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Father Cantalamessa on Those Who Mourn

Delivers Advent Meditation in the Vatican

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 17, 2006 (Zenit) - Here is a translation of the Advent sermon delivered Friday by Father Raniero Cantalamessa, Pontifical Household preacher, in the presence of Benedict XVI and members of the Roman Curia in preparation for Christmas.

Preaching in the Redemptoris Mater Chapel of the Apostolic Palace, Father Cantalamessa began a series of meditations on the beatitudes.

* * *

"Blessed are you who weep now!"
The beatitude of those who mourn

With this meditation we begin a cycle of reflections on the beatitudes which, if it pleases God, we will continue in Lent. Within the New Testament itself, the beatitudes have known a development and various applications as these were determined by the theology of the particular Gospel writer or the needs of the new community. The words that St. Gregory the Great says of Scripture in general are also applicable to the beatitudes: "Cum legentibus crescit,"[1] they grow with those who read them and never cease to reveal new implications and richer content, according to the circumstances and needs of the readers.

Being faithful to this principle means that even today we must read the beatitudes in the light of the new situations in which we find ourselves living. Yet, we must remember that the interpretations of the Gospel writers are inspired, and for this reason remain normative for us. Our contemporary interpretations do not share this prerogative.

1. A new relationship between pleasure and pain

Leaving aside the beatitude of poverty, which we meditated on during a previous Advent, we will concentrate on the second beatitude: "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted" (Matthew 5:4). In the Gospel of Luke, where the beatitudes, four in number, form a direct discourse and are reinforced with woes, the same beatitude is pronounced thus: "Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh ... Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep" (Luke 6:21, 25).

There is a formidable message enclosed within in the structure of this beatitude. It permits us to see the revolution that the Gospel wrought in regard to the problem of pleasure and pain. The point of departure -- common to both religious and profane thought -- is the realization that pleasure and pain are inseparable in this life; they follow upon each other with the same regularity as the cresting and falling of waves in the sea.

Man tries desperately to detach these Siamese twins, to isolate pleasure from pain. But in vain. The same disordered pleasure turns back on him and transforms itself in suffering, either suddenly and tragically, or a little at a time, insofar as it is by nature ephemeral and generates exhaustion and nausea. It is a lesson that comes to us from the daily news and which man has expressed in a thousand ways in his art and literature. "A strange bitterness," wrote the pagan poet Lucretius, "emerges from the heart of every pleasure and disturbs us already in the midst of our delight."[2]

The Bible has an answer to give to this the true drama of human existence. From the very beginning man has made a choice, rendered possible by his freedom, that has brought him to orient his capacity for joy -- which was bestowed on him so that he would aspire to the enjoyment of the infinite good, who is God -- exclusively toward visible things.

In the wake of the pleasure that is chosen against God's law and symbolized by Adam and Eve who taste the forbidden fruit, God permitted that pain and death should come, more as a remedy than as a punishment. God wanted to prevent man, who would be moved by his instinct and an unbridled egoism, from destroying everything, including his neighbor. Thus, we see that suffering adheres to pleasure as its shadow.

Christ finally broke this bond. He, "in exchange for the joy that was placed before him submitted to the cross" (Hebrews 12:2). In other words, Christ did the contrary of what Adam did and what every man does. "The Lord's death," wrote Maximus Confessor, "different from the death of other men, was not debt paid for with pleasure, but rather something cast against pleasure itself. Thus, through this death, the fate merited by man was changed."[3] Rising from the dead he inaugurated a new type of pleasure: that which does not precede pain, as its cause, but that which follows on it as its fruit.

All of this is wondrously proclaimed by our beatitude which opposes the sequence weeping-laughter to the sequence laughter-weeping. This is not a simple temporal inversion. The difference, which is infinite, is in the fact that in the order proposed by Jesus, it is pleasure, and not suffering, that has the last word, that counts more, a last word that endures for eternity.

2. "Where is your God?"

But let us try to ...

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