By Kathleen Naab
VATICAN CITY, DEC. 21, 2012 (Zenit.org).- The preacher of the pontifical household is suggesting that a most effective tool for evangelizing is a virtue characteristic of the Christmas season: joy.
Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa said this today as he delivered his final Advent sermon for the Pope and members of the Curia.
Drawing again from themes related to the Year of Faith, (as he did in his first and second sermons), Father Cantalamessa focused on evangelization. The recipe he proposed for spreading the Gospel is joy.
The Capuchin first observed how the Evangelist Luke not only presented the events and people surrounding Christ's birth, "but also in recreating the atmosphere and mood wherein these events unfolded."
He said that joy is one of the elements that shines forth most clearly: "We are not dealing with a few scattered hints of gladness, but rather with a rush of calm and profound joy that runs through the infancy narratives from beginning to end. It is expressed in a thousand different ways: in Mary's haste as she arises to go to Elizabeth and in the shepherds' swiftness to go and see the Child, and in the humble, customary acts of joy such as visits, best wishes, greetings, congratulations and gifts. But this joy is expressed above all in the protagonists’ wonder and heartfelt gratitude: 'God has visited His people! […] He has remembered His holy covenant!'"
Father Cantalamessa said Luke's intention is not only to narrate these events, "but also to involve the hearers, and to sweep them along like the shepherds in a joyous procession towards Bethlehem," meaning that we, too, must be swept up in this rejoicing.
"This explains," he said, "why the infancy narratives have so little to say to those who seek in them only history, and why instead they have so much to say to those who also seek in them history's meaning, as the Holy Father does in his latest book on Jesus. Many events have happened that are not 'historical' in the fullest sense of the word, since they have left no mark on history -- they have had no lasting effect. The events surrounding the birth of Jesus, on the other hand, are historical facts in the very strongest sense, for not only have they occurred, but they have also impacted the history of the world -- and in a most decisive way."
Father Cantalamessa then reflected on where joy comes from, observing that its immediate origin is in God's action in history.
"The joy breaking forth from Mary's heart, and from the hearts of the other witnesses of the beginnings of salvation, is wholly based on this: God has come to the help of Israel! God has done it! He has done great things," he said.
In this sense, the preacher continued, the Church has great reason to rejoice, seeing God's action over the course of 20 centuries.
"Joy in God's action therefore reaches believers today by way of remembrance, for we see the great things the Lord has done for us in the past. But it also reaches us in another and no less important way: by way of presence, for we find that even now, in the present, God is acting in our midst. He is acting in the Church."
He explained: "If the Church today wishes to rediscover paths of courage and joy amid all the anxieties and tribulations that beset her, she must open her eyes to all that God is accomplishing in her this very day. The finger of God, i.e. the Holy Spirit, is still writing in the Church and in souls, and he is writing marvelous stories of holiness."
Father Cantalamessa went on to consider the new relationship between joy and pain brought on by Christ.
"Some years ago," he noted, "there was a campaign being promoted by the so-called militant atheists. Their publicity slogan, which was affixed to London’s public transport, read: There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life. The most insidious element of this slogan isn’t the premise 'There is no God' (which, of course, has yet to be proven) but the conclusion: 'Enjoy your life!' For the underlying message is that faith in God prevents us from enjoying life. Faith, it claims, is the enemy of joy. And without it the world would be a happier place! We need to answer this insinuation, which keeps so many people away from the faith, especially young people."
In fact, he explained, "Jesus sparked a revolution in joy whose scope would be difficult to overstate, and which can be of great help to us in evangelization."
"Christ reversed the relationship between pleasure and pain," Father Cantalamessa said. "'For the joy that was set before him [he] endured the cross' (Heb 12:2). No longer would pleasure end in suffering, but suffering would lead to life and joy. It is not merely a matter of a different ordering of the two things. It is joy that has the last word, not suffering, and it is a joy that shall last forever. 'Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him' (Rom 6:9). The Cross ends with Good Friday. The bliss and glory of the Resurrection continue for all eternity."
"This," the preacher affirmed, "is that joy to which we must bear witness. For what the world seeks is joy."
"Joy is the only sign that even unbelievers are able to understand, and it can place them in serious crisis (far more that reproach and argumentation)," he added. "The most beautiful testimony a bride can give her husband is a face radiant with joy, because that alone tells him that he has filled her life with happiness. This is also the most beautiful witness the Church can give to her divine Bridegroom."
He called on St. Paul to explain how to bear witness to this joy in practice: "'Let all men know your forbearance' (Phil 4:4-5). The word 'forbearance' translates a Greek word (epieikès), which indicates a whole host of attitudes including mercy, forgiveness and the ability to know how to relent and not to be stubborn.
"Christians bear witness to joy, then, when they put these dispositions into practice; when, avoiding any unnecessary bitterness and resentment in dialogue with the world and with one another, they radiate confidence, and in so doing imitate God who also makes his rain to fall on the unjust. Generally, whoever is happy isn’t bitter. He doesn’t feel the need to pin everything down. He knows how to put things into perspective, because he knows something much greater."
"Even within the Church," Father Cantalamessa concluded, "there is a vital need to bear witness to joy. St. Paul said of himself and of the other apostles: 'Not that we lord it over your faith; we work with you for your joy' (2 Cor 1:24). What a splendid definition of the task of the shepherds of the Church! Collaborators in joy: those who instill security in the sheep of Christ’s flock; the valiant captains who, with only a serene gaze, hearten the soldiers committed to the fight."
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