Cantalamessa at Passion liturgy: Easter 'a chance to cling to Jesus who never fails us'
By Benedict Mayaki, SJ
Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa focused on the dialogue of Jesus with Pilate from the Gospel of John, during his sermon at the Celebration of the Passion of the Lord held at St. Peter’s Basilica on Good Friday, and presided over by Pope Francis.
“Are you the king of the Jews?”
The Preacher of the Papal Household explained that through the dialogue which began with Pilate’s question: “Are you the king of the Jews?”, Jesus tried to lead Pilate to “a higher plane”, to see if he does not simply repeat an accusation from others. Hence Jesus asks him in turn, “Do you say this on your own, or have others told you about me?”
Jesus speaks to Pilate of His Kingdom which is “not of this world”, and reaffirms His superior origins, saying: “I came into the world…” to be a witness to the truth, indicating that He existed before His earthly life.
In the dialogue, explains the Cardinal, “Jesus treats Pilate as a soul who needs light and truth,” and is interested “in the destiny of the man Pilate more than in his own destiny.”
Thus, with His appeal for the truth, Jesus “wants to prompt him to come to his senses, to look at things with different eyes, to place himself above the momentary dispute with the Jews.”
Pilate, however, frightened by the mystery he glimpses in Jesus’ words, prefers to end the conversation, muttering to himself “what is truth?” and leaves the praetorium.
“What is truth?”
Cardinal Cantalamessa remarked that today, as in the past, man asks himself “what is truth?” However, in countless debates on religion and science, faith and atheism, Jesus is hardly mentioned, and in cases that He is, it is often treated as an “irrelevant digression.”
Some even go beyond Pilate’s skepticism, refusing that the question should not be asked because for them, “the truth simply does not exist! Everything is relative, nothing is certain!”
The consequence of this, the Cardinal noted, is that “the word ‘God’ becomes an empty vessel for everyone to fill at will.” However, it is precisely for this reason that God took care to give content to His name and “the Word became flesh” and “truth became flesh.”
In this light, even though some say there is too much injustice and suffering in the world to believe in God, the evil that surrounds us becomes “more absurd and hopeless… without faith in a final triumph of truth and good” and “the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead…is the promise and the sure guarantee that this is what will happen because it has already begun with him.”
The Cardinal thus implored the faithful not to leave this world as Pilate left the praetorium with the unanswered question: “what is truth?” because “it is too important” and it “is a question of knowing whether we live for something, or in vain!”
A reflection for the Church
Cardinal Cantalamessa went on to note that Pilate’s words: “Your people and the chief priests have handed you over to me” (Jn 18:35) also offers another reflection addressed to believers and men of the Church.
“People of your Church, your priests have abandoned you, they have discredited your name with horrendous misdeeds! And should we still believe in you?” he asks.
To this, the Cardinal responded, quoting the words of J.R. Tolkien to his son: “Our love may be chilled and our will eroded by the spectacle of the shortcomings, folly, and even sins of the Church and its ministers, but I do not think that one who has once had faith goes back over the line for these reasons (least of all anyone with any historical knowledge)…” Tolkien adds that “It is convenient because it tends to turn our eyes away from ourselves and our own faults to find a scapegoat.”
Putting our feet on solid ground
Concluding, Cardinal Cantalamessa pointed out that we celebrate Easter this year amid the noise “of bombs and explosions not far from here.” In this regard, he called for repentance and appeals that swords be beaten into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. (Is 2:4)
He also remarked that these events have reminded us that “the structures of the world can change form one day to another” and everything passes and ages. The only way to escape the current of time, which drags everything along with it, is “to pass on to that which does not pass” and to “put our feet on firm ground.”
“Easter, Passover, means passage: let us all aim to experience a real Easter this year,” the Cardinal urged. “…let us pass on to the One who does not pass. Let us pass on now with our heart, before passing on one day with our body!”