Today, Pope Francis held the Good Friday ceremonies in the Vatican Basilica, which begin with an impressive moment of prostration before the altar of confession, when the main celebrant venerates the cross displayed in a recumbent position. After a short silence, the introductory prayer of Reminiscère follows: Remember, God, the acts of your mercy… After the canto of the Passions of John, the pope’s preacher, Card. Raniero Cantalamessa, Homily for Good Friday, which we report in full:
Raniero Cantalamessa, ofmcap
In the Passion story, the Evangelist John places special emphasis on Jesus’ conversation with Pilate, which we will reflect on briefly before continuing with the liturgy. It all starts with Pilate’s question: Are you the King of the Jews? (John 18.33). Jesus wants to indicate to Pilate that this matter is more serious than he thinks, but it only becomes more important if he does not repeat the accusations of others. So he answers the question: Are you saying that about yourself, or have others told you about me? He tries to bring Pilate to a higher perspective and tells him about his kingdom, which is not of this world. The governor of Rome understands only one thing: that it is not a political government. When it comes to religion, he has no intention of interfering in such matters. He asks with a touch of irony: So you are king? Jesus replied, “Yes, I am a king (John 18.37).
With this declaration, Jesus exposes himself to death, but instead of denying him without guilt, he pronounces them with even more force, thus revealing his superior origin: I came into the world… This means that he existed mysteriously before his earthly life, he comes from another world and came to testify to the truth. He treats Pilate as a soul in need of light and truth, not as a judge. He is interested in Pilate’s human destiny, not his own. With his call to accept the truth, he wants to lead him to immerse himself in himself, to look at events with different eyes, to rise above the momentary dispute with the Jews.
The governor of Rome understands this challenge from Jesus, but shows doubt and indifference in the face of this kind of contemplation. The mystery that permeates Jesus’ words frightens him, so he prefers to cut off the conversation. He shrugs, mutters “What’s the truth?” and leaves the government building.
What is the topicality of this gospel site! Even today, as in the past, we keep asking ourselves: what is the truth? But, like Pilaan, he absentmindedly turns his back on the one who said: “I came into the world to bear witness to the truth” and “I am the truth!”John 14.6). I have watched countless debates on the internet about science and religion, faith and atheism. I was intrigued by one fact: during the long hours of conversation, the name of Jesus would never be heard. And if the believing party dares to name them and point out the fact of Jesus’ resurrection, there is an immediate effort to end such conversation which is out of the question. Everything happens what if Christus does not dareas if there had never been a man in the world named Jesus Christ.
What is the result then? The word God becomes an empty vessel that everyone can fill at will. Yet it is for this reason that God Himself made sure to fill his name with content: The Word became flesh. The truth has become flesh! Hence the obstinacy in excluding Jesus from speaking of God: he removes all pretext for human pride to decide what God is!
Oh of course: Jesus of Nazareth!, there is an objection. After all, someone doubts he even existed! The well-known English writer of the last century, known to a wide audience as the author of The Lord of the Rings cycle of novels and films, John Ronald Tolkien, responds to this objection in a letter to his son as follows:
“It takes a dazzling will not to presuppose the existence of Jesus or to believe that he spoke the words given to him, for it is unthinkable that any other human being should invent them: ‘Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8.58) and “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14.9) “(From the Letters of JRR Tolkien, ed. Humphrey Carpenter, with Christopher Tolkien, Houghton Mifflin 1981).
The only alternative to the truth of Christ, the writer added, is the possibility of demented megalomania or gigantic deception. But could such a case withstand in twenty centuries a passionate historical-philosophical criticism and bear the fruits that it did?
Today we still overcome Pilate’s skepticism. There are those who say that the question of truth should not arise at all, because there is simply no truth! Everything is relative, nothing is certain! A different thought is an unacceptable vanity! There is no longer room for grand interpretations of the world and of reality, including those about God and Christ.
Brothers and sisters atheists, agnostics or seekers (if any of you are listening), the following words were not spoken by a poor preacher like me, but by someone whom many of you admire, write to his subject and perhaps consider themselves his disciples and successors: Søeren Kierkegaard, who launched the philosophical current of existentialism. He says:
“There is a lot of talk about human misery and wasted lives. But only a person who has never realized why he has never had the impression in the deepest sense that there is a God and that he, with himself, stands before this God will lose his life “(Søeren Kierkegaard, La malattia mortale, II, in Opere, a cura di C. Fabro, Firenze 1972, p. 633).
It is said that there is too much injustice and suffering in the world to believe in God! True, but think of the absurdity and intolerance of surrounding evil without faith in the final victory of truth and good. The resurrection of Jesus, which we will celebrate in two days, is the promise and the guarantee of this triumph which will take place because it has already begun.
If I had had the courage of the Apostle Paul, he would also have cried: In the name of Christ we cry: Be reconciled to God! (2Co 5:20). Don’t waste your life, don’t leave this world like Pilate’s government building with this unanswered question: What is the truth?. It’s too important – it’s about whether we lived for something or in vain.
However, Jesus’ conversation with Pilate also offers us the opportunity to think differently, which this time concerns us believers and not people outside the church. Your people, the high priests, have betrayed you! (John 18:35). The people of the church, your high priests, have left you, discredited your name with abominable wickedness. And do we still have to believe in you? I would also like to respond to this disturbing complaint with the words of the aforementioned writer, who writes to his son:
“Our love may grow cold and our will will be eroded by a demonstration of the shortcomings, folly and sins of the Church and her servants. However, I do not believe that the one who really believes will leave the faith for these reasons, even less the one who knows a little history… All that suits us, because thus we leave the eyes of ourselves and our guilt and let’s look for a sacrificial goat… I guess I see scandals just as much as you or any other Christian. I have suffered a lot in my life because of uneducated, tired, weak and sometimes wicked priests”.
This result was to be expected. It began before Easter with the betrayal of Judas, the denial of Peter, the flight of the apostles… Should we cry? Yes, Tolkien advises his son, but not about what Jesus has to endure, not about himself. He would like to add: let us weep with the sacrifices and for the sacrifices of our sins.
The conclusion belongs to everyone, believers or not. This year, we celebrate Easter not with the joyful sound of bells, but with the somber hiss of bombs and devastating explosions that occur only near us. Let us remember how Jesus once responded to the bloodshed caused by Pilate and the fall of the tower of Siloam:lc 13.5). If you do not forge your swords into plowshares, your spears into wine knives (Isaiah 2:4) and you do not turn your missiles into houses and factories, you will all perish like this!
Recent events have suddenly reminded us that the order of the world can change from day to day, that everything passes, ages and everything – not just happy youth – ends once. There is only one way out of the mind-boggling current: move on to what does not pass, stand on something solid! Easter means transition: let’s all make a real transition this year, honored fathers, brothers and sisters, let’s pass to the One who does not weaken, and let’s pass to him with the heart before going to him one day with the flesh!
Translated by Jana Gruberova