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Good Friday Sermon of Father Cantalamessa

4/7/2007 - 6:00 AM PST

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"There Were Also Some Women"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 7, 2007 (Zenit) - Here is a translation of the Good Friday sermon delivered today by Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa during the Celebration of the Lord's Passion in St. Peter's Basilica, and in the presence of Benedict XVI.

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There were also some women

"Standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene" (John 19:25). Let us leave Mary his mother aside this time. Her presence on Calvary needs no explanation. She was his mother, and this by itself says everything; mothers do not abandon their children, not even one condemned to death. But why were the other women there? Who were they and how many were there?

The Gospels tell us the names of some of them: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, Salome, the mother of the sons of Zebedee, a certain Joanna and a certain Susanna (Luke 8:3). Having come with Jesus from Galilee, these women followed him, weeping, on the journey to Calvary (Luke 23:27-28). Now, on Golgotha, they watched "from a distance" (that is from the minimum distance permitted them), and from there, a little while later, they accompanied him in sorrow to the tomb, with Joseph of Arimathea (Luke 23:55).

This fact is too marked and too extraordinary to hastily pass over. We call them, with a certain masculine condescension, "the pious women," but they are much more than "pious women," they are "mothers of courage"! They defied the danger of openly showing themselves to be there on behalf of the one condemned to death. Jesus said: "Blessed is he who is not scandalized by me" (Luke 7:23). These women are the only ones who were not scandalized by him.

There has been animated discussion for quite some time about who it was that wanted Jesus' death: Was it the Jews or Pilate? One thing is certain in any case: It was men and not women. No woman was involved, not even indirectly, in his condemnation. Even the only pagan woman named in the accounts, Pilate's wife, dissociated herself from his condemnation (Matthew 27:19). Certainly Jesus died for the sins of women too, but historically they can say: "We are innocent of this man's blood" (Matthew 27:24).

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This is one of the surest signs of the honesty and the historical reliability of the Gospels: The poor showing of the authors and inspirers of the Gospels and the marvelous figure cut by the women. Clearly the authors and inspirers of the Gospels saw the story they were telling as infinitely greater than their own miserableness and were thus drawn to be faithful to it. Otherwise, who would have allowed the ignominy of their own fear, flight, and denial -- which was made to look worse by the very different conduct of the women -- recorded for posterity.

It has always been asked why it was the "pious women" who were the first to see the Risen Christ and receive the task of announcing it to the apostles. This was the more certain way of making the Resurrection credible. The testimony of women had no weight and much less that of a woman, like Mary Magdalene, who had been possessed by demons (Mark 16:9). It is probably for this reason that no woman figures in Paul's long list of those who had seen the Risen Christ (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:5-8). The same apostles took the words of the women as "an idle tale," an entirely female thing, and did not believe them (Luke 24:11).

The ancient authors thought they knew the answer to this question. Romanos the Melode exhorts the apostles to not be offended by the precedence accorded to the women. They were the first to see the Risen Christ, he said, because a woman, Eve, was the first to sin![1] The real answer is different: The women were the first to see him because they were the last to leave him for dead after his death when they came to bring spices to his tomb to anoint him (Mark 16:1).

* * *

We must ask ourselves about this fact: Why were the women untroubled by the scandal of the cross? Why did they stay when everything seem finished, and when even his closest disciples had abandoned him and were secretly planning to go back home?

Jesus had already given the answer to this question when, replying to Simon, he said of the woman who had washed and kissed his feet: "She has loved much" (Luke 7:47)! The women had followed Jesus for himself, out of gratitude for the good they had received from him, not for the hope of getting some benefit from him or having a career from following him. "Twelve thrones" were not promised to them, nor had they asked to sit at his right hand in his kingdom. They followed him, it is written, "to serve him" (Luke 8:3; Matthew 27:55); they were the only ones, after Mary his mother, to have assimilated the spirit of the Gospel.

They followed the reasoning of the heart and this had not ...

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