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1st Lenten Sermon of Father Cantalamessa (Part 2 of 2)

3/20/2006 - 6:00 AM PST

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"Life Is Strewn With Many Little Nights of Gethsemane"

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 20, 2006 (Zenit) - Here is a translation of the Lenten sermon delivered Friday by Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa in the presence of Benedict XVI and officials of the Roman Curia. The Pontifical Household preacher delivered it in the Mater Redemptoris Chapel of the Apostolic Palace.

Part 1 of this translation appeared Friday.

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4. "Being in agony, he prayed more earnestly"

These words were written by the evangelist Luke (22:44), with a clear pastoral intention: To show the Church of his time, subjected already to situations of struggle and persecution, what the master taught in such hardships.

Human life is strewn with many little nights of Gethsemane. The causes can be very numerous and different: a threat to our health, a lack of appreciation of the environment, the indifference of someone close to us, the fear of the consequences of some error committed. But there can be more profound causes: the loss of the meaning of God, the overwhelming awareness of one's sin and unworthiness, the impression of having lost the faith. In short, what the saints have called "the dark night of the soul."

Jesus teaches the first thing to be done in these cases: to turn to God in prayer. We must not deceive ourselves: It is true that Jesus in Gethsemane also sought the company of his friends, but, why did he seek it? Not so that they would say good words to him, to be distracted or consoled. He asks that they support him in prayer, that they pray with him: "So you could not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray" (Matthew 26:40).

It is important to observe how the prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane begins, in the oldest source, which is Mark: "Abba, Father, all things are possible to thee" (Mark 14:36). The philosopher Kierkegaard makes illuminating reflections in this respect. He says: "The decisive question is that for God all things are possible." Man falls into real despair only when he no longer has before him any possibility, any task; when, as one says, there is nothing to do.

"When one faints," continues Kierkegaard, "one goes in search of smelling salts; but when one despairs, one must say: 'Find an opportunity; find him an opportunity!' The opportunity is the only remedy; give him an opportunity and the one in despair regains his appetite, is reanimated, because if man remains without an opportunity, it is as if he was lacking air. Sometimes the inventiveness of human imagination can suffice to find an opportunity, but in the end, when it is a question of believing, only this serves: that for God all things are possible."[9]

This possibility, always within reach for a believer, is prayer: "to pray is like breathing."[10] And if one has already prayed without success? Pray again! Pray "prolixius," with greater earnestness. One might object that, however, Jesus was not heard, but the Letter to the Hebrews says exactly the opposite: "He was heard because of his piety." Luke expresses this interior help that Jesus received from the Father with the detail of the angel: "And there an angel appeared to him from heaven, who comforted him" (Luke 22:43). But it was a "prolepsis," an anticipation. The Father's great help was the resurrection.

God, St. Augustine observed, hears even when he does not hear, that is, when we do not get what we ask for. His delay in responding is also him listening, so that he can give to us more than we asked for.[11] If despite everything we continue praying, it is a sign that he is giving us his grace. If Jesus, at the end of the scene pronounces his resolute: "Rise, let us be going" (Matthew 26:46), it is because the Father has given him more than "twelve legions of angels" to defend him. "He has inspired him," St. Thomas says, "with the will to suffer for us, infusing love in him."[12]

The capacity to pray is our great resource. Many Christians, including truly committed ones, experience their powerlessness in face of temptations and the impossibility to adapt themselves to the very high exigencies of Gospel morality, and sometimes conclude that they can't, and that it is impossible, to fully live the Christian life.

In a certain sense, they are right. It is impossible, in fact, on their own, to avoid sin; grace is needed; but in addition -- we are taught -- grace is free and cannot be merited. What should we do then: despair, surrender? The Council of Trent says: "God, giving you the grace, commands you to do what you can and to pray for what you cannot."[13]

The difference between the law and grace consists precisely in this: In the law, God says to man: "Do what I command you!"; in grace, man says to God: "Give me what you command me!" The law commands, and grace ...

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