“Where Are We Going?” Asks Father Cantalamessa

Pontifical Household Preacher Comments on Sunday’s Gospel

ROME, NOV. 4, 2005 (Zenit.org).- In his commentary on this Sunday’s liturgical readings, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher of the Pontifical Household, discusses the parable of the 10 virgins.

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When commenting on the parable of the 10 virgins, we do not want to emphasize so much what differentiates the young maidens (five are wise, and five are foolish), as what unites them: All are going out to meet the bridegroom.

This allows us to reflect on a fundamental aspect of Christian life — its eschatological orientation, that is, the expectation of the Lord’s return and our encounter with him. It helps us to respond to the eternal and disturbing question: Who are we and where are we going?

Scripture says that in this life we are “foreign pilgrims,” we are “parishioners,” as “paroikos” is the word of the New Testament that is translated as pilgrim and exile (cf. 1 Peter 2:11), and “paroikia” (parish) is the translation of pilgrimage or exile (cf. 1 Peter 1:17).

The meaning is clear. In Greek, “para” is an adverb and it means next. “Oikia” is a subject and it means house. Therefore, it means to live next to, or near, not inside, but beside. For this reason, the term indicates someone who lives in a place for a time, the passer-by, or the exile; “paroikia” indicates, therefore, a provisional house.

The life of Christians is a life of pilgrimage and exile. Christians are “in” the world, but not “of” the world (cf. John 17:11,16). Their true homeland is in heaven, and they await Jesus Christ the savior to come (cf. Philippians 3:20). They do not have a stable dwelling, but are on the way to their future one (cf. Hebrews 13:14). The whole Church is no more than a great “parish.”

The second-century letter to Diogenes defines Christians as men who “inhabit their own homelands, but as foreigners; they participate in everything as citizens, but endure everything as foreigners; every foreign land is their homeland, and every homeland is foreign to them.” It is, however, a special way of being “foreign.”

Some thinkers of the age also defined man as a “foreigner in the world by nature.” But the difference is enormous: The latter considered the world as the work of evil, and because of this, they did not recommend commitment to it as expressed in marriage, in work, in the state. There is nothing of all this in the Christian. Christians, the letter says, “marry as everyone and beget children,” “they take part in everything.”

Their way of being “foreign” is eschatological, not ontological. Namely, the Christian feels himself a foreigner by vocation, not by nature, in as much as he is destined to another world, and not in so far as he proceeds from another world. The Christian sentiment of acknowledging oneself foreign is founded on the resurrection of Christ: “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above” (Colossians 3:1). That is why he does not reject creation in its fundamental goodness.

In recent times, the rediscovery of the role and commitment of Christians in the world has contributed to attenuate the eschatological meaning, to the point that there is almost no talk of the last things: death, judgment, hell and paradise. But when the expectation of the Lord’s return is genuinely biblical, it does not distract from the commitment to brothers; rather, it purifies it.

It teaches to “judge with wisdom the goods of the earth, orienting ourselves always toward the goods of heaven.” St. Paul, after reminding Christians that “the time is short,” concluded saying: “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10).

To live awaiting the Lord’s return does not even mean to want to die soon. “To seek the things that are above” means, rather, to orient one’s life in view of the encounter with the Lord, to make this event the pole of attraction, the beacon of life. The “when” is secondary, and must be left to the will of God.

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

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