Papal Household Preacher's 3rd Meditation for Advent 2003 (Part 2)

Mother Teresa’s Jesus-Centered Spirituality

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VATICAN CITY, DEC. 23, 2003 ( Here is Part 2 of the third Advent meditation that the Papal Household preacher, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, delivered last Friday in the presence of the Pope and members of the Roman Curia. Part 1 appeared Monday.

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Father Raniero Cantalamessa
Advent 2003 at the Pontifical Household
Third Homily

“Do You Know the Living Christ?”

4. The Love of Christ of which It Is Impossible to Think of Any Greater

Now, however, a Christmas ending. Mother Teresa has reminded us today about the secret source of her service to the poor and of the whole of her life: the love of Jesus. And this is also the secret to celebrate a true Christmas. In the Christmas carol “Adeste Fideles” there is a verse that says: “Sic nos amantem quis non redamaret?” How can one not return the love of one who has loved so much?” A loving heart is the only crib Jesus loves to come to at Christmas.

But where can this love be found? Mother Teresa knew of whom she should request it: of Mary! One of her prayers says:

“Mary, my dearest Mother, give me your heart so beautiful, so pure, so immaculate, so full of Love and Humility, that I may receive Jesus as You did — and go in haste to give Him to others.”[15]

But on this point, we must be even bolder than Mother Teresa. I will explain myself. Mother Teresa has a wonderful spirituality; I have tried to bring to light to a degree. But her spirituality, as well as that of Padre Pio, is marked by the time in which both of them were formed. What was missing in theological reflection — not in life! — was a clear Trinitarian perspective which now, after the Council, for example in the [apostolic letter] “Novo Millennio Ineunte,” appears as the source and form of all Christian holiness. As the postulator of her cause recalled, hers is a spirituality that is more “Jesus-centered” rather than Trinitarian.

Mother Teresa has different and beautiful prayers to the Virgin, but none — at least in the writings known to date — to the Holy Spirit. The latter is mentioned only rarely and almost by accident, in instances of traditional liturgical formulas. There is no doubt that her holiness, as that of all the saints, is from top to bottom the work of the Holy Spirit. [Referring] to the wisdom of the saints, St. Bonaventure says: “no one receives Him unless He is desired, and no one desires Him unless one is profoundly inflamed by the Holy Spirit.”[16] It is only that this role of the Holy Spirit was not sufficiently brought to light in spiritual and theological formation.

Fortunately, it is not wide theological vision that makes the saints but the heroism of charity. Moreover, no saint possesses on his own all the charisms and exhausts all the potential enclosed in the divine model that is Christ. Fullness is found in the ensemble of the saints, that is, in the Church, not in the individual. The members of a religious institute should be so wise as to preserve intact the heritage transmitted by the founder, remaining open, at the same time, to receive the new lights and graces that the Spirit does not cease to lavish on the Church.

One is perplexed by those movements and communities in which everything — every word of God, every spiritual intuition and initiative — must pass rigidly through the person in charge or the founder and from him be transmitted to the bases. It is as if people refused to have their own original relation with God, within the common charism, and become simple repeaters.

Beginning from a Trinitarian perspective, what do we discover that is new about the love of Jesus? An extraordinary thing: that a perfect, infinite love for Jesus exists, the only one worthy of him, a love “of which it is not possible to think of one greater,” and we discover that there is for us the possibility of being part of it, of making it our own, of receiving Jesus with it at Christmas. It is the love with which the heavenly Father loves his Son, in the very act of generating him.

We received such love in baptism, because the love with which the Father loves the Son from eternity is called the Holy Spirit and we received the Holy Spirit. What do we think is that “love of God that was poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (cf. Romans 5:5) if it is not, literally, the love of God, that is, the eternal love, uncreated, with which the Father loves the Son and from whom every other love proceeds?

Last time I said that the mystics are not a category of Christians who are apart; they do not exist to amaze us, but to show all, in a magnified way, what the full development of the life of grace is. And the mystics have taught us, precisely, this: that, by grace, we are inserted in the vortex of the Trinitarian life. God, says St. John of the Cross, communicates to the soul “the same love that he communicates to the Son, even if this does not happen by nature, but by union. … The soul participates in God, accomplishing, together with him, the work of the Most Holy Trinity.”[17]

It is Jesus himself who assures us of this in clear words: “so that the love with which thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them,” he says addressing the Father (John 17:26). In us, then, by grace is the same love with which the Father loves the Son. What a discovery, what horizons for our prayer and our contemplation! Christianity is grace and grace is nothing other than this: participation in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4), namely, in divine love, love being the very “nature” of which the God of the Bible is made.

Some mystics, like Eckhart, spoke of a special, mysterious Christmas, which takes place in the “depth of the soul,” celebrated when the human creature, by his faith and humility, allows God the Father to generate again in him his own Son.[18] A recurring maxim in the Fathers — from Origen to St. Augustine and St. Bernard — says: “What benefit is it for me that Christ was born once in Bethlehem, if he is not born again by faith in my soul?”[19] The custom of celebrating three Masses on Christmas day has been explained traditionally thus: the first commemorates the eternal birth from the Father, the second the historical birth from Mary, the third the mystical birth in the soul.

The German mystic Angelus Silesius expresses this idea in two verses: “Even if Christ were born a thousand times in Bethlehem / If he is not born in thee you are lost for eternity.”[20] These verses were meditated upon at Christmas of 1955 by the well-known Italian convert Giovanni Papini; he wondered how this interior birth could occur and the answer he gave himself — and which can also serve us — was the following:

“This new miracle is not impossible as long as it is desired and anticipated. The day in which you will not feel a pang of bitterness and jealousy before the joy of an enemy or friend, rejoice because it is a sign that that birth is close. … The day in which you will feel the need to bring some happiness to one who is sad and the impulse to alleviate the pain and misery of even only one creature, be happy because God’s arrival is imminent. And if one day your are stricken and persecuted by misfortune and you lose your health and strength, children and friends, and you must endure the indifference, the malice and the coldness of those near and far, but, despite everything you do not abandon yourself to lamentations and cursing and accept your destiny with a serene spirit; exult and triumph because the portent that seemed impossible has happened and the Savior is already born in your heart.”[21]

All of these are “signs” of the birth that has occurred, but the cause, which produces it, is the one mentioned at the beginning: desire and expectation: a faith full of expectation, certain of itself, expectant faith, according to the expression dear to English-speaking Christians. Mary also conceived Christ like this in her heart, by faith, before she did so p
hysically in her flesh: “prius concepit mente quam corpore.”[22]

It is not a question of having particular “sentiments” (who can “feel” such a thing?); it is enough to believe and, at the moment of receiving the Body and Blood of Christ on Christmas Eve, to say with simplicity: “Jesus, I receive you as Mary your Mother received you; I love you with the love with which the heavenly Father loves you, that is, with the Holy Spirit.”[23]

With these sentiments I wish you, Most Blessed Father, and you, Venerable Fathers, and you, brothers and sisters, Happy Christmas!

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[15] “Mary, my dearest Mother, give me your heart so beautiful, so pure, so immaculate, so full of Love and Humility, that I may receive Jesus as You did — and go in haste to give Him to others”: in “A Fruitful Branch on the Vine, Jesus,” p. 44. It is the first book of Mother Teresa of Calcutta edited by Missionaries of Charity, St. Anthony Messenger Press, Cincinnati, Ohio, 2000.

[16] St. Bonaventure, “Itinerarium mentis in Deum,” 7,4.

[17] St. John of the Cross, Spiritual Canticle A, strophe 38.

[18] Cf. Master Eckhart, “Il Natale dell’anima,” ed. G. Faggin, Vicenza 1984.

[19] Cf. Origen, Commentary on Luke’s Gospel 22,3 (SCh 87, p. 302).

[20] Angelo Silesius, “The Cherubic Pilgrim,” I, 61: “Wird Christus tausendmal zu Bethlehem geborn / und nicht in dir: du bleibst noch ewiglich verlorn.”

[21] Cit. da A. Comastri, “Dov’è il tuo Dio? Storie di conversioni del XX secolo,” San Paolo 2003, p. 52.

[22] Cf. St. Augustine, Discourses 215,4 (PL 38, 1074).

[23] Cf. that which St. Francis wrote, “Admonitions” I (FF, 142): “The Spirit of the Lord, which dwells in his faithful, is him who receives the most sacred Body and Blood of the Lord.”

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