Vatican City, Apr 3, 2015 / 10:35 am
In his homily for the celebration of the Passion of Our Lord on Good Friday, papal preacher Father Raniero Cantalamessa called for a spirit of forgiveness amid rising persecutions in the world.
"True martyrs for Christ do not die with clenched fists but with their hands joined in prayer," Fr. Cantelamessa said, according to the English translation published by Vatican Radio.
His remarks come as news of 147 Christians slaughtered by Somali jihadists at a University Campus in Kenya.
Remarking on this tragedy, Fr. Cantelamessa observed the fittingness of Jesus' words to his disciples: "The hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God" (Jn 16:2).
He also cited the killings of twenty-one Coptic Christians in Libya at the hands of the Islamic State in February, observing how Christ gave them, in their final moments, "the strength to die whispering the name of Jesus."
Fr. Cantelamessa made this reflection to the congregation gathered in Saint Peter's Basilica, following the chanting in Latin of the John's Gospel account of Christ's Passion and Death. Pope Francis presided over the celebration, leading the faithful in the Veneration of the Cross, during which those present were invited to approach a wooden crucifix and kiss the feet of Jesus.
Beginning his reflection, he recounted the scene from John's Gospel in which Pontius Pilate presents Jesus, scourged and wearing a crown of thorns, declaring to the people: "Ecce homo" – "Behold the man."
"Jesus is in agony until the end of the world in every man or woman who is subjected to his same torments," he said.
He recalled Christ's words, that what is done to the hungry, naked, mistreated or in prison is done to Him.
"For once let us not think about social evils collectively: hunger, poverty, injustice, the exploitation of the weak," saying these evils run the risk of becoming "abstractions-categories rather than persons."
Rather, he urged the faithful to consider the "suffering of individuals, people with names and specific identities; of the tortures that are decided upon in cold blood and voluntarily inflicted at this very moment by human beings on other human beings, even on babies.'
Fr. Cantelamessa decried the many instances of "Ecce homo" in the world, where men and women find themselves in a similar situation to Jesus standing before Pilate: "alone, hand-cuffed, tortured, at the mercy of rough soldiers full of hate who engage in every kind of physical and psychological cruelty and who enjoy watching people suffer."
This phrase – Ecce homo – refers also to those who engage in torture, demonstrating what man is capable of.
He went on to say that while Christians are not the only group to suffer deadly violence, "we cannot ignore the fact that in many countries they are the most frequently intended victims."
He cited a testimony of third-century Easter celebrations by Christians amid fierce persecutions, given by Bishop Dionysius of Alexandra, in which the places where they were attacked became places of celebration.
"This is the way Easter will be for many Christians this year, 2015 after Christ," Fr. Cantelamessa said.
Turning to today, he reflected on a member of the secular press who denounced the indifference toward the mass killing of Christians, and what such indifference has led to in the past.
"All of us and all our institutions in the West risk being Pilates who wash our hands," he said.
"However, we are not allowed to make any denunciations today," he said. "We would be betraying the mystery we are celebrating. Jesus died, crying out, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" (Lk 23:34)."
These words applied not only to the soldiers involved in Christ's Crucifixion, who were ignorant, he said. "The divine grandeur of his forgiveness consists in the fact that it was also offered to his most relentless enemies."
"Instead of accusing his adversaries, or of forgiving them and entrusting the task of vengeance to his heavenly Father, he defended them."
Fr. Cantelamessa went on to stress that forgiveness entails a transformation to "a positive will to do good to them, even if it is only by means of a prayer to God on their behalf," inspired by charity, and without the hope for divine retribution.
Against the challenge of some who would say that following Jesus means to surrender "oneself passively to defeat and to death", he stressed: "The definitive victory of good over evil that will be manifested at the end of time has already come to pass, legally and de facto, on the cross of Christ."
"Jesus overcame violence not by opposing it with a greater violence but by enduring it and exposing all its injustice and futility."
Speaking on the recent rise of persecution, he observed "the problem of violence disturbs us, shocks us, and it has invented new and horrendous forms of cruelty and barbarism today."
On the other hand, one could point out a seeming contradiction in a Christian's horror of violence, taking into account that the Bible is rife with such stories, Fr. Cantelamessa said.
However, he stressed that it was not so in the beginning.
"God's true intention is expressed by the commandment "You shall not kill" more than by the exceptions to that command in the law, which are concessions to the "hardness of heart" and to people's practices."
"Violence, along with sin, is unfortunately part of life, and the Old Testament, which reflects life and must be useful for life as it is, seeks through its legislation and the penalty of death at least to channel and curb violence so that it does not degenerate into personal discretion and people then tear each other apart."
The violence found in the Old Testament finds its response on the Cross, he said. "On Calvary Christ delivers a definitive 'no' to violence, setting in opposition to it not just non-violence but, even more, forgiveness, meekness, and love."
Any attempt at trying to link violence to God would result in a regression "to primitive and crude stages in history that have been surpassed by the religious and civilized conscience of humanity."
Fr. Cantelamessa concluded his address by praying for " our persecuted brothers and sisters in the faith and for all the Ecce Homo human beings who are on the face of the earth at this moment, Christian and non-Christian."
He invoked in particular the intercession of Mary, at the foot of the Cross, calling her to "inspire the men and women of our time with thoughts of peace and mercy. And of forgiveness."