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Pope Francis listens to Cardinal Cantalamessa's second Advent Sermon Pope Francis listens to Cardinal Cantalamessa's second Advent Sermon  (Vatican Media)

Cardinal Cantalamessa: Church must bear Christ for our world

The Preacher of the Papal Household, Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa, delivers his third Advent sermon to the Pope and the Roman Curia, and reflects on Jesus’ birth “of a woman” and what that means for the Church’s mission to preach Christ.

By Devin Watkins

“When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman.”

Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa took this line from Paul’s Letter to the Galatians as the basis of his reflection for the third Advent Sermon on Friday, which saw Pope Francis and various officials of the Roman Curia take part.

The Preacher of the Papal Household focused especially on the implications of the phrase: “born of a woman.”

He noted with the Fathers of the Church that, without those words, Christ would appear as “a heavenly, disembodied illusion”, an image of Christ which the Docetist heresy sought to promote.

Being born “of a woman” and in the flesh is “clear proof of his human nature,” said the Cardinal with St. Leo the Great.

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‘Mary, or the Church, or the soul’

Cardinal Cantalamessa said St. Paul’s reference to Mary as “woman” places her within the long Biblical tradition that begins with Eve and ends with the woman of the Book of Revelations who is “clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet”, a clear reference to the Church. It also reflects Jesus’ way of referring to his mother in the Gospel of John at the wedding at Cana and at Golgotha.

The Cardinal noted that the Church Fathers closely linked the images of the Church, the Virgin Mary, and the individual Christian. So, what Sacred Scripture says of one can be applied to the other two analogously.

“In the inspired Scriptures, what is said in a universal sense of the virgin mother, the Church, is understood in an individual sense of the Virgin Mary, and what is said in a particular sense of the virgin mother Mary is rightly understood in a general sense of the virgin mother, the Church... In a way, every Christian is also believed to be a bride of God’s Word, a mother of Christ, his daughter, and sister, at once virginal and fruitful. These words are used in a universal sense of the Church, in a special sense of Mary, in a particular sense of the individual Christian. (Isaac of Stella)”

Church bearing Christ

Therefore, said Cardinal Cantalamessa, just as Mary conceived Jesus in her womb and bore Him in the flesh for the world, so must the Church give birth to Jesus for humanity of every age.

He said that whoever sees the Church should not stop there but “should look to Jesus.”

“This is the struggle against the Church becoming self-referential, a theme often underscored by the last two Supreme Pontiffs: Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis.”

He added that Christ has entrusted his message of salvation to the Church and sent her into the world, though many people still unknowingly dream of receiving that message.

Dangers and “walls of division” lurk within the Church, however, noted the Cardinal. He said these include “excess bureaucracy, the remnants of meaningless ceremonials, including vestments, former laws, and disputes that by now have become nothing more than debris.”

Cardinal Cantalamessa then thanked Pope Francis for “the steps forward” which the Church has made to “reach the existential peripheries of the world, bringing them the message of Christ.”

Born of our hearts

At the same time, each individual Christian must bear Christ for our world.

“In the Gospel Jesus explains to us how to become a mother of Christ, He says that it happens by listening to the Word and putting it into practice (see Lk 8:21). It is important to note that two things need to take place. Even Mary became the mother of Christ through these two processes: first, by conceiving him, and then by giving birth to him.”

However, Cardinal Cantalamessa warned against two forms of “spiritual abortion”.

One is that the believer “conceives Jesus without giving birth to Him”, that is, he or she welcomes the Word but then never puts it into practice through concrete actions.

On the other hand, the believer can “give birth to Christ without having conceived Him”, much like a form of in vitro fertilization.

He said these people perform many good things without their actions being motivated by kindness, or the love of God, or even right intentions. Habit or hypocrisy motivates them. Rather, our deeds are good “only if they come from the heart and are conceived for the love of God and in faith.”

‘While all around was silence’

Cardinal Cantalamessa therefore recalled the need for “sound discernment” in the quest to put into practice what has been conceived in the heart.

“We must insist on one thing, however: the determination or resolution to lead a new life must be translated without delay into concrete action, into a change in the way we live and in our habits, possibly even in external and visible ways. If our resolution is not acted upon, Jesus is conceived, but not brought to birth. It will be one of many spiritual abortions.”

The first way to start, urged the papal preacher, is to create “a little silence around us and within us.” In this way, we mirror the contemplative silence that surrounded Jesus upon His virgin birth into our world.

17 December 2021, 11:06