The word “peace” is of “painful topical interest,” yet it resounds “in the heart of billions of people.” This was theme of the first Advent homily this year by the Preacher of the Papal Household, Father Raniero Cantalamessa. Pope Francis and members of the Vatican Curia were among those present during his reflection.
When we speak of peace, we are generally led to think of a “horizontal peace: between peoples, between races, social classes and religions,” explained Father Cantalamessa. Yet, “the word of God teaches us that the first and most essential peace is the vertical, between Heaven and earth, between God and humanity.”
Hence, peace is a “gift of God,” which peace among men cannot do without.
Scripture (cf. Romans 8:1) reminds us that, with the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, “something happened that has changed humanity’s destiny” and God has remitted his “condemnation” of man.
In fact, after the fulfilment of original sin, God did not abandon man “to his fate, but decided on a new plan to reconcile him with Himself.”
A “technological” and modern metaphor can be exemplified in the way that navigation systems are used. “If at a certain point the driver does not follow the directions detailed from on high by the navigator – he turns, for instance, to the left instead of to the right –, in a few instances the navigator traces a new itinerary, beginning from the position in which he finds himself, to reach his desired destination. Thus God did with man, deciding, after the sin, His plan of redemption.”
Therefore, God established a series of “biblical covenants,” a sort of “separate peace,” first with individual prophets – Noah, Abraham, Jacob – then” through Moses, with the whole of Israel that became the People of the Covenant.”
It is with Jesus Christ that the covenant – now “new and eternal” – is extended to the whole of humanity and the relative “universal peace is presented as a return to the initial peace of Eden.”
It was no accident that the first word pronounced by the Risen One was in fact “peace” and that the same was pre-announced at the moment of His birth: “peace on earth among men with whom He is pleased!” (Luke 2:14). In a certain sense, all the “content of redemption” is “enclosed in that word.”
Yet peace is not possible if one does not pass through the cross of Christ: this happens because men “by sinning, contracted a debt with God and had to fight against the devil who held them slaves”. Thus, it was necessary for “someone who had in himself the One who could fight and could win, and this is what happened with Christ, God and man.”
The “reconciliation between God and men” happened on the cross: a sacrifice that exceeds the Old Testament logic of the “scapegoat.” Jesus’ coming reverses this mechanism: it is no longer man who must pay the price of sin, but it is for God Himself to do so, carrying on his own shoulders the sins of the whole of humanity.
If previously “the sacrifice of expiation served to placate an irate God because of sin,” now it is not man who takes the initiative but God, “it is God who acts so that man will desist from his enmity against Him.”
After the Resurrection “peace became active and worked in us through the Holy Spirit” (cf. John 20:22), however, “the ultimate source of peace is the Trinity,” observed Father Cantalamessa. If, in fact, almost all the polytheistic religions speak of “divinity in a permanent state of rivalry and war among themselves,” the Trinity, though in the context of an “absolute monotheism,” represents “beauty and perfection of relations.”
Referring to the restoration of the Sistine Chapel 20 years ago, which revealed the lively colors and clear contours from Michelangelo’s paintbrush,” Father Cantalamessa affirmed: “A more urgent restoration must occur of the image of God the Father in the heart of men, including non-believers.” In the “collective human unconscious,” instead, all that is displeasing and painful is connected with the will of God, with that which, in one way or another, can be seeing as mutilating individual liberty and development. It is somewhat as if God were the enemy of all celebration, joy and pleasure.”
The word “mercy” itself, which we repeat in the invocation at the beginning of every Mass (Kyrie eleison) “has become so debased as to be used often in a negative sense, as something mean and contemptible: “to have pity,” a “pitiful” spectacle. In reality, it means the “profound tenderness” that God has towards us.
Thus we discover a “merciful and compassionate “ God, “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Exodus 34:6), an “ally and friend,” a “most tender Father” able to conquer also the heart of the most estranged children. “The son has taken the place of the slave, love that of fear. Thus it is that one is truly reconciled with God, also on the subjective and existential plane,” concluded Father Cantalamessa.
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For the full text of Fr. Cantalamessa’s First Advent Homily, go to: