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Second Advent homily by preacher of Pontifical Household

Second Advent homily by preacher of Pontifical Household

(Vatican Radio) On Friday morning the preacher of the Pontifical Household, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa gave the second of three Advent homilies in the Mater Redemptoris chapel in the Vatican. In his first meditation, last Friday, Fr Cantalamessa explored the theme of peace as gift of God in Christ Jesus, while this reflection is focused on peace as a task to work for and the third, on Friday 19th, will look at peace as fruit of the Holy Spirit.

Please find below the full text of Fr Raniero Cantalamessa’s second Advent homily:


Peace as a Duty

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

1. The Peace of Jesus and that of Caesar Augustus

Jesus not only exhorted us to be peacemakers, but he also taught us, by word and example, how to become peacemakers. He says to his disciples: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you” (John 14:27). At that same time, another great man was proclaiming peace in the world. Discovered in Asia Minor was a copy of Caesar Augustus’ famous “Index of His Enterprises.” Among the great enterprises accomplished by him, the Roman Emperor also lists that of having established the peace of Rome in the world, a peace, it is written, “obtained through victories” (parta victoriis pax).5

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Peace between Religions                    

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

The underlying motive that makes possible a loyal dialogue between religions is that “we all have one God.” In 1076 pope Saint Gregory VII wrote to a Muslim king of North Africa: “We believe and confess one God, even if in different ways, we praise and venerate Him every day as Creator of the centuries and governor of this world.”6 It is the truth that Saint Paul also begins with in his address to the Areopagus of Athens: “In him we live and move and have our being” (cf. Acts 17:28).

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

The theological foundation of the dialogue is also our faith in the Holy Spirit. As Spirit of the redemption and Spirit of grace, he is the bond of peace between the baptized of the different Christian Confessions; but as Spirit of creation, or creator Spirit, he is a bond of peace between believers of all religions and in fact between all men of good will. “Every truth, by whomever it is said – wrote Saint Thomas Aquinas –, comes from the Holy Spirit.”7 As this creator Spirit guided the prophets of the Old Testament to Christ (1 Peter 1:11), so we Christian believe that, in a way known only to God, he guides to Christ and to his paschal mystery persons who live outside of the Church (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 22).

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

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

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

“For he is our peace, who has made us both one,

and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility,

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

that he might create in himself one new man

in place of the two, so making peace, ,

and might reconcile us both to God in one body,

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

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

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

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

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

3. Think globally, act locally

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lord Jesus Christ, you said to your apostles:

“I leave you peace, my peace I give you”,

look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church,

and grant us the peace and unity of your kingdom

where you live for ever and ever.


(from Vatican Radio)

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