In his homily for Good Friday’s Passion liturgy, papal preacher Raniero Cantalamessa decried the poisonous actions of those who exploit others for financial gain, urging all to repent of their sin.
“'The love of money,' Scripture says, 'is the root of all evil,' Cantalamessa said in his April 18 homily for Good Friday, stressing that “Behind every evil in our society is money, or at least money is also included there.”
“What lies behind the drug enterprise that destroys so many human lives, behind the phenomenon of the mafia, behind political corruption, behind the manufacturing and sale of weapons, and even behind – what a horrible thing to mention – the sale of human organs removed from children?”
Continuing, the preacher highlighted that “the financial crisis that the world has gone through and that this country is still going through, is it not in large part due to the ‘cursed hunger for gold,’ the auri sacra fames, on the part of some people?”
“Judas began with taking money out of the common purse. Does this say anything to certain administrators of public funds?”
Fr. Cantalamessa is a Franciscan Capuchin Catholic Priest who was appointed as preacher of the Papal Household by Bl. John Paul II in 1980, and who therefore gives a weekly sermon during Advent and Lent in the presence of the Pope, the cardinals, bishops an prelates of the Roman Curia and the general superiors of religious orders.
Taking Judas’ betrayal of Jesus as a launching point for his reflections, Fr. Cantalamessa noted how scripture states that he “became a traitor,” and that he “was thus not born a traitor and was not a traitor at the time Jesus chose him; he became a traitor!”
Questioning those present for the liturgy inside of St. Peter’s Basilica how Judas ended up betraying Jesus, the preacher observed how some attempt to describe him as either belonging to a group of extremists or as being disappointed with Jesus’ idea of the messiah and wanting to take things into his own hands.
Although these thesis might be artistic, Fr. Cantalamessa explained that “they have no historical basis whatsoever,” and that “The Gospels – the only reliable sources that we have about Judas’ character – speak of a more down-to-earth motive: money.”
“Why are people surprised at this explanation, finding it too banal? Has it not always been this way in history and is still this way today?” he asked, adding that “Mammon, money, is not just one idol among many: it is the idol par excellence, literally ‘a molten god.’”
Emphasizing how Satan is “the true enemy” of God, the Franciscan pointed out that “no one decides to serve Satan without a motive,” and that “whoever does it does so because they believe they will obtain some kind of power or temporal benefit from him.”
“No one can serve two masters. . .You cannot serve God and mammon,” he said, quoting the Gospel of Matthew. “Money is the ‘visible god’ in contrast to the true God who is invisible.”
Fr. Cantalamessa then went on to describe how mammon is “the anti-God” because through it “Faith, hope, and charity are no longer placed in God but in money,” and that “A sinister inversion of all values occurs.”
Stressing how scripture tells us that the love of money “is the root of all evil,” the preacher highlighted that it is the underlying motive for most, if not all, criminal activity, such as the mafia, the drug enterprise and the buying and selling of weapons.
“But apart from these criminal ways of acquiring money, is it not also a scandal that some people earn salaries and collect pensions that are sometimes 100 times higher than those of the people who work for them and that they raise their voices to object when a proposal is put forward to reduce their salary for the sake of greater social justice?”
“Like all idols, money is deceitful and lying: it promises security and instead takes it away; it promises freedom and instead destroys it,” he continued, drawing attention to those “placed in positions of responsibility who no longer knew in what bank or monetary paradise to hoard the proceeds of their corruption.”
Haven’t they “found themselves on trial in court or in a prison cell just when they were about to say to themselves, ‘Have a good time now, my soul,’” Fr. Cantalamessa asked.
“For whom did they do it? Was it worth it? Did they work for the good of their children and family, or their party, if that is really what they were seeking? Have they not instead ruined themselves and others?”
On how this betrayal of Jesus still continues today, the Franciscan observed that “the one betrayed is always Jesus,” and that “Judas sold the head, while his imitators sell body, because the poor are members of the body of Christ, whether they know it or not.”
Referring to how one can betray Jesus in other ways besides these “high-profile cases,” Fr. Cantalamessa explained that “A man who betrays his wife, or a wife her husband, betrays Christ.”
“The minister of God who is unfaithful to his state in life, or instead of feeding the sheep entrusted to him feeds himself, betrays Jesus. Whoever betrays their conscience betrays Jesus.”
Drawing attention to the Gospel’s account of how Judas hanged himself after attempting to return the silver he took in exchange for hanging Jesus over, the preacher urged the congregation not to “pass a hasty judgment here.”
“Jesus never abandoned Judas, and no one knows, after he hung himself from a tree with a rope around his neck, where he ended up: in Satan’s hands or in God’s hands,” he observed, expressing “Who can say what transpired in his soul during those final moments?”
“’Friend’ was the last word that Jesus addressed to him, and he could not have forgotten it, just as he could not have forgotten Jesus’ gaze.”
Explaining how although it is true that Jesus himself said of Judas that “It would have been better for that man if he had not been born,” the eternal destiny of man “is an inviolable secret kept by God.”
What his story ought to teach us, the priest continued, is “to surrender ourselves to the one who freely forgives, to throw ourselves likewise into the outstretched arms of the Crucified One.”
“The most important thing in the story of Judas is not his betrayal but Jesus’ response to it,” Fr. Cantalamessa noted, highlighting how Jesus knew what was happening inside of his disciple, but that he did not expose it because he wanted to give Judas “the opportunity right up until the last minute to turn back.”
“He sought out Peter after his denial to give him forgiveness, so who knows how he might have sought out Judas at some point in his way to Calavary!”
“So what will we do? Who will we follow, Judas or Peter?” the Franciscan questioned those in attendance, adding that “Peter had confidence in the mercy of Christ, and Judas did not! Judas’ greatest sin was not in having betrayed Christ but in having doubted his mercy.”
Concluding his reflections, Fr. Cantalamessa encouraged attendees to be confident in the forgiveness of God, pointing out that “there is a sacrament through which it is possible to have a sure experience of Christ’s mercy: the sacrament of reconciliation.”
“How wonderful this sacrament is! It is sweet to experience Jesus as Teacher, as Lord, but even sweeter to experience him as Redeemer, as the one who draws you out of the abyss, like he drew Peter out of the sea, as the one who touches you and, like he did with the leper, says to you, ‘I will; be clean.’”
“Jesus knows how to take all our sins, once we have repented, and make them ‘happy faults,’” he explained, “faults that would no longer be remembered if it were not for the experience of mercy and divine tenderness that they occasioned.”