Three Calls to Repentance: A Sermon by Cardinal Cantalamessa


Sermon Cantalamessa to the Roman Curia
Sermon by Cantalamessa to the Roman Curia (ANSA)

Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa delivered the first Lenten sermon addressed to the Roman Curia: the papal preacher dedicated it to the theme of repentance, taking as a basis the call of Jesus Christ, which sounded at the beginning of His public ministry: “The time is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God is at hand: repent and believe in the gospel” ( Mk 1.15).

Olga Sakun – Vatican City

The call to repentance is heard in three different New Testament contexts, the preacher explained. Every time a new stresses repentance component, and these three components make up what we call the evangelical metanoia. It is not necessary to experience all three moments of repentance with the same intensity, Cantalamessa clarified: there is a repentance for each period of life, the main thing is that each of us could understand which repentance relates to a particular moment.

The first call to repentance is found in the above quote: “Repent and believe in the gospel.” Before Christ came, repentance meant “turning back,” that is, “turning back,” returning to keeping the law and covenant with God. This involved some laborious steps: it was necessary to change habits, to cease to perform some action and so on. In the mouth of the Lord Jesus, this word takes on a different meaning, and not because He likes to change the meanings of words, but because with His coming everything has changed – “the time is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God is at hand”:

“Turning now does not mean turning back to the old covenant and keeping the law, but rather means leaping forward and gaining salvation, which came to people selflessly, thanks to the free and supreme initiative of God.”

“Repent and believe” is not two consecutive actions, but one basic action: repent, that is, believe! It is about turning from “law” to “grace.”

The second call to repentance Jesus addressed to His disciples after their argument about who is more in the Kingdom of Heaven: “Jesus, having called a child, set him in the midst of them and said: Truly I say to you, if you do not turn and will not be like children, you will not enter Kingdom of Heaven ”(Mt 18: 1-3). This time we are really talking about “conversion”, about how to go back, and into childhood itself. Arguing about who is more, students put their own “I” in the first place. Contacting in this context means to completely change the perspective and direction to move away from him, and again focus eyes on Christ. Jesus says that you just need to be like children, that is, to return to the moment of your own calling, when no one was yet endowed with titles, no one competed with each other, and no one envied each other. When Jesus called the disciples, they had nothing but the presence of Jesus.

We see the third call to repentance in the epistles to the seven Churches of the Apocalypse. The messages are addressed to the “angels”, that is, directly or indirectly, to the pastors who lead the community, the preacher of the Papal House explained. “I know your deeds; you are neither cold nor hot; oh, if you were cold, or hot! But as you are warm, and not hot and not cold, I will vomit you out of my mouth. Therefore, be zealous and repent ”(Rev. 3:15.19). Here we are talking about repentance as a transition from mediocrity and lukewarmness to spiritual zeal. Commenting on these words, Father Cantalamessa made a digression by comparing the two approaches to spiritual life. “We,” he explained, “are the heirs of spirituality, according to which the path to perfection goes through three classical stages: purification, enlightenment and unity. In other words, it takes a long time to practice self-denial and mortification in order to come to zeal. In all this there is great wisdom and age-old experience, and in no case should you think that all this is outdated. No, it is not out of date, but it is not the only path that follows God’s grace. Such a rigid scheme denotes a slow and gradual shift in emphasis from grace to human endeavor. ” If such austerity is not preceded by a powerful “push of the Holy Spirit”, it will be useless work, which can only induce “boasting in the flesh.”

“The Christian life, full of ascetic efforts and mortification, but devoid of the life-giving touch of the Spirit, according to one of the Holy Fathers, is like Mass, at which many readings are read, many rituals are performed and abundant gifts are offered, but the priest does not sanctify the particles. Everything remains the same as before – bread and wine. “

How, then, can one get what Saint Ambrose calls “the sober intoxication of the Holy Spirit”? In addition to the usual paths of the Eucharist and Scripture, there is a third, “extraordinary” possibility, which depends solely on the free initiative and supremacy of God. The channel of this “extra-institutional” act of the Holy Spirit is the so-called baptism in the Spirit, in connection with which Cantalamessa referred to the experience of the Catholic charismatic renewal. The term “baptism in the Spirit” comes from Jesus Himself. Bearing in mind the approaching Pentecost, before ascending to heaven, He said to the apostles: “John baptized with water, and you, in a few days after that, will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1.5). The most frequent and significant fruit of “baptism in the Spirit” is the understanding of what “personal relationship” with the deceased and resurrected Jesus means.

Does everyone have to go through this experience? Can it be regarded as the only possible means to experience the grace of renewed Pentecost, called for by the Second Vatican Council? If by baptism in the Spirit we mean a certain rite, then this question should be answered in the negative: of course, this is not the only way to experience the Holy Spirit. Such an experience can be experienced after spiritual exercises, any meeting or reading. It is important to say with all our heart, “Come, Holy Spirit,” and give the Spirit complete freedom to come exactly as He wants, and not as we ourselves want it, often implying that this should not change our way of life and our prayer. It is “baptism in the Spirit” that turns Christians from lukewarmness to spiritual zeal, said Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa.

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