Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa delivering his Lenten homily Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa delivering his Lenten homily  (Vatican Media)

Cantalamessa: St Paul calls us to a personal relationship with Christ

Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa, the Preacher of the Papal Household, delivers his second Lenten homily to Pope Francis.

By Joseph Tulloch

In his second sermon for Lent 2023, Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa discussed St Paul’s call for a personal relationship with Christ, and what it means for the role of lay people in the church’s evangelising mission. 

The Cardinal, a Franciscan friar, delivered his homily – which was based on several passages from Paul’s Letter to the Romans – on Friday to the Papal Household, including Pope Francis himself.

Ignoring God

Cantalamessa began by quoting Paul’s words that “they have no excuse: for although they knew God they did not accord him glory as God or give him thanks.”

Paul is thus saying, Cantalasmessa said, that “the ultimate sin” is a “refusal to glorify and thank God.” This seems strange to us, he noted: “not glorifying and thanking God doesn’t seem to us such a terrible and mortal sin.

In order to understand what Paul means, he explained, “We need to understand what is hidden behind it: the refusal to recognize God as God, not giving him the consideration that is his due.”

It is thus a matter “of "ignoring" God, where ignoring does not mean so much “not knowing that he exists” as “acting as if he did not exist.”

A personal relationship with Jesus

But how is this message of Paul’s relevant for us today?

Cantalamessa suggested that it lies not so much in his diagnosis of our situation as in his proposed solution. By stressing “the redemption wrought by Christ Jesus”, Paul is inviting us not to a moral renewal, not to return, as the Old Testament prophets urged, to the Law of Moses, but into a personal relationship with Jesus.

Sometimes, Cantalamessa said, this is a concept that Catholics are reluctant to embrace, preferring to speak of a “doctrinal”, “sacramental”, or “ecclesial” relationship with Christ. During the past five centuries, he noted, Catholic spirituality and pastoral care have viewed any talk of a personal relationship with the divine “with suspicion.”

This approach, he insisted, is completely misguided. Indeed, he emphasised, given that it can no longer be taken for granted, faith today must be understood primarily as a personal relationship, since "it is not absorbed as children within a family or school setting, but must be the fruit of personal decision.”

The laity as evangelisers

In the final section of his homily, Cantalamessa turned to consider the question of how to kindle this “spark for the person of Jesus” in the hearts of others.

“In the majority of cases that I have known in my life,” he said, “a life-changing discovery of Christ was brought about by meeting someone who had already experienced that grace, by participating in a gathering, by hearing a testimony.”

This, he said, suggests an especially important role for laypeople, who “are more inserted into the fabric of life in which those circumstances usually occur.”

Laypeople who have "discovered what it means to know a living Jesus and are eager to share their discovery with others", Cantalamessa concluded, ought thus to become the primary agents of the Church's evangelising mission. 

Thank you for reading our article. You can keep up-to-date by subscribing to our daily newsletter. Just click here

10 March 2023, 14:31