Papal preacher on Good Friday: Political ideologies wound fraternity in the Catholic Church

Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa preaches at the Good Friday liturgy in St. Peter's Basilica April 2, 2021. Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa preaches at the Good Friday liturgy in St. Peter's Basilica April 2, 2021./ Credit: Vatican Media.

Politics turned into ideologies have wounded fraternity in the Catholic Church, Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap., said at the Vatican’s Passion of the Lord liturgy on Good Friday.

“I believe that we all need to make a serious examination of conscience in this regard and be converted,” the papal preacher said April 2. “Fomenting division is the work par excellence of the one whose name is ‘diabolos’ that is, the divider, the enemy who sows weeds, as Jesus referred to him in the parable (see Mt 13:25).”

Cantalamessa, who was made a cardinal in November in recognition of his over 41 years as Preacher of the Papal Household, gave the homily at Pope Francis’ Good Friday liturgy at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s Basilica.

At the beginning of the liturgy, Pope Francis entered a silent basilica and lay prostrate for about two minutes on the floor at the foot of the steps to the altar. He then stood for another three minutes in silence.

After the Liturgy of the Word, including the chanting of the reading from the Gospel of St. John, Cantalamessa preached on the topic of human fraternity, the subject of Pope Francis’ 2020 encyclical Fratelli tutti, to the congregation of around 140 people and around 50 cardinals.

“As creatures of the same God and Father, all human beings are brothers,” Cantalamessa said, explaining that the Christian faith adds another “decisive dimension” to this fact.

“We are brothers not only because we all have the same Father in virtue of creation, but we also have the same brother, Christ, ‘the firstborn among many brothers’ in virtue of redemption,” he said. “For us, that means universal fraternity starts with the Catholic Church.”

The 86-year-old Capuchin friar said today he was going to put aside the topic of ecumenism, which is fraternity among all Christian believers, to focus on the Catholic Church.

“Fraternity among Catholics is wounded!” he said. “Divisions between Churches have torn Christ’s tunic to shreds, and worse still, each shredded strip has been cut up into even smaller snippets.”

“I speak of course of the human element of it, because no one will ever be able to tear the true tunic of Christ, his mystical body animated by the Holy Spirit,” he explained. “In God’s eyes, the Church is ‘one, holy, catholic and apostolic,’ and will remain so until the end of the world.”

He added that “this, however, does not excuse our divisions, but makes them more guilty and must push us more forcefully to heal them.”

According to the cardinal, the most common cause of bitter division among Catholics is not dogma, the sacraments, or ministries: “none of the things that by God’s singular grace we fully and universally preserve.”

“The divisions that polarize Catholics stem from political options that grow into ideologies taking priority over religious and ecclesial considerations and leading to complete abandon of the value and the duty of obedience in the Church,” he said.

He noted that even when they are not spoken about or are denied, these divisions are very real in many parts of the world.

“This is sin in its primal meaning,” Cantalamessa stated. “The kingdom of this world becomes more important in the person’s heart than the Kingdom of God.”

He invited all Catholics, starting with pastors, to make a serious examination of conscience about what is more important in their own heart, to learn from Jesus’ example in the Gospel, and to be converted.

Christ “lived at a time of strong political polarization,” he said. “Four parties existed: the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Herodians, and the Zealots. Jesus did not side with any of them and energetically resisted attempts to be pulled towards one or the other.”

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“The earliest Christian community faithfully followed him in that choice, setting an example above all for pastors, who need to be shepherds of the entire flock, not only of part of it,” he added.

Pastors “need to ask themselves where it is that they are leading their flocks – to their position or Jesus’,” he said, also noting that “the Second Vatican Council entrusted especially to laypeople the task of translating the social, economic and political implications of the Gospel into practice in different historical situations, always in a respectful and peaceful way.”

Cantalamessa quoted Pope Francis’ words from paragraph 277 of Fratelli tutti, that “Others drink from other sources. For us, the wellspring of human dignity and fraternity is in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. From it, there arises, ‘for Christian thought and for the action of the Church, the primacy given to relationship, to the encounter with the sacred mystery of the other, to universal communion with the entire human family, as a vocation of all.’”

“The mystery of the cross that we are celebrating obliges us to focus precisely on this Christological foundation of fraternity which was inaugurated on Calvary,” the preacher said.

He explained that “if there is a special charism or gift that the Catholic Church is called to cultivate for all the Christian Churches, it is precisely unity,” as Pope Francis’ recent trip to Iraq demonstrated firsthand.

“To the One who died on the cross ‘to gather into one the dispersed children of God' (Jn 11:52), with a humble spirit and contrite heart we lift up the prayer addressed to him by the Church before Communion at every Mass,” he concluded.

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“Lord Jesus Christ, you said to your apostles: Peace I leave you, my peace I give you; look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church, and graciously grant her peace and unity in accordance with your will. You live and reign forever and ever. Amen.”