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Good Friday Sermon of Father Cantalamessa

3/22/2008 - 20:15 PST

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"The Tunic Was Without Seam"
VATICAN CITY, MARCH 22, 2008 (Zenit) - Here is a translation of the sermon delivered today by Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the Pontifical Household, at the Good Friday liturgy in St. Peter's Basilica.

* * *

"When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four shares, a share for each soldier. They also took his tunic, but the tunic was without seam, woven in one piece from the top down. So they said to one another, 'Let's not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it will be,' in order that the passage of Scripture might be fulfilled that says: 'They divided my garments among them, and for my vesture they cast lots'" (John 19:23-24).

It has always been asked what the evangelist John wanted to say with the importance that he gives to this particular detail of the Passion. One relatively recent explanation is that the tunic alludes to the vestment of the high priest and that with this, John wanted to affirm that Jesus died not only as king but also as priest.

It is not said in the Bible, however, that the tunic of the high priest had to be seamless (cf. Exodus 28: 4; Leviticus 16:4). For this reason the most authoritative of the exegetes prefer to stick to the traditional explanation, according to which the seamless tunic symbolized the unity of the disciples.[1] It is the interpretation that St. Cyprian already gave: "The unity of the Church," he writes, "is expressed in the Gospel when it is said that the tunic of Christ was not divided or cut."[2]

Whatever be the explanation that one gives to the text, one thing is certain: The unity of the disciples is, for John, the purpose for which Christ dies. "Jesus had to die for the nation, and not only for the nation, but also to gather into one the dispersed children of God" (John 11:51-52). At the Last Supper he himself said: "I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me" (John 17:20-21).

The glad tidings to proclaim on Good Friday are that unity, before it is a goal to be sought, is a gift to be received. That the tunic is woven "from the top down," St. Cyprian continues, means that "the unity brought by Christ comes from above, from the heavenly Father, and because of this it cannot be broken apart by those who receive it, but must be received in its integrity."

The soldiers divided "the clothes," or the "the cloak," ("ta imatia") into four pieces, that is, Jesus' outer garments, not the tunic, the "chiton," which was the inner garment, which was in direct contact with his body. This is also a symbol. We men can divide the human and visible element of the Church, but not its deeper unity, which is identified with the Holy Spirit. Christ's tunic was not and can never be divided. It too is of a single piece. "Can Christ be divided?" Paul cried out (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:13). It is the faith we profess in the Creed: "I believe in the Church, one, holy, catholic and apostolic."

* * *

But if unity must serve as a sign "so that the world believe," it must also be a visible, communitarian unity. This is the unity that has been lost and must be rediscovered. It is much more than maintaining neighborly relations; it is the mystical interior unity itself -- "one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God Father of all" (Ephesians 4:4-6) -- insofar as this objective unity is in fact received, lived and manifested by believers. A unity that is not endangered by diversity, but enriched by it.

After Easter the apostles asked Jesus: "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?" Today we often address the same question to God: Is this the time in which you will restore the visible unity of the Church? God's answer is also the same as the one Jesus gave to the disciples: "It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses" (Acts 1:6-8).

The Holy Father recalled this in a homily he gave on Jan. 25 in the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls at the end of Christian Unity Week: "Unity with God and our brothers and sisters," he wrote, "is a gift that comes from on high, which flows from the communion of love between Father, Son and Holy Spirit in which it is increased and perfected. It is not in our power to decide when or how this unity will be fully achieved. Only God can do it! Like St Paul, let us also place our hope and trust 'in the grace of God which is with us.'"

Today as well, the Holy Spirit will be the one to lead us into unity, if we let him guide us. How was it that the Holy Spirit brought about the first fundamental ...

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1 - 2 of 2 Comments

  1. julius chinama
    3 years ago

    Dear Father,
    I would like to be receiving your rich homilies.
    God bless you in all what you do.

    In the spirit of st. Francis.

    julius chinama.

  2. Paul
    6 years ago

    St. Paul compared the love of spouses to Christ's Love for his Church. I'm frankly surprised that this homily on Christian unity excludes beginning with the cement of every Christian Family!

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