By Vatican News staff reporter
Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, who was created Cardinal by Pope Francis in the consistory of 28 November 2020, delivered his first sermon for Lent 2021 in the Paul VI Hall at the Vatican. The theme for this year’s Lenten reflections is “Who do you say that I am?”, taken from the Gospel of St Matthew.
For his introductory sermon, the Preacher to the Papal Household offered an overview of the season of Lent, focusing on the passage “Repent, and believe in the Gospel!”
Three moments of conversion
Repentance, or conversion, said Cardinal Cantalamessa, is mentioned in “three different moments and contexts” in the New Testament, corresponding to different moments in our own lives.
The first is founded in the words spoken by Jesus at the beginning of His ministry: “Repent, and believe in the Gospel!” This does not have a primarily moral sense, according to Cardinal Cantalamessa, but instead consists first of all in having faith, in believing, in changing how we see our relationship with God.
The second New Testament call to conversion comes when Jesus invites His disciples to “turn and become like children.” Here, “Jesus puts forward a genuine revolution,” calling them – and us – “to shift the centre from yourself, and to re-centre yourself on Christ.” Becoming like children, said Cardinal Cantalamessa, means going back to the time we first truly encountered Jesus.
Finally, in the book of Revelation, Jesus calls those who are neither hot nor cold to “be earnest… and repent.” “The focus here,” said Cardinal Cantalamessa, is on conversion from being mediocre and lukewarm to being fervent. This is not our own work, he insisted, but rather the work of the Holy Spirit.
From being lukewarm to being fervent
Cardinal Cantalamessa recalled the experience of the disciples when they were filled with the Spirit at the first Pentecost. The Fathers of the Church described this experience with the image of “sober drunkenness” – the disciples were not drunk with wine, as the people imagined, but instead, having received the Holy Spirit, were spiritually inebriated.
“How can we take up this ideal of sober drunkenness and embody it in the present situation in history and in the Church?” Cardinal Cantalamessa asked. Beyond the ordinary means of Eucharist and the Scriptures, the Cardinal, citing Saint Ambrose, points to a third, “extraordinary” means, that is not institutional, but instead involves “reliving the experience of the apostles on the day of Pentecost.”
One way this occurs, he said, is in the “so-called ‘Baptism in the Spirit',” which involves “a renewal with fresh awareness not only of Baptism and Confirmation, but also of the entire Christian life… the most important fruit is the discovery of what it means to have a ‘personal relationship' with Jesus risen and alive.”
Cardinal Cantalamessa emphasized the importance of “a true conversion from being lukewarm to being fervent, inviting his listeners to pray for Mary’s intercession for this grace.
You can read the full text of Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa's Sermon on his website.