Father Cantalamessa Evaluates Weekly Meditations
Preacher Completes Entire Liturgical Cycle
By Jesús Colina
VATICAN CITY, NOV. 21, 2008 (www.Zenit.org).- There are many means for those looking for God's will to find it through meditation on Scripture, says Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa.
Father Cantalamessa, the Pontifical Household preacher, has written a weekly commentary for ZENIT on the Gospel of the Sunday liturgy for three years, covering the entire liturgical cycle. Today his last commentary appears in this dispatch.
Before he goes, he gave ZENIT one last opportunity to learn from him. In this interview, the preacher offers advice on how to listen for the voice of God when reading the Word of God.
Q: The first question is that which readers also pose: What do you do to write your homilies?
Father Cantalamessa: [Laughs] What do I do? I read the Word of God. Before pondering on my reflections, I try to focus on the Word of God, to discover what the message is for this particular moment in which we find ourselves, in which I find myself, in which the Word of God emerges.
Usually, at the beginning it is a little light that is later confirmed little by little, consolidated, revealing a relation with a situation or present problem. Very helpful in this regard is a climate of prayer, of listening to the Holy Spirit, because it is he who has inspired sacred Scripture and only he can explain it, only he can apply it to today's world.
Q: What is your advice to Christians who want to meditate on the Word and draw lessons for their own lives or make useful decisions in life under the gaze of God?
Father Cantalamessa: It depends to a degree on the state, on the duties of the person. If it is only a question of personal use of the Word of God for one's life, the best thing is to begin to use the Word of God that the Church offers us through the liturgy: the Liturgy of the Hours, the Mass, etc, because often when the Lord speaks he uses the Church's choice, the readings of the day.
To be attentive to the readings of the day often reveals that it is an answer to a particular problem. A word seems to be made to measure for us to the point that one is constrained to say: "This was written precisely for me!" Hence, one must greatly value not the personal, but the community choice made by the Church in the liturgy.
Then there is the personal choice, namely, rereading the passages of Scripture that in the past have had a certain importance for us, have spoken to us. Often the Lord speaks through the same texts and says things that are always new and appropriate to the situations we are living. One must appreciate those Words of God that in the past have given us important guidelines.
Then, there is another means happily used by the Charismatic Renewal, but not only by it, and it is that -- after having prayed -- an act of faith is made, opening the Bible and thinking that we will find an answer from the Lord, or at times even decisions to be made based on the Word of God which we understand under our eyes.
This is a means not invented today by the Charismatic Renewal. For example, it is the means that happened to St. Augustine, who at the crucial moment of his conversion, had with him the Letters of St. Paul and opening them he decided to take as the Word of God the first passage he read, it happened to be Romans 13, where it says: "Do not be impure or licentious," "put on the armor of light." He felt immediately upon him while reading such a light and serenity that he understood he could live chastely.
The same happened to St. Francis. When he still did not know what to do, he went into a church and opened the Gospel three times and every time he came across a passage that spoke about the sending of the Apostles without a walking-stick or knapsack, without money, without two tunics, and said: This is what the Lord wants for us. But the examples are multiplied down to our days. St. Thérèse of Lisieux did not know what to do; she opened the Letter to the Corinthians and there found her vocation to be the heart, to be charity.
I have had so many personal confirmations, and also that of others who have found in the Gospel the Word of God. I never tire of mentioning a very delightful episode. I was preaching a mission in Australia, and on the last day a laborer -- a very simple person -- came up to me to tell me that in his family there was a big problem. He had an 11-year-old son who was not baptized because his wife, who had become a Jehovah's witness, did not want the baptism to take place.
Because of this he asked me: "What should I do? If I baptize him there will be a problem; if I don't baptize him I am not at peace because when we married we were both Catholics." I answered him: "Let me reflect on this tonight." The next day arrived and he said to me: "Father, I have found the solution. Yesterday, on my way home I prayed, then I saw the Bible opened and what emerged was the episode in which Abraham takes his son Isaac to be immolated. And I saw that on that occasion, Abraham did not say anything to his wife." It was a perfect discernment because, in fact, rabbis say that Abraham said nothing to his wife precisely to avoid his wife from impeding him from obeying God. I myself baptized the child.
Of course, we must avoid a magical use of Scripture, opening it to read without having prayed. This use of Scripture can only be made when one lives in a spiritual climate of obedience to God. One cannot play games with God, because God is not consulted by joking; above all he is consulted when one is determined to do that which he will make one understand.
See, there are so many means, from the public to the more personal, to guide one's life with the Word of God.
Q: For three years we have been publishing your homilies in seven languages and we receive thousands of messages of gratitude from readers. What has this experience of preaching from the Internet pulpit meant for you?
Father Cantalamessa: It was also a discovery for me, in the sense that in the beginning I did not suppose, perhaps neither did you suppose, that it would be so well received. Then, traveling around the world I was also reminded that the majority of those who did not know me personally knew me through ZENIT, through these commentaries to the Gospel.
From the desert of Arizona to Africa, from Asia to France: everywhere. It was for me on one hand a happy discovery, and for you, I believe, an encouragement. Today this is an important vehicle for the Gospel. There are many more people than we suppose that are seeking such biblical, evangelical contents on Internet, and who use them. It is a very concrete use, because many use them to prepare for Mass, some priests use them to prepare their homilies. They are not only useful for those who read them, because many also adapt and re-propose them, and they do not do this word for word. They are seeds that fall on so many hearts.
Q: What do you say to ZENIT readers who will miss your weekly column?
Father Cantalamessa: I intend to publish all these commentaries in a volume, because I have been requested to do so. In part it will be comments published by ZENIT, but in part they will be new, or those I have done on television. Comments in the same style, brief, of a page each, and will be issued in a volume. In due time ZENIT's readers will come to know them. Thus, whoever wishes to will be able to go back to these comments. However, if you have the possibility of their being continued by someone else, I urge readers to read and listen to the new commentator.