Preacher’s Good Friday Tidings: God Is Giver of Unity

Father Cantalamessa Dedicates Sermon to Ecumenism

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 21, 2008 ( The glad tidings to proclaim on Good Friday are that unity, before it is a goal to be sought, is a gift to be received, affirmed the preacher of the Pontifical Household in his sermon for today’s liturgy.

Benedict XVI presided over today’s Good Friday celebration in St. Peter’s Basilica. Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa gave the sermon, dedicating his reflection to the theme of ecumenism.

Father Cantalamessa explained that, according to John the Evangelist, “the unity of the disciples is […] the purpose for which Christ dies. ‘Jesus had to die for the nation, and not only for the nation, but also to gather into one the dispersed children of God.'”

It is this same evangelist who gives attention to the scene of the soldiers at the foot of the cross dividing Christ’s garments, and casting lots to see who will receive the tunic, woven in one piece.

“That the tunic is woven ‘from the top down,’ St. Cyprian [says], means that ‘the unity brought by Christ comes from above, from the heavenly Father, and because of this it cannot be broken apart by those who receive it, but must be received in its integrity,'” Father Cantalamessa recalled, using the image to begin his discourse on Christian unity.

Holy Spirit’s work

The Capuchin preacher affirmed that Christian unity will be the work of the Holy Spirit.

“Today as well, the Holy Spirit will be the one to lead us into unity, if we let him guide us,” he said. “For a century now, we have seen the same thing repeat itself before our eyes on a global scale. God has poured out the Holy Spirit in a new and unusual way upon millions of believers from every Christian denomination and, so that there would be no doubts about his intentions, he poured out the Spirit with the same manifestations.

“Is this not a sign that the Spirit moves us to recognize each other as disciples of Christ and work toward unity?”

Father Cantalamessa joined his voice to others in the Church who are promoting not just a doctrinal ecumenism, but a spiritual one: “In this centenary of the institution of the week of prayer for Christian unity — 1908-2008 — at the foot of the cross we would like to meditate on this spiritual ecumenism, on what this spiritual ecumenism is and how we can make progress in it.”

He continued: “If the unity of the disciples must be a reflection of the unity between Father and Son, it must above all be a unity of love, because such is the unity that reigns in the Trinity.

“The extraordinary thing about this way to unity based on love is that it is already now wide open before us. We cannot be hasty in regard to doctrine because differences exist and must be resolved with patience in the appropriate contexts. We can instead ‘be hasty’ in charity and already be united in that sense now.”

Father Cantalamessa then offered a reflection on St. Paul’s hymn to charity, as applied to ecumenical relations.

“Love is patient. […] It does not seek its own interests. It does not brood over injury… — if necessary, of the injury done to others! It does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth — it doesn’t rejoice over the difficulties of other Churches, but delights in their successes. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

Like spokes of a wheel

Father Cantalamessa encouraged his listeners to a true love, which he defined by recalling a saying, “”Loving does not mean looking at each other but looking together in the same direction.”

For Christians, the preacher affirmed, this means looking together in the direction of Christ.

“It is like the spokes of a wheel,” he said. “When they move from the periphery toward the center, as they come closer to the center, they also come nearer to each other, until they form a single point. To the extent that we move together toward Christ, we draw nearer to each other, until we are truly, as Jesus desired, ‘one with him and with the Father.'”

A new age

Father Cantalamessa contended that the context calling for Christian unity in modern times is different from that of times past.

“What is in play at the beginning of the third millennium, is not the same as what was in play at the beginning of the second millennium, when there was the separation of East and West; nor is it the same as what was in play in the middle of the same millennium when there was the separation of Catholics and Protestants,” he affirmed. “Can we say that the way the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father or how justification of the sinner comes about are the problems that impassion the men of today and with which the Christian faith stands or falls?

“The world has moved beyond us and we remain fixed by problems and formulas that the world does not even know the meaning of.”

And, the Capuchin proposed, “today there are two possible ecumenisms: an ecumenism of faith and an ecumenism of incredulity; one that unites all those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and that Christ died to save all humankind, and an ecumenism that unites all those who, in deference to the Nicene Creed, continue to proclaim these formulas but empty them of their content. It is an ecumenism in which, in its extreme form, everyone believes the same things because no one any longer believes anything, in the sense that ‘believing’ has in the New Testament.”

He said the “fundamental distinction among Christians is not between Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants, but between those who believe that Christ is the Son of God and those who do not believe this.”

A world moving away

Father Cantalamessa concluded with an exhortation and a word of hope.

Referring to the prophet Haggai’s transmission of the word of the Lord, who asked, “Is it time for you to dwell in your own paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?” Father Cantalamessa affirmed that these words are addressed to us today.

“Is this the time to concern ourselves with that which only regards our religious order, our movement, or our Church?” he asked. “Is this not precisely the reason why we too ‘sow much but harvest little’? We preach and we are active in many ways, but we convert few people and the world moves away from Christ instead of drawing near to him.

“The people of Israel heard the prophet’s reproof; everyone stopped embellishing his own house and began to work together on God’s temple. God then sent his prophet again with a message of consolation and encouragement, which is also addressed to us: ‘But now […] take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord, and work! For I am with you, says the Lord of hosts.'”

“Take courage,” Father Cantalamessa concluded, “all of you who have at heart the cause of the unity of Christians, and go to work, because I am with you, says the Lord!”

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