Although he is the only person in the world to have the job of preaching to the Pope, Father Raniero Cantalamessa sees his work as simply delivering the message of the Gospel.
“It is actually a very simple ministry because the Pope at that moment is just a listener among other listeners,” the Italian Capuchin Franciscan priest told CNA.
“In fact, it’s really the Pope who gives the sermon to the rest of the Church by listening to the meditation of a very simple priest of the Catholic Church.”
Fr. Cantalamessa, 77, has been the official preacher to the Papal Household since 1980. His job consists of giving a meditation every Friday of Lent and Advent to the senior members of the Roman Curia, which includes the Pope.
All told, Fr. Cantalamessa has been preaching to Pope Benedict – who was previously Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – for 31 years.
“He was always in the first row. And preaching while the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is right in front of you is quite challenging, I assure you,” he said.
Fr. Cantalamessa said that the weight of preaching for the Pope is lightened by the fact that he knows he is “not supposed to give my philosophical system, but the message of the Gospel.”
As each liturgical season for preaching approaches, Fr. Cantalamessa selects a theme for his sermons.
This Advent he is focusing on the four different historical stages of Christian evangelization. He sees the first phase as occurring in the earliest centuries of the Church, the second when the Roman Empire fell, and the third coinciding with the discovery of the New World. The fourth stage is “the present one, where the target is more the secularized Western world than the usual mission countries.”
“In the past, the role for evangelization was more entrusted to bishops, pastors, monks, religious people,” he explained. Since the Second Vatican Council, “the laity have taken their role as part of the evangelization.”
“They really do the new evangelization in the field, going into the streets and preaching to people on a person-to-person basis,” Fr. Cantalamessa said, likening the situation to the early Church when there “were no specialized official missionaries” and “every Christian was a missionary.”
While lay people “usually cannot do what I do – preach to crowds, to clergy,” they can meet people in everyday life “whom we cannot reach and invite them and transmit to them with gentleness our reasons for hope,” the papal preacher said.
As part of his Advent reflections this year, he plans to remind the Papal Household that “lay people were the only people present at the birth of Jesus,” such as the shepherds and wise men.
“So this was symbolic that the first who came and spread the news about the birth of Jesus were lay people.”
Fr. Cantalamessa likes to conclude his Advent sermons by directing people “toward Christmas, mentioning sometimes the role of Mary,” whom he describes as “the star of evangelization.”
The “miracle of Christmas,” he reflected, “is that in Jesus, God achieves great goals through very small means – a baby,” contrary to the expectation and demands of humanity.
“Only faith in Jesus can change every defeat into a victory. I am fully convinced of that.”