Cardinal Cantalamessa: Hope helps us on our personal journey of sanctification
By Benedict Mayaki, SJ
Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa, the Preacher of the Papal Household, focused his second homily for the season of Advent 2022 on “the gate of hope” – one of the doors to be opened by the theological virtues: faith, hope and charity.
He noted that the Temple of Jerusalem had a door called the “Beautiful Gate” (Acts 3:2) and the temple of God, which is our heart, also has a “beautiful gate” which is the door of hope – the door we want to open to Christ who comes.
Waiting for the blessed hope
To explore the object of the “blessed hope”, the Cardinal started by placing the Gospel revelation against the background of ancient beliefs about the afterlife.
He noted that even the Old Testament had no answer to give. However, he said, the great thing that distinguished Israel from other peoples was that, despite everything, it “continued to believe in the goodness and love of its God” and did not attribute death, as the Babylonians did, to the envy of the divinity which reserves immortality only to itself, but rather attributed it to man's sin (Gen 3), or simply to one's own mortal nature.
Indeed, Israel seemed to have gone as far as to desire and glimpse the possibility of a relationship with God beyond death: a being "torn from hell" (Ps 49:16), "to be with God always" (Ps 73, 23) and "be satisfied with joy in his presence" (Ps 16, 11). Jesus, explained the Cardinal, gave an “irrefutable proof by rising from the dead. After Him, for the believer, death is no longer a landing, but a take-off!”
More so, some mystics have been given to experience something of the “ocean of joy” that God keeps prepared for His people but all of them affirm that nothing can be said about it in human words. St. Paul says that he was taken to the “third heaven” in paradise and he heard “unspeakable words that it is not lawful for anyone to pronounce" (2 Cor 12, 2-4).
Thus, “reflecting on Christian hope means reflecting on the ultimate meaning of our existence,” said the Cardinal, noting that one thing is common to all in this regard: the longing for living ‘well’, for ‘wellbeing.’
Material/personal good and the common good
In considering what is meant by “good,” Cardinal Cantalamessa made a distinction between two classes of people: those who think only of the material and personal good, and those who think of the moral good of all – the common good.
For those who think of the material good, Cantalamessa explained, the world has not changed much since the time of Isaiah and St. Paul when the saying “let us eat and drink because tomorrow we will die” was common, and it is indeed, more interesting to understand those who proposed to “live well” not only materially and individually, but also morally and together with others.
St. Augustine, for his part, expressed the core of the problem by asking "What is the use of living well, if it is not given to live always?". Before him, Jesus had said: "What good is it for man to gain the whole world if he then loses his life?" (Lk 9:25). Hence, the response of theological hope assures us that “God created us for life, not death; that Jesus came to reveal eternal life to us and to give us the guarantee with His resurrection.”
Cardinal Cantalamessa clarified that living “always” is not opposed to living “well” as “the hope of eternal life is what makes also present life beautiful, or at least acceptable.” Though everyone has their share of the cross, it is one thing to suffer without knowing for what purpose, and another to suffering knowing that "the sufferings of the present time are not comparable to the future glory that will be revealed in us" (Rom 8:18).
Evangelization and hope
The preacher of the papal household went on to consider the important role that theological hope plays in relation to evangelization, as one of the determining factors in the spread of the faith in the early days of Christianity was the announcement of a life after death that was fuller and more joyful than the earthly one.
In the First Letter of St. Peter, the activity of the Church externally (propagation of the message) is presented as “giving reason for hope”, and the happenings after the first Easter show that the Church is born from a surge a “living hope” with which they set out to conquer the world. Also, the Letter to the Hebrews compares hope to “an anchor of the soul, sure and firm" (Heb 6:18-19). Another image of hope is “the sail” which makes the boat advance in the sea, while the anchor gives the boat safety and keeps it steady between the swaying of the sea.
Cantalamessa noted the attacks on Christian hope from people like Feuerbach, Marx and Nietzsche, and the creation of a so-called “theology of hope”. However, he stressed, the task before us with regard to hope is “no longer that of defending it and justifying it philosophically and theologically, but of announcing it, of showing it and of giving it to a world that has lost the sense of hope and is sinking more and more into pessimism and nihilism, the true 'black hole' of the universe.”
Gaudium et spes
The Cardinal remarked that perhaps “the modern world has never shown itself so well disposed towards the Church and so interested in her message, as in the years of the Vatican Council. And the main reason is that the Council gave hope.” He invited the Church to “resume the movement of hope initiated by the Council” and warned against falling into the temptation against hope which is the fear of appearing naïve.
He added that God does not promise to remove the reasons for weariness and exhaustion but he gives hope, and hope gives the strength to rise above.
Get up and walk
Recalling the healing of the cripple at the beautiful gate, Cardinal Cantalamessa said that something similar could also happen to us with regard to hope, as we too often find ourselves spiritually in the position of the cripple – inert, lukewarm and paralyzed in the face of difficulties. However, when divine hope passes by us, “we jump to our feet and finally enter into the heart of the Church, ready to take on, once again and joyfully, tasks and responsibilities.”
“In addition to evangelization, hope helps us on our personal journey of sanctification,” the Cardinal affirmed, adding, that it becomes, in those who exercise it, the “principle of spiritual progress” and allows us to always discover new “possibilities for good” and always something that can be done.
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