The First Advent Homily
Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap
The first Advent Sermon by Father Raniero Cantalamessa OFM Cap, the Preacher of the Pontifical Household, centred on two important points. First, the dire need of loving Christ. Second, the importance of seeing the Church as his body and spouse.
While preaching to Pope Francis as well as a congregation mainly constituted by clergy at the Redemptoris Mater chapel of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace Father Cantalmessa exhorted them: “Let us seek to love Christ and to make him loved, and we will have rendered our best service to the Church”. It is by making Christ loved that we, as Church, can truly be living our Christian vocation. “If the Church is the spouse of Christ, then like every spouse she will generate new children only in uniting herself to her Spouse through love. Thefruitfulness of the Church depends on her love for Christ. The best service anyone of us can do for the Church is therefore to love Jesus and grow in intimacy with him.”
On the other hand being Christian also signifies loving the Church because of Christ. Even if loving theChurch essentially implies accepting its sinful members. “People do not accept Christ because of love for theChurch but they accept the Church because of love for Christ, even a Church disfigured by the sin of its many representatives”. Therefore, for the Papal Preacher, to be a Christian fundamentally entails and calls for an intimate personal relationship with Jesus. “What does it mean to have a personal encounter with Jesus? It means saying, ‘Jesus is Lord!’, the way that Paul and the early Christians said it, which determines a person’s whole life forever because of it.” Consequently, Father Cantalamessa continued, “when this happens Jesus is no longer a personage but a person. He is no longer someone who is only talked about but someone to whom and with whom we can speak because he is risen and alive; he is no longer just a memory, although alive and operative liturgically, but an actual presence. It also means not making any important decisions without having submitted them to him in prayer.”
A personal encounter with Jesus cannot be undertaken vaguely. It has to be materialised into a sacramental relation with Jesus Christ. In fact, the encounter with Christ renders the sacraments “a freely chosen and welcome encounter” instead of a nominal or “habitually routine” one.
Since it is the Church who makes available for us Christ’s presence in the sacraments it is opportune toappreciate the spiritual content of the Vatican II Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium. In Vatican II the Church is seen from a Christ-centred vision. Such a vision, said Father Cantalamessa, is “spiritual and mystical before being social and institutional.”An effective evangelization would greatly bear abundant good fruit if it adopts this vision of being Church.
It is somehow sad that most of the commentaries written on the Second Vatican Council laid a heavy emphasis on the communion of the Church’s members with each other at the risk of weakening thecommunion which all Church members are to have with Christ. Then Father Cantalamessa explained how Lumen Gentium shows the Church as “our mother” and “the spotless spouse of the spotless Lamb.” Themost beautiful reality in all this is that Christ binds the Church to himself “by an unbreakable alliance” and nourishes and cultivates it. And it is this Church, which the constituition says, is “once purified, he willed tobe joined to himself, subject in love and fidelity.”
Let us not forget that Saint Paul’s image of the Church as the Body of Christ is entirely established on “thespousal idea of the one flesh that a man and a woman form when they join themselves in marriage” and even more on “the Eucharistic idea of the one body that is formed by those who partake of the same bread.” Father Cantalamessa observed: “Without the Church and without the Eucharist, Christ would not have a ‘body’ in theworld.”
As the Christmas solemnity is fastly approaching can we take the opportunity of consolidating our relationship with Jesus Christ by our fruitful reception of the Church’s sacraments?