On Good Friday, papal preacher tells youth to run toward love of Christ

Pope Francis during the veneration of the Cross on Good Friday at St Peters Basilica on April 3 2015 Credit   M IMPROVED CPP CNA 4 3 15 Pope Francis during the veneration of the Cross on Good Friday at St. Peter's Basilica on April 3, 2015. | M. IMPROVED CPP / CNA.

Papal preacher Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa dedicated his Good Friday homily to young people, comparing them to the apostle John and urging them to have the courage to go in the opposite direction of the selfishness of the world, running instead toward the sacrificial love of Jesus on the cross.

In his March 30 homily, Cantalamessa said modern society has come "under the dominion of Satan and sin," and has been taken over by what St. Paul in his Letter to the Ephesians called the "spirit of the air."

Cantalamessa said the phrase takes on a literal meaning today, because this spirit "spreads itself in infinite ways electronically through airwaves," and plays a major role in shaping public opinion.

"To act, think or speak against this spirit is regarded as non-sensical or even as wrong and criminal," he said, adding that the best way to ensure that one has not conformed to this world is by going in the opposite direction, walking toward suffering, and toward "the poor and those at the lowest level of society," rather than away from them.

"Blending in with this world of suffering and marginalization is, paradoxically, the best way of 'separating' ourselves from the world because it means going in the direction from which the world flees as much as it can. It means separating ourselves from the very principle that rules the world, self-centeredness," he said.

To drive his point home, Cantalamessa quoted British poet T.S. Eliot, saying "in a world of fugitives / The person taking the opposite direction / Will appear to run away."

"Dear young Christians, if you will allow an old man like John to address you directly, I would exhort you: be those who take the opposite direction! Have the courage to go against the stream," he said, adding that "the opposite direction for us is not a place but a person; it is Jesus, our friend and redeemer."

Fr. Cantalamessa is the official papal preacher. He offers meditations to the pope and members of the Curia on Fridays during Advent and Lent, and he preaches the homily for the Good Friday veneration liturgy.

After the chanting of the Gospel during the liturgy for the Lord's Passion in St. Peter's Basilica, presided over by Pope Francis, Cantalamessa in his homily reflected on why the Church places such a strong emphasis on the cross of Christ.

He said that according to one theory, it could be because God reveals himself "sub contraria specie," meaning in a form contrary to what he actually is: "he reveals his power in weakness, his wisdom in foolishness, his riches in poverty."

However, this logic does not apply to the cross, he said, because on the cross God reveals himself "as he really is, in his most intimate and truest reality." And this reality, he said, is that "God is love...oblative love, a love that consists in self-giving, and only on the cross does God's infinite capacity for self-gift manifest the length to which it will go."

With a Synod of Bishops dedicated to youth on the schedule for this October, Cantalamessa said the presence of St. John with Jesus on Calvary holds special significance, since it is believed that the evangelist joined Jesus when he was still a young man.

Noting how John is often referred to in scripture as "the disciple whom Jesus loved," the papal preacher said this was a real and personal experience of "falling in love" with the Lord that can be seen from the fact that the whole of John's Gospel focuses on the person of Jesus, rather than his works and teaching.
Cantalamessa said St. John was almost certainly one of the two disciples of John the Baptist who, when Jesus passed them on the beach, followed him and spent the day with him. He noted how when they asked Jesus where he was staying, "it was about the tenth hour."

"That hour decided the course of John's life, and he never forgot it," Cantalamessa said, and stressed the importance of helping young people today understand not only what God and the Church expect of them and what they can offer to the Church and to society, but also to help youth understand what Jesus himself can offer to them.

He pointed to how John described his experience with Jesus as the "fullness of joy" and an "abundant life," and urged members of the Church to accept Francis' invitation in Evangelii Gaudium to "a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them."

"I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord," he said, continuing to quote Francis.

Cantalamessa said it is possible to encounter Christ today because He is risen and alive, and that after this personal encounter takes place, "everything is possible."

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Speaking directly to youth, the papal preacher said they have a special mission "to rescue human love from the tragic drift in which it had ended up: love that is no longer a gift of self but only the possession – often violent and tyrannical – of another."

Pointing to the self-sacrificial "agape" love shown by Jesus on the cross and the desiring, "eros" love that "welcomes, that pursues, that desires, and that finds joy in being loved in return," Cantalamessa said these two types of love are linked, and cannot be separated from each other.

God both desires man and exercises charity toward him, he said, explaining that learning how to love like God "is not a question of renouncing the joys of love, attraction, and 'eros,' but of knowing how to unite 'eros' and 'agape' in the desire for another, the ability to give oneself to the other."

Learning how to do this will not happen "in one day," he said, and told youth to start preparing themselves now to give themselves either to another person in marriage, or to God in a consecrated vocation.

This preparation, he said, can begin now with something as simple as a smile or a gift of one's time or service in one's family, parish or volunteer work, which "so many of you are already quietly doing."

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