of Assisi confided once to a companion: “If the friars knew how many and what tribulations I receive from the devil, there would not be one who would not weep for me.”[5]

If so many find it absurd to believe in the devil it is because they base themselves on books, they spend their life in libraries or at the desk, whereas the devil is not interested in books but in persons, especially, in fact, in the Saints. What can one know of Satan if one has never had to do with the reality of Satan, but only with his idea, that is, with the cultural, religious, ethnological traditions about Satan? They usually address this argument with great certainty and superiority, writing everything off as  “Medieval obscurantism.” But it is a false assurance, as one who boasts that he is not afraid of a lion, adducing as proof the fact that he has seen a lion so many times depicted in photographs and has never been scared.

It is altogether normal and coherent that one who does not believe in God does not believe in the devil. It would be downright tragic if one who does not believe in God believed in the devil! Yet, if we think about it well, it is what happens in our society. The devil, Satanism and other connected phenomena are of great topicality today. Our technological and industrialized world is replete with magicians, city sorcerers, occultism, spiritualism, horoscope reciters, vendors of witchcraft, of amulets, as well as even true and proper Satanists. Chased out the door, the devil has re-entered by the window. That is, chased out of the faith, he has re-entered with superstition.

The most important thing that the Christian faith can tell us is not, however, that the devil exists, but that Christ has conquered the devil. For Christians, Christ and the devil are not two equal and contrary princes, as in certain dualistic religions. Jesus is the only Lord; Satan is only a creature “gone bad.” If he has been granted power over men, it is because men have the possibility to freely make a choice and also so that they “are kept from being too elated” (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:7), believing themselves self-sufficient and without need of a redeemer. “Old Satan is mad,” says a Negro spiritual. He “shot his ball at me ... He missed my soul and caught my sins!”

With Christ we have nothing to fear. Nothing and no one can do us harm, if we ourselves do not allow it. After the coming of Christ, said an ancient Father of the Church, Satan is like a tethered dog: he can bark and fling himself as much as he wants but, if we do not approach him, he cannot bite. Jesus freed himself from Satan in the desert to free us from Satan!

The Gospels speak to us of three temptations: “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread”; “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down”; “All these things I will give you if, prostrating yourself, you adore me.” They all have one common purpose: to divert Jesus from his mission, to distract him from the purpose for which he came on earth; to replace the Father’s plan with a different one. In Baptism, the Father had indicated to Christ the way of the obedient Servant who saves with humility and suffering. Satan proposes to him the way of glory and triumph, the way that everyone then expected of the Messiah.

Today also, the whole effort of the devil is to divert man from the purpose for which he is in the world, which is to know, love and serve God in this life to enjoy him later in the next; to distract him. But Satan is astute; he does not appear as a person with horns and the smell of sulfur. It would be too easy to recognize him. He makes use of good things leading them to excess, absolutizing them and making them idols. Money is a good thing, as is pleasure, sex, eating, drinking. However, if they become the most important thing in life, they are no longer means but become destructive for the soul and often also for the body.

A particularly related example to the topic is amusement, distraction. Play is a noble dimension of the human being; God himself commanded rest. The evil is to make of amusement the purpose of life, to live the week waiting for Saturday night or the trip to the stadium on Sunday, not to mention other pastimes that are rather less innocent. In this case amusement changes sign and, instead of serving human growth and alleviating stress and exhaustion, it makes them grow.

A liturgical hymn of Lent exhorts to use more sparingly, at this time, “words, food, drink, sleep and amusements.” This is a time to rediscover why we have come to the world, where we come from, where we are going, what route we are following. Otherwise what can happen to us is what happened to the Titanic or, closer to our time and in space, to the Costa Concordia.

Why Jesus went into the desert

I have tried to bring to light the teachings and the examples that come to us from Jesus for this time of Lent, but I must say that I have omitted up to now to speak about the most important of all. Why did Jesus, after his Baptism, go into the desert? To be tempted by Satan? No, he did not give that the least thought. No one goes on purpose in search of temptations and he himself has taught us to pray so as not to be led into temptation. The temptations were an initiative of the devil, permitted by the Father, for the glory of his Son and as teaching for us.

Did he go into the desert to fast? Yes, but not mainly for this reason. He went there to pray! Jesus always withdrew into desert places to pray to his Father. He went there to be attuned, as man, with the divine will, to deepen the mission that the voice of the Father, in his Baptism, had made him perceive: the mission of the obedient Servant called to redeem the world with suffering and humiliation. He went there, in sum, to pray, to be in intimacy with his Father. And this is also the main purpose of our Lent. He went into the desert for the same reason for which, according to Luke, he would later go to Mount Tabor, namely, to pray (Luke 9:28).

One does not go into the desert to leave something – the noise, the world, occupations -- one goes there above all to find something, rather Someone. One does not go alone to find oneself, to put oneself in contact with one’s inner self, as in so many forms of non-Christian meditation. To be alone with oneself can mean to find oneself with the worst of company. The believer goes into the desert, goes down into his own heart, to renew his contact with God, because he knows that “Truth dwells in the interior man.”

It is the secret of happiness and of peace in this life. What does one in love desire more than to be alone, in intimacy, with the person loved? God is in love with us and he wants us to be in love with him. Speaking of his people as of a bride, God says: “I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her” (Hosea 2:16). We know what the effect is of being in love: all things and all other persons withdraw, are placed in the background. There is a presence that fills everything and renders all the rest “secondary.” It does not isolate from others, rather it renders one more attentive and disposed to others. Oh if we men and women of the Church would discover how close to us, within our reach, is the happiness and the peace that we seek in this world!

Jesus awaits us in the desert: let us not leave him alone during this time.


1. Saint Augustine, In Ioh. Ev., 18, 10 (CCL 36, p. 186).

2. Saint Augustine, Confessions, X, 27.

3. S. Kierkegaard, The Sickness unto Death, II, in Works, edited by C. Fabro, Florence 1972, p. 663.

4. Saint Anselm, Proslogion, 1, (Opera Omnia, 1, Edinburgh 1946, p. 97).

5. Cf. Speculum perfectionis, 99 (FF1798).


Father Cantalamessa's 2nd Lent Homily 2014
St. Augustine: "I Believe the Church Is One and Holy"

ROME, March 21, 2014  - Here is the second Lenten homily given this year by the preacher of the Pontifical Household, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa.

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1. Moving from the East to the West

In the introductory meditation last week, we reflected on the meaning of Lent as a time of going into the desert with Jesus, fasting from food and images presented by mass media, learning to overcome temptation, and above all growing in intimacy with God.

In the four sermons that remain, continuing with the reflection begun in Lent of 2012 on the Greek Fathers, we will now place ourselves under the instruction of four great Doctors of the Latin Church—Augustine, Ambrose, Leo the Great, and Gregory the Great—to see what each of them says to us today about a truth of faith that each in particular asserted: respectively, the nature of the Church, the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the christological dogma of Chalcedon, and the spiritual understanding of the Scripture.

Our aim is to discover, behind these great Fathers, the richness, the beauty, and joy of believing , passing, as Paul says, "from faith to faith" (Rom 1:17), from a faith of the mind to a faith of mind and heart. It will be an increased volume of faith within the Church that will then constitute her best resource in announcing it to the world.

The title of the cycle – “On the shoulders of the giants – is derived from a thought dear to medieval theologians: "We are – they said - like dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of giants. We can see more things and further than they do, not for the sharpness of our gaze, or the height of our body, but because we are carried higher and we sit upon their gigantic stature ."[1] This thought has found artistic expression in certain statues and stained glass windows of Gothic cathedrals of the Middle Ages. Characters of imposing stature are represented there who hold up little men, almost dwarfs, sitting on their shoulders. Those giants were for them, as they are for us , the ancient Fathers of the Church.

After lessons from Athanasius, Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Gregory of Nyssa concerning, respectively, the divinity of Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Trinity, and knowing God, one could have the impression that very little was left for the Latin Fathers to do in developing Christian dogma. A brief glance at the history of theology will quickly convince us otherwise.

Prompted by the culture they were part of, gifted with strong speculative abilities, and reacting to the heresies they were forced to combat (Arianism, Apollinarianism, Nestorianism, Monophytism), the Greek Fathers were primarily focused on the ontological aspects of dogma: the divinity of Christ, his two natures and the manner of their union, and the unity and triune nature of God. The themes most dear to Paul—justification, the relationship between the law and the gospel, the Church as the body of Christ—remained on the margins of their attention or were treated in passing. The Apostle John, with his emphasis on the Incarnation, suited their purposes much better than Paul who places the paschal mystery at the center of everything with his emphasis on the action of Christ more than on his being.

The character of the Latin Fathers (with the exception of Augustine) that inclines them to concern themselves with concrete, juridical, and organizational problems rather than speculative ones, combined with the appearance of new heresies like Donatism and Pelagianism, will stimulate a new and original reflection on the Pauline themes of grace, the Church, the sacraments, and Scripture. These are the themes I would like to reflect on for this year’s Lenten preaching.

2. What Is the Church?

Let us being our review with the greatest of the Latin Fathers, Augustine. The Doctor of Hippo has left his mark on almost all areas of theology but especially on two of them: grace and the Church. The first is the result of his battle against Pelagianism and the second is the result of his battle against Donatism.

Interest in Augustine’s doctrine on grace predominated from the sixteenth century on, whether in the Protestant sphere (Luther aligned himself with the doctrine of justification  and Calvin with the doctrine of predestination) or in the Catholic sphere because of the controversies provoked by Cornelius Otto Janssen and Michael Baius.[2] Interest in Augustine’s ecclesiastical doctrine is instead prevalent in our day because the Second Vatican Council made the Church its central theme and because of the ecumenical movement in which the concept of “church” is the critical knot to untie. Seeking the help and inspiration of the Fathers for the faith here and now, we will concern ourselves with this second area of interest in Augustine, the Church.

The Church was not a topic unknown to the Greek Fathers and the Latin authors before Augustine (Cyprian, Hilary, Ambrose), but their statements were for the most part limited to repeating and commenting on the assertions and images in Scripture. The Church is the new people of God; the Church has been promised indefectibility; she is the “pillar and bulwark of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15); the Holy Spirit is her supreme Teacher. The Church is “catholic” because she is open to all people, she teaches all dogmas, and she possesses all the charisms. In the wake of Paul, the Church is spoken of as the mystery of our incorporation into Christ through baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit; the Church is birthed from the pierced side of Christ on the cross, just as Eve was formed from the side of a sleeping Adam.[3]

However, these things were said only occasionally; the Church had not yet become an issue in itself. The one who will be compelled to make it a major theme is Augustine because he had to fight the schism of the Donatists almost all his life. Perhaps no one today would remember that North African sect if not for the fact that it was the occasion that birthed what we call ecclesiology today, that is, a reflection on what the Church is in God’s plan, her nature and her operation.

Around 311 a man called Donatus, the bishop of Numidia, refused to accept in ecclesial communion those who had handed over the Sacred Books to state authorities during the persecution of Diocletian and had renounced their faith to save their lives. In 311 a man called Caecilian, elected as bishop of Carthage, was accused (wrongly, according to the Catholics) of having betrayed the faith during Diocletian’s persecution. A group of seventy North African bishops led by Donatus opposed this appointment. They removed Caecilian from office and chose Donatus for that post. Excommunicated by Pope Miltiades in 313, Donatus remained in his post, triggering a schism that created a church parallel to the Catholic Church in North Africa until the invasion of the Vandals that occurred in the following century.

In the course of the controversy, the Donatists had tried to justify their position with theological arguments, and it was in refuting them that Augustine elaborated, little by little, his doctrine of the Church. This occurs in two different contexts: in works written directly against the Donatists as well as in his commentaries on Scripture and his sermons to the people. It is important to distinguish between these two contexts because in the second case Augustine will put more emphasis on some aspects of the Church rather than others, and it is only from the whole of his writing that we can derive his complete doctrine. Let us look, just briefly, at what the saint’s conclusions are in each of the two contexts, beginning with the one that is directly anti-Donatist.

a. The Church, the Communion of Sacraments, and the Society of Saints. The Donatist schism was based on the conviction that grace cannot be transmitted by a minister who does not have it; therefore, sacraments administered in this way have no effect whatsoever. This argument, initially applied to the ordination of Bishop Caecilian, is soon extended to other sacraments and to baptism in particular. Using this argument, the Donatists justify their separation from the Catholics and their practice of re-baptizing whoever came from their ranks.

In response Augustine elaborates a principle that will forever be an achievement in theology and creates the basis for the future treatise De sacramentis: the distinction between potestas and ministerium, namely, between the cause of grace and its minister. The grace conferred through sacraments is exclusively the work of God and Christ; the minister is only an instrument: “When Peter baptizes, it is Christ who baptizes; when John baptizes, it is Christ who baptizes; when Jude baptizes, it is Christ who baptizes.”[4] The validity and efficacy of the sacraments is not impeded by an unworthy minister. This is a truth, as we know, that the Christian people need to remember today as well.

Having neutralized the principal weapon of his opponents this way, Augustine can elaborate his great vision of the Church through some fundamental distinctions. The first is between the present or earthly Church and the future or heavenly Church. This second Church will be comprised only of saints. The Church in the present age, on the other hand, will always be a field in which wheat and tares are mixed, the net that catches good and bad fish, that is, saints and sinners.

Augustine makes another distinction that concerns the Church in its earthly stage, the distinction between the communion of sacraments (communio sacramentorum) and the society of saints (societas sanctorum). The first visibly unites all those who take part in the same external signs: sacraments, Scripture, Church authority; the second unites only those who, in addition to the signs, share in common the reality hidden under the signs (res sacramentorum), i. e., the Holy Spirit, grace, and charity.

Since in this world below it will always be impossible to know with certainty who possesses the Holy Spirit and grace—and even more impossible to know if they will persevere to the end in that state—Augustine ends up identifying the true, definitive community of saints with the heavenly Church of the predestined. “How many sheep who are inside today will be outside, and how many wolves that are now outside will be in inside.” [5]

The novelty, concerning this point as compared to Cyprian, is that while Cyprian made the unity of the Church consist in something exterior and visible—the harmony of all the bishops among themselves—Augustine makes it consist in something interior: the Holy Spirit. The unity of the Church is thus brought about by the same One who brings about unity in the Trinity. “The Father and Son have wanted us to be united among ourselves and with them by means of the same bond that unites them, namely, the love that is the Holy Spirit.” [6] The Holy Spirit performs the same function in the Church that the soul performs in our physical body: He is the animating and unifying principle. “What the soul is to the human body the Holy Spirit is to the body of Christ, which is the Church.”[7]

Complete membership in the Church requires both the visible communion of sacramental signs and the invisible communion of grace. However, there can be degrees of belonging to the Church, so it is not necessary that a person be identified as either inside or outside; someone can be partly inside and partly outside. There is an exterior membership, through sacramental signs, which includes the schismatic Donatists and unfaithful Catholics and there is a full and complete communion. The first kind of membership consists in someone participating in the external sign of grace (sacramentum) but not receiving the interior reality that it produces (res sacramenti) or receiving it to one’s condemnation rather than to one’s salvation, as in the case of Baptism administered by schismatics or in the case of the Eucharist being received unworthily by Catholics.

b. The Church as the Body of Christ animated by the Holy Spirit. In Augustine’s exegetical writings and sermons, we find these same basic principles of ecclesiology, but they are derived less from polemics and are more like family conversations, so to speak. Augustine can emphasize the interior and spiritual aspects of the Church that are most on his heart. In these instances the Church is presented, often in an elevated and moving tone, as the body of Christ (the adjective “mystical” will be added later) that is animated by the Holy Spirit and in such a similar way to the Eucharistic body that it matches its characteristics almost completely. Let us listen to what his faithful once heard on the feast of Pentecost on this theme:

If you want to understand the body of Christ, listen to the apostle telling the faithful: You, though, are the body of Christ and its members (1 Cor 12:27). So if it’s you that are the body of Christ and its members, it’s the mystery [that you are] that has been placed at the Lord’s table; what you receive is the mystery that . . . [you are]. It is to what you are that you reply Amen, and by so replying you express your assent. What . . . you see is The body of Christ, and you answer Amen. So be a member of the body of Christ, in order to make your Amen truthful. . . . Be what you can see, and receive what you are.[8]

The nexus between the two bodies of Christ is based for Augustine on the unique symbolic correspondence between the bread and wine becoming the body of Christ and believers becoming the body of Christ. The Eucharistic bread is obtained from the dough of many grains of wheat and the wine from a multitude of grapes; in the same way, the Church is formed by many people, united and blended together by the charity which is the Holy Spirit.[9] Just as wheat spread over the hills is first harvested, then milled, and then kneaded with water and cooked in the oven, so the faithful spread throughout the world are brought together by the word of God, milled by the penances and the exorcisms preceding baptism, immersed in the water of baptism, and put through the fire of the Spirit. Also in relation to the Church one must say that the sacrament significando causat, the sacrament “causes by signifying”. By signifying the union of many persons in one the Eucharist brings it about and causes it. In this sense, we can say that “The Eucharist makes the Church.”

3. The Relevance of Augustine’s Ecclesiology for Today

Let us now try to see how Augustine’s ideas about the Church can contribute to shedding light on the problems that the Church has to confront in our time. I would like in particular to devote some time to the importance of Augustine’s ecclesiology for ecumenical dialogue. One circumstance makes this choice particularly relevant. The Christian world is preparing to celebrate the fifth centenary of the Protestant Reformation. Joint declarations and documents are already beginning to circulate in view of this event.[10] It is vital for the whole Church that this opportunity not be wasted by people remaining prisoners of the past, trying to ascertain—even if with a more objective and irenic attitude than in the past—each other’s motives and faults. Rather, let us take a qualitative leap forward, like what happens when the sluice gate of a river or a canal allows ships to continue to navigate at a higher water level.

The situation in the world, in the church, and in theology has changed since then. It is a matter of starting over again with the person of Jesus, of humbly helping our contemporaries to discover the person of Christ. We need to place ourselves in the time of the Apostles: they faced a pre-Christian world, and we face a world that is in large part post-Christian. When Paul wants to summarize the essence of the Christian message in one sentence, he does not say, “I proclaim this or that doctrine to you.” Instead he says, “We preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor 1:23), and “We preach . . . Jesus Christ as Lord” (2 Cor 4:5).

This does not mean ignoring the great theological and spiritual enrichment that came from the Reformation or desiring to return to the time before it. It means instead allowing all of Christianity to benefit from its achievements, once they are freed of certain distortions due to the heated atmosphere of the time and of later controversies. Justification by faith, for example, ought to be preached by the whole Church—and with more vigor than ever—not in opposition however to good works, which is an issue that has been settled, but in opposition to the claim of people today that they can save themselves without a need for God or Christ. I am convinced that if he were alive today this is the way Luther himself would preach the justification through faith!

Let us see how Augustine’s theology can help us in this effort of overcoming the long-standing barriers. The path to take today is, in a certain sense, in an opposite direction to the one Augustine took with the Donatists. At that time, he needed to move from the communion through the sacraments toward the communion through the grace of the Holy Spirit and charity; today we need to move from the spiritual communion of charity to full communion in the sacraments as well, among which the Eucharist is first.

The distinction between the two levels in which the true Church is present—the exterior one of signs and the interior one of grace—allows Augustine to formulate a principle that would have been unthinkable before him: “As, therefore, there is in the Catholic Church something which is not Catholic, so there may be something which is Catholic outside the Catholic Church.”[11] These two aspects of the Church—the visible, institutional and the invisible, spiritual—cannot be separated. This is true and has been reasserted by Pope Pius XII in Mystici corporis and by the Second Vatican Council in Lumen gentium. However, since these two aspects unfortunately do not coincide because of historical separations and the sin of human beings, one cannot give more importance to institutional communion than to spiritual communion.

This poses a serious question for me. Can I, as a Catholic, feel in communion more with the multitude of those baptized in my own church, who nevertheless completely neglect Christ and the church—or if they express some interest, it is only to speak ill of it—than I do with the group of those who, belonging to other confessions, believe in the same fundamental truths I do, who love Jesus Christ to the point of giving their lives for him, who spread the gospel, who are concerned with trying to alleviate the poverty in the world, and who have the same gifts of the Holy Spirit that we have? Persecutions, so frequent today in certain parts of the world, do not make distinctions: they do not burn churches or kill people because they are Catholic or Protestant but because they are Christians. In the eyes of the persecutors we are already “one”!

This is of course a question that Christians in other churches should also ask themselves in regard to Catholics, and, thanks be to God, this is precisely what is happening to a hidden degree and is far more frequent than the news would lead us to believe. I am convinced that one day, we will be amazed, and others will be amazed, at not having been aware earlier of what the Holy Spirit has been doing among Christians in our day beyond official channels. There are so many Christians outside the Catholic Church who are looking at it in a new light and beginning to recognize their own roots in it.

Augustine’s most novel and most fruitful insight about the Church, as we saw, is to have identified the essential principle of her unity in the Spirit instead of in the horizontal communion of bishops among themselves and with the pope of Rome. Just as the unity of a human body is achieved by the soul that animates and moves all its members, the same is true for the unity of the body of Christ. It is a mystical fact first before it is a reality that is expressed socially and visibly in an external way. It is a reflection of the perfect unity between the Father and Son through the work of the Spirit. Jesus is the one who once and for all established this mystical foundation when he prayed “that they may be one even as we are one” (John 17:22). A fundamental unity in doctrine and discipline will be the fruit of this mystical and spiritual unity, but it can never be its cause.

The most concrete steps toward unity, therefore, are not those that are made around a table or in joint declarations (even though those are all important). They are the ones made when believers of different confessions find themselves proclaiming the Lord Jesus together in fraternal accord, sharing their charisms, and recognizing each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. What the Church has proclaimed in its different messages for the World Day of Peace, including the message in 2013, is valid for the unity of Christians: peace begins in people’s hearts, and fraternity is the foundation for peace.

4. A Member of the Body of Christ Moved by the Spirit!

In his sermons to the people Augustine never set forth his ideas about the Church without quickly drawing out their practical consequences for the daily life of the faithful. And I would also like to do that before concluding our meditation, as if we were joining the ranks of his listeners back then.

The image of the Church as the body of Christ is not new with Augustine. What he brings that is new concerns the practical implications that we can infer for the life of believers. For one, we no longer have any reason to look at one another with envy and jealousy. What I do not have that others have is also mine. You can listen to the apostle list all the marvelous charisms—apostolate, prophecy, healings, etc—and perhaps you are saddened at thinking you do not have any. But wait, Augustine advises, “If you love, you do not have nothing; for if you love unity, whoever in it has anything has it also for you! Take away envy, and what I have is yours; let me take away envy, and what you have is mine.”[12]

Only the eye has the capacity to see. But does the eye see only for itself? Isn’t it the whole body that benefits from its ability to see? The hands works, but does it work only on its own behalf? If a rock is about to hit the eye, does the hand remain motionless because the blow is not being directly aimed at itself? The same thing happens in the body of Christ: what every member is and does, he or she is and does it for all!

This reveals the secret about why charity is “a still more excellent way” (1 Cor 12:31). It makes me love the Church, or the community in which I live, and because of unity, all of the charisms, and not just some of them, are mine. And there is more. If you love unity more than I do, the charism I have is more yours than mine. Let us suppose I have the charism to evangelize; I can flatter myself or boast of it and then I become “a clanging cymbal” (1 Cor 13:1). Through my charism, “I gain nothing” (1 Cor 13:3); however, it does not cease to be useful for you who listen, despite my sin. Through charity you possess without risk that which someone else possesses with risk. Charity truly multiplies the charisms because it makes one person’s charism the charism of all.

“Are you part of the one body of Christ? Do you love the unity of the church?” Augustine asked his faithful. “Now if a pagan asks you why you do not speak all languages, since it is written that those who received the Holy Spirit spoke all languages, respond without hesitating, ‘Certainly I speak all languages. In fact I belong to a body, the Church, that speaks all languages and proclaims in all languages the mighty works of God.’”[13]

When we are able to apply this truth not only to internal relationships within the community in which we live and to our Church, but also to the relationships between one Christian church and another, that is the day when the unity of Christians will for all practical purposes be an accomplished fact.

Let us recall the exhortation with which Augustine ended so many of his discourses on the Church: “If you wish to live in the Holy Spirit, preserve charity, love the truth, and you will attain eternity. Amen.”[14]

[Translated from Italian by Marsha Daigle Williamson]


[1] Bernard of Chartres, in John of Salisbury, Metalogicon, III, 4 (Corpus Chr. Cont. Med., 98, p.116).

[2] Henri de Lubac focuses on the sphere of Augustine’s influence in his book Augustinianism and Modern Theology (1965; repr., New York: Crossroad, 2000).

[3] See J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, rev. ed. (New York: HarperCollins, 1978), chap. 15, pp. 401-421.

[4] Augustine, Against the Letter of Parmenian,II, 15, 34; see all of Sermon 266.

[5] See Augustine, Tractates on John’s Gospel, 45, 12: “Quam multae oves foris, quam multi lupi intus!” (“How many sheep there are outside and how many wolves there are inside!”)

[6] Augustine, Discourses, 71, 12, 18 (PL 38, 454).

[7] Augustine, “Sermon 267,” 4 (PL 38, 1231), in Sermons on the Liturgical Seasons 230-272-B , part 3, vol. 7, The Works of Saint Augustine, ed. John E. Rotelle(Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 1993), 273.

[8] Augustine, “Sermon 272” (PL 38, 1247-1248), in Sermons on the Liturgical Seasons, 297-298.

[9] Ibid., 298.

[10] See the joint Lutheran-Catholic Declaration, “From Conflict to Communion,”

[11] Augustine, On Baptism, Against the Donatists, VII, 39, 77, vol. 4, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, ed. Philip Schaff (repr., New York: Cosimo, 2007), 508.

[12] Augustine, Tractates on the Gospel of John, 32, 8, trans. John W. Retting, vol. 88, The Fathers of the Church (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1993), 48.

[13] Augustine, Discourses, 269, 1.2 (PL 38, 1235-1236).

[14] See Augustine, “Sermon 267,” 4 (PL 38, 1231), in Sermons on the Liturgical Seasons, 273.


Father Cantalamessa's 3rd Lent Homily 2014
St. Ambrose: Faith in the Eucharist

ROME, March 28, 2014  - Here is the third Lenten homily given this year by the preacher of the Pontifical Household, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa.

The first and second homilies can be found here and here.

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1. Reflection on the Sacraments

Along with the topic of the Church, another topic in which we note progress when we move from the Greek Fathers to the Latin Fathers is the sacraments. What was missing in the Greek Fathers was a reflection on the sacraments themselves, that is, on the concept of a sacrament, although they treated individual mysteries like Baptism, Anointing, and the Eucharist very well.[1]

The initiator of sacramental theology—what will be the tract De sacramentis from the twelfth century on—is once again Augustine. St. Ambrose, in his two series of discourses, De sacramentis (On the Sacraments) and De misteriis (On the Mysteries), anticipates the name of the tract but not its content. He also treats individual sacraments but not the principles that are common to all sacraments: the minister, the matter, the form, the grace it effects, etc.

Why choose Ambrose, then, as the teacher of faith on a sacramental subject like the Eucharist that we want to meditate on today? The reason is that Ambrose is the one who more than any other contributed to the affirmation of faith in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and laid the foundations for the future doctrine of transubstantiation. In De sacramentis he writes,

That bread is bread before the words of the sacrament; when consecration has been added, from bread it becomes the flesh of Christ. . . . By what words, then, is the consecration and by whose expressions? . . . When it comes to performing a venerable sacrament, then the priest uses not his own expressions, but he uses the expressions of Christ. Thus the expression of Christ performs this sacrament.[2]

In his other work, De misteriis, faith in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is made even more explicit:

Cannot the words of Christ, which were able to make what was not out of nothing, change those things that are into the things that were not? For it is not of less importance to give things new natures than to change natures. . . . This body that we make present on the altar is the body born of the Virgin. . . . Surely it is the true flesh of Christ, which was crucified, which was buried; therefore it is truly the sacrament of that flesh. . . . The Lord Jesus himself declares, “This is my body.” Before the benediction of the heavenly words another species is mentioned; after the consecration the body is signified.[3]

In the successive development of eucharistic doctrine, the authority of Ambrose on this point prevailed over that of Augustine. Augustine, of course, believed in the reality of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, but as we saw in the preceding meditation, he still puts more emphasis on its symbolic and ecclesial significance. Some of his disciples will reach the point of affirming not only that the Eucharist makes the church but also that the Eucharist is the church: “Eating the body of Christ means nothing less than becoming the body of Christ.”[4] The reaction to the heresy of Berengar of Tours, who reduced Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist to a merely dynamic and symbolic presence, provoked a unanimous reaction in which the words of Ambrose played an important role. Ambrose is the first authority that St. Thomas Aquinas invokes in his Summa theologiae in favor of the thesis of the Real Presence.[5]

The phrase “mystical body” of Christ, which up until that time was used to designate the Eucharist, began little by little to refer to the Church, while the phrase “true body” comes to be reserved by that time only for the Eucharist.[6] This unusual inversion, in a certain sense, marks the triumph of Ambrose’s legacy over Augustine’s. Phrases like those in the hymn “Ave verum corpus” (“Hail True Body”), in which the eucharistic body of Christ is addressed, seem almost directly derived from Ambrose’s words quoted above: “. . . true body, born of the Virgin Mary, that was sacrificed on the cross and from whose pierced side water and blood flowed.”

We can summarize the difference between Augustine’s and Ambrose’s perspectives this way. Concerning the three bodies of Christ—the true or historical body born of Mary, the eucharistic body, and the ecclesial body—Augustine closely unites the second and third, the eucharistic body and that of the Church, distinguishing them from the real, historical body of Jesus. On the other hand, Ambrose unites the first and second, the historical body of Christ and his eucharistic body, and even considers them identical, distinguishing them from the ecclesial body.

One could go too far in this direction, falling into an exaggerated realism, almost saying—as the formula that opposed Berengar’s heresy does—that the body and blood of Christ present on the altar “are sensibly . . . touched and broken by the hands of the priests or ground by the teeth of the faithful.”[7] The remedy to avoid this kind of exaggeration was in the concept itself of a sacrament that was clear in theology by that time: The Real Presence in the Eucharist is not physical but sacramental and is mediated through signs, namely, the bread and wine.

2. The Eucharist and the Hebrew Berakah (Blessing Prayer)

If there is a limitation in Ambrose’s vision it is in the absence of any reference to the Holy Spirit in bringing forth the body of Christ on the altar. For him, all the efficacy lies in the words of consecration; those words are creative words, that is, words that are not limited to affirming an existing reality but words that actually produce the reality that they signify, like the fiat lux (“Let there be light”) of creation. This influenced the lesser prominence that the epiclesis of the Holy Spirit had in the Latin liturgy, whereas, as we know, in the Eastern liturgy the epiclesis of the Spirit comes to have a role that is as essential as that of the words of consecration. The new Eucharistic prayers, with the solemn invocation of the Holy Spirit preceding the consecration, have tried to fill this gap.

But there is a greater lacuna than this one that we begin to notice that applies not only to Ambrose and the Latin Fathers but also to the explanation of the eucharistic mystery as a whole. One sees here more than ever how studying the Fathers helps us not only to recover ancient riches but also to open us up to new things that emerge in history and to imitate the Fathers not just in their content but also in their methodology of putting all the resources and knowledge available within their cultural context at the service of the Word of God.

The new resource we can use today to understand the Eucharist is the rapprochement between Christians and Jews. From the earliest days of the Church, a variety of historical factors led to accentuating the difference between Christianity and Judaism to the point of opposing them to one another, just as Ignatius of Antioch does.[8]

Distinguishing themselves from the Jews—in the dating of Passover, the days of fasting, and many other matters—becomes a kind of requirement. An accusation often leveled at one’s adversaries and at heretics was that of being “Judaizers.”

In terms of the Eucharist, the new climate of dialogue with Judaism has made possible a better understanding of its Jewish background. Just as one cannot understand Christian Easter if one does not consider it as the fulfillment of what the Jewish Passover was prefiguring, so too one cannot understand the Eucharist in depth if it is not seen as a fulfillment of what Jews were doing and saying during the course of their ritual meal. The term “Eucharist” itself is merely a translation of berakah, the prayer of blessing and thanksgiving said during such a meal. One initial important result of this development has been that no serious scholar today any longer puts forth the hypothesis that the Christian Eucharist can be explained in the light of the sacred meals in some Hellenistic mystery cults, as some tried to do for over a century.

The Church Fathers retained the Scriptures of the Jewish people but not their liturgy, to which they no longer had access after the separation of the Church from the synagogue. Thus, for the Eucharist they used figures from the Scriptures—the Passover lamb, the sacrifice of Isaac, that of Melchizedek, manna—but not the concrete liturgical context in which the Jewish people celebrated all these memories, i. e., the ritual meal that they celebrated once a year in the Passover supper (the Seder) and weekly in the synagogue worship. The first term that designated the Eucharist in the New Testament, which comes from Paul, is “the Lord’s supper” (kuriakon deipnon) (1 Cor 11:20), which is an obvious reference to the Jewish meal from which it was differentiated at that point by faith in Jesus.

This is the perspective that Benedict XVI also takes in the chapter on the institution of the Eucharist in his second book on Jesus of Nazareth. Following the prevailing opinion of scholars today, he accepts the Johannine chronology according to which Jesus’ Last Supper was not a Passover meal but a solemn farewell meal. With Louis Bouyer, he holds in addition that one can “trace the development of the Christian eucharistic liturgy [that is, of the canon] from the Jewish berakah.”[9]

For various cultural and historical reasons, from the time of scholasticism onwards, people attempted to explain the Eucharist in the light of philosophy, in particular using the Aristotelian notions of substance and accidents. This too placed the new understanding of their time at the service of faith and thus imitated the methodology of the Fathers. In our day, we need to do the same with our new knowledge—in our case, historical and liturgical knowledge rather than philosophical knowledge. In the context of some research already begun in this direction, especially by Louis Bouyer,[10] I would like to try to show the bright light that is falling on the Christian Eucharist when we consider the Gospel accounts of its institution against the background of what we know about the Jewish ritual meal. The innovation of Jesus’ action will not be diminished but will be highly enhanced.

3. What Happened That Night

The text that shows the strict link between the Jewish liturgy and the Christian supper is the Didache. That text includes a collection of prayers used in the synagogue, with the addition here and there of the words “through Jesus, thy Servant.”[11] The rest is identical to the liturgy of the synagogue. The synagogue rite was composed of a series of prayers called berakah that, as we noted, is translated as “Eucharist” in Greek. The berakah summarizes the spirituality of the Old Covenant and is the response of blessing and thanksgiving that Israel makes to the words of love addressed to them by their God.

The ritual that Jesus followed when he instituted the Eucharist accompanied all the meals of the Jews, but it took on particular importance in family or community meals on the Sabbath and on feast days. A quick look at the ritual is adequate to see the Last Supper in that context. At the beginning of the meal, everyone in turn would hold a cup of wine and, before drinking from it, would repeat a blessing that our current liturgy has us repeat almost to the letter at the time of the Offertory: “Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the wine we offer you: fruit of the vine.” This blessing is for the first cup of wine.

However, the meal officially began only when the father of the family or the head of the community had broken the bread that was to be distributed among those at table. And in fact, Jesus, immediately after the blessing of the first cup, takes the bread, recites the blessing for it, breaks it, and distributes it, saying, “This is my body. . . .” Here the rite that was only a preparation now becomes the reality. Following the blessing of the bread, which was considered a general blessing for the whole meal, the customary dishes were served.

If the antecedents of the Eucharist are found in the ritual meal of the Jews, then there is no special significance in knowing if the feast of Passover coincided with Holy Thursday or with Good Friday. Jesus did not connect the Eucharist to any particular detail of the Passover meal; besides the irreconcilability of the date, there is no reference to the eating of the lamb and of the bitter herbs. He links the Eucharist to only those elements that are part of the daily meal ritual, that is, the breaking of the bread at the beginning and the great prayer of thanksgiving at the end. The paschal character of the Last Supper is undeniable, but it is not due to these particular details; its paschal character is made clear through the link that Jesus makes between the Eucharist (“my blood shed for you”) and his death on the cross. This is the point at which the figure of the Passover lamb is fulfilled: “Not a bone [of his] shall be broken” (Jn 19:36).

Let us return to the Jewish ritual. When the meal is about to end and the food has been eaten, those at table are ready for the great ritual act that concludes the celebration and gives it its most profound meaning. All the people wash their hands, as they had done at the beginning. It was prescribed that the person who is presiding receives water from the youngest person present, and perhaps it is John who gives the water to Jesus. But the Master, instead of letting himself be served, teaches a lesson in humility by washing their feet. After that, with a cup of wine mixed with water before him, he invites them to recite the three prayers of thanksgiving: the first praising God as the Creator of all things, the second for the deliverance from Egypt, and the third that God might continue his work in the present. When the prayer is concluded, the cup passes from person to person as each one drinks from it. This is the ancient ritual that Jesus performed many times during his life.

Luke says that Jesus, after having eaten, takes up the chalice and says, “This chalice which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Lk 22:20). Something decisive occurs at the moment when Jesus adds these words to the formula of the prayer of thanksgiving, that is, to the Jewish berakah. That ritual was a sacred feast in which people celebrated and thanked God as their Savior for having redeemed his people in order to form a covenant of love with them that was sealed by the blood of a lamb. The daily meal always blessed God for that covenant, but now, at the very moment in which Jesus, as the true lamb of God, decides to give his life for his own, he declares that the Old Covenant that they were all celebrating liturgically has been concluded.

At that moment, with a few simple words, he initiates, offers, and establishes the new and everlasting covenant in his blood with his disciples. When Jesus passes around that chalice, it is as if he were saying, “Up until now every time you celebrated this ritual meal, you have commemorated the love of God your Savior who rescued you from Egypt. From now on, every time you repeat what we have done today, you will no longer do it in commemoration of a salvation from physical slavery with the blood of an animal. You will do it in remembrance of me, the Son of God, who gave his blood to redeem you from your sins. Until now, you have eaten normal food to celebrate a physical deliverance. Now you will eat me, divine food sacrificed for you, to make you one with me. And you will eat me and will drink my blood in the very act in which I sacrifice myself for you. This is the new and everlasting covenant of my love.”

In adding the words “Do this in remembrance of me,” Jesus confers enduring significance to this gift. From looking to the past, it now looks to the future. All that he has done in the supper up to this point is put into our hands. Repeating what he did renews this central act of human history, his death for the world. The figure of the paschal lamb, which on the cross becomes an event; is given to us in the supper as sacrament, that is, as a perennial memorial of the event. The event happens once “for all time” (semel) (Heb 10:12), while the sacrament can be repeated as often as we wish (quotiescunque) (see 1 Cor 11:26).

The idea of a “memorial,” which Jesus derives from the Jewish ritual for the Sabbath and the feast days referred to in Exodus 12:14, encapsulates the very essence of the Mass, its theology and its inner meaning for salvation. The biblical memorial is far more than a simple commemoration or a simple subjective memory of the past. Because of it, something comes into being—beyond the mind of the person praying—a reality that has its own existence, a reality that does not belong to the past but exists and operates in the present and will continue to operate in the future. The memorial that until now was the guarantee of God’s faithfulness to Israel is now the broken body and shed blood of the Son of God, the sacrifice of Calvary “re-presented” (that is, made present once again) in the Church’s Eucharist.

Here we discover the meaning and the invaluable insistence of Ambrose—and after him, in evolved form, of the scholastic theologians and of the Council of Trent—that Christ “is truly, really, and substantially contained” in the Eucharist.[12] This is the only way that the “memorial” instituted by Jesus can maintain its character of an absolute, unconditional gift that is independent of everything, even independent of the faith of the one who receives it.

4. Our Signatures on the Gift

What is our place in this human-divine drama that we have just recalled? Our reflection on the Eucharist should lead us to discover exactly that. And it is, in fact, to involve us in his action that Jesus made a “sacrament” of his gift.

In the Eucharist two miracles happen: one makes the bread and wine the body and blood of Christ; the other makes us “a living sacrifice acceptable to God” that unites us to Christ’s sacrifice as participants and not merely as spectators. During the Offertory we offered bread and wine that obviously have no value or significance for God in and of themselves. In the consecration it is Christ who imparts the value that I am not able to put into my offering. At that moment, the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ who hands himself over to death in a supreme act of love to the Father.

Look at the result of this: My poor, worthless gift has become the perfect gift for the Father. Jesus not only gives himself in the bread and wine, but he also takes us and changes us into himself (mystically, not physically); he also gives us the value that his gift of love to the Father has. We too are in that bread and wine: “The Church . . . herself is offered in the offering which she presents to God,” writes Augustine.[13]

I would like to summarize what happens in the eucharistic celebration with the help of an example from normal life. Think of a large family in which there is a first-born son who admires and loves his father without measure and wants to give him a valuable gift for his birthday. Before giving it to him, however, he secretly asks all his brothers and sisters to affix their signatures on the gift. This gift comes into the father’s hands as a sign of love from all his children indiscriminately, even though only one of the children has actually paid the price for it.

This is what happens in the eucharistic sacrifice. Jesus admires and loves his heavenly Father without measure. Every day until the end of the world, he wants to give him the most precious gift he can think of, that of his own life. At Mass he invites all his “brothers and sisters” to affix their signatures on the gift in such a way that the gift reaches God the Father as a gift coming from all of his children together, even though only one has paid the price for the gift. And what a price!

Our signature is represented by the little drops of water that are mixed into the wine in the chalice. Our signature, Augustine explains, is above all the “Amen” that the faithful say at the time of receiving communion: “It is to what you are that you reply Amen, and by so replying you express your assent. What . . . you see is the body of Christ, and you answer Amen. So be a member of the body of Christ, in order to make your Amen truthful. . . . Be what you can see, and receive what you are.”[14] All of Augustine’s eucharistic ecclesiology that we recalled in the last meditation finds its application here. If one cannot say that the Eucharist is the church (as some of his disciples ended up asserting), we can and should say that the Eucharist makes the Church.

We know that whoever has signed an agreement then has the duty to honor that signature. This means that when leaving Mass we too need to make of our lives a gift of love to the Father and to our brothers and sisters. We too need to say, within ourselves, to our brothers and sisters, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Take my time, my abilities, my attention. Take my blood too, that is, my suffering, all that humbles me, mortifies me, and limits my strength, my physical death itself. I want all of my life, like Christ’s, to be bread broken and wine poured out for others. I want to make my whole life a Eucharist.

I mentioned earlier the Didaché as the document which marks the passage from the Jewish to the Christian liturgy. Let us conclude with one of its prayer which has inspired so many Eucharistic prayers in the Church:

“Even as this broken bread was scattered over the hills, and was gathered together and became one, so let your Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into your kingdom. To you is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.”[15]

[Translated from Italian by Marsha Daigle Williamson]


[1] See J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, rev. ed. (New York: HarperCollins, 1978), 422ff.

[2] Ambrose, The Sacraments, IV, 14, in St. Ambrose: Theological and Dogmatic Works, vol. 44, The Fathers of the Church (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1963), 302.

[3] Ambrose, The Mysteries, 52-54, vol. 44, 25-26.

[4] William of Saint-Thierry (PL 184, 403).

[5] See Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, III, q. 75, a. 1ff.

[6] This is the process reconstructed by Henri de Lubac, in Corpus Mysticum: The Eucharist and the Church in the Middle Ages (1949; Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame, 2007).

[7] Heinrich Denziger, ed., Enchiridion symbolorum definitionum et declarationum de rebus fidei et morum, #690, 43rd ed., English ed., eds. Robert Fastiggi and Anne Englund Nash (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2012), 234.

[8] See Ignatius of Antioch, “Letter to the Magnesians,” 10, 3, in The Epistles of St. Clement of Rome and St.  Ignatius of Antioch, ed. James Aloysius Kleist (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1946), 72.

[9] Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict XVI), Jesus of Nazareth, Part II:  Holy Week: From the Entrance to Jerusalem to the Resurrection (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011), 311, and see all of ch. 5, pp. 103-144. See also Louis Bouyer, Eucharist: Theology and Spirituality of the Eucharistic Prayer (1966; Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1989).

[10] In addition to the book by Bouyer already cited, see Anton Baumstark, Comparative Liturgy, rev. ed., ed. Bernard Botte, trans. F. L. Cross (1939; London: A. R. Mowbray, 1958); Luis Alonso Schoekel, Celebrating the Eucharist: Biblical Meditations (1986; Chestnut Ridge, NY: Crossroad, 1989); Seung Ai Yang, “Les repas sacrés dans le Judaisme de l’époque hellénistique” [“Sacred Meals in Judaism during the Hellentistic Age”] in Encyclopédie de l’Eucharistie, ed. Maurice Brouard (Paris: Editions du Cerf, 2000), 55-59.

[11] Didache, 9-10, vol. 6, in Ancient Christian Writers, ed. Johannes Quasten and Joseph Plumpe (New York: Paulist Press, 1946), 20-21.

[12] Council of Trent, “Decree on the Most Holy Eucharist,” 1, in Josef Neuner and Jacques Dupuis, The Christian Faith in the Doctrinal Documents of the Catholic Church, 7th ed., ed. Jacques Dupuis (New York: Alba House, 2001), 617. See also Denziger, Enchiridion symbolorum, #1636, 393.

[13] Augustine, De civitate Dei, X, 6 (CCL 47, 279): “In ea re quam offert, ipsa offertur.” The City of God against the Pagans, X, 6, trans. Henry Bettenson, rev. ed. (New York: Penguin Classics, 2003), 380.

[14] Augustine, “Sermon 272” (PL 38, 1247-1248), in Sermons on the Liturgical Seasons 230-272-B , part 3, vol. 7, The Works of Saint Augustine, ed. John E. Rotelle(Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 1993), 297-298.


Father Cantalamessa's 4th Lent Homily 2014
St. Leo the Great: Faith in Jesus Christ, True God and True Man

ROME, April 04, 2014 ( - Here is the fourth Lenten homily given this year by the preacher of the Pontifical Household, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa.

The first, second, and third homilies can be found herehere and here.

* * * 

1. Unanimity of East and West about Christ

There are different paths or methods by which to approach the person of Jesus. One can, for example, start directly with the Bible and even here one can follow different paths: the typological path followed in the oldest catechesis of the Church, which explains Jesus in the light of prophecy and figures from the Old Testament; the historical path that reconstructs the development of faith in Christ starting from various traditions, authors, and christological titles or from the different cultural environments in the New Testament. One can also do this the other way around and start from the needs and problems of people today, or even with their experience of Christ, and then go back to the Bible from there. These are all paths that have been well explored.

Very early on, the Tradition of the Church developed another path of accessing the mystery of Christ that involves gathering and organizing biblical facts about it, namely, christological dogma, the dogmatic path. What I mean by “christological dogma” is the fundamental truths about Christ defined in the first ecumenical councils, especially the Council of Chalcedon, whose substance can be reduced to the following three cornerstones: Jesus Christ is true man, true God, and one single person.

St. Leo the Great is the Father I have chosen through whom to introduce the profundity of this mystery for a very specific reason. For two and half centuries, the formula of faith in Christ that will become dogma at Chalcedon was already available in Latin theology. Tertullian had written, “We see plainly the twofold state [the two natures], which is not confounded, but conjoined in One person—Jesus, God and Man.”[1] After lengthy exploration, the Greek authors added a formula that, in their opinion, was identical in its substance. Their formula, however, did not at all involve a delay or a waste of time because in the meantime they had brought to light all its implications and resolved its difficulties, and only now could that formula have its true meaning.

St. Leo the Great found himself to be the one to oversee the moment in which the two currents of the river—Latin and Greek—were flowing together, and by his authority as bishop of Rome he supported the universal acceptance of the formula. He is not content simply to transmit the formula inherited from Tertullian and taken up by Augustine during the intervening period; he adapts it to address the problems that had emerged during the time between the Council of Ephesus in 431 and the Council of Chalcedon in 451. In broad strokes, here is the core of his christological thinking as it is laid out in his famous Tomus ad Flavianum.[2]

First point. The person of the God-man is identical to the person of the eternal Word: He who became man in the form of a servant is the same as the one who, in the form of God, created man. Second point. The divine and human natures coexist in one single person, Christ, without mixture or confusion, with each nature preserving its natural properties (salva proprietate utriusque naturae).[3] He begins to be that which he was not, without ceasing to be that which he was.[4] The work of redemption required that “the one and the same ‘mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ’ [1 Tim 2:5] could die in one nature and not die in the other.”[5] Third point. The unity of his person justifies the use of the communication of idioms through which we can assert both that the Son of God was crucified and buried and that the Son of Man came from heaven.

This was an attempt, successful for the most part, to reach a final agreement between the two great “schools” of Greek theology, the Alexandrian and Antiochan schools, and to avoid the errors in Monophytism and Nestorianism, respectively. The Antiochenians found in Leo’s formula the acknowledgement, which was essential for them, of the two natures of Christ and thus of the full humanity of Christ. The Alexandrians, despite some reservations and resistance, found in Leo’s formula the acknowledgement of the identification of the Person of the Incarnate Word with the eternal Word, which was their primary concern.

We only need to remember the main core of the definition of Chalcedon to be aware of how much Pope Leo’s thinking is present in it:

Following therefore the holy Fathers, we unanimously teach to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in divinity and perfect in humanity, the same truly God and truly man. . . . The same was begotten from the Father before the ages as to the divinity and in the latter days for us and our salvation was born as to his humanity from Mary the Virgin Mother of God. . . . [He] must be acknowledged in two natures, without confusion or change, without division or separation. The distinction between the natures was never abolished by their union but rather the character proper to each of the two natures was preserved as they came together in one Person and one hypostasis.[6] 

It could seem to be merely a technically perfect formula, although it is dry and abstract, and yet the whole of the Christian doctrine of salvation is based on it. Only if Christ is a human being like us can he represent us as one of us, and only if he is also God can his actions have an infinite and universal value. Only then, as we sing in “Adoro te devote,” is it possible that “One drop of his blood can free the whole world of all its sins.” (“Cuius una stilla salvum facere totum mundum quit ab omni scelere.”)

East and West are united on this point. St. Anselm (among the Latins) and Cabasilas (among the Orthodox) agree—with few differences between them—in their understanding about the situation of humanity before Christ came. On one side were human beings who had contracted a debt by sinning and had to battle Satan to free themselves; however, they could not succeed in doing it, since the debt was infinite and they were slaves of the one they had to overcome. On the other side was God who could expiate sins and conquer the devil, but he did not need to do it since he was not the debtor. Someone needed to be found who united in himself a person who had to take up the battle and a person who could overcome, and that is what occurred in Jesus, “true God and true man in one person.”[7]

2. The Historical Jesus and the Christ of Dogma United Again

Those long-settled certitudes about Christ underwent a whirlwind of criticism in the last two centuries that tended to remove any substance from them and to characterize them as mere inventions of theologians. Starting with David Friedrich Strauss, there was a kind of battle cry among scholars of the New Testament: Let us liberate the figure of Christ from the shackles of dogma so that we can discover the historical Jesus, the only real Jesus. “The illusion . . . that Jesus could have been a man in the full sense and still as a single person stand above the whole of humanity is the chain which still blocks the harbor of Christian theology against the open sea of rational science.”[8] Here is the conclusion this scholar reaches: “The ideal of the dogmatic Christ on the one hand and the historical Jesus of Nazareth on the other are separated forever.”[9]

The rationalistic presupposition of this thesis is boldly asserted: The Christ of dogma does not satisfy the requirements of rational science. This attack has gone forward with alternating resolutions, almost right up to our day. In its own way it became a dogma itself: To know the true Jesus of history, we need to prescind from a post-Easter faith in him. Imaginative reconstructions of the figure of Jesus proliferated in this atmosphere, adding to this spectacle. Some reconstructions made claims of historicity, but in reality they were constructed of hypotheses that were built on hypotheses, all responding to the tastes or demands of the moment.

I believe that we have come to the end of this trajectory. It is now time to take note of the change that has happened in this area so that we can put behind us a certain defensive and embarrassed attitude that has characterized faith-filled scholars over the years. Even more, we need to send a message to all those who have popularized multiple images of Jesus dictated by this anti-dogma. And the message is that no one can any longer do “research on Jesus” in good faith that claims to be “historical” but that prescinds from, and even excludes, faith in him from the outset.

Someone who embodies this shift in a very clear way is one of the greatest living scholars of the New Testament, the Englishman James D. G. Dunn. He has summarized the results of his monumental research on the origins of Christianity in a small volume called A New Perspective on Jesus: What the Quest for the Historical Jesus Missed.[10] He has exposed the roots of the two fundamental presuppositions on which the contrast between the historical Jesus and the Christ of faith is based. The first is that to know the historical Jesus one needs to prescind from post-Easter faith; the second is that to know what the historical Jesus really said and did, one must remove the layers of tradition and later additions and go back to the original layer or first “redaction” of any given Gospel pericope.

Countering the first presupposition, Dunn demonstrates that faith began before Easter. If some people followed Jesus and became his disciples, it was because they believed in him. It was a faith that was still imperfect, but it was faith. The paschal event will certainly call for a qualitative leap of faith on their part, but there were other qualitative leaps before Easter, even if they were less decisive, concerning particular events like the Transfiguration, certain sensational miracles, and the dialogue between Jesus and his disciples at Caesarea Philippi. Easter does not constitute the absolute beginning of faith.

Countering the second assumption, while admitting that the gospel tradition circulated for a certain period in oral form, Dunn shows how scholars always applied a literary model to oral tradition just as people do today when they go back from edition to edition to the original text of a work. But if we take into account the rules that regulate the oral transmission of the tradition of a community—even in some cultures today—we see that there is no need to strip all the flesh off of a Gospel saying in search of a hypothetical original nucleus—a procedure that has opened the door to every kind of manipulation of the Gospel texts. The process ends up being similar to what happens when someone removes the layers of an onion to search for a solid nucleus that does not exist. The conclusions Dunn reached have long been held by some Catholic scholars,[11] but he can be credited with having defended these conclusions with arguments that are difficult to refute because they come from within historical-critical research itself and use its very own weapons.

The American Rabbi Jacob Neusner, with whom Benedict XVI establishes a dialogue in his first volume on Jesus of Nazareth,[12] takes this result for granted. Starting from an autonomous, or we could say neutral, point of view, he shows how futile the attempt is to separate the historical Jesus from the Christ of post-Easter faith. The historical Jesus of the Gospels, for example in his Sermon on the Mount, is already a Jesus who asks for faith in himself as someone who can correct Moses, who is Lord of the Sabbath, and who can make an exception to the fourth commandment. In brief he is someone who places himself on the same level as God. For this very reason, though fascinated by the person of Jesus, the Jewish rabbi says he cannot become one of his disciples.

The research on this topic has concluded at this point. It has succeeded in proving the continuity between the historical Jesus and the Christ of the kerygma, but it goes no further. Research still remains to be done to prove the continuity between the Christ of the kerygma and the Christ of the Church’s dogma. Does the formula of St. Leo the Great and of Chalcedon mark a consistent development of New Testament faith, or does it instead represent a breaking away from it? That was my main interest in the years during which I was studying the history of Christian origins, and the conclusion I arrived at does not differ from that of Cardinal John Henry Newman in his famous work An Essay in the Development of Christian Doctrine.[13] There has certainly been a movement from a practical christology (what Christ does) to an ontological christology (what Christ is), but this does not constitute a break. In fact, we see the same process already taking place within the kerygma, for example, in the developing move from Paul’s christology to John’s and, with regard to Paul himself, in the developing move from his earliest letters to his letters written in captivity, Philippians and Colossians.

3. Beyond the Formula

The topic itself required me this time to pause a bit longer on the doctrinal part of our meditation. The person of Christ is the foundation of everything in Christianity. “If the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle?”, asks St. Paul (1 Cor 14:8): if we have no clear idea about who Jesus is, in whose name shall we go out to evangelize? But now it is time to move on to a practical application of the doctrine to our personal lives and the faith of the Church today, since that remains the aim of our revisitation of the Fathers.

Four and half centuries of extraordinary theological work gave the Church the formula that “Jesus Christ is true God and true man; Jesus Christ is one single person.” Even more concisely, he is “one person with two natures.” One of Søren Kierkegaard’s sayings applies perfectly to this formula: “The old Christian dogmatic terminology is like an enchanted castle where the loveliest princes and princesses rest in a deep sleep; it only needs to be awakened, brought to life, in order to stand in its full glory.”[14] Our task then is to reawaken dogmas and always give them new life.

Research on the Gospels—even the work by Dunn mentioned above—demonstrates that history cannot lead us to “Jesus himself,” to Christ as he really is. What we find in the Gospels at every stage is always a “remembering” about Jesus, mediated through a memory that the disciples preserved of him, although it is a faith-filled memory. What is going on here is what happened at his resurrection: “Some of those who were with us went to the tomb, and found it just as the women had said; but him they did not see” (Lk 24:24). History can declare that things about Jesus of Nazareth happened just as the disciples said in the Gospels, but it does not see him.

The same is true of dogma. It can lead us to a “defined” and “formulated” Jesus, but Thomas Aquinas teaches us that faith does not terminate in propositions (enuntiabile) but in the reality (res) itself.[15] There is the same difference between the formula of Chalcedon and the real Jesus as there is between the chemical formula H2O and the water that we drink and in which we swim. No one can say that the formula H2O is useless or that it does not perfectly describe a reality. But it is not the reality! Who can lead us to the “real” Jesus who is beyond history and behind the definition?

And here we come to wonderful, comforting news. There is the possibility of “immediate” knowledge of Christ. It is the knowledge we are given by the Holy Spirit whom Jesus himself sent. He is the only “unmediated mediation” between us and Christ in the sense that he does not act as a veil or constitute a barrier. He is not an intermediary since he is the Spirit of Jesus himself, his “alter ego,” who is of the same nature. St. Irenaeus reaches the point of saying that “communion with Christ . . . is the Holy Spirit.”[16] For this reason the Holy Spirit is different from every other mediation between us and the Risen One, whether that mediation is ecclesial or sacramental.

Scripture itself speaks of this role of the Holy Spirit whose aim is the knowledge of the true Jesus. The descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost results in a sudden illumination of all the work and person of Jesus. Peter concludes his sermon with a kind of definition of the Lordship of Christ that is urbi et orbi:[17] “Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36). St. Paul affirms that Jesus Christ is “designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness” (Rom 1:4), that is, by the work of the Holy Spirit. No one can say that Jesus is Lord except by an interior illumination of the Holy Spirit (see 1 Cor 12:3). The apostle attributes to the Holy Spirit “the insight into the mystery of Christ” that was given to him and to the holy apostles and prophets (Eph 3:4-5). Only if believers are “strengthened with might through his Spirit,” says the apostle, will they be able to know “the breadth and height and depth, and . . . the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge” (Eph 3:16-19).

In John’s Gospel Jesus himself announces this work of the Paraclete on behalf of believers. The Holy Spirit will take what is his and announce it to the disciples; he will make them recall all that Jesus has said; he will lead them into all the truth about his relationship to the Father; he will testify of Jesus. From now on, the criterion to recognize if something is from the Spirit of God or from another spirit is if it prompts people to confess that “Jesus has come in the flesh” (1 Jn 4:2-3).

4. Jesus of Nazareth, “One Person”

With the help of the Holy Spirit, let us make a small attempt to “reawaken” this dogma. With regard to the dogmatic triangle that came from St. Leo the Great and Chalcedon—“true God,” “true man,” “one person”—we will limit ourselves to consider only the last part: Christ as “one person.” Dogmatic definitions are “open structures” that are able to take on new significations made possible by the progress in human thinking. In its earliest stage, the word “person” (from the Latin personare, “to resonate”) meant the mask that an actor would use to make his voice resonate in the theater. From this meaning it evolved to indicate a person’s face and thus meant an individual, one single person, until it acquired its most profound meaning of “an individual substance of a rational nature” (Boethuis).[18]

In modern usage the concept of “person” has been enriched with a more suggestive and relational meaning, which no doubt benefitted from the trinitarian use of the word “person” as “a subsistent relationship.” It thus indicates the human being insofar as he or she is capable of relationship, of being an “I” in the presence of a “You.” The Latin terminology “one person” proved be more fruitful than the respective Greek word “hypostasis.” “Hypostasis” can be said of every single existing object, but “person” can only be said about a human being and, by analogy, about a divine being. We speak today (as the Greeks do now) of the “dignity of the human person” and not of “the dignity of the hypostasis.”

Let us apply all this to our relationship with Christ. To say that Jesus is “one person” also means that he is risen, that he lives, that he stands before me, that I can talk to him on a first-name basis as he does with me. We continually need to cross over, in our minds and hearts, from the personage of Jesus to the person of Jesus. The personage is the one about whom we can speak and write what we wish but to whom and with whom we generally cannot speak. For the majority of believers, unfortunately, Jesus is still a personage, someone we can debate about and write about endlessly, a memory from the past, someone who is linked to a set of doctrines, dogmas, or heresies. He is an objective entity rather than someone who exists.

The philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre describes in a famous passage the metaphysical thrill produced by the unexpected discovery of the existence of things, and for this at least we can give him credit:

So I was in the park just now. The roots of the chestnut tree were sunk in the ground just under my bench. I couldn’t remember it was a root any more. The words had vanished and with them the significance of things, their methods of use, and the feeble points of reference which men have traced on their surface. . . . Then I had this vision.

It left me breathless. . . . Usually existence hides itself. It is there, around us, in us, it is us, you can’t say two words without mentioning it, but you can never touch it. . . . And then all of a sudden, there it was, clear as day: existence had suddenly unveiled itself.[19]

In order to go beyond the words and ideas about Jesus and enter into contact with him as a living person, we need to have an experience of this kind. Some exegetes interpret the divine name “I AM” to mean “I am here,” I am with you, present, available, here and now.[20]

It is possible to have Jesus as a friend, because since he is risen, he is alive, he is next to me. I can relate to him as one living person to another, as someone present to someone present—not physically or even through the imagination alone, but “through the Spirit” who is infinitely more intimate and real than the body or the imagination. St. Paul assures us that it is possible to do everything “with Jesus” whether it be eating or drinking or whatever else we do (see 1 Cor 10:31; Col 3:17).

Unfortunately, Jesus is rarely thought of as a friend and confidant. In our subconscious the image of him as risen, ascended into heaven, remote in his divine transcendence, and returning one day at the end of the world is the image that dominates. We forget that being “true man,” as the dogma says—and even being the very perfection of humanity itself—he possesses the capacity for friendship to the highest degree, which is one of the noblest characteristics of a human being. It is Jesus who wants that relationship with us. In his farewell discourse, giving full expression to his feelings, he says, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you” (Jn 15:15).

I have seen this kind of relationship happen not as much with saints—for whom the prevailing relationship is with a Master, Shepherd, Savior, Spouse—but with Jews who, often in a way not unlike that of Saul, come to accept the Messiah. The name of Jesus is suddenly transformed from being a vague threat to being the sweetest and most beloved of names. A friend. It is as though the absence of 2,000 years of debates about Christ has played out in their favor. Their Jesus is never an “ideological” Jesus but a person of flesh and blood. Of their blood! One is deeply moved in reading some of their testimonies. All the contradictions are resolved in an instant, all the obscurities are made clear. It is like seeing the spiritual reading of the Old Testament come to life as a whole, all at once, before their very eyes. Saint Paul says it is like having a veil removed from one’s eyes (see 2 Cor 3:16).

During his earthly life, although Jesus loved everyone without exception, it is only with some—Lazarus, his sisters, and especially John, “the disciple that he loved”—that Jesus has a relationship of true friendship. Now that he is risen and is no longer subject to the limitations of the body, however, he offers every man and woman the possibility of having him as a friend in the fullest sense of that word. May the Holy Spirit, the friend of the bridegroom, help us welcome with amazement and joy this possibility that can fill our lives.

Translated from Italian by Marsha Daigle Williamson


[1] Tertullian, Adversus Praxean, 27, 11 (CC 2, 1199). English trans., Against Praxeas, vol. 3, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, eds. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1903), 624.

[2] For the whole letter, see St. Leo the Great, “Letter 28” (PL 54, 755 ff.). [Letter to Flavian, Bishop of Constantinople], vol. 34, trans. Edmund Hunt, The Fathers of the Church (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2010), 92-105.

[3] See St. Leo the Great, “Letter to Bishop Flavian,” in Heinrich Denziger, ed., Enchiridion symbolorum definitionum et declarationum de rebus fidei et morum, #293, 43rd ed., English ed., eds. Robert Fastiggi and Anne Englund Nash (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2012), 105.

[4] See St. Leo the Great, “Sermon 27,” 1-3 (PL 54, 749); St. Leo: The Great Sermons, vol. 93, trans. Jane Patricia Freeland and Agnes Josephine Conway, The Fathers of the Church (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1996), 110-111.

[5] St. Leo the Great, “Letter to Bishop Flavian,” in Denziger, #293, 105.

[6] “The Two Natures in Christ,” Chalcedonian Council, in Denziger, Enchiridion symbolorum, #301-302, 109.

[7] Nicholas Cabasilas, Life in Christ, I, 5 (PG 150, 313); see Anselm, Cur Deus homo? [Why Did God Become Man?], II, 18-20; Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, III, q. 46, art. 1, a. 3.

[8] David Friedrich Strauss, The Christ of Faith and the Jesus of History (1865; Philadelphia, Fortress Press, 1977), 5.

[9] Ibid., 169.

[10] James D. G. Dunn, A New Perspective on Jesus: What the Quest for the Historical Jesus Missed (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005).

[11] Ibid., 25, 121. Dunn holds in high regard the research of the German Catholic scholar Heinz Schürmann on the pre-Easter origin of certain sayings of Jesus.

[12] See Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) Jesus of Nazareth, Part One: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration, trans. Adrian J. Walker (New York: Doubleday, 2007), ch. 4, 69, 103-127.

[13] See my book, Dal kerygma al dogma: Studi sulla cristologia dei Padri (Milan: Vita e Pensiero, 2006), 11-51. Cardinal Newman coined the phrase “development of Christian doctrine” in that 1845 book.

[14] Søren Kierkegaard, Journal, II, A 110 (July 8, 1937), in Papers and Journals: A Selection, trans. and ed. Alistair Hannay (New York: Penguin Books, 1996), 86.

[15] See Aquinas, Summa theologiae, II-II, q. 1, art. 2, a. 2.

[16] St Irenaeus, Against Heresies, III, 24, 1, trans. Alexander Roberts and W. H. Rambaut, vol. 5, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1884), 369.

[17] A message “to the city [Rome] and to the world.”

[18] Boethius, “De persona et duabus naturis,” 3 [“Treatise Against Eutyches and Nestorius”], in The Theological Tractates and “The Consolation of Philosophy” (Cambridge, MA: Loeb Classic Library, 1973), 85.

[19] Jean-Paul Sartre, Nausea, trans. Lloyd Alexander (1938; New York: New Directions, 2007), 126-127.

[20] See Gerhard Von Rad, Old Testament Theology, vol. 1, intro. Walter Brueggemann (1957; Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2001), 179ff.


Father Cantalamessa's 5th Lent Homily 2014
St. Gregory the Great: The Spiritual Understanding of the Scriptures

ROME, April 11, 2014 ( - Here is the fifth Lenten homily given this year by the preacher of the Pontifical Household, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa.

The previous homilies can be found at the following links: March 14March 21March 28 and April 4.

* * * 

In our attempt to place ourselves under the teaching of the Fathers to give a new impetus and depth to our faith, we cannot omit a reflection on their way of reading the Word of God. It will be Pope St. Gregory the Great who will guide us to the “spiritual understanding” of the Scriptures and a renewed love for them.

The same thing happened to Scripture in the modern world that happened to the person of Jesus. The quest for the exclusively historical and literal sense of the Bible, based on the same presuppositions that dominated during the last two centuries, led to results similar to those in the quest for a historical Jesus opposed to the Christ of faith. Jesus was reduced to being an extraordinary man, a great religious reformer, but nothing more.

Similarly, Scripture is reduced to being an excellent book, and perhaps even the most interesting book in the world, but it is just a book like any other that needs to be studied with the same methods used for all the great works from antiquity. Today things are going even farther than that. A kind of maximalist, militant atheism, which is anti-Jewish and anti-Christian, considers the Bible (and the Old Testament in particular) to be a book “full of wickedness” that should be removed from bookshelves today.

The Church counters this assault on the Scriptures through her doctrine and experience. In Dei Verbum the Second Vatican Council reasserted the perennial validity of the Scriptures as the Word of God to all humanity. The Church’s liturgy reserves a place of honor for Scripture in each of her celebrations. Many scholars, who are more up-to-date on appropriate critical methods, now bring to their work a faith that is even more convinced of the transcendent value of the inspired word.

Perhaps the most convincing proof, however, is that of experience. The argument, as we have seen, that led to the affirmation of the divinity of Christ at Nicea in 325 and of the Holy Spirit at Constantinople in 381 can be fully applied to Scripture as well. We experience the presence of the Holy Spirit in Scripture; Christ still speaks to us through it; its effect on us is different from that of any other word. Therefore, Scripture cannot be simply a human word.

1. The Old Becomes New

The goal of our reflection is to see how the Fathers can help us to rediscover a “virginity” of listening, that freshness and freedom in approaching the Bible that allows us to experience the divine power that flows from it. The Father and Doctor of the Church that we are choosing as a guide, as I said, is St. Gregory the Great, but to understand his importance in this area, we need to go back to the springs of the river he entered into and to trace its course, at least briefly, before it reached him.

In their reading of the Bible, the Fathers were following the path initiated by Jesus and the apostles, so that fact itself should already make us cautious in our judgment of them. A radical rejection of the exegesis of the Fathers would signify a rejection of the exegesis of Jesus himself and of the apostles. Jesus, when he was with the disciples at Emmaus, explains everything that referred to him in the Scriptures. He asserts that the Scriptures are speaking about him (Jn 5:39) and that Abraham saw Jesus’ day (Jn 8:56); many of Jesus’ actions and words occur “so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled.” His first two disciples initially say about him, “We have found him of whom Moses and the law and also the prophets wrote” (Jn 1:45).

But these were only partial correspondences. The complete transference has not yet happened. That is accomplished on the cross and is contained in the words of a dying Jesus: “It is finished.” Even within the Old Testament, there were new events that had been foreshadowed by earlier events, new beginnings, and transpositions: for example, the return from Babylon was seen as a renewal of the miracle of the Exodus. These were partial re-interpretations; now a global re-interpretation occurs. Personages, events, institutions, laws, the temple, sacrifices, the priesthood—everything suddenly appears in another light. It is similar to a room being illumined by the light of candle when a powerful neon light is suddenly turned on. Christ who is “the light of the world” is also the light of the Scriptures. When we read that the risen Jesus “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (Lk 24:45), it means that he opened the minds of the disciples at Emmaus to this new understanding brought about by the Holy Spirit.

The Lamb breaks the seals, and the book of sacred history can finally be opened and read (see Rev 5: 1ff.). Everything from before is still there, but nothing is as it was before. This is the moment that unites—and at the same time distinguishes—the two testaments and the two covenants. “There, vivid and colored red [in the missal], is the great page that separates the two Testaments. . . . All the doors open up simultaneously, all oppositions fade away, all contradictions are resolved.”[1] The clearest example to help us understand what happens in that moment is the consecration in the Mass, which is in fact a memorial of that event. Nothing apparently seems changed in the bread and wine on the altar, yet we know that after consecration they are completely other than what they were, and we treat them quite differently than we did before.

The apostles continue to do this kind of reading, applying it to the Church as well as to the life of Jesus. All that is written about the Exodus was written for the Church (see 1 Cor 10); the rock that followed the Jews in the desert and quenched their thirst foreshadowed Christ, and the manna foreshadowed the bread that came down from heaven. The prophets spoke of Christ (see 1 Pet 1:10ff); what was said about the Suffering Servant in Isaiah is fulfilled in him, etc.

Moving from the New Testament to the time of the Church, we note two different uses of this new understanding of the Scriptures: one is apologetic and the other is theological and spiritual. The first is used in dialogues with those outside the Church and the second for the edification of the community. For the Jews and heretics with whom they share the Scriptures in common, they compose the so-called “testimonies,” collections of biblical verses or passages that produce evidence for faith in Christ. This approach, for example, is found in St. Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho, a Jew, and in many other works.

The theological and ecclesial use of a spiritual reading begins with Origen, who is rightly considered to be the founder of Christian exegesis. The richness and beauty of his insights into the spiritual sense of the Scriptures and of their practical applications is inexhaustible. His approach will gain followers in the East as well as in the West once it begins to be known during Ambrose’s time. Together with its richness and genius, however, Origen’s exegesis also injects a negative element into the Church’s exegetical tradition that is due to his enthusiasm for a Platonic kind of spiritualism. We can take his following statement as a description of his methodology:

We must not suppose that historical things are types of historical things, and corporeal of corporeal. Quite the contrary; corporeal things are types of spiritual things, and historical of intellectual things.[2]

In Origen’s approach, the horizontal and historical correspondence—by which a personage, an event, or a saying from the Old Testament is seen as a prophecy and a figure (typos) of something that is fulfilled in the New Testament by Christ or by the Church—is replaced by a vertical Platonic perspective in which an historical, visible event (either in the Old Testament or the New) becomes a symbol of a universal and eternal idea. The relationship between prophecy and its fulfillment tends to be transformed into the relationship between history and spirit.[3]

2. The Scriptures: Four-sided Stones

Through Ambrose and others who translated his works into Latin, Origen’s methodology and content fully enter into the veins of Latin Christianity and will continue to flow through them during all of the Middle Ages. So what, then, was the contribution of the Latin Fathers to explaining the Scriptures? The answer can be given in one word, a word that best expresses their genius: organization!

It is true that there is a contribution by another genius who is no less creative and bold than Origen, namely, Augustine, who enriched the reading of the Bible with new insights and applications. However, the most important contribution of the Latin Fathers is not along the line of discovering new and hidden meanings in the Word of God so much as it is in their systematizing the immense amount of exegetical material that was accumulating in the Church. They marked out a kind map by which to use that material.

This organizing effort, begun by Augustine, was brought into its definitive form by Gregory the Great and consisted in the doctrine of the fourfold sense of Scripture. In this area he is considered “one of the principal initiators and one of the greatest patrons of the medieval doctrine of the fourfold sense,”[4] to the point that we can speak of the Middle Ages as being “the Gregorian age.”[5]

The doctrine of the four senses of Scripture is a like a grid, a way of organizing the explanations of a biblical text or of a reality in salvation history and categorizing it into four different areas or levels of application: 1) the literal, historical level; 2) the allegorical level (often referred to today as typological),which relates to faith in Christ; 3) the moral level, which relates to the behavior of a Christian; and 4) the eschatological (or anagogical) level, which relates to final fulfillment in heaven. Gregory writes,

The words of Scripture are four-sided stones. . . . In regard to every past event the words recount [the literal sense], in regard to every future thing they announce [the anagogical sense], in regard to every moral duty they preach [moral sense], in regard to every spiritual reality they proclaim [allegorical or christological sense]—on every level the words of Scripture stand and are beyond reproach.[6]

There was a famous couplet in the Middle Ages that summarized this doctrine: “Littera gesta docet, quid credas allegoria, / Moralis quid agas, quo tendas anagogia”:  “The letter teaches events, allegory what you should believe. / Morality teaches what you should do, anagogy what mark you should be aiming for.”[7] Perhaps the clearest application of this approach can be seen in regard to Passover. According to the letter or history, the Passover is the rite that the Jews performed in Egypt. According to allegory, which relates to faith, Passover indicates the sacrifice of Christ, the true Passover lamb. According to the moral sense, it indicates moving from vice to virtue, from sin to holiness. According to anagogy or eschatology, it indicates the passage from the things here below to the things above, or to the eternal Passover that will be celebrated in heaven.

This is not a rigid or mechanical system; it is flexible and open to infinite variations, starting from the order in which the various senses are listed. In the following text from Gregory, we see how freely he uses the system of the fourfold senses and how he is able to derive a variety of corresponding meanings from the Scripture through it. Commenting on the image in Ezekiel 2:10 of the scroll with writing “on the front and on the back” (Vulgate: intus et foris), he says,

The book of the Bible is written on the inside through allegory and the outside through history; on the inside through a spiritual understanding, on the outside through a mere literal sense suited to those who are still weak; on the inside because it promises things which cannot be seen, on the outside because it lays down visible things through its upright precepts; on the inside, because it promises heavenly things, on the outside because it orders in which way earthly things are worthy of contempt, whether we put them to use or flee from desiring them.[8]

3. Why We Still Need the Fathers in Reading the Bible

What can we still retain from such a bold and open-ended way of putting oneself before the Word of God? Even an admirer of patristic and medieval exegesis like Father Henri de Lubac admits that we can neither return to it nor mechanically imitate it today.[9] It would be an artificial procedure doomed to fail because we no longer share the presuppositions the Fathers began with and the spiritual universe in which they moved.

Gregory the Great and the Fathers were generally right about the fundamental point of reading the Scriptures in reference to Christ and the Church. Jesus and the apostles, as we have seen, were already reading it that way before them. The weakness in the Fathers’ exegesis was in their belief that they could apply this approach to every single saying in the Bible, often in an improbable way, pushing symbolism (for example, the symbolism of numbers) to excesses that sometimes make us smile today.

We can be certain, however, as de Lubac notes, that if they were alive today, they would be the exegetes who were the most enthusiastic about using the critical resources at our disposal for the advancement of research. In this regard, Origen carried out a herculean task in his time, procuring the various available Greek translations of the Bible and comparing them with the Hebrew text (the Hexapla), and Augustine did not hesitate to correct some of his explanations in light of the new translation of the Bible that Jerome was in the process of doing.[10]

So what is still valid, then, in the legacy from the Fathers in the field of biblical interpretation? Perhaps here more than anywhere else, they have a decisive word to deliver to the Church today that we must try to discover. Apart from their ingenious allegories, their bold applications, and the doctrine of the four senses of Scripture, what characterizes the Fathers’ reading of the Bible? It is that—from beginning to end, and at each step of the way—it is a reading done in faith; it started from faith and led to faith. All their distinctions between the historical, allegorical, moral, and eschatological readings can be narrowed down to a single distinction today: reading Scripture with faith or reading it without faith, or at least without a certain quality of faith.

Let us leave aside the Bible scholars who are non-believers whom I spoke about at the beginning because for them the Bible is an interesting but merely human book. The distinction I want to highlight here is more subtle and applies to believers. It is the distinction between a personal reading and an impersonal reading of the Word of God. I will try to explain what I mean. The Fathers approached the Word of God with a recurring question: What is it saying here and now to the Church and to me personally?

They were persuaded that—in addition to its objective content of faith and morals, always and for all valid - Scripture always has new light to shed and new tasks to point out for everyone personally.

“All Scripture is inspired by God” (1 Tim 3:16). The phrase that is translated “inspired by God” or “divinely inspired” is a unique word in the original language, theopneustos, which combines two words, God (Theos) and Spirit (Pneuma). This word has two fundamental meanings. The most familiar is the passive one, which is used in all modern translations: Scripture is “inspired by God.” Another passage in the New Testament explains that concept this way: “Men moved by the Holy Spirit [prophets] spoke from God” (2 Pet 1:21). This is, in a word, the classical doctrine of the divine inspiration of Scripture that we proclaim as an article of faith in the Credo when we say that the Holy Spirit is the one who “has spoken through the prophets.”

The aspect of biblical inspiration that generally gets attention is biblical inerrancy, the fact that the Bible contains no errors, if we correctly understand by “error” the absence of a truth that was humanly knowable by the writer in his particular cultural context. However, biblical inspiration is the basis for far more than the mere inerrancy of the Word of God (which is its negative aspect, something Scripture does not have). On the positive side it establishes Scripture’s inexhaustibility, its divine power and vitality. Scripture, said Ambrose, is theopneustos, not only because it is “inspired by God” but also because it is “breathing forth God,” it breathes out God![11] God is now being breathed forth from it. St. Gregory writes,

To what can we compare the word of Sacred Scripture if not to a rock in which fire is hidden? It is cold if you just hold it in your hand, but when it is struck by iron it gives off sparks and shoots out fire.[12]

Scripture contains not only God’s thinking fixed once and forever, it also contains God’s heart and his on-going will that indicates to you what he wants from you at a certain moment, and perhaps from only you. The conciliar constitution Dei Verbum also takes up this line of tradition when it says,

Since they [the Scriptures] are inspired by God [passive inspiration] and committed to writing once and for all time, they present God’s own word in an unalterable form, and they make the voice of the holy Spirit [active inspiration!] sound again and again in the words of the prophets and apostles.[13]

This means not only reading the Word of God but also our being read by it, not only probing the Scriptures but also letting ourselves be probed by them. It means not approaching the Scriptures the way firefighters used to when they would go into a fire wearing asbestos suits that allowed them to pass untouched through the flames.

Taking up an image from St. James, many Fathers, including Gregory the Great, compare Scripture to a mirror.[14] What do we think about a man who spends all his time examining the mirror’s shape and its materials, the time period it belongs to, and many other details about it but does not ever look at himself in it? This is precisely what people do when they spend their time resolving all the critical issues that Scripture presents, its sources, its literary genres, and so on, but never look in the mirror, or worse yet, do not allow the mirror to gaze at them and probe them in depth to the point at which joints and marrow are divided. The most important thing about Scripture is not to resolve its most obscure points but to put into practice the points that are clear! Our Gregory, says, “we understand it when putting it into practice.”[15]

A strong faith in the Word of God is indispensable not only for a Christian’s spiritual life but also for every form of evangelization. There are two ways to prepare a sermon or any proclamation of faith, whether it is oral or written. I can first sit at my desk and choose, on my own, the word to proclaim and the theme to develop based on my understanding, my preferences, etc. Then once the sermon is ready, I can kneel down and hastily ask God to bless what I have written and to make my words effective. This is acceptable, but it is not the prophetic way. It is necessary to reverse the order for that: first on my knees and then to my desk.

In every circumstance one needs to begin with the certainty of faith that the risen Lord has a word in his heart that he wants his people to hear. He does not fail to reveal it to his minister who humbly and insistently asks him for it. At the beginning there is a nearly imperceptible movement in your heart. A small light goes on in your mind, a word from the Bible that begins to draw attention to itself and shed light on a situation. At first it is “the smallest of seeds,” but afterwards you realize that everything was contained inside it; in it there was a thunderous roar that could shake the cedars of Lebanon. After that, you go to your desk, you open your books, you look through your notes, you consult the Church Fathers, experts, poets. . . . At this point it has already become something altogether different. It is no longer the Word of God in service to your knowledge but your knowledge in service to the Word of God.

Origen accurately describes the process that leads to this discovery. Before finding nourishment in Scripture, he says, we need to undergo a kind of “poverty of the senses; the soul is surrounded by darkness on every side, and it comes upon paths that have no exit. Then suddenly, after a difficult search and prayer, the voice of the Word resonates and all at once something is illuminated. The One your soul was seeking comes ‘leaping upon the mountains, bounding over the hills’ [Songs 2:8], that is, opening up your mind to receive his powerful word full of light.”[16] Great joy accompanies this moment. It made Jeremiah say, “Your words were found, and I ate them, / and your words became to me a joy / and the delight of my heart” (Jer 15:16).

Usually God’s answer comes in the form of a word from Scripture that reveals its extraordinary relevance at that moment for the situation or the problem that needs to be addressed, as if it were written precisely for it. The minister then speaks as “one speaking the very words of God” (see 1 Pet 4:11). This method is valid in all instances—as much for great documents as for a teacher’s lesson to his or her novices, as much for the scholarly conference as for the humble Sunday homily.

We have all had the experience of how much effect a single word from God can have when it is profoundly believed and lived by the person who says it to us, sometimes without that person even knowing it. It must be acknowledged that often this is the word, among so many other words, that touched hearts and led more than one listener to the confessional. Human experience, images, our past history—none of this is excluded from gospel preaching, but it all needs be submitted to the Word of God, which must stand out above everything else. Pope Francis has reminded us of this in the pages of Evangelii gaudium dedicated to the homily, and it is almost presumptuous on my part to think I can add anything to it.

I would like to conclude this meditation with an expression of gratitude to our Jewish brethren and a wish for them on the occasion of the Holy Father’s upcoming visit to Israel. If our interpretation of the Scriptures separates us from them, we are united in our shared love for the Scriptures. In a museum in Tel Aviv, there is a painting by Reuben Rubin in which rabbis are clasping scrolls of the Word of God to their chests or to their cheeks, and they are kissing them the way a man would kiss his wife. With our Jewish brothers and sisters we can—in a way that is analogous to the spiritual ecumenism occurring among Christians—share together what unites us in an atmosphere of dialogue and mutual respect, without ignoring or covering up the things that separate us. We cannot forget that it is from the Jews that we received the two most precious things we have in life: Jesus and the Scriptures.

Once again this year, the Jewish Passover falls on the same week as the Christian one. Let us wish ourselves and them a holy and happy Passover.

[Translated from Italian by Marsha Daigle Williamson]


[1] Paul Claudel, L’épée et le miroir: Les sept douleurs de la Sainte Vierge [The Sword and the Mirror: The Seven Sorrows of the Virgin Mary] (Paris: Gallimard, 1939), 74-75.

[2] Origen, Commentary on the Gospel According to John, 10, 110, trans. Ronald E. Heine, vol. 80, The Fathers of the Church (Washington, DC: Catholic University Press of America, 1989), 279.

[3] See Henri de Lubac, History and Spirit: The Understanding of Scripture According to Origen (1950; San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2007).

[4] Henri de Lubac, Medieval Exegesis: The Four Senses of Scripture, vol. 1, trans. Mark Siebanc (1959; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 134.

[5] Henri de Lubac, Medieval Exegesis: The Four Senses of Scripture, vol. 2, trans. E. M. Macierowski (1959; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000), 117ff.

[6] Gregory the Great, Homilies on Ezekiel, II, 9, 8.

[7] Generally credited to Augustine of Dacia (12th c.), qtd. in de Lubac, Medieval Exegesis, vol. 1, 1.

[8] Gregory the Great, Homilies on Ezekiel, I, 9, 30, qtd. in John Moorhead, Gregory the Great (New York: Routledge, 2005), 50.

[9] de Lubac, History and Spirit, 489ff.

[10] Augustine (CC 40, p. 1791) does this, for example, about the meaning of the word pasch in Expositions of the Psalms 99-120, 120, 6 (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 2003), 514-515.

[11] See Ambrose, De Spiritu Sancto, III, 112. English trans., On the Holy Spirit, vol. 10, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, ed. Philip Schaff (New York: Cosimo 2007), 151.

[12] Gregory the Great, Homilies on Ezekiel, II, 10, 1.

[13] Dei Verbum [Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation], 21, in Vatican Council II: Constitutions, Decrees, Declarations, gen. ed. Austin Flannery (Northport, NY: Costello, 1995), 112.

[14] See Gregory the Great, Moralia in Job, 2, 1 (PL 75, 553D). English trans., Morals on the Book of Job (London: Walter Smith, 1883), 67.

[15] Ibid., I, 10, 31.

[16] This quote conflates ideas found in passages from two of Origen’s works: Commentary on Matthew, 38 (GCS, 1933, p. 7), English trans., Hans Urs Von Balthasar, Origen, Spirit and Fire: A Thematic Anthology of His Wrtings, trans. Robert J. Daly (1938; Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2001), 106-107; and In Canticum canticorum,3 (GCS, 1925, p. 202), English trans., Origen: “The Song of Songs,” Commentary and Homilies, 3, 11, vol. 26, Ancient Christian Writers, ed. R. P. Lawson (New York: Paulist Press, 1957), 209-210.


Father Cantalamessa's Good Friday Homily
"Judas Was Standing With Them"

VATICAN CITY, April 18, 2014  - Here is the Good Friday homily delivered today in St. Peter's Basilica by Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the Pontifical Household.

* * * 

“Judas was Standing with Them” (Jn 18:5)

In the divine-human history of the passion of Jesus, there are many minor stories about men and women who entered into the ray of its light or its shadow. The most tragic one is that of Judas Iscariot. It is one of the few events attested with equal emphasis by each of the four Gospels and the rest of the New Testament. The early Christian community reflected a great deal on this incident and we would be remiss to do otherwise. It has much to tell us.

Judas was chosen from the very beginning to be one of the Twelve. In inserting his name in the list of apostles, the gospel-writer Luke says, “Judas Iscariot, who became (egeneto) a traitor” (Lk 6:16). Judas was thus not born a traitor and was not a traitor at the time Jesus chose him; he became a traitor! We are before one of the darkest dramas of human freedom.

Why did he become a traitor? Not so long ago, when the thesis of a “revolutionary Jesus” was in fashion, people tried to ascribe idealistic motivations to Judas’ action. Someone saw in his name “Iscariot” a corruption of sicariot, meaning that he belonged to a group of extremist zealots who used a kind of dagger (sica) against the Romans; others thought that Judas was disappointed in the way that Jesus was putting forward his concept of “the kingdom of God” and wanted to force his hand to act against the pagans on the political level as well. This is the Judas of the famous musical Jesus Christ Superstar and of other recent films and novels—a Judas who resembles another famous traitor to his benefactor, Brutus, who killed Julius Caesar to save the Roman Republic!

These are reconstructions to be respected when they have some literary or artistic value, but they have no historical basis whatsoever. The Gospels—the only reliable sources that we have about Judas’ character—speak of a more down-to-earth motive: money. Judas was entrusted with the group’s common purse; on the occasion of Jesus’ anointing in Bethany, Judas had protested against the waste of the precious perfumed ointment that Mary poured on Jesus’ feet, not because he was interested in the poor but, as John notes, “because he was a thief, and as he had the money box he used to take what was put into it” (Jn 12:6). His proposal to the chief priests is explicit: “‘What will you give me if I deliver him to you?’ And they paid him thirty pieces of silver” (Mt 26:15).

*    *   *

But why are people surprised at this explanation, finding it too banal? Has it not always been this way in history and is still this way today? Mammon, money, is not just one idol among many: it is the idol par excellence, literally “a molten god” (see Ex 34:17). And we know why that is the case. Who is objectively, if not subjectively (in fact, not in intentions), the true enemy, the rival to God, in this world? Satan? But no one decides to serve Satan without a motive. Whoever does it does so because they believe they will obtain some kind of power or temporal benefit from him. Jesus tells us clearly who the other master, the anti-God, is: “No one can serve two masters. . . . You cannot serve God and mammon” (Mt 6:24). Money is the “visible god”[1] in contrast to the true God who is invisible.

Mammon is the anti-God because it creates an alternative spiritual universe; it shifts the purpose of the theological virtues. Faith, hope, and charity are no longer placed in God but in money. A sinister inversion of all values occurs. Scripture says, “All things are possible to him who believes” (Mk 9:23), but the world says, “All things are possible to him who has money.” And on a certain level, all the facts seem to bear that out.

“The love of money,” Scripture says, “is the root of all evil” (1 Tim 6:10). Behind every evil in our society is money, or at least money is also included there. It is the Molech we recall from the Bible to whom young boys and girls were sacrificed (see Jer 32:35) or the Aztec god for whom the daily sacrifice of a certain number of human hearts was required. What lies behind the drug enterprise that destroys so many human lives, behind the phenomenon of the mafia, behind political corruption, behind the manufacturing and sale of weapons, and even behind—what a horrible thing to mention—the sale of human organs removed from children? And the financial crisis that the world has gone through and that this country is still going through, is it not in large part due to the “cursed hunger for gold,” the auri sacra fames,[2] on the part of some people? Judas began with taking money out of the common purse. Does this say anything to certain administrators of public funds?

But apart from these criminal ways of acquiring money, is it not also a scandal that some people earn salaries and collect pensions that are sometimes 100 times higher than those of the people who work for them and that they raise their voices to object when a proposal is put forward to reduce their salary for the sake of greater social justice?

In the 1970s and 1980s in Italy, in order to explain unexpected political reversals, hidden exercises of power, terrorism, and all kinds of mysteries that were troubling civilian life, people began to point to the quasi-mythical idea of the existence of “a big Old Man,” a shrewd and powerful figure who was pulling all the strings behind the curtain for goals known only to himself. This powerful “Old Man” really exists and is not a myth; his name is Money!

Like all idols, money is deceitful and lying: it promises security and instead takes it away; it promises freedom and instead destroys it. St. Francis of Assisi, with a severity that is untypical for him, describes the end of life of a person who has lived only to increase his “capital.” Death draws near, and the priest is summoned. He asks the dying man, “Do you want forgiveness for all your sins?” and he answers, “Yes.” The priest then asks, “Are you ready to make right the wrongs you did, restoring things you have defrauded others of?” The dying man responds, “I can’t.” “Why can’t you?” “Because I have already left everything in the hands of my relatives and friends.” And so he dies without repentance, and his body is barely cold when his relatives and friends say, “Damn him! He could have earned more money to leave us, but he didn’t.”[3]

How many times these days have we had to think back again to the cry Jesus addressed to the rich man in the parable who had stored up endless riches and thought he was secure for the rest of his life: “Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” (Lk 12:20)!

Men placed in positions of responsibility who no longer knew in what bank or monetary paradise to hoard the proceeds of their corruption have found themselves on trial in court or in a prison cell just when they were about to say to themselves, “Have a good time now, my soul.” For whom did they do it? Was it worth it? Did they work for the good of their children and family, or their party, if that is really what they were seeking? Have they not instead ruined themselves and others?

*    *   *

The betrayal of Judas continues throughout history, and the one betrayed is always Jesus. Judas sold the head, while his imitators sell the body, because the poor are members of the body of Christ, whether they know it or not. “As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40). However, Judas’ betrayal does not continue only in the high-profile kinds of cases that I have mentioned. It would be comfortable for us to think so, but that is not the case. The homily that Father Primo Mazzolari gave on Holy Thursday 1958 about “Our Brother Judas” is still famous. “Let me,” he said to the few parishioners before him, “think about the Judas who is within me for a moment, about the Judas who perhaps is also within you.”

One can betray Jesus for other kinds of compensation than thirty pieces of silver. A man who betrays his wife, or a wife her husband, betrays Christ. The minister of God who is unfaithful to his state in life, or instead of feeding the sheep entrusted to him feeds himself, betrays Jesus. Whoever betrays their conscience betrays Jesus. Even I can betray him at this very moment—and it makes me tremble—if while preaching about Judas I am more concerned about the audience’s approval than about participating in the immense sorrow of the Savior. There was a mitigating circumstance in Judas’ case that I do not have. He did not know who Jesus was and considered him to be only “a righteous man”; he did not know, as we do, that he was the Son of God.

As Easter approaches every year, I have wanted to listen to Bach’s “Passion According to St. Matthew” again. It includes a detail that makes me flinch every time. At the announcement of Judas’ betrayal, all the apostles ask Jesus, “Is it I, Lord?” (“Herr, bin ich’s?”) Before having us hear Christ’s answer, the composer—erasing the distance between the event and its commemoration—inserts a chorale that begins this way: “It is I; I am the traitor! I need to make amends for my sins.” (“Ich bin’s, ich sollte büβen.”). Like all the chorales in this musical piece, it expresses the sentiments of the people who are listening. It is also an invitation for us to make a confession of our sin.

*    *   *

The Gospel describes Judas’ horrendous end: “When Judas, his betrayer, saw that he was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, ‘I have sinned in betraying innocent blood.’ They said, ‘What is that to us? See to it yourself.’ And throwing down the pieces of silver, he departed; and he went and hanged himself” (Mt 27:3-5).  But let us not pass a hasty judgment here. Jesus never abandoned Judas, and no one knows, after he hung himself from a tree with a rope around his neck, where he ended up: in Satan’s hands or in God’s hands. Who can say what transpired in his soul during those final moments? “Friend” was the last word that Jesus addressed to him, and he could not have forgotten it, just as he could not have forgotten Jesus’ gaze.

It is true that in speaking to the Father about his disciples Jesus had said about Judas, “None of them is lost but the son of perdition” (Jn 17:12), but here, as in so many other instances, he is speaking from the perspective of time and not of eternity. The enormity of this betrayal is enough by itself alone, without needing to consider a failure that is eternal, to explain the other terrifying statement said about Judas: “It would have been better for that man if he had not been born” (Mk 14:21). The eternal destiny of a human being is an inviolable secret kept by God. The Church assures us that a man or a woman who is proclaimed a saint is experiencing eternal blessedness, but she does not herself know for certain that any particular person is in hell.

Dante Alighieri, who places Judas in the deepest part of hell in his Divine Comedy, tells of the last-minute conversion of Manfred, the son of Frederick II and the king of Sicily whom everyone at the time considered damned because he died as an excommunicated. Having been mortally wounded in battle, he confides to the poet that in the very last moment of his life, “…weeping, I gave my soul / to Him who grants forgiveness willingly” and he sends a message from Purgatory to earth that is still relevant for us:

Horrible was the nature of my sins,

but boundless mercy stretches out its arms

to any man who comes in search of it.[4]

*    *   *

Here is what the story of our brother Judas should move us to do: to surrender ourselves to the one who freely forgives, to throw ourselves likewise into the outstretched arms of the Crucified One. The most important thing in the story of Judas is not his betrayal but Jesus’ response to it. He knew well what was growing in his disciple’s heart, but he does not expose it; he wants to give Judas the opportunity right up until the last minute to turn back, and is almost shielding him. He knows why Judas came to the garden of olives, but he does not refuse his cold kiss and even calls him “friend” (see Mt 26:50). He sought out Peter after his denial to give him forgiveness, so who knows how he might have sought out Judas at some point on his way to Calvary! When Jesus prays from the cross, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34), he certainly does not exclude Judas from those he prays for.

So what will we do? Who will we follow, Judas or Peter? Peter had remorse for what he did, but Judas was also remorseful to the point of crying out, “I have betrayed innocent blood!” and he gave back the thirty pieces of silver. Where is the difference then? Only in one thing: Peter had confidence in the mercy of Christ, and Judas did not! Judas’ greatest sin was not in having betrayed Christ but in having doubted his mercy.

If we have imitated Judas in his betrayal, some of us more and some less, let us not imitate him in his lack of confidence in forgiveness. There is a sacrament through which it is possible to have a sure experience of Christ’s mercy: the sacrament of reconciliation. How wonderful this sacrament is! It is sweet to experience Jesus as Teacher, as Lord, but even sweeter to experience him as Redeemer, as the one who draws you out of the abyss, like he drew Peter out of the sea, as the one who touches you and, like he did with the leper, says to you, “ I will; be clean” (Mt 8:3).

Confession allows us to experience about ourselves what the Church says of Adam’s sin on Easter night in the “Exultet”: “O happy fault that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!” Jesus knows how to take all our sins, once we have repented, and make them “happy faults,” faults that would no longer be remembered if it were not for the experience of mercy and divine tenderness that they occasioned.

I have a wish for myself and for all of you, Venerable Fathers, brothers, and sisters: on Easter morning, may we awaken and let the words of a great convert in modern times, Paul Claudel, resonate in our hearts:

My God, I have been revived, and I am with You again!

I was sleeping, stretched out like a dead man in the night.

You said, “Let there be light!” and I awoke the way a cry is shouted out!

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

My Father, You who have given me life before the Dawn, I place myself in Your Presence.

My heart is free and my mouth is cleansed; my body and spirit are fasting.

I have been absolved of all my sins, which I confessed one by one.

The wedding ring is on my finger and my face is washed.

I am like an innocent being in the grace that You have bestowed on me.[5]

This is what Christ’s Passover can do for us.

[Translated from Italian by Marsha Daigle Williamson]


[1] William Shakespeare, The Life of Timon of Athens, Act IV, sc. 3, l. 386.

[2] Virgil, The Aeneid, 3.57.

[3] See Francis of Assisi, “Letter to All the Faithful,” 12.

[4] Dante Alighieri, Purgatorio 3.118-120: English trans. Mark Musa (Bloomington, IN: University of Indiana Press, 1985), 32.

[5] Paul Claudel, Prière pour le dimanche matin [Prayer for a Sunday Morning], in Œuvres poétiques (Paris: Gallimard, 1967), 377.


Father Cantalamessa Says the Family Is Church's Backbone
Considers What Revelation Can Contribute to Marriage Problems Today

ROME, May 08, 2014 - Here is the text of an address given last week in Norfolk, Virginia, by the preacher of the Pontifical Household, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa.

The conference was titled Awakening the Domestic Church and Father Cantalamessa gave three addresses there. This one is called "Family: The Backbone of the Church."

* * *

I divide my address into three parts. In the first part I will focus on God’s initial plan for marriage and the family and how it came about throughout the history of Israel. In the second part I will speak about the renewal brought by Christ and how it was interpreted and lived in the Christian community of the New Testament. In the third part I will try to consider what biblical revelation can contribute to the solution of the challenges that marriage and family life are facing today.

Part I

Marriage and Family: the Divine Project

And Human Achievements in the Old Testament

The Divine Project

We know that the Book of Genesis has two different accounts of the creation of the first human couple, which go back to two different traditions: the yahwehist (10th century B.C.) and the more recent (6th century B.C.) called the “priestly” tradition.

In the priestly tradition (Genesis 1:26–28) man and woman are created at the same time, not one from the other. Being man and woman are related to being an image of God: “God created mankind in his image, in his image he created them, man and woman he created them.” The primary purpose of the union between man and woman is found in being fruitful and filling the earth.

In the yahwehist tradition (Genesis 2:18-25) the woman is taken from the man; the creation of the two sexes is seen as a remedy for solitude: “It is not good that man be alone; I will make him an adequate helper;” The unitive factor is highlighted more than the procreative: “The man will cling to his wife and the two will be one flesh;” Each one is free with regard to their own sexuality and to the other: “Both were naked, the man and his wife, but they were not embarrassed by each other.”

Neither of the two accounts references any subordination of the woman to the man, before sin: The two are on a level of absolute equality, although it is the man who takes the initiative at least in the yahwehist account.

I’ve found the most convincing explanation for this divine "invention" of the difference between the sexes not from a biblical scholar, but from a poet, Paul Claudel:

“Man is a proud being; there was no other way to make him understand his neighbor except introducing him in the flesh. There was no other way to make him understand dependence and need other than through the law of another distinct being (woman) over him, due to the simple fact that she exists.[1]

Opening oneself to the opposite sex is the first step toward opening oneself to others, our neighbors, and to the Other with a capital O, which is God. Marriage is born under the sign of humility; it is the recognition of dependence and therefore of one’s condition of being a creature. Falling in love with a woman or a man is the completion of the most radical act of humility. It is becoming a beggar and telling the other person, “I’m not enough for myself, I need your being.” If, as Schleiermacher said, the essence of religion is the “sense of dependence” (Abhaengigheitsgefuehl) on God, then human sexuality is the first school of religion.

Thus far we have examined God’s plan. Nevertheless, the rest of the Bible’s text cannot be explained without also including the account of the fall in addition to creation, above all what was said to the woman: “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16). The rule of the man over the woman is part of man’s sin, not of God’s plan; with those words God predicts it, he does not approve it.

Historic accomplishments

The Bible is a human and a divine book, not just because its authors are both God and man, but also because it describes, weaved throughout the text, both God’s fidelity and man’s infidelity. This is especially evident when we compare God’s plan over marriage and family with the way it was put into practice in the history of the Chosen People.

It is useful to be aware of the human deficiencies and aberrations so that we’re not too surprised by what happens around us today and also because it shows that marriage and family are institutions that, at least in practice, evolve over time, as any other aspect of social and religious life. Following the book of Genesis, the son of Cain, Lemek, violates the law of monogamy taking two wives. Noah, with his family appears as an exception in the middle of general corruption of his time. The very Patriarchs, Abraham and Jacob have children with a number of women. Moses authorizes the practice of divorce; David and Solomon keep a veritable harem of women.

Nevertheless the deviations appear, as always, more present at the higher levels of society, among the leaders, than at the level of the people, where the initial idea of monogamous marriage was likely the norm, not the exception. In order to form an idea of the relationships and family values that are held and lived in Israel we can turn to the wisdom books: Psalms, Proverbs and Sirach. These help us more than the historical books (which deal precisely with the leaders). They highlight marital fidelity, education of offspring and respect for parents. This last value is one of the Ten Commandments: "Honor your father and mother."

The deviation from the initial idea can be seen in the underlying idea of marriage in Israel, even more than in particular individual transgressions. The principal involution is related to two basic points. The first is that marriage changes from being an end to being a means. Overall, the Old Testament considers marriage to be “a patriarchal structure of authority, primarily driven to the perpetuation of the clan. In this sense we must understand the institutions of the levirate (Deuteronomy 25:5-10), concubine (Genesis 16), and provisional polygamy.”[2] The ideal of a communion of life between man and woman, founded on a reciprocal and personal relationship, is not forgotten, but becomes less important than the good of the offspring.

The second great deviation refers to the condition of women: She goes from being a companion of man, gifted with equal dignity, to appearing more and more subordinated to man and serving a function for man.

The prophets played an important role by shedding light on God’s initial plan for marriage, especially Hosea, Isaiah and Jeremiah. They posited the union of man and woman as a symbol of the covenant between God and his people. As a result of this, they once again shed light on the values of mutual love, fidelity and indissolubility that characterize God’s love for Israel. All the phases and sufferings of spousal love are described and used in this regard: the beauty of love in the early stage of courtship (Cf. Jeremiah 2:2), the fullness of joy on the wedding day (Cf. Isaiah 62:5), the drama of separation (Cf. Hosea 2:4) and finally the rebirth, full of hope, of the old bond (Cf. Hosea 2:16, Isaiah 54:8).

Malachi shows the positive effect that the prophetic message could have on human marriage, and especially, on the condition of women. He writes:

“The Lord is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant. Has not the Lord made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth.” (Malachi 2:14-15)

We have to read the Song of Songs in the light of this prophetic tradition. This represents a rebirth of the vision of marriage as eros, as attraction of the man to the woman (in this case, also of the woman to the man) according to the oldest account of creation.

Part II

Marriage and Family in the New Testament

I. Christ’s renewal of marriage

St. Irenaeus explains the “recapitulation (anakephalaiosis) of all things” performed by Christ (Ephesians 1:10) as a “taking things from the beginning to lead them to their fulfillment.” The concept implies continuity and novelty at the same time and in this sense it is fulfilled in an exemplary way in Christ’s work with regards to marriage.

The continuity

Chapter 19 of the Gospel of St. Matthew alone is enough to illustrate the two aspects of renewal. Let us see first of all how Jesus takes things anew from the beginning.

“Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?’ ‘Haven't you read,’ he replied, ‘that at the beginning the Creator "made them male and female," (Genesis 1:27) and said, "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh" (Genesis 2:24). So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate’” (Matthew 19:3-6).

The adversaries move in the restricted confines of the case-based reasoning proper to different schools (is it licit to divorce the woman for any motive or is a specific and serious motive required); Jesus responds by tackling the problem at the root, going to the beginning. In his response, Jesus refers to the two accounts of the institution of marriage; he takes elements from both, but above all he highlights the aspects of the communion of persons present in both accounts.

What follows in the text, regarding the problem of divorce, also follows this same direction; in fact he confirms the fidelity and indissolubility of the marital bond above even the good of offspring, on the basis of which polygamy, levirate and divorce had been justified in the past.

“'Then why did Moses command that a writ of dismissal should be given in cases of divorce?' He said to them, 'It was because you were so hard-hearted, that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but it was not like this from the beginning. Now I say this to you: anyone who divorces his wife -- I am not speaking of an illicit marriage -- and marries another, is guilty of adultery'” (Matthew 19:7-9).

In Jesus’ response we can see an implicit sacramental foundation of marriage present. The words “What God has joined” say that marriage is not a purely secular reality, fruit of human will; there is a sacred aspect to marriage that is rooted in divine will. The elevation of marriage to a “sacrament” therefore is not based solely on Jesus’ presence at the wedding of Cana, nor in the text of Ephesians 5 alone. In a certain way it begins with the earthly Jesus and is part of his leading all things to the beginning. John Paul II is also right when he defines marriage as the “oldest sacrament.”[4]

The Novelty

Thus far we have focused on the continuity. What is the novelty? Paradoxically it consists in making marriage relative. Let’s listen to the following text from Matthew:

"The disciples said to him, 'If that is how things are between husband and wife, it is advisable not to marry. But he replied, 'It is not everyone who can accept what I have said, but only those to whom it is granted. There are eunuchs born so from their mother's womb, there are eunuchs made so by human agency and there are eunuchs who have made themselves so for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. Let anyone accept this who can'" (Matthew 19:10-12).

With these words Jesus institutes a second state of life, justifying it by the coming to the earth of the Kingdom of Heaven. It does not eliminate the other possibility, marriage, but it makes it relative. What happens to it is similar to the idea of the state in the political sphere: It is not abolished, but rather radically limited by the revelation of the contemporary presence, within history, of the Kingdom of God.

Therefore, voluntary continence does not need to deny or despise marriage so that its own validity can be recognized. (Some ancient authors made this mistake in some of their writings on virginity). What’s more, it derives its meaning from none other than contemporary affirmation of the goodness of marriage. The institution of celibacy and virginity for the Kingdom ennobles marriage in the sense that it becomes a choice, a vocation, and not just simply a moral duty to which it was impossible not to submit oneself in Israel without exposure to the accusation of trespassing God’s commandment.

Marriage and family in the Apostolic Church

Just as we have done with God’s original project, also concerning the renewal worked by Christ we intend to see how it was received and lived in the life and catechesis of the Church, limiting ourselves to the reality of the apostolic Church for the moment. Paul is our primary source of information, having had to dedicate himself to the problem in some of his letters, above all in the First Letter to the Corinthians.

The Apostle distinguishes between what comes directly from the Lord and the particular applications that he himself makes when required by the context in which he preaches the Gospel. The confirmation of the indissolubility of marriage is part of the first type: “To the married I give this ruling, and this is not mine but the Lord's: a wife must not be separated from her husband or if she has already left him, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband -- and a husband must not divorce his wife. (1 Corinthians 7:10-11); the guidance regarding marriage between believers and nonbelievers and the provisions regarding celibates and virgins is part of the second type of the Apostle's teaching: “I have no directions from the Lord, but I give my own opinion” (1 Corinthians 7:10;7:25).

The Church has received from Jesus also the element of novelty which consists, as we have seen, in the institution of a second state of life: celibacy and virginity for the Kingdom. To them, Paul, he himself not married, dedicates the final part of Chapter 7 of his letter. Based on the verse: “I should still like everyone to be as I am myself; but everyone has his own gift from God, one this kind and the next something different” (1 Corinthians 7:7), some think that the Apostle considers marriage and virginity as two charisms. But that is not accurate; virgins have received the charism of virginity, married people have other charisms (understood, not that of virginity). It’s meaningful that the Church’s theology has always considered virginity a charism and not a sacrament, and marriage a sacrament and not a charism.

The text of the Letter to the Ephesians will have a noteworthy effect in the process that will bring about the recognition of the sacramentality of marriage:

“This is why a man leaves his father and mother and becomes attached to his wife, and the two become one flesh. This mystery (in Latin, sacramentum) has great significance, but I am applying it to Christ and the Church” (Ephesians 5:31-32).

As the apostolic community grows and consolidates, we see how an entire familial pastoral practice and spirituality flower. The most meaningful texts in this regard are the letters to the Colossians and to the Ephesians. Both of them show the two fundamental relationships that constitute family: the relationship between husband and wife and the relationship between parents and children. With regard to the first relationship, the Apostle writes:

“Submit to each other in the fear of Christ. Women to their husbands, as to the Lord… As the Church is submissive to Christ, so also should wives submit to their husbands in all. Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her.”

Paul recommended that husbands “love” their wife (and this seems normal to us), but then he recommends that wives be “submissive” to their husband, and this, in a society that is strongly (and rightfully) conscious of the equality of the sexes, seems unacceptable. On this point St. Paul is, at least in part, conditioned by the customs of his time. The difficulty, on the other hand, changes if we keep in mind the phrase from the beginning of the text: “Be submissive to one another in the fear of Christ,” which establishes reciprocity in submission and in love.

With regard to the relationship between parents and children, Paul emphasizes the traditional advice of the wisdom books:

“Children, be obedient to your parents in the Lord -- that is what uprightness demands. The first commandment that has a promise attached to it is: Honor your father and your mother; and the promise is: so that you may have long life and prosper in the land. And parents, never drive your children to resentment but bring them up with correction and advice inspired by the Lord” (Ephesians 6:1-4).

The pastoral letters, especially the Letter to Titus, offer detailed rules for every category of person: women, spouses, bishops and priests, old people, young people, widows, owners and slaves (cf. Titus 2:1-9). In fact slaves were also part of the family in the broad understanding of the time.

In the early Church as well, the ideal of marriage that Jesus proposes will not be put into practice without shadows and resistance. In addition to the case of incest of Corinth (1 Corinthians 8:1), this is borne out by the need the apostles feel of insisting on this aspect of the early Christian life. But overall, the Christians presented the world a new family model that became one of the principal factors in evangelization.

The author of the letter to Diognetus, in the second century, says that the Christians “marry as everyone else does and have children, but they do not abandon the newborns; they have a common table, but not a common bed” (V:6-7). In his Apology, Justin constructs an argument that we Christians of today should be able to make our own in dialogue with political authorities. In essence he says the following: You, Roman emperors, multiply the laws about family, which have proven to be incapable of stopping its dissolution. Come to see our families and you will be convinced Christians are your better allies in the reform of society, not your enemies. In the end, as is known, after three centuries of persecution, the Empire accepted the Christian family model in its own legislation.

Part III

What The Bible Teaches Us Today

Rereading the Bible in a context like the present one cannot be limited to a simple reminder of revealed knowledge, but rather it should be able to enlighten current problems. “Scriptures, as St. Gregory the Great said, grow with the one that reads them” (cum legentibus crescit); They reveal new implications to the measure in which new questions are posed to them. And today there are many new and provocative questions.

Objection to the biblical ideal

We are confronted by a seemingly global objection to the biblical plan for sexuality, marriage and family. How should we react in the face of this phenomenon? The first error we should avoid, in my opinion, is spending the whole time fighting contrary theories, in the end giving them more importance than they deserve. Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagita noted a long time ago that the exposition of one’s truth is always more successful than rebutting the errors of others (Letter VI, in PG 3, 1077A). Another error is to rely too much on civil laws to defend Christian values. The first Christians, as we have seen, changed the laws of the state through their lifestyle. We cannot do the contrary today, hoping to change lifestyles with the laws of the state.

The Council opened a new method, that of dialogue, not confrontation with the world: a method which does not even exclude self criticism. One of the Council documents said that the Church can benefit even from the criticism of those that attack it. I believe that we should apply this method also in discussing the problems of marriage and the family, as "Gaudium et Spes" did in its own time.

Applying this method of dialogue means trying to see if even behind the most radical attacks there is a positive request that we should welcome. It is the old Pauline method of examining everything and keeping the good (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:21).

The criticism of the traditional model of marriage and family, which have led to the current, unacceptable, proposals of deconstructionism, begun with the Enlightenment and Romanticism. With different intentions, these two movements objected to traditional marriage, seen exclusively as its objective “ends" -- offspring, society, Church; and to little in itself -- in its subjective and interpersonal value. Everything was asked of the future spouses, except that they love each other and choose each other freely. Marriage as a pact (Enlightenment) and as a communion of love (Romanticism) between the spouses was proposed to contradict such a model.

But this criticism follows the original meaning of the Bible, it does not contradict it! The Second Vatican Council took in this request when it recognized as equally central to marriage both mutual love and support of the spouses. John Paul II, in a Wednesday catechesis said:

“The human body, with its sex, and its masculinity and femininity seen in the very mystery of creation, is not only a source of fruitfulness and procreation, as in the whole natural order. It includes right from the beginning the nuptial attribute, that is, the capacity of expressing love, that love in which the person becomes a gift and -- by means of this gift -- fulfills the meaning of his being and existence.”[8]

In his encyclical “Deus Caritas Est,” Pope Benedict XVI has gone even farther, writing deep and new things with regards to eros in marriage and in the very relationship between God and man. “This close relationship between eros and marriage that the Bible presents has practically no parallel in literature outside itself."[9]

We are far from agreeing with the consequences that some today draw from this premise: for example, that any type of eros is enough to constitute a marriage, even that between persons of the same sex; but this rejection gains greater strength and credibility if it is connected to the recognition of the underlying goodness of the request and as well with a healthy self criticism.

Another request we can make our own is that of the dignity of women in marriage. As we can see, it is at the very heart of God’s original plan and Christ’s thought, but it has almost always been neglected. God’s word to Eve: “You will be drawn to your spouse and he will dominate you” has been tragically played out throughout history.

Among the representatives of the so-called gender revolution, this idea has led to crazy proposals, such as that of abolishing the distinction between sexes and substituting it with the more elastic and subjective distinction of “genders” (masculine, feminine, variable) or that of freeing women from the slavery of maternity, providing other means, invented by man, for the production of children. (It is not clear who would continue to have interest or desire at this point in having children.)

It is precisely through choosing to dialogue and engage in self-criticism that we have the right to denounce these projects as “inhuman," in other words, contrary to not only God’s will, but also to the good of humanity. If they were to become common practice on a large scale, they would lead to unforeseeable damages.

Our only hope is that people’s common sense, together with the “desire” for the other sex, with the need for maternity and paternity that God has written in human nature, resist these attempts to substitute God. They are inspired more by belated feelings of guilt in men than by genuine respect and love for women.

An ideal that must be rediscovered

Christian’s task of rediscovering and fully living the biblical ideal of marriage and family is no less important than defending it. In this way it can be proposed again to the world with facts, more so than with words.

Let’s read today the account of the creation of man and woman in the light of the revelation of the Trinity. Under this light, the phrase: “God created mankind in his image, in his image he created him, male and female he created them” finally reveals its meaning, which was mysterious and uncertain before Christ. What relation could there be between being “in the image of God” and being “male and female?” The God of the Bible does not have sexual connotations; he is neither male nor female.

The analogy consists in this: God is love and love demands communion, interpersonal exchange; it needs to have an “I” and a “you." There is no love that is not love for someone. Where there is only one subject there can be no love, only egotism and narcissism. Where God is thought of as Law and as absolute Power, there is no need for a plurality of persons. (Power can be exercised alone!). The God revealed by Jesus Christ, being love, is one and only, but he is not solitary; he is one and triune. In him coexist unity and distinction: unity of nature, of will, of intention, and distinction of characteristics and persons.

Two people that love each other, and the case of man and woman in marriage is the strongest, reproduce something that happens in the Trinity. There two persons, the Father and the Son, loving each other, produce (“breathe”) the Spirit that is the love that joins them. Someone once defined the Holy Spirit as the divine “We,” that is, not the “third person of the Trinity," but rather the first person plural.[10]

Precisely in this way the human couple is an image of God. Husband and wife are in effect a single flesh, a single heart, a single soul, even in the diversity of sex and personality. In the couple, unity and diversity reconcile themselves. The spouses face each other as an “I” and a “you”, and face the rest of the world, beginning with their own children, as a “we," almost as if it was a single person, no longer singular but rather plural. “We," in other words, “your mother and I," “your father and I."

In light of this we discover the profound meaning of the prophets’ message regarding human marriage, which is a symbol and reflection of another love, God’s love for his people. This doesn’t involve overburdening a purely human reality with mystical meaning. It is not a question simply of symbolism; rather it involves revealing the true face and final purpose of the creation of man and woman: leaving one’s own isolation and “egotism," opening up to the other, and through the temporal ecstasy of carnal union, elevating oneself to the desire for love and for happiness without end.

What’s the reason for the incompleteness and dissatisfaction that sexual union leaves within and outside of marriage? Why does this impulse always fall over itself and why does this promise of infinity and eternity always end up disappointed? The ancients coined a phrase that paints this reality: “Post coitum animal triste”: just like any other animal, man is sad after carnal union.

As Christians, do we want to find an explanation once and for all for this devastating dysfunction? The explanation is that sexual union is not lived in the way and with the purpose in which God intended it. The purpose was, through this ecstasy and fusion of love, that man and woman would be elevated to the desire and have a certain taste for infinite love. They would remember from whence they came and where they were going.

Sin - beginning with the biblical sin of Adam and Eve -, has gutted this plan; it has “profaned” this gesture, in other words, it has stripped it of its religious value. It has turned it into a gesture that is an end in itself, which finishes with itself, and is therefore “unsatisfactory." The symbol has been separate from the reality is symbolizes, bereft of its intrinsic dynamism and therefore mutilated. Never as much as in this case is St. Augustine's saying true: “You made us, Lord, for you and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”

Even couples that are believers don’t come to find this richness of the initial meaning of sexual union due to the idea of concupiscence and original sin associated with the act for so many centuries. Only in the witness of some couples that have had a renewing experience of the Holy Spirit and that live Christian life charismatically do we find something of that original meaning of the conjugal act. They have confided with wonder, to friends or a priest, that they unite praising God out loud, and even singing in tongues. It was a real experience of God’s presence.

It is understandable why it is only possible to find this fullness of the marital vocation in the Holy Spirit. The constitutive act of marriage is reciprocal self-giving, making a gift of one’s own body (which in biblical language means of one’s whole self) to the spouse. In being the sacrament of the gift, marriage is, by its nature, a sacrament that is open to the action of the Holy Spirit, who is the Gift par excellence, or better said, the reciprocal self-giving of the Father and the Son. It is the sanctifying presence of the Spirit that makes marriage not only a celebrated sacrament, but a lived sacrament.

The secret to getting access to these splendors of Christian love is to give Christ space within the life of the couple. In fact, the Holy Spirit that makes all things new, comes from him. A book by Fulton Sheen, popular in the 50s, reiterated this with its title: “Three to Get Married.”[12] From a deeper point of view Teilhard de Chardin had arrived to the same conclusion: “Love is a function between three terms: man, woman and God”[13].

I end with some words taken once again from "The Satin Slipper" by Claudel. It is a dialogue between the woman of the drama and her guardian angel. The woman struggles between her fear and the desire to surrender herself to love:

-       So, is this love of the creatures, one for another, allowed? Isn’t God jealous?

-       How could He be jealous of what He Himself made?

-       But man, in the arms of the woman, forgets God…

-       Can they forget Him when they are with Him, participating in the mystery of his creation?[14]

--- --- ---

[1] P. Claudel, Le soulier de satin, a.III. sc.8 (éd. La Pléiade, II, Paris 1956, p. 804) : «Cet orgueilleux, il n'y avait pas d'autre moyen de lui faire comprendre le prochain, de le lui entres dans la chair.

Il n'y avait pas d'autre moyen de lui faire comprendre la dépendance, la nécessité et le besoin, un autre sur lui,

La loi sur lui de cet être différent pour aucune autre raison si ce n'est qu'il existe».

[2] B. Wannenwetsch, Mariage, in Dictionnaire Critique de Théologie, a cura di J.-Y. Lacoste, Parigi 1998, p. 700.

[3] Cf. G. Campanini, Matrimonio, in Dizionario di Teologia, Ed. San Paolo 2002, pp. 964 s.

[4] Giovanni Paolo II, Uomo e donna lo creò. Catechesi sull'amore umano, Rome 1985, p. 365.

[5] Cf. B. Griffin, Was Jesus a Philosophical Cynic? []; C. Augias e M. Pesce, Inchiesta su Gesú, Mondadori, 2006, pp. 121 ss.

[6] E.P. Sanders, Gesù e il giudaismo, Marietti, 1992, pp.324 ss.; J. Neusner, A Rabbi Talks with Jesus, McGill-Queen's University Press, 2000, pp. 53-72.

[7] T. Anatrella, Définitions des termes du Néo-langage de la philosophie du Constructivisme et du genre, a cura del Pontificium Consilium pro Familia, Città del Vaticano Novembre 2008.

[8] John Paul II, Discours at the general audience of 16 gennaio 1980 (Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II, Libreria Editrice Vaticana 1980, p. 148).

[9] Benedict XVI, Enc. Deus caritas est, 11.

[10] Cf. Cf. H. Mühlen, Der Heilige Geist als Person. Ich -Du -Wir, Muenster, in W. 1966.

[11] Lucretius, De rerum natura, IV,2 vv. 1104-1107.

[12] F. Sheen, Three to Get Married, Appleton-Century-Crofts 1951.

[13] P. Teilhard de Chardin, Esquisse d’un Univers personnel, 1936.

[14] P. Claudel, Le soulier de satin, a.III. sc.8 (éd. La Pléiade, II, Paris 1956, pp. 804):


Father Cantalamessa Explains Why 'Baptism in the Spirit' Is a Gift for the Whole Church
Tells What This Baptism Is and How It Relates to the Sacraments

ROME, May 09, 2014  - The preacher of the Pontifical Household, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, was a keynote speaker at a conference last week in Norfolk, Virginia.

The conference was titled "Awakening the Domestic Church," and Father Cantalamessa gave three addresses there. This one is called "The Baptism in the Spirit, A Grace for the Whole Church."

* * *

Before speaking about the baptism, or outpouring, in the Spirit, I think it is important to understand what the renewal in the Spirit is, where this experience happens and of which it constitutes the source and the high point. Then we will better understand that the outpouring is not an event in and of itself but rather the beginning of a journey whose aim is the profound renewal of life in the whole Church.

Renewal in the Spirit

The expression “renewal in the Spirit” has two biblical equivalents in the New Testament. To understand the soul of the charismatic movement, its profound inspiration, we must primarily search the Scripture. We need to discover the exact meaning of this phrase that is used to describe the experience of the renewal.

The first text is in Ephesians 4:23-24: “Be renewed in the spirit of your minds and  . . . clothe yourselves with the new self.” Here the word “spirit” is written with a small “s,” and rightly so, because it indicates “our” spirit, the most intimate part of us (the spirit of our minds), which Scripture generally calls "the heart.” The word “spirit” here indicates that part of ourselves that needs to be renewed in order for us to resemble Christ, the New Man par excellence. “Renewing ourselves” means striving to have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had (see Philippians 2:5), striving for a “new heart.”

This text clarifies the meaning and the aim of our experience: The renewal should be, above all, an interior one, one of the heart. After the Second Vatican Council, many things were renewed in the church: liturgy, pastoral care, the Code of Canon Law and religious constitutions and attire. Despite their importance, these things are only the antecedents of true renewal. It would be tragic to stop at these things and to think that the whole task has been completed.

What matters to God is people, not structures. It is souls that make the church beautiful, and therefore she must adorn herself with souls. God is concerned about the hearts of His people, the love of His people, and everything else is meant to function as a support to that priority.

Our first text is not enough, however, to explain the phrase “renewal in the Spirit.” It highlights our obligation to renew ourselves (“be renewed!”) as well as what must be renewed (the heart), but it doesn’t tell us the “how” of renewal. What good is it to tell us we “must” renew ourselves if we are not also told how to renew ourselves? We need to know the true author and protagonist of the renewal.

Our second biblical text, from Titus, addresses that precise issue. It says that God “saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5).

Here “Spirit”has a capital“S” because it points to the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit. The preposition “by”points to the instrument, the agent. The name we give to our experience signifies, then, something very exact: renewal by the work of the Holy Spirit, a renewal in which God, not man, is the principal author, the protagonist. “I [not you]” says God, “am making all things new” (Revelation 21:5); “My Spirit [and only He] can renew the face of the earth” (see Psalm 104:30).

This may seem like a small thing, a simple distinction, but it actually involves a real Copernican revolution—a complete reversal that people, institutions, communities and the whole church in its human dimension must undergo in order to experience a genuine spiritual renewal.

We often think according to the “Ptolemaic system”: Its foundation consists in efforts, organization, efficiency, reforms and good will. The “earth” is at the center of  this scheme, and God comes with His grace to empower and crown our efforts. The “Sun” revolves around the earth and is its vassal; God is the satellite of man.

However, the Word of God declares, “We need to give the power back to God”  (see Psalm 68:35) because the “power belongs to God” (Psalm 62:11). That is a trumpet call! For too long we have usurped God’s power, managing it as though it were ours, acting as though it were up to us to “govern” the power of God. Instead, we need to revolve around the “Sun.” That’s the Copernican revolution I’m talking about.

Through that kind of revolution, we recognize, simply, that without the Holy Spirit we can do nothing. We cannot even say, “Jesus is Lord!” (see 1 Corinthians 12:3). We recognize that even our most concerted effort is simply the effect of salvation, rather than its cause. Now we can begin to really “lift up our eyes” and to “look up,” as the prophet exhorts (see Isaiah 60:4), and to say, “I lift up my eyes to the hills—from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:1-2).

The Bible often repeats the command of God, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy!” (Leviticus 19:1; see Leviticus 11:44; 1 Peter 1:15-16). But in one place in that very same book of Leviticus, we find a statement that explains all the others: “I am the Lord; I sanctify you!” (Leviticus 20:8). I am the Lord who wants to renew you with My Spirit! Let yourselves be renewed by My Spirit!

Baptism: An “Unreleased” Sacrament

Now let’s move on to the theme of the baptism of the Spirit. First of all it must be said that this expression is not a recent  invention of pentecostals and charismatics. It comes directly from Jesus. Before leaving his disciples he said to them: “John baptized in water but, not many days from now, you are going to be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Ac 1:5). We know what happened not many days from that moment: Pentecost! The expression baptism in the Spirit therefore on one hand refers to the event of Pentecost and on the other hand to baptism. We could speak of it in terms of “ a new Pentecost” for the church (and I often do so) or in terms of a renewal of our baptism. This time I want to explore this second dimension of it.

The term “baptism in the Spirit” indicates that there is something here that is basic to baptism. We say that the outpouring of the Spirit actualizes and revives our baptism. To understand how a sacrament received so many years ago and administered in infancy can suddenly come alive and be revived and release such energy as we see on the occasions of outpouring, we must recall some aspects of sacramental theology.

Catholic theology can help us understand how a sacrament can be valid and legal but "unreleased." A sacrament is called “unreleased” if its fruit remains bound, or unused, because of the absence of certain conditions that further its efficacy. One extreme example would be the sacrament of marriage or of holy orders received while a person is in the state of mortal sin. In those cases, such sacraments cannot confer any grace on a person. If, however, the obstacle of sin is removed by repentance, the sacrament is said to revive (reviviscit) due to the faithfulness and irrevocability of the gift of God. God remains faithful even when we are unfaithful, because He cannot deny Himself (see 2 Timothy 2:13).

There are other cases in which a sacrament, while not being completely ineffective, is nevertheless not entirely released: It is not free to works its effects. In the case of baptism, what is it that causes the fruit of this sacrament to be held back?

Here we need to recall the classical doctrine about sacraments. Sacraments are not magic rites that act mechanically, without people’s knowledge or collaboration. Their efficacy is the result of a synergy, or collaboration, between divine omnipotence (that is, the grace of Christ and of the Holy Spirit) and free will. As Saint Augustine said, “He who created you without your consent will not save you without your cooperation.”

To put it more precisely, the fruit of the sacrament depends wholly on divine grace; however, this divine grace does not act without the “yes”—the consent and affirmation—of  the person. This consent is more of a “conditio sine qua non” than a cause in its own right. God acts like the bridegroom, who does not impose his love by force but awaits the free consent of his bride.

God's Role and Our Role in Baptism

Everything that depends on divine grace and the will of Christ in a sacrament is called “opus operatum,” which can be translated as “the work already accomplished, the objective and certain fruit of a sacrament when it is administered validly.” On the other hand, everything that depends on the liberty and disposition of the person is called “opus operantis”; this is the work yet to be accomplished by the individual, his or her affirmation.

The opus operatum of baptism, the part done by God and grace, is diverse and very rich: remission of sins; the gift of the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity (given in seed form); and divine sonship. All of this is mediated through the efficacious action of the Holy Spirit.  In the words of Clement of Alexandria:

Once baptized, we are enlightened; enlightened, we are adopted as sons; adopted, we are made perfect; made perfect, we receive immortality . . . . The operation of baptism has several names: grace, enlightenment, perfection, bath. It can be called a “bath” because through it we are purified of our sins; “grace” because the punishments deserved for our sins are removed; “enlightenment” because through it we can contemplate the beautiful and holy light of salvation, and see into divine reality; “perfection” because nothing is lacking.

Baptism is truly a rich collection of gifts that we received at the moment of our birth in God. But it is a collection that is still sealed up. We are rich because we possess these gifts (and therefore we can accomplish all the actions necessary for Christian life), but we don’t know what we possess. Paraphrasing a verse from John, we can say that we have been sons of God until now, but what we shall become has yet to be revealed (see 1 John 3:2). This is why we can say that, for the majority of Christians, baptism is a sacrament that is still “unreleased.”

So much for the opus operatum. What does the opus operantis consist of in baptism? 

It consists of faith! “The one who believes and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16). With regard to baptism, then, there is the element of a person’s faith. “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God” (John 1:12).

We can also recall the beautiful text from the Acts of the Apostles that tells about the baptism of Queen Candace’s court official. When their journey brought Philip and the official near some water, the official said, “‘Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?’ Philip said, ‘It is permitted if you believe with all your heart’ ” (Acts 8: 36-37). (Verse 37 here, an addition from the early Christian community, testifies to the common conviction of the church at that time.)

Baptism is like a divine seal stamped on the faith of man: “When you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, [you] were marked with the seal [this refers to baptism] of the promised Holy Spirit” (Ephesians1:13). Saint Basil wrote, “Truly, faith and baptism, these two modes of salvation, are bound indivisibly to one another, because if faith receives its perfection from baptism, baptism is founded on faith.” This same saint called baptism “the seal of faith.”

The individual’s part, faith, does not have the same importance and independence as God’s action because God plays a part even in someone’s act of faith: Even faith works by the grace that stirred it up. Nevertheless, the act of faith includes, as an essential element, the response—the individual’s “I believe!”—and in that sense we call it opus operantis, the work of the person being baptized.

Now we can understand why baptism was such a powerful and grace-filled event in the early days of the church and why there was not normally any need for a new outpouring of the Spirit like the one we are experiencing today. Baptism was administered to adults who were converting from paganism and who, after suitable instruction, were in a position to make an act of faith, an existential, free and mature choice about their lives. (We can read about baptism in the Mystagogical Catecheses, attributed to Cyril of Jerusalem, to understand the depth of faith of those who were prepared for baptism.)

They came to baptism by way of a true and genuine conversion. For them baptism was really a font of personal renewal in addition to a rebirth in the Holy Spirit (see Titus 3:5). Saint Basil, responding to someone who had asked him to write a treatise on baptism, said that it could not be explained without first explaining what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, because the Lord commands,

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. --MATTHEW 28:19-20

In order for baptism to operate in all its power, anyone who desires it must also be a disciple or have a serious intention of becoming one.  According to Saint Basil:

A disciple is, as the Lord Himself taught us, anyone who draws near to the Lord to follow Him, that is, to hear His Words, to believe and obey Him as one would a master or a king or a doctor or a teacher of truth. . . . Now, whoever believes in the Lord and presents himself ready to be disciple must first set aside every sin and everything that distracts from the obedience which is owed to the Lord for many reasons.

The favorable circumstance that allowed baptism to operate in such power at the beginning of the church was this: The action of God and the action of man came together simultaneously, with perfect synchronism. It happened when the two poles, one positive and one negative, touched, making light burst forth.

Today this synchronism is usually not operative. As the church adopted infant baptism, little by little the sacrament began to lack the act of faith that was free and personal. The faith was supplied, or uttered, by an intermediate party (parents and godparents) on behalf of the child. In the past, when the environment around the baby was Christian and full of faith, the child’s faith could develop, even if it was slowly. But today our situation has become even worse than that of the Middle Ages.

The environments in which many children now grow up do not help faith to blossom. The same must often be said of the family, and more so of the child’s school and even more so of our society and culture. This does not mean that in our situation today normal Christian life cannot exist or that there is no holiness or no charisms that accompany holiness. Rather, it means that instead of being the norm, it has become more and more of an exception.

In today’s situation, rarely, or never, do baptized people reach the point of proclaiming “in the Holy Spirit” that “Jesus is Lord!” And because they have not reached that point, everything in their Christian lives remains unfocused and immature. Miracles no longer happen. What happened with the people of Nazareth is being repeated: “Jesus was not able to do many miracles there because of their unbelief” (see Matthew 13:58).

The Meaning of the Ourpouring of the Spirit

The outpouring of the Spirit, then, is a response by God to the dysfunction in which Christian life now finds itself. In these last few years we know that the church, the bishops, have also begun to be concerned that Christian sacraments, especially baptism, are being administered to people who will make no use of them in their lives. Thus, they have considered the possibility of not administering baptism when the minimum guarantees that this gift of grace would be valued and cultivated are absent.

We cannot, in fact, “throw our pearls before swine,” as Jesus said, and baptism is a pearl because it is a fruit of the blood of Christ. But we can say that God is concerned, even more than the church is, about this dysfunction. He has raised up movements here and there in the church that are proceeding in the direction of renewing Christian initiation among adults.

The renewal in the Spirit is one of those movements, and its principal grace, without doubt, is tied to the outpouring of the Spirit and what precedes it. Its efficacy at revivifying baptism consists in this: Finally a person is doing his or her part, making a decision of faith that is prepared through repentance. This allows the work of God to “be released” in all its power.

It is as though God’s outstretched hand has finally grasped the hand of the individual, and through that handclasp, He transmits all His creative power, which is the Holy Spirit. To use an image from physics, the plug has been inserted into the outlet, and the light has been turned on. The gift of God is finally “unbound,” and the Spirit permeates Christian life like a perfume.

For the adult who has been a Christian for many years, this faith decision necessarily has the characteristic of a conversion. We could describe this outpouring of the Spirit, insofar as the person is concerned, either as a renewal of baptism or as a second conversion.

We can understand something else about this outpouring if we also see its connection with confirmation, at least in the current practice of separating it from the sacrament of  baptism and administering it later. In addition to being a renewal of the grace of baptism, the outpouring is also a “confirmation” of baptism itself, a conscious “yes” to it, its fruit and its commitments. As such it parallels (at least in its subjective aspect) the effects of confirmation on the objective, sacramental level.

Confirmation is understood as a sacrament that develops, confirms and fulfills the work of baptism. The outpouring is a subjective and spontaneous—not sacramental—confirmation in which the Spirit acts not from the power of the sacramental institution but through the power of His free initiative and the openness of the person.

The meaning of  confirmation sheds light on the special sense of greater involvement in the apostolic and missionary dimension of the church that usually characterizes someone who has received the outpouring of the Spirit. That person feels impelled to help build up the church, to serve the church in various ministries, clerical or lay, and to give testimony to Christ. All of these things recall Pentecost and actualize the sacrament of confirmation.

Jesus, “The One Who Baptizes in the Holy Spirit”

The outpouring of the Holy Spirit is not the only occasion in the church for this renewal of the sacraments of initiation and, in particular, of the coming of the Holy Spirit at baptism. Other occasions include the renewal of baptismal vows during Easter vigils; spiritual exercises; the profession of vows, called “a second baptism”; and, on the sacramental level, confirmation.

It is not difficult, then, to find the presence of a “spontaneous outpouring” in the lives of the saints, especially on the occasion of their conversion. For example, we can read about Saint Francis at his conversion:

After the feast they left the house and started off singing through the streets. Francis’ companions were leading the way; and he, holding his wand of office, followed them at a little distance. Instead of singing, he was listening very attentively. All of a sudden the Lord touched his heart, filling it with such surpassing sweetness that he could neither speak nor move. He could only feel and hear this overwhelming sweetness which detached him so completely from all other physical sensations that, as he said later, had he been cut to pieces on the spot he could not have moved.

When his companions looked around, they saw him in the distance and turned back. To their amazement they saw that he was transformed into another man, and they asked him, “What were you thinking of? Why didn’t you follow us? Were you thinking of getting married?”

Francis answered in a clear voice: “You are right: I was thinking of wooing the noblest, richest, and most beautiful bride ever seen.” His friends laughed at him saying he was a fool and did not know what he was saying; in reality he had spoken by a divine inspiration.

Although I said the outpouring of the Spirit is not the only time of renewal of baptismal grace, it holds a very special place because it is open to all of God’s people, big and small, and not just to certain privileged people who do the Ignatian spiritual exercises or take religious vows. Where does that extraordinary power that we have experienced in an outpouring come from? We are not, in fact, speaking about a theory but about something that we ourselves have experienced. We can also say, with Saint John, “What we have heard, and what we have seen with our own eyes and touched with our own hands, we declare to you because you are in communion with us” (see 1 John 1:1-3). The explanation for this power lies in God’s will: It has pleased Him to renew the church of our day by this means, and that is all there is to it!

There are certainly some biblical precedents for this outpouring, like the one narrated in Acts 8:14-17. Peter and John, knowing that the Samaritans had heard the Word of God, came to them, prayed for them and laid hands on them to receive the Holy Spirit. But the text that we need to begin with to understand something about this baptism in the Spirit is primarily John 1:32-33:

And John [the Baptist] testified, "I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, 'He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’”

What does it mean that Jesus is "the one who baptizes in the Holy Spirit"? The phrase serves not only to distinguish the baptism of Jesus from that of John, who baptized only “with water,” but to distinguish the whole person and work of Christ from His precursor’s. In other words, in all His works, Jesus is the one who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.

“To baptize” has a metaphoric significance here: It means “to flood, to bathe completely and to submerge,” just as water does with bodies. Jesus “baptizes in the Holy Spirit” in the sense that he “gives the Spirit without measure” (see John 3:34), that He has “poured out” His Spirit (see Acts 2:33) on all of redeemed humanity. The phrase refers to the event of Pentecost more than to the sacrament of baptism, as one can deduce from the passage in Acts: “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Acts 1:5).

The expression “to baptize in the Holy Spirit” defines, then, the essential work of Christ, which already in the messianic prophecies of the Old Testament appeared oriented to regenerating humanity by means of a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit (see Joel 2:28-29). Applying all this to the life and history of the church, we must conclude that the resurrected Jesus baptized in the Holy Spirit not only in the sacrament of baptism but in different ways and at different times as well: in the Eucharist, in the hearing of the Word of God, in all other “means of grace.”

The baptism in the Spirit is one of the ways that the resurrected Jesus continues his essential work of “baptizing in the Spirit.” For this reason, even though we can explain this grace in reference to baptism and Christian initiation, we need to avoid becoming rigid about his point of view.  It is not only baptism that revives the grace of initiation, but also confirmation, first communion, the ordination of priests and bishops, religious vows, marriage—all the graces and charisms. This is truly the grace of a new Pentecost. It is, like the rest of Christian life, a new and sovereign initiative, in a certain sense, of the grace of God, which is founded on but not exhausted in baptism. It is linked not just to “initiation” but also to the “perfection” of Christian life.

Only in this way can we explain the presence of the baptism in the Spirit among Pentecostal brothers and sisters. The concept of initiation is foreign to them, and they do not invest the same importance in water baptism as do Catholics and other Christians. In its very origin the baptism in the Spirit has an ecumenical value, which is necessary to preserve at all costs. It is a promise and an instrument of unity among Christians, helping us to avoid an excessive “catholicizing” of this shared experience.

  Brotherly Love, Prayer and Laying on of Hands

In the outpouring there is a hidden, mysterious dimension that is different for each person because only God knows us intimately. He acts in a way that respects the uniqueness of our personalities. At the same time, there is also a visible dimension, in the community, that is the same for all and that constitutes a kind of sign, analogous to the signs in the sacraments. The visible, or community, dimension consists primarily in three things: brotherly love, prayer and  the laying on of hands. These are not sacramental signs, but they are indeed biblical and ecclesial.

The laying on of hands can signify two things: invocation or consecration. We see, for example, both types of laying on of hands at Mass. There is the laying on of hands as invocation (at least in the Roman rite) at the moment of epiclesis, when the priest prays, “May the Holy Spirit sanctify these gifts so that they may become for us the body and blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ.” Then there is the laying on of hands when the concelebrants pray over the offerings at the moment of consecration. 

In the rite of confirmation, as it now occurs, there are also two occasions for the laying on of hands. The first has the character of invocation. The other, which accompanies the anointing with the oil of chrism on the forehead, by which the sacrament becomes actualized, has the character of consecration.

In the outpouring of the Spirit, the laying on of hands has only the character of invocation (similar to what we find in Genesis 48:14; Leviticus 9:22; Mark 10:13-16; Matthew 19:13-15). It also has a highly symbolic significance: It recalls the image of the Holy Spirit's overshadowing (see Luke 1:35); it also recalls the Holy Spirit as He “swept over” the face of the waters (see Genesis 1:2). In the original the word that is translated “swept over” means "to cover with one’s wings,” or “to brood, like a hen with her chicks.”

Tertullian clarifies the symbolism of the laying on of hands in baptism: “The flesh is covered over by the laying on of hands so that the soul can be enlightened by the Spirit.” This action is a paradox, like many things in God: The laying on of hands enlightens by covering, like the cloud that followed the chosen people in Exodus and like the one that surrounded the disciples on Mount Tabor (see Exodus 14:19-20; Matthew 17:5).

The other two elements are brotherly love and prayer, or "brotherly love that expresses itself in prayer." Brotherly love is the sign and vehicle of the Holy Spirit. He, who is Love, finds a natural environment in brotherly love, His sign par excellence.  (We can also say this love is like a sacramental sign, even if it is in a different sense: “a signifying cause.”) We cannot insist enough on the importance of an atmosphere of brotherly love surrounding those who are going to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Prayer is also closely connected with the outpouring of the Spirit in the New Testament. Concerning Jesus’ baptism, Luke writes, “While he was in prayer, the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him” (see Luke 3:21). It was Jesus’ prayer, we could say, that made the heavens open and the Holy Spirit descend upon Him.

The outpouring at Pentecost happened this way too: While they were all continuing in prayer, there came the sound of a violent wind, and tongues of fire appeared (see Acts 1:14-21). Jesus Himself said, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate” (John 14:16). On every occasion the outpouring of the Spirit is connected to prayer.

These signs--the laying on of hands, brotherly love and prayer--all point to simplicity; they are simple instruments. Precisely because of this, they bear the mark of God’s action. Tertullian writes of baptism:

There is nothing which leaves the minds of men so amazed as the simplicity of the divine actions which they see performed and the magnificence of the effects that follow. . . . Simplicity and power are the prerogatives of God.

This is the opposite of what the world does. In the world the bigger the objectives are, the more complicated are the means. When people wanted to get to the moon, the necessary apparatus was gigantic.

If simplicity is the mark of divine action, we need to preserve it in our prayer for the outpouring of the Spirit. Simplicity should shine forth in prayers, in gestures, in everything. There should be nothing theatrical, no excited movements or excessive words, etc.

The Bible records the glaring contrast between the actions of the priests of Baal and the prayer of Elijah during the sacrifice on Mount Carmel. The former cried out, limped around the altar and cut themselves until they bled. Elijah simply prayed, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, . . . answer me, so that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back!” (1 Kings 18:36-37). The fire of the Lord fell on the sacrifice prepared by Elijah but not on the one prepared by the priests of Baal (see 1 Kings 18:25-38). Elijah later experienced that God was not in the great wind, or in the earthquake, or in the fire but in the still, small voice (see 1 Kings 19:11-12).

From where does the grace of the outpouring come? From the people present? No! From the person who receives? Again, no! It comes from God. It makes no sense to ask if the Holy Spirit comes from inside or from outside of the person: God is inside and outside. We can only say that such grace has a connection to baptism because God always acts with consistency and faithfulness; He does not contradict Himself. He honors the commitment and the institutions of Christ.  One thing is certain: It is not the brothers and sisters who confer the Holy Spirit. Rather, they invite the Holy Spirit to come upon a person. No one can give the Spirit, not even the pope or a bishop, because no one possesses the Holy Spirit. Only Jesus can actually give the Holy Spirit. People do not possess the Holy spirit, but, rather, are possessed by Him.

When we talk about the mode of this grace, we can speak of it as a new coming of the Holy Spirit, as a new sending of the Spirit by the Father through Jesus Christ or as a new anointing corresponding to a new level of grace. In this sense the outpouring, although not a sacrament, is nevertheless an event, a spiritual event. This definition corresponds most closely to the reality of the thing. It is an event, something that happens and that leaves a sign, creating something new in a life. It is a spiritual event, rather than an outwardly visible, historical one, because it happens in a person’s spirit, in the interior part of a person, where others may not recognize what is happening. Finally, it is spiritual because it is the work of the Holy Spirit.

There is a wonderful text from the apostle Paul that speaks specifically of the renewing of the gift of God. Let’s hear it as an invitation addressed to each of us:

I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.--2 TIMOTHY 1:6-7


Father Cantalamessa Explains Movements, Communities and the New Evangelization
Says 4 Waves of Evangelization Mark History of the Church

ROME, May 12, 2014 ( - The preacher of the Pontifical Household, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, was a keynote speaker at a conference this month in Norfolk, Virginia.

The conference was titled "Awakening the Domestic Church," and Father Cantalamessa gave three addresses there.

ZENIT published the first two here and here.

This one is called "How Covenant Communities and Ecclesial Movements Fit Into the Plan of a New Evangelization."

* * *

We can identify in the history of the Church four times in which one can see an increase or a renewal of missionary activity, namely:

1.   the first three centuries of Christian history, in particular, the second half of the third century when large parts of the Roman Empire were converted. Protagonists: the bishops;

2.   the fourth to the ninth centuries, in which we witness the re-evangelization of Europe after the barbarian invasions. Protagonists: the monks;

3.   the sixteenth century, with the discovery of the inhabitants of the New World and their conversion to Christianity. Protagonists: the friars;

4.   the current era, which sees the Church engaged in re-evangelizing the secularized West. Protagonists: the laity.

What changes and distinguishes the various waves of evangelization mentioned is not the object of the announcement—“the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints,” as the Letter of Jude (v. 3) calls it, but its respective recipients: the Greco-Roman world, the barbarian world, and the New World, namely, the American continent.

Therefore, we ask ourselves: who comprises this new group that allows us to speak of a fourth wave of new evangelization taking place today? The answer is the secularized, and in some ways, post-Christian, Western world. This specification, which already emerged in the documents of Blessed John Paul II, became explicit in the teaching of Benedict XVI. In his motu proprio entitled “Ubicumque et semper,” in which he established the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, he speaks of many countries of “Churches of ancient Christian origin ... [that] seem particularly resistant to many aspects of the Christian message.”

Parallel to the appearance of a new world to evangelize, we have also witnessed a new class of evangelizers emerging each time: bishops during the first three centuries (especially in the third), monks during the second wave, and friars in the third. Even today we are witnessing the emergence of a new category of protagonists of evangelization: the laity. This obviously does not mean replacing one category with another, but rather adding a new component of the people of God to the other, while the bishops, headed by the Pope, always remain the authoritative guides and ultimate responsible of the missionary task of the Church.

Like the wake of a great ship

I said that throughout the centuries the recipients of the message have changed but not the message itself. I must clarify this statement. It is true that the essence of the proclamation cannot change; however, the way of presenting it, its priorities, and the departure point of the message itself can and must change.

Let us summarize the unfolding of the Gospel message up to our present era. First came the announcement made by Jesus, which has as its central theme the news that “the kingdom of God has come near.” This unique and unrepeatable stage, which we call the “time of Jesus,” was followed after Easter by the “time of the Church.” In this second stage, Jesus was no longer the announcer, but the one announced; the word “Gospel” no longer meant (except in the four Gospels) “the Good News brought by Jesus,” but the Good News about Jesus. It had as its object Jesus himself, and in particular, his death and resurrection. This is what Saint Paul always meant by the word “Gospel.”

It is important, however, to be careful not to excessively separate the two “times” from the two announcements—that of Jesus and that of the Church, or (as some have been saying) the “historical Jesus” from the “Christ of faith.” Jesus is not only the object of the Church’s proclamation, that which is announced. Woe to us if we reduce him to only this! That would mean to “objectify” him and deny the resurrection. In the Church’s proclamation, it is the risen Christ who, with his Spirit, still speaks today. He is also the subject who announces. As a text of the Second Vatican Council says, “[Christ] is present in his word, since it is he himself who speaks when the holy scriptures are read in the Church.”

Starting with the original announcement, we can summarize the successive unfolding of the preaching of the Church with an image suggested by Péguy. Consider the wake of a great ship: it begins in a point, which is the bow of the ship. But it continues to broaden more and more, until it is lost in the horizon and touches the two opposite shores of the sea. This is what came about through the Church’s proclamation: it began with a point—the kerygma—Christ “was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification” (see Rom 4:25; 1 Cor 15:3); and, expressed in an even more emphatic and concise manner, “Jesus is Lord” (see Acts 2:36; Rom 10:9).

The initial expansion of this point occurred with the appearance of the four Gospels (written to explain that initial core), and then with the rest of the New Testament. Then came the Tradition of the Church with its magisterial teaching, liturgy, theology, institutions, laws, and spirituality. The end result is an immense patrimony, which suggests precisely the wake of a ship at its maximum expansion.

At this point, if we want to re-evangelize the post-Christian world, we must make a choice. Where should we begin—at any point along the wake, or from its beginning? The immense abundance of doctrine and institutions can become a handicap if we try to present this to the person who has lost all contact with the Church and no longer knows who Jesus is. It would be like vesting a child all at once with one of those old, huge, heavy brocaded liturgical copes. It would crush him.

Instead, we must help these people establish a relationship with Jesus. We need to do with them what Peter did on the day of Pentecost with the three thousand people present: speak to them about this crucified Jesus whom God raised up. We should take them to the point at which they, too, cut to the heart, shall ask, “Brothers, what should we do?” Then, we shall respond with the words of Peter, “Repent, and be baptized” (Acts 2:37ff), if you are not yet baptized, or confess, if you already have been.

How and when to do this will depend on our creative ability. And it can vary, as happened in the New Testament: from Peter’s discourse to the large crowd on the day of Pentecost, or person to person, like Philip to the Ethiopian eunuch of Queen Candace (see Acts 8:27). Those who shall respond to the announcement will unite, as they did then, around the community of believers. They will listen to the teaching of the apostles and partake in the breaking of bread. Depending on the call and response of each person, little by little they will make their own that entire immense heritage born of the kerygma. People will not accept Jesus based on the word of the Church, but they will accept the Church based on the word of Jesus.

We have an ally in this effort: the failure of all attempts by the secular world to replace the Christian kerygma with other “screams” and “manifestos.” I often use the example of the famous painting by the Norwegian artist Edvard Munch, called The Scream. A man stands on a bridge with a reddish background. His hands are wrapped around his wide open mouth, from which he emits a cry. We immediately understand that it is an empty cry full of anguish, without words, only sound. This image seems to me the most effective way to describe the situation of modern humanity. Having cast aside the cry full of substance—the kerygma—humanity now finds itself having to scream its existential angst in the dark.

Christ, our contemporary

Now I would like to try to explain why it is possible to begin anew in Christianity at any moment from the point of the ship, without deceiving ourselves or simply digging up the past. The reason is straightforward: the ship still sails the sea and its wake still begins with one point!

The philosopher Søren Kierkegaard said some truly wonderful things about the faith and about Jesus, yet on one topic I do not agree with him. One of his favorite themes is that of the contemporaneity of Christ. But he understands such contemporaneity to mean that we should be contemporaries of Christ. “He who believes in Christ,” he writes, “is obligated to be contemporaneous with him in his humbling of himself.” The idea is that in order to really believe with the same faith required of the apostles, we must disregard two thousand years of history and testimony about Christ and put ourselves in the shoes of those to whom Jesus spoke, when he said, for example, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28). What would we think of a man who says this, while knowing that he does not have a stone on which to lay his head?

No. I think that the true contemporaneity of Christ is something else. It is he who makes himself our contemporary, because, having risen, he lives in the Spirit and in the Church. If we were to make ourselves contemporaries of Christ, it would be merely an intentional contemporaneity; if it is Christ who makes himself our contemporary, it is a real contemporaneity. According to a bold idea of Orthodox spirituality, “anamnesis, that is, liturgical memorial, is a joyous remembrance that makes the past more present than when it was lived.” This is not an exaggeration. In the liturgical celebration of the Mass, the event of the death and resurrection of Christ becomes more real for me than it was to those who were actually physically present at the event: at that time, there was a presence “according to the flesh,” while now, after the resurrection and Pentecost, the presence is “according to the Spirit.” 

The same thing happens when one proclaims with faith, “[The Lord] was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification” (Rom 4:25). A fourth-century author writes: “For every man, the beginning of life is that moment when Christ was sacrificed for him. But Christ is sacrificed for him at the moment when he recognizes the grace and becomes conscious of the life procured for him by that sacrifice.”

I realize that these things are difficult and perhaps not even possible to say to people, let alone to those in our secularized world. But we who evangelize must be very clear about this in order to draw courage from and believe in the words of John the Evangelist who says, “for the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 Jn 4:4).

The laity, new protagonists of evangelization

I said at the beginning of the chapter that, lay people are the new protagonists in the present phase of evangelization. Their role in evangelization has been acknowledged by the Council in Apostolicam Actuositatem, by Pope Paul VI in Evangelii Nuntiandi, and by John Paul II in Christifideles Laici: respectively the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity (November 18, 1965), On Evangelization in the Modern World (December 8, 1975), and The Lay Members of Christ’s Faithful People (December 30, 1988).

The basis of this universal call to mission is already present in the Gospel. After commissioning the first apostles, we read in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus “appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go” (Lk 10:1). Those seventy-two disciples were probably all he had gathered by that point, or at least all those who were willing to make a serious commitment to him. Jesus, therefore, sends all his disciples.

I once met a layman in the United States who, besides being a father of a family and having a profession, also strove intensely to evangelize. He had a great sense of humor, and he often spoke to audiences in such a way that they would roar in laughter (so typical of Americans). Whenever he would go to a new place, he would start out by saying (quite seriously), “Twenty-five hundred bishops gathered at the Vatican and they asked me to come and preach the Gospel to you.” The people would naturally become curious. He would then explain that the twenty-five hundred bishops were those who had taken part in the Second Vatican Council and had written the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity (Apostolicam Actuositatem), which urges every Christian layperson to participate in the evangelizing mission of the Church. He was perfectly correct in saying, “They asked me ...” Those words of the Council were not spoken as if to the wind—to everyone and no one—but they were personally addressed to each lay Catholic.

Today we know that nuclear energy is released from the “fission” of an atom. An atom of uranium is bombarded and “broken” in two by the collision of a particle called the neutron. This process releases energy and starts a chain reaction. The two new elements are fissile, that is, in turn they split into two other atoms. These, then, split into four and so on until there are billions of atoms, “liberating” an immense amount of energy. This energy is not necessarily destructive because nuclear energy also can be used for peaceful purposes to benefit humanity.

We can use this analogy on a spiritual level to say that the laity are a kind of nuclear energy within the Church. A layperson who is inflamed by the Gospel, by living near others, can “spread” to two more, who then spread to another four. And since lay Christians number not just in the tens of thousands (like the clergy) but in the hundreds of millions, they can truly play a decisive role in spreading the light of the Gospel throughout the world. What makes the evangelization of the laity even more praiseworthy is that it is often done freely, by spending money out of their own pockets.

The apostolate of the laity was discussed even before the Second Vatican Council. The element that the Council introduced regarding this matter, however, was the title used to describe how the laity contribute to the apostolate of the hierarchy. Laypersons are not merely “collaborators” called upon to give of their time, professional abilities, and resources; they are bearers of their own charisms by which, Lumen Gentium says, “[The Holy Spirit] makes them fit and ready to undertake the various tasks and offices that contribute toward the renewal and building up of the Church.”

Jesus wanted his apostles to be shepherds of the flock and fishers of men. For members of the clergy, it is often easier to be pastors and not fishermen, that is, to nourish with the Word and sacraments those who already come to church, rather than go out in search of those who are far away and live in the most diverse environments. The parable of the lost sheep is reversed today: ninety-nine sheep have strayed and only one remains in the sheepfold (see Mt 18:12). The danger is that we spend all our time nourishing the remaining one and have no time (due in part to the lack of clergy) to go out and search for the lost ones. To this end, the contribution of the laity seems providential.

The most advanced achievement in this regard is represented by the covenant communities and the ecclesial movements. Their specific contribution to evangelization is to provide adults with the opportunity to rediscover their baptism and become active and committed members of the Church. Many conversions today, both of nonbelievers and of nominal Christians returning to the practice of their faith, are made in the context of these movements.

Benedict XVI stressed the importance of the family in view of evangelization, speaking of a “leading role” of Christian families in this matter. “And just as the eclipse of God and the crisis of the family are linked,” he said, “so the new evangelization is inseparable from the Christian family.” Saint Gregory the Great, while commenting on the aforementioned passage of the seventy-two disciples, wrote that Jesus sent them out two by two “because when there are less than two people, there can be no love,” and love is that by which Jesus’ followers are recognized as his disciples. This applies to everyone, but especially to two parents. If they can no longer do anything to help their children in the faith, they would do much if their children, in observing them, could say to one another: “Look how much Mom and Dad love each other.” Scripture says, “Love is from God” (1 Jn 4:7), and this explains why wherever there is a little true love, God is always proclaimed there.

The first evangelization begins within the walls of the home. To one young man who asked what he must do to be saved, Jesus responded, “go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor. . .; then come, follow me” (Mk 10:21). But to another young man who wanted to leave everything in order to follow him, Jesus did not permit him, but told him instead, “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you” (Mk 5:19).

There is a famous African American spiritual entitled, “There Is a Balm in Gilead.” Some of its words can encourage the laity (and not only them) in the task of evangelizing—person to person, door to door. The hymn says: “If you cannot sing like angels, if you cannot preach like Paul, go home and tell your neighbor, he died to save us all.”


Father Cantalamessa's 1st Advent Homily December 2014
"My Peace I Give You"

VATICAN CITY, December 05, 2014 - Here is a translation of the first Advent sermon delivered today by Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher of the pontifical household.

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Peace as Gift of God in Christ Jesus

We are at peace with God!

If one could hear the loudest cry that is in the heart of billions of people, one would hear, in all the languages of the world, only one word: peace! The painful actuality of this subject, united to the need to give back to the word peace the richness and profundity of meaning that it has in the Bible, has driven me to dedicate this year’s Advent meditations to this subject. It will help us to hear with new ears the Christmas announcement: “on earth peace among men with whom God is pleased,” and also to begin to live inside the Church the message that she addresses every year to the world on the World Day of Peace.

We begin by listening to the fundamental announcement about peace. They are Paul’s words in the Letter to the Romans:

“Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God (Romans 5:1-2).

I still remember what happened the day that the Second World War ended for Italy. The cry “Armistice! Peace!” spread from the city to the country, from house to house. It was the end of a nightmare -- no more terror, no more bombardments, no more hunger. It seemed that one finally returned to live again. That announcement of the Apostle should arouse something of this sort in the heart of readers: “We have peace with God! Peace has been made! A new age has begun for humanity in its relation with God!” Theirs has been described as “an age of anxiety.” People of that time had the impression (anything but unfounded) of a condemnation that weighed on their head. Paul calls it “the wrath of God [that] is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness” (Romans 1:18), hence the emergence of the esoteric rites and cults of propitiation, which were rife in the pagan society of that time.

When we speak of peace, we are almost always led to think of a horizontal peace: between peoples, between races, social classes, religions. The word of God teaches us that the first and most essential peace is the vertical, between heaven and earth, between God and humanity. From it depend all other forms of peace. We see this in the account of creation itself. While Adam and Eve were at peace with God, there was peace within each of them, between flesh and spirit (they were naked and did not feel shame); there was peace between man and woman (“flesh of my flesh”), between the human being and the rest of creation. No sooner they rebelled against God, everything became a struggle: the flesh against the spirit (they realized they were naked), man against woman (“the woman seduced me”), nature against man (thorns and tribulations), brother against brother, Cain against Abel.

This is the reason I decided to dedicate this first meditation to peace as gift of God in Christ Jesus. In the second meditation we will speak of peace as a task to work for and, in the third, of peace as fruit of the Spirit, namely, of the soul’s inner peace.

The Peace of God Promised and Given

Paul’s announcement, which we just heard, presupposes that something happened that had changed humanity’s destiny. If we are now at peace with God, it means that before we were not; if now “there is no condemnation” (Romans 8:1), it means that before there was condemnation. Let us see what it was that produced such a decisive change in the relations between man and God.

In face of man’s rebellion – original sin – God did not abandon humanity to its fate, but He decided on a new plan to reconcile man with Himself. A trivial but useful example to understand this, is what happens today with the so-called Sat Nav’s in cars. If at a certain point the driver does not follow the indication given to him from above by the navigator, if he turns, for instance, to the left rather than to the right, in a few seconds the navigator traces a new itinerary for him, from the position in which he is, to reach his desired destination. Thus God did with man, deciding, after the sin, his plan of redemption.

The long preparation began with the biblical covenants. They are, so to speak, “separate peaces.” First with individual persons: Noah, Abraham and Jacob. Then through Moses with the whole of Israel, who became the People of the Covenant. These covenants, as opposed to human ones, are always covenants of peace, never of war against enemies.

However, God is God of the whole of humanity: “Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also?” exclaims Saint Paul (Romans 3:29). Therefore, these ancient covenants were by themselves temporal, destined to be extended one day to the whole human race. In fact, the prophets begin to speak ever more clearly of a “new and eternal covenant,” of a “covenant of peace” (Ezekiel 37:26), which out of Zion and from Jerusalem will extend to all peoples (cf. Isaiah 2:2-5).

This universal peace is presented as a return to the initial peace of Eden, with images and symbols that the Jewish tradition interprets in a literal sense and the Christian in a spiritual sense.

“They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Isaiah 2:4) ”The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them” (Isaiah 11:6-7).

The New Testament sees all these prophecies realized with the coming of Jesus. His birth is revealed to shepherds with the announcement: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased!” (Luke 2:14). Jesus himself states that he came on earth to bring God’s peace: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you,” he says (John 14:27). On the Easter evening in the Cenacle, who knows with what divine vibrations the word Shalom issued from the mouth of the Risen One! Peace to you! As the Angels’ announcement at Christmas, it is not only a greeting or a wish but something real that is communicated. All the content of the redemption was enclosed in that word.

The Apostolic Church does not tire of proclaiming the fulfilment of all God’s promises of peace, which took place in Christ. Speaking of the Messiah who would be born in Bethlehem of Judea, the prophet Micah pre-announced: “He shall be our peace!” (Micah 5:4), exactly what the Letter to the Ephesians affirms of Christ: “He is our peace” (Ephesians 2:14). “The Lord’s birth, says Saint Leo the Great, is the birth of peace.”

Peace, Fruit of Christ’s Cross

But now we ask ourselves a more precise question. Was it with his simple coming on earth that Jesus re-established peace between heaven and earth? Is the birth of Christ truly “the birth of peace,” or is it also, and above all, his death? The answer is contained in Paul’s word, with which we began: “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1). Peace comes from justification through faith and justification comes through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross! (cf. Romans 3:21-26).

What is more, peace is the content itself of justification. Thisw does not consist only in the remission  (or, according to Luther, in the non-imputation) of sins, namely, in something purely negative, in the “taking away” of something that was; it comprises also and above all a positive element, a putting something that was not: the Holy Spirit and, with it, grace and peace.

One thing is clear: one cannot understand the radical change that took place in relations with God, if one does not understand what happened in Christ’s death. East and West are unanimous in describing humanity’s situation before Christ and outside of him. On one hand, there were men who, sinning, had incurred a debt with God and had to fight against the devil who kept them slaves -- all things that they could not do, the debt being infinite and they prisoners of Satan from whom they needed to be freed. On the other hand, there was God who could expiate the sin and defeat Satan, but he did not have to do it, that is, he was not held to do it, as he was not the debtor. There had to be someone who united in himself he who had to fight and he who could win, and this is what happened with Christ, God and man. This is how Nicholas Cabasilas, among the Greeks, and Saint Anselm of Aosta, among the Latins, expressed themselves in rather close terms.

Jesus’ death on the cross is the moment in which the Redeemer carries out the work of redemption, destroying sin and gaining victory over Satan. As man, what he carries out belongs to us: “Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30). On the other hand, in as much as God, what he does has infinite value and can save “all those who draw near to him” (Hebrews 7:25).

Recently, there has been a profound rethinking on the meaning of Christ’s sacrifice. In 1972 the French thinker Réné Girard launched the thesis according to which “violence is the secret heart and soul of the sacred.” In fact, at the origin and center of every religion, including the Jewish, there is sacrifice, the rite of the scapegoat, which always entails destruction and death. Already before this date, however, this scholar had returned to Christianity and, at Easter of 1959, he made his “conversion” public, declaring himself a believer and returning to the Church.

This enabled him not to stop, in subsequent studies, at the analysis of the mechanism of violence, but to indicate also how to come out of it. According to him, Jesus unmasks and breaks the mechanism that makes violence holy, making himself the voluntary “scapegoat” of humanity, the innocent victim of all violence. Christ, the Letter to the Hebrews already said (Hebrews 9:11-14), did not come with the blood of another, but with his own. He did not make victims, but made himself victim. He did not put his sins on the shoulders of others – men or animals – he put the sins of others on his own shoulders: ”He bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24).

Can one, then, continue to speak of the “sacrifice” of the cross and therefore of the Mass as sacrifice? For a long time the quoted scholar rejected this concept, regarding it too marked by the idea of violence, but then, with the whole of Christian tradition, he ended by admitting its legitimacy, on condition of seeing, in that of Christ, a new kind of sacrifice, and seeing in this change of meaning “the central event in the religious history of humanity.”

All this enables one to understand better, in what sense reconciliation happened on the cross between God and men. Usually the sacrifice of expiation served to placate an irate God because of sin. Man, offering a sacrifice to God, asks the divinity for reconciliation and forgiveness. In Christ’s sacrifice the perspective is reversed.  It is not man who exercises influence on God to placate him. Rather, it is God who acts so that man will desist from his enmity against him. “Salvation does not begin with the request for reconciliation by man, but rather with God’s request to be reconciled with himself.” In this connection, one understands the Apostle’s affirmation: “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself” (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:19), and again: “For while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son” (Romans 5:10).

4. “Receive the Holy Spirit!”

The peace that Christ merited for us with his death on the cross becomes active and operative in us through the Holy Spirit. Therefore, in the Cenacle, after having said to the Apostles: “Peace be with you,” he breathed on them and added, as in a single breath: “Receive the Holy Spirit!” (John 20:22).

In reality, peace does come from the cross of Christ, but it is not born from it. It comes from farther away. On the cross Jesus destroyed the wall of sin and of the enmity that impeded God’s peace to pour out on men. The ultimate source of peace is the Trinity. “O Blessed Trinity, ocean of peace!” exclaims the liturgy in one of its hymns. According to Dionysius the Areopagite, “Peace” is one of God’s names. He is peace in himself, as he is love and as he is light.

Almost all polytheistic religions speak of divinity in a permanent state of rivalry and war among themselves. Greek mythology is the most noted example. In strict terms, one cannot speak of God as source and model of peace, not even in the context of an absolute and numeric monotheism. Peace, in fact, like love, cannot exist less than between two persons. It consists in beautiful relations, in relations of love, and the Trinity is, precisely, this beauty and perfection of relations. What strikes us most when we contemplates Rublev’s icon of the Trinity is the sense of superhuman peace that emanates from it.

Therefore, when Jesus says: “Shalom!” and “Receive the Holy Spirit,” he communicates to the disciples something of “the peace of God, which passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). In this sense, peace is almost a synonym of grace and, in fact, the two terms are used together, as a sort of binomial, at the beginning of the Apostolic Letters: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 1:7) (1 Thessalonians 1:1). When “Peace be with you,” “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, give us peace” is proclaimed in the Mass and, at the end, “Go in peace,” it is of this peace as gift of God that one speaks.

“Be Reconciled with God”

I would now like to bring to light how this gift of peace, received ontologically and by right in Baptism, must change little by little, in fact as well and psychologically, our relation with God. Paul’s heartbroken appeal: “We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20) is addressed to baptized Christians who have lived as a community for a long time. Therefore, he is not referring to the first reconciliation or, evidently, to that which we call “the Sacrament of Reconciliation.” In this existential sense, it is addressed also to each one of us and we try to understand in what it consists.

One of the causes, perhaps the principal one, of modern man’s alienation from religion and from the faith is the distorted image that he has of God. This is also the cause of a spent Christianity, without thrust and without joy, lived more as a duty than as a gift. I think of how the grandiose image of God the Father was in the Sistine Chapel when I saw it for the first time many years ago, all covered by a dark patina, and how it is now, after the restoration, with the lively colors and clear contours with which it issued from Michelangelo’s brush. A more urgent restoration of the image of God the Father must happen in men’s hearts, including in us, believers.

What is, in fact, the “pre-defined” image of God  (in computer language, which operates, namely, as default) in the human collective unconscious? To discover it, it suffices to ask oneself this question and to ask it also to others: “What ideas, what words, what realities arise spontaneously in you, before every reflection, when you say: Our Father, who art in heaven … thy will be done”? While saying this one interiorly bows generally his head in resignation, as if preparing for the worst. Unconsciously, the will of God is connected with all that is displeasing, painful to what, in one way or another, can be seen as mutilating of freedom and of individual development. It is as if God was the enemy of all celebration, joy and pleasure.

Another revealing question -- what does the invocation Kyrie eleison, “Lord have mercy,” suggest in us, which punctuates Christian prayer and in some liturgies accompanies the Mass from the beginning to the end? It has ended up by becoming only the request for forgiveness of the creature, who always sees God about to punish him. The word mercy has become very debased from being used often in a negative sense, as something mean and despicable: “have pity,” a “pitiful” spectacle. According to the Bible, Kyrie eleison should be translated: “Lord, have your tenderness descend upon us.” Suffice it to read in Jeremiah how God speaks to his people: “my heart yearns for him; I will surely have mercy (eleos) on him” (Jeremiah 31:20). When the sick, the lepers and the blind cry out to Jesus, as in Matthew 9:27: “Lord, have mercy (eleison) on me!” they do not intend to say: “forgive me,” but “show your compassion on me.”

In general, God is seen as Supreme Being, the Almighty, the Lord of time and of history, that is, as an entity that imposes on the individual from outside -- no particular of human life escapes him. The transgression of his Law introduces inexorably a disorder that exacts reparation. The latter, not ever being able to be considered as adequate, the anguish of death and of the divine judgment arises.

I confess that I virtually get shivers when reading the words that the great Bossuet addresses to Jesus on the cross, in one of his Good Friday sermons: ”You throw yourself, O Jesus, in the arms of the Father and you feel rejected, you feel that it is in fact he who persecutes you, who strikes you, he who abandons you, he in fact who crushes you under the enormous and unbearable weight of his revenge … The anger of an irritated God: Jesus prays and the angry Father does not listen to him; it is the justice of a vengeful God for the outrages received; Jesus suffers and the Father is not placated!” If an orator spoke thus of the loftiness of Bossuet, we can imagine to what popular preachers of the time abandoned themselves. We can understand, therefore, how that certain “pre-defined” image of God was formed in man’s heart.

God’s mercy has certainly never been ignored! However, entrusted to it only was the duty to moderate the inalienable rigors of justice. In fact, in practice, the love and forgiveness that God generously gives were made dependent on the love and forgiveness that is given to others: if you forgive him who bears the offense, God in turn will be able to forgive you. There has emerged with God a relation of bargaining. Is it not said that one must accumulate merits to gain Paradise? And does one not attribute great importance to efforts to do things, to the Masses to have celebrated, to the candles to light, the novenas to make?

All this, having enabled so many people in the past to demonstrate their love for God, cannot be thrown away; it must be respected. God makes his flowers -- and his saints-- bloom in every climate. One cannot deny, however, that the risk exists of falling into a utilitarian religion, of the “do ut des.” At the base of everything is the presupposition that the relation with God depends on man. “None shall appear before me empty-handed” (Exodus 23:15; 34:20), but this is the God of the Law, not yet the God of grace. In the kingdom of grace, in fact, man must appear before God “empty-handed”; the only thing he must have “in his hands’ on appearing before him, is his Son Jesus.

Let us now see how the Holy Spirit changes this situation, when we open ourselves to it. He teaches us to look at God with new eyes: as the God of the Law, certainly, but yet first as the God of love and of grace, the “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Exodus 34:6). It make us discover him as an ally and a friend, as “he who did not spare for himself his own Son but gave him up for us all” (this is how Romans 8:32 should be understood!); in sum, as a most tender Father. In a word, the Holy Spirit communicates to us the feeling that Jesus had of his Father.

The filial sentiment now blossoms which is translated spontaneously in the cry: Abba, Father! As one who says: “I did not know you, or I knew you only from hearsay. Now I know you, I know who you are; I know that you truly love me, that you are favourable to me.” The son has taken the place of the slave, love that of fear. It is thus that one is truly reconciled with God, also on the subjective and existential plane.

We leave for our daily work with a question in our mind: What idea of God the Father is in my heart: that of the world or that of Jesus?


Fr. Cantalamessa's 2nd Advent Homily (Dec. 2014)
"Peace as a Duty"

ROME, December 12, 2014 - Here is the second Advent homily by the preacher of the Pontifical Household, Capuchin Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa. He delivered the homily today.

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Peace as a Duty

After having meditated on peace as a gift of God, in the first homily, we now reflect on peace as a duty and commitment for which to work. We are called to imitate the example of Christ, becoming channels through which the peace of God can reach our brothers. It is the duty that Jesus points out to his disciples when he proclaims: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9). The term eirenopoioi does not mean “peaceful” (they belong to the Beatitude of the meek, of the non-violent); it means, rather, “peacemakers,” namely persons who work for peace, who try to reconcile enemies and are ready to make the first step to restore peace after a quarrel. This is confirmed by James 3:18: “And the harvest of  righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace”.

The Peace of Jesus and that of Caesar Augustus

Jesus not only exhorted us to be peacemakers, but he also taught us, by word and example, how to become peacemakers. He says to his disciples: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you” (John 14:27). At that same time, another great man was proclaiming peace in the world. Discovered in Asia Minor was a copy of Caesar Augustus’ famous “Index of His Enterprises.” Among the great enterprises accomplished by him, the Roman Emperor also lists that of having established the peace of Rome in the world, a peace, it is written, “obtained through victories” (parta victoriis pax).[1]

Jesus reveals that there is another way of making peace. His is also a “peace fruit of victories,” but victories over oneself, not over others, spiritual, not military, victories. On the cross, writes Saint Paul, Jesus “destroyed enmity in himself” (Ephesians 2:16); he destroyed enmity, not the enemy, he destroyed it in himself, not in others.

The way to peace proposed by the Gospel makes sense not only in the realm of faith; it is also helpful in the political realm. Today we see clearly that the only way to peace is to destroy enmity, not the enemy. Enemies are destroyed with arms, enmity with dialogue. I read that someone once reproved Abraham Lincoln for being too courteous with his political adversaries, and reminded him that, as President, his duty was, rather, to destroy them. He answered: “Do I not, perhaps, destroy my enemies when I make them friends?”

It is the situation of the world, which demands dramatically that Augustus’ method be changed to that of Christ. What is there deep down in certain seemingly incurable conflicts if not, in fact, the will and secret hope to arrive one day at the destruction of the enemy? Unfortunately, what Tertullian said of the first persecuted Christians is valid also for enemies: “Semen est sanguis christianorum”: the blood of Christians is the seed of other Christians. The blood of enemies is also the seed of other enemies; rather than destroying them, it multiplies them.

Referring to the situation in the Middle East, in his recent visit to Turkey, Pope Francis said: “We cannot resign ourselves to the continuation of conflicts, as if a change for the better of the situation is not possible! With the help of God, we can and must always renew the courage of peace!” A way of being peacemakers -- often the only one that remains to us -- is to pray for peace. When it is no longer possible to act on second causes, with prayer we can always “act on the first cause.” The Church does not tire of doing so every day in the Mass with that heartbroken invocation: "Grant us, Lord, peace in our days,” da pacem Domine in diebus nostris.

Beyond political peace, the Gospel can also contribute to social peace. Often repeated is the prophet Isaiah’s affirmation: “The effect of righteousness will be peace” (Isaiah 32:17). In this connection, Evangelii Gaudium puts the finger on the sore and denounces, in no uncertain terms, what today is the greatest injustice that impedes peace. It states:

“Peace in society cannot be understood as pacification or the mere absence of violence resulting from the domination of one part of society over others. Nor does true peace act as a pretext for justifying a social structure which silences or appeases the poor, so that the more affluent can placidly support their lifestyle while others have to make do as they can. Demands involving the distribution of wealth, concern for the poor and human rights cannot be suppressed under the guise of creating a consensus on paper or a transient peace for a contented minority. The dignity of the human person and the common good rank higher than the comfort of those who refuse to renounce their privileges. When these values are threatened, a prophetic voice must be raised” (EG 218).

Peace between Religions

A new, difficult and urgent endeavor opens today before peacemakers: to promote peace between the religions. In its session in Chicago in 1993, the World Parliament of Religions launched this proclamation: “There is no peace between nations without peace between religions and there is no peace between religions without dialogue between religions.”

The underlying motive that makes possible a loyal dialogue between religions is that “we all have one God.” In 1076 Pope Saint Gregory VII wrote to a Muslim king of North Africa: “We believe and confess one God, even if in different ways, we praise and venerate Him every day as Creator of the centuries and governor of this world.”[2] It is the truth that Saint Paul also begins in his address to the Areopagus of Athens: “In him we live and move and have our being” (cf. Acts 17:28).

Subjectively, we have different ideas about God. For us, Christians, God is “Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” who is not known fully except “through him”; but, objectively, we know well that God is and can only be one. Every nation and language has its name and its theory about the sun, some more exact, others less so, but there is only one sun!

The theological foundation of the dialogue is also our faith in the Holy Spirit. As Spirit of the redemption and Spirit of grace, he is the bond of peace between the baptized of the different Christian Confessions; but as Spirit of creation, or creator Spirit, he is a bond of peace between believers of all religions and in fact between all men of good will. “Every truth, by whomever it is said – wrote Saint Thomas Aquinas -- comes from the Holy Spirit.”[3] As this creator Spirit guided the prophets of the Old Testament to Christ (1 Peter 1:11), so we Christians believe that, in a way known only to God, he guides to Christ and to his paschal mystery persons who live outside of the Church (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 22).

Speaking of peace between religions, it is proper to dedicate a thought apart to peace between Israel and the Church. In Evangelii Gaudium, the Pope also gives particular attention to this dialogue and he concludes with these words:

“While it is true that certain Christian beliefs are unacceptable to Judaism, and that the Church cannot refrain from proclaiming Jesus as Lord and Messiah, there exists as well a rich complementarity which allows us to read the texts of the Hebrew Scriptures together and to help one another to mine the riches of God’s word. We can also share many ethical convictions and a common concern for justice and the development of peoples.” (EG, 249)

For Paul, the first peace that Jesus realized on the cross was that between Jews and Gentiles. In the Letter to the Ephesians he writes:

“For he is our peace.,

who has made us both one,

and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility,

by abolishing in his flesh ‘the law of commandments and ordinances,'

that he might create in himself one new man

in place of the two, so making peace,

and might reconcile us both to God in one body,

through the cross, thereby bringing hostility to an end.” (Ephesians 2:14-16)

In the Christian tradition, this text has given place to two different and opposite iconographic representations. Seen in one are two women, both turned to the crucifix. It is the case of the crucifix of San Damiano in Assisi. Contrary to the explanation that are usually given, in it the two women on the sides of the hands of the crucified are not two Angels (they do not have wings and they are feminine figures). Instead, according to the most genuine view of the Letter to the Ephesians, one represents a Synagogue and the other the Church, united not separated by the cross of Christ.

To be convinced, suffice it to compare this icon with the later one of the `School of Dionisij (15th century), where, again, two women are seen, but one, the Church, is driven by an Angel towards the cross, and the other driven by an Angel away from it.

The first image represents the ideal and the divine intention, as expressed by Saint Paul; the second represents how things happened, unfortunately, in the reality of history. Once I showed a Jewish Rabbi friend of mine the two images. Quite overwhelmed, he commented: “Perhaps the history of our relations would have been different if the first vision had prevailed instead of the second.” Fidelity to history obliges us to say that, if it was not like this, at least at the beginning, that did not depend only on Christians.

We should rejoice and thank God that today, at least in spirit, we are all for the vision of the crucifix of San Damiano and not for the opposite one. We want the cross of Christ to help bring Jews and Christians close to one another again, not set them against each other; we want even the celebration of the cross on Good Friday to foster, rather than hamper, this fraternal dialogue.

Think globally, act locally

A slogan that is quite fashionable today states: “Think globally, act locally”. This is true particularly for peace. It is necessary to think of global peace, but to act for peace at the local level. Peace is not made as war is. Long preparations are needed to make war: to create large armies, plan strategies, sanction alliances and then move united to the attack. Woe to the one who wants to begin first, on his own and one at a time; he would risk certain defeat.

Peace is made exactly in the opposite way: beginning immediately, first, with just one, including with a simple handshake. In a recent circumstance, Pope Francis said that peace is “handcrafted.” Just as billions of drops of dirty water will never make a clean ocean, so billions of men and families without peace will never make a peaceful humanity.

We too, who are gathered here must do something to be worthy of speaking of peace. Jesus, the Apostle writes again, came to preach “peace to those who were far off and peace to those who were near” (Ephesians 2:18). Peace with those who are “close” is often more difficult than peace with those who are “far.” How can we Christians say that we are promoters of peace if we then quarrel among ourselves? At this moment, I am not referring to the divisions between Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants, Pentecostals, that is, between the different Christian denominations. I am referring to the divisions that often exist between those who belong to our own Catholic Church, because of different traditions, tendencies or rites.

Let us recall the Apostle’s severe words to the Corinthians:

“I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarrelling among you, my brethren. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,”or “I belong to Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? (1 Corinthians :10-12).

The theme of last year’s World Day of Peace was “Fraternity, Foundation and Way for Peace.” I quote the first words of the message:

“Fraternity is an essential human quality, for we are relational beings. A lively awareness of our relatedness helps us to look upon and to treat each person as a true sister or brother; without fraternity it is impossible to build a just society and a solid and lasting peace.”

The text indicates the family as the first ambit in which we build and learn to be brothers. However, the message applies also to other realities of the Church: to Religious Families, to parish communities, to the Synod of Bishops, to the Roman Curia. “You are all brethren!” (Matthew 23:8), Jesus said to us, and if this word does not apply within the Church to the closest circle of her ministers, to whom does it apply?

The Acts of the Apostles present to us the model of a truly fraternal community, “unanimous,” that is, of “one heart and soul” (Acts 4:32). All this, certainly, cannot be realized except “by the Holy Spirit.” So it was also for the Apostles. Before Pentecost they were not one heart and one soul; they often disputed among them who was the greatest and the most worthy to sit at the right and left of Jesus. The coming of the Holy Spirit transformed them completely; He de-centered them from themselves and centered them on Christ.

The ancient Fathers and the liturgy understood Luke’s intention in the account of Pentecost, to create a parallelism between what occurred at Pentecost and what occurred at Babel. However, the message contained in this approach is not always received. Why at Babel did all speak the same language but then, at a certain point, no one could understand others any longer, while at Pentecost, although all spoke different languages (Parthians, Elamites, Cretans, Arabs …), all understood the Apostles?

First of all a clarification: the builders of the tower of Babel were not atheists who wanted to challenge heaven, but pious and religious men who wanted to build one of those temples with superimposed terraces, called zikkurat, ruins of which still remain in Mesopotamia. This makes them closer to us than we think. Where, then, is their great sin? They set about the work saying to one another:

“Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly … Let us , build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth” (Genesis 11:3-4).

They wanted to build a temple to the divinity, but not for the glory of the divinity, but to become famous, to make a name for themselves, not to make a name for God. God was instrumentalized, he had to serve their glory. At Pentecost the Apostles also began to build a city and a tower – the city of God, which is the Church, but not to make a name for themselves, but to do it for God: ”we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God”, people say (Acts 2:11).

They were completely absorbed by the desire to glorify God; they forgot themselves and the need to make a name for themselves. It was from here that Saint Augustine got the idea for his grandiose work The City of God. There are, he says, two cities in the world: the city of Satan, which is called Babylon, and the City of God, which is called Jerusalem. The first is built on love of self to the contempt of God, the other on the love of God to the sacrifice of themselves. These two cities are two building yards open until the end of the world, and everyone must choose to which of the two he wishes to commit his life.

Every initiative, including the most spiritual as is, for instance, the New Evangelization, can be either Babel or Pentecost. (Also, of course, this meditation that I am giving). It is Babel if with it, everyone seeks to make a name for himself; it is Pentecost if, despite the natural feeling to succeed and to receive approval, one constantly rectifies one’s intention, putting the glory of God and the good of the Church above one’s own desires. Sometimes it helps to repeat to oneself the words that Jesus pronounced one day before his adversaries: “I do not seek my own glory” (John 8:50).

The Holy Spirit does not level differences; he does not level divergences. We see it in what happened immediately after Pentecost. First differences arose regarding the distribution of provisions to widows, then a far more serious one emerged: under what conditions should pagans be received in the Church. However, despite this, we do not see parties or arrays being formed among themselves. Everyone expresses his own conviction with respect and liberty; Paul goes to Jerusalem to consult Peter and, on another occasion, he is not afraid to point out an inconsistency to him (cf. Galatians 2:14). This enables them, at the end of the debate at Jerusalem, to announce the result to the Church with the words: “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us …” (Acts 15:28).

Traced, thus, was the model for every assembly of the Church, with a difference due to the fact that there we find ourselves in the embryonic phase, in which different ministries were not clearly defined and still not fully expressed (there was not the time nor the need) was the primacy conferred on Peter, because of which it is up to him and to his successors to do the synthesis and to say the last word.

I referred to the Curia. What a gift it would be for the Church if it were an example of fraternity! It is already, at least much more than the world and its media would have us believe, but it can always be more so. We have seen that the diversity of opinions must not be an insurmountable obstacle. With the help of the Holy Spirit, it is enough to put back every day at the center of one’s intentions Jesus and the good of the Church, and not the triumph of one’s personal opinion. In the encyclical “Ad Petri Cathedram” of 1959, Saint John XXIII used a famous phrase, of uncertain origin, but of perennial timeliness: “In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus vero caritas”: in necessary things, unity; in doubtful things, liberty; but in all things charity.

“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any incentive of love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:1-4).

They are words that Saint Paul addressed to his dear faithful of Philippi, but I am sure that they also express the desire of the Holy Father towards his collaborators and of us all. “Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (Romans 14: 19).

We conclude with the prayer for unity and peace that the liturgy makes us recite at every Mass:

Lord Jesus Christ, you said to your apostles:
"I leave you peace, my peace I give you",
look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church,
and grant us the peace and unity of your kingdom
where you live for ever and ever.


[1] Monumentum Ancyranum, ed. Th. Mommsen, 1883.

[2] S. Gregorio VII, Epistolae, III, 21 (PL  148, 451).

[3] St. Thomas de Aquino,  Summa theologica, I-IIae q. 109, a. 1 ad 1


Fr. Cantalamessa's 3rd Advent Homily
"Peace, Fruit of the Spirit"

VATICAN CITY, December 19, 2014  - Here is the third Advent homily given by the preacher of the Pontifical Household, Capuchin Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa. He delivered the homily today.


(Colossians 3:15)

Peace, Fruit of the Spirit

1. Peace Fruit of the Spirit

After having reflected on peace as a gift of God in Christ Jesus to the whole of humanity, and peace as a task to work for, it remains to speak of peace as fruit of the Spirit. Saint Paul puts peace in the third place among the fruits of the Spirit: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22).

We discover what “the fruits of the Spirit” are in fact, by analyzing the context in which this idea recurs. The context is that of the struggle between the flesh and the spirit, that is, between the principle that regulates the old man’s life, full of concupiscence and earthly wishes, and that which regulates the life of the new man, led by the Spirit of Christ. In the expression “fruits of the spirit,” “spirit” does not indicate the Holy Spirit in himself, but the principle of the new life, or also “the man who lets himself be guided by the Spirit.”

As opposed to charisms, which are the exclusive work of the Spirit that He gives to whomever He wills when He wills, the fruits are the result of collaboration between grace and liberty. Therefore, they are what today we understand as virtue, if we give this word the biblical meaning of habitual acting “according to Christ,” or “according to the Spirit,” rather than the Aristotelian philosophical meaning of habitual acting “according to right reason.” Again, as opposed to the gifts of the Spirit, which are different from person to person, the fruits of the Spirit are identical for all. Not all in the Church can be Apostles, prophets, Evangelists; however, all indistinctly, from the first to the last, can and must be charitable, patient, humble, peaceful.

Peace that is fruit of the Spirit is, therefore, different from peace as gift of God and peace as a task for which to work. It indicates the habitual condition (habitus), the state of mind and style of life of one who, through effort and vigilance, has attained a certain interior pacification. Peace fruit of the Spirit is peace of heart. And it is of this very beautiful and very desired thing of which we shall speak today. It is, yes, different from the task to be peacemakers, but it also serves wonderfully to this end. The title of Pope John Paul II’s message for the 1984 World Day of Peace was: “Peace Is Born of a New Heart,” and Francis of Assisi, on sending his friars around the world, recommended to them: “The peace that you proclaim with your mouth, you must have first of all in your hearts.”[1]

2. Interior Peace in the Spiritual Tradition of the Church

In the course of the centuries, the attainment of interior peace or peace of the heart has committed all the great seekers of God. In the East, beginning with the desert Fathers, it was concretized in the ideal of hesychia, hesychasm, or stillness, rest, quiet, silence. One dared to propose to oneself or to others a very lofty, if not, in fact, superhuman, aim: to remove every thought from the mind, every desire from the will, every remembrance from the memory, to leave in the mind only the thought of God, in the will only the desire of God and in the memory only the remembrance of God and of Christ (the mneme Theou) -- a titanic struggle against thoughts (logismoi), not only evil ones but also good ones. An extreme example of this peace, obtained with a fierce war, has remained in the monastic tradition of monk Arsenius who, to the question “what must I do to be saved?” -- heard God respond: “Arsenius, flee, be silent and keep yourself in stillness”(literally, practice the hesychia)[2].

Later this spiritual current gave place to the practice of the prayer of the heart, or uninterrupted prayer, still largely practiced in Eastern Christianity and of which “The Tales of a Russian Pilgrim” are the most fascinating expression. In the beginning, however, it was not identified with this. It was a way to attain perfect tranquillity of heart; not an empty tranquillity as an end in itself, but a full tranquillity, similar to that of the Blessed, a beginning to live on earth the conditions of the Saints in Heaven.

The Western Tradition has pursued the same ideal but through other ways, accessible both to those who practice the contemplative life, and those who practice an active life. Reflection begins with Augustine. He dedicated a whole book of his work The City of God to reflect on the different forms of peace, giving for each a definition which has been a school up to now, among which is that of peace as “tranquillitas ordinis,” the tranquillity of order. However, it is above all what he says in the Confessions that has influenced in delineating the ideal of peace of heart.

At the beginning of the book, he addresses to God, almost in passing, a word destined to have immense resonance in all subsequent thought: “You have made us for Yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in You.”[3] Further on he illustrates this affirmation with the example of gravity.

“Our peace is in the good will [of God]. Every body, because of its weight, tends to the place that is proper to it. A weight does not only drag down, but it does so to the place that is proper to it. Fire tends to go up, stone to go down, both pushed by their weight to seek their place …My weight is my love; it takes me wherever I go.”[4]

As long as we are on this earth the place of our rest is the will of God, abandonment to His wishes. “Rest is not found if one does not consent to the will of God without resistance.”[5] Dante Alighieri summarized this Augustinian thought in his famous verse: “ And in his will is our trnquility”.”[6]

Only in Heaven will the place of rest be God Himself. Therefore, Augustine ends his treatment of the subject of peace with an impassioned praise of the peace of the heavenly Jerusalem, which it is worthwhile for us to hear, in order to also be inflamed with the desire for it:

“Then there is the final peace […] In that peace it is not necessary for reason to control impulses because they will not be, but God will control man, the spiritual soul the body and so great will be the serenity and the willingness to submission, as great will be the delight of living and dominating. And then, this condition will be eternal in each and all, and there will be the certainty that it is eternal and, therefore, the peace of such happiness, namely the happiness of such peace will be the supreme good.”[7]

The hope of this eternal peace has marked the whole liturgy of the dead. Expressions such as “In the peace of Christ”(“In pace Christi”) or “May he rest in peace”  (“Requiescat in pace”) are the most frequent on the tombs of Christians and in the prayers of the Church. The heavenly Jerusalem, with allusion to the etymology of the name, is described  as “ a blessed vision of peace (“beata pacis visio”).[8]

3. The Way of Peace

Augustine’s concept of interior peace as adherence to the will of God finds a confirmation and deepening in the mystics. Meister Eckhart wrote: “Our Lord says: ‘In me you may have peace’ (cf. John 16:33). The more one penetrates in God, the more one penetrates in peace. Whoever now has his I in God has peace; whoever has his I outside of God does not have peace.”[9] Therefore, it is not only a question of adhering to the will of God, but about not having any other will than that of God, to die altogether to one’s will. The same thing is read, under the form of a lived experience, in Saint Angela of Foligno: “Successively the divine will makes of two wills one will, so that one cannot will other than as God wills. […] I do not find myself any longer in the usual condition, but I have been led to a peace, in which I am with Him and I am happy with everything.”[10]

A different development, ascetic more than mystic, is that of Saint Ignatius of Loyola with his doctrine of “holy indifference.”[11] It consists in placing oneself in a state of total willingness to accept the will of God, renouncing, giving up all personal preference, as a scale ready to incline to the side where the greatest weight is. The experience of interior peace thus becomes the main criterion in all discernment. The choice must be retained that, after long pondering and prayer, is accompanied by the greatest peace of heart.

However, no healthy spiritual current, either in the East or in the West, has ever thought that peace of heart is peace at a low price and without effort. In the Medieval Age the sect “of the free Spirit” and the Quietist Movement in the 17thcentury tried to hold the contrary, but both were condemned by the hierarchy and by the conscience of the Church. To maintain and increase peace of heart one must put down, moment by moment, especially in the beginning, a revolt: that of the flesh against the spirit.

Jesus said it in a thousand ways: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself,” “whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will save it” (Mark 8:34 f.). There is a false peace that Jesus said He came to take away, not to bring to earth (cf. Matthew 10:34). Paul would translate all this in a sort of fundamental law of the Christian life:

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, indeed it cannot; and those who are in the flesh cannot please God … for if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live” (Romans 8:5-13).

The last phrase contains a very important teaching. The Holy Spirit is not the recompense for our efforts of mortification, but what makes them possible and fruitful; it is not only at the end but also at the beginning of the process: “If, through the Spirit, you make the works of the flesh die, you will live.” In this sense it is said that peace is the fruit of the Spirit; it is the result of our effort, rendered possible by the Spirit of Christ. A voluntaristic and too confident mortification of oneself can become (and has often become) also a work of the flesh.

Outstanding for his concreteness and realism, among those who in the course of the centuries have illustrated this way of peace of heart, is the author of the Imitation of Christ. He imagines a sort of dialogue between the Divine Teacher and the disciple, as between a father and his son:

Teacher: “My son, now I will teach you the way of peace and of liberty.”

Disciple: “Do, O Lord, as you say: I am pleased to hear your teaching.”

Teacher: “Study, O son, to do the will of others, rather than your own. Always choose to have less than more. Always seek the lowest place and to be inferior to all. Always desire and pray that the will of God be done entirely in you. See, a man who does such things enters in the kingdom of peace and tranquillity.”

Another means suggested to the disciple is to avoid vain curiosity:

“Son, do not be curious; do not take on useless worries. What do you care about this or that? “You follow me” (John 21:22). Why do you care if that person is of this type or different, or that another acts and says this or that? You must not answer for others; on the contrary, you will render an account of yourself. Of what, then, are you encumbering yourself? Behold, I know all, I see everything that happens under the sun and I know everyone’s condition: what one thinks, what one desires, and to what one’s intention is directed. Therefore, everything should be placed in my hands. And you remain in sure peace letting others act as they believe, surrounded by agitation: what this one has done and what he has said will fall back on him because, as for me, he cannot deceive me.”[12]

4. “Peace because He Trusts in You”

Without pretending to substitute these traditional ascetic means, modern spirituality puts the accent on other more positive means to preserve interior peace. The first is trust and abandonment in God. “Thou dost keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee,” one reads in Isaiah (26-3). In the Gospel, Jesus motivates his invitation not to fear and to be anxious about tomorrow, with the fact that our heavenly Father knows what we need, He who feeds the birds of the air and clothes the lilies of the field (Cf. Matthew 6:25 ff).

This is the peace of which Therese of the Child Jesus becomes teacher and model. A heroic example of this peace, which also comes from trust in God, is the martyr of Nazism Dietrich Bonhoffer. While he was in prison awaiting capital punishment, he wrote some verses that became a liturgical hymn in many Anglo-Saxon countries.

While all the powers of Good aid and attend us,
boldly we’ll face the future, be it what may.
At even, and at morn, God will befriend us,
And oh, most surely on each new year’s day![13]

In his book The Wisdom of a Poor Man, Eloi Leclerc, a Franciscan scholar, recounts how Francis of Assisi rediscovered peace at a moment of profound disturbance. He was saddened by the resistance of some to his ideal and felt the weight of the responsibility of the numerous family that God had entrusted to him. He left La Verna and went to San Damiano to find Clare. Clare listened to him and to encourage him, gave him an example.

“Let’s suppose that one of our Sisters came to me to apologize for having broken an object. Well, without a doubt I would make an observation to her and, as usual, I would inflict a punishment on her. However, if she came to tell me that she set the convent on fire and that everything was burnt or almost so, I believe that in such a case I would have nothing to rebut. I would be astonished and overwhelmed by an event greater than myself. The destruction of the convent is too great an event for me to be profoundly disturbed. What God himself has built cannot be founded on the will or whim of a human creature. God’s edifice is founded on far more solid bases.”

Francis understood the lesson and answered:

“The future of this great religious family that the Lord has entrusted to my care constitutes too important an event for me to depend on myself alone and on my weak strength, for me to be disturbed. This is an event of God. You said it well. But pray that this word blossom in me as a seed of peace.”[14]

The Poverello returned to his own in better spirits, repeating to himself along the way: “God exists, and that’s enough! God exists and that’s enough!” It is not a historically documented episode, but it interprets well, in the style of the “Fioretti”, a moment of Francis’ life.

We are approaching Christmas and I would like to bring to light what I believe is the most effective way for all to keep peace of heart, namely, the certainty of being loved by God. “Peace on earth to men that God loves,” to the letter: “Peace on earth among men with whom He is pleased (eudokia)” (Luke 2:14). The Vulgate translated this term as “good will” (bonae voluntatis), intending with it the good will of men, or men of good will. However, it is an erroneous interpretation, recognized by all today as such, even if out of respect for the tradition, in the Gloria of the Mass, we continue to say “and peace on earth to men of good will.” The Qumran discoveries contributed the definitive proof. “Men, or children of benevolence” were called at Qumran, children of light, the elect of the sect.[15] Therefore it is about men who are the object of divine benevolence.

With the Essenians of Qumran, “the divine consent” discriminates; it is only for the adept of the sect. In the Gospel “peace on earth to men with whom He is pleased,” the “divine benevolence” is for all men, without exception. It is as when one says “the men born of woman”; one does not understand it said that some are born of woman and others not, but only to characterize all men on the basis of the way they came to the world. If peace was accorded to men for their “good will,” then it would be limited to a few, to those who merit it; but as it is accorded by the good will of God, by grace, it is offered to all.

“Assueta vilescunt,” the Latins said; things that are repeated often are debased, biting forgiveness, and this, unfortunately, also happens with God’s words. We must see to it that it does not happen also this Christmas. God’s words are like electric wires. If current passes through them, if touched one gets a shock; if no current passes, or if one has isolating gloves on, they can be managed as much as one wishes, they do not give a shock. The power and light of the Spirit is always acting, but it depends on us to receive it, through faith, desire and prayer. What force, what novelty those words contained: “Peace on earth among men with whom He is pleased,” when they were pronounced for the first time! We must remake for ourselves a virgin ear, the ear of the shepherds who heard for the first time and “without delay” went on the road.

Saint Paul indicates a method for us to overcome all our anxieties and rediscover peace of heart every time, through the certainty of being loved by God. He writes:

“If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him? […] Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? […] No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:31-37).

Persecution, dangers, the sword: it is not an abstract or imaginary list; they are, in fact, reasons for anguish, which he experienced in his life. He describes them at length in the Second Letter to the Corinthians (Cf. 2 Corinthians 11:23 ff). The Apostle reviews them now in his mind and sees that no one of them is so strong as to hold a confrontation with the thought of the love of God. The Apostle invites us implicitly to do the same: to look at our life, as it presents itself, and to bring to light the fears and motives for sadness that nest themselves therein and that do not allow us to accept ourselves serenely: that complex, that physical or moral defect, that failure, that painful memory. Expose everything to the light of the thought that God loves us and conclude with the Apostle: “In all these things, I can be more than a conqueror through him who loved me.”

From his personal life, the Apostle passes immediately after to consider the world that surrounds him. He writes:

“For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:37-39).

He observes his world, with the powers that rendered it threatening: death with its mystery, the present life with its allurements, the astral or infernal powers that instilled so much terror in ancient man. We are invited to do the same also here: to look, in the light of the love of God, at the world that surrounds us and that makes us fear. What Paul calls the “height” and the “depth,” are for us infinitely great up there and infinitely small down here, the universe and the atom. Everything is ready to crush us; man is weak and alone in a universe that is so much greater than himself and that has become, in addition, even more threatening, following its scientific discoveries, not to mention wars, incurable illnesses, terrorism today… However, nothing of all this can separate us from the love of God. God has created the universe and has it firmly in hand! God is, and that is enough!

Saint Teresa of Avila left us a sort of testament, which it is useful to repeat to ourselves every time we are in need of finding peace of heart again: “Let nothing disturb you, let nothing affright you; all things are passing, God never changes; patient endurance attains all things; whoever has God lacks nothing. God alone suffices.”[16]

May the Lord’s Birth, Holy Father, Venerable Fathers, brothers and sisters, be truly for us, as Saint Leo the Great said, “the birth of peace”[17]!  -- of all three dimensions of peace: that between heaven and earth, that between all peoples and that in our hearts.


Translated by Zenit

[1] The Legend of the Three Companions, 58.

[2] Apophtegmata Patrum, Arsenius 1-3.

[3] Saint Augustine, Confessions, I, 1.

[4] Ibid., XIII, 9).

[5] Saint Augustine, Adnotationes in Iob, 39.

[6] Dante Alighieri, Paradiso, 3, v. 85.

[7] Saint Augustine, De Civitate Dei, XIX, 27.

[8] Hymn of the Office of the Dedication of the Church.

[9] Meister Eckhart, Homilies, 7 (Ed. J. Quint, Deutsche Werke, I, Stuttgart, 1936, p. 456).

[10] Il libro della Beata Angela, VII (ed. Quaracchi, 1985, p. 296).

[11] Cf. G. Bottereau, Indifference, in “Dictionnaire de Spiritualite, vol. 7, coll. 1688 ff.

[12] Imitation of Christ, III, 23-24.

[13] Von guten Machten wunderbar geborgen/erwarten wir getrost, was kommen mag./ Gott ist mit uns am Abend und am Morgen/ und ganz gewiss an jedem neuen Tag.

[14] E. Leclerc, La sagesse d’un pauvre, Paris, Desclée de Brouwer,  22e éd. 2007.

[15] Cf. Inni, I QH, IV, 32 f., (XI, 9).

[16] “Nada te turbe, nada te espante, todo se pasa, Dios no se muda; la paciencia todo lo alcanza; quien a Diòs tiene nada le falta. Solo Diòs basta.” 

[17] Saint Leo the Great, Sermo de Nativitate Domini, XXXVI, 5 (PL 54, 2125).


Father Cantalamessa's 1st Lent Homily 2015

"The Joy of the Gospel Fills the Heart and Life"

ROME, February 27, 2015 - Here is the first Lenten homily given this year by the preacher of the Pontifical Household, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa.

* * *

In this first meditation of Lent, I would like to take advantage of the Holy Father’s absence, to propose a reflection on his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium, which I would not have dared to do in his presence. Obviously, it will not be a systematic comment, but only a reflection together to make our own some of his qualifying points.

The Personal Encounter with Jesus of Nazareth

Written at the end of the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization, the Exhortation presents three poles of interest, which are intertwined: the subject, the object and the method of the evangelization: who must evangelize, what must be evangelized, how should one evangelize. In regard to the evangelizing subject, the Pope says that it is constituted by all the baptized:

“In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples (Cf. Matthew 28:19). All the baptized, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelization, and it would be insufficient to envisage a plan of evangelization to be carried out by professionals, while the rest of the faithful would simply be passive recipients. The new evangelization calls for personal involvement on the part of each of the baptized” (nr. 120).

This affirmation is not new; it was expressed by Blessed Paul VI in Evangelii nuntiandi andby Saint John Paul II in Christifideles laici; Benedict XVI insisted on thespecial role reserved in it for the family.[1] Even before all this, the universal call to evangelization was proclaimed with the decree Apostolicam actuasitatem of Vatican Council II. I once heard an American laymanbegin his intervention on evangelization thus: “Two thousand five hundred Bishops, gathered in the Vatican, wrote to me to come to proclaim the Gospel.” All, of course, were curious to know who he was. And then he, who was also a man full of humor, explained that the two thousand five hundred Bishops were those gathered in the Vatican for the Second Vatican Council and who had written the document on the apostolate of the laity. He was absolutely right: that document was not addressed to all or to none; it was addressed to every baptized person and he took it, rightly so, as addressed personally to him.

Therefore, it is not on this point that one must look for the novelty of Pope Francis’ Evangelii gaudium. He only confirms what his predecessors inculcated over and over. The novelty is to be sought elsewhere: in the appeal he addresses to the readers at the beginning of the letter and which, I believe, constitutes the heart of the whole document:

“I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not for him or her” (EG, nr. 3).

This means that the ultimate purpose of evangelization is not the transmission of a doctrine, but an encounter with a person, Jesus Christ. The possibility of such a face to face encounter depends on the fact that Jesus, risen, is alive and desires to walk next to every believer, as he really walked with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus; more than that, as he was in their very heart, when they returned to Jerusalem, after having received him in the broken bread.

In Catholic language, “the personal encounter with Jesus” has never been a very familiar concept. Preferred instead of “personal” encounter was the idea of ecclesial encounter, which occurs, namely, through the sacraments of the Church. To our Catholic ears, the expression had vaguely Protestant resonances. Obviously the Pope is not thinking of a personal encounter that substitutes the ecclesial. He only wishes to say that the ecclesial encounter must also be free, willed, and spontaneous, not purely nominal, juridical or habitual.

To understand what it means to have a personal encounter with Jesus, it is necessary to give a look, however rough, to the history of the Church. How did one become Christian in the first three centuries of the Church? With all the differences from individual to individual and from place to place, it happened after a long initiation, the catechumenate, and it was the fruit of a personal decision, moreover, a risky one because of the possibility of martyrdom.

Things changed when Christianity became first a tolerated religion (Constantine’s Edict of 313) and then, in a brief time, a favored religion when not in fact imposed. At the beginning of the 5thcentury the Emperor Theodosius II issued a law according to which only the baptized could access public offices. Added to this is the fact of the Barbarian invasions that in a brief time changed completely the political and religious order of the empire. Western Europe became an ensemble of Barbarian kingdoms, in some cases with an Arian population, in the majority pagan.

In the regions of the old empire (above all in the East and south central Italy) to become Christian was no longer the decision of the individual but of society, so much so that Baptism was now administered almost always to children. As regards the Barbarian kingdoms, the custom prevailed in them of following the decision of the head. When on Christmas Eve of 498 or 499 Clovis, King of the Franks, had himself baptized at Rheims by the Bishop, Saint Remy, all the people followed him. (It is the reason why France had the title “Eldest Daughter of the Church”).  Thus began the practice of mass baptisms. Well before the Protestant Reformation the norm : “Cuius regio eius et religio” was in progress: the religion of the king is also that of the kingdom.

In this situation, the accent is no longer put on the moment or on the way in which one became Christian, namely on the coming to the faith, but on the moral exigencies of the faith itself, on the change of customs, in other words, on morality. Despite everything, the situation was less grave than might appear to us today because, with all the inconsistencies that we know, the family, the school, the culture and little by little also the society, still helped, almost spontaneously, to absorb the faith. Without counting that, since the beginning of the new situation, forms of life were born, such as monasticism and then various Religious Orders in which baptism was lived in all its radicalism and Christian life was the fruit of a personal, often heroic, decision.

This situation so-called “of Christianity” changed radically and it is not the case here to pause to illustrated the times and ways of the change. Suffice it to know that it was no longer as it was in past centuries, in which the greater part of our traditions and our mentality itself were formed. The advent of modernity, initiated with humanism, accelerated by the French Revolution and the Enlightenment, the emancipation of the State from the Church, the exaltation of individual freedom and of self-determination and, finally, the radical secularization that has resulted, have changed profoundly the situation of the faith in society.

Hence the urgency of a new evangelization, namely, of an evangelization that moves from bases that are different from the traditional ones and that takes into account the new situation. It is, in practice, about creating for the men of today occasions that enable them to take, in the new context, that free, personal and mature decision that Christians took at the beginning on receiving baptism, and that made them real, not nominal, Christians.

How to respond to the new needs?

We are not, of course, the first to pose the problem. Not to go too far back again, we recall the institution in 1972 of the Ritual of the Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), which proposes a kind of catechumenal path for the baptism of adults. In some countries with mixed religions, where many persons ask for the baptism as adults, this instrument has revealed itself of great efficacy.

However, what should be done for the mass of Christians that are already baptized, who live as Christians purely in name and not in fact, completely estranged from the Church and from the sacramental life? The answer to this problem came more from God himself than from human initiative, and it is the innumerable ecclesial movements, lay aggregations and renewed parish communities, which appeared after the Council. The common contribution of all this reality, though in a great variety of styles and of numeric consistency, is that they are the context or the instrument, which allows so many adult persons to make a personal choice for Christ, to take their baptism seriously, to become active subjects of the Church.

Saint John Paul II saw in these Movements and living parish communities “the signs of a new spring of the Church.” In Novo millennio ineunte he wrote: “Of great importance for communion is the duty to promote the various aggregative realities, whetherin the more traditional forms, or in the newerones of Ecclesial Movements, which continue to give to the Church a vivacity that is a gift of God and constitutes an authentic “spring of the Spirit.”[2]  Benedict XVI expressed himself in the same way on different occasions. In the homily of the Chrism Mass of Holy Thursday of 2012, he said:

“Whoever looks at the history of the post-Conciliar period can recognize the dynamic of true renewal, which has often assumed unexpected forms in Movements full of life, which render almost tangible the inexhaustible vivacity of the Holy Church, the presence and the effective action of the Holy Spirit.”

The Gospel Fills with Joy the Heart and Life of the Believer

However, we now turn to Pope Francis’ letter. It begins with the words from which the title of the document is taken: ‘the joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. There is a connection between the personal encounter with Jesus and the experience of the joy of the Gospel. The joy of the Gospel is only experienced by establishing an intimate relationship, from person to person, with Jesus of Nazareth.

If we do not want the words to remain only words, at this point we must ask ourselves a question: why is the Gospel a source of joy? Is the expression only a comfortable slogan or does it correspond to truth? In fact, still before: why is the Gospel called: euangelion, that is, happy news, beautiful, joyful news? The best way to discover it is to begin from the moment this word makes its first appearance in the New Testament, in fact, on Jesus’ mouth. At the beginning of his Gospel, Mark summarizes in a few words the fundamental message that Jesus was preaching in the cities and villages where he went after his Baptism in the Jordan:

“Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the Gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:14-15).

At first sight this is not, in fact, “happy” news, joyful news. It sounds, rather, like a severe call, an austere appeal to change. It is proposed to us in this sense at the beginning of Lent, in the Gospel of the First Sunday, and by some it accompanies the rite of ashes on the head: “Repent and believe in the Gospel!” Therefore, it is vital to understand the true sense of this beginning of the Gospel.  

The real meaning of the message of Jesus has been obscured because of an inexact translation of the original Greek word metanoeite. The Latin vulgate translated it with paenitemini  in Mark 1,15, and with paenitentiam agite in Acts 2, 38, that is, do penance. With this ascetic content the term has been received in  the common language of the Church and its preaching, while the true meaning of the word is “repent”, “turn your mind around”, be aware of what is happening.

Prior to Jesus, to convert meant always to “go back” (as the term itself indicates, used in Hebrew, for this action, namely the term shub); it meant to return to the violated covenant, through a renewed observance of the law. Through the mouth of the prophet Zechariah: “return to me […] Return from your evil ways and from your evil deeds” (Zechariah 1:3-4; Cf. also Jeremiah: 8_4-5). Consequently to be converted had a primarily ascetic, moral and penitential meaning, and it was effected by changing one’s conduct of life. Conversion was seen as a condition for salvation; the meaning was: be converted and you will be saved; be converted and salvation will come to you.

This was, finally, the predominant meaning that the word conversion had on the lips of John the Baptist (Cf. Luke 3:4-6). However, on Jesus’ lips this meaning changed, not because Jesus enjoyed changing the meaning of the words, but because with him the reality changed. The moral meaning becomes secondary (at least at the beginning of his preaching), in regard to a new meaning, unknown until now. To be converted no longer meant to go back; it meant, rather, to take a leap forward and to enter, through faith, in the kingdom of God who came among men. To be converted is to take the so-called “decision of the hour,” in face of the realization of God’s promises.

“Be converted and believe” does not mean two different and successive things, but the same action: be converted, that is, believe; be converted by believing!  Saint Thomas Aquinas also affirms this: “Prima conversio fit per fidem,” the first conversion consists in believing.[3] Conversion and salvation have exchanged places. No longer: sin – conversion – salvation (Convert and you will be saved; convert and salvation will come to you”), but, rather: sin – salvation – conversion (Convert because salvation has come to you”). Men have not changed; they are not better or worse than before; it is God who has changed and who, in the fullness of time, sent his Son, so that we might receive adoption as sons (Cf. Galatians 4:4).

Many evangelical parables do no more than confirm this happy initial proclamation. One such is that of the banquet. A king gave a banquet for his son’s wedding. At the appointed time, he sent his servants to call the guests (Cf. Matthew 22:1 ff.). They had not paid the price before, as is done in social dinners. It is only a question of accepting or refusing the invitation. Another is the parable of the lost sheep. Jesus ends it with the word: “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10). However, in what did the conversion of the sheep consist? Perhaps it returned to the sheepfold with its own legs? No, the shepherd that went to bring it back brought it back to the sheepfold on his shoulders. All that it could do was to let itself be taken on his shoulders.

In the Letter to the Romans (3:21 ff.), Saint Paul is the indomitable herald of this extraordinary evangelical novelty, after Jesus made him experience the dramatic event of his life. He re-evokes the fact, which changed the course of his life, thus:

“But whatever gain I had [to be circumcised, Jewish, irreproachable as to the observance of the law], I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness of God that depends on faith” (Philippians 3:7-9).

See why the Gospel is called Gospel and why it is source of joy. It tells us of a God that, out of pure grace, has come to meet us in his Son Jesus. A God who “so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Many remember from the Gospel almost solely Jesus’ phrase: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24) and they convince themselves that the Gospel is synonymous with suffering and self-denial, and not with joy. However, let us deepen the discourse: “follow me,” where? To Calvary, to death on the cross? No, this is the penultimate stage in the Gospel, not the last one. Follow me, through the cross, to the resurrection, to life, to joy without end!

4. Faith, Works and the Holy Spirit

However, do we not in this way reduce the Gospel to a single dimension, to that of faith, neglecting works? And how can we reconcile the explanation just given with the other passages of the New Testament, where the word conversion is addressed to one who has already believed? To the Apostles who had been following him for so time, Jesus said one day: “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). In Revelation, John repeats to each one of the seven Churches the imperative “be converted” (metanoeson), where the unequivocal meaning of the word is: return to the fervor you had at the beginning, be vigilant, do the works you did at first, stop indulging in the illusion of being all right with God, come out of your tepidness! (Cf. Revelation 2:3)

The matter is explained with a simple analogy with what happens in physical life. The child can do nothing to be conceived in the mother’s womb; it is in need of the love of two parents who have given it life; however, once it has come to the light it must put its lungs to work, breathe, suck milk, otherwise the life it received is extinguished. Saint James’ phrase is understood in this sense: “faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:26), in the sense, that is, that without works faith “dies.”

This is also the sense that Catholic theology has always given to the Pauline definition of “faith that renders itself active through love” (Galatians 5:6). We are not saved by good works, but we are not saved without good works: thus we can summarize what the Council of Trent states on this point, and which the ecumenical dialogue renders ever more widely shared between Christians.

Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation reflects this synthesis between faith and works. After having begun speaking of the joy of the Gospel that fills the heart, in the body of the letter he recalls all the great  “no’s” that the Gospel pronounces against egoism, injustice, the idolatry of money, and all the great “yes’s” that it spurs us to say at the service of others, to the social commitment and to the poor. It demonstrates that the personal encounter with Jesus, of which he spoke to us at the beginning of the letter, is altogether different from an intimistic and individualistic experience; it becomes, on the contrary, the main spring for evangelization and personal sanctification.

However, the need for commitment, which the Gospel implies does not attenuate the promise of joy with which Jesus began his ministry and the Pope begins his Exhortation, rather, it reinforces it. That grace that God offered men sending his Son into the world, now that Jesus is dead and is risen and has sent the Holy Spirit, does not leave the believer alone prey to the exigencies of the law and of duty; but does in him and with him, through grace, what it commands him. It makes him “overjoyed also in tribulation” (2 Corinthians 7:4).

It is the certainty with which Pope Francis concludes his Exhortation. The Holy Spirit, he reminds, “helps us in our weakness” (Romans 8:26) (EG, nr. 280.). He is our great resource. The joy promised by the Gospel is the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:21), and it is not maintained except thanks to a continuous contact with him.

At a recent meeting of leaders of the Charismatic Fraternity, Pope Francis used the example of what happens in human breathing.[4] It takes place in two phases: there is inspiration, with which one receives air and expiration, when air goes out. He said they are a good symbol of what should happen in the spiritual organism. Through prayer, meditation of the Word of God, the sacraments, mortification, and silence, we inhale the oxygen that is the Holy Spirit; we diffuse the Spirit when we go out towards others in the proclamation of the faith and in works of charity.

The Lenten Season we have just begun is, par excellence, the time of inspiration. At this time, we take deep breaths; we fill the lungs of our soul with the Holy Spirit and thus, without our realizing it, our breath will have the scent of Christ.

Good Lent to all!

English translation by ZENIT

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[1] Benedict XVI, Address to the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for the Family of 2011.

[2] Novo millennio ineunte, 46.

[3] Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I-II ae, q. 113, a, 4.

[4] Address to the members of the “Catholic Fraternity of Charismatic Covenant Communities and Fellowships,” Friday, October 31, 2014.


Father Cantalamessa's 2nd Lent Homily 2015

"East and West on the Mystery of the Trinity"

ROME, March 06, 2015  - Here is the second Lenten homily given this year by the preacher of the Pontifical Household, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa.

* * *

1. Bringing together what unites us

The recent visit of Pope Francis to Turkey, which concluded with his meeting with the Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew, and in particular the pope’s exhortation to Eastern Christian and Western Christians to share fully their common faith have convinced me of the usefulness of devoting the Lenten meditations for this year to support this desire of the Holy Father, which is also the desire of all Christendom.

This desire for communion is not new. The Second Vatican Council, in Unitatis redintegratio, already urged a special consideration of the Eastern Churches and of their riches (UR 14). St. John Paul II, in his apostolic letter in 1995, Orientale lumen, wrote,

Since, in fact, we believe that the venerable and ancient tradition of the Eastern Churches is an integral part of the heritage of Christ’s Church, the first need for Catholics is to be familiar with that tradition, so as to be nourished by it and to encourage the process of unity in the best way possible for each.[1]

That same holy pontiff formulated a principle that I believe is fundamental for the path to unity: “I pray . . . for fruitful cooperation in the many areas which unite us; these are unquestionably more numerous than those which divide us.”[2] The Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church share the same faith in the Trinity, in the Incarnation of the Word, in Jesus Christ as true God and true man in one single person who died and was raised for our salvation and who has given us the Holy Spirit. We believe that the Church is animated by the Holy Spirit, that the Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life,” that Mary is the Theotokos, the Mother of God, and that eternal life is our destination. What could be more important than this? The differences occur in our manners of understanding and explaining some of these mysteries, so they are secondary and not primary.

In the past, relations between Eastern theology and Latin theology were marked with an obvious apologetic and polemic coloring. They focused—in recent times, fortunately, with more irenic tones—on the distinctions and on what each side believed was different  and more correct than the other side. The time has come to reverse this tendency, leaving aside any obsessive insistence on the differences (which are often based on a forced interpretation, if not a distortion, of the other’s thought) and instead to bring together what we have in common and what unites us in one faith. This is necessitated peremptorily by the common duty of proclaiming the faith to a world that has profoundly changed and has different questions and interests than those during the time in which the disagreements arose—a world in which the vast majority no longer understands the meaning of so many of our subtle distinctions and is light- years away from them.

Until now, in the effort to promote unity among Christians, one approach has predominated that could be formulated this way: “First resolve the differences, and then share what we have in common.” The approach that is now increasingly being pursued in ecumenical circles is “Share what we have in common, and then resolve the differences with patience and reciprocal respect.”

The most surprising result of this change in perspective is that the same doctrinal differences, rather than appearing to us as an “error” or a “heresy” of the other side, are beginning to appear more and more often as compatible with one’s own position and at times even as a necessary corrective and an enrichment. We have a concrete example of this, on another front, with the agreement between the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation in 1999 concerning justification by faith.

A wise pagan thinker in the fourth century, Quintus Aurelius Symmachus, noted a truth that acquires its full value if it is applied to the relations among the various theologies of East and West: “Uno itinere non potest perveniri ad tam grande secretum.”[3] (“It is not possible to arrive at such a great a mystery through one path.”) In these meditations we will try to demonstrate not only the necessity but also the beauty and joy of finding ourselves at the summit of a mountain, although we reached it by different slopes, to contemplate the same marvelous panorama of Christian faith.

The great mysteries of faith, whose fundamental agreement in the diversity of the two traditions we will seek to confirm, are the mystery of the Trinity, the person of Christ, the person of the Holy Spirit, and the doctrine of salvation. Two lungs but one breath. That will be the conviction that will guide us on our path of exploration. Pope Francis speaks in this sense of “reconciled differences”: they are not silenced or trivialized but reconciled. Since these are simple Lenten sermons, it is clear that I will touch on very complex problems without any claim to thoroughness, and with an intent that is practical and preliminary rather than speculative.

I approach this task with great humility and almost on tip-toes, knowing how difficult it is to strip oneself of one’s own categories to take on those of others. I am comforted by the fact that the Greek Fathers, along with the Latin Fathers, were for years the daily bread of my studies, and that many later Orthodox authors (Symeon the New Theologian, Nicholas Cabasilas, the Philokalia, Seraphim of Sarov) have been constant inspirations for me in my preaching ministry, not to mention the icons that are the only images before which I am able to pray.

2. East and West on the mystery of the Trinity

Let us begin our ascent by treating the mystery of the Trinity, that is, the highest mountain, the Everest of faith. [4] In the first three centuries of the life of the Church, as the doctrine of the Trinity gradually became explicit, Christians saw themselves exposed to the same accusation they had always leveled against the pagans: that of believing in more than one God, of being polytheists themselves as well. This is why the credo for Christians in all its various formulations for three centuries that began with the words, “I believe in God” (Credo in Deum), is adjusted with a small but significant addition beginning in the fourth century that would never again be omitted afterwards: “I believe in one God” (Credo in unum Deum).

It is not necessary to go over the path that led to this result: we can move forward immediately to its conclusion. Toward the end of the fourth century the transformation of the monotheism of the Old Testament into the Trinitarian monotheism of Christians had been completed. The Latins expressed the two aspects of the mystery with the formula “one substance and three persons,” and the Greeks with the formula, “three hypostases, one single ousia.” After a heated meeting, the process apparently concluded with a total agreement between the two theologies. “Can anyone conceive,” asked Gregory Nazianzus, “of a more complete agreement and a more absolute expression about the same thing, even if it uses different words?”[5] 

One difference actually did remain between the two modes of expressing the mystery. Today it is generally expressed this way: in their consideration of the Trinity, the Greeks and the Latins move from opposite poles: the Greeks move from the divine persons, that is from plurality, to reach the unity of nature, and the Latins, in contrast, move from the unity of the divine nature to reach the three persons. According to a French historian of dogma, “Latin theology considers personality as a mode of nature; Greek theology considers nature as that which is contained in the person.” [6]

I think this difference can also be expressed in another way. Both Latins and Greeks begin with the unity of God. Whether it is the Greek or Latin creed, it starts by saying, “I believe in one God.” But this unity for the Latins is conceived of as still impersonal or pre-personal. It is the essence of God that then becomes specified as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, without of course being thought of as preexisting the persons. In Latin theology, the treatise “De Deo uno” (“On One God”) has always preceded the treatise “De Deo trino” (On the Triune God”).

For the Greeks, instead, the unity is already personalized, because for them, “the unity is the Father, from whom and in relation to whom the other persons are recognized”[7] The first article of the credo of the Greeks also says, “I believe in one God the Father almighty,” but “Father almighty” here is not separated from “one God,” as it is in the Latin creed, but makes one complete unit with it. The comma does not come after the word “God” but after the word “almighty.” The meaning is “I believe in one God who is the Father almighty.” The unity of the three divine persons for the Greeks comes from the fact that the Son is perfectly (substantially) “united” with the Father, just as the Holy Spirit is united to the Son.[8]

Either manner of approaching the mystery is legitimate, but today the tendency more and more is to prefer the Greek model in which the unity in God is inseparable from the Trinity but forms a unique mystery and flows from one single act. Using inadequate human words, we can say the following: The Father is the fountain, the absolute origin of the movement of love. The Son cannot exist as the Son if he does not first of all receive from the Father all that he is. John of Damascus writes, “It is because of the Father—because of the fact that the Father exists—that the Son and Holy Spirit also exist.”[9]

The Father is the only one, even within the Trinity, absolutely the only one, who does not need to be loved in order to love. Only in the Father is this perfect equation realized: to be is to love. For the other divine persons, to be is to be loved.

The Father is an eternal relationship of love and does not exist outside this relationship. We cannot, therefore, conceive of the Father primarily as the supreme being and then recognize an eternal relationship of love in him. One needs to speak of the Father as an eternal act of love. The unique God of Christians is therefore the Father; he is not, however, conceived as separate (how can someone be called “father” unless he has a “son”?) but as the Father who is always in the act of generating the Son and giving himself to him with an infinite love that unites both of them and is the Holy Spirit. The unity and Trinity of God flow forth eternally from one single act and constitute a unique mystery.

I said that many today, even in the West, tend to prefer the Greek model (and I myself am among these). We need to add at once, however, that this does not mean renouncing the contribution of Latin theology. If in fact Greek theology has furnished, so to speak, the correct outline and approach for speaking about the Trinity, Latin thought, through Augustine, has secured its fundamental content and soul, which is love. Augustine bases his discussion of the Trinity on the definition that “God is love” (1 Jn 4:16), seeing the Holy Spirit as the mutual love between the Father and Son according to the triad of lover, beloved, and love that his medieval followers would make explicit and almost canonical.[10] In this same line the theologian Heribert Mühlen has recently put forth a conception of the Holy Spirit as the divine “We,” the personified koinonia between the Father and the Son in the Trinity and, in a different way, among all those baptized in the Church.[11]

The first one among the eastern theologians to acknowledge this contribution of Latin theology was Gregory Palamas who, in the fourteenth century, finally became personally acquainted with St. Augustine’s treatise on the Trinity. He writes,

That Spirit of the supreme Word is like an ineffable love of the Begetter towards the ineffably begotten Word himself. The Beloved Word and Son of the Father also experiences this love towards the Begetter, but he does so inasmuch as he possesses this love as proceeding from the Father together with him and resting connaturally on him.[12]

The opening up of the issue by Palamas is being taken up today in another context by a noted Orthodox theologian when he writes, “ The expression “God is love’ means God ‘exists’ insofar as he is Trinity, that is to say, as a ‘person’ and not a substance. Love is not a consequence or a ‘property’ of the divine substance . . . but is what constitutes his substance.”[13] This seems to me an explanation that is compatible with the definition that St. Thomas Aquinas, in the wake of Augustine, gives of the divine persons as “subsistent relationships.”[14]

The difference and the complementarity of the two theologies are not limited, however, only to the manner of understanding the essence and the relationships internal to the Trinity. With certain significant exceptions on one side or the other, it is clear that the Greeks are more interested in the immanent Trinity, outside of time, while the Latins are more interested in the economic Trinity, that is, how the Trinity reveals itself in the history of salvation. The Greeks, in line with their own genius, are more interested in being and ontology, the Latins in its historical manifestations. In this light, one can understand the Latin habit of beginning the discussion about God with the treatise “On the One God” instead of “On the Triune God.” And we can also understand their reasons for wanting to maintain this tradition as a treasure for everyone. In the history of salvation in fact—as we will soon see—the revelation of the one God preceded that of the triune God.

The clearest sign of this difference in approach can be seen in the two different ways of representing the Trinity in Greek iconography and western art. The canonical icon of Orthodoxy, which has its high point in Andrei Rublev, represents the Trinity by the figures of three equal but distinct angels seated around a table. Everything about it makes a superhuman stillness and unity shine through. The history of salvation is not ignored as demonstrated by the allusion to the occasion when Abraham welcomes the three guests and by the eucharistic table around which the three are seated, but that all remains in the background.

In western art, from the Middle Ages on, the Trinity is represented in a completely different way. We see the Father with his arms extended, supporting the two arms of the cross, while a dove that represents the Holy Spirit hovers between the face of the Father and the Crucified One. The most famous examples are the Holy Trinity of Masaccio in Santa Maria Novella in Florence and of Albrecht Dürer in the Vienna Museum, but numerous examples can be found whether on the popular or artistic level. This is the Trinity as it is revealed to us in the history of salvation that has its apex in the cross of Christ.

3. Two paths still open

Let us take another step forward and attempt to see how the Christian faith needs to keep open and viable both paths to the Trinitarian mystery delineated here. To state it in terms of an outline: the Church needs to receive fully the Orthodox approach to the Trinity into its internal life, that is, in its prayer, contemplation, liturgy, and mysticism, and it also needs to maintain the Latin approach in its mission of evangelization to those outside.

There is no need to demonstrate the first point. In that regard, all we have to do is receive with joy and gratitude the very rich heritage of spirituality that comes from the Greek and Byzantine tradition and that various Orthodox theologians in recent times have defended and made accessible to the western public.[15] A text from St. Basil expresses well the fundamental orientation of the Orthodox vision:

The path to the knowledge of God proceeds from the one Spirit, through the one Son, and to the one Father. Conversely, natural goodness, inherent holiness, and royal dignity come forth from the Father through the Only-Begotten and to the Spirit.[16]

In other words, on the level of being and the coming forth of creatures from God, everything comes from the Father, goes through the Son, and reaches us through the Holy Spirit. In the order of knowledge, or of the return of creatures to God, everything begins with the Spirit, goes through the Son Jesus Christ and returns to the Father. The perspective in both cases is Trinitarian.

What I want to explain instead is why it is necessary today more than ever, be it in the East or the West, to know and to practice the Latin approach to the mystery of the one and triune God as well. St. Gregory Nazianzus, in a famous text, synthesized the process that led to faith in the Trinity this way:

The Old Testament proclaimed the existence of the Father in an explicit way, while the existence of the Son was proclaimed in a more obscure way. The New Testament manifested the existence of the Son while it suggested the divine nature of Holy Spirit. Now the Spirit is present in our midst and grants us a manifestation of himself more clearly. It would not have been appropriate, when the divinity of the Father had not yet been acknowledged, to proclaim openly the divinity of the Son, and it would not have been safe for the Son to lay on us the weight of the divinity of the Holy Spirit when the divinity of the Son had not yet been accepted. [17]

We see this same divine pedagogy practiced by Jesus. He told the apostles he was not able to reveal all the things that pertain to himself and his Father because “you cannot bear them now” (Jn 16:12).

It is true that we now live in a time in which the Trinity has been fully revealed, and therefore we ought to live constantly under this “trisolar light,” as some ancient Fathers call it, without losing ourselves in the contemplation of a “supreme being” God who is more like the God of the philosophers than the God revealed by Jesus. But what do we say about the non-believing, secularized world in need of re-evangelization that is all around us? Isn’t our world in the same condition as the world before the coming of Christ? Shouldn’t we, in facing that world, use the same pedagogy that God used to reveal himself to all of humanity?

We too should therefore help our contemporaries to discover above all that God exists, that he created us out of love, and that he is a good Father, who revealed himself to us in Jesus of Nazareth. Can we honestly begin our evangelization by speaking of the three divine persons? Wouldn’t this also be, to use St. Gregory’s image, putting a weight on people’s shoulders that they cannot carry?

One important thing needs to be noted. The Father who, according to Gregory Nazianzus revealed himself first in the Old Testament, is not yet the “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” that is, a real father of a real son. He is not God the Father of the Trinity; that revelation only comes with Jesus. He is still a father in the metaphoric sense, in the sense of being “a father to his people Israel,” and for the pagans, the “father of the cosmos,” the “celestial father.” Even for St. Gregory, therefore, the revelation about God began with “the one God.”

There is a sense in which the word “God” can and should be used to designate what the three divine persons have in common, that is, the whole Trinity,[18] whether we mean, as Scripture does and the ancient fathers did, a common element like “nature,” substance, or essence (2 Pet 1:4: “partakers of the divine nature” theia physis), or whether we mean, as John Zizioulas proposes, “being as communion.”[19]

The Church needs to find a way of proclaiming the mystery of the one and triune God with appropriate categories that are understandable to the people of its time. This is what the Fathers of the Church and the ancient councils did, and it is in this above all that our fidelity to them consists. It is difficult to think of being able to present to people today the Trinitarian mystery with their same terms of “substance, hypostasis, properties, and subsistent relationships,” even if the Church can never abandon using those terms in its theological settings and in the places where the faith is studied.

If there is something that the experience of proclamation shows is still capable of helping people today—if not to explain, then at least to give them an idea of the Trinity—it is precisely what Augustine did in making love the centerpiece. Love is, in itself, communion and relationship. Love cannot exist without two or more persons. Every love is the movement of one being toward another being, accompanied by the desire for union. For human beings, that union always remains incomplete and transitory, even for the most ardent lovers. Only among the three divine persons is that union realized in such a total way that it eternally makes of the Three one single God. This is a language that people today are also able to understand.

4. United in worship of the Trinity

St. Augustine suggests to us the best way to conclude this reconstruction of the two paths of approaching the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. If we want to cross over an inlet of the sea, he says, the most important thing is not to stay on the shore and strain our eyes to see what is on the opposite shore but to get into the boat that brings us to that shore. So too for us the most important thing is not to speculate about the Trinity but to remain in the faith of the Church, which is the boat that takes us there.[20] We cannot embrace the ocean but we can enter into it; no matter how hard we try, we cannot embrace the mystery of the Trinity with our minds, but we can do something even better  - enter into it!

There is an issue in which we find ourselves united and in agreement, with no differentiation at all between East and West: our duty and our need to worship the Trinity. Only in worship will we truly practice, not only with words but with deeds, the apophatism, that is, that rule of humble restraint in speaking about God, of saying without speaking. To worship the Trinity, according to a stupendous oxymoron from Gregory Nazianzus, is to raise up to God “a hymn of silence.”[21] To worship is to recognize God as God and ourselves as creatures of God. It is to recognize “the infinite qualitative difference” between the Creator and the creature,[22] to acknowledge it freely and joyfully, however, as sons and daughters and not as slaves. To adore, says the Apostle, is “to liberate the truth that is held captive by the unrighteousness of the world” (see Rom 1:18).

Let us conclude by reciting together the doxology that, from the most ancient times, rises up identically to the Trinity, both in the East and in the West: “Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be world, without end. Amen.”


Translated from Italian by Marsha Daigle Williamson

[1] Orientale lumen, 1.

[2] Tertio millennio adveniente, 16.

[3] Quintus Aurelius Symmachus, Relatio de arae Victoriae, III, 10, in Monumenta Germaniae Historica,” Auctores antiquissimi Bd.6/1,  rist. 1984.

[4] For a critical collection of various theologies of the Trinity operative today in different Christian Churches, see Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, The Trinity: Global Perspectives (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2007).

[5] Gregory Nazianzus, Discourses, 42, 15 (PG 36, 476).

[6] Théodore de Régnon, Études de théologie positive sur la Sainte Trinité, vol. I (Paris: Victor Retaux, 1892), 433.

[7] Gregory Nazianzus, Discourses 42, 16 (PG 36, 477).

[8] See Gregory of Nyssa, Contra Eunomium 1, 42 (PG 45, 464).

[9] John of Damascus, De fide orthodoxa, I, 8.

[10] Augustine, On the Trinity, VIII, 9, 14; XV, 17, 31; see Richard of St. Victor, De Trin. III, 2.18, and St: Bonaventure, I Sent. d. 13, q. 1.

[11] See Heribert Mühlen, Der Heilige Geist als Person: Ich - Du – Wir (Munster: Aschendorf, 1963).

[12] Gregory Palamas, The One Hundred and Fifty Chapters, trans. and ed. Robert E. Sinkewicz (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1988), 123; Capita physica, 36 (PG 150, 1145).

[13] Jean Zizioulas, Du personnage à la personne, in L’être ecclésial (Genève: Labor et Fides, 1981), p. 38.

[14] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, I, q.29, a. 4.

[15] See Vladimir Lossky, La teologia mistica della Chiesa d’Oriente (Bologna: Mulino, 1967) [original ed., Théologie mystique de l’Eglise d’Orient, Paris: Editions Montaigne, 1944]; Paul Evdokimov, L’Ortodossia (Bologna: Mulino, 1965) [original ed., L’Orthodoxie (Paris: Neuchâtel, 1959)]; and John Meyendorff, Byzantine Theology: Historical Trends and Doctrinal Themes (New York: Fordham University Press, 1974).

[16] Basil of Cesarea, De Spiritu Sancto XVIII, 47 (PG 32, 153).

[17] Gregory Nazianzus, Discourses, 31 (Theologica II), 26; cf anche Discourses, 32, (Theologica III).

[18] Augustine, On the Trinity, I, 6, 10: “The name ‘God’ indicates the whole Trinity and not just the Father.”

[19] John Zizioulas, Being as Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church (London: Darton, Longman, and Todd, 1985.)

[20] See Augustine, On the Trinity IV, 15, 20; Confessions, VII, 21.

[21] Gregory Nazianzus, Carmi, 29 (PG 37, 507) (sigomenon hymnon).

[22] A famous phrase by Søren Kierkegaard in Sickness unto Death.


Fr. Cantalamessa's 3rd Lenten Homily 2015

East and West Before the Mystery of Christ

VATICAN CITY, March 13, 2015 - Here is the third Lenten homily given this year by the preacher of the Pontifical Household, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa. The homily did not take place due to the Vatican holiday celebrating the 2nd anniversary of Pope Francis' election. 

* * *

1. Paul and John: Christ seen from two angles

In our effort to bring together the spiritual treasures of the Christian East and West, let us reflect today on our common faith in Jesus Christ. Let us seek to do that as people who know we are speaking about someone who is present and not absent. If it were not for our human dullness that impedes us, every time we pronounce the name of Jesus we should think that there is someone who hears himself called by name and that he turns around to look. He is here with us even this morning and is listening, let us hope with indulgence, to what we will say about him.

We begin with the biblical data about Jesus. In the New Testament we already see outlined two different ways of expressing the mystery of Christ. The first is St. Paul’s. Let us summarize the specific characteristics of this path that make it become a model and archetype of Christology in the development of Christian thought:

--First, this path starts from Christ’s humanity to arrive at his divinity, from history to arrive at his pre-existence. It is thus an ascending path. It follows the order of Christ’s manifesting of himself, the order by which people have come to know him rather than the order of being.

--Second, it starts from Christ’s duality (flesh and Spirit) to arrive at the unity of the subject “Jesus Christ our Lord.”

--Third, it has the paschal mystery at its center, that is, Christ’s work before the person of Christ. The great turning point between the two phases of Christ’s existence is the resurrection from the dead.

To be convinced of the accuracy of this characterization, we only need to reread the very dense passage—a kind of embryonic credo—with which the Apostle begins the Letter to the Romans. The mystery of Christ is summarized this way:

Descended from David according to the flesh

Designated the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness

By means of his resurrection from the dead,

Jesus Christ our Lord (see Rom 1:3-4)

The Christological hymn in Philippians 2 also speaks first of Christ in his status as a servant and then, after the resurrection, of Christ who is exalted as Lord. The concrete subject for Paul, even when he defines Christ as “the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15), is always the Christ of history even though the idea of his preexistence is anything but absent in him.

A quick look ahead allows us to see how these Pauline traits of Jesus will be combined and developed in the sub-apostolic generation. Flesh and Spirit, which originally indicated the two phases of the life of Christ—before and after the resurrection—will come to indicate, already in St. Ignatius of Antioch, the two births of Jesus, “from Mary and from God” and finally the two natures of Christ. Tertullian writes,

Here the apostle teaches the two natures of Christ. With the words “descended from David according to the flesh,” he indicates his humanity; with the words “designatedthe Son of God with power according to the Spirit” he indicates his divinity.[1]

Alongside this ascending path of the mystery of Christ, a descending path is added by St. John. We can summarize the characteristics of the second path this way:

--First, this path starts from Christ’s divinity to reach his humanity. The pattern is reversed. It is no longer “flesh—Spirit” but “Logos—flesh.” It is no longer first the human and visible and then the divine and invisible, but the opposite. John begins from the vantage point of Christ’s being, rather than from his manifestation to us, and according to Christ’s being, it is clear that his divinity precedes his humanity.

--Second, it is a path that starts from unity and arrives at a duality of elements: Logos and flesh, divinity and humanity; if we use later terminology, we would say it starts from the person to arrive at the natures.

--Third, the great divide, the pivot point around which everything else revolves, is the Incarnation, not the resurrection or the paschal mystery.

Concerning Christ, John is more interested in the person than the work, Christ’s being more than his acting, which includes the paschal mystery of his death and resurrection. The paschal mystery essentially serves to reveal who Jesus is: “When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you will know that I am he” (Jn 8:28). His existence with the Father is consistently placed before his coming into the world. Recalling the two great affirmations at the beginning of the Fourth Gospel is enough to demonstrate the validity of this brief reconstruction:

 In the beginning was the Word,

And the Word was with God,

And the Word was God. . . .

And the Word became flesh

And dwelt among us. (Jn 1:1, 14)

This briefly outlines the two tracks along which all the subsequent thinking of the Church about Christ will proceed. Despite the differences, there is a profound affinity and a reciprocal connection between the two paths, and so one can proceed in either direction. For both Paul and John there is a divine component and a human component in Christ even though he is one single subject. For both, he is the revealer and the redeemer for the whole world, even if John emphasizes him as revealer and Paul emphasizes him as redeemer. For both of them, our relationship with Christ is mediated and made possible by the Holy Spirit. It is by believing in Christ, they both say, that one receives the Spirit (see Gal 3:2; Jn 7:39) and by receiving the Spirit that one is able to believe in Christ (see 1 Cor 12:3; Jn 6:63).

Very soon, these two paths tend to become solidified, leading to two models or archetypes, and finally, in the fourth and fifth centuries, to two Christological schools. The first school I refer to is called Alexandrian, because of its major center in Alexandria in Egypt, and the other Antiochene because of the city of Antioch in Syria. The principal reason for their differences is not, as it was sometimes thought, that the Alexandrians were inspired by Plato and the Antiochenes by Aristotle but because the first are more inspired by John and the second by Paul.

None of the followers of either path is consciously choosing between Paul and John. Everyone is sure of having them both, and that is of course true. The fact remains, however, that the two currents remain quite visible and distinguishable, like two rivers merging together that remain distinguishable because of the different color of their respective waters. The difference between the two schools doesn’t consist in the fact that some follow Paul and others  follow John, but rather that some interpret John in the light of Paul and others interpret Paul in light of John. The difference is in the overall approach or in the fundamental perspective that is chosen to elucidate the mystery of Christ.

Together these two schools shaped the fundamental outlines of the Church’s Christological dogma. The synthesis between the two positions, as we know, occurred in the ecumenical Council of Chalcedon in 451, with the decisive contribution of the West represented by St. Leo the Great. Here the fundamental truth concerning the oneness of the person of Christ, developed at Alexandria and recognized by the Council of Ephesus, was joined with the fundamental insistence of the Antiochenes on the intact human nature of Christ. The two traditional paths were both recognized as valid, provided that they remained open to each other and connected to each other.

The way in which the definition of Chalcedon was formulated put this very principle into practice. The same mystery of Christ was in fact formulated there twice, in two different ways: first, in the Johannine and Alexandrian way, starting from the affirmation of unity and arriving at the affirmation of the distinction (“one and the same Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son must be acknowledged in two natures”), then in the Pauline and Antiochene manner, starting from the distinction of the natures and arriving at the affirmation of the unity (“the character proper to each of the two natures was preserved as they came together in one Person and one hypostasis”).[2] They arrived at the same conclusion from two different starting points.

2. The Image of Christ in East and West

We can ask ourselves, what happened after Chalcedon to the two paths or the two fundamental Christological models elaborated by these traditions? Did they disappear, leveled out by the dogmatic definition? On the theological level, from that time on there was certainly one faith in Christ common to East and West. St. John Damascus in the East[3] and St. Thomas Aquinas in the West both based their Christological syntheses on Chalcedon. In contrast to the differences that arose concerning the Trinity and the Holy Spirit, there were no significant doctrinal disagreements between Orthodoxy and the Latin Church about the doctrine of Christ.

If, however, we look beyond theology and dogmatic theology to other aspects of the life of the Church, we note that the two Christological models or archetypes did not in fact disappear. They were preserved and left their imprint, the first in Orthodox spirituality and the second in Latin spirituality. In other words, the Eastern Church has favored the Johannine and Alexandrian Christ and with it the centrality of the Incarnation, the divinity of Christ, and the idea of divinization. The Western Church has favored the Pauline and Antiochene Christ and with it the humanity of Christ and the paschal mystery.

There is no question here of a rigid separation. The influences are interwoven and vary from author to author, from era to era, and from place to place. Both churches believed—and rightly so—that they valued John and Paul together. Nevertheless, everyone admits that the Christ of the Byzantine tradition has different characteristics than the Christ of the Latin tradition.

Let us note certain facts that highlight this difference, beginning with the Eastern Christ. In art, the most characteristic image of the Orthodox Christ is the Pantocrator, the glorified Christ. This is the image the congregation contemplates in front of them in the apse of the great basilicas. It is clear that Byzantine art is familiar with the crucified Christ, but here the crucified Christ also has glorious, royal traits in which the realism of the passion is already transfigured in light of the resurrection. He is, in a word, the Johannine Christ, for whom the cross represents the moment of his being “exalted” (see Jn 12:32).

In the mystery of Christ, the event of the Incarnation continues to hold first place. Consistent with this emphasis, salvation is conceived of as a divinization of the human being through contact with the life-giving flesh of the Word. St. Symeon the New Theologian, for example, says in one of his prayers to Christ,

By descending from your lofty sanctuary without separating yourself from the bosom of the Father, and by being incarnated and born of the holy Virgin Mary, you already remolded and vivified me, freed me from the guilt of my forefathers, and prepared me to ascend into heaven.[4]

The essential event has already occurred with the Incarnation of the Word. The idea of divinization returns to the forefront through Gregory Palamas and will characterize “Christology in late Byzantium.”[5] So then, is the paschal mystery thereby somehow neglected? On the contrary, everyone knows the extraordinary importance that the celebration of Easter has for the Orthodox. But here again, there is a revealing sign:

the most valued aspect of the paschal mystery is not so much Christ’s self-abasement as his glory, the resurrection. It is not Good Friday but the Sunday of the resurrection that is more highly valued. From all points of view, the attention is on the glorified Christ, on Christ as “God.”

These characteristics are also found in the ideal of holiness that predominates in Eastern spirituality. The apex of holiness is seen here in the transformation of the saint into the image of the glorified Christ. In the lives of two of the more typical saints of Orthodoxy, St. Symeon the New Theologian and St. Seraphim of Sarov, we find the mystical phenomenon of conformity to the luminous Christ of Tabor and of the resurrection. The saint appears almost transformed into light.

Now let us take a look at some aspects of Western spirituality. St. Augustine writes that of the three days that constitute the paschal Triduum, “The cross symbolizes our present life while we hold by faith and hope what is symbolized by the tomb and the resurrection.”[6] In other words, while we are in this life the crucified Christ is closer and more immediate to us than the risen Christ.

In art, the characteristic image of Christ in the West is in fact the crucified Christ. This is what towers over or hangs above the altar in churches. The representation of the Crucified One, at a certain point, departs from the glorious and royal model and takes on the realistic traits of real pain and even agony. He is the Pauline crucified Christ who on the cross became “sin” and a “curse” for us.

Starting with St. Bernard and then with St. Francis, devotion and attention to the humanity of Christ and to the different “mysteries” of his life take on great importance. The kenosis, or abasement of Christ, occupies first place and with it the paschal mystery. In this context the principle of “the imitation of Christ,” which had been at the center of Antiochene theology, finds its practical application. It is not surprising that the most famous book of spirituality produced by the Latin Middle Ages will be The Imitation of Christ. Contrary to any attempt to bypass Christ’s humanity and strive directly for union with God, St. Teresa of Avila will affirm that there is no stage of spiritual life in which we can disregard the humanity of Christ.[7]

The saints furnish a kind of practical comparison here as well. What is the sign of having reached the apex of holiness? It is not conformity to the glorious Christ of the Transfiguration but conformity to the crucified Christ. The Orthodox tradition does not have any examples of saints with the stigmata, like St Francis of  Assisi and others, while they have examples, as we have seen, of transfigured saints.

The Protestant Reformation, in some respects, took certain characteristics of this Western Pauline Christ and of the paschal mystery to extremes. It elevated the “theology of the cross” as the criterion for every theology, at times polemically against the “theology of glory.” Søren Kierkegaard will end up affirming that we can know Christ in this life only in his abasement.[8]

It is true that Luther and the Protestants, in polemic with medieval excesses of the imitation of Christ, affirmed that Christ is above all a gift to receive by faith rather than a model to imitate. But here again, which Christ is seen as the “gift” for us to receive by faith? Not the Logos who came down and became incarnate but the Pauline paschal Christ, the Christ “for me,” not the Christ “as he is in himself.”

I repeat: there will be trouble if we make these distinctions rigid; they will become false and anti-historical. For example, Byzantine spirituality includes a tradition of holiness whose followers are called “Fools for Christ” in which the assimilation to Christ in his kenosis is strongly emphasized. With these qualifications, there nevertheless remains an undeniable difference of emphasis. The East has preferred to follow the path outlined by John, the West the one outlined by Paul. But both, faithful to Chalcedon, have been able to embrace the other pole of the mystery in their vision, keeping the two paths connected.

The grace of the present moment is that this diversity is beginning to be seen as an enrichment and no longer as a threat. An Orthodox theologian has expressed the following opinion: If the Latin Christ is taken in isolation, there comes a conception of the Church that is too historical, earthly, and human; if the Orthodox Christ is taken in isolation, there comes a conception of the Church that is too eschatological, disincarnate, and not attentive enough to its historical duties. Because of this, he concludes, “In order for the catholicity of the Church to be authentic, it has to include East and West.”[9] 

It is not necessary, then, to eliminate or to level out the differences that we have noted. Once the legitimacy and the biblical character of the two different approaches are recognized, what is needed instead is an exchange of gifts, a respect and esteem for each other’s tradition. It is as if God had made two keys for us to attain the fullness of the Christian mystery and has given one to Eastern Christianity and the other to Western Christianity, so that neither can open and attain that fullness without the other.

In the city of Colmar in Alsace, there is a famous polyptych by Matthias Grünewald. When the two side panels are closed we see the crucifixion, but when they are open we see the resurrection on the opposite side. The crucifixion is impressively realistic; we see a Christ in agony with his fingers and toes contorted, jutting out like the twigs of a dried up tree; the body seems as if it has thorns and nails thrust into every part of it. It is one of those paintings of Christ about which Dostoevsky said that if someone looks at it for too long, it “might make some people lose their faith.”[10]

On the other hand, the Risen One appears on the other side immersed in such brilliant light that it hardly allows us to see the features of a human face. If we stay in front of this one too long, there is a risk, if not of “losing our faith,” of certainly losing our trust because this Christ appears distant from our experience of suffering. It leads to trouble, then, to divide this polyptych or observe only one side of it. It is an effective symbol of what should take place, on a greater scale, with the Orthodox Christ and the Western Christ. They must be held together.

3. United in love for Christ

Up until now we have proceeded under the guidance of the Fathers and testimonies from the past. More than anything else, we have outlined the history of the respective positions concerning the person of Christ. But this is not what will truly make us advance on the road to unity. It is not, in other words, the substantial doctrinal unity of faith, no matter how indispensable that is, that will achieve this. It will be unity achieved in love for Christ!

What deeply unites the Orthodox and the Catholics and that can make every difference become secondary is a shared, renewed love for the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Not, however, the Jesus of dogma, of theology, of the respective traditions, but the risen Jesus who is alive today. A Jesus who is for us a “you” and not a “he.” To use a distinction dear to a contemporary Orthodox theologian, it is not the personnage of Jesus but the person of Jesus that is significant here.[11]

There are two lungs in the human body, two eyes, two feet, two hands—these are all metaphors often used to describe the synergetic relation between East and West. But there is only one heart! The body that is the Church also has only one heart, and this heart must be love for Christ. Nicholas Cabasilas, one of the most beloved spiritual authors—and beloved not only by the Orthodox—writes,

From the beginning, human love, almost like a jewel case large and wide enough to receive God, was preordained for the Redeemer as its model and goal. . . .The desire of the soul leads uniquely to Christ. He is the place of its rest, since he alone is the Good, the Truth, and everything that inspires love (eros).[12]

Likewise, St. Benedict’s maxim has resonated in all of western monastic spirituality: “Put absolutely nothing before the love of Christ.”[13] This is not meant to restrict the horizon of Christian love from God to Christ. It means loving God in the way that he wants to be loved. This is not a mediated love, as if by proxy, such that for the one who loves Jesus it “is as if” he loved the Father. Jesus is an immediate mediator; in loving him, one ipso facto also loves the Father because he “and the Father are one” (Jn 10:30).

Since this is the Year of Consecrated Life, I would like to offer a particular thought about it. Allow me to repeat some reflections in this regard that I made a while ago in this very same venue, when I commented on the encyclical of Benedict XVI, Deus caritas est. In it the pontiff at that time affirms that love as gift and love as pursuit—agape and eros (this latter word is understood in its noble and not its vulgar sense)—are two inseparable components in the love of God for us and in our love for God. In recognizing this, the East has preceded the West,[14] which remained captive for a long time to the opposite thesis of the incompatibility of agape and eros.[15]

Love still suffers in this regard because of a harmful separation of agape and eros not only in the mind of the secularized world but also on the opposite side by believers and in particular by consecrated souls. In the world we often find eros without agape, and among believers we often find agape without eros. Eros without agape is a romantic love that is very often passionate to the point of violence. It is a love involving conquest that fatally reduces the other to being an object for one’s own pleasure and that ignores every dimension of sacrifice, fidelity, and gift of self, in other words, agape.

Agape without eros comes across to us a “cold love,” a love that comes “out of one’s head” more by an imposition of will than by an inner movement of the heart; it seems like a love that has been dropped down into a pre-established mold rather than a love that is developed by an individual that is unrepeatable, the way every human being is repeatable in God’s eyes. Acts of love toward God seem in this case like love letters to the beloved, written by certain inexperienced lovers, that are copied out of a special handbook.

True and whole-hearted love is a pearl enclosed between the two shells of eros and agape.  We cannot separate these two dimensions of love without destroying it. This is how the love of God for us is revealed in the Bible. It is not only forgiveness, mercy and gift of himself; it is also passion, desire, and jealousy. It is not only a paternal and maternal love but also a spousal love. He desires us; it almost seems that he cannot live without us. This is how Christ wants the love of his consecrated souls for him to be.

The beauty and the fullness of consecrated life depend on the quality of our love for Christ. Only that love is capable of defending us from the wanderings of the heart. Jesus is the perfect man; in him are found, to a vastly superior degree, all the qualities and attention that a man looks for in a woman or that a woman looks for in a man. The vow of chastity does not consist in a renunciation of marriage but in a preference for a different kind of wedding, in marrying “the most beautiful among the sons of men.” St. John Climacus writes, “The chaste man is someone who has driven out eros with Eros”[16]— that is, love for a man or a woman with love for Christ.

Let us conclude by listening to the most ancient hymn to Christ that is known outside of the Bible, which is still in use in the vespers of the Orthodox liturgy, as well as in Catholic, Anglican, and Lutheran liturgies. It is still used when the lights are lit for vespers and is therefore called “the lamp-lighting hymn.”

O Gentle Light of the holy glory of the immortal,

heavenly, holy, blessed Father, O Jesus Christ:

Having come to the setting of the sun, having beheld the evening light,

we praise the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit: God.

Meet it is for Thee at all times to be hymned with reverent voices,

O Son of God, Giver of life.

Wherefore, the world doth glorify Thee.[17]


Translated from Italian by Marsha Daigle Williamson

[1] Tertullian, Against Praxeas, 27, 11 (CCL 2, p. 1199).

[2] See Denzinger, English ed., #302, p. 109.

[3] See John of Damascus, An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith (N. p.: Veritatis Splendor, 2012), 150-228.

[4] Symeon the New Theologian, Hymns and Prayers (SCh 196, p. 332).

[5] See John Meyendorff, Christ in Eastern Christian Thought (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1974), 193-207. This phrase is the title of chapter 10 of his book.

[6] Augustine, Letters, 55, 14, 24 (CSEL 34, 1, p. 195).

[7] Teresa of Avila, Autobiography, 22, 1ff.

[8] See Søren Kierkegaard, Practice in Christianity, trans. Howard and Edna Wong (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991), 172ff.

[9] Petros B. Vassiliadis, in Vedere Dio: Incontro tra Oriente e Occident (Bologna: Dehoniane, 1994), 97.

[10] Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Idiot, II, 4, trans. Henry and Olga Carlisle (New York: New English Library, 1969), 238.

[11] John Zizioulas, Du personnage à la personne, in L’être ecclésial (Genève: Labor et Fides, 1981), pp. 23-56.

[12] Nicholas Cabasilas, Life in Christ, II, 9 (PG 88, 560-561).

[13] Rule of St. Benedict, 4, prologue.

[14] See Paul Evdokimov, Orthodoxy (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 2011), (original ed., L’Orthodoxie [Paris: Neuchâtel, 1959]).

[15] See Anders Nygren, Agape and Eros (English ed., 1932; repr., Chicago: University Press of Chicago, 1982).

[16] St. John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, XV (PG 88, 880).

[17] The Unabbreviated Horologion (Jordanville, NY: Holy Trinity Monastery, 1992), 192–193.


Fr. Cantalamessa's 4th Lenten Homily 2015

East and West Before the Mystery of the Holy Spirit

VATICAN CITY, March 20, 2015 - Here is the fourth Lenten homily given this year by the preacher of the Pontifical Household, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa. 

* * *

Today we will meditate on the common faith of the East and the West in the Holy Spirit, and I will seek to do it “in the Spirit,” in his presence, knowing, as the Scripture says, that “Even before a word is on my tongue, / behold, O Lord, you know it altogether” (Psalm 139:4).

1. Toward an agreement on the Filioque

For centuries, the doctrine of the procession of the Holy Spirit in the bosom of the Trinity has been a point of major friction and reciprocal accusations between the East and West because of the much-discussed Filioque. I will try to reconstruct the status of the question to better assess the grace that God is giving us for an agreement on this thorny problem.

The faith of the Church in the Holy Spirit was defined, as we know, in the ecumenical Council of Constantinople in 381 with the following words: “And (we believe) in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceeds from the Father, who together with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets.”[1] If we look at it closely, this formula answers the two fundamental questions about the Holy Spirit. To the question “Who is the Holy Spirit?” the answer is that he is “Lord” (that is, he belongs to the sphere of Creator, not of creatures) who proceeds from the Father and is worshiped equally with the Father and the Son. To the question “What does the Holy Spirit do?” the answer is that he “gives life” (which summarizes all his sanctifying, interior, and renewing action) and that “he has spoken through the prophets” (which summarizes the charismatic action of the Holy Spirit).

Despite these elements of great value, however, it must be said that the formula still reflects a provisional stage, if not of the faith at least of the terminology regarding the Holy Spirit. The most obvious lacuna is that in this formula the title of “God” is still not explicitly ascribed to the Holy Spirit. The first one to lament this omission was St. Gregory Nazianzus who, on his own, had ended all the hesitations, writing, “Well then, is the Spirit God? Certainly! Is he then consubstantial (homoùsion)? If it is true that he is God, then of course.”[2] This void was actually filled by the practice of the Church which, overcoming the contingent reasons that up until that point held it back, did not hesitate to attribute the title of “God” to the Holy Spirit and to define him as “consubstantial” with the Father and the Son.

What I just noted was not the only “lacuna.” From the point of view of the history of salvation as well, it must have seemed odd early on that the only work attributed to the Spirit was that of having “spoken through the prophets,” omitting mention of all his other works and especially his activity in the New Testament and in the life of Jesus. In this case as well, the completion of the dogmatic formula occurs spontaneously in the life of the Church, as is clear in this epiclesis from the liturgy of St. James in which the quality of being “consubstantial” is also attributed to the Spirit (the italicized phrases are taken from the symbol):

Send . . . your most Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life, who is seated with you, God and Father, and with your only-begotten Son; he rules with you consubstantially and coeternally. He spoke through the Law, the Prophets, and the New Testament; he descended in the form of a dove upon our Lord Jesus Christ in the Jordan River, resting upon him, and descended on his holy apostles . . . on the day of holy Pentecost.[3]

Another point, and the most important one, about which the counciliar formula was silent was the relationship between the Holy Spirit and the Son and, consequently, the relationship between Christology and pneumatology. The only indication in this direction consisted in the phrase “by the power of the Holy Spirit was incarnate from the Virgin Mary,” which was probably already found in the symbol of faith that the Council of Constantinople adopted as the basis of its creed.

On this point, the completion of the symbol occurred in a less clear and peaceful way. Some Greek Fathers expressed the eternal relationship between the Son and the Holy Spirit saying that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father “through the Son”; that the Holy Spirit is “the image of the Son”[4]; that he “proceeds from the Father and receives from the Son”; that he is the “ray” that is diffused from the sun (the Father) and by his splendor (the Son); that he is the stream that comes from the fountain (the Father) and by means of the river (the Son). When the debate about the Holy Spirit passed over to the Latin world, they coined a phrase to express this relationship according to which the Holy Spirit proceeds “from the Father and from the Son.” The words “and from the Son” in Latin become Filioque, and from here arises the meaning with which this word became overloaded in the disputes between East and West, and the conclusions, obviously exaggerated, that were drawn at times.

It was St. Ambrose who first formulated the idea that the Holy Spirit proceeds “from the Father and from the Son.”[5] He was not influenced by Tertullian, whom he did not know and never cited, but by the expressions we have just quoted that he was reading in his usual Greek sources: St. Basil and, even more so, St. Athanasius and Didymus of Alexandria. All these modes of expression highlighted a certain relationship, however unclear and mysterious, between the Son and the Holy Spirit in their common origin from the Father. If “through the Son” means something, this “something” is what Ambrose (overlooking the subtle distinctions that exist in Greek between ekporeuesthai, “to go out from”, and proienai, “to proceed from”) intended by his expression “and from the Son.”

St. Augustinefurnished the theological justification for the expression “from the Father and from the Son” (although he does not yet use the precise expression Filioque) that has subsequently characterized all of Latin pnuematology. He uses expressions that are quite nuanced and certainly do not put Father and the Son in the same role in relation to the Holy Spirit, as we can see in his well-known affirmation: “the Holy Spirit principally proceeds from the Father (de Patre principaliter) and, as the gift that the Father gives to the Son, without any intervening time, from both at the same time.”[6]

This doctrine, in addition to so many passages in the New Testament (“All that the Father has is mine”; “he [the Paraclete] will take what is mine”) was required by Augustine’s conception of the Trinitarian relationships as relationships based on love. It also allowed the resolution to the following objection that had always remained unanswered: What had the Father still not fully expressed of himself in generating the Son that would justify a second Trinitarian operation? What distinguishes the procession of the Spirit from the generation of the Word?

The one who coined the literal expression Filioque to indicate the procession “from the Father and from the Son” was Fulgentius of Ruspe who, in other instances as well, had made rigid earlier formulas of Latin theology that were still flexible.[7] He is silent regarding Augustine’s specification that the Holy Spirit proceeds “principally” from the Father and insists instead on saying that “the Holy Spirit . . . proceeds from the Son just as (sicut) [he] proceeds from the Father,” and “that Spirit is completely (totus) from the Father [and] is completely from the Son,” levelling in this way the two relations in regard to the origin of the Spirit.[8] It is in this undifferentiated interpretation that the doctrine of the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son will enter into ecclesial definitions beginning with the Third Council of Toledo in 589.[9]

While the issue remained at this level, it raised no protests from the East. In 809, there was a synod at Aquisgrana, called by Charlemagne, to advocate for the introduction of the Filioque into the Constantinopolitan-Nicene creed that was beginning to be sung at Mass in some churches. The emperor was moved less by personal theological convictions than by the desire to give a doctrinal justification for his policy of emancipation from the Eastern empire.

At the end of the council, a delegation from the emperor went to Rometo see Pope Leo III to win him over to the emperor’s cause. However, although he fully shared the doctrine of the Filioque, the pope considered its insertion into the creed to be inopportune and held firmly to his decision.[10] In so doing he was following the same conduct of the Greek Church where, as we have seen, there had been important additions and deeper understandings of the article on the Holy Spirit, without making it necessary to change the text of the creed. Facing new pressure from Emperor Henry II of Germany, in 1314 Pope Boniface VIII agreed to have the word Filioque inserted into the liturgical recitation of the creed, arousing legitimate recriminations from the Orthodox East.

Today in a climate of dialogue and mutual esteem that is being established between the Orthodox andCatholicChurches, this problem no longer seems to be an insurmountable obstacle to full communion. Qualified representatives of the Orthodox theology are disposed to recognize, under certain conditions, the legitimacy of the Latin doctrine. Here is how the theologian John Zizioulas explains those conditions:

The “golden Rule” must be St. Maximus the Confessor’s explanation concerning Western Pneumatology: by professing the Filioque our Western brethren do not wish to introduce another aition [cause] in God’s being except the Father, and a mediating role of the Son in the origination of the Spirit is not to be limited to the divine Economy, but relates also to the divine ousia [nature]. If East and West can repeat these two points of St. Maximus together in our time, this would provide sufficient basis for a rapprochement between the two traditions.[11]

These words maintain the Orthodox position that the Father is the unique cause that is “not caused” of the procession of the Holy Spirit, which is compatible with the position proposed above by Augustine. On the other hand, these words recognize the validity of the Latin point of view in attributing to the Son an active role in the eternal procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father, even if they do not share the precise specification of the Latins, “as though from a single principle” (tamquam ex uno principio).

On this issue the Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of a “legitimate complementarity, provided it does not become rigid [and] does not affect the identity of faith in the reality of the same mystery confessed.”[12] The document of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity in 1995, solicited by Pope John Paul II and well received by exponents of Orthodox theology, speaks along these same lines.[13] As a sign of this willingness for reconciliation, John Paul II himself initiated the practice of omitting the addition of the Filioque (“and from the Son”) in certain ecumenical celebrations in St. Peter’s Basilica and in other places in which the Latin creed was proclaimed.

2. Toward a new synthesis

As always, dialogue, when it is truly done “in the Spirit,” is not limited to ironing out past difficulties but opens up new perspectives. The greatest innovation in contemporary pneumatology does not in fact consist only in finally reaching an agreement on the Filioque but in beginning again from Scripture in view of a fuller synthesis and with a broader spectrum of questions that is less conditioned by past history.

In this rereading of the Scriptures, already initiated some time ago, a specific fact has emerged: the Holy Spirit in the history of salvation is not only sent by the Son but is also sent upon the Son. The Son is not only the one who gives the Spirit but also the one who receives the Spirit. The moment of the transition from one phase to the other in the history of salvation—from the Jesus who receives the Spirit to the Jesus who sends the Spirit—is constituted by the event of the cross.[14]

In the document of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity already mentioned, we find a beautiful text that summarizes all these interventions of the Spirit “on” Jesus: at his birth, in his baptism, in his offering of himself in sacrifice to the Father (see Heb. 9:14), and in his resurrection.[15] This relationship of reciprocity that is revealed on the historical level must in some way reflect the relationship that exists in the Trinity. This same document therefore draws the following conclusion:

This role of the Spirit in the innermost human existence of the Son of God made man derives from an eternal Trinitarian relationship through which the Spirit, in his mystery as Gift of Love, characterizes the relation between the Father, as source of love, and his beloved Son.[16]

But how do we conceive of this reciprocity in the Trinity? This is the field that is opening up to contemporary reflection in the theology of the Spirit. The encouraging thing is that

theologians of all the great ChristiansChurches—Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant—are moving together in this direction in a fraternal and constructive dialogue. One of the fixed points from which the reflection of the Fathers and in particular Augustine was advancing (and by which their reflections were conditioned) was the lack of reciprocity between the Holy Spirit and the other two divine Persons. They said, we can call the Holy Spirit “the Spirit of the Father” but we cannot call the Father “the Father of the Spirit”; we can call the Holy Spirit “the Spirit of the Son,” but we cannot call the Son “the Son of the Spirit.”[17]

This is the difficult point that people are trying to get beyond today. It is true that we cannot call God “the Father of the Spirit,” but we can call him “the Father in the Spirit”; it is true that we cannot call the Son “the Son of the Spirit” but we can call him “the Son in the Spirit.” The preposition traditionally used to speak about the Spirit is not “of” but “in.” It is “in the Spirit” that Christ cries Abba on earth (see Luke 10:21). If we acknowledge that what happens in history is a reflection of what happens in the Trinity, we have to conclude that it is “in the Spirit” that the Son pronounces his eternal Abba in his generation by the Father.[18] The Orthodox theologian Olivier Clément anticipated this conclusion in saying that “the Son is born of the Father in the Spirit.”[19]

A new way of conceiving of Trinitarian relationships emerges from all this. The Word and the Spirit proceed simultaneously from the Father. We need to reject any idea of precedence for these two, not only chronologically but also logically. Just as the nature that constitutes the three divine Persons is unique, so too is the operation unique that has its source in the Father and is what constitutes the Father as “Father,” the Son as “Son,” and the Spirit as “Spirit.” The Son and the Holy Spirit cannot be seen one coming after the other or as one next to the other, but as “one in the other.” Generation and procession are not “two separate acts” but two aspects or two results of one unique act.[20]

How can we conceive of and express this profound act from which the mystical rose of the Trinity blossoms all at once? We are before the most intimate heart of the Trinitarian mystery that is beyond all human conception and analogy. The idea offered in this regard by that same Orthodox theologian Olivier Clément seems very suggestive to me. He speaks of “an eternal anointing” of the Son by the Father through the Spirit.[21] This insight has a solid patristic foundation in the formula of “anointer, anointed, and anointing” that is used in the most ancient theology of the Fathers. St. Ireneus had written,

In the name “Christ” is implied the one who anoints, the one who was anointed, and the unction itself with which he was anointed. The Father anoints, the Son was anointed in the Holy Spirit who is the unction.”[22]

St. Basil took up this affirmation literally, which was in turn repeated by St. Ambrose.[23] At the beginning it referred directly to Jesus’ historical anointing in his baptism at Jordan; subsequently this anointing was seen as having occurred at the moment of the Incarnation.[24] Already during the era of the Fathers the moment of his anointing began to go back further in time. Justin, Ireneus, and Origen had spoken of a “cosmic anointing” of the Word, that is, an anointing that the Father confers on the Word in view of his creation of the world insofar as “through him, the Father anointed and adorned [arranged] all things.”[25]

Eusebius of Cesarea goes even further and sees that anointing as occurring at the very moment of generation: “The anointing consists in the very generation of the Word by which the Spirit of the Father passes over into the Son like a divine fragrance.”[26]

The opinion of St. Gregory of Nyssa is more authoritative; he dedicates an entire chapter to illustrate the anointing of the Word by the Spirit in this eternal generation by the Father. He starts from the presupposition that the name “Christ,” “the Anointed One,” belongs to the Son from all eternity.

The oil of gladness represents the power of the Holy Spirit with which God is anointed by God, that is, the Only-begotten is anointed by the Father. . . . Just as a righteous person cannot simultaneously be unrighteous, so too the anointed one cannot be not-anointed. Now the one who is never not-anointed is certainly anointed for ever. And everyone must admit that the one who anoints is the Father and the oil of anointing is the Holy Spirit. [27]

The image of unction (since it always necessary to speak with images) adds something new that is not expressed in the more usual image of spiration. In the West, it is usual to repeat that the Spirit is called “Spirit” insofar as he is breathed and breathes forth. According to this perspective, the Holy Spirit performs an “active” role only outside the Trinity insofar as he inspires the Scriptures, the prophets, the saints, etc., while within the Trinity he would have only the passive quality of being breathed forth by the Father and the Son. This absence of an active role of the Spirit within the Trinity, regarded as perhaps the greatest lacuna of traditional pneumatology, is thus overcome in this way. If an active role of the Son toward the Spirit is recognized and expressed by the image of spiration, then there is an active role for the Holy Spirit toward the Son, expressed by the image of anointing. We cannot say of the Word that he is “the Son of the Holy Spirit,” but we can say of him that he is “the Anointed One of the Spirit.”

3. The Spirit of truth and the Spirit of charity

A renewed attention to the Scriptures permits us to verify the complementarity of Eastern and Western pnuematologies from another point of view as well. In the New Testament itself, a major emphasis by John on the “Spirit of truth” and by Paul on the “Spirit of charity” has been observed.[28] The “Spirit of truth” in the Fourth Gospel is another name for the Paraclete (see Jn 14:16-17). Those who worship the Father should worship him “in Spirit and truth”; he leads “to all the truth”; and his anointing “teaches you about everything” (see1 Jn 2:20-27). For Paul instead, the primary effect of the Spirit is to “pour love” into our hearts, and the fruit of the Spirit is “love, joy, and peace” (Gal 5:22); love constitutes “the law of the Spirit” (Rom 8:2); love is the “more excellent way” because the gift of the Holy Spirit is the greatest gift of all (see 1 Cor 12:31).

As is the case with the doctrine about Christ, this different emphasis concerning the Holy Spirit is also maintained in tradition, and once again the East reflects the Johannine perspective more and the West the Pauline perspective. Orthodox pneumatology has placed more emphasis on the Spirit as light while Latin pneumatology has placed more emphasis on the Spirit as love. This diversity is the clearest, in any case, in the two works that have most influenced the development of the respective theologies of the Holy Spirit. In St. Basil’s treatise On the Holy Spirit, the theme of the Spirit as love plays no role while the theme of the Spirit as “intelligible light”[29] plays a central role. In St. Augustine’s treatise On the Trinity, the theme of the Spirit as light plays no role while, as we know, the theme of the Spirit as love plays a central role.

Light, with the phenomena that usually accompany it—transfiguration of the person and his complete immersion in light internally and externally—is the most consistent element of the mysticism of the Holy Spirit in the East. “Come, true light!” are the words that begin a prayer to the Holy Spirit by St. Symeon the New Theologian.[30] Also the famous “Tabor light,” which plays such a large part in Eastern spirituality and iconography, is intimately linked to the Holy Spirit.[31] One text of the Orthodox Divine Office says that on the day of Pentecost, “Thanks to the Holy Spirit, the whole world received a baptism of light.”[32]

I conclude with a thought from St. Augustine about the Spirit of love that, if applied to the relationships among the various churches, would result in a decisive step forward toward the unity of Christians. Commenting onSt. Paul’s doctrine in 1 Corinthians 12 on the charisms,St. Augustineoffers this reflection. In hearing all the marvelous charisms listed (prophecy, wisdom, discernment, healings, tongues), someone might feel sad or excluded because he thinks that he does not possess any of these. But listen, the saint continues,

If you love, what you have is not small. If in fact you love unity, everything that is possessed by someone else is possessed by you as well! Banish envy and all that is mine will be yours; and if I banish envy, all you possess is mine! Envy separates, while love unites. Only the eye in the body has the function of seeing, but does the eye really only see for itself? No, the eye sees for the hand, the foot, and all the other members. . . . Only the hand acts in the body, but it does not really act only for itself. No, it also acts for the eye. In fact, if a blow were aimed only at the face and not at the hand, would the hand ever say, “I am not moving because the blow is not directed at me”?[33]

This reveals the secret about why charity is the “more excellent way” (1 Cor 12:31): it makes me love the body of Christ, or the community in which I live, and because of unity, all the charisms, and not just some, are “mine.” Charity truly multiples the charisms. It makes one person’s charism a charism that belongs to all. It is enough to make Christ, and not ourselves, the center of interest, to not want “to live for oneself but for the Lord,” as the Apostle says (see Rom14:7-8).

Applied to the relationship between the two Churches of East and West, this principle points to looking at what each of them has that is different from the other, to the charism that is proper to each one, not as an error or a threat but as a treasure for all in which we can rejoice. Applied to our daily relationships within the church or the community in which we live, this principle helps us overcome the natural feelings of frustration, rivalry, and jealousy. This is a necessary ascesis, but from it come forth the fruits of the Spirit of love, joy, and peace. “Blessed is that servant,” writes St. Francis of Assisi, “who does not pride himself [and I add, who does not rejoice] in the good that the Lord says and works through him more than the good he says and works through another.”[34] May the Holy Spirit help us to walk on this path that is a demanding one, but to which are promised the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, and peace.


Translated from Italian by Marsha Daigle Williamson

[1] Denzinger, #150, English ed., p. 66.

[2] Gregory Nazianzus, Discourses, 31, 10 (PG 36, 144).

[3] For the “Anaphora of St. James,” see Anton Hänggi and Irmgard Pahl, Prex Eucharistica: Textus e variis liturgiis antiquioribus selecti (Fribourg: Editions Universitaires, 1968), 250.

[4] See Athanasius, Letters to Serapion I, 24 (PG 26, 585ff.); Cyril of Alexander, Commentary on John, XI, 10 (PG 74, 541C); St. John of Damascus, An Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, I, 13 (PG 94, 856B). 

[5] Ambrose, On the Holy Spirit, I, 120: “Spiritus quoque Sanctus, cum procedit a Patre et a Filio, non separatur.”

[6] Augustine, On the Trinity, XV, 26, 47.

[7] Fulgentius of Ruspe, Letter 14, 21, in Fulgentius: Selected Works, trans. Robert B. Eno (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1997), 527-528 (CC 91, p. 411); On the Faith, 6.54, ibid., p. 64 (CC 91A, pp.716-747): “Spiritus Sanctus essentialiter de Patre Filioque procedit”; Liber de Trinitate, passim (CC 91A, pp. 633ff.).

[8] Fulgentius of Ruspe, Letter 14, 28, p. 538 (CC 91, p. 420).

[9] Denzinger, #470, p. 161. In the symbol of the First Synod of Toledo in 400 (Denzinger #188, pp. 74-75), Filioque is a later addition.

[10] See Monumenta Germaniae Historica. Concilia, vol. 2, p. II, 1906, pp. 235-244, and PL 102, 971-976.

[11] John Zizioulas, “The Teaching of the 2nd Ecumenical Council on the Holy Spirit in Historical and Ecumenical Perspective,” in Credo in Spiritum Sanctum, ed. J. S. Martin, vol. 1 (Vatican: Libreria EditriceVaticana, 1983), p. 54.

[12] Catechism of the Catholic Church, # 248.

[13] See “Greek and Latin Traditions Regarding the Procession of the Holy Spirit,” L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly English ed., September 20, 1995, p. 3.

[14] See John Paul II, Dominum et vivificantem (“The Lord and Giver of Life”), 13, 24, 41; Jürgen Moltmann, The Spirit of Life: A Universal Affirmation, trans. Margaret Kohl (Minneapolis:  First Fortress Press, 2001), 67ff.

[15] “Greek and Latin Traditions,” p. 3.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Augustine, On the Trinity, V, 12, 13.

[18] See Thomas G. Weinandy, The Father’s Spirit of Sonship: Reconceiving the Trinity (Edinburgh: T &T Clark, 1995).

[19] Olivier Clément, The Roots of Christian Mysticism: Texts from the Patristic Era with Commentary (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 1993), p. 70.

[20] See Moltmann, The Spirit of Life, p. 90; Weinandy, The Father’s Spirit of Sonship, pp. 53-85.

[21] See Clément, The Roots of Christian Mysticism, p. 58.

[22] Ireneus, Against Heresies, III, 18, 3.

[23] Basil, On the Holy Spirit, XII, 28 (PG 32, 116C); St. Ambrose, On the Holy Spirit, I, 3, 44.

[24] Gregory Nazianzus, Discourses, 30, 2 (PG 36, 105B).

[25] Ireneus, Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, 53, trans. J. Armitage Robinson (New York: Macmillan, 1920), p. 117 (SCh 62, p. 114); see A. Orbe, La Unción del Verbo, Analecta Gregoriana, vol. 11 (Rome, 1961), pp. 501-568

[26] Orbe, La Unción del Verbo, p. 578.

[27] Gregory of Nyssa, Against Apollinaris, 52 (PG 45, 1249f.).

[28] See Edouard Cothenet, “Saint-Esprit,” Supplément au Dictionnaire de la Bible, fasc. 60, 1986, col. 377.

[29] Basil, On the Holy Spirit, IX, 22-23 (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1980), pp. 42-44 (PG 32, 108f.); XVI, 38 (PG 32, 137).

[30] Symeon the New Theologian, Mystical Prayers (SCh 156, p. 150).

[31] See Gregory Palamas, “Homily on the Transfiguration” (PG 151, 433B-C).

[32] Synaxarium of Pentecost, in Pentecostaire (Parma: Diaconie apostolique, 1994), p. 4.

[33] Augustine, Tractates on John, 32, 8.

[34] Francis of Assisi, Admonitions, XVII (FF, 166).


Fr. Cantalamessa's 5th Lenten Homily 2015

East and West Before the Mystery of Salvation

ROME, March 27, 2015 - Here is the fifth Lenten homily given this year by the preacher of the Pontifical Household, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa.

* * *

With this meditation we conclude our overview of the common faith of East and West, and we conclude it with what concerns us more directly, the problem of salvation: that is, how Orthodoxy and the Latin world have understood the content of Christian salvation.

This is probably the area in which it is more necessary for us Latins to turn our gaze to the East to enrich, and in part to correct, our prevailing way of conceiving of the redemption accomplished by Christ. We have the good fortune of doing so in this chapel where the work of Christ and the mystery of salvation is presented in the art of Father Marko Rupnik, according to the understanding that the Eastern Church and Byzantine iconography has had of it.

Let us start with a presentation of the different way of understanding salvation by the East and by the West that is found in the Dictionnaire de Spiritualité and whichsynthesizes the prevailing opinion in theological circles:

The goal of life for Greek Christians is divinization, and for Christians in the West, the attainment of holiness. . . . The Word became flesh, according to the Greeks, to restore to man his likeness to God that was lost through Adam and to divinize him. According to the Latins, he became man to redeem humanity . . . and to pay the debt owed to God’s justice.[1]

Let us try to find the basis of this difference in vision and what is true in the way that it is presented.

1. The two aspects of salvation in Scripture

Already in the prophecies of the Old Testament that announced “the new and eternal covenant” there are two fundamental aspects: a negative aspect that consists in the elimination of sin and evil in general and a positive aspect that consists in the gift of a new heart and a new spirit; in other words, destroying the works of man and rebuilding, or restoring, in him the work of God. A clear text in this regard is the following one from Ezekiel:

I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will give you a heart of flesh; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. (Ez 36:25-27)

There is something that God wants to take out of man: iniquity, a heart of stone; and there is something he wants to put within man: a new heart, a new spirit. In the New Testament both these aspects are evident. From the beginning of the gospel, John the Baptist presents Jesus as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” but also as the one “who baptizes with the Holy Spirit” (Jn 1: 29, 33). In the Synoptic Gospels, the aspect of redemption from sin predominates. In them Jesus applies to himself on several occasions the status of the Servant of Yahweh who takes upon himself and atones for the sins of the people (see Is. 52:13–53: 9). In the institution of the Eucharist he speaks of his blood poured out “for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt 26:28).

This aspect is also present in John, tied precisely to the theme of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. In John’s First Letter, Jesus is presented as “the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 Jn 2:2). However, in John the positive aspect is emphasized more. Once the Word was made flesh, light, truth, eternal life, and the fullness of every grace came into the world (see Jn 1:16). The fruit of Jesus’ death that receives greater prominence is not the expiation of sins but the gift of the Spirit (see Jn 7:39; 19:34).

In St. Paul we see these two aspects in perfect balance. In the Letter to the Romans, which we can consider the first analytical exposition of Christian salvation, he first highlights what Christ came to free us from by his death on the cross (see Rom 3:25): death (see Rom 5), sin, (Rom 6), and the law (Rom 7). Then in chapter 8, he expounds on all the splendor of what Christ has procured for us through his death and resurrection: the Holy Spirit and with him divine sonship, the love of God, and the certainty of final glorification. The two aspects are present at the very heart of the Kerygma. Jesus, we read, “was put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Rom 4:25). Justification here means not only the remission of sin but also what is spoken of next in the text: grace, peace with God, faith, hope, and the love of God poured into our hearts (see Rom 5:1-5).

As always, in moving from Scripture to the Fathers of the Church, one notices a diverse reception of these two aspects. According to the general opinion summarized in the text quoted above from Bardy, the East has assimilated the positive aspect of salvation: the deification of man and the restoration of the image of God. The West has assimilated the negative aspect: freedom from sin. The reality is somewhat more complex, so clarifying it cannot help but facilitate mutual understanding.

Let us try first of all to correct some generalizations that make the two visions of salvation appear more distant from each other than they actually are. We cannot be surprised, if we do not find in the Latin world some concepts that are central for the Greeks, like “divinization” and “restoration of the image of God.” They do not appear as such in the New Testament, which is our only common source, even if those expressions serve to transmit an exquisitely biblical mode of understanding salvation. The very word theosis, divinization, raised concerns because of its use in pagan discourse and in imperial Roman language (apotheosis).

The Latins preferred to express the positive effect of baptism with the Pauline concept of divine sonship. According to St. John of the Cross, the operations that happen by nature in the Trinity are accomplished in the Christian soul through grace.[2] This doctrine is not far from the Orthodox doctrine of deification, but it is based on the Johannine affirmation of the indwelling of the Trinity (see Jn 14:23).

Another observation. It is not completely true that Orthodox soteriology is summed up in the ontological vision of divinization and that Western soteriology is summed up by the juridical theory of St. Anselm of the expiation needed due to sin. The idea of sacrifice for sin, of ransom, of repaying of a debt (even in some cases of a ransom  paid to the devil!) is no less present in St. Athanasius, St. Basil, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and Chrysostom than in their Latin contemporaries. One only needs to consult a good history of the development of Christian thought to see that.[3] One text among many is this one by Athanasius who is also one of the strongest affirmers of the theme of divinization:

There still remained a debt to pay that was owed by all, because all were condemned to death, and this was the principle reason for his coming among us. This is the reason that, after having revealed his divinity through his works, it remained for him to offer a sacrifice for all, yielding the temple of his body to death for all.[4]

For these ancient Greek Fathers, the paschal mystery of Christ is still an integral part and a path to divinization. That is still the case in the later Byzantine era. According to Nicholas Cabasilas, there were two walls that blocked communication between God and us: nature and sin. “The first was removed by the Savior through his Incarnation and the second was removed through his crucifixion since the cross destroyed sin.”[5]

Only in some cases do we see affirmed at the heart of Orthodoxy the idea of a salvation of the human race accomplished at its root through the Incarnation itself of the Word, understood as the assuming not of a single human nature but of the human nature present in every human being, like a Platonic universal. In one extreme case, divinization comes even before baptism. St. Symeon the New Theologian writes,

By descending from your lofty sanctuary without separating yourself from the bosom of the Father, and by being incarnate and born of the holy Virgin Mary, you already remolded and vivified me, freed me from the guilt of my forefathers, and prepared me to ascend into heaven. Then, after having created me and made me grow little by little, you also, in your holy baptism of the new creation, have renewed me and adorned me with your Holy Spirit. [6]

Up to this point then, the different theories of salvation are not as clearly divided between East and West as people would often have us believe. Where the difference is clear and consistent, from the beginning until now, lies instead in the way of understanding original sin and consequently in the primary effect of baptism. Eastern Christians have never understood original sin in the sense of a truly inherited “guilt” but as the transmission of a wounded nature that is inclined to sin, like a progressive loss of the image of God in human beings that is due not only to the sin of Adam but to the sin of all the following generations.

With the Nicene-Constantinopolitan symbol, everyone professes “one baptism for the remission of sins,” but for Eastern Christians the primary aim of baptism is not to remove original sin (it does not have this aim at all for babies) but to free people from the power of sin in general, to restore the image of God that was lost and to insert the creature into the new Adam, Christ. This different perspective has implications. For example, in the image that one has of the Virgin Mary. In the West, she is seen as “immaculate” that is, conceived without original sin (macula) right up to the dogmatic definition of that title.  In the East, her corresponding title is Panhagia, the All-Holy.

2. An asymmetrical comparison

I do not need to spend much time on the West’s way of conceiving the salvation brought by Christ because it is more familiar to us. Let us only say that here we see a unique paradox. The one who was, through all the span of Christianity, the cantor of grace par excellence, who better than anyone highlighted the Christian innovation with regard to the law and the absolute necessity of grace for salvation, the one who identified such a gift with the Giver himself, the Holy Spirit, is also the one who, due to historical circumstances, contributed the most to restricting its field of action.

The polemic against the Pelagians drove St. Augustine to highlight first and foremost the role of grace in preserving and healing from sin, the so-called prevenient helping and healing grace. His doctrine of original sin, as a real hereditary sin that is transmitted during the sexual act of generation, caused baptism to be seen chiefly as liberation from original sin.

Neither Augustine nor others after him ever omitted mention of the other benefits of baptism: divine sonship, insertion into the body of Christ, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and so many other magnificent gifts. The fact remains, however, that in the manner of administering baptism and in general opinion, the negative aspect of freedom from original sin has always prevailed over the positive aspect of the gift of the Holy Spirit (this last gift being assigned instead to the sacrament of confirmation). Still today, if one asks an average Christian what it means to be “in the grace of God” or to live “in grace,” the answer is almost certainly “to live without mortal sin on one’s conscience.”

This is the inevitable repercussion of all heresies: pushing theology to focus its attention temporarily on one point of doctrine at the expense of the whole. It is a normal event that can be observed at many times in the development of doctrine. It is what pushed some Alexandrian authors to the border of Monophysitism in order to oppose Nestorianism and vice versa. What made the temporary loss of balance, in Augustine’s case, so different and so long-lasting? The answer is simple: his own unique stature and authority!

There was someone who came after him who proposed a different explanation that is closer to that of the Greeks, John Duns Scotus (1265-1308). The primary purpose of the Incarnation for him is not redemption from sin but the summing up of everything in Christ, “in view of whom everything was created” (see Col 1:15ff). It is the union in Christ of the divine nature and the human nature.[7] The Incarnation thus would have occurred even if Adam had not sinned. Adam’s sin only determined the manner of this recapitulation, making it “redemptive.”

But the voice of Scotus remained isolated, and only recently has it been reassessed by theologians. The voice that stood out was another voice, which did not restore the balance to Augustine’s thinking but exacerbated it. I am speaking of Martin Luther, who had the merit for all Christians of putting the Word of God, Scripture, back at the center of everything and above everything, including the words the Fathers, which are after all only the words of men. With him the difference with respect to the East in understanding salvation becomes truly radical. In contrast now to the theory of the divinization of man is the thesis of an extrinsically imputed righteousness by God that leaves the baptized person “just and sinner” at the same time: a sinner in himself, but justified in the eyes of God.

But let us leave aside this last development that deserves a separate discussion. Turning to the comparison between Orthodoxy and the Catholic Church, we need to highlight a fact that, in the eyes of some Orthodox authors, made our concept of salvation and of Christian life appear in the past to be different on almost all points from theirs. It involves a fundamental asymmetry in the comparison. In the East, theology, spirituality, and mysticism are united; it does not conceive of a theology that is not at the same time mystical, that is, experiential. The reconstruction of the Orthodox position was made by taking into account theologians like the Cappodocian Fathers, John of Damascus, Maximus the Confessor, as well as spiritual movements like the Desert Fathers, hesychasm, monasticism, Palamism, the Philokalia, and mystical authors like Symeon the New Theologian, Seraphim of Sarov, and so forth. 

Unfortunately this did not happen in the West where, especially with the arrival of scholasticism, mysticism and spirituality, even in teaching, occupied a position distinct from dogmatics, and mixing the two was viewed with suspicion. The encounter between the East and the Latin West would have produced very different results and many fewer conflicts if people had taken into account the many spiritual movements and Catholic mystical writers, in which Christian salvation was not treated as a theory but lived experientially.

In the three books I already cited[8] that have contributed the most to familiarizing the West with the “mystical theology” of the East, only in one are there two mentions (and both basically negative) of St. John of the Cross. Yet, he, like so many others in the West, with the theme of the “dark night,” is in line with the vision of “God in darkness” of St. Gregory of Nyssa. No mention is made of Western monasticism, or of St. Francis of Assisi and his positive and Christocentric spirituality, or of mystical writings like The Cloud of Unknowing that are in harmony with the apophatism of Eastern theology. But this, I repeat, is more our fault than that of the Eastern writers, if we want to talk about blame. We are the ones who made the harmful separation between theology and spirituality, and one cannot ask others to synthesize those two when we ourselves have not yet tried to do so either.

3. A chance for the West

Let us return to the opinion of Bardy that we started off with: the East, he says, has a more optimistic and positive vision of man and salvation, and the West a more pessimistic one. I would like to show how, in this case as well, the golden rule in the dialogue between East and West is not “either/or” but “both/and.” If Eastern doctrine, with its very lofty idea of the grandeur and dignity of man as the image of God, has highlighted the possibility of the Incarnation, Western doctrine, with its insistence on sin and the misery of humanity, has highlighted the necessity of the Incarnation. A later disciple of Augustine, Blaise Pascal, observed,

Knowledge of God without knowledge of our misery produces pride. The consciousness of our misery without consciousness of God produces despair. Knowledge of Jesus Christ represents the middle way, because in him we find both God and our misery.[9]

For Augustine, St. Anselm, and Luther, the insistence on the gravity of sin[10] was a different approach to having us reach the grandeur of the remedy procured by Christ. They accentuated “the abundance of sin” in order to exalt “the superabundance of grace” (see Rom 5:20). In both cases, the key to everything is the work of Jesus, seen, so to speak, by the East on the right, and by the West on the left. The two avenues of pursuit were both legitimate and necessary. In face of the explosion of “absolute evil” in World War II, someone remarked that this is what discounting the bitter truth about human beings had brought us to, after two centuries of naïve confidence in the unstoppable progress of man.[11]

Where then is the particular lacuna in our soteriology, as I was saying, for which we need to look to the East? It is in the fact that grace, inasmuch as it is exalted, has ended up in practice being reduced only to its negative dimension as a remedy for sin. Even the jubilant cry of the Easter Exultet—“O happy fault that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!”—does not go beyond the negative perspective of sin and redemption, if we look at it closely.

It is precisely on this point, thanks be to God, that we have been witnessing a change for a while that we can call momentous. All the Churches of the West and those or founded by them, have had for more than a century a current of grace running through them, the Pentecostal movement and the different charismatic renewals derived from it in traditional churches. It is not actually a movement in the current meaning of that term. It has no founder, no rule, no spirituality of it own; nor does it possess a governmental structure, except for coordination and service. It is exactly a current of grace that must be diffused through the whole Church, to be dispersed in it the way an electric discharge is dispersed into a mass, and then at the end, to disappear as a distinct phenomenon.

It is no longer possible to ignore, or to consider as marginal, this phenomenon that in more or less profound ways, has reached hundreds of millions of believers in Christ from all Christian confessions and tens of millions just in the Catholic Church. In receiving the leaders of the charismatic renewal in St. Peter’s Basilica for the first time on May 19, 1975, Paul VI in his address called the renewal “a chance for the Church and for the world.”

The theologian Yves Congar, in his address to the International Congress of Pneumatology at the Vatican on the occasion of the sixteenth centenary of the Ecumenical Council of Constantinople in 381, speaking of the signs of an awakening of the Holy Spirit in our era, said this:

How can we avoid situating the so-called charismatic stream, better known as the Renewal in the Spirit, here with us? It has spread like a brushfire. It is far more than a fad. . . . In one primary aspect, it resembles revival movements from the past: the public and verifiable character of spiritual action which changes people’s lives . . . It brings youth, a freshness and new possibilities into the bosom of the old Church, our mother.[12] 

What I would like to highlight at this moment is one specific point: in what sense and under what aspect can one say that this reality is a chance for the Catholic Church and for the churches born from the Reformation? I think it is this: it allows us to restore to Christian salvation the rich and inspiring positive content summed up in the gift of the Holy Spirit. The primary goal of Christian life is once again shown to be, as St. Seraphim of Sarov said, “the acquisition of the Holy Spirit.”[13] St. John Paul II in a discourse to the leaders of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal in 1998 said,

The Catholic charismatic movement is one of the many fruits of the Second Vatican Council, which, like a new Pentecost, led to an extraordinary flourishing in the Church's life of groups and movements particularly sensitive to the action of the Spirit. . . . How many lay faithful—men, women, young people, adults and the elderly—have been able to experience in their own lives the amazing power of the Spirit and his gifts! How many people have rediscovered the faith, the joy of prayer, the power and beauty of the Word of God, translating all this into generous service in the Church’s mission! How many lives have been profoundly changed![14]

I am not saying that all the people who are involved in this “current of grace” are demonstrating all these characteristics, but I know from experience that all of them, even the simplest ones, know what it means and aspire to actualize it in their lives. It gives a different outward picture of Christian life: it is a joyous, contagious Christianity that has none of the gloomy pessimism that Nietzsche reproved it for. Sin is not in the least trivialized because one of the first effects of the coming of the Paraclete in the heart of a human being is to “convince the world of sin” (Jn 16.8). I know this because an experience of this kind brought about my difficult and reluctant surrender to this grace 38 years ago!

It is not a question of belonging to this “movement’—or to any movement—but of opening oneself to the action of the  Holy Spirit in whatever state one finds oneself. No one has a monopoly on the Holy Spirit, much less the Pentecostal and charismatic movement. The important thing is not to remain outside of the current of grace that is flowing under different forms through all of Christianity, to see it as God’s initiative and a chance for the Church and not as a threat or an outside infiltration into the Catholic faith.

One thing can ruin this chance, and it comes, unfortunately, from within. Scripture affirms the primacy of the sanctifying work of the Spirit over its charismatic activity. We only need to read consecutively 1 Corinthians 12 and 13 about the different charisms and about the more excellent way, which is love. It would compromise this opportunity if the emphasis on the charisms, and in the particular on those that are more visible, would end by prevailing over the effort for an authentic life “in Christ” and “in the Spirit,” based on the conformity to Christ and therefore on putting to death the works of the flesh and on seeking the fruits of the Spirit. 

I hope that the next world retreat for clergy, which will take place in June here in Rome in preparation for the 50thanniversary of the Catholic Church Charismatic Renewal in 2017, serves to reaffirm this priority forcefully, while continuing to encourage in every way the exercise of the charisms that are so useful and necessary, according to the Second Vatican Council “for the renewal and the building up of the Church.”[15]

We will leave it to our Orthodox brethren to discern if this current of grace is intended only for us, the Church in the West and those that arose from the West, or if, for a different reason, a new Pentecost is also what Eastern Christians are in need of. In the meantime, we can do no less than thank them for having cultivated and tenaciously defended through the centuries a beautiful and inspiring ideal of Christian life from which all of Christianity has benefited, even through the silent instrument of the icon.

I have laid out my reflections of the common faith of the East and West, having before us in this chapel the image of the heavenly Jerusalem with Orthodox and Catholic saints gathered three by three in mixed groups. Let us ask them to help us realize in the Church here below the same fraternal communion of love that they live in the heavenly Jerusalem.

I thank the Holy Father, and you, venerable Fathers, brothers, and sisters, for your kind attention, and I wish you all a Happy Easter! 


Translated from Italian by Marsha Daigle Williamson

[1] Gustave Bardy, in Dictionnaire de spiritualité, ascétique et mystique, vol. 3 (Paris: Beauchesne, 1937), col. 1389ff.; see also on this theme Yannis Spiteris, Salvezza e peccato nella tradizione orientale (Bologna: EDB, 1999).

[2] St. John of the Cross, The Spiritual Canticle A, stanza 38.

[3] See J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines (London: A & C Black, 1968), chap. 14.

[4] Athanasius, On the Incarnation, 20.

[5] Nicholas Cabasilas, Life in Christ, III, 1 (PG 153, 572).

[6] Symeon the New Theologian, Hymns and Prayers (SCh 196, 1973, 330ff.).

[7] Duns Scotus, Reportationes Parisienses, III, d.7, q.4, § 5, vol. 11, ed. Luke Wadding, p. 451.

[8] Vladimir Lossky, Paul Evdokimov, John Meyendorff, cited in the first meditation.

[9] Blaise Pascal, Pensées, 527 (Brunschvicg numbering); see Jaroslav Pelikan, Jesus through the Centuries (New York: Harper and Row, 1987), pp. 73-76.

[10] Anselm, Cur Deus homo, XXI: (Nondum considerasti quanti ponderis sit peccatum: “You have not considered how weighty sin is”).

[11] Walter Lippman, qtd. in Pelikan, Jesus through the Centuries, p. 76.

[12] Yves Congar, “Actualité de la Pneumatologie,”in Credo in Spiritum Sanctum, vol. 1(Vatican: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1983), p. 18.

[13] Seraphim of Sarov, Conversation with Nicholas Motovilov, in Irina Gorainoff, The Message of St. Seraphim (Oxford: SLG Press, 1972).

[14] John Paul II, Address to the Leaders of the Renewal in the Spirit, April 4, 1998.

[15] Lumen gentium, 12.


Father Cantalamessa's Good Friday Homily 2015

"Ecce Homo"

VATICAN CITY, April 03, 2015 - Here is the Good Friday homily delivered today in St. Peter's Basilica by Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the Pontifical Household.

* * *

We have just heard the account of Jesus’ trial before Pilate. There is one point in particular in that account on which we need to pause.

Then Pilate took Jesus and scourged him. And the soldiers plaited a crown of thorns, and put it on his head, and clothed him in a purple robe; they came up to him, saying, “Hail King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands. . . . So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!” [Ecce Homo!] ( Jn 19:1-3, 5)

Among the innumerable paintings that have the Ecce Homo as their subject, there is one that has always impressed me. It is by the sixteenth-century Flemish painter, Jan Mostaert. Let me try to describe it. It will help imprint the episode better in our minds, since the artist only transcribes faithfully in paint the facts of the gospel account, especially that of Mark (see Mk 15:16-20).

Jesus has a crown of thorns on his head. A sheaf of thorny branches found in the courtyard, perhaps to light a fire, furnished the soldiers an opportunity for this parody of his royalty. Drops of blood run down his face. His mouth is half open, like someone who is having trouble breathing. On his shoulders there is heavy and worn-out mantle, more similar to tinplate than to cloth. His shoulders have cuts from recent blows during his flogging. His wrists are bound together by a coarse rope looped around twice. They have put a reed in one of his hands as a kind of scepter and a bundle of branches in the other, symbols mocking his royalty. Jesus cannot move even a finger; this is a man reduced to total powerlessness, the prototype of all the people in history with their hands bound.

Meditating on the passion, the philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote these words one day: “Christ will be in agony until the end of the world; we must not sleep during this time.”[1] There is a sense in which these words apply to the person of Christ himself, that is, to the  head of the mystical body, and not just to its members. Not despite being risen and alive now but precisely because he is risen and alive. But let us leave aside this meaning that is too enigmatic and talk instead about the most obvious meaning of these words. Jesus is in agony until the end of the world in every man or woman who is subjected to his same torments. “You did it to me!” (Matt 25:40). He said these words not only about believers in him; he also said it about every man or woman who is hungry, naked, mistreated, or incarcerated.

For once let us not think about social evils collectively: hunger, poverty, injustice, the exploitation of the weak. These evils are spoken about often (even if it is never enough), but there is the risk that they become abstractions—categories rather than persons. Let us think instead of the suffering of individuals, people with names and specific identities; of the tortures that are decided upon in cold blood and voluntarily inflicted at this very moment by human beings on other human beings, even on babies.

How many instances of “Ecce homo” (“Behold the man!”) there are in the world! How many prisoners who find themselves in the same situation as Jesus in Pilate’s praetorium: alone, hand-cuffed, tortured, at the mercy of rough soldiers full of hate who engage in every kind of physical and psychological cruelty and who enjoy watching people suffer. “We must not sleep; we must not leave them alone!”

The exclamation “Ecce homo!”  applies not only to victims but also to the torturers. It means, “Behold what man is capable of!” With fear and trembling, let us also say, “Behold what we human beings are capable of!” How far we are from the unstoppable march forward, from the homo sapiens sapiens (the enlightened modern human being), from the kind of man who, according to someone, was to be born from the death of God and replace him! [2]

*  *  *

Christians are of course not the only victims of homicidal violence in the world, but we cannot ignore the fact that in many countries they are the most frequently intended victims.  Jesus said to his disciples one day, “The hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God” (Jn 16:2). Perhaps never before have these words found such precise fulfillment as they do today.

A third-century bishop, Dionysius of Alexandria, has left us a testimony of an Easter celebrated by Christians during the fierce persecutions by the Roman emperor Decius:

First we were set on and surrounded by persecutors and murderers, yet we were the only ones to keep festival even then. Every spot where we were attacked became for us a place for celebrations whether field, desert, ship, inn, or prison. The most brilliant festival of all was kept by the fulfilled martyrs, who were feasted in heaven. [3]

This is the way Easter will be for many Christians this year, 2015 after Christ.

There was someone who, in the secular press, had the courage to denounce the disturbing indifference of world institutions and public opinion in the face of all this killing of Christians, recalling what such indifference has sometimes brought about in the past.[4] All of us and all our institutions in the West risk being Pilates who wash our hands.

However, we are not allowed to make any denunciations today. We would be betraying the mystery we are celebrating. Jesus died, crying out, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34). This prayer was not simply murmured under his breath; it was cried out so that people could hear it well. Neither is it even a prayer; it is a peremptory request made with the authority that comes from being the Son: "Father, forgive them!” And since he himself had said that the Father heard all his prayers (see Jn 11:42), we have to believe that he heard this last prayer from the cross and consequently that the crucifiers of Christ were then forgiven by God (not of course without in some way being repentant) and are with him in paradise, to testify for all eternity to what extremes the love of God is capable of going.

Ignorance, per se, existed exclusively among the soldiers. But Jesus’ prayer is not limited to them. The divine grandeur of his forgiveness consists in the fact that it was also offered to his most relentless enemies. The excuse of ignorance is brought forward precisely for them. Even though they acted with cunning and malice, in reality they did not know what they were doing; they did not think they were nailing to the cross a man who was actually the Messiah and the Son of God! Instead of accusing his adversaries, or of forgiving them and entrusting the task of vengeance to his heavenly Father, he defended them.

He presents his disciples with an example of infinite generosity. To forgive with his same greatness of soul does not entail just a negative attitude through which one renounces wishing evil on those who do evil; it has to be transformed instead into a positive will to do good to them, even if it is only by means of a prayer to God on their behalf. “Pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:44). This kind of forgiveness cannot seek recompense in the hope of divine punishment. It must be inspired by a charity that excuses one’s neighbor without, however, closing one’s eyes to the truth but, on the contrary, seeing to stop evildoers in such a way that they will do no more harm to others and to themselves.

We might want to say, “Lord, you are asking us to do the impossible!” He would answer, “I know, but I died to give you what I am asking of you. I not only gave you the command to forgive and not only a heroic example of forgiveness, but through my death I also obtained for you the grace that enables you to forgive. I did not give the world just a teaching on mercy as so many others have. I am also God and I have poured out for you rivers of mercy through my death. From them you can draw as much mercy as you want during the coming jubilee year of Mercy.”


Someone could say, “So then, does following Christ always mean surrendering oneself passively to defeat and to death?” On the contrary! He says to his disciples, “Be of good cheer” before entering into his passion: “I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33). Christ has overcome the world by overcoming the evil of the world. The definitive victory of good over evil that will be manifested at the end of time has already come to pass, legally and de facto, on the cross of Christ. “Now,” he said, “is the judgment of this world” (Jn 12:31). From that day forth, evil is losing, and it is losing that much more when it seems to be triumphing more. It has already been judged and condemned in its ultimate expression with a sentence that cannot be appealed.

Jesus overcame violence not by opposing it with a greater violence but by enduring it and exposing all its injustice and futility. He inaugurated a new kind of victory that St. Augustine summed up in three words: “Victor quia victima: “Victor because victim.”[5] It was seeing him die this way that caused the Roman centurion to exclaim, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mk 15:39). Others asked themselves what the “loud cry” emitted by the dying Jesus could mean (see Mk 15:37). The centurion, who was an expert in combatants and battles, recognized at once that it was a cry of victory. [6]

The problem of violence disturbs us, shocks us, and it has invented new and horrendous forms of cruelty and barbarism today. We Christians are horrified at the idea that people can kill in God’s name. Someone, however, could object, “But isn’t the Bible also full of stories of violence? Isn’t God called ‘the Lord of hosts’? Isn’t the order to condemn whole cities to extermination attributed to him? Isn’t he the one who prescribes numerous cases for the death penalty in the Mosaic Law?”

If they had addressed those same objections to Jesus during his life, he would surely have responded with what he said regarding divorce: “For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so” (Mt 19:8). The same is true for violence: “at the beginning it was not so.” The first chapter of Genesis presents a world where violence is not even thinkable, neither among human beings themselves nor between people and animals. Not even to avenge the death of Abel, and therefore punish a murderer, is it permissible to kill (see Gen 4:15).

God’s true intention is expressed by the commandment “You shall not kill” more than by the exceptions to that command in the law, which are concessions to the “hardness of heart” and to people’s practices. Violence, along with sin, is unfortunately part of life, and the Old Testament, which reflects life and must be useful for life as it is, seeks through its legislation and the penalty of death at least to channel and curb violence so that it does not degenerate into personal discretion and people then tear each other apart. [7]

Paul speaks about a period of time that is characterized by the “forbearance” of God (see Rom 3:25). God forbears violence the way he forbears polygamy, divorce, and other things, but he is preparing people for a time in which his original plan will be “recapitulated” and restored in honor, as though through a new creation. That time arrived with Jesus, who proclaims on the mount, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if anyone strikes you on the right check, turn to him the other also. . . . You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:38-39, 43-44).

The true “Sermon on the Mount” that changed history is not, however, the one spoken on a hill in Galilee but the one now proclaimed, silently, from the cross. On Calvary Christ delivers a definitive “no” to violence, setting in opposition to it not just non-violence but, even more, forgiveness, meekness, and love. Although violence will still continue to exist, it will no longer—not even remotely—be able to link itself to God and cloak itself in his authority. To do so would make the concept of God regress to primitive and crude stages in history that have been surpassed by the religious and civilized conscience of humanity.

 * * *

True martyrs for Christ do not die with clenched fists but with their hands joined in prayer. We have had many recent examples of this. Christ is the one who gave the twenty-one Coptic Christians beheaded i n Libya by ISIS this past February 22 the strength to die whispering the name of Jesus.

Lord Jesus Christ, we pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters in the faith and for all the Ecce Homo human beings who are on the face of the earth at this moment, Christian and non-Christian. Mary, at the foot of the cross you united yourself to your Son, and you whispered, after him,  “Father, forgive them!” Help us overcome evil with good, not only on the world scene but also in our daily lives, within the walls of our homes. You “shared his sufferings as he died on the cross. Thus, in a very special way you cooperated by your obedience, faith, hope and burning charity in the work of the Savior.”[8] May you inspire the men and women of our time with thoughts of peace and mercy. And of forgiveness. Amen.


 [1] Blaise Pascal, ”The Mystery of Jesus,” #552, in Pensées (New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1958), 148.

[2] Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science III, 125.

[3] Eusebius, The History of the Church,  VII, 22, 4, trans. G. A. Williamson (New York: Penguin Books, 1965), 236-237.

[4] Ernesto Galli della Loggia, “L’indifferenza che uccide” [“The Indifference That Kills”], in Corriere della sera, July 28, 2014, p. 1.

[5] Augustine, Confessions, X, 43.

[6] See the Passion Play An Impossible God by Frank Topping.

[7] See René Girard, Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World (Stanford , CA: Stanford University Press, 1987).

[8] Cf. Lumen gentium, no. 61.



Advent Homilies December 2015


Father Cantalamessa's 1st Advent Homily

Vatican City, December 04, 2015

Below is the full text of Father Raniero Cantalamessa’s first Advent Sermon for 2015:


Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, ofmcap

First Advent Sermon, 2015


A Christological Reading of Lumen gentium

1. A Christological Ecclesiology

The fiftieth anniversary of the end of the Second Vatican Council prompted in me the idea of dedicating the three Advent meditations to revisiting the principal topics of the Council. Concretely, I would like to develop reflections on each of the four main documents of the Council: the constitutions on the Church (Lumen gentium), on the Liturgy (Sacrosanctum concilium), on the Word of God (Dei Verbum), and on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et spes).

One observation has given me the courage, in the short time I have, to deal with themes that are so vast and have already been so debated. There has been non-stop writing and discussion about the Council, but it has almost always concerned its doctrinal and pastoral applications; it has focused very few times on its spiritual content strictly speaking. I would like, then, to concentrate on that content by trying to see what the Council documents, as texts of spirituality, still have to tell us that is useful for the building up of faith.

We will begin by dedicating these three Advent meditations to Lumen gentium, saving the rest for the Lent coming up, God willing. The three themes in this constitution I want to reflect on are the Church as the body and bride of Christ, the universal call to holiness, and the doctrine on the Blessed Virgin.

The idea for this first meditation on the Church came to me in a rereading, by chance, of the beginning of the constitution in its Latin text, which says, “Lumen gentium cum sit Christus,” “Christ is the light of the nations.”[1] I must say, to my embarrassment, that I had never paid attention to the enormous implications contained in this beginning. Because the title of the constitution has only the first part of the sentence (Lumen gentium), I thought (and I do not think I am the only one) that the title “light of the nations” referred to the Church while, as we see, it actually refers to Christ. It is the title with which the elderly Simeon greeted the infant Messiah when he was taken to the temple by Mary and Joseph: “a light to the nations and the glory of his people Israel” (see Luke 2:32).

This initial statement is the key to interpreting the whole ecclesiology of the Second Vatican Council. It is a christological ecclesiology and is therefore spiritual and mystical before being social and institutional. It is necessary to bring this christological dimension of the Council’s ecclesiology back to the forefront also in view of a more effective evangelization. People do not accept Christ because of love for the Church but they accept the Church because of love for Christ, even a Church disfigured by the sin of its many representatives.

I have to say immediately that I am certainly not the first one to highlight this essentially christological dimension of the Second Vatican Council’s ecclesiology. Rereading the numerous writings of the former Cardinal Ratzinger on the Church, I became aware of the persistence with which he had tried to keep this dimension of the doctrine on the Church in Lumen gentium alive. His reminder to us of the doctrinal implications of the first sentence—“Lumen gentium cum sit Christus,” “Christ is the light of the nations”—can be found in his writings followed by the affirmation, “If you want to understand Vatican II correctly, you must begin again and again with this first sentence.”[2]

We need to immediately qualify this to avoid any misunderstanding: no one has ever denied this inner spiritual vision of the Church. However, as often happens in human affairs, the new risks overshadowing the old, the present makes us lose sight of the eternal, and the urgent takes precedence over the important. This explains how the concept of ecclesial communion and of the people of God was often developed only in its horizontal and sociological sense, that is, in the context of the contrast between koinonia and hierarchy, and was thus focused more on the communion of the Church’s members with each other than on the communion of all its members with Christ.

It was a priority for that particular time, and as such St. John Paul II welcomed and promoted it in his apostolic letter, Novo millennio ineunte.[3] But fifty years after the end of the Council, it is perhaps useful to try to reestablish the balance between this vision of the Church, shaped by the debates of that time, and the spiritual and mystic vision found in the New Testament and in the Fathers of the Church. The fundamental question is not “What is the Church?” but “Who is the Church?”[4] That is the question that will guide me in this current meditation.

2. The Church as the Body and the Spouse of Christ

The heart and the christological content of Lumen gentium emerge particularly in the first chapter where the Church is presented as the spouse of Christ and the body of Christ. Let us listen to some of its statements:

The church, which is called “that Jerusalem which is above,” and “our mother” (Gal 4:26; see Apoc 12:17) is described as the spotless spouse of the spotless Lamb [see Apoc 19:7, 21:2 and 9; 22:17], whom Christ “loved . . . and for whom he delivered himself up that he might sanctify her” (Eph 5:25-26). It is the church which he unites to himself by an unbreakable alliance, and which he constantly “nourishes and cherishes” (Eph 5:29). It is the church which, once purified, he willed to be joined to himself, subject in love and fidelity (see Eph 5:24).[5]

This is what it says about being the spouse, and concerning the “body of Christ” it says,

In the human nature united to himself, the Son of God, by overcoming death through his own death and resurrection, redeemed humanity and changed it into a new creation (see Gal 6:15; 2 Cor 5:17). For by communicating his Spirit, Christ mystically constituted as his body his brothers and sisters who are called together from every nation. . . . Really sharing in the body of the Lord in the breaking of the Eucharistic bread, we are taken up into communion with him and with one another. “Because the bread is one, we, though many, are one body, all of us who partake of the one bread” (1 Cor 10:17).[6]

It was the former Cardinal Ratzinger who also deserves credit for highlighting the intrinsic relationship between these two images of the Church: the Church is the body of Christ because she is the spouse of Christ! In other words, the Pauline image of the Church as the body of Christ is not primarily based on the metaphor of the harmony of the human body’s parts (even though he applies it at times this way as in Romans 12:4ff and 1 Corinthians 12:12ff), but rather on the spousal idea of the one flesh that a man and a woman form when they join themselves in marriage (see Eph 5:29-32) and even more so on the eucharistic idea of the one body that is formed by those who partake of the same bread: “Because the bread is one, we, though many, are one body, all of us who partake of the one bread” (1 Cor 10:17).[7]

We hardly need to mention that this was at the heart of the Augustinian concept of the Church, to such an extent that he at times gave the impression of identifying the body of Christ, which is the Church, purely and simply with the body of Christ, which is the Eucharist.[8] This is demonstrated by the evolution of the expression “mystical body” of Christ. From initially indicating the Eucharist, it slowly moved to mean, as it does today, the Church.[9] This, as we know, is also a perspective that brings Catholic ecclesiology closer to the eucharistic ecclesiology of the Orthodox Church. Without the Church and without the Eucharist, Christ would not have a “body” in the world.

3. Going from the Church to the Soul

A principle that is often repeated and applied by the Fathers of the Church is “Ecclesia vel anima,” “the church or the soul.”[10] It means that what is said about the Church in general can be applied, after the necessary distinctions, to each person in particular in the Church. An assertion attributed to St. Ambrose says, “It is within [its] souls that the Church is beautiful.”[11] Wanting to be faithful to the intention I stated for these meditations to focus on the more directly “edifying” aspects of the Council’s ecclesiology, we can ask ourselves, “What does it mean for the spiritual life of a Christian to live out and achieve this idea of the Church as the body and spouse of Christ?”

If the Church in its innermost and truest meaning is the body of Christ, then I actualize the Church in myself, I am an “ecclesial being,”[12] to the extent that I allow Christ to make me his body, not just in theory but also in practice. What counts is not the position I occupy in the Church but the position that Christ occupies in my heart!

This occurs objectively through the sacraments, and especially two of them: baptism and the Eucharist. We receive baptism only once, but we can receive the Eucharist every day. This is why it is important to celebrate it and receive it in such a way that we can carry out the task of making ourselves the Church. The famous maxim by Henri de Lubac that “the Eucharist makes the Church”[13] applies not only on the community level but also on the personal level. The Eucharist makes each of us a body of Christ, that is, the Church. Here too I would like to quote the profound words of the former Cardinal Ratzinger:

Communion means that the seemingly uncrossable frontier of my “I” is left wide open. . . . [It] means the fusion of two existences; just as in the taking of nourishment the body assimilates foreign matter to itself, and is thereby enabled to live, in the same way my “I” is assimilated to that of Jesus, it is made similar to him in an exchange that increasingly breaks through the lines of division.[14]

Two lives, mine and Christ’s, become one “without confusion and without division,” not hypostatically as in the Incarnation but mystically and really. From two “I’s” there ends up being only one: not my insignificant “I” as a creature but that of Christ, to the point that after receiving the Eucharist each of us can dare to say with Paul, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20). Nicholas Cabasilas writes that through the Eucharist,

Christ infuses Himself into us and mingles Himself with us. He changes and transforms us into Himself, as a small drop of water is changed by being poured into an immense sea of ointment.[15]

The image of the Church as body of Christ is intrinsically linked, as we said, to that of the Church as the spouse of Christ, and this too can be a great help for us to experience the Eucharist in a profoundly mystagogical way. The Letter to the Ephesians says that marriage is a symbol of the union of Christ and the Church: “‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church!” (Eph 5:31-32). According to St. Paul, the immediate consequence of marriage is that the body of the husband now belongs to the wife and, conversely, the body of the wife belongs to the husband (see 1 Cor 7:4).

When applied to the Eucharist, this means that the incorruptible flesh of the incarnate Word that gives life becomes “mine,” but it also means that my flesh, my humanity, becomes Christ’s and belongs to him. In the Eucharist we receive the body and blood of Christ, but Christ also “receives” our body and blood! St. Hilary of Poitiers writes that Jesus assumes the flesh only of the person who assumes his.[16] Christ says to us, “Take this; it is my body,” but we too can say to him, “Take this; it is my body.”

In the collection of eucharistic poetry called The Place Within, the future pope Karol Wojtyla called this new person whose life is made of Christ “the eucharistic I”:

Then a miracle will be,

a transformation:

You will become me,

and I—eucharistic—You.[17]

There is nothing in my life that does not belong to Christ. No one should say, “Oh, Jesus does not know what it means to be married, to be a woman, to have lost a son, to be sick, to be elderly, or to be a person of color!” If you experience something, he experiences it too, thanks to you and through you. Whatever Christ himself was not able to experience “in the flesh”—since his earthly existence, like everyone else’s, was limited to certain experiences—is now lived and “experienced ” by the Risen One “in the Spirit” thanks to the spousal communion at Mass. He experiences what it is like to be a woman in women, what it is like to be elderly in the elderly, what it is like to be sick in a sick person. All that was “lacking” in the complete “incarnation” of the Word is now accomplished through the Eucharist.

The Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity wrote in a letter to her mother: “The Bride belongs to the bridegroom; mine has taken me; he wants me to be an extended humanity for him.”[18] It is as if Jesus is saying to us, “I hunger for you, I want to live in you, so I need to live in all your thoughts, in all your affection; I need to live through your flesh, through your blood, through your daily weariness; I need to feed off you the way you feed off me!”

What an inexhaustible reason for amazement and comfort at the thought that our humanity becomes Christ’s humanity! However, what responsibility comes along with all this! If my eyes have become Christ’s eyes and my mouth has become Christ’s mouth, what a reason not to allow my gaze to indulge in lustful images, or allow my tongue to speak against a brother, or allow my body to serve as an instrument of sin! The apostle asks, “Shall I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute?” (1 Cor 6:15). These words apply to every baptized person. But then what can be said about consecrated people, the ministers of God who should be “examples to the flock” (1 Pet 5:3)? One can only shudder at the thought of the terrible damage that is done to the body of Christ that is the Church.

4. A Personal Encounter with Jesus

Up to this point I have spoken of the objective or sacramental benefits to our becoming the Church, the body of Christ. However, there is also a subjective and existential dimension that consists in what Pope Francis defined in Evangelii gaudium as a “personal encounter with Jesus of Nazareth.” Let us hear his words again:

I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her.[19]

Perhaps we need to take a step forward here even with respect to the Council’s ecclesiology. In Catholic language, “a personal encounter with Jesus” has never been a very familiar concept. Instead of a “personal” encounter people prefer the idea of an ecclesial encounter that occurs through the Church’s sacraments. The phrase had a vaguely Protestant resonance to our Catholic ears. What is being proposed here is clearly not a personal encounter with Christ that substitutes for the sacramental encounter but one that makes the sacramental encounter a freely chosen and welcomed encounter rather than a purely nominal, legal, or habitually routine one. If the Church is the body of Christ, a free and personal adherence to Christ is the only way to enter it and be part of it from the existential point of view.

To understand what having a personal encounter with Jesus means, we need to take a brief look at history. How did people become members of the Church in the first three centuries? Despite the differences from individual to individual and from place to place, they became members after a long initiation, the catechumenate; it was the result of a personal decision, and a risky one as well because of the possibility of martyrdom.

Things changed when Christianity became, first, a tolerated religion and then, in a short time, the preferred religion and at times even directly imposed. In this situation, the focus was no longer on the precise moment and the way in which a person became a Christian, that is, how he or she came to faith, but on the moral requirements of the faith itself, on the change in a person’s habits—in other words, on morality.

The situation, despite everything, was less negative than it might seem to us today because even with all the inconsistencies that we are aware of, the family, education, culture, and little by little even society helped people to absorb faith almost naturally. In addition to this, new ways of life emerged from the beginning of this new state of affairs, like monastic life and then the life in various religious orders, in which baptism was radically lived out and Christian life was the result of a personal decision that was often heroically courageous.

This so called “regime of Christianity” has now radically changed. Therefore, there is an urgency for a new evangelization that takes the new situation into account. On the practical level, it means creating opportunities for people today that allow them, in a new context, to make that free, personal, and mature decision that Christians initially used to make when they received baptism and that made them true Christians rather than just nominal ones.

Since 1972 the “Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults” has offered a kind of catechumenal path for the baptism of adults. In some countries where many people come to baptism as adults, this program has proven to be very effective. But what are we going to do for the massive number of Christians already baptized who live like Christians just in name only, and not in actual fact, and are not at all involved in the Church and sacramental life?

One answer to this problem has been the numerous ecclesial movements, lay associations and renewed parish communities, which appeared after the Council. The common contribution of these groups—which vary greatly in style and in membership numbers—is that they provide the context and the means that allow so many adults to make a personal choice for Christ, to take their baptism seriously, and to become active participants in the Church.

But I will not linger on the pastoral aspects of this issue. What I want to underscore at the end of this meditation is once again the spiritual and existential aspect that concerns us individually. What does it mean to have a personal encounter with Jesus? It means saying,  “Jesus is Lord!”, the way that Paul and the early Christians said it, which determines a person’s whole life forever because of it.

When this happens Jesus is no longer a personage but a person. He is no longer someone who is only talked about but someone to whom and with whom we can speak because he is risen and alive; he is no longer just a memory, although alive and operative liturgically, but an actual presence. It also means not making any important decisions without having submitted them to him in prayer.

I said at the beginning that people do not accept Christ out of love for the Church but they accept the Church out of love for Christ. Let us seek to love Christ and to make him loved, and we will have rendered our best service to the Church. If the Church is the spouse of Christ, then like every spouse she will generate new children only in uniting herself to her Spouse through love. The fruitfulness of the Church depends on her love for Christ. The best service anyone of us can do for the Church is therefore to love Jesus and grow in intimacy with him.

Translated from Italian by Marsha Daigle Williamson

[1] Lumen gentium, 1, in Vatican Council II: Constitutions, Decrees, Declarations, gen. ed. Austin Flannery (Northport, NY: Costello, 1996), p. 1.

[2] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, “The Ecclesiology of Second Vatican Council,” in Church, Ecumenism, and Politics: New Endeavors in Ecclesiology (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2008), p. 15.

[3] See St. John Paul II, Novo millennnio ineunte, 42 and 45.

[4] See Hans Urs von Balthasar, Explorations in Theology, Vol. 2: Spouse of the Word, trans. John Saward (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1991), pp. 143-192.

[5] Lumen gentium, 6, p. 6.

[6] Ibid., 7, pp. 6-7.

[7] See Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, “The Origin and Essence of the Church,” in Called to Communion: Understanding the Church Today (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1996), pp. 13-40.

[8] See St. Augustine, “Sermon 272,” in The Works of Saint Augustine, Part 3, vol. 7, trans. Edmund Hill, ed. John E. Rotelle (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 1993), pp. 300-301. See also (PL 38, 1247f.).

[9] See Henri de Lubac, Corpus Mysticum: The Eucharist and the Church in the Middle Ages, trans. Gemma Simmonds (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2007).

[10] See Origen, On the “Song of Songs,” III (GCS 33, pp. 185, 190); St. Ambrose, Expositions of Psalm 118, 6, 18 (CSEL 62, p. 117).

[11] St. Ambrose, On the Mysteries, 7, 39, quoted in Henri de Lubac, Medieval Exegesis, Volume 2: The Four Senses of Scripture, trans. E. M. Macierowski (London: A & C Black, 2000), p. 135.

[12] See John Zizioulas [L’être ecclésiale, 1981], Being as Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1997).

[13] De Lubac, Corpus Mysticum, p. 88.

[14] Ratzinger, “The Origin and Essence of the Church,” p. 25.

[15] Nicholas Cabasilas, Life in Christ, 4, 6, trans. Carmino J. deCatanzaro (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1974), p. 123; see also PG 150, 593.

[16] St. Hilary of Poitiers, The Trinity, 8, 6: “Eius tantum in se adsumptam habens carnem, qui suam sumpserit”: “He has assumed and taken upon himself the flesh of him only who has received His own.” English trans., Stephen McKenna, in vol. 25, The Fathers of the Church (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2010), p. 287; see also PL 10, p. 248.

[17] Karol Wojtyla, “Song of the Inexhaustible Sun,” in The Place Within: The Poetry of John Paul II, trans. Jerzy Peterkiewicz (New York: Random House, 1994), p. 23.

[18] Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, in Jean Lafrance, Learning to Pray According to Sister Elizabeth of the Trinity, trans. Florestine Audette (Sherbook, QC: Médiaspaul, 2003), p. 124.

[19] Pope Francis, Evangelii gaudium, 1, 3.


Here is the 3rd Advent sermon on December 18, 2015, of Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the Pontifical Household.

* * *

Mary in the Mystery of Christ and of the Church

1. Mariology in Lumen gentium 

The topic of this last Advent meditation is Chapter 8 of Lumen gentium called “The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God in the Mystery of Christ and the Church.” Let us listen to what the Council says on this issue:

The predestination of the Blessed Virgin as Mother of God was associated with the incarnation of the divine word: in the designs of divine Providence she was the gracious mother of the divine Redeemer here on earth, and above all others and in a singular way the generous associate and humble handmaid of the Lord. She conceived, gave birth to, and nourished Christ, she presented Him to the Father in the temple, shared his sufferings as He died on the Cross. Thus, in a very special way she cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope, and burning charity in the work of the Savior in restoring supernatural life to souls. For this reason she is a mother to us in the order of grace.

Alongside the title of Mother of God and of believers, the other fundamental category that the Council uses to illustrate Mary’s role is that of a model or a type:

By reason of the gift and role of her divine motherhood, by which she is united with her Son, the Redeemer, and with her unique graces and functions, the Blessed Virgin is also intimately united to the church. As St. Ambrose taught, the Mother of God is a type of the church in the order of faith, charity, and perfect union with Christ.

The greatest novelty in the Council’s treatment of Mary consists, as we know, precisely in the place in which she was inserted, which was within the Constitution on the Church. In so doing the Council—not without tensions and difficulties—carried out a profound renewal of Mariology with respect to that of recent centuries. The discussion on Mary is no longer separate, as if she held an intermediary position between Christ and the Church; she is placed back into the context of the Church, as she was during the time of the Fathers. Mary is seen, as Saint Augustine said, as the most excellent member of the Church but nonetheless a member of it, not outside of it or above it: 

Mary is holy, Mary is blessed, but the Church is something better than the virgin Mary. Why? Because Mary is part of the Church, a holy member, a quite exceptional member, the supremely wonderful member, but still a member of the whole body. That being so, it follows that the body is something greater than the member.

Two realities are reciprocally illumined here. If in fact the discussion on the Church sheds light on who Mary is, the discussion on Mary also sheds light on what the Church is, “the body of Christ,” and as such, it is “almost an extension of the incarnation of the Word.” John Paul II highlighted this reciprocity in his encyclical, Redemptoris Mater: “The Second Vatican Council, by presenting Mary in the mystery of Christ, also finds the path to a deeper understanding of the mystery of the Church.”

Another novelty from the Council on Mariology is its emphasis on Mary’s faith. This was also a theme that was taken up and developed more fully by John Paul II who made it the central theme of his Marian encyclical. This represents a return to the Mariology of the Fathers who emphasized the Blessed Virgin’s faith, more than her privileges, as her personal contribution to the mystery of salvation. Here too we can note the influence of Saint Augustine:

The blessed Mary herself conceived by believing the one whom she bore by believing. . . . When the angel [spoke], she was so full of faith [fide plena] that she conceived Christ in her mind before doing so in her womb, and said, Behold the maidservant of the Lord; may it happen to me according to your word [italics original].”

2. An Ecumenical Perspective on Mary as the Mother of Believers

What I would like to do is to highlight the ecumenical importance of the Council’s Mariology, that is, how it can contribute—and is already contributing—to bringing Catholics and Protestants closer together on the sensitive and controversial issue of devotion to the Blessed Virgin.

First I want to clarify the principle at the basis of the reflections that follow. If Mary is fundamentally positioned as a part of the Church, it follows that the biblical categories and affirmations from which to begin to shed light on her, then, are those relative to human beings who constitute the Church and applied to her “a fortiori,” rather than those relative to the divine Persons and applied to her “by reduction.”

For example, to understand the sensitive issue of the mediation of Mary in the work of salvation in the right way, it is more helpful to start with her mediation as a creature, or from below, as is the case with the mediation of Abraham, the apostles, and the sacraments of the Church itself, rather than from the divine-human mediation of Christ. The greatest gap, in fact, is not that which exists between Mary and the rest of the Church, but that which exists between Mary and the Church on one side, and Christ and the Trinity on the other side, that is, between the creatures and the Creator.

Let us now draw the conclusion from this. If Abraham, because of what he had done, merited in the Bible the name of “father of us all” (Rom 4:16; see Lk 16:24), which means the father of all believers, we can better understand why the Church does not hesitate to call Mary “the mother of us all,” the mother of all believers.

In this comparison between Abraham and Mary we can gain an even better insight concerning not only that simple title but also its content and significance. Is “mother of all believers” a simple title of honor, or is it something more? Here we can glimpse the possibility of an ecumenical discussion on Mary. John Calvin interprets the text in which God said to Abraham, “By you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves” (Gen 12:3) to mean that “Abram would be [not only] an example but a cause of blessing [italics original].” A well-known modern Protestant exegete similarly writes, 

The question has been raised [about Gen 12:3: “by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves”] whether the meaning is only that Abraham is to become a formula for blessing, that his blessing is to become far and wide proverbial. . . . The accepted interpretation must therefore remain. It is like a “command [by God] to history” [see B. Jacob]. Abraham is assigned the role of a mediator of blessing in God’s saving plan, for “all the families of the earth.”

This helps us understand what tradition, beginning with Saint Irenaeus, says about Mary: she is not only an example of blessing but also a cause of salvation—although in a manner that depends uniquely on grace and on God’s will. Eve “having become disobedient, was made the cause of death, both to herself and the entire human race, so also did Mary, . . . by yielding obedience, become the cause of salvation, both to herself and for the whole human race [italics added].” Mary’s words that “all generations will call me blessed” (Lk 1:48) are also to be considered “a command by God to history.” 

It is an encouraging fact to discover that the very initiators of the Reform recognized the title and the prerogative of “Mother” for Mary in the sense of being our mother and the mother of salvation. In a sermon for Christmas Mass, Martin Luther said, “This is the comfort and exceeding goodness of God that [for every person] . . . Mary is his rightful mother, Christ his brother, and God his father. . . . This will be the case if you believe, then you will repose in the lap of the virgin Mary and be her dear child.” Ulrich Zwingli, in a sermon in 1524, calls Mary “the ever Virgin Mary, Mother of our salvation” and says that in regard to her he “never thought, still less taught, or declared publicly, anything . . . which could be considered dishonorable, impious, unworthy, or evil.” 

How then did we ever get to the current situation of so much uneasiness by Protestant brothers and sisters about Mary, to the point that in some circles it is almost a duty to belittle Mary, to attack Catholics continuously on this point, and in every instance to skip over everything that Scripture itself says about her?

This is not the place to do a historical review. I merely want to point out what seems to me the path that leads away from this unfortunate situation about Mary. That path includes an honest recognition of the fact that often, especially in the recent centuries, we Catholics have contributed to making Mary unacceptable to Protestants by honoring her in ways that are often exaggerated and ill-advised and above all by not keeping devotion to her clearly within a biblical framework that demonstrates her subordinate role with respect to the Word of God, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus himself. Mariology in recent centuries has become a non-stop factory of new titles, new devotions, often in polemic against Protestants, sometimes using Mary—our common Mother!—as a weapon against them.

The Second Vatican Council reacted to this tendency appropriately by recommending that the faithful “carefully refrain from whatever might by word or deed lead the separated sisters and brothers or any others whatsoever into error about the true doctrine of the church” and by reminding the faithful that “true devotion consists neither in sterile or transitory feeling, nor in an empty credulity.”

On the Protestants’ side, there is, I believe, room to acknowledge the negative influence that not only anti-Catholic polemic but also rationalism has had in their attitude toward Mary. Mary is not an idea but a concrete person, a woman, and as such she does not easily lend herself to be theorized about or reduced to an abstract principle. She is the very icon of God’s simplicity. For this reason, in an atmosphere dominated by extreme rationalism, she had to be eliminated from the theological scene. 

A Lutheran woman who died a few years ago, Mother Basilea Schlink, founded a community of sisters in the Lutheran Church called the “Sisters of Mary,” which has now spread to various countries throughout the world. After recalling different texts by Luther on the Blessed Mother, she wrote in one of her short books (whose Italian translation I edited), 

Reading these words of Martin Luther, who revered the mother Mary to the end of his life, observed the festivals of the Virgin Mary, and daily sang the Magnificat, we can sense how far the majority of us have drifted away from the proper attitude towards her. . . . Because rationalism accepted only that which could be explained rationally, church festivals in honor of Mary and everything else reminiscent of her were done away with in the Protestant Church. All biblical relationship to the mother Mary was lost, and we are still suffering from this heritage. When Martin Luther bids us to praise the mother Mary, declaring that she can never be praised enough as the noblest lady and, after Christ, the fairest gem in Christendom, I must confess that for many years I was one of those who had not done so, although Scripture says that henceforth all generations would call Mary blessed (Luke 1:48). I had not taken my place among these generations.

All these premises allow us to develop a heartfelt hope that one day in the not too distant future, Catholics and Protestants might no longer be divided but united about Mary in a shared veneration, perhaps differing in its forms but agreeing in recognizing her as the Mother of God and the Mother of believers. I have had the joy of personally observing some signs of this shift going on. On more than one occasion, I have been able to speak about Mary to a Protestant audience, noting not only acceptance among those present but also, at least in one case, the deep emotion that occurs in the rediscovery of something precious and in a healing of memories.

3. Mary, Mother and Daughter of God’s Mercy 

Let us leave aside the ecumenical discussion, and let us try to see if the Year of Mercy helps us discover something new about the Mother of God. Mary is invoked in the ancient prayer Salve Regina as “Mater misericordiae,” the Mother of mercy. In that same prayer, this invocation is addressed to her: “illos tuos misericordes oculos ad nos converte”: “Turn . . . thine eyes of mercy toward us.” At the opening Mass for the Jubilee Year in St. Peter’s Square on December 8, an ancient icon of the Mother of God was displayed at the side of the altar. This icon, which is venerated by Ukrainian Greek Catholics in a church in Jaroslaw, Poland, is known as the “Doors of Mercy.” 

Mary is the mother and door of mercy in two senses. She was the door through which the mercy of God, in Jesus, entered into the world, and she is now the door through which we enter into the mercy of God and present ourselves to the “throne of mercy,” which is the Trinity. This is all very true, but it is only one aspect of the relationship between Mary and the mercy of God. She is in fact not only a channel and a mediator of God’s mercy but also its object and its first recipient. She is not only the one who obtains mercy for us but also the one who first obtained mercy and more so than anyone else.

Mercy is synonymous with grace. Only in the Trinity do we find love that is nature and not grace; it is love but not mercy. The Father loving the Son is not a grace or a concession; it is in a certain sense a necessity. The Father needs to love in order to exist as Father. The Son loving the Father is not a concession or a grace; it is an intrinsic necessity even if it occurs with the utmost freedom. The Son needs to be loved and to love in order to be the Son. It is when God creates the world and free creatures in it that his love becomes a free and unmerited gift, that is, grace and mercy. This is the case even before sin entered. Sin only made God’s mercy, which was a gift, become forgiveness.

The qualification “full of grace” is thus synonymous with “full of mercy.” Mary herself, moreover, proclaims this in the Magnificat: “he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden”; “He has helped . . . in remembrance of his mercy”; “his mercy is . . . from generation to generation” (Lk 1:48, 54, 50). Mary knows that she is a beneficiary of mercy, a specially favored witness of it. In her case, the mercy of God did not bring about forgiveness for sin but preservation from sin. 

St. Thérèse of the Infant Jesus said that what God did with Mary is what a good doctor would do during an epidemic. He goes from house to house curing those who have contracted the disease. But if there is someone who is especially close to his heart, like his wife or his mother, he will try, if he can, to prevent them from even catching the infection. This is precisely what God has done in preserving Mary from original sin through the merits of his Son’s passion. 

St. Augustine, speaking of Jesus’ humanity, says, “By what preceding merits . . . has this man merited to be . . . assumed by the Word co-eternal with the Father into the unity of one person? What good of his, of any kind whatever, preceded this union? What did he do beforehand, what did he believe, what did he ask, in order to arrive at this ineffable excellence?” Augustine adds elsewhere, “Ask yourself whether this involved any merit, any motivation, any right on your part; and see whether you find anything but grace.” 

These words shed a unique light on Mary as well. All the more so should we ask, what did Mary do to deserve the privilege of giving the Word his humanity? What had she believed, asked for, hoped, or endured to come into the world holy and immaculate? Look here as well for any merit, for any fairness, look for anything you want and see if, from the outset, you find anything but grace, that is, mercy! 

Saint Paul as well will not cease throughout his life to consider himself the fruit of and a trophy of God’s mercy. He describes himself as “one who has received mercy from the Lord” (see 1 Cor 7:25). He did not confine himself to formulating the doctrine of mercy but became himself a living witness to it: “I formerly blasphemed and persecuted and insulted him; but I received mercy” (1 Tim 1:13). 

Mary and the apostle teach us that the best way to preach mercy is to give testimony to the mercy God has had on us. They teach us to consider ourselves also as the fruit of God’s mercy in Christ Jesus and alive only because of it. One day Jesus healed an unfortunate person possessed by an unclean spirit. He wanted to follow Jesus and join his group of disciples. Jesus did not allow him to and told him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you” (Mk 5:19).

Mary, who glorified and thanked God in the Magnificat for his mercy toward her, invites us to do the same in the Year of Mercy. She invites us to make her canticle resound in the Church every day like a chorus that repeats a song after the soloist. Therefore, let me invite you to stand and to proclaim together, in place of the final Marian antiphon, the canticle of God’s mercy, which is the Magnificat: “My soul magnifies the Lord. . . .”

Holy Father, Venerable Fathers, brothers and sisters, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year of Mercy!

Translated from Italian by Marsha Daigle Williamson

[1] Lumen gentium, 61, in Vatican Council II: Constitutions, Decrees, Declarations, gen. ed. Austin Flannery (Northport, NY: Costello, 1996), p. 85.

[2] Ibid., 63, p. 86.

[3] On the events surrounding the perspectives on Mariology in the Council discussions, see The History of Vatican II, Vol 4: Church as Communion: Third Period and Intersession: September 1964–September 1965, ed. Giuseppe Alberigo, English ed. Joseph A. Komonchak (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2002), pp. 445-447.

[4] Saint Augustine, “Sermon 72 A,” 7,  in The Works of Saint Augustine, Part 3, vol. 3, trans. Edmund Hill, ed. John Rotelle (Brooklyn, NY: New City Press, 1991), p. 228.

[5] John Paul II, Redemptoris Mater, 5.

[6] Ibid.

[7] See Lumen gentium, 58, p. 84.

[8] See John Paul II, Redemptoris Mater, 5: “In these reflections, however, I wish to consider primarily that ‘pilgrimage of faith’ in which ‘the Blessed Virgin advanced,’ faithfully preserving her union with Christ.”

[9] St. Augustine, “Sermon 215,” 4, in The Works of Saint Augustine, Part 3, vol. 6, trans. Edmund Hill, ed. John Rotelle (New Rochelle, NY: New City Press, 1993), p. 160.

[10] John Calvin, Genesis, ed. Alister McGrath (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2001), p. 112.

[11] Gerhard von Rad, Genesis: A Commentary, trans. John H. Marks (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1961), pp. 155-156.

[12] Saint Irenaeus, The Writings of St. Irenaeus: Irenaeus Against the Heresies, III, 22, 4 (London: T & T Clark, 1884), p. 361.

[13] Martin Luther, “Christmas Sermon” (1522), Wartburg Church Postil, in Through the Years with Martin Luther: A Selection of Sermons Celebrating the Feasts and Seasons of the Year (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2007), p. 104.

[14] Ulrich Zwingli, “Mary, Ever Virgin, Mother of God” (1524), quoted in Max Thurian, Mary: Mother of All Christians (New York: Herder and Herder, 1963), p. 76.

[15] Lumen gentium, 67, p. 89.

[16] Mother Basilea Schlink, Mary, the Mother of Jesus (London: Marshall Pickering, 1986), pp. 114-115.

[17] Saint Augustine, On the Predestination of the Saints, 15, 30, in Four Anti-Pelagian Writings, trans. John A. Mourant and William J. Collinge, vol. 86, The Fathers of the Church (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2010), p. 253. See also PL 44, p. 981.

[18] Saint Augustine, “Sermon 185,” 3, in Sermons for Christmas and Epiphany, trans. Thomas Comerford Lawler, vol. 15, Ancient Christian Writers (New York: Paulist Press, 1952), p. 79. See also PL 38, p. 999.



Father Cantalamessa’s 1st Lent Homily 2016

February 19, 2016

Here is the first Lenten homily given this year by the preacher of the Pontifical Household, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa.

* * *

Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa

First Lenten Sermon 2016


Reflections on Sacrosanctum Concilium

1.     The Second Vatican Council: a tributary, not the river

After having meditated on Lumen gentium in Advent, I would like to continue reflecting in these Lenten meditations on other great documents of Vatican II. I think, however, that it would be useful to make an introductory statement. Vatican II is a tributary, not the river. In his famous work An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, Blessed Cardinal Newman strongly asserted that stopping the development of tradition at a certain point, even if it was an ecumenical council, would be to make it a dead tradition and not a “living tradition.” Tradition is like music. What kind of melody would it be if it stopped on one note and repeated that note endlessly? That happens when a disk is damaged, and we know the result it produces.

St. John XXIII wanted the Council to be like “a new Pentecost” for the Church. That prayer was granted at least on one point. After the Council there was a revival of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is no longer “the unknown Person” of the Trinity. The Church became more clearly aware of his presence and action. In his Homily for the Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday in 2012, Benedict XVI stated,

Anyone who considers the history of the post-conciliar era can recognize the process of true renewal, which often took unexpected forms in living movements and made almost tangible the inexhaustible vitality of holy Church, the presence and effectiveness of the Holy Spirit.[1]

This does not mean we can do without the Council texts or go beyond them. It means rereading the Council in light of its fruit. The fact that ecumenical councils can have effects that are unintended at that time by those who are participating in them is a fact Cardinal Newman brought to light after the Council Vatican I,[2] but it has been witnessed many times in history. The Ecumenical Council of Ephesus in 431, with its definition of Mary as Theotokos, “Mother of God,” was intending to affirm the unity of the person of Christ, not to increase devotion to the Blessed Virgin, but in fact its clearest fruit was precisely the latter.

If there is an area in which the theology and life of the Catholic Church has been enriched in the fifty years since the Council, it is without doubt in regard to the Holy Spirit. All the major Christian denominations in recent times have affirmed what Karl Barth coined as “the Theology of the Third Article.”[3] The theology of the third article is a theology that does not end with the article on the Holy Spirit but begins with it; it takes into account not just the end product but the sequence by which the Christian faith and its creed were formed. It was in fact by the light of the Holy Spirit that the apostles discovered who Jesus truly was and his revelation of the Father. The current creed of the Church is perfect and no one would dream of changing it, but it reflects the final product, the last stage reached by faith, but not the path that led to it. In view of a renewed effort in evangelization, however, it is vital for us also to know the path that leads to faith, and not just its definitive codification in the creed that we recite by memory.

In this light the implications of certain affirmations by the Council appear more clearly, but equally clear appear some omissions that need to be filled in, particularly concerning the role of the Holy Spirit. Saint John Paul II was already aware of this in 1981 when, on the occasion of the 1600th Anniversary of the First Ecumenical Council of Constantinople, he wrote the following in his Apostolic Letter: “The whole work of renewal of the Church, so providentially set forth and initiated by the Second Vatican Council, . . . can be carried out only in the Holy Spirit, that is to say, with the aid of His light and His power.”[4]

2.     The place of the Holy Spirit in the liturgy

This broad premise proves to be particularly useful in dealing with the document on the liturgy, Sacrosanctum concilium. This text arose from a need that was felt for a long time from many sides for a renewal of the forms and rites of the Catholic liturgy. From this perspective, it has had much fruit and, as a whole, has been very beneficial for the Church. Less felt at the time, however, was the need to look at what, after Romano Guardini, is called “the spirit of the liturgy,”[5] which, in a sense that I will explain, I would call “the liturgy of the Spirit” (“Spirit” with a capital “s”!).

In line with the intention I stated for these meditations to underscore some spiritual and interior aspects of the Council’s texts, I would like to share some reflections specifically on this point. Sacrosanctum concilium devoted only a brief initial text to it, which was the fruit of the debate that preceded the final editing of the constitution:[6]

Christ indeed always associates the Church with Himself in this great work wherein God is perfectly glorified and men are sanctified. The Church is His beloved Bride who calls to her Lord, and through Him offers worship to the Eternal Father. Rightly, then, the liturgy is considered as an exercise of the priestly office of Jesus Christ. In the liturgy the sanctification of the man is signified by signs perceptible to the senses, and is effected in a way which corresponds with each of these signs; in the liturgy the whole public worship is performed by the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, that is, by the Head and His members. From this it follows that every liturgical celebration, because it is an action of Christ the priest and of His Body which is the Church, is a sacred action surpassing all others; no other action of the Church can equal its efficacy by the same title and to the same degree.[7]

It is in the subjects, or the “actors,” in the liturgy that we are able to note a lacuna in this description today. There are only two protagonists highlighted here: Christ and the Church. There is no mention whatsoever of the role of the Holy Spirit. In the rest of the constitution as well, the Holy Spirit is never directly spoken about but is only mentioned here and there and always “obliquely.”

The Book of Revelation indicates for us the order and the complete number of the liturgical actors when it summarizes Christian worship: “The Spirit and the Bride say [to Christ the Savior], ‘Come’” (Rev 22:17). However, Jesus had already perfectly expressed the nature and innovation in worship that would be established by the New Covenant in his dialogue with the Samaritan woman: “The hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth” (Jn 4:23).

The phrase “spirit and truth” in Johannine vocabulary can mean only two things: either the “Spirit of truth,” which is the Holy Spirit (Jn 14:17, 16:13), or the spirit of Christ who is the truth (see Jn 14:6). One thing is certain: this “spirit of truth” has nothing to do with the subjective meaning that is favored by idealists and romantics who think that “spirit and truth” point to a person’s hidden interiority as opposed to any kind of external and visible worship. It is not a question here of going from the external to the internal but from the human to the divine.

If Christian liturgy is “an exercise of the priestly office of Jesus Christ,” the best way to discover its nature is to look at how Jesus exercised that priestly function in his life and in his death. The role of the priest is to offer “prayers and sacrifices” to God (see Heb 5:1, 8:3). We know now that the Holy Spirit is the one who placed the cry “Abba!” in the heart of the incarnate Word—a cry that enclosed his every prayer. Luke explicitly notes this when he writes, “In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth . . .’” (Lk 10:21). The very offering of his body in sacrifice on the cross occurs, according to the Letter to the Hebrews, “through the eternal Spirit” (Heb 9:14), that is, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

St. Basil offers an illuminating text on this point: “The way to divine knowledge ascends from one Spirit through the one Son to the one Father. [Conversely] natural goodness, inherent holiness, and royal dignity reaches from the Father through the Only-Begotten to the Spirit.”[8] In other words, on the level of being and the coming forth of creatures from God, everything comes from the Father, goes through the Son, and reaches us through the Holy Spirit. In the order of knowledge, or of the return of creatures to God, everything begins with the Spirit, goes through the Son Jesus Christ, and ends with the Father.

In the Latin Church Blessed Isaac of Stella (12th century) expresses it in words that are quite similar to Basil’s: “Just as divine gifts descend to us from the Father, through the Son and the Holy Spirit, or in the Holy Spirit, . . . so through the Spirit to the Son, and through the Son to the Father human gifts ascend.” [9].

It is not a question, as we can see, of being a fan of one or the other of the three Persons of the Trinity but of safeguarding the trinitarian dynamic of the liturgy. Silence about the Holy Spirit inevitably dilutes its trinitarian character. Because of this, the point made by St. John Paul II in Novo millennio ineunte seems to me particularly appropriate:

Wrought in us by the Holy Spirit, this reciprocity [in prayer] opens us, through Christ and in Christ, to contemplation of the Father’s face. Learning this Trinitarian shape of Christian prayer and living it fully, above all in the liturgy, the summit and source of the Church’s life, but also in personal experience, is the secret of a truly vital Christianity, which has no reason to fear the future, because it returns continually to the sources and finds in them new life [italics added].[10]

3.     Worship “in the Spirit”

Let us draw some practical implications from these premises for the way we live the liturgy so that it can fulfill one of its primary goals, namely, the sanctification of souls. The Holy Spirit does not authorize the invention of new and arbitrary forms of the liturgy or the modification of existing forms on one’s own initiative (a responsibility that belongs to the hierarchy). He is the only one, however, who renews and gives life to all the expressions of the liturgy. In other words, the Holy Spirit does not do new things, he makes things new! Jesus’ saying that is repeated by Paul, “It is the Spirit that gives life” (Jn 6:63; see 2 Cor 3:6), applies first of all to the liturgy.

The apostle exhorted the faithful to pray “in the Spirit” (Eph 6:18; see also Jude 20). What does it mean to pray in the Spirit? It means letting Jesus continue to exercise his priestly office in his body, which is the Church. Christian prayer becomes the extension to the body of the prayer of the Head. The statement by St. Augustine about this is well known:

Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is the one who prays for us, prays in us, and is prayed to by us. He prays for us as our priest; he prays in us as our Head; and he is prayed to by us as our God. Let us therefore recognize him in our words and recognize his words in us.[11]

In this light the liturgy appears as an opus Dei, “a work of God,” not only because it has God as its object but also because it has God as its subject. God is not only prayed to by us but prays in us. The very cry “Abbà!” that the Spirit, coming upon us, addresses to the Father (see Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6) demonstrates that the one who prays in us through the Spirit is Jesus, the only Son of God. In fact, the Holy Spirit on his own could not address God by saying, “Abbà, Father,” because he is not “begotten” but instead “proceeds” from the Father. If the Spirit can do this, it is because he is the Spirit of Christ who continues his filial prayer in us.

It is above all when prayer becomes an effort and a struggle that we discover the enormous importance of the Holy Spirit for our prayer life. The Spirit then becomes the strength of our “weak” prayer, the light of our lifeless prayer; in a word, he becomes the soul of our prayer. Truly he “waters what is dry,” (“riga quod est aridum”), as we say in the sequence in the Spirit’s honor (Veni Sancte Spiritus).

All of this happens by faith. It is enough for me to think and say, “Father, you have given me the Spirit of Jesus; forming, therefore, ‘one Spirit’ with Jesus, I recite this psalm, I celebrate this Holy Mass, or I am simply silent in your presence here. I want to give you the same glory and joy that Jesus would have given you if he were the one still on earth praying to you.”

The Holy Spirit gives life in a particular way to the prayer of worship that is at the heart of every liturgical prayer. Its specific character derives from the fact that it is the only sentiment that we can foster solely and exclusively toward the divine Persons. It is what distinguishes latria (the supreme homage owed to God) from dulia (the reverence accorded to saints) and from hyperdulia (the special veneration reserved for the Blessed Virgin). We venerate the Blessed Mother, but we do not worship her, contrary to what some people think about Catholics.

Christian worship is also trinitarian. It is trinitarian in the manner in which it is carried out because it is adoration rendered “to the Father, through the Son, and in the Holy Spirit”; it is also trinitarian in its goal because adoration is given “to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit” together.

In Western spirituality, the one who most developed this theme in depth was Cardinal Pierre de Bérulle (1575-1629). For him, Christ is the perfect worshipper of the Father, to whom we need to unite ourselves to worship God with a worship of infinite value.[12] He writes, “From all eternity there was an infinitely adorable God, but there was still not an infinite worshipper. . . . You are now, O Jesus, that worshipper, that man, that servant who is infinite in power, in quality, and in dignity, and who fully satisfies that duty and renders that divine homage.”[13]

If there is something missing in this vision that has given the Church such wonderful fruit and has shaped French spirituality for centuries, it is the very fact that we noted in the constitution of Vatican II: the insufficient attention given to the role of the Holy Spirit. Moving from the incarnate Word, Bérulle’s discourse goes on to describe the “royal court” that follows and accompanies him: the Blessed Virgin, John the Baptist, the apostles, the saints. What is missing is the recognition of the unique role of the Holy Spirit.

In every movement of returning to God, St. Basil reminded us, everything begins with the Spirit, goes through the Son, and ends with the Father. It is not enough to recall every so often that there is also a Holy Spirit. We need to recognize his essential role both in the process of creatures coming forth from God and in the return of creatures to God. The gulf that exists between us and the Jesus of history is filled by the Holy Spirit. Without him everything in the liturgy is only remembrance; with him, however, everything is also presence.

In Exodus we read that on Sinai God showed Moses a cleft in the rock in which he could hide himself to contemplate God’s glory without perishing (see Ex 33:21). What is that cleft for us Christians today, that place where we can take refuge to contemplate and adore God? Commenting on this Exodus passage, St. Basil tells us, “It is in the Holy Spirit! How do we know that? From Jesus himself who said, ‘The true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.’”[14]

What perspective, what beauty, what power, what attraction all of this confers on the ideal of Christian worship! In the midst of the whirling vortex of this world, who does not at times feel the need to hide in that spiritual cleft to contemplate and adore God like Moses did?

4.     Intercessory Prayer

Next to worship, an essential component of liturgical prayer is intercession. In all of its prayers, the Church is interceding for itself and for the world, for the just and for sinners, for the living and the dead. This too is prayer that the Holy Spirit wants to animate and strengthen. St. Paul writes about the Spirit, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Rom 8:26-27).

The Holy Spirit intercedes for us and teaches us in turn to intercede for others. Doing intercessory prayer means uniting ourselves, by faith, to the risen Christ who lives in a perennial state of intercession for the world (see Rom 8:34; Heb 7:25; 1 Jn 2:1). Jesus offers us a sublime example of intercession in the great prayer that concluded his earthly life:

I am praying . . . for those whom you have given me. . . . Keep them in your name. . . . I do not pray that you should take them out of the world, but that you should keep them from the evil one. . . . Sanctify them in the truth. . . . I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word. (Jn 17:9ff)

In Isaiah it is said of the Suffering Servant that God will reward him with “a portion among the great” because “he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (Is 53:12). This prophecy found its perfect fulfillment in Jesus who, on the cross, interceded for those who crucified him (see Lk 23:34).

The efficacy of intercessory prayer does not depend on “multiplying many words” (see Mt 6:7) but on the degree of unity that one succeeds in having with the filial attitude of Christ. What is more helpful than multiplying words of intercession, however, is multiplying intercessors, that is, invoking the help of Mary and the saints. In the Feast of All Saints, the Church asks to be heard by God through “the abundance of intercessors” (“multiplicatis intercessoribus”)

Intercessors also multiply when they pray for one another. Saint Ambrose says,

If you pray for yourself, you will be the only one praying for yourself, and if anyone prays only for himself or herself, the grace obtained will be less than the grace of the person who intercedes for others. Now if each person prays for everyone, then each is praying for the others. To conclude, if you pray only for yourself, you are alone in praying for yourself. If instead you pray for everyone, then everyone will pray for you since you are included in “everyone.”[15]

The prayer of intercession is thus acceptable to God because it is the most unselfish prayer; it more closely reflects divine gratuitousness and is in accord with the will of God “who desires all men to be saved” (1 Tim 2:4). God is like a compassionate father who has the duty to punish but who looks for all the extenuating circumstances to avoid doing it and is happy when the brothers of the guilty party restrain him from doing it.

When there are no brotherly arms raised toward him, God laments in Scripture that “he saw that there was no man, and he wondered that there was none to intervene” (Is. 59:16). Ezekiel conveys this following lament by God: “I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before me for the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found none” (Ez 22:30).

The Word of God highlights the extraordinary power of the prayer of a person whom God has put at the head of his people and who has God’s own attitude. One psalm says that God would have decided to destroy his people because of the golden calf “had not Moses, his chosen one, stood in the breach before him, to turn away his wrath” (Ps 106:23).

I dare to suggest to pastors and spiritual guides, when you sense in prayer that God is angry with the people he has entrusted to you, do not immediately take sides with God but with the people! This is what Moses did, to the point of declaring that he was willing to be blotted out from the book of life with them (see Ex 32:32). The Bible lets us know that this is exactly what God wanted so that he could “abandon the plan of destroying his people.” When we are before the people, however, then we need to side with God whole-heartedly. Very soon after his intercessory prayer when Moses was before the people, it was then that he expressed his anger: he smashed the golden calf, scattered its powdered dust upon the water, and made the people drink it (see Ex 32:19ff). Only the person who has defended people before God and has carried the weight of their sin has the right—and will have the courage—to raise his voice later against them in defense of God as Moses did.

Let us conclude by proclaiming together the text that best reflects the place of the Holy Spirit and the trinitarian orientation in the liturgy, the final doxology in the Roman canon: “Through him, with him, and in him in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, almighty Father, for ever and ever. Amen.”


[1] Benedict XVI, Homily at St. Peter’s Basilica, April 5, 2012. All papal quotes are taken from the Vatican website.

[2] See Ian Ker, “Newman, the Councils, and Vatican II, Communio 28, no. 4 (Winter 2001): pp. 708-728.

[3] See Karl Barth, The Theology of Schleiermacher, ed. Dietrich Ritschl, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), p. 278.

[4] John Paul II, “A Concilio Constantinopolitano,” n. 7, March 25, 1981.

[5] See Romano Guardini, The Spirit of the Liturgy, trans. Ada Lane (London: Aeterna Press, 2015), and Joseph Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, trans. John Saward (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000).

[6] Giuseppe Alberigo and Joseph A. Komonchak (for the English version), eds., The History of Vatican II, vol. 3 (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2000), p. 192ff.

[7] Sacrosanctum concilium, n. 7.

[8] St. Basil, On the Holy Spirit 18, 47, trans. David Anderson (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary, 1997), pp. 74-75; see also PG 32, 153.

[9] Blessed Isaac of Stella, Letter on the Soul, 23, in The Selected Works of Isaace of Stella, ed. Dániel Deme (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2007), p. 157; see also PL 194, 1888.

[10] John Paul II, Novo millennio ineunte, n. 32.

[11] St. Augustine, Expositions on the Psalms, 85, 1, in Saint Augustine: The Complete Works, vol.III/18, trans. Maria Boulding, ed. John E. Rotelle (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 2002), p. 220; see also CCL 39, p. 1176.

[12] See Michel Dupuy, Bérulle, une spiritualité de l’adoration (Tournai: Desclée de Brouwer, 1964).

[13] Pierre de Bérulle, Discours de l’état et des grandeurs de Jésus (1623; reprint, Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1996). See also Bérulle and the French School: Selected Writings, trans. Lowell M. Glendon (New York: Paulist Press, 1989).

[14] St. Basil, On the Holy Spirit 26, 62 (PG 32, 181ff).

[15] See St. Ambrose, On Cain and Abel 1, 39, vol. 42, The Fathers of the Church (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2020), p. 395; see also CSEL 32, p. 372.


Father Cantalamessa’s 2nd Lent Homily 2016

‘God has spoken to us in Scripture of what fills his heart, namely, love.’

February 26, 2016

Here is the second Lenten homily given this year by the preacher of the Pontifical Household, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa.

* * *

Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, ofmcap.

Second Lenten Sermon 2016


A Reflection on the Dogmatic Constitution Dei verb

Let us continue our reflection on the principal documents of Vatican II. Of the four “constitutions” that were approved by it, the one on the Word of God, Dei Verbum, is the only one—along with the one on the Church, Lumen gentium—to have the qualifier “dogmatic” in its title. This can be explained by the fact that the Council intended with this text to reaffirm the dogma of the divine inspiration of Scripture and at the same time to define its relationship to tradition. In line with my intention to highlight just the spiritual and uplifting implications in the Council’s texts, I will limit myself here as well to reflections that aim at personal practice and meditation.

1.     A God who speaks

The biblical God is a God who speaks. “The Mighty One, God the Lord, speaks. . . . He does not keep silence” (Ps 50:1, 3). God himself repeats countless times in the Bible, “Hear, O my people, and I will speak” (Ps 50:7). On this point the Bible presents a very clear contrast with the idols who “have mouths, but do not speak” (Ps 115:5). God uses words to communicate with human beings.

But what meaning should we give to such anthropomorphic expressions as “God said to Adam,” “thus says the Lord,” “the Lord says,” “the oracle of the Lord,” and other similar statements? We are obviously dealing with speech that is different than human speech, a speech for the ears of the heart. God speaks the way he writes! Through the prophet Jeremiah he says, “I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts” (Jer 31:33).

God does not have a human mouth and breath: his mouth is the prophet, and his breath is the Holy Spirit. “You will be my mouth,” he says to his prophets, or “I will put my words in your mouth.” It has the same meaning as the famous verse, “Men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Pet 1:21). The term “inner locutions,” which indicates direct speech from God to certain mystic souls, can also be applied, in a qualitatively different and superior way, to how God speaks to the prophets in the Bible. We cannot exclude however that in certain cases, as in the baptism and in the transfiguration of Jesus, there was also an external voice resounding miraculously.

In any case, we are dealing with speech in a real sense; the creature receives a message that can be translated into human words. God’s speaking is so vivid and real that a prophet can recall precisely the place and time in which a certain word “came upon” him: “in the year that King Uzziah died” (Is 6:1); “in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I was among the exiles by the river Chebar” (Ez 1:1); “In the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month” (Hag 1:1).

God’s word is so concrete that it can be said to “fall” on Israel as if it were a stone: “The Lord has sent a word against Jacob, and it will [fall] upon Israel” (Is. 9:8). At other times the same concreteness and physicality is expressed not by the symbol of a stone that strikes but by bread that is eaten with delight: “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart” (Jer 15:16; see also Ez 3:1-3).

No human voice can reach human beings to the depth that the word of God reaches them. It “pierce[s] to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discern[s] the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb 4:12). At times God’s speech is like a powerful “thunder” that “breaks the cedars of Lebanon” (Ps 29:5). At other times it seems like “the sound of a gentle whisper” (see 1 Kgs 19:12). It knows all the tonalities of human speech.

The discourse on the nature of God’s speech changes radically at the moment in which we read in Scripture, “The Word became flesh” (Jn 1:14). With the coming of Christ, God now speaks with a human voice that is audible to the ears of the body. “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life . . . we proclaim also to you” (1 Jn 1:1, 3).

The Word was seen and heard! Nevertheless, what was heard was not the word of man but the word of God because the speaker is not nature but a person, and the person of Christ is the same divine Person as the Son of God. In him God no longer speaks through an intermediary, “through the prophets,” but in a person, because Christ “reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature” (Heb 1:2-3). Indirect discourse in the third person is replaced by direct discourse in the first person. It is no longer a case of “thus says the Lord!” or “the oracle of the Lord!” but “I say to you. . . .”

God’s speech, whether mediated by the prophets of the Old Testament or by the new, direct speech by Christ, after being orally transmitted was put into writing in the end, so we now have divine “Scriptures.”

Saint Augustine defines a sacrament as “a visible word” (verbum visible).[1] We can define the word as “a sacrament that is heard.” In every sacrament there is a visible sign and an invisible reality, grace. The word that we read in the Bible is, in itself, only a physical sign like the water in baptism or the bread in the Eucharist: it is a word in human vocabulary that is not different than other words. However, once faith and the illumination of the Holy Spirit enter in, we mysteriously enter into contact through these signs with the living truth and will of God, and we hear the very voice of Christ. Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet writes,

The body of Christ is just as truly present in the sacrament that we adore [the Eucharist] as the truth of Christ is in his gospel preaching. In the mystery of the Eucharist the species that we see are signs, but what is enclosed within them is the very body of Christ; in Scripture the words we hear are signs, but the thoughts that the words carry comprise the very truth of the Son of God.”[2]

The sacramentality of the Word of God is revealed in the fact that at times it works beyond the comprehension of the person who can be limited and imperfect; it works almost by itself—ex opere operato, just as we say about the sacraments. In the Church there have been and will be books that are more edifying than some books in the Bible (we only need to think of The Imitation of Christ), and yet none of them operates like the most humble of the inspired books.

I heard someone give this testimony on a television program in which I was taking part. He was a last-stage alcoholic who could not stop drinking for more than two hours; his family was on the brink of despair. He and his wife were invited to a meeting about the word of God. Someone there read a passage from Scripture. One verse in particular went through him like a ball of fire and gave him the assurance of being healed. After that, every time he was tempted to drink, he would run to open the Bible to that verse, and in rereading the words he felt strength return to him until he was completely healed. When he tried to share what that well-known verse was, his voice broke with emotion. It was the verse from the Song of Songs: “Your love is better than wine” (1:2). Scholars would have turned up their noses at this kind of application of Scripture but—like the man born blind who said to his critics, “I only know that I was blind and now I see” (see Jn 9:10ff)—that man could say, “I was dead and now I have come back to life.”

A similar thing happened to St. Augustine as well. At the height of his battle for chastity, he heard a voice say, “Tolle, lege!” (“Take and read!). Having the letters of St. Paul nearby, he opened the book with the intention of taking the first text he came across as God’s will. It was Romans 13:13ff: “Let us conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy.” He writes in his Confessions, “No further wished I to read, nor was there need to do so. Instantly, in truth, at the end of this sentence, as if before a peaceful light streaming into my heart, all the dark shadows of doubt fled away.[3]

2.     Lectio divina

After these general observations on the word of God, I would like to concentrate on the word of God as the path to personal sanctification. Dei verbum says, “The force and power in the word of God is so great that it stands as the support and energy of the Church, the strength of faith for her sons, the food of the soul, the pure and everlasting source of spiritual life.”[4]

Starting with Guigo II the Carthusian, different methods and approaches have been proposed for lectio divina.[5] They have the disadvantage, however, of having been devised almost always in relation to monastic and contemplative life and are therefore not well suited to our time in which the personal reading of the word of God is recommended to all believers, religious and lay.

Fortunately for us, Scripture itself proposes a method of reading the Bible that is accessible to everyone. In the Letter of James (Jas 1:18-25) we read a famous text on the word of God. We can extract from it a plan for lectio divina in three successive steps or stages: receive the word, meditate on the word, and put the word into practice. Let us reflect on each of these steps.

1.     Receive the Word

The first step is to hear the word: “Receive with meekness,” the apostle says, “the implanted word” (Jas 1:21). This first step encompasses all the forms and ways that a Christian comes into contact with the word of God: we hear the word in the liturgy, in Bible studies, in writings about the Bible, and—what is irreplaceable—in personal reading of the Bible. In Dei verbum, we read,

The sacred synod also earnestly and especially urges all the Christian faithful, especially Religious, to learn by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures the “excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:8). . . . They should gladly put themselves in touch with the sacred text itself, whether it be through the liturgy, rich in the divine word, or through devotional reading, or through instructions suitable for the purpose and other aids.[6]

In this phase there are two dangers to avoid. The first is to stop at this initial step and convert a personal reading of the Word of God into an impersonal reading. This is a very considerable danger especially in places of academic formation. According to Søren Kierkegaard, a person who waits to apply the word of God to his life until he has resolved all the problems connected to the text, the variants, and the divergence of scholarly opinions, will never reach any conclusion: “God’s word is given in order that you act upon it, not that you shall practice interpreting obscure passages.” It is not “the obscure passages” in the Bible that are frightening, this philosopher said, it is the clear passages! [7]

Saint James compares reading the word of God to looking at oneself in a mirror. The one who limits himself to studying the sources, the variants, and the literary genres of the Bible and does nothing more is like a person who spends time looking at the mirror—examining its shape, its material, its style, its age—without ever looking at himself in the mirror. The mirror is not fulfilling its proper function for him. Scholarly criticism of the word of God is indispensable and we can never be grateful enough to those who spend their lives smoothing out the path for an ever-increasing understanding of the sacred texts, but scholarship does not by itself exhaust the meaning of Scripture; it is necessary, but it is not sufficient.

The other danger is fundamentalism, taking everything in the Bible literally without any hermeneutical mediation. These two excesses, hypercriticism and fundamentalism, are only seemingly opposite since both share in common the defect of stopping at the letter and ignoring the Spirit.

With the parable of the sower and the seed (see Lk 8:5-15), Jesus offers assistance for each of us to discover our condition regarding receiving the word of God. He distinguishes four kinds of soil: the path’s soil, the rocky soil, the soil with thorns, and good soil. He then explains what the different types of soil symbolize: the path represents those in whom the words of God are not even implanted; the rocky soil represents those who are superficial and inconstant, who hear the word with joy but do not give the word a chance to take root; the soil with thorns represents those who let themselves be overwhelmed by the preoccupations and pleasures of life; the good soil represents those who hear the word and bear fruit through perseverance.

In reading this, we could be tempted to skip hurriedly over the first three categories, expecting to end up in the fourth category, which, despite all our limitations, we think depicts us. In reality—and here is the surprise—the good soil represents those who easily recognize themselves in each of the first three categories! They are the people who humbly recognize how many times they have listened in a distracted way, how many times they have been inconsistent about intentions they formed in hearing a word from the gospel, how many times they have let themselves be overwhelmed by activism and worldly preoccupations. These are the ones who, without knowing it, are becoming the truly good soil. May the Lord grant that we too be counted in that number!

Concerning the duty of receiving the words of God and of not letting any of them fall to the ground empty, let us listen to the exhortation that Origen, one of the greatest lovers of the word of God, gave to the Christians of his time:

You who are accustomed to take part in divine mysteries know, when you receive the body of the Lord, how to protect it with all caution and veneration lest any small part fall from it, lest anything of the consecrated gift be lost. For you believe, and correctly, that you are answerable if anything falls from there by neglect. But if you are so careful to preserve his body, and rightly so, how do you think that there is less guilt to have neglected God’s word than to have neglected his body?[8]

1.     Contemplate the Word

The second step suggested by St. James consists in “fixing our gaze” on the word, in placing ourselves before that mirror for a long time, in short, in meditation and contemplation of the word. The Fathers used images of chewing and ruminating to describe this. Guigo II wrote, “Reading, as it were, puts food whole into your mouth, meditation chews it and breaks it up.”[9] According to St. Augustine, “When we listen [to God’s word], we are like the clean animal eating, and when later we call to mind what we heard, . . . we are like the animal ruminating.”[10]

People who look at themselves in the mirror of the word learn to understand “how things are”; they learn to know themselves and discover their dissimilarity to the image of God and the image of Christ. Jesus says, “I do not seek my own glory” (Jn 8:50): here is a mirror before you, and suddenly you see how far you are from Jesus if you are seeking your own glory. “Blessed are the poor in spirit”: here is a mirror once again before you, and you suddenly discover you are full of attachments and superfluous things, and above all full of yourself. “Love is patient . . .” and you realize how impatient you are, how envious, how concerned with yourself. More than “searching the Scriptures” (see Jn 5:39), the issue is letting Scripture search you. The Letter of Hebrews says,

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are open and laid bare to the eyes of him with whom we have to do. (Heb 4:12-13).

In the mirror of the word, fortunately, we do not see only ourselves and our shortcomings; first of all we see God’s face, or better, we see God’s heart. St. Gregory the Great says, “What is sacred Scripture but a kind of epistle of almighty God to his creature? . . . Learn the heart of God in the word of God.”[11] Jesus’ saying, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt 12:34), is also true of God. God has spoken to us in Scripture of what fills his heart, namely, love. All the Scriptures were written with the goal that human beings would understand how much God loves them and in learning this might become enkindled with love for him.[12] The Jubilee Year of Mercy is a magnificent occasion to reread all of Scripture from this perspective as the history of God’s mercy.

1.     Do the Word

Now we come to the third phase of the path proposed by the apostle James: “Be doers of the word . . . for a doer that acts, he shall be blessed in his doing” (Jas 1:22, 25). On the other hand, “If any one is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who observes his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like” (Jas 1:23).

Being a “doer of the word” is also what is most on Jesus’ heart: “My mother and my brethren are those who hear the word of God and do it” (Lk 8:21). Without “doing the word” everything is illusion and building on sand (see Matt 7:26). People cannot even say that they have understood the word because, as St. Gregory the Great says, the word of God is truly understood only when people begin to practice it.[13]

This third step consists, in practice, in obeying the word. The word of God, under the action of the Spirit, becomes the expression of the living will of God for me at any given moment. If we listen attentively, we will realize with surprise that there is not a day that goes by in which—in the liturgy, in the recitation of a psalm, or at other times—we do not discover a word about which we are forced to say, “This is for me! This is what I should do!”

Obedience to the word of God is obedience we can always give. Obedience to the commands of visible authorities only occurs from time to time; obedience in a serious matter might only be required three or four times in one’s whole life. However, obedience to the word of God is something we can do at every moment. It is an obedience that all can perform, subordinates and superiors. St. Ignatius of Antioch gave this wonderful advice to one of his colleagues in the episcopate: “Let nothing be done without your consent, nor do anything without God’s consent.”[14]

In practical terms, obeying the word of God means following good inspirations. Our spiritual progress depends in large part on our sensitivity to good inspirations and our readiness to respond. A word of God has suggested an idea to you, it has placed on your heart a desire for a good confession, for a reconciliation, for an act of charity; it invites you to interrupt work for a moment and address an act of love to God. Do not delay, do not let the inspiration pass by. “Timeo Iesum transeuntem” (“I’m terrified of Jesus passing by”), said St. Augustine,”[15] which is like saying, “I am terrified that his good inspiration is passing by and will not come back.”

Let us conclude with a thought from an ancient Desert Father.[16] Our mind, he said, is like a mill; the first wheat that is put into it in the morning is what we continue to grind all day. Let us hurry, therefore, to put the good wheat of the word of God into this mill the first thing in the morning. Otherwise, the devil will come and put his tares in it, and for the whole day our minds will do nothing but grind those tares. The particular word we could put in the mill of our mind for today is the one that has been chosen for the Year of Mercy: “Be merciful as your heavenly Father!”



[1] St. Augustine, Tractates on the Gospel of John 55-111, 80, 3, vol. 90, trans. John W. Rettig, The Fathers of the Church (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2014), p. 117.

[2] Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet, “Sur la parole de Dieu,” in Oeuvres oratoires de Bossuet, vol. 3 (Paris: Desclée de Brouwer, 1927), p. 627.

[3] S. Augustine, Confessions, VIII, 29, trans. John K. Ryan (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1960), p. 202.

[4] Dei verbum, n. 21. Quotes from papal documents are taken from the Vatican website.

[5] See Guigo II, The Ladder of Monks: A Letter on the Contemplative Life, trans. Edmund Colledge and James Walsh (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1981).

[6] Dei verbum, n. 25.

[7] Søren Kierkegaard, Self-Examination / Judge Yourself, ed. and trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990), p. 29.

[8] Origen, “Homily 13 on Exodus,” 3, in Homilies on Genesis and Exodus, trans. Ronald E. Heine (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2010), pp. 380-381.

[9] Guigo II, The Ladder of Monks, 3, p. 68.

[10] Augustine, Expositions on the Psalms, 46, 1, The Works of Saint Augustine, Part 3, vol. 16, trans. Maria Boulding, ed. John E. Rotelle (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 2000), p. 325.

[11] See Gregory the Great, “Letter 31, to Theodorus,” in Epistles of Gregory the Great, vol. 12, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, trans. James Barmby, eds. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), p. 156.

[12] See Augustine, First Catechetical Instruction, 1, 8, vol. 2, Ancient Christian Writers (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1978), p. 23.

[13] Gregory the Great, Homilies on the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel, 1, 10, 31, trans. Theodosia Tomkinson, 2nd ed. (Etna, CA: Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies, 2008), pp. 200-201; see also CCL 142, p. 159.

[14] Ignatius of Antioch, “Letter to Polycarp,” 4, 1, in The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations, 3rd ed., ed. and rev. trans. Michael W. Holmes (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), p. 265.


[15] Augustine, “Sermon 88,” 13, The Works of Saint Augustine, Part 3, vol. 3, trans. Edmund Hill, ed. John E. Rotelle (Brooklyn, NY: New City Press, 1991), p. 341.

[16] See Abbot Moses in John Cassian, Conferences, “Conference One,” 18, trans. Colm Luibhéid (Mahwah NJ: Paulist Press, 1985), p. 52.


Father Cantalamessa’s 3rd Lent Homily 2016

Mar 04, 2016

Here is the third Lenten homily given this year by the preacher of the Pontifical Household, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa.

* * *

Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, ofmcap.

Third Lenten Sermon 2016


The Holy Spirit, the Principal Agent of Evangelization

Let us continue and conclude today our reflections on the constitution Dei verbum, that is, on the word of God. Last time, I spoke about lectio divina, the reading of Scripture for personal growth. Following the biblical plan outlined by St. James, we distinguished three successive steps: receive the word, meditate on the word, and put the word into practice.

There remains a fourth step, which is the one I would like to reflect on today: proclaim the word. Dei verbum speaks briefly of the privileged place that the word of God should have in the Church’s preaching (see DV, n. 24), but it does not focus directly on preaching the word since the Council dedicated a separate document to this topic, Ad gentes divinitus (“On the Missionary Activity of the Church”).

After this Council text, the discussion was taken up and updated by Blessed Paul VI in Evangelii nuntiandi, by Saint John Paul II in Redemptoris missio, and by Pope Francis in Evangelii gaudium. From the doctrinal and operative point of view, therefore, everything has already been said, and said at the highest level of the magisterium. It would be foolish of me to think that I could add anything to it. However, what it is possible for me to do, in line with the nature of these meditations, is to focus on some important spiritual aspects of the topic. To do that, I will begin with the statement often repeated by Blessed Paul VI that “the Holy Spirit is the principal agent of evangelization.”[1]

1.   The medium is the message

If I want to share some news, the first questions I ask myself is, “How will I transmit it? In the press? On the radio? On television?” The medium is so important that modern science of social communication has coined the slogan “The medium is the message.”[2] Now, what is the first natural medium by which a word is transmitted? It is breath, a flow of air, the sound of a voice. My breath, so to speak, takes the word that has formed in the hidden recesses of my mind and brings it to the ears of the hearer. All the other means of communication only reinforce and amplify this first medium of the breath and voice. Written words come next and presume a live voice, since the letters of the alphabet are only symbols that represent the sounds.

The word of God also follows this law. It is transmitted by breath. And what is, or who is, the breath or the ruah of God according to the Bible? We know who it is: it is the Holy Spirit! Can my breath animate your words or your breath give life to my words? No, my word can only be articulated with my breath and your words by your breath. In an analogous way, the word of God cannot be articulated except by the breath of God, the Holy Spirit.

This is a very simple and almost obvious truth, but it is of enormous importance. It is the fundamental law of every proclamation and every evangelization. Human news is transmitted in person or via radio, cable, satellite, etc. Divine news, since it is divine, is transmitted by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the genuine, essential means of its communication, and without him we would perceive only the human language in which the message is clothed. The words of God are “Spirit and life” (Jn 6:63), and therefore they cannot be transmitted or received except “in the Spirit.”

This fundamental law is what we see in action concretely in the history of salvation. Jesus began preaching “in the power of the Spirit” (Lk 4:14). He himself declared that “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor” (Lk 4:18). Appearing to the apostles in the upper room the night of Easter, he said, “‘As the Father has sent me, even so I send you!’ And when he had had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (Jn 20:21-22). In commissioning the apostles to go into the whole world, Jesus also conferred on them the means to accomplish that task—the Holy Spirit—and he conferred it, significantly, through the sign of his breathing on them.

According to Mark and Matthew, the last word Jesus said to his apostles before ascending into heaven was “Go!”: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation” (Mk 16:15; Mt 28:19). According to Luke, however, the final command of Jesus seems to be the opposite: Stay! Remain!: “Stay in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high” (Lk 24:49). There is of course no contradiction here: it means, “go into the whole world but not before receiving the Holy Spirit.”

The whole account of Pentecost serves to highlight this truth. The Holy Spirit comes, and then Peter and the other apostles begin to speak in loud voices about Christ crucified and risen, and their speech has such anointing and power that 3,000 people feel their hearts pierced. The Holy Spirit, having come upon the apostles, becomes in them an irresistible urge to evangelize.

St. Paul goes so far as to affirm that without the Holy Spirit it is impossible to proclaim that “Jesus is Lord” (1 Cor 12:3), which, according to the New Testament is the beginning and the summation of all Christian proclamation. As for St. Peter, he defines the apostles as “those who preached the good news to you through the Holy Spirit” (1 Pet 1:12). The words “good news,” or gospel, indicates the content, and “through the Holy Spirit” indicates the means or the method of the proclamation.

2.   Words and deeds

The first thing to avoid when we speak about evangelization is to think that it is synonymous with preaching and is thus reserved for a particular category of Christians. Speaking of the nature of revelation, Dei verbum says, “This plan of revelation is realized by deeds and words having an inner unity: the deeds wrought by God in the history of salvation manifest and confirm the teaching and realities signified by the words, while the words proclaim the deeds and clarify the mystery contained in them.”[3]

This assertion goes back directly to St. Gregory the Great: “Our Lord and Savior instructs us at one time by His words, and at another by His works” (aliquando nos sermonibus, aliquando vero operibus admonet).[4] This law that applies to revelation at its beginning also applies to its dissemination. In other words, we do not evangelize only with words but prior to that with our works and life, not with what we say but with what we do and who we are.

Marshall McLuhan once applied his slogan “the medium is the message” in a way that, for me, is extremely enlightening. He said that only in Christ Jesus is there “no distance or separation between the medium and the message: it is the one case where we can say that the medium and the message are fully one and the same.”[5] Such a total identification between the herald and the message could only be found in Christ, but in a derived sense it should also be true of anyone who proclaims the gospel. Here, the messenger is not the message. However, if preachers have given their lives totally to Christ, if they can say with Saint Paul, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20), then it can be truly said of them that the medium is the message, that their very life is their message.

There is a saying in English that takes on a particular significance when applied to evangelization: “Actions speak louder than words.” A statement from Paul VI in Evangelii nuntiandi that is also often repeated says, “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.”[6]

One of the most famous moral philosophers of the last century (whose name need not be mentioned) was seen one evening in a location and in the company of people that were not very edifying. A colleague asked him how he could reconcile that with what he wrote in his books and he answered him calmly, “Have you ever seen a street sign that began to walk in the direction it pointed to?” It was brilliant answer, but it is self-condemning. People despise human “street signs” that point in which direction to go, but they themselves do not move an inch.

I can give a good example from the religious order I belong to of the efficacy of testimony. The major contribution, even if it is hidden, that the Capuchin Order has made to evangelization in the five centuries of its history has not been, I believe, that of its professional preachers but that of the host of “lay brothers”: simple and uneducated doorkeepers of monasteries or mendicants. Entire populations have rediscovered and kept their faith because of contact with them. One of them, Blessed Nicola of Gesturi, spoke so little that the people called him “Brother Silence,” and yet in Sardinia, 58 years after his death, the Capuchin Order is identified with Brother Nicola of Gesturi, or with Brother Ignatius of Laconi, another holy mendicant friar of the past. The words Francis of Assisi addressed one day to the preachers among his brothers have come to pass: “Why do you boast of men converted when my simple brethren have converted them by their prayers?”[7]

One time during an ecumenical dialogue, a Pentecostal brother—not to argue but to try to understand—asked me why we Catholics called Mary “the star of evangelization.” It was an occasion for me as well to reflect on this title attributed to Mary by Paul VI at the end of Evangelii nuntiandi. I came to the conclusion that Mary is the star of evangelization because she did not carry a particular word to a particular people like the major evangelists in history, but she carried the Word made flesh and carried him (even physically!) to the whole world! She never preached, she said few words, but she was full of Jesus, and wherever she went she gave off such a scent of his presence that John the Baptist could sense it even in his mother’s womb. Who can deny that Our Lady of Guadalupe had a fundamental role in the evangelization and the faith of the Mexican people?

Speaking here in the Curia, I think it is appropriate for me to highlight the contribution that those who spend the majority of their time behind a desk or in dealing with completely different affairs can contribute—and in fact have contributed—to evangelization. If someone conceives of his work as service to the pope and to the Church, if he renews that intention every so often and does not allow concern for his career to take priority in his heart, then that humble employee of a Congregation contributes more to evangelization than a professional preacher who seeks to please people more than God.

3.   How to become evangelizers

If the duty to evangelize is for everyone, let us try to understand what premises and conditions are involved for people truly to become evangelizers. The first condition is suggested by a word that God addressed to Abraham: “Leave your country and go” (see Gen 12:1). There is no mission or sending out without a prior leaving. We often speak about a church that “goes out.” We need to realize that the first door we need to exit is not that of the Church, of the community, of the institutions, or of sacristies; it is the door of our “I.”

More demanding than the call addressed to Abraham is the one that Jesus addresses to the person he asks to collaborate with him in proclaiming the kingdom: “Go, leave your ‘I’ behind, deny yourself. Everything belongs to me now. Your life is changing, my face is becoming your face. It is no longer you who live but I who live in you.” This is the only way to overcome the teeming mass of envies, jealousies, fears of embarrassment, rancors, resentments, and antipathies that fill the heart of the old self—in a word we need to be “indwelt” by the gospel and to spread the scent of the gospel.

The Bible offers us an image that holds more truth than entire pastoral treatises about proclamation: that of eating a book, as we read in Ezekiel:

And when I looked, behold, a hand was stretched out to me, and, behold, a written scroll was in it; and he spread it before me; and it had writing on the front and on the back, and there were written on it words of lamentation and mourning and woe. And he said to me, “Son of man, eat what is offered to you; eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.” So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat. And he said to me, “Son of man, eat this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it.” Then I ate it; and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey. (Ez 2:9–3:3; see also Rev 10: 8-10).

There is an enormous difference between the word of God merely studied and then proclaimed and the word of God first “eaten” and assimilated. In the first case the preacher can be said “to sound just like a book,” but he does not succeed in reaching the hearts of the people because only what comes from the heart reaches the heart. Taking up the image in Ezekiel again, the author of Revelation brings us a small but significant variation. He says that the book he swallowed was sweet as honey on his lips but bitter in his stomach (see Rev 10:10). This is the case because before the word can wound the hearers it must wound the preacher, showing him his sin and prompting him to conversion.

This cannot be done in a day. There is, however, one thing that can be done in one day, even this very day: assenting to this perspective, making an irrevocable decision, insofar as we can, not to live for ourselves any more but for the Lord (see Rom 14:7-9). All of this cannot happen merely as the result of a person’s ascetic effort; it is also a work of grace, a fruit of the Holy Spirit. In the liturgy we pray in the Fourth Eucharistic Prayer, “That we might live no longer for ourselves but for him who died and rose again for us, he sent the Holy Spirit from you, Father, as the first fruits for those who believe.”

It is easy to know how to obtain the Holy Spirit with a view to evangelization. We only need to see how Jesus obtained the Holy Spirit and how the Church obtained him on the day of Pentecost. Luke describes the event of Jesus’ baptism this way: “When Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him” (Lk 3:21-22). It was Jesus’ prayer that split open the heavens and made the Holy Spirit come down, and the same thing happened to the apostles. The Holy Spirit came upon the apostles at Pentecost while they “with one accord devoted themselves to prayer” (Acts 1:14).

The effort for a renewed missionary commitment is exposed to two principal dangers. One is inertia, laziness, not doing anything and letting all the others do the work. The second is to launch into feverish and futile activity on a merely human level that results in losing contact little by little with the wellspring of the word and its efficacy. This would be setting oneself up for failure. The more the volume of activity goes up, the more the volume of prayer should go up. Someone could object that this is absurd because there is only so much time. That is true, but cannot the one who multiplied the bread also multiply time? Besides, this is something God is always doing and that we experience every day: after having prayed, we do the same things in less than half the time.

Someone could also say, “But how can you remain calmly praying and not run when the house is on fire?” That is also true. But imagine this scenario: a team of firefighters who hear an alarm rush with sirens blaring to where the fire is. However, once there, they realize they do not have any water in their tanks, not even a drop. That is what we are like when we run to preach without praying. It is not the case that words are lacking; on the contrary, the less one prays the more one speaks, but they are empty words that do not reach anyone.

4.   Evangelization and compassion

Alongside prayer, another way to obtain the Holy Spirit is having righteous intentions. A person’s intention in preaching Christ can be contaminated for various reasons. St. Paul lists some of them in the Letter to the Philippians: preaching for one’s own advantage, through envy, through partisanship and rivalry (see Phil 1:15-17). The one cause that encompasses all the others, however, is the lack of love. St. Paul says, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Cor 13:1).

Experience has made me discover one thing: someone can proclaim Jesus Christ for reasons that have nothing to do with love. Someone can proclaim him through proselytism or to legitimize his small church through an increase in the number of members, especially if he founded that church or it was recently founded. Someone can proclaim him—taking literally the gospel injunction to carry the gospel to the ends of the earth (see Mk 13:10)—so as to fill up the number of the elect and thus hasten the return of the Lord.

Some of these motives are not bad in themselves. But if they are the only ones, they are not enough. They lack that genuine love and compassion for people that is the soul of the gospel. The gospel of love can only be proclaimed through love. If we do not strive to love the people we have before us, the words will easily become transformed in our hands into stones that wound and from which the hearers need to take refuge, like people who take cover in a hailstorm.

I always bear in mind the lesson that the Bible implicitly teaches us through the story of Jonah. Jonah was compelled by God to go preach in Nineveh. But the Ninevites were the enemies of Israel, so Jonah did not love them. He is visibly pleased and satisfied when he can cry out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (Jon 3:4). The prospect of their destruction does not displease him in the least. However, the Ninevites repent and God spares them from punishment. At that point Jonah goes through a crisis. God says to him, almost as though he were defending himself, “You pity the plant. . . . And should I not pity that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left?” (Jon 4:10-11). God has to spend more effort to convert him, the preacher, than to convert all the inhabitants of Nineveh.

Have love, then, for people, but also and above all have love for Jesus. It is the love of Christ that ought to impel us. “Do you love me?” Jesus asks Peter. “Feed my sheep” (see Jn 21:15ff). Shepherding and preaching must come from genuine love for Christ. We need to love Jesus because only the person who is in love with Jesus can proclaim him to the world with deep conviction. People speak passionately only about what they are in love with.

Proclaiming the gospel, whether through life or words, we not only give glory to Jesus but we also give him joy. If it is true that “The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus,”[8] it is also true that the one who spreads the gospel fills the heart of Jesus with joy. The sense of joy and well-being that a person experiences in suddenly feeling life return to a limb that was unable to move or was paralyzed is a small indication of the joy that Christ experiences when he feels the Holy Spirit bring some dead member of his body back to life again.

There is a saying in the Bible that I had never noticed before now: “Like the cold of snow in the time of harvest is a faithful messenger to those who send him; he refreshes the spirit of his masters” (Prov 25:13). The images of heat and coolness during harvest make us think of Jesus on the cross who cries, “I thirst!” He is the great “harvester” who is thirsty for souls, whom we are called to refresh with our humble, devoted service to the gospel. May the Holy Spirit, “the principal agent of evangelization,” grant that we give Jesus this joy through our words and our works, according to the charism and the office that each of us has in the Church.


Translated from Italian by Marsha Daigle Williamson

[1] Blessed Paul VI, Evangelii nuntiandi, n. 75, December 8, 1975. All papal quotes are taken from the Vatican website.

[2] The slogan is from Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (New York: McGraw Hill, 1964). This is the title for chapter 1, p. 7.

[3] Dei verbum, n. 2.

[4] Gregory the Great, “Homily on the Pastoral Office” [Homily 17 on the Gospels], trans. Patrick Boyle (New York: Benziger Brothers, 1908), p. 1.

[5] Marshall McLuhan, The Medium and the Light: Reflections on Religion, eds. Eric McLuhan and Jacek Szklarek (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock 1999), p. 103.

[6] Evangelii nuntiandi, n. 41.

[7] Thomas Celano, The Second Life of St. Francis, in The Lives of St. Francis of Assisi, 123, 164, trans. A. G. Ferrers Howell (London: Methuen, 1908), p. 295; see also FF, 749.

[8] Pope Francis, Evangelii guadium, n. 1.



Father Cantalamessa’s 4th Lent Homily 2016

Mar 11, 2016
Here is the fourth Lenten homily given this year by the preacher of the Pontifical Household, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa.

* * *

Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, ofmcap.

Fourth Lenten Sermon 2016


in Gaudium et spes and Today

I am devoting this meditation to a spiritual reflection on Gaudium et spes, the pastoral constitution on the Church in the world. Of the various social problems treated in this document —culture, economy, social justice, peace— the most relevant and problematic one concerns marriage and family. The Church devoted the last two synods of bishops to it. The majority of us present here do not live in that state of life, but we all need to know its problems to understand and help the vast majority of God’s people who do live in the marital state, especially today now that it is at the center of attacks and threats from all sides.

Gaudium et spes treats the family at great length in the Second Part (nos. 46-53). There is no need to quote statements from it because it repeats the traditional Catholic doctrine that everyone knows, except for a new emphasis on the mutual love between the spouses that is openly recognized now as a primary good in marriage alongside procreation.

In regard to marriage and family, Gaudium et spes, in its well-known way of proceeding, focuses first on the positive achievements in the modern world (“the joys and the hopes”) and only secondly on the problems and dangers (“the griefs and anxieties”).[1] I plan to follow that same method, taking into account, however, the dramatic changes that have occurred in this area in the last half century since then. I will briefly recall God’s plan for marriage and family since, as believers, we always need to start from that point, and then see what biblical revelation can offer us as a solution to current problems in this area. I am intentionally refraining from commenting on some of the specific problems discussed in the Synod of Bishops regarding which only the pope now has the right to say the last word.

1.   Marriage and family in the divine plan and in the gospel of Christ

The book of Genesis has two distinct accounts of the creation of the first human couple that go back to two different traditions: the Yahwist tradition (10th century BC) and the later one called “Priestly” (6th century BC). In the Priestly tradition (see Gen 1:26-28), the man and the woman are created simultaneously and not one from the other; male and female beings are linked to the image of God: “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27). The primary purpose for the union of the man and woman is seen as being fruitful and filling the earth.

In the Yahwist tradition, which is the most ancient (see Gen 2:18-25), the woman is taken out of the man. The creation of the two sexes is seen as a remedy for the loneliness of the man: “It is not good that the man should be alone: I will make him a helper fit for him” (Gen 2:18). The unitive factor is emphasized here more than the procreative factor: “A man . . . clings to his wife and they become one flesh” (Gen 2:24). They are free and open about their own sexuality and that of the other: “The man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed” (Gen 2:25).

I found the most convincing explanation for this divine “invention” of the distinction between the sexes in a poet, Paul Claudel:

Man is so proud! There was no other way [except inventing the sexes] to get him to understand his neighbor, to pound it into him. There was no other way to get him to understand the dependence, the necessity, and the need of another besides himself except through the existence of this being [woman] who is different from him by the very fact of her separate existence.[2]

To open oneself to the opposite sex is the first step in opening oneself to the other who is a neighbor until we reach the Other, with a capital letter, God. Marriage begins with a mark of humility: it is the recognition of dependency and thus of one’s own condition as a creature. To fall in love with a woman or a man is to make the most radical act of humility. It is to make oneself a beggar and say to the other, “I am not enough in myself; I need you too.” If, as Friedrich Schleiermacher believed, the essence of religion consists in the sentiment of dependence on God (Abhängigkeitsgefühl),[3] then we can say that human sexuality is the first school of religion.

Up to this point I have described God’s plan. The rest of the Bible cannot, however, be understood if, along with the creation story, we do not take into account the fall, especially what is said to the woman: “I will greatly multiply your pain in child-bearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (Gen 3:16). The dominance of the man over the woman is part of the consequence of man’s sin, not part of God’s plan. With these words to Eve, God was announcing her predicament in advance, not endorsing it.

The Bible is a divine-human book not only because its authors are God and men but also because it describes the intertwining of the faithfulness of God with the unfaithfulness of human beings. This is clear especially when we compare God’s plan for marriage and family with its practical outworking in the history of the chosen people. Continuing in the book of Genesis, we see that the son of Cain, Lamech, violates the law of monogamy by taking two wives. Noah and his family appear to be an exception in the midst of the widespread corruption of his time. The patriarchs Abraham and Jacob have children by many wives. Moses sanctions the practice of divorce; David and Solomon maintain actual harems of women.

Beyond these examples of individual transgressions, the departure from the original ideal is visible in the basic concept that Israel had of marriage. Deviation from the ideal involves two pivotal points. The first is that marriage becomes a means and not an end. The Old Testament, on the whole, considers marriage a structure of patriarchal authority oriented primarily to the perpetuation of the clan. It is in this context that the institutions of levirate marriage (see Deut 25:5-10), of concubinage (see Gen 16), and of provisional polygamy can be understood. The ideal of a shared life between a man and a woman based on a personal and reciprocal relationship is not forgotten, but it moves into second place after the good of offspring. The second serious deviation from the ideal concerns the status of the woman: from being a companion for the man endowed with the same dignity, she appears increasingly more subordinate to the man and existing for his sake.

An important role in keeping God’s original plan for marriage alive is played by the prophets—in particular Hosea, Isaiah, Jeremiah—and by the Song of Songs. Adopting the union of man and woman as a symbol or reflection of the covenant between God and his people, they restore to first place the value of mutual love, faithfulness, and indissolubility that characterize God’s attitude toward Israel.

Jesus, come to “sum up” human history in himself, accomplishes this recapitulation in regard to marriage as well.

And the Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female [Gen 1:27] and said ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one’? So they are no longer two but one. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.” (Matt 19:3-6)

His adversaries were operating in the narrow sphere of hypothetical casuistry (asking if it were lawful to repudiate the wife for any reason or if there needed to be a specific and serious reason). Jesus answered them by going to the heart of the issue and returning to the beginning. In his citations, Jesus refers to both accounts of the institution of marriage, taking elements from each of them, but, as we see, he emphasizes above all the communion of persons.

What comes next in Matthew’s text, the issue of divorce, also follows along the same line: he reaffirms faithfulness and the indissolubility of the marriage bond even above the good of offspring, which people had used in the past to justify polygamy, levirate marriage, and divorce.

They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to put her away?” He said to them, “For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery; and he who marries a divorced woman, commits adultery” (Matt 19:7-9)

The parallel text in Mark shows that even in the case of divorce men and women, according to Jesus, are placed on a level of absolute equality: “‘Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery’” (Mk 10:11-12).

With the words “What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder,” Jesus affirms that there is divine intervention by God in every matrimonial union. The elevation of marriage to the status of a “sacrament,” that is, a sign of God’s action, does not then need to be founded only on the weak argument of Jesus’ presence at the wedding at Cana and on the text in Ephesians that speaks of marriage as a reflection of the union of Christ and the Church (see Eph 5:32). It begins explicitly with Jesus’ teaching during his earthly ministry and is also part of his reference to how things were from the beginning. John Paul II was correct when he defined marriage as “the primordial sacrament.”[4]

2.   What the biblical teaching says to us today

This, in brief, is the doctrine of the Bible, but we cannot stop there. “Scripture,” said Gregory the Great, “grows with those who read it” (cum legentibus crescit).[5] It reveals new implications little by little that come to light because of new questions. And today new questions, or challenges, about marriage and family abound.

We find ourselves facing a firestorm that is apparently global about the biblical plan for sexuality, marriage, and family. How are we to act in relation to this disturbing phenomenon? The Council initiated a new approach that involves dialogue rather than confrontation with the world and even includes self-criticism. I believe we need to apply this very approach to the discussion about marriage and family. Applying this method of dialogue means trying to see if, behind even the most radical challenges, there is something we can receive.

The criticism of the traditional model of marriage and family that has brought us to today’s unacceptable proposals for their deconstruction began with the Enlightenment and Romanticism. For different reasons, these two movements expressed their opposition to the traditional view of marriage, understood exclusively in its objective “ends”—offspring, society, and the Church—and viewed too little in its subjective and interpersonal value. Everything was required of future spouses except that they love each other and freely choose each other. Even today, in many parts of the world there are spouses who meet and see each other for the first time on their wedding day. In contrast to that kind of model, the Enlightenment saw marriage as a pact between married people and Romanticism saw it as a communion of love between spouses.

But this criticism is in agreement with the original meaning of marriage in the Bible, not against it! The Second Vatican Council already accepted this perspective when, as I said, it recognized the mutual love and assistance between the spouses as an equally primary good of marriage. In line with Gaudium et spes, St. John Paul II said in one of his Wednesday teachings,

The human body, with its sex, and its masculinity and femininity . . . is not only a source of fruitfulness and procreation, as in the whole natural order. It includes right from the beginning the nuptial attribute, that is, the capacity of expressing love, that love in which the person becomes a gift and—by means of this gift—fulfills the meaning of his being and existence.[6]

In his encyclical Deus caritas est, Pope Benedict XVI went even further, writing profound new things regarding eros in marriage and in the relationship between God and human beings. He wrote, “This close connection between eros and marriage in the Bible has practically no equivalent in extra-biblical literature.”[7] One of the most serious wrongs we do to God is to end up making everything that concerns love and sex be an area saturated with wickedness in which God should not enter and is unwanted. It is as if Satan, and not God, were the creator of the sexes and the specialist in love.

We believers, and many non-believers as well, are far from accepting the conclusions that some people draw from these premises today, for example, that any kind of eros is enough to constitute a marriage, including between people of the same sex. However, our rejection of this acquires greater strength and credibility if it is combined with a recognition of the fundamental goodness of sexuality together with a healthy self-criticism.

We cannot omit the mention of what Christians have contributed to forming the negative vision of marriage that modern western culture has rejected so vehemently. The authority of Augustine, reinforced on this point by Thomas Aquinas, ended up casting a negative light on the physical union of spouses, which was considered as the means through which original sin was transmitted and was not even free itself of “at least venial” sin. According to the Doctor of Hippo, spouses should make use of the sexual act for begetting children but should do so “with regret” (cum dolore) and only because there is no other way to provide citizens for the state and members for the Church.[8]

Another modern position that we can also accept concerns the equal dignity of the woman in marriage. As we have seen, it is at the very heart of God’s original plan and in the thinking of Christ, but it has often been disregarded over the centuries. God’s word to Eve, “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you,” has had a tragic fulfillment in history.

Among the representatives of the so-called “Gender Revolution,” their call for the equality of women has led to crazy proposals like abolishing the distinction between the sexes and replacing it with the more flexible and subjective distinction of “genders” (masculine, feminine, variable) or like freeing women from “the slavery of maternity” by arranging for newly invented ways to give birth to children. In recent months there has been a succession of news reports about men who will very soon be able to become pregnant and give birth to a child. “Adam gives birth to Eve,” they write with a smile, but this is something we should weep about. The ancients would have defined all this with the word Hubris, the arrogance of human beings before God.

Our choice of dialogue and self-criticism gives us the right to denounce these plans as “inhuman”: they are contrary not only to God’s will but also to the good of humanity. Putting them into practice on a large scale would lead to unforeseeable human and social catastrophes. Our only hope is that people’s common sense, combined with the natural “desire” for the other sex and the instinct for motherhood and fatherhood that God has inscribed in human nature, will resist these attempts to substitute ourselves for God. They are dictated more by a belated sense of guilt on the part of men than by genuine respect and love for woman herself.

3.   An ideal to rediscover

Not less important than the duty of defending the biblical ideal of marriage and family is the duty for Christians to rediscover and live that ideal fully in such a way as to reintroduce it into the world by deeds more than by words. Early Christians changed the laws of the state about the family by their practices. We cannot consider doing the opposite and change people’s practices through the laws of the state, even though as citizens we have a duty to contribute to the state’s enactment of just laws.

Since Christ, we correctly read the account of the creation of the man and woman in light of the revelation of the Trinity. In this light the statement that “God created man in his own image; in the image of God he created him: male and female he created them” finally reveals a significance that was enigmatic and unclear before Christ. What connection can there be between being “in the image of God” and being “male and female”? The biblical God does not have sexual attributes; he is neither male nor female.

The similarity consists in this. God is love, and love requires communion and interpersonal communication. It requires an “I” and a “you.” There is no love that is not love for someone; if there is only one subject there cannot be love, just egotism and narcissism. Whenever God is conceived of only as Law or as Absolute Power, there is no need for a plurality of persons. (Power can be exercised by one person alone!) The God revealed by Jesus Christ, being love, is unique and one, but he is not solitary: he is one and triune. Unity and distinction coexist in him: unity of nature, will, and intentions, and distinction of characteristics and persons.

When two people love each other—and the strongest example is the love of a man and a woman in marriage—they reproduce something of what occurs in the Trinity. In the Trinity two persons, the Father and the Son, in loving each other produce (“breathe”) the Spirit who is the love that unites them. Someone has defined the Holy Spirit as the divine “We,” that is, not as “the third person of the Trinity” but as the first person plural.[9] It is precisely in this way that the human couple is the image of God. Husband and wife are in fact one flesh, one heart, one soul but are diverse in sex and personality. Unity and diversity are thus reconciled in the couple.

In this light we discover the profound meaning of the prophets’ message about human marriage: it is a symbol and a reflection of another love, that of God for his people. This symbolism was not meant to overload a purely earthly reality with a mystical significance. On the other hand, it is not merely symbolic but instead reveals the true face and ultimate purpose of the creation of man as male and female.

What is the reason for the sense of incompleteness and lack of fulfillment that sexual union leaves both inside and outside of marriage? Why does this impulse always fall back on itself, and why does this promise of the infinite and eternal always fall short? People try to find a remedy for this frustration, but they only increase it. Instead of changing the quality of the act, they increase its quantity, going from one partner to the next. This leads to the ruin of God’s gift of sexuality currently taking place in today’s society and culture.

Do we as Christians want to find an explanation for this devastating dysfunction once and for all? The explanation is that the sexual union is not occurring in the way and with the purpose intended by God. Its purpose was that, through this ecstasy and joining together in love, the man and the woman would be raised to desire and to obtain a certain foretaste of infinite love; they would be reminded of where they came from and where they are headed.

Sin, beginning with that of the biblical Adam and Eve, has damaged this plan. It has “profaned” the sexual act, that is, it has stripped it of its religious value. Sin has made it an act that is an end in itself, that is closed in on itself, so it is therefore “unsatisfying.” The symbol has been disconnected from the reality behind the symbol and deprived it of its intrinsic dynamism, thus crippling it. Never so much as in this case do we experience the truth of Augustine’s saying: “You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”[10] We were not created to live in an eternal relationship as a couple but to live in an eternal relationship with God, with the Absolute. Even Goethe’s Faust finally discovers this at the end of his long period of wandering. Thinking back to his love for Margaret, he exclaims at the end of the poetic drama, “All that is transitory / is only a symbol; / what seems unachievable / here is seen done [in heaven].”[11]

In the testimony of some couples who have experienced renewal in the Holy Spirit and live a charismatic Christian life, we find something of the original significance of the conjugal act. That can hardly be a surprise to us. Marriage is the sacrament of a reciprocal gift that spouses make to one another, and the Holy Spirit is the “gift” within the Trinity, or better, the reciprocal “self-gifting” of the Father and Son, not as a fleeting act but as a permanent state. Wherever the Holy Spirit comes, the capacity to make a gift of oneself is born or rekindled. This is how the “grace of the married state” operates.

4.   Married and consecrated people in the Church

Even though we consecrated religious do not live in the married state, I said at the beginning that we need to understand marriage to help those who do live in that state. I will add now a further reason: we need to understand marriage to be helped by it ourselves! Speaking of marriage and virginity the apostle says, “Each has his own spiritual gift [chárisma] from God, one of one kind and one of another” (1 Cor 7:7). Married people have their charism and those who are “single for the Lord” have their charism.

Each charism, the same apostle says, is “a particular manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (see 1 Cor 12:7). Applied to the relationship between married and consecrated people in the Church, this means that the charism of celibacy and virginity is for the advantage also of married people and that the charism of marriage is also for the advantage of consecrated people. That is the intrinsic nature of a charism that is seemingly contradictory: something that is individual (“a particular manifestation of the Spirit”) is nevertheless meant for all (“for the common good”).

In the Christian community, consecrated people and married people are able to “edify one another.” Spouses are reminded by consecrated people of the primacy of God and of what is eternal; they are introduced to love for the word of God by those who can better deepen and “break open” it open for lay people. But consecrated people can also learn something from married people as well. They can learn generosity, self-forgetfulness, service to life, and often a certain “humaneness” that comes from their difficult engagement with the realities of life.

I am speaking from experience here. I belong to a religious order in which, until a few decades ago, we would get up at night to recite the office of Matins that would last about an hour. Then there came a great turning point in religious life after the Council. It seemed that the rhythm of modern life—studies for the younger monks and apostolic ministry for the priests—no longer allowed for this nightly rising that interrupted sleep, and little by little the practice was abandoned except in a few houses of formation.

When later the Lord had me come to know various young families well through my ministry, I discovered something that startled me but in a good way. These fathers and mothers had to get up not once but two or three times a night to feed a baby, or give it medicine, or rock it if it was crying, or check it for a fever. And in the morning one or both of the parents had to rush off to work at the same time after taking the baby girl or boy to the grandparents or to day-care. There was a time card to punch whether the weather was good or bad and whether their health was good or bad.

Then I said to myself, if we do not take remedial action we are in grave danger. Our religious way of life, if it is not supported by a genuine observance of the Rule and a certain rigor in our schedule and habits, is in danger of becoming a comfortable life and of leading to hardness of heart. What good parents are capable of doing for their biological children—the level of self-forgetfulness that they are capable of to provide for their children’s well-being, their studies, their happiness—must be the standard of what we should do for our children or spiritual brothers. The example we have for this is set by the apostle Paul himself who said, “I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls” (2 Cor 12:15).

May the Holy Spirit, the giver of charisms, help all of us, consecrated and married, to put into practice the exhortation of the apostle Peter: “As each has received a gift, employ it for one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace . . . in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen!” (1 Pet 4:10-11).


Translated from Italian by Marsha Daigle Williamson

[1] Gaudium et spes, n.1. Quotations from Church and papal documents are from the Vatican website.

[2] Paul Claudel, The Satin Slipper, Act 3, sc. 8; see Le soulier de satin: Édition critique, ed. Antoinette Weber-Caflisch (Besançon: Presses Universitaires de Franche-Compté, 1987), p. 227.

[3] Friedrich Schleiermacher, The Christian Faith, vol. 1, trans. H. R. MacKintosh and James S. Stewart (New York: T & T Clark, 1999), p. 12ff.

[4] See John Paul II, Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body, trans. Michael M. Waldstein (Boston: Pauline Books and Media, 2006), pp. 503-507.

[5] See Gregory the Great, Moralia in Job, 20, 1, 1, in Gregory the Great, trans. John Moorhead (New York: Routledge, 2005), p. 49.

[6] John Paul II, “The Human Person Becomes a Gift in the Freedom of Love,” General Audience, January 16, 1980.

[7] Benedict XVI, Deus caritas est, n. 11.

[8] Augustine, “Sermon 51,” 25, in Sermons (51-94) on the New Testament, Part 3, vol. 1, trans. Edmund Hill, The Works of Saint Augustine, ed. John E. Rotelle (Brooklyn, NY: New City Press, 1991), p. 36.

[9] Heribert Mühlen, Der Heilige Geist als Person: Ich-Du-Wir [The Holy Sprit as Person: I-You-We} (Munich: Aschendorf, 1963).

Augustine, Confessions, 1, 1, trans. John K. Ryan (New York: Doubleday, 1960), p. 43.

[11] Wolfgang Goethe, Faust, part 2, Act 5, in Goethe: The Collected Works, trans. Stuart Atkins (Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994), p. 305.