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Bro. Ignatius

Posted -
2007/4/1 上午 08:16:32

1st Lenten Sermon of Father Cantalamessa

"Blessed Are the Pure of Heart, for They Will See God"

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 11, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the Lenten sermon delivered Friday by Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa in the presence of Benedict XVI and officials of the Roman Curia. The Pontifical Household preacher delivered it in the Mater Redemptoris Chapel of the Apostolic Palace.

* * *

1. From ritual purity to purity of heart

Continuing our reflection on the evangelical beatitudes that we began in Advent, in this first Lenten meditation we would like to reflect on the beatitude of the pure of heart.

Whoever today reads or hears proclaimed, "Blessed are the pure of heart, for they will see God," instinctively thinks of the virtue of purity almost as if this beatitude is the positive equivalent of the Sixth Commandment, "Do not commit impure acts." This interpretation, sporadically advanced in the course of the history of Christian spirituality, became predominant beginning in the 19th century.

In reality, purity of heart does not indicate, in Christ's thinking, a particular virtue, but a quality that should go along with all the virtues, so that they are truly virtues and not rather "glittering vices." Its most direct contrary is not impurity, but hypocrisy. A little exegesis and history will help us to better understand.

What Jesus means by "purity of heart" is made clear by the context of the Sermon on the Mount. According to the Gospel, what determines the purity or impurity of an action -- whether it be almsgiving, fasting or prayer -- is the intention: Is the deed done to be seen by men or to please God?

"When you give alms sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by men. Truly, I say to you: They have already received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing so that your alms may be secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you" (Matthew 6:2-6).

Hypocrisy is the sin that is most powerfully denounced by God in the Bible and the reason for this is clear. With his hypocrisy, man demotes God, he puts him in second place, putting the creature, the public, in first place. "Man sees the appearance, the Lord sees the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7): Cultivating our appearance more than our heart means giving greater importance to man than to God.

Hypocrisy is thus essentially a lack of faith; but it is also a lack of charity for our neighbor in the sense that it tends to reduce persons to admirers. It does not recognize their proper dignity, but sees them only in function of one's own image.

Christ's judgment on hypocrisy is without appeal: "Receperunt mercedem suam" (They have already received their reward)! A reward that is, above all, illusory, even on a human level because we know that glory flees from those that seek it, and seeks those who flee from it.

Jesus' invectives against the scribes and the Pharisees also help us understand the meaning of purity of heart. Jesus' criticisms focus on the opposition between the "inside" and the "outside," the interior and the exterior of man.

"Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead men's bones and filth. So you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity" (Matthew 23:27-28 ).

The revolution which Jesus brings about here is of incalculable significance. Before him, except for some rare hint in the prophets and the Psalms -- "Who will ascend the mountain of the Lord? Those whose hands are innocent and whose hearts are pure" (Psalm 24:3) -- purity was understood in a ritual and cultural way; it consisted in keeping one's distance from things, animals, persons or places that were understood to contaminate one and separate one from God's holiness. Above all, these were things associated with birth, death, food and sexuality. In different forms and with different presuppositions, other religions outside the Bible shared these ideas.

Jesus makes a clean sweep of all these taboos and does so first of all by certain gestures: He eats with sinners, touches lepers, mixes with pagans. All of these were taken to be highly unsanitary things. He also sweeps away these taboos with his teachings. The solemnity with which he introduces his discourse on the pure and the impure makes apparent how conscious he was of the novelty of his doctrine.

"And he called the people to him again and said to them: 'Hear me all of you and understand; there is nothing outside a man that by going into him can defile him. It is the things that come out of a man that can defile him.... For from within, out of the heart of a man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man'" (Mark 7:14-17,21-23).

The Gospel writer, almost stupefied, notes: "Thus he declared all foods clean" (Mark 7:19). Against the attempt of some Judaeo-Christians to reinstate the distinction between pure and impure in foods and other sectors of life, the apostolic Church forcefully repeats: "Everything is clean for those who are pure" -- "omnia munda mundis" -- (Titus 1:15; cf. Romans 14:20).

Purity, understood as continence and chastity, is not absent from the Gospel beatitude (Jesus also mentions fornication, adultery and licentiousness among those things that defile the heart); they occupy a limited and "secondary" place. They are one group among others in an area in which the "heart" has a decisive place, as when Jesus says: "Whoever looks on a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matthew 5:2.

In fact, the terms "pure" and "purity" ("katharos," "katharotes") are never used in the New Testament to indicate what we mean by them today, namely, the absence of sins of the flesh. For these things other terms are used: self-control ("enkrateia"), temperance ("sophrosune"), chastity ("hagneia").

From what has been said, it is clear that the one who is the pure of heart par excellence is Jesus himself. His enemies are constrained to say of him: "We know that you are true and care for no man" (Mark 12:14). Jesus could say of himself: "I do not seek my own glory" (John 8:50).

2. A look at history

Early on in the exegesis of the Fathers of the Church we see the three fundamental directions in which the beatitude of purity of heart will be received in the history of Christian spirituality delineate themselves: the moral, the mystical and the ascetic.

The moral interpretation emphasizes rectitude of intention, the mystical interpretation emphasizes the vision of God, and the ascetic interpretation emphasizes the struggle against the passions of the flesh. We see these interpretations exemplified in Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa and John Chrysostom, respectively.

Faithfully attending to the Gospel context, Augustine interprets the beatitude in a moral way, as a refusal "to display one's justice before men so as to be admired by them" (Matthew 6:1), and thus as simplicity and frankness, which are opposed to hypocrisy. Augustine writes: "Only he who has shrugged off human praise and in his life is concerned just to please God, who searches our conscience, has a simple, that is, pure, heart."[1]

Here the factor that determines purity of heart is one's intention. "All our actions are honest and pleasing in the presence of God if they are done with a sincere heart, that is, with love as their goal.... Thus, it is not so much the action that must be considered but the intention with which it is done."[2] This interpretive model, which focuses on intention, will be operative for the whole subsequent spiritual tradition, especially the Ignatian one.[3]

The mystical interpretation, which has its first proponent in Gregory of Nyssa, sees the beatitude in relation to contemplation. We must purify our hearts of every link to the world and to evil; in this way the heart of man will return to being that pure and limpid image of God which it was in the beginning when in our own soul, as in a mirror, we could "see God."

"If in the conduct of your life you are diligent and attentive, you will wipe away the ugliness that has been deposited in your heart and the divine beauty will shine forth in you.... Contemplating yourself you will see him who is the desire of your heart, and you will be blessed."[4]

Here all the weight is on the "apodosis," the fruit promised to beatitude; having a pure heart is the means; the goal is "to see God." Linguistically, the influence of the philosopher Plotinus is apparent, and this will become even more evident in St. Basil.[5]

This interpretive approach will also have a following in the subsequent history of Christian spirituality, passing through St. Bernard, St. Bonaventure and the Rhineland mystics.[6] In some monastic circles an interesting idea will be added: the idea of purity as an interior unification that is obtained by willing only one thing, when this "thing" is God. St. Bernard writes: "Blessed are the pure of heart, for they will see God. As if to say: Purify your heart, set yourself apart from everything, be a monk, that is, alone, seek just one thing from the Lord and follow it (cf. Psalm 27:4), freed from everything, you will see God (cf. Psalm 46:11)."[7]

The ascetic interpretation is fairly isolated in the Fathers and medieval authors. This interpretation focuses on chastity and will become predominant, as I said, beginning in the 19th century. Chrysostom is the clearest example of this approach.[8] The mystic Ruysbroeck, who distinguishes between chastity of spirit, chastity of the heart and chastity of the body, is in this same line. He links the Gospel beatitude to chastity of the heart. This chastity, he writes, "recollects and reinforces the external senses, while, within, it curbs and controls the animal instincts.... It closes the heart to earthly things and deceptive enticements and opens it to heavenly things and to the truth."[9]

With different degrees of fidelity, each of these orthodox interpretations remains within the new horizon of the revolution brought by Jesus, which leads every moral discourse back to the heart.

Paradoxically, those who have betrayed the Gospel beatitude of the pure ("katharoi") of heart are precisely those who have taken on its name: the Cathars, with all the similar movements that preceded and followed them in the history of Christianity. They fall into the category of those who take purity to consist in being separated, ritually and socially, from persons and things that are judged to be impure in themselves. This is a more external than internal purity. These groups are more the inheritors of the sectarian radicalism of the Pharisees and of the Essenes than of the Gospel of Christ.

3. Nonreligious hypocrisy

Often emphasis is given to the social and cultural significance of some beatitudes. It is not unusual to read "Blessed are the peacemakers" on the banners carried in demonstrations by pacifists. And the beatitude of the meek who will inherit the earth is rightly invoked in regard to the principle of nonviolence, to say nothing of the beatitude of the poor and the persecuted for justice's sake.

But the social relevance of the beatitude of the pure of heart is never spoken of and seems to be exclusively reserved for the personal sphere. I am convinced, however, that this beatitude could have a much needed critical function in our society.

We have seen that in Christ's thinking, purity of heart is not opposed primarily to impurity but to hypocrisy, and hypocrisy is perhaps the most widespread human vice, and the least confessed. There are individual and collective hypocrisies.

Man, Pascal wrote, has two lives: One is his true life and the other is his imaginary one that he lives in his own opinion or in that of other people. We work hard to embellish and conserve our imaginary being and we neglect our true being. If we have some virtue or merit, we are careful to make it known, in some way or other, so as to attach these virtues to that imaginary existence. We would rather separate them from ourselves to join them to it; and we would willingly be cowards in order to acquire the reputation of being brave.[10]

The tendency brought to light by Pascal has grown enormously in the present culture, dominated by the mass media, film, television and the entertainment industry in general. Descartes said: "Cogito ergo sum" (I think therefore I am); but today this tends to be substituted with "I appear therefore I am."

Originally the term hypocrisy was reserved for the theater. It simply meant to act, to represent in a scene. St. Augustine notes this in his commentary on the beatitude of the pure of heart. "The hypocrites," he writes, "are the creators of fiction in the sense that they present the personality of others in plays."[11]

The origin of the term puts us on the way toward discovering the nature of hypocrisy. It is making one's life a theater in which one acts for an audience; it is to put on a mask, to cease to be a person and become a character.

Somewhere I read this explanation of the two things: "The character is nothing else than the corruption of the person. The person is a face, the character is a mask. The person is radical nakedness, the character is only clothing. The person loves authenticity and essentiality, the character lives by fiction and artifice. The person obeys his own convictions, the character obeys a script. The person is humble and light, the character is heavy and cumbersome."

But the fiction of the theater is an innocent hypocrisy because it always maintains the distinction between the stage and life. No one who sees a performance of Agamemnon -- this is Augustine's example -- thinks that the actor is really Agamemnon. The new and disquieting development is that today there is a tendency even to annul this division, transforming life itself into a play. This is what the so-called reality shows are about that are now all over television.

According to the French philosopher Jean Baudrillard, who died just last week [March 6], it has now become difficult to distinguish real events -- the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the Gulf War -- from their media portrayal. Reality and virtuality are confused.

The call back to interiority that characterizes our beatitude and the whole Sermon on the Mount is an invitation to not allow ourselves to be drawn into this tendency that tends to empty the person, reducing him to an image, or worse -- using a term dear to Baudrillard -- a "simulacra."

Kierkegaard drew our attention to the alienation that results from living in pure exteriority, always and only in the presence of other people, and never simply in the presence of God and our own "I."

A farmer, he observed, can be an "I" before his cows, if he is always living with them and has only them as his measure. A king can be an "I" before his subjects and he will feel like an important "I." The child grasps himself as an "I" in relation to his parents, a citizen before the state.

But it will always be an imperfect "I" because it lacks the proper measure. "But what an infinite reality my 'I' acquires when it becomes aware of existing before God, becoming a human 'I' whose measure is God.... What an infinite accent falls on the 'I' in the moment that God becomes my measure!"

It seems like a commentary on the saying of St. Francis of Assisi: "That which man is before God, that is what he is and nothing else."[12]

4. Religious hypocrisy

The worst thing that a hypocrite can do is to take himself as the standard by which to judge others, society, culture and the world. These are precisely the ones whom Jesus calls hypocrites: "Hypocrite, first take the plank from your own eye and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye" (Matthew 7:5).

As believers, we have to remember the saying of a Jewish rabbi who lived during the time of Christ, and according to whom, 90% of the hypocrisy of the world was found in Jerusalem.[13] Already the martyr St. Ignatius of Antioch felt the need to admonish his brothers in faith: "It is better to be Christians without saying so than to say so without being so."[14]

Hypocrisy seduces pious and religious persons above all, and the reason for this is simple: Where there is the strongest esteem of the values of the spirit, of piety and virtue (and of orthodoxy!), the temptation to affect these so as not to seem lacking in them is also the strongest. "Certain official positions in human society," writes Augustine, "must of necessity make us loved and honored by our fellows. On every side the enemy of our true happiness spreads his snares of 'Well done! Well done!' so that grabbing greedily at these praises we may be caught by surprise, and abandon our delight in your truth to look for it, instead in human flattery. So the affection and honor we receive come to be something we enjoy not for your sake, but in your place."[15]

The most pernicious hypocrisy would be to hide one's own hypocrisy. I have never found in any aid to an examination of conscience such questions as: Am I a hypocrite? Am I more concerned with how other people see me than with how God sees me? At a certain point in my life I had to introduce these questions into my examination of conscience myself, and rarely was I able to pass without a problem to the questions that followed these.

One day, listening to the parable of the talents read at Mass, I suddenly understood something. Between bearing fruit with what one is given and not bearing fruit, there is a third possibility: that of bearing fruit, not for the one who has given us what we have, but for our own glory or our own interest, and this is perhaps a graver sin than bearing no fruit at all. That day at Communion I had to do as certain thieves do when they are surprised in the act and, full of shame, empty their pockets and throw what they have stolen at the feet of the owner.

Jesus has left us a simple and unsurpassable means of rectifying our intentions at various times throughout the day, the first three questions of the Our Father: "Hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done." These can be said as prayers but they can also be declarations of intention: All that I do, I want to do it so that your name will be sanctified, so that your kingdom will come and your will be done.

It would be a precious contribution to society and the Christian community if the beatitude of the pure of heart would help us to maintain alive in us the nostalgia for a world that is clean, true, without religious hypocrisy or nonreligious hypocrisy; a world in which actions corresponded to words, words to thoughts, and the thoughts of man to those of God. This will only fully happen in the heavenly Jerusalem, the city made of crystal, but we must at least strive for it.

An author of fables wrote a fable called "The Glass Town." In the story a young girl ends up by magic in a town made of glass: glass houses, glass birds, glass trees, people who move like graceful glass statues. But nothing in this town breaks because everyone has learned how to move about in it with care so as not to do any damage. Upon meeting each other, the people answer questions before they are even asked them because even thoughts are evident and transparent in this town; no one tries to lie, knowing that everyone can read what is on his mind.[16]

We shudder to think what would happen if this suddenly occurred here among us; but it is salutary to at least tend toward such an ideal. This is the road that will carry us to the beatitude that we have tried to comment on: "Blessed are the pure of heart for they will see God."

* * *

[1] St. Augustine, "De sermone Domini in monte," II, 1, 1 (CC 35, p. 92).
[2] Ibid. II, 13, 45-46.
[3] Jean-François de Reims, "La vraie perfection de cette vie," Part 2, Paris 1651, Instr. 4, p. 160.

[4] Gregory of Nyssa, "De beatitudinibus," 6 (PG 44, p. 1272).
[5] St. Basil, "On the Holy Spirit," IX, 23; XXII, 53 (PG 32, 109,168 ).
[6] Cf. Michel Dupuy, "Pureté," in DSpir. 12, pp. 2637-2645.

[7] St. Bernard of Clairvaux, "Sententiae," III, 2 (S. Bernardi Opera, ed. J. Leclerq and H. M. Rochais).
[8] St. John Chrysostom, "Homiliae in Mattheum," 15, 4.
[9] John Ruysbroeck, "Lo splendore delle nozze spirituali," Roma, Città Nuova 1992, pp.72 f.

[10] Cf. Blaise Pascal, "Pensées," 147 Br.
[11] St. Augustine, "De sermone Domini in monte," 2, 5 (CC 35, p. 95).
[12] St. Francis of Assisi, "Ammonizioni," 19 (Fonti Francescane, n.169 ).

[13] Cf. Strack-Billerbeck, I, 718.
[14] St. Ignatius of Antioch, "Ephesians" 15:1 ("It is better to say nothing and to be, than to chatter and not be") and "Magnesians," 4 ("It is necessary not only to call ourselves Christians but also to be Christians").

[15] Cf. St. Augustine, "Confessions," X, 36, 59.
[16] Lauretta, "Il bosco dei lillà," Ancora, Milano, 2nd ed. 1994, pp. 90ff.

Bro. Ignatius

Posted -
2007/4/1 上午 08:17:15

2nd Lenten Sermon of Father Cantalamessa

"Blessed Are the Meek, For They Shall Inherit the Land"

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 18, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the Lenten sermon delivered Friday by Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa in the presence of Benedict XVI and officials of the Roman Curia. The Pontifical Household preacher delivered the reflection in the Mater Redemptoris Chapel of the Apostolic Palace.

* * *

1. Who are the meek?

The beatitude on which we wish to meditate today lends itself to an important observation. It says: "Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the land." Now, in another passage of the same Gospel, Jesus exclaims: "Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart" (Matthew 11:29). We conclude from this that the beatitudes are not a nice ethical program traced by the master for his followers; they are a self-portrait of Jesus! Jesus is the one who is truly poor, meek, pure of heart, persecuted for the sake of justice.

Here is the limitation of Gandhi's interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount, which he so much admired. For Gandhi the whole sermon might have just as well been considered apart from the historical person of Christ. "It does not matter to me," he once said, "if someone demonstrated that the man Jesus never lived and that what we read in the Gospels is nothing more than a production of the author's imagination. The Sermon on the Mount will always remain true in my eyes."[1]

On the contrary, it is the person and life of Christ that make of the beatitudes and the whole Sermon on the Mount something more than a beautiful ethical utopia; they make of them an historical reality, from which everyone can draw strength through mystical union with the person of the Savior. They do not merely belong to the order of duties but to the order of grace.

To see who the meek whom Jesus proclaims "blessed" are, it would be helpful to briefly review the various terms with which the word "meek" ("praeis") is rendered in modern translations: "meek" ("miti") and "mild" ("mansueti"). The latter is also the word used in the Spanish translations, "los mansos," the mild. In French the word is translated with "doux," literally "the sweet," those who have the virtue of sweetness. (There is no specific word in French for "meekness"; in the "Dictionnaire de spiritualité," this virtue is treated in the entry "douceur," that is, "sweetness.")

In German, different translations alternate. Luther translated the term with "Sanftmütigen," that is, "meek," "sweet"; in the ecumenical translation of the Bible, the "Einheits Bibel," the meek are those who do not act violently -- "die Keine Gewalt anwenden -- thus the non-violent; some authors accentuate the objective and sociological dimension and translate "praeis" with "machtlosen," "the weak," "those without power." English usually renders "praeis" with "the gentle," introducing the nuance of niceness and courtesy into the beatitude.

Each of these translations highlights a true but partial component of the beatitude. If we want to get an idea of the original richness of the Gospel term it is necessary to keep all the elements together and to not isolate any. Two regular associations, in the Bible and in ancient Christian exhortation, help us to grasp the "full meaning" of meekness: one is the linking of meekness and humility and the other is the linking of meekness and patience; the one highlights the interior dispositions from which meekness flows, the other the attitudes that meekness causes us to have toward our neighbor: affability, sweetness, kindness. These are the same traits that the Apostle emphasizes when speaking about charity: "Charity is patient, it is kind, it is not disrespectful, it is not angry." (1 Corinthians 13:4-5).

2. Jesus, the meek

If the beatitudes are a self-portrait of Christ, the first thing to do in commenting on them is to see how they were lived by him. The Gospels are from beginning to end a demonstration of the meekness of Christ in its dual aspect of humility and patience. Jesus himself, we pointed out, proposes himself as the model of meekness. Matthew applies to Jesus the saying of the Servant of God in Isaiah: "He will no wrangle or cry out, he will not break a bruised reed nor quench a smoldering wick" (cf. Mark 12:19-20). His entrance into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey is seen as an example of a "meek" king who refuses all ideas of violence and war (cf. Matthew 21:4).

The maximum proof of Christ's meekness is in his passion. There is no wrath, there are no threats: "When he was reviled he did not revile in return, when he suffered, he did not threaten" (1 Peter 2:23). This trait of the person of Christ was so stamped in the memory of his disciples that Paul, wanting to swear by something dear and sacred in his second letter to the Corinthians writes: "I entreat you by the meekness ("prautes") and the gentleness ("epiekeia") of Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:1).

But Jesus did much more than give us an example of heroic meekness and patience; he made of meekness and nonviolence the true sign of greatness. This will no longer mean holding oneself alone above, above the crowd, but to humble oneself to serve and elevate others. On the cross, St. Augustine says, the true victory does not consist in making victims of others but in making oneself a victim: "Victor quia victima."[2]

Nietzsche, we know, was opposed to this vision, calling it "slave morality," suggested by a natural "resentment" of the weak toward the strong. According to him, in preaching humility and meekness, making oneself small, turning the other cheek, Christianity introduced a type of cancer into humanity which destroyed its élan and mortified life. In the introduction to "Thus Spake Zarathustra," Nietzsche's sister summarized the philosopher's thought in this way: "He believes that, on account of the resentment of a weak and falsified Christianity, all that was beautiful, strong, superior, powerful -- like the virtues that come from strength -- was proscribed and banned and thus the forces that promote and exalt life were diminished. But now a new table of values must be given to humanity, that is, the man who is strong, powerful, magnificent to excess, the 'superman,' which is presented to us with great passion as the goal of our life, our will, our hope."[3]

For some time we have been witnessing this attempt to absolve Nietzsche from every accusation, to domesticate and, in the end, Christianize him. It is said that at bottom he was not against Christ, but against Christians who made self-denial an end in itself, despising life and acting cruelly toward the body. Everyone has apparently betrayed Nietzsche's true thought, starting with Hitler. In reality, he would have been the prophet of a new era, the precursor of postmodernity.

One might say that there has been a lone voice to oppose himself to this tendency, the French thinker René Girard. According to him, all of these efforts have done an injustice, above all to Nietzsche himself. With a perspicacity unique for his time, Girard got to the heart of the matter. With Nietzsche we are faced with two absolute alternatives: paganism or Christianity.

Paganism exalts the sacrifice of the weak for the benefit of the strong and the advancement of life; Christianity exalts the sacrifice of the strong for the benefit of the weak. It is hard not to see an objective connection between Nietzsche's proposal and Hitler's program of eliminating whole groups of human beings for the advancement of civilization and the purity of the race.

Nietzsche does not just target Christianity, but Christ. "Dionysus against the Crucified: this is the antithesis," he exclaimed in one posthumous fragment.[4]

Girard shows that one of the greatest boasts of modern society -- concern for victims, taking the side of the weak and oppressed, the defense of the life that is threatened -- is in truth a direct product of the revolution brought by the Gospel. However, by a paradoxical play of imitative rivalries, these values have been claimed by other movements as their own achievement and this precisely in opposition to Christianity.[5]

In the previous meditation I spoke about the social relevance of the beatitudes. The beatitude of the meek is perhaps the clearest example, but what is said of it is valid for all the beatitudes. They are the manifesto of the new greatness, the way of Christ to self-realization, to happiness.

It is not true that the Gospel kills the desire to do great things and to esteem. Jesus says: "If someone wants to be first, he must become the least of all and the servant of all" (Mark 9:35). The desire to be first is thus legitimate, indeed it is recommended; it is only that the way to first place has changed: It is not reached by raising ourselves up above others, squashing them perhaps if they are in our way, but by lowering ourselves to raise up others together with us.

3. Meekness and tolerance

The beatitude of the weak has come to be extraordinarily relevant in the debate about religion and violence that was ignited following the events of 9/11. It reminds us Christians, above all, that the Gospel leaves no room for doubt. There are no exhortations to nonviolence mixed with contrary exhortations. Christians may, at certain times, distance themselves from it, but the Gospel is clear and the Church can return to it always and be inspired, knowing that it will find nothing else there but moral perfection.

The Gospel says that "he who does not believe will be condemned" (Mark 16:16), but condemned in heaven, not on earth, by God not by men. "When they persecute you in one city," Jesus says, "flee to another" (Matthew 10:23); he does not say: "Fight back." Once two of his disciples, James and John, who were not welcomed in a certain Samaritan village, said to Jesus: "Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven upon them to consume them?" Jesus, it is written, "turned and reproved them." Many manuscripts also report the tenor of the reproof: "You do not know of which spirit you are. The Son of Man did not come to lose the souls of men but to save them" (cf. Luke 9:53-55).

The famous "compelle intrare," "constrain them to enter," with which St. Augustine, even if with a heavy heart [6], justifies his approval of the imperial laws against the Donatists, and which will be used afterward to justify the coercion of heretics, stems from an obvious forcing of the Gospel text, fruit of a mechanical literal reading of the Bible.

Jesus puts the line in the mouth of a man who had prepared a great feast and, faced with the refusal of those invited to come, he tells his servants to go out into the highways and hedges and "force the poor, the feeble, the blind, and the lame to come" (cf. Luke 14:15-24). It is clear from the context that "force" does not mean anything other than a friendly insistence. The poor and the feeble, as all the unfortunate, might feel embarrassed to come to the house: Wear down their resistance, says the master, and tell them to not be afraid to come. How often we ourselves have said in similar circumstances: "I was forced to accept," knowing that insistence in these cases is a sign of benevolence and not violence.

In a recent book on Jesus that has had a great deal of attention in Italy, the following statement is attributed to Jesus: "And those enemies of mine who did not want me to become their king, bring them here and kill them before me" (Luke 19:27) and it is concluded that it is to statements such as this that "supporters of 'holy war' have recourse."[7] Now it needs to be said that Luke does not attribute these words to Jesus, but to the king in the parable, and we know that all the details of the parable are not supposed to be transferred to reality, and in any case, they are to be transferred from the material to the spiritual level.

4. With meekness and respect

But let us leave aside these considerations of an apologetic sort and try to see what light the beatitude of the meek can shed on our Christian life. There is a pastoral application of the beatitude of the meek that is initiated by the first letter of Peter. It regards dialogue with the outside world: "Worship the Lord, Christ, in your hearts, always ready to answer whoever asks you the reason for the hope in you. But let this be done with meekness ("prautes") and respect" (1 Peter 3:15-16).

From ancient times there has been two types of apologetics, one that has its model in Tertullian, and the other that has its model in Justin; the one aims at winning, the other at convincing. Justin wrote a "Dialogue with Trypho the Jew," Tertullian (or his disciple) wrote "Against the Jews." Both of these styles have had their following in Christian writing (our Giovanni Papini was certainly closer to Tertullian than to Justin), but today the first style is preferred of course.

The martyr St. Ignatius of Antioch suggested to the Christians of his time, in relation to the outside world, this always relevant attitude: "Faced with their rage, be meek; faced with their arrogance, be humble."[8]

The promise linked to the beatitude of the meek -- "they will inherit the land" -- is realized on different levels; there is the definitive promised land of eternal life, but there is also the land which is the hearts of men. The meek win confidence, they attract souls. The saint of meekness and sweetness par excellence, St. Francis de Sales, often said: "Be as sweet as you can and remember that more flies are captured by a drop of honey than with a barrel of vinegar."

5. Learn from me

We could remain for a long time on these pastoral applications of the beatitude of the meek but let us pass to a more personal application. Jesus says: "Learn from me for I am meek." We might object: But Jesus himself was not always meek! He said, for example, not to oppose the evil doer and "to him who strikes you on the right cheek, turn and give him the other" (Matthew 5:39). However, when one the guards strikes him on the cheek during the trial before the Sanhedrin, it is not written that he gave him the other cheek, but that with calmness he replied: "If I said something wrong, show it to me; but if I spoke well, why do you strike me?" (John 18:23).

This means that not everything in the Sermon on the Mount should be understood mechanically in a literal way; Jesus, according to his style, uses hyperbole and images to better imprint the idea on the mind of his disciples. In the case of turning the other cheek, for example, what is important is not the gesture of turning the other cheek (which might sometimes serve more to provoke a person), but not responding to violence with violence, but to win with calm.

In this sense, his response to the guard is an example of divine meekness. To measure its range, it is enough to compare it to the reaction of his apostle Paul (who was himself a saint) in an analogous situation. When, during Paul's trial before the Sanhedrin, the high priest Ananias orders Paul to be struck on the mouth, he answers: "God will strike you, you whitewashed wall!" (Acts 23:2-3).

Another matter should be clarified. In the same Sermon on the Mount Jesus says: "He who says to his brother: 'Idiot,' will be subject to the Sanhedrin; and he who says to him: 'Fool,' will suffer the fire of Gahenna" (Matthew 5:22). Now on many occasions in the Gospel Jesus turns to the scribes and the Pharisees, calling them "hypocrites," "fools" and "blind men" (cf. Matthew 23:17). Jesus also reproves the disciples, calling them "idiots" and "slow of heart" (cf. Luke 24:25).

Here the explanation is likewise simple. We need to distinguish between injury and correction. Jesus condemns the words said with anger and with the intention of offending the brother, not those that aim at making one aware of his error and at correcting. A father who says to his son that he is undisciplined, disobedient, does not intend to offend him but to correct him. Moses is called by Scripture "the most mild of all men on earth" (Numbers 12:3), and yet in Deuteronomy we hear him respond to the rebellious Israel: "Thus you repay the Lord, you foolish and senseless people?" (Deuteronomy 12:3).

Let us take are guide here from St. Augustine. "Love and do what you will," he says. If you love, whether you correct or not, it will be from love. Love does no evil to one's neighbor. From the root of love, as from a good tree, only good fruit can grow.[9]

6. The meek of heart

Thus we arrive on the proper terrain of the beatitude of the meek, the heart. Jesus says: "Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart." True meekness is decided there. It is from the heart, he says, that murders, wickedness, calumny come (Mark 7:21-22), as from the boiling within a volcano come lava, ashes, and fiery stones. The greatest explosions of violence begin, says St. James, secretly in "the passions that are stirred up within man" (cf. James 4:1-2). Just as there is an adultery in the heart, there is also a murder in the heart: "Whoever hates his own brother," writes John, "is a murderer" (1 John 3:15).

There is not only the violence of hands, there is also that of thoughts. Inside of us, if we pay attention, there are almost always "trials behind closed doors" going on. An anonymous monk has written pages of great penetration on this theme. He speaks as a monk, but what he says is not just valid for monasteries; he considers the example of inferiors in a religious community, but it is plain that the problem occurs in another way also for superiors.

"Observe," he says, "even for just one day, the course of your thoughts: You will be surprised by the frequency and the vivacity of the internal criticisms made with imaginary interlocutors. What is their typical origin? It is this: The unhappiness with superiors who do not care for us, do not esteem us, do not understand us; they are severe, unjust, or too stingy with us or with other 'oppressed persons.' We are unhappy with our brothers, who are 'without understanding, hard-bitten, curt, confused, or injurious.… Thus in our spirit a tribunal is created in which we are the prosecutor, judge, and jury; we defend and justify ourselves; the absent accused is condemned. Perhaps we make plans for our vindication or revenge."[10]

The desert fathers, not having to fight against external enemies, made of this interior battle with thoughts (the famous "logismoi") the benchmark for all spiritual progress. They also worked out a method for their combat. Our mind, they said, has the capacity to anticipate the unfolding of a thought, to know, from the beginning, where it will go: To excuse or condemn a brother, toward our own glory or the glory of God. "It is the monk's task," said an older monk, "to see his thoughts from afar"[11] and to bar their way when they go against charity. The easiest way to do it is say a short prayer or to bless the person that we are tempted to judge. Afterward, with a calm mind, we can decide how we should act toward him.

7. Put on the meekness of Christ

One observation before concluding. By their nature the beatitudes are oriented toward practice; they call for imitation, they accentuate the work of man. There is the danger that we will become discouraged in experiencing an incapacity to put them to practice in our own lives, and by the great distance between the ideal and the practice.

We must recall to mind what was said at the beginning: The beatitudes are Jesus' self-portrait. He lived them all and did so in the highest degree; but -- and this is the good news -- he did not live them only for himself, but also for all of us. With the beatitudes we are called not only to imitation, but also to appropriation. In faith we can draw from the meekness of Christ, just as we can draw from his purity of heart and every other virtue. We can pray to have meekness as Augustine prayed to have chastity: "O God, you have commanded me to be meek; give to me that which you command and command me to do what you will."[12]

"As the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on the sentiments of mercy, goodness, humility, mildness ("prautes"), and patience" (Colossians 3:12), writes the Apostle to the Colossians. Mildness and meekness are like a robe that Christ merited for us and which, in faith, we can put on, not to be dispensed from pursuing them but to help us in their practice. Meekness ("prautes") is placed by Paul among the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:23), that is, among the qualities that the believer manifests in his life when he receives the Spirit of Christ and makes an effort to correspond to the Spirit.

We can end reciting together with confidence the beautiful invocation of the litany of the Sacred Heart: "Jesus meek and humble of heart, make our hearts like yours" ("Jesu, mitis et humilis corde: fac cor nostrum secundum cor tutum").

* * *

[1] Gandhi, "Buddismo, Cristianesimo, Islamismo," Rome, Tascabili Newton Compton, 1993, p. 53.
[2] St. Augustine, "Confessions," X, 43.

[3] Introduction to the 1919 edition of "Also sprach Zarathustra."
[4] Friedrich Nietzsche, "Complete Works," VIII, Frammenti postumi 1888-1889, Milan, Adelphi, 1974, p. 56.

[5] R. Girard, "Vedo Satana cadere come folgore," Milano, Adelphi, 2001, pp. 211-236.
[6] St. Augustine, Epistle 93, 5: "Before I was of the opinion that no one should be forced into the unity of Christ but that we should only act with words, fight through discussion, and convince with reason."

[7] Corrado Augias and Mauro Pesce, "Inchiesta su Gesù," Milan, Mondadori, 2006, p. 52.
[8] St. Ignatius of Antioch, "Letter to the Ephesians," 10, 2-3.

[9] St. Augustine, "Commentary on the First Letter of John," 7, 8 (PL 35, 2023).
[10] A monk, "Le porte del silenzio," Milan, Ancora, 1986, p. 17 (Originale: "Les porte du silence," Geneva, Libraire Claude Martigny).

[11] "Detti e fatti dei Padri del deserto," edited by C. Campo and P. Draghi, Milan, Rusconi, 1979, p. 66.
[12] Cf. St. Augustine, "Confessions," X, 29.

Bro. Ignatius

Posted -
2007/4/1 上午 08:17:44

3rd Lenten Sermon of Father Cantalamessa

"Blessed Are You Who Hunger Now, for You Will Satisfied"

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 25, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the Lenten sermon delivered Friday by Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa in the presence of Benedict XVI and officials of the Roman Curia. The Pontifical Household preacher delivered the reflection in the Redemptoris Mater Chapel of the Apostolic Palace.

* * *

1. The beatitudes and the historical Jesus

The research on the historical Jesus, so in fashion today -- whether it be conducted by scholars who are believers or the radical research of nonbelievers -- hides a grave danger: It can lead one to believe that only what, for this new approach, can be verified of the earthly Jesus is "authentic" while all the rest would be nonhistorical and therefore "inauthentic." This would mean unjustifiably limiting God's means for revealing himself to history alone. It would mean tacitly abandoning such a truth of faith as biblical inspiration and therefore the revealed character of Scripture.

It appears that the attempt not to narrow New Testament research to the historical approach is beginning to gain momentum among various biblical scholars. In 2005 a consultation on "Canon Criticism and Theological Interpretation" was held at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome with the participation of eminent New Testament scholars. The consultation had the purpose of promoting the aspect of biblical interpretation that takes the canonical dimension of the Scriptures into account and integrates it with historical research and the theological dimension.

From all this we conclude that the "word of God," and therefore that which is normative for the believer, is not the hypothetical "original nucleus" variously reconstructed by historians, but that which is written in the Gospels. The results of historical research must be taken seriously because they even guide the understanding of the posterior developments of the tradition; but we will continue to pronounce the exclamation "The Word of God!" at the end of the of the reading of the Gospel text, not at the end of the reading of the latest book on the historical Jesus.

These observations are particularly helpful when we deal with the use we should make of the Gospel beatitudes. It has come to be known that the beatitudes have reached us in two different versions. Matthew has eight beatitudes, Luke only four, followed by corresponding contrary "woes"; in Matthew the discourse is indirect: "Blessed are the poor ... blessed are the hungry"; in Luke the discourse is direct: "Blessed are you who are poor ... blessed are you who hunger"; Luke has "poor" and "hungry," Matthew has poor "in spirit" and hungry for "justice."

After all the critical work done to distinguish that which, in the beatitudes, comes from the historical Jesus and that which comes from Matthew and Luke,[1] the task of the believer of today is not to choose one of the versions as authentic and leave the other aside. What needs to be done rather is to gather up the message contained in both versions and -- according to the contexts and necessities of today -- give precedence, from time to time, to one or the other perspective as the two Evangelists themselves did in their time.

2. Who are the hungry and the satiated?

Following this principle, let us reflect today on the beatitude of the hungry, taking Luke's version as our point of departure: "Blessed are you who hunger, for you will be satisfied." We will see later that Matthew's version, which speaks of "hunger for justice" is not opposed to Luke's version but confirms and reinforces it.

The hungry of Luke's beatitude are not in a different category from the poor mentioned in the first beatitude. They are the same poor people considered in their most dramatic condition: the lack of food. In a parallel way the "satiated" are the rich, who in their prosperity, can satisfy not only their needs but also their wants in regard to food. It is Jesus himself who is concerned to explain who the satiated and who the hungry are. He does this with the parable of the rich man and the poor man Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). This parable also looks at poverty and prosperity under the aspect of lack of food and superabundance of food: the rich man "feasted sumptuously every day"; the poor man desired in vain "to be fed with what fell from the rich man's table."

The parable, however, explains not only who the hungry and the satiated are but also and above all why the former are called blessed and the latter are called unfortunate. "One day the poor man died and was carried by angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried ... and was tormented in Hades." This reveals where the two roads lead: the narrow one of poverty and the broad and spacious one of thoughtlessness.

Prosperity and being satiated tend to enclose man in an earthly horizon because "where your treasure is, there is your heart" (Luke 12:34); gluttony and drunkenness weigh down the heart, suffocating the seed of the word (cf. Luke 21:34); they cause the rich man to forget that that very night he might be asked to give an account of his life (Luke 16:19-31); they make entering into the kingdom "more difficult than the passing of a camel through the eye of a needle" (Luke 18:25).

The rich man and the other rich people of the Gospel are not condemned just because they are rich but for the use they make or do not make of their riches. In the parable of the rich man Jesus makes it clear that there is a way out for the rich man: He could think of Lazarus at his door and share his sumptuous feast with him.

The remedy, in other words, is for the rich to make friends with the poor (cf. Luke 16:9 ); the unfaithful steward is praised for doing this but in the wrong way (Luke 16:1-8 ). Satiety, however, drains the spirit and makes it very difficult for one to follow the road to assisting the poor; the story of Zaccheus shows how it is possible but also how rare it is. Thus we can understand the reason for the "woe" directed to the rich and satiated; but it is a "woe" that is more of a "Look out!" than a "Be accursed!"

3. He has filled the hungry with good things

From this point of view the best commentary on the beatitudes of the hungry and the poor is that pronounced by Mary in the Magnificat.

"He has shown the strength of his arm, he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts; he has cast down the mighty from their thrones, he has exalted the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, he has sent the rich away empty-handed" (Luke 1:51-53).

With a series of strong aorist verbs, Mary describes a reversal and a radical change of places among men: "He has cast down -- he has exalted"; "he has filled -- he has sent away empty-handed." Something has already happened or typically happens in God's acting. Looking at history, it does not seem that that there has been a social revolution in which the rich, by a stroke, have been impoverished and the hungry have had their fill. If therefore what we expected was a social and visible change, history suggests that a lie has been told.

The reversal has happened, but in faith! The kingdom of God has been revealed and this has provoked a silent but radical revolution. The rich man is like a person who has set aside a large sum of money; during the night there is a coup d'état and the value of the money has dropped 100%; the rich man wakes up the next morning but he does not know that he has been reduced to poverty. The poor and the hungry, on the contrary, have gained an advantage because they are better prepared to accept the new reality, they do not fear the change; they have a ready heart.

St. James, addressing the rich, said: "Weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted" (James 5:1-2). Even here there is no report from the time of St. James that the wealth of the rich rotted in the granaries. What the apostle is saying rather is that something has come which has made the wealth of the rich lose all its value; a new wealth has been revealed. "God," St. James writes, "chose the poor of the world to make them rich with faith and heirs of the kingdom" (James 2:5).

More than an "incitement to cast down the mighty from their thrones and exalt the lowly," as it has sometimes been written, the Magnificat is a salutary admonition addressed to the rich and powerful about the tremendous danger they are courting; it is just like the "woes" Jesus pronounces in the parable of the rich man.

4. A parable with contemporary relevance

It is not enough for a reflection on the beatitude of the hungry and the satiated to stop at an explanation of their exegetical significance; it must also help us to read the situation around us with evangelical eyes and to act in accord with the meaning of the beatitude.

The parable of the rich man and the poor man Lazarus repeats itself today in our midst on a global scale. The two characters stand precisely for two hemispheres: The rich man represents the Northern Hemisphere (Western Europe, America, Japan); Lazarus is, with a few exceptions, the Southern Hemisphere. Two characters, two worlds: the "First World" and the "Third World." Two worlds of unequal greatness: What we call the "Third World" in fact represents "Two Thirds of the World." (The usage of this new term is growing.)

Someone has compared the earth to a spaceship on a voyage through the cosmos. In the spaceship one of the three astronauts consumes 85% of the resources present and takes it upon himself to try to grab the remaining 15%. Waste is normal in the rich countries. Years ago research conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture determined that of 161 billion kilos (354.9 billion pounds) of food products, 43 billion -- that is, a fourth -- end up in the garbage. If we wanted to, we could easily recover about 2 billion kilos (4.4 billion pounds) of this food that has been thrown away, a quantity that would be sufficient to feed 4 million people for one year.

Indifference -- pretending not to see, "passing to the other side of the road" (cf. Luke 10:31) -- is perhaps the greatest sin committed against the poor and hungry. Ignoring the great multitude of hungry, beggars, homeless, those without medical care, and above all those without hope for a better future -- Pope John Paul II wrote in the encyclical "Sollicitudo Rei Socialis" -- "means becoming like the rich man who pretended not to know the beggar Lazarus laying at his gate."[2]

We tend to put between ourselves and the poor double glass panes. Double panes -- much in use today -- prevent cold and noise from entering; whatever reaches us gets muffled and weakened. And in fact we see the poor move about, get upset, and cry out behind the television screen, on the pages of the newspaper and missionary magazines, but their cry reaches us from far away. It does not reach the heart or only touches it for a moment.

The first thing to do in regard to the poor, therefore, is to break the "double panes," overcome indifference and insensitivity, throw down the defenses, and allow ourselves to be invaded by a healthy unease on account of the frightening misery that there is in the world. We are called to share the sigh of Christ: "I feel compassion for this crowd that has nothing to eat": "Misereor super turba" (cf. Mark 8:2). When we have the occasion to see what misery and hunger is with our own eyes, visiting the villages in the rural interior or on the outskirts of great cities in certain African countries (this happened to me some months ago in Rwanda), we are choked up by compassion and left without words.

The elimination or reduction of the unjust and scandalous abyss that exists between the satiated and the hungry of the world is the most urgent and most enormous task that humanity has left undone as we enter the new millennium. It is a task in which the religions above all must distinguish themselves and cooperate beyond all rivalry. Such a momentous undertaking cannot be promoted by any political leader or power influenced by the interests of their own nation and often by powerful economic forces. The Holy Father Benedict XVI gave an example with the forceful appeal he directed to the members of the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See: "Among the key issues, how can we not think of the millions of people, especially women and children, who lack water, food, or shelter? The worsening scandal of hunger is unacceptable in a world which has the resources, the knowledge, and the means available to bring it to an end."[3]

6. "Blessed are they who hunger for justice"

I said at the beginning that the two versions of the beatitude of the hungry, that of Luke and that of Mark, do not pose alternatives but go together. Matthew does not speak of material hunger but of hunger and thirst for "justice." There have been two basic interpretations of these words.

One, in line with Lutheran theology, interprets Matthew's beatitude in light of what St. Paul will later say about justification through faith. To have hunger and thirst for justice means being aware of one's own need for justice and the impossibility of attaining it on one's own and therefore the need humbly to wait for it from God. The other interpretation sees in this justice "not that which God himself does or that which he grants but rather that which he demands from man";[4] in other words, the works of justice.

Following this interpretation, which has for quite some time been the more common and the more plausible exegetically, the material hunger of Luke and the spiritual hunger of Matthew are no longer unconnected. Helping the hungry and the poor is among the works of justice and, indeed, according to Matthew it will be the criterion for the separation of the just and the reprobate at the end (cf. Matthew 25).

All the justice that God asks of man is summarized in the double precept of love of God and neighbor (cf. Matthew 22:40 ). It is the love of neighbor that should move those who hunger for justice to concern themselves with those who hunger for bread. It is from this great principle that the Gospel acts in the social realm. Liberal theology understood this principle well.

"In no part of the Gospel," writes one of the most illustrious representatives of liberal theology, Adolph von Harnack, "do we find it taught that we should be indifferent to our brothers. Evangelical indifference (not worrying about food, clothing, the concerns of tomorrow) more than anything else expresses that which each soul should feel in regard to the world, in regard to its goods and enticements. However, when it is a question of our neighbor, the Gospel does not want to hear about indifference, but imposes love and piety. In other words, the Gospel considers the spiritual and temporal needs of our brothers as inseparable."[5]

The Gospel does not incite the hungry to seek justice on their own, to rise up. In the time of Jesus, unlike today, the poor had no theoretical or practical instrument to do this; so the Gospel does not ask of them the useless sacrifice of losing their lives following some zealot, some Spartacus. Jesus himself will confront the wrath and sarcasm of the rich with his "woes" (cf. Luke 16:14); he does not leave this job to the victims.

To try to find at all costs in the Gospel models and explicit invitations addressed to the poor and the hungry to rise up and change their situation on their own is foolish and anachronistic and loses sight of the true contribution that the Gospel can make to their cause. In this connection Rudolph Bultmann is right when he writes that "Christianity ignores every project for transforming the world and it does not have proposals to present for the reform of political and social conditions,"[6] even if this claim is in need of some qualification.

The way of the beatitudes is not the only way for confronting the problem of wealth and poverty, hunger and content; there are others, made possible by the progress of social consciousness, to which Christians rightly give their support and the Church guidance with its social teachings.

The great message of the beatitudes is that, regardless of what the rich and satiated do or do not do for them, even so, in the actual state of things, the situation of the poor and the hungry for justice is preferable to that of the former.

There are structures and aspects of reality that cannot be observed with the naked eye but only with the help of a special light, with infrared or ultraviolet rays. Much use is made of these in satellite photos. The image obtained with this light is very different and surprising for those who are used to seeing the same panorama in natural light. The beatitudes are like infrared rays: They give us a different image of reality, in fact the only true one because it shows what will remain after the "figure of this world" has passed.

7. Eucharist and sharing

Jesus has left us the perfect antithesis of the rich man's feast, namely, the Eucharist. It is the daily celebration of the great feast to which the master will invite "the poor, the deformed, the blind, and the lame" (Luke 16:21), that is, all the poor Lazaruses who are wandering about. In the Eucharist perfect "table fellowship" is realized: There is the same food and the same drink, and in the same amount for all, for the one who presides, for the one who arrives last, for the wealthiest and the poorest of the poor.

The link between material bread and spiritual bread was quite visible in the early Church, when the Lord's Supper, which was called "agape," took place in the context of a fraternal meal in which common bread and Eucharistic bread were shared.

To the Corinthians who were divided on this point St. Paul wrote: "When you meet together it is not the Lord's supper that you eat. For in eating each one goes ahead with his own meal, and one is hungry and another is drunk" (1 Corinthians 11:20-22). This is a grave accusation; it intends to say: "Your gathering is no longer a Eucharist!"

Today the Eucharist is no longer celebrated in the context of a common meal, but the contrast between those who have more than enough and those who lack necessities has assumed a global dimension. If we project what Paul describes in the local church of Corinth onto the universal Church, we are disturbed by the realization that this (objectively but not always as a matter of guilt) is what is happening today. Among the millions of Christians on the various continents who will be participating in Mass next Sunday there will be those (such as ourselves) who will return to homes where they have every good from God at their disposition and there will be others who have nothing to give their children to eat.

The recent postsynodal exhortation on the Eucharist forcefully reminds us: "The food of truth demands that we denounce inhumane situations in which people starve to death because of injustice and exploitation, and it gives us renewed strength and courage to work tirelessly in the service of the civilization of love."[7]

The money which the Church designates for this purpose -- for the sustaining of the various national and diocesan charities, soup kitchens for the poor, initiatives for providing food in developing countries -- this is the best-spent money. One of the signs of the vitality of our traditional religious communities are the soup kitchens that exist in almost every city, which distribute thousands of meals every day in a respectful and hospitable climate. It is a drop in the ocean but even the ocean, Mother Teresa of Calcutta said, is made up of many small drops.

I would like to end with the prayer that we say every day before meals in my community: "Bless, O Lord, this food that from your bounty we are about to take, help us to provide also for those who have no food and grant that we may participate one day in your heavenly meal. Through Christ our Lord."

* * *

[1] Cf. J. Dupont, "Le beatitudini," 2 vol. Edizioni Paoline, 1992.
[2] John Paul II, "Sollicitudo Rei Socialis," No. 42.
[3] "Address of Benedict XVI delivered in the Vatican Apostolic Palace to members of the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See," Monday, January 8, 2007.

[4] Cf. Dupont, vol. 2, pp. 554 ff.
[5] A. von Harnack, "Il cristianesimo e la società," Mendrisio, Cultura Moderna, 1911, pp. 12 ff.
[6] R. Bultmann, "Il cristianesimo primitivo," Milano, Garzanti, 1964, p. 203.

[7] "Sacramentum Caritatis," No. 90.

Bro. Ignatius

Posted -
2007/4/2 上午 09:19:14

4th Lenten Sermon of Father Cantalamessa

"Let Us Call Even Those Who Hate Us 'Brother'"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 1, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the Lenten sermon delivered Friday by Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa in the presence of Benedict XVI and officials of the Roman Curia. The Pontifical Household preacher delivered this final Lenten reflection of the year in the Redemptoris Mater Chapel of the Apostolic Palace.

* * *

1. The mercy of Christ

The beatitude on which we would like to reflect in this last Lenten meditation is the fifth in the order of St. Matthew's Gospel: "Blessed are the merciful for they shall find mercy." As we have done in all our meditations this Lent, we will take as our point of departure the affirmation that the beatitudes are a self-portrait of Christ, and, following the procedure we have used in the past, we will ask how Jesus lived mercy. What does Jesus' life tell us about this beatitude?

In the Bible, the word "mercy" has two basic meanings: The first indicates the attitude of the stronger part (in the covenant, this would be God himself) toward the weaker part and it usually expresses itself in the forgiveness of infidelities and of faults; the second indicates the attitude toward the need of the other and it expresses itself in the so-called works of mercy. (In this second sense the term appears often in the Book of Tobit.) There is, so to say, a mercy of the heart and a mercy of the hands.

Both forms of mercy shine forth in Jesus' life. He reflects God's mercy toward sinners, but he is also moved by all human sufferings and needs; he gives the crowds to eat, heals the sick, frees the oppressed. The Evangelist says of him: "He has taken on our infirmities and borne our sicknesses" (Matthew 8:17).

In the beatitude we are considering, the prevalent sense is certainly the first one, that of forgiving and remitting sins. This is what we conclude from considering the beatitude and its reward: "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall find mercy," that is, with God, who remits their sins. Jesus' admonition, "Be merciful as your Father is merciful," is immediately explained with "forgive and you will be forgiven" (Luke 6:36-37).

We know of Jesus' acceptance of sinners in the Gospel and the opposition this earns him from the defenders of the law, who accuse him of being "a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners" (Luke 7:34). One of Jesus' sayings which is best attested to historically is: "I have not come to call the just, but sinners" (Mark 2:17). Feeling accepted and not condemned by him, sinners listen to him gladly.

But who are the sinners in question? In line with the widespread tendency today to get the Pharisees of the Gospel entirely off the hook, attributing the negative image to a later doctoring by the Evangelists, someone has claimed that these "sinners" were only "the deliberate and impenitent transgressors of the law,"[1] in other words, the common delinquents of the time and those who had gone outside the law.

If this were so, then Jesus' adversaries would have been entirely right to be scandalized and see him as an irresponsible and socially dangerous person. It would be as if a priest today were to regularly frequent members of the mafia and criminals and accept their invitations to dinner with the pretext of speaking to them of God.

In reality, this is not how things are. The Pharisees had their vision of the law and of what conformed to it or was contrary, and they considered reprobate all those who did not follow their practices. Jesus does not deny that sin and sinners exist; he does not justify Zacchaeus' frauds or the deed of the woman caught in adultery. The fact that he calls them "sick" shows this.

What Jesus condemns is the relegating to oneself the determination of what true justice is and considering everyone else to be "thieves, unjust, adulterers," denying them the possibility of conversion. The way that Luke introduces the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector is significant: "He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others" (Luke 18:9). Jesus was more severe with those who condemned sinners with disdain than he was with sinners themselves.[2]

2. A God who prides himself on having mercy

Jesus justifies his behavior toward sinners saying that this is how the heavenly Father acts. He reminds his adversaries of God's word to the prophets: "It is mercy that I want and not sacrifice" (Matthew 9:13). Mercy toward the people's infidelity, "hesed," is the most salient trait of the God of the covenant and it fills the Bible from one end to the other. A psalm speaks of it in the course of a litany, explaining all the events in the history of Israel: "For your mercy is eternal" (Psalm 136).

Being merciful appears in this way as an essential aspect to being "in the image and likeness of God." "Be merciful, as your heavenly Father is merciful" (Luke 6:36) is a paraphrase of the famous: "Be holy for I the Lord your God am holy" (Leviticus 6:36).

But the most surprising thing about God's mercy is that he feels joy in being merciful. Jesus ends the parable about the lost sheep saying: "There will be more joy in heaven over one converted sinner than for ninety-nine just people who have no need to convert" (Luke 15:7). The woman who finds her lost coin calls out to her friends: "Rejoice with me." In the parable of the prodigal son also the joy overflows and becomes a feast, a banquet.

We are not dealing with an isolated theme but one deeply rooted in the Bible. In Ezekiel God says: "I do not rejoice over the death of the wicked person but (I rejoice!) in his desisting from his wickedness and living" (Ezekiel 33:11). Micah says that God "takes pride in having mercy" (Micah 7:18), that is he takes pleasure in being merciful.

But why, we ask ourselves, must one sheep count more on the scales than all the others put together, and to count more it must be the one that went away and caused the most problems? I have found a convincing explanation in the poet Charles Péguy. Getting lost, that sheep, like the younger son, made God's heart tremble. God feared that he would lose him forever, that he would be forced to condemn him and deprive him eternally. This fear made hope blossom in God and this hope, once it was realized brought joy and celebration. "Each time a man repents, a hope of God is crowned."[3] This is figurative language, as is all our language about God, but it contains a truth.

The condition that makes this possible in us men is that we do not know the future and therefore we hope; in God, who knows the future, the condition is that he does not want (and, in a certain sense, cannot) realize what he wants without our consent. Human freedom explains the existence of hope in God.

What should we say about the ninety-nine prudent sheep and the older son? Is there no joy in heaven for them? Is it worthwhile to live one's entire life as a good Christian? Remember what the father said to his older son: "Son, you are with me always and all that I have is yours" (Luke 15:31). The older son's mistake is to have thought that staying always at home and sharing everything with the father was not an incredible privilege but a merit; he acts more like a mercenary than a son. (This should put all of us older brothers on guard!)

On this point reality is better than the parable. In reality, the older son -- the First Born of the Father, the Word -- did not remain in the Father's house; he went into "a far off land" to look for the younger son, that is, fallen humanity; he was the one that brought the younger son back home and procured the new clothes for him and a feast to which he can sit down at every Eucharist.

In one of his novels Dostoyevsky describes a scene that has the air of having been witnessed in reality. A woman holds a baby a few weeks old in her arms and -- for the first time, according to her -- he smiles at her. All contrite, she makes the sign of the cross on his forehead and to those who ask her the reason for this she says: "Just as a mother is happy when she sees the first smile of her child, God too rejoices every time a sinner gets on his knees and addresses a heartfelt prayer to him."[4]

3. Our mercy, cause or effect of God's mercy?

Jesus says: "Blessed are the merciful, for they will find mercy," and in the Our Father he has us pray: "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us." He also says: "If you do not forgive men, neither will your Father forgive your sins" (Matthew 6:15). These statements might make us think that God's mercy toward us is an effect of our mercy toward others and that it is proportionate to it.

If it were this way, then the relationship between grace and good works would be totally reversed, and the purely gratuitous character of divine mercy would be destroyed. God solemnly announced the gratuitous character of his grace to Moses: "I will give grace to whomever I wish, and will have mercy on whomever I choose to have mercy" (Exodus 33:19).

The parable of the two servants (Matthew 18:23ff) is the key for correctly interpreting the relationship between God's mercy and ours. There we see how it is the king who, in the first instance, without conditions, forgives an enormous debt to the servant (ten thousand talents!) and it is precisely his generosity that should have moved the servant to have pity on the other servant who owed him the tiny sum of one hundred denarii.

We must be merciful because we have received mercy, not in order to receive mercy; but we must be merciful, otherwise God's mercy will have no effect on us and will be taken back, just as the king in the parable took back the mercy he had shown to the pitiless servant. "Prevenient grace" is always what creates the duty: "As the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive," St. Paul writes to the Colossians (Colossians 3:13).

If in the beatitudes God's mercy toward us seems to be the effect of our mercy toward our brothers it is because Jesus links it to the perspective if the last judgment ("they will find mercy," in the future!). "The judgment," writes St. James in fact, "will be without mercy for those who have not been merciful; yet mercy triumphs over judgment" (James 2:13).

4. Experiencing divine mercy

If divine mercy is the beginning of everything and it demands mercy among men and makes it possible, then the most important thing for us is to have a renewed experience of God's mercy. We are drawing near to Easter and this is the Easter experience par excellence.

The author Franz Kafka wrote a novel called "The Trial." In it there is a man who is put under arrest without anyone knowing the reason why. The man continues his normal life and work but also carries out extensive research to find out the reasons, the court, the charges and the procedure. But no one knows what to tell him except that he really is on trial. In the end two men come to carry out the sentence, execution.

During the course of the story it comes to be known that there are three possibilities for this man: true absolution, apparent absolution, pardon. Apparent absolution and pardon would not resolve anything; with them the man would remain in mortal uncertainty all his life. In the true absolution "the trial procedures will be completed eliminated, the whole thing would disappear; not only the charge but also the trial and the sentence would be destroyed, all will be destroyed."

But it is not known whether there have ever been any of these true absolutions; there are only rumors about them, nothing more than "beautiful stories." The novel ends, as all the others of this author do: Something is glimpsed from far away; it is anxiously pursued like in a nightmare, but there is no possibility of reaching it.[5]

At Easter the Church's liturgy conveys the unbelievable news that true absolution exists for man; it is not just a legend, something beautiful but unattainable. Jesus has "canceled the bond that stood against us with its legal demands; this he set aside, nailing it to the cross" (Colossians 2:14). He has destroyed everything. "There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus," exclaims St. Paul (Romans 8:1). No condemnation! Nothing at all! For those who believe in Christ Jesus!

In Jerusalem there was a miraculous pool and the first one to climb into it when the waters were stirred up was healed (John 5:2ff). The reality, even here, is infinitely greater than the symbol. From the cross of Christ there flowed water and blood, and not just one but all who step into this fountain will leave it healed.

After baptism, this miraculous pool is the sacrament of reconciliation and this last meditation would like to serve as a preparation for a good Easter confession. A confession different from the usual ones, in which we truly allow the Paraclete to "convince us of sin." We could take as a mirror the beatitudes meditated on during Lent, beginning now and repeating the ancient expression, which is so beautiful: "Kyrie eleison!" "Lord have mercy!"

"Blessed are the pure of heart": Lord, I see all the impurity and hypocrisy that is in my heart, the double life I live before you and before others. … Kyrie eleison!

"Blessed are the meek": Lord, I ask your forgiveness for the hidden impatience and violence in me, for rash judgments, for the suffering I have caused those around me. … Kyrie eleison!

"Blessed are the hungry": Lord, forgive my indifference toward the poor and the hungry, my constant search for comfort, my bourgeoisie lifestyle. … Kyrie eleison!

"Blessed are the merciful": Lord, often I have asked for and quickly received your mercy, without reflecting on the price you paid for it! Often I have been the servant who was forgiven but who did not know how to forgive. … Kyrie eleison! Lord have mercy!

There is a particular grace when, not only the individual, but the entire community places itself before God in this penitential attitude. From this profound experience of God's mercy we leave renewed and full of hope: "God, rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our sins, he made us alive again in Christ" (Ephesians 2:4-5).

5. A Church "rich in mercy"

In his message for Lent this year the Holy Father writes: "May Lent be for every Christian a renewed experience of God's love given to us in Christ, love that every day we must, for our part, return to our neighbor." This is how it is with mercy, the form that God's love takes in relation to sinful man: After we have had an experience of it we must, for our part, show it to our brothers, and do this at the level of the ecclesial community and at a personal level.

Preaching from this same table during the retreat for the Roman Curia in the Jubilee Year 2000, Cardinal François Xavier Van Thuân, alluding to the rite of the opening of the Holy Door, said in a meditation: "I dream of a Church that is a 'Holy Door,' open, that welcomes all, full of compassion and understanding for the pain and suffering of humanity, completely ready to console it."[6]

The Church of the God who is "rich in mercy," "dives in misericordia," cannot itself fail to be "dives in misericordia." We can draw some criteria from the attitude of Christ toward sinners that we examined above. He does not make light of sin, but he finds the way to not alienate sinners but to draw them to himself. He does not see in them only what they are, but what they can become if reached by divine mercy in the depths of their misery and desperation. He does not wait for them to come to him; often it is he who goes in search of them.

Today, exegetes are fairly in agreement in admitting that Jesus did not have a hostile attitude toward the Mosaic law, which he himself scrupulously observed. What he opposed in the religious elite of his time was a certain rigid and sometimes inhuman manner of interpreting the law. "The Sabbath," he said, "is for man and not man for the Sabbath" (Mark 2:27), and what he says about the Sabbath rest, one of the most sacred laws of Israel, holds for every other law.

Jesus is firm and rigorous about principles but he knows when a principle must give way to the higher principle of God's mercy and man's salvation. How these criteria drawn from Christ's actions can be concretely applied to new problems in society depends on patient study and definitively on the discernment of the magisterium. Even in the life of the Church, as in Jesus' life, the mercy of the hands and of the heart must shine forth together with the works of mercy, which are the essence of mercy.

6. "Put on mercy"

The last word in regard to the beatitudes must always be the one that touches us personally and moves each of us to conversion and action. St. Paul exhorts the Colossians with these words:

"Put on, then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive" (Colossians 3:12-13).

"We human beings," said St. Augustine, "we are vessels of clay that are damaged by the slightest nick" ("lutea vasa quae faciunt invicem angustias").[7] We cannot live together in harmony, in the family and in any type of community, without the practice of reciprocal forgiveness and mercy. Mercy ("misericordia") is a word composed of "misereo" and "cor"; it means to be moved in your heart, to be moved to pity, in the face of suffering or by your brother's mistake. This is how God explains his mercy when he sees the people going astray: "My heart is overwhelmed, my pity is stirred" (Hosea 11:8).

It is a question of responding not with condemnation but with forgiveness and, when it is possible, excusing. When we consider ourselves, this saying is correct: "He who excuses himself, God accuses. He who accuses himself, God excuses." When it is a matter of other people the contrary must be held: "He who excuses his brother, God excuses him. He who accuses his brother, God accuses him."

For a community, forgiveness is what oil is for a motor. If one drives a car without a drop of oil, after a few kilometers everything will go up in flames. Forgiveness that lets others go is like oil. There is a psalm that sings of the joy of living together as reconciled brothers; it says that this "is like perfumed oil on the head" that runs down into Aaron's beard and clothing to the very hem (cf. Psalm 133).

Our Aaron, our High Priest, the fathers of the Church would have said, is Christ; mercy and forgiveness is the oil that runs down from the "head" raised up on the cross, it runs down along the body of the Church to the edges of her robes to those who live on her margins. Where we live in this way, in reciprocal forgiveness and mercy, "the Lord gives his blessing and life forever."

Let us try to see where, in all our relationships, it seems necessary to let the oil of mercy and reconciliation run down. Let us pour it out silently, abundantly, this Easter. Let us unite ourselves with our Orthodox brothers who at Easter do not cease to sing:

"It is the day of the Resurrection!
Let us radiate joy through this feast,
embracing all.
Let us call even those who hate us 'brother,'
forgiving all for the love of the Resurrection."[8]

* * *

[1] Cf. E.P. Sanders, "Jesus and Judaism," London: SCM, 1985, p. 385.
[2] Cf. J.D.G. Dunn, "Gli albori del cristianesimo," I, 2, Brescia: Paideia, 2006, pp. 567-572.
[3] Ch. Péguy, "Il portico del mistero della seconda virtù," in Oeuvres poétiques complètes, Paris: Gallimard, 975, pp. 571 ff.

[4] F. Dostoevskij, "L'Idiota," Milano, 1983, p. 272.
[5] F. Kafka, "Il processo," Garzanti, Milano, 1993, pp. 129 ff.
[6] F.X. Van Thuân, "Testimoni della speranza," Roma: Città Nuova, 2000, p.58.

[7] St. Augustine, Sermons, 69, 1 (PL 38, 440)
[8] Stichirà di Pasqua, testi citati in G. Gharib, Le icone festive della Chiesa Ortodossa, Milano 1985, pp. 174-182.

Bro. Ignatius

Posted -
2007/4/8 下午 09:30:58

Good Friday Sermon of Father Cantalamessa

"There Were Also Some Women"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 6, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the Good Friday sermon delivered today by Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa during the Celebration of the Lord's Passion in St. Peter's Basilica, and in the presence of Benedict XVI.

* * *

There were also some women

"Standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene" (John 19:25). Let us leave Mary his mother aside this time. Her presence on Calvary needs no explanation. She was his mother, and this by itself says everything; mothers do not abandon their children, not even one condemned to death. But why were the other women there? Who were they and how many were there?

The Gospels tell us the names of some of them: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, Salome, the mother of the sons of Zebedee, a certain Joanna and a certain Susanna (Luke 8:3). Having come with Jesus from Galilee, these women followed him, weeping, on the journey to Calvary (Luke 23:27-28). Now, on Golgotha, they watched "from a distance" (that is from the minimum distance permitted them), and from there, a little while later, they accompanied him in sorrow to the tomb, with Joseph of Arimathea (Luke 23:55).

This fact is too marked and too extraordinary to hastily pass over. We call them, with a certain masculine condescension, "the pious women," but they are much more than "pious women," they are "mothers of courage"! They defied the danger of openly showing themselves to be there on behalf of the one condemned to death. Jesus said: "Blessed is he who is not scandalized by me" (Luke 7:23). These women are the only ones who were not scandalized by him.

There has been animated discussion for quite some time about who it was that wanted Jesus' death: Was it the Jews or Pilate? One thing is certain in any case: It was men and not women. No woman was involved, not even indirectly, in his condemnation. Even the only pagan woman named in the accounts, Pilate's wife, dissociated herself from his condemnation (Matthew 27:19). Certainly Jesus died for the sins of women too, but historically they can say: "We are innocent of this man's blood" (Matthew 27:24).

* * *

This is one of the surest signs of the honesty and the historical reliability of the Gospels: The poor showing of the authors and inspirers of the Gospels and the marvelous figure cut by the women. Clearly the authors and inspirers of the Gospels saw the story they were telling as infinitely greater than their own miserableness and were thus drawn to be faithful to it. Otherwise, who would have allowed the ignominy of their own fear, flight, and denial -- which was made to look worse by the very different conduct of the women -- recorded for posterity.

It has always been asked why it was the "pious women" who were the first to see the Risen Christ and receive the task of announcing it to the apostles. This was the more certain way of making the Resurrection credible. The testimony of women had no weight and much less that of a woman, like Mary Magdalene, who had been possessed by demons (Mark 16:9). It is probably for this reason that no woman figures in Paul's long list of those who had seen the Risen Christ (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:5-8). The same apostles took the words of the women as "an idle tale," an entirely female thing, and did not believe them (Luke 24:11).

The ancient authors thought they knew the answer to this question. Romanos the Melode exhorts the apostles to not be offended by the precedence accorded to the women. They were the first to see the Risen Christ, he said, because a woman, Eve, was the first to sin![1] The real answer is different: The women were the first to see him because they were the last to leave him for dead after his death when they came to bring spices to his tomb to anoint him (Mark 16:1).

* * *

We must ask ourselves about this fact: Why were the women untroubled by the scandal of the cross? Why did they stay when everything seem finished, and when even his closest disciples had abandoned him and were secretly planning to go back home?

Jesus had already given the answer to this question when, replying to Simon, he said of the woman who had washed and kissed his feet: "She has loved much" (Luke 7:47)! The women had followed Jesus for himself, out of gratitude for the good they had received from him, not for the hope of getting some benefit from him or having a career from following him. "Twelve thrones" were not promised to them, nor had they asked to sit at his right hand in his kingdom. They followed him, it is written, "to serve him" (Luke 8:3; Matthew 27:55); they were the only ones, after Mary his mother, to have assimilated the spirit of the Gospel.

They followed the reasoning of the heart and this had not deceived him. In this there presence near to the crucified and risen Christ contains a vital teaching for today. Our civilization, dominated by technology, needs a heart to survive in it without being dehumanized. We have to give more room to the "reasons of the heart," if humanity is not to fail in this ice age.

In this, quite differently than in other areas, technology is of little help to us. For a long time now there has been work on a computer that "thinks" and many are convinced that there will be success. But (fortunately!) no one has yet proposed inventing a computer that "loves," that is moved, that meets man on the affective plane, facilitating love, as computers facilitate the calculation of the distance between the stars, the movement of atoms, and the memorizing of data.

The improvement of man's intelligence and capacity to know does not go forward at the same rate as improvement in his capacity to love. The latter does not seem to count for much and yet we know well that happiness or unhappiness on earth does not depend so much on knowing or not-knowing as much as it does on loving or not loving, on being loved or not being loved. It is not hard to understand why we are so anxious to increase our knowledge but not so worried about increasing our capacity to love: Knowledge automatically translates into power, love into service.

One of the modern idolatries is the "IQ" idolatry, of the "intelligence quotient." Numerous methods of measuring intelligence have been proposed, even if all have so far proved to be in large part unreliable. Who is concerned with the "quotient of the heart"? And yet what Paul said always remains true: "Knowledge puffs up, love builds up" (1 Corinthians 8:1). Secular culture is no longer able to draw this truth from its religious source, in Paul, but perhaps it is ready to underwrite it when it returns in literary garments. Love alone redeems and saves, while science and the thirst for knowledge, by itself, is able to lead Faust and his imitators to damnation.

After so many ages had spoken of human beings by taking names from man -- "homo erectus," "homo faber," and today's "homo sapiens-sapiens" -- it is good for humanity that the age of woman is finally dawning: an era of the heart, of compassion, of peace, and this earth ceases to be "the threshing floor which makes us so fierce."[2]

* * *

From every part there emerges the exigency to give more room to women in society and in religion. We do not believe that "the eternal feminine will save us."[3] Everyday experience shows us that women can "lift us up," but they can also cast us down. She too needs to be saved, neither more nor less than man. But it is certain that once she is redeemed by Christ and "liberated" on the human level from ancient subjugations, woman can contribute to saving our society from some profound evils that threaten it: inhuman cruelty, will to power, spiritual dryness, disdain for life.

But we must avoid repeating the ancient gnostic mistake according to which woman, in order to save herself, must cease to be a woman and must become a man.[4] Pro-male prejudice is so deeply rooted in society that women themselves have ended up succumbing to it. To affirm their dignity, they have sometimes believed it necessary to minimize or deny the difference of the sexes, reducing it to a product of culture. "Women are not born, they become," as one of their illustrious representatives has said.[5]

This tendency seems to have been overcome. In postmodern thought the ideal is no longer indifference but equal dignity. Difference in general is beginning to be seen as creative, whether for men or for women. Each of the two sexes represents "the other" and stimulates openness and creativity, since what defines the human person is precisely his being in relation. "Man is prideful," writes the poet Claudel; "There was no other way to get him to understand his neighbor, to get inside his skin; there was no other way to get him to understand dependence, necessity, the need for another than himself, than through the law of being different [a man or a woman]."[6]

* * *

How grateful we must be to the "pious women"! Along the way to Calvary, their sobbing was the only friendly sound that reached the Savior's ears; while he hung on the cross, their gaze was the only one that fell upon him with love and compassion.

The Byzantine liturgy honored the pious women, dedicating a Sunday of the liturgical year to them, the second Sunday after Easter, which has the name "Sunday of the Ointment Bearing Women." Jesus is happy that in the Church the women who loved him and believed in him when he was alive are honored. Of one of them -- the woman who poured the perfumed oil on his head -- he made this prophecy that has come true over the centuries: "Wherever in the whole world this Gospel is preached what she has done will be told in memory of her" (Matthew 26:13).

The pious women must not only be admired and honored, but imitated. St. Leo the Great says that "Christ's passion is prolonged to the end of ages"[7] and Pascal wrote that "Christ will be in agony until the end of the world."[8] The passion is prolonged in members of the Body of Christ. The many religious and lay women are the heirs of the "pious women" who today are at the side of the poor, those sick with AIDS, prisoners, all those rejected by society. To them, believers and nonbelievers, Christ repeats: "You have done this for me" (Matthew 25:40).

* * *

The pious women are examples for Christian women today not only for the role they played in the Passion but also for the one they played in the Resurrection. From one end of the Bible to the other we meet the "Go!" of the missions ordered by God. It is the word addressed to Abraham and Moses ("Go, Moses, into the land of Egypt"), to the prophets, to the apostles: "Go out to all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature."

They are all "Go's!" addressed to men. There is only one "Go!" addressed to women, the one addressed to the ointment bearers the morning of the resurrection: "Jesus said to them, 'Do not be afraid; go and tell my brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see me'" (Matthew 28:10). With these words they were made the first witnesses of the resurrection.

It is a shame that, because of the later erroneous identification of Mary Magdalene with the sinful woman who washed Jesus' feet (Luke 7:37), she ended up giving rise to numerous ancient and modern legends and she has entered into the devotions and art in "penitent" garments, instead of as the first witness of the resurrection, the "apostolorum apostola" (apostle of the apostles), according to St. Thomas Aquinas' definition.[9]

"The women departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples" (Matthew 28:8). Christian women, continue to bring the successors of the apostles and to us priests, who are their collaborators, the good news: "The Master lives! He has risen! He precedes you into Galilee, that is, wherever you go!" Continue to give us courage, continue to defend life. Together with the other women of the world you are the hope of a more human world.

To the first among the "pious women," and their incomparable model, the mother of Jesus, we repeat this ancient prayer of the Church: "Holy Mary, succor of the miserable, support of the fearful, comfort of the weak: pray for the people, intervene for the clergy, intercede for the devoted female sex" (Ora pro populo, interveni pro clero, intercede pro devoto femineo sexu).[10]

* * *

[1] Romanos the Melode, "Hymns," 45, 6.
[2] Dante Alighieri, Paradiso, 22, v.151.
[3] W. Goethe, "Faust," finale, part II.

[4] Cf. Coptic Gospel of Thomas, 114; Excerpts of Theodotus, 21,3.
[5] Simone de Beauvoir, "The Second Sex," 1949.
[6] P. Claudel, "The Satin Slipper," act III, scene 8.

[7] St. Leo the Great, Sermon 70, 5 (PL 54, 383).
[8] B. Pascal, "Pensées," n. 553 Br.
[9] St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Gospel of John, XX, 2519.

[10] Antiphon to the Magnificat, Common of Virgins.

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