Church's Urgent Need: An Outburst of Charity

Father Cantalamessa Gives 3rd Lenten Sermon

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VATICAN CITY, APRIL 8, 2011 ( The Church is in urgent need of an «outburst of charity,» that oil that heals all fractures and that led the Church itself in ancient times to be referred to as «agape,» according to the preacher of the Pontifical Household.

Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa made this reflection today when he gave his third Lenten sermon in the presence of Benedict XVI and members of the Roman Curia.

The preacher continued with his Lenten series on love, saying that after the first two meditations on the love of God as gift, the time had come for a reflection on «the duty to love, in particular, the duty to love our neighbor.»

Father Cantalamessa began by noting: «A strange phenomenon has been observed. The river Jordan, as it flows, eventually forms two seas: the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea; but while the Sea of Galilee is teeming with life, and contains some of the most abundant fishing waters on earth, the Dead Sea is exactly that: a ‘dead’ sea, there is no trace of life in it or around it, only saltiness. […]

«The explanation, at least partially, is this: the Sea of Galilee receives its waters from the Jordan, but it does not keep them to itself, it lets them flow out so that they irrigate the entire Jordan valley. The Dead Sea receives the waters and retains them for itself, it has no outlets, not a drop of water comes out of it.

«This is a symbol. To receive love from God, we must give it to our brothers and sisters, and the more we give, the more we receive.»

Father Cantalamessa went on to consider the newness of Christ’s new commandment, observing that in fact, it was an ancient law.

«How than does Jesus call it ‘his’ commandment and the ‘new’ commandment?» he asked. «The answer is that, with him, the object, the subject and the reason for loving one’s neighbor have all changed.»

Neighbor now includes one’s enemies, the preacher said. And the person who loves «is not another person; it is I.» «And most of all, the model or measure of the love of neighbor has changed.»

«With Jesus,» he explained, «there is a move from a two-person relationship: ‘What the other person does to you, do the same to him,’ to a three-person relationship: ‘What God has done to you, do the same to the other person.'»

Channel of love

Father Cantalamessa then clarified what kind of love this must be, speaking of what must be at its root.

«What is required of love is that it be true, authentic, not a pretense,» he said. «Just as wine, to be ‘genuine,’ must be squeezed from the grape, so must love come from the heart.»

Nevertheless, the preacher clarified, it would be a «fatal error to see charity of the heart and charity in deed as being opposed to one another, or to use interior charity as a kind of alibi for a lack of active charity. […] [I]t is not a question of lessening the importance of charitable works […] but of ensuring that they have a firm foundation against selfishness and its infinitely wily ways.»

Hence, genuine Christian charity must begin from the heart, but this is more than a «shift of emphasis from the external practice of charity to the interior practice,» the Capuchin continued. «That is only the first step. Internalization leads to divinization! […] When a Christian loves like that, it is God who loves through him; he becomes a channel of God’s love.»

Charity and the Church

Referring to the apostolic writings, Father Cantalamessa asserted that the «first sphere of the exercise of charity must be the Church and more specifically the community in which one lives, the people one relates to each day.»

He explained: «In ancient times it was customary for a while to apply the term ‘charity,’ agape, not only to the fraternal meal that Christians shared together, but also to the whole Church.»

The preacher said that same defining mark is needed today: «The Church is in urgent need of an outburst of charity which will heal her fractures.»

He then gave some concrete recommendations to work on charity.

Mutual judgments is one area of work, he said, though he admitted that this is a complex issue. «How can anyone live without judging at all?» he asked. «Judgment is implicit in us, even by a look. It is impossible to observe, to hear, to live, without making assessments, in other words, without judging. […] In fact, it is not so much the judgment we must remove from our heart, but the poison from our judgment! That is, the resentment, the condemnation. […] It is negative judgments which are taken up again and banished by the word of God, those which condemn the sinner as well as the sin, those which are aimed more at the punishment than the correction of a brother.»

Esteem is another concrete point of work, Father Cantalamessa proposed.

«To esteem one’s brother, one must not esteem oneself too much, not be always sure of oneself,» he said. «[…] ‘To minimize’ should become our favorite verb in relations with others: to minimize our own merits and the defects of others. Not to minimize our defects and the merits of others as we often tend to do.»

Then he spoke of slander, which he said today has a different name: «It’s called gossip and seems to have become an innocent thing, but in fact it is one of the things that most pollutes our lives together. It is not enough to avoid speaking ill of others, we must also prevent people from doing so in our presence, making it clear, perhaps by our silence, that we do not approve.

«How different the atmosphere is in a work-place or community where St. James’ warning is taken seriously! In many public places there used to be a notice saying: ‘No smoking here’ or even: ‘No blaspheming here.’ It would be a good idea in some cases to replace them with ‘No gossiping here!'»

Father Cantalamessa concluded by recommending St. Paul’s words to the Philippians, as if they were addressed to us: «Make my joy complete by being of the same mind, one in love, one in heart and one in mind. Do nothing out of jealousy or vanity. Instead, out of humility of mind, everyone should give preference to others, everyone pursuing not his own interests but those of others. Make your own the mind of Christ Jesus.»

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