Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, Preacher of the Pontifical Household said the first Advent Homily for 2015 on Dec 4. He was preaching to Pope Francis and a congregation mainly composed of clergy at the Redemptoris chapel of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace.
The Franciscan Friar who has served as a preacher to the Papal Household since 1980, divided his Advent sermon to four sections entitled “A Christological Ecclesiology,” “The Church as the Body and the Spouse of Christ,” “Going from the Church to the Soul,” and “A Personal Encounter with Jesus.”
“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. The fruitfulness 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.” Father Raniero Cantalamessa, O.P. said
“Let us seek to love Christ and to make him loved, and we will have rendered our best service to the Church”. He continued.
The papal preacher reminded the congregation of the logic of Christian belief.
“People do not accept Christ because of love for the Church but they accept the Church because of love for Christ, even a Church disfigured by the sin of its many representatives,” he said.
“What does it mean to have a personal encounter with Jesus? he asked. “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.”
To understand what having a personal encounter with Jesus means, he said, we need to take a brief look at history. How did people become members of the Church in the first three centuries? Despite the differences from individual to individual and from place to place, they became members after a long initiation, the catechumenate; it was the result of a personal decision, and a risky one as well because of the possibility of martyrdom.
Things changed when Christianity became, first, a tolerated religion and then, in a short time, the preferred religion and at times even directly imposed. In this situation, the focus was no longer on the precise moment and the way in which a person became a Christian, that is, how he or she came to faith, but on the moral requirements of the faith itself, on the change in a person’s habits—in other words, on morality.
The priest made reference to Pope Francis’ 2013 apostolic exhortation Evangelii gaudium where he invited Christians to seek “a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ”.
Father Cantalamessa continued his reflection and said, “the Church is the body of Christ because she is the spouse of Christ!” The papal preacher also credited Ratzinger for highlighting the intrinsic relationship between these two images.
“Without the Church and without the Eucharist, Christ would not have a ‘body’ in the world,” Father Cantalamessa reflected.
He noted the Church Fathers’ theological dictum that what can be said about the Church can be applied, with necessary distinctions, to “each person in particular in the Church.”
“If the Church in its innermost and truest meaning is the body of Christ, then I actualize the Church in myself, I am an ‘ecclesial being,’ to the extent that I allow Christ to make me his body, not just in theory but also in practice,” he said. “What counts is not the position I occupy in the Church but the position that Christ occupies in my heart!”
“It is the Church which, once purified, he willed to be joined to himself, subject in love and fidelity,” the dogmatic constitution says.
This actualization takes place through the sacraments, especially Baptism and the Eucharist. The saying “the Eucharist makes the Church” applies on both the community and personal level. Through the Eucharist, “two lives, mine and Christ’s, become one ‘without confusion and without division’” in a real, mystic way.
Father Cantalamessa again noted that the image of the Church as the body of Christ is linked to the image of the Church as the spouse of Christ.
“According to St. Paul, the immediate consequence of marriage is that the body of the husband now belongs to the wife and, conversely, the body of the wife belongs to the husband.”
Applying this to the christian life he said,“There is nothing in my life that does not belong to Christ. No one should say, ‘Oh, Jesus does not know what it means to be married, to be a woman, to have lost a son, to be sick, to be elderly, or to be a person of color!’ If you experience something, he experiences it too, thanks to you and through you”.
He concluded his sermon by saying “I said at the beginning that people do not accept Christ out of love for the Church but they accept the Church out of love for Christ. Let us seek to love Christ and to make him loved, and we will have rendered our best service to the Church.
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. The fruitfulness 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”.