By Vatican News
Last week, in his first Advent sermon, Cardinal Cantalamessa reflected on the meaning of death. This week, he invited his listeners to meditate on another truth that the pandemic has brought back to the surface, that of the “instability and transience of all things.” “Everything,” he said, “is transitory: wealth, good health, beauty, physical strength…”
“The worldwide crisis we are going through,” he explained, “can be an opportunity to discover with relief that there is, despite anything else, a firm point, some solid ground, or rather a rock on which we can build our life on earth.”
By helping rediscover faith in the afterlife or eternity, the pope’s preacher said, religions can contribute to the effort to create a better and more fraternal world. It makes us understand that we are travelling together on our way to a common homeland, where there are no distinctions of race or nationality. “We not only share the route, but also the destination.”
Guarantee of eternity – the risen Christ
For Christians, Cardinal Cantalamessa explained, faith in eternal life is based on a precise fact: the resurrection of Christ and His promise. Jesus said, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?” It means going to live with the risen Jesus and sharing His life in the “fullness and joy of the life of the Trinity."
The cardinal explained how belief in life after death waned in the 19th century through certain thinking, when “the idea of personal survival in God was replaced by a survival within the species and within future society.” “Little by little, the word ‘eternity’ was not only regarded with suspicion but also forgotten and silenced.”
Secularization brought this process to completion, bringing about the “separation between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Caesar.” It brought in a “whole set of social attitudes that are hostile to religion and to faith,” so much so that “the afterlife has turned into a joke,” as Kierkegaard put it.
“The fall of the horizon of eternity,” Cardinal Cantalamessa pointed out, “has the same effect on Christian faith that sand has on a fire: it chokes it off.” St. Paul warns about the practical consequence of this eclipse of eternity when he says, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (1Cor 15:32). The natural desire to live "for ever" becomes a desire, or frenzy, to live "well," that is pleasantly, even at the expense of others if necessary. With the collapse of the horizon of eternity, human suffering appears doubly absurd and without remedy.
Eternal life and evangelization
According to the papal preacher, faith in eternal life is one of the conditions that make evangelization possible, which is why Paul says, “If Christ has not been raised, then empty [too] is our preaching; empty, too, your faith…” “In proclaiming eternal life,” the cardinal said, “not only can we leverage our faith, but also its affinity with the deepest yearning of the human heart.” A renewed faith in eternity makes us free and helps us not to become attached to things that pass.
Preparing for life hereafter
Cardinal Cantalamessa used an analogy to show the need to rediscover faith in life after death. He said it would be silly for a person who has received an eviction order to spend all his money on renovating the house he is leaving instead of the house he is moving into. Likewise, it would be silly for us, who are asked to leave this world, to “only think about decorating our earthly home, without caring about doing good works which will follow us after our death.” The fading of the concept of eternity has an impact on believers, as it reduces their ability to face the suffering and trials of life with courage, Cardinal Cantalamessa added.