Advent Preaching 2020 (C) Vatican Media

Cardinal Cantalamessa’s Second Advent Homily

Reflection on Eternal Life

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By Gabriel Sales Triguero

Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa, Papal Household Preacher, delivered his second Advent homily of this year. According to “Vatican News,” the Franciscan priest preached on the theme of the proclamation of eternal life, “the most consoling that the faith offers us in Christ.”

Passover is to “Pass”

The new Cardinal’s began with the idea of the “precariousness and transience of all things,” realities that the pandemic has demonstrated forcefully. He quoted Pope Francis in his “Urbi et Orbi” blessing of March 27. “The storm unmasks our vulnerability and brings to the open those false and superficial securities with which we have constructed our agendas, our projects, our customs, and priorities.”

“The planetary crisis we are living can be the occasion to rediscover with relief that, despite all, there is a firm point, a solid terrain, more than that, a rock on which to base our human existence,” he added.

The term Passover, “Pesah” in Hebrew and “transitus” in Latin has the meaning of “passing,” he said. In this line, he recalled Saint Augustine, to point out that to celebrate Passover “means, yes, to pass, but to ‘pass to what doesn’t pass,’ it means ‘to pass from the world, not to pass with the world,’ to pass with your heart before passing with the body.” What doesn’t pass, he highlights, “is eternity.”

Faith beyond Life

 The Capuchin friar stressed that we “must rediscover faith in a beyond of life,” which is one of the “great contributions that religions can make together in the effort to create a better and more fraternal world.”

It is necessary to understand that “we are all fellow travelers, on the way to a common homeland, where there are no distinctions of race or nation,” and that “we have in common not only the way but also the end.”

“For Christians, faith in eternal life isn’t based on debatable philosophical arguments on the soul’s immortality, but on “a specific fact, the Resurrection of Christ and His promise: ‘There are many dwellings in my Father’s House (. . . ) I go to prepare a place for you.’”

Eclipse of Faith

 Reflecting on “the Christian truth of eternal life,” the Cardinal mentioned philosophers such as Hegel, Feuerbach, and Marz, who “fought against the belief of life after death (. . . ) The idea of personal survival in God is replaced by the idea of survival in the species and in the society of the future.” Little by little, he clarified “with the suspicion about the word ‘eternity,’ oblivion and silence fell.”

To this type of philosophic approach “secularization” is added, which for him is a synonym of temporalism, to reduce the real to the sole earthly dimension” and “the radical elimination of the horizon of eternity.”

On the practical consequence of this eclipse of the idea of eternity, he took up Saint Paul’s words on the purpose of those that don’t believe in the resurrection of the dead,” the oft-repeated “let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die.”

Cardinal Cantalamessa explained that the distorted “natural desire to live always becomes a desire, or frenzy, to live well, namely, pleasurably, including at the expense of others if necessary. Once the horizon of eternity has fallen, human suffering seems double and irremediably absurd. The world is like ‘a crumbling anthill,’ and man like ‘a design created by a wave on the seashore that the next wave erases.’”

Eternity and Evangelization

 The Cardinal also argued that “faith in eternal life is one of the conditions of possibility of evangelization. ‘But if Christ hasn’t risen, writes the Apostle, our preaching is in vain and vain also is your faith (. . . ). Therefore, the proclamation of eternal life constitutes the force and bite of Christina preaching.”

“Let us see what happened in the very first Christian evangelization,” he exhorted. “In face of a world that puts the accent on the enjoyment of this life, to think of the beyond, to think of a fuller and more brilliant life than the earthly shows us that ‘we are finite beings capable of the infinite,’ mortal beings with a secret longing for immortality.”

The preacher quoted Saint Augustine. “Of what good is it to live well if one doesn’t live always?” And he concluded by affirming that “to the men of our time that cultivate in the depth of their heart this need of eternity, not having, perhaps, the courage to admit it including to themselves, we can repeat what Paul said to the Athenians: “What you venerate without knowing it, I come to announced to you.”

Faith, Eternity and Evangelization

 The Franciscan priest reiterated that a “renewed faith in eternity is not useful to us only for evangelization, that is, for the proclamation that must be made to others, it serves us still before to give a new impulse to our path of sanctification. Its first fruit is to make us free, not attached to passing things, to increase our patrimony or our prestige.”

However, he alerted, “the cooling of the idea of eternity acts on believers, diminishing in them the capacity to face suffering and life’s trials with courage.  We must rediscover part of the faith of Saint Bernard and Saint Ignatius of Loyola. In every situation and before every obstacle, they said to themselves: ‘Quid hoc ad aeternitatem? – What is this in face of eternity?”

To the foregoing, he added “when we lose the measure of all that eternity is, earthly things and sufferings easily throw our soul to the ground. Everything seems too heavy, excessive,” adding the following idea: “many ask, ‘in what will eternal life consist and what will we do all the time in Heaven?’ The answer is in the apophatic words of the Apostle which we just heard: ‘Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor can man conceive what God has prepared for those that love Him.’”

Eternity, Hope and Presence

 Cardinal Cantalamesa said that for the believer, eternity is not only hope but also a presence and experience: In Christ, “eternal life that was with the Father was made visible. We, John says, ‘we heard him and saw him, contemplated and touched him with our own eyes.’”

This presence of eternity in time is called the Holy Spirit and is described as “the guarantee of our inheritance,” and it was given to us because, having received the first fruits, we long for plenitude.

Referring to accusations against eternal life, according to which the expectation of eternity distracts us from commitment with the earth and the care of Creation, the Cardinal reminded that “before modern societies assumed the task to promote health and culture, to improve the cultivation of the earth and people’s conditions of life, who carried out these tasks more and better than them, the monks in the first line, who lived of faith in eternal life?”

The preacher recalled Saint Francis of Assisi’s Canticle of Creatures, which far from keeping human beings away from their action and commitment in the world, confirmed them and he said of the holy Founder: “The thought of eternal life did not inspire him to scorn this world and creatures, but with even greater enthusiasm and gratitude  for them and he made the present pain more bearable for himself.”

The Papal Household Preacher concluded by saying that “our meditation today on eternity certainly doesn’t exempt us from feeling with all the other inhabitants of the earth the harshness of the trial we are experiencing. However, it should at least help us, believers, not to feel overwhelmed by it and to be able to infuse courage and hope also in those that don’t have the consolation of the faith.”

[1] Saint Augustine, Treatises on John 55, 1: CCL 36, 463s.

[2] Saint Augustine, Treatises on the Gospel of John, 45, 2: PL 35, 1720.

[3] Collect Prayer of the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time.

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