Papal preacher Father Raniero Cantalamessa gave his first advent homily to Pope Francis, touching on the biblical meaning of the word peace — both as a gift from God and a longing of the human heart. “The theme this time will be peace. But peace in the biblical meaning, which is much, much more profound than the peace in political spheres,” Fr. Cantalamessa O.F.M. Cap., told CNA. He said that his reflections will go beyond the external sense of peace and into the “peace of God: as a gift of God, as a duty, as a task to accomplish, and peace as inner peace, peace of the heart.” As preacher to the Papal Household, Fr. Cantalamessa gives a meditation to the Pope, cardinals and members of the Roman Curia every Friday morning in Lent and Advent. He was named papal preacher by St. John Paul II in 1980, and was confirmed by both Benedict XVI and now Pope Francis. Fr. Cantalamessa said the three talks he will give will focus on peace as God's gift, peace as a duty and task to work for, and inner peace as a fruit of the Holy Spirit. In his first advent homily, given in the Redemptoris Mater chapel of the Vatican's Apostolic Palace on Dec. 5, the papal preacher opened by drawing attention the human longing for peace. “If one could hear the loudest cry that is in the heart of billions of people, one would hear, in all the languages of the world, only one word: peace!” he said, explaining that this is the reason he chose to dedicate this year's advent reflections to the topic. When we think of peace, we often think of it in a horizontal sense as peace between peoples, religions, social classes and races, he observed. However the most essential form of peace is the vertical peace between God and humanity. God promises to give man peace, Fr. Cantalamessa said. Even after Adam and Eve rebelled against him, God does not abandon them but rather forms a new plan for mankind's salvation which can be traced through the different covenants he makes throughout salvation history. “These covenants, as opposed to human ones, are always covenants of peace, never of war against enemies,” he said, pointing to the promises God made to both individual persons, such as Moses, Abraham and Noah, as well as with nations, like Israel. All of the promises God makes to these people and nations point to Jesus, the preacher noted, who says himself that he came in order to bring God's peace: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” He said that the restored peace between heaven and earth comes through Christ's sacrifice on the cross, adding that one can't fully understand the “radical” change that took place in man’s relation with God unless we understand Christ’s death. “There had to be someone who united in himself he who had to fight and he who could win, and this is what happened with Christ, God and man.” Jesus' death on the Cross, the preacher noted, “is the moment in which the Redeemer carries out the work of redemption, destroying sin and gaining victory over Satan.” Fr. Cantalamess continued, saying that the peace Christ won for us on the cross becomes active in each one of us through the Holy Spirit, who was given to Mary and the Apostles at Pentecost, after Jesus’ death. “In reality, peace does come from the cross of Christ, but it is not born from it…The ultimate source of peace is the Trinity,” the preacher observed, explaining that like love, peace requires more than one person to exist. So when Jesus tell his apostles to “receive the Holy Spirit,” in reality he is communicating to them “the peace of God, which passes all understanding,” he said. This peace that we receive as a gift from God, primarily in our baptism, must change our relationship with God little by little so that each of us may be reconciled with him, Fr. Cantalamessa noted. “One of the causes, perhaps the principal one, of modern man’s alienation from religion and from the faith is the distorted image that he has of God,” the priest said, observing that this is also the cause of Christians who live without joy, as if their faith were more of a duty than a gift. Christians today can frequently associate God with something painful and displeasing, which limits and “mutilates” our individual freedom and development, he said, noting that God can often be seen as “the enemy” of joy. Mercy is another topic that is misunderstood in the Church today, the preacher explained, saying that rather than meaning compassion, the term has become associated with pity. However, the Holy Spirit allows us to look at God with a fresh perspective, Fr. Cantalamessa said. Although this new vision includes seeing God as the God of the law, it first allows us to see him as the God of love and grace. “It makes us discover him as an ally and a friend, as ‘he who did not spare for himself his own Son but gave him up for us all:’ in sum, as a most tender Father.” Through the person of Jesus, who took on the role of a slave, fear has become love, the priest concluded, noting that it is because of this that we are able to be truly reconciled with God. “We leave for our daily work with a question in our mind: What idea of God the Father is in my heart: that of the world or that of Jesus?”
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