Father Cantalamessa Explains a New Way of Suffering

Pontifical Household Preacher Comments on Sunday’s Gospel

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry

ROME, JUNE 24, 2005 (Zenit.org).- In his commentary on this Sunday’s readings, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher of the Pontifical Household, speaks of how to live with and accept suffering and the cross.

* * *

Matthew (10:37-42)

Why the Cross?

In the Gospel, Jesus speaks to us of the need to take up our cross. But how can we make this word, which is opposite to pleasure, understood by a society like ours? Let us begin with an observation.

In this life, pleasure and pain succeed one another with the same regularity with which a wave rises in the sea and is followed by a depression and a vacuum capable of sucking in whoever attempts to reach the shore.

Man seeks desperately to separate these Siamese twins, so to speak — to isolate pleasure from pain. At times he imagines he has succeeded, but only for a short while. Pain is as present as an inebriating drink that, in time, will become poison.

In fact, it is disordered pleasure itself which turns against us and becomes suffering. And it does so, either spontaneously or tragically, or bit by bit. It does so because it doesn’t last long and generates surfeit and disgust.

It is a lesson that comes to us from the daily news, if we know how to read it, and that man has represented in a thousand ways in his art and literature. «Something bitter arises from the depth of every pleasure and makes us anxious even in the midst of delights,» wrote the pagan poet Lucretius.

Pleasure is deceitful in itself because it promises what it cannot give. Before being tasted, it seems to offer the infinite and eternity, but, once over, one is left with nothing.

The answer to suffering

The Church states that she has an answer to this, the real drama of human existence. From the beginning, man has had a choice, made possible by his freedom, which has led him to direct himself exclusively to visible things. That desire and capacity of joy with which he was endowed was given to him so that he could aspire to enjoy the infinite good which is God.

For pleasure that has been chosen against God’s law and symbolized by Adam and Eve who tasted the forbidden fruit, God has allowed pain and death to follow, more as a remedy than as a punishment.

God did this so that, in following his unbridled egoism and instinct, man would not destroy himself and his neighbor completely. (Today with drugs and the consequences of certain sexual disorders, we see how it is possible to destroy one’s own life for the pleasure of an instant!) So we see that suffering is attached to pleasure as a shadow.

Christ has finally broken this chain. He, «who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross» (Hebrews 12:2). In sum, he did the contrary of what Adam did and of what every man does.

Rising from the dead, he inaugurated a new type of pleasure. This pleasure does not lead to pain, and is not its cause, rather it follows as its fruit: It finds in the cross its source and hope that never ends, not even with death.

True pleasure has the last word

And this is not only purely spiritual pleasure, but all honest pleasure, including the pleasure that man and woman experience in giving themselves totally to one another, in the generation of life and in seeing their children and grandchildren grow up, the pleasure of art and of creativity, of beauty, of friendship and of work happily concluded.

This is all joy. The essential difference is that it is pleasure in this case, not suffering, which has the last word.

What should one do then? It is not about seeking suffering, but about accepting with renewed courage the suffering that exists in life.

We can approach the cross the way the sail does the wind. If the wind catches the sail on the appropriate side, the sail fills up and the wind carries the boat over the waves. If, however, the sail tangled, the wind breaks the mast and everything capsizes. Well carried, the cross leads us forward; badly carried, it crushes us.

[Italian original published in Famiglia Cristiana; translation by ZENIT]

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry


Support ZENIT

If you liked this article, support ZENIT now with a donation