Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher to the papal household, spoke at the May 5 Nothing More Beautiful session at St. Joseph's Basilica.


Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher to the papal household, spoke at the May 5 Nothing More Beautiful session at St. Joseph's Basilica.

May 23, 2011
Following is the text of the talk Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher to the papal household, delivered at the May 5 session of Nothing More Beautiful.

Before getting into the topic, the apostolicity of the Church, I should like to share a memory I have of John Paul II. Once a year, on Good Friday, my preaching is delivered at St. Peter's Basilica during the Passion liturgy. So the first time I had to speak at the basilica, I realized that I had to speak very slowly because there was a resounding in the basilica.

But speaking slowly, I lasted 10 minutes more than I was supposed to, and the man in charge of the timetable of the pope, the prefect of the pontifical household, was a little nervous, because the schedule of the pope on that particular day was very tight, and he often looked at his watch.

I didn't see him because he was not on my side, but the day after, this bishop told some sisters what had happened after the liturgy. After the liturgy, John Paul II called him and, smiling, said to him, "When a man of God is speaking to us, we should not look at our watches."

So I share this memory to warn you and ask you to imitate the pope, at least in this aspect.

In the Creed, we proclaim our Church to be one, holy, catholic and apostolic. These are the four so-called notes or marks of the Church, the qualities the Church must possess to be the true Church of Christ. I have been asked to speak on the last note, the apostolicity.

But before dealing with this particular aspect, I feel the need to say something on the mystery of the Church as a whole. It will be like embracing in a glance the full picture before getting into the detail of this picture. There is a question to be asked before saying anything about the Church. And I should like this question to be asked and to receive a personal answer tonight in this cathedral.

In the letter to the Ephesians, we read this beautiful statement about the Church: "Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her so that he might sanctify her, . . . that he might present the Church to himself in splendour without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. . . . No man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it as Christ does the Church" (Ephesians 5.25-29).

The affirmation "Christ loved the Church" suggests inevitably a question: What about us? Christ loved the Church; do we love the Church? No one hates his own flesh, says St. Paul, that is, his spouse, and Christ does least of all.

Then why do people so often say, "God, yes, but the Church, no"? Why do many Christians so easily point the accusing finger at their mother Church, saying, "The Church is wrong about this, the Church is wrong about that, the Church should say, the Church should do."

In Isaiah, God says "Where is your mother's bill of divorce with which I put her away?" (Isaiah 50.1).


I think these words of God are addressed to many Christians today. Where is it written that I have divorced your mother, the Church? That she is no longer my spouse?

In the English language, a new term has been coined: "the unchurched." That is, Christians without a church. They do not realize that in this way they not only deprive themselves of the Church, but also of Christ.

St. Cyprian, a martyr of the end of the second century, said: "Whoever does not have the Church as mother cannot have God as Father." For the Church to be our mother does not just mean that we were baptized once into the Catholic Church; it also means to consider, respect and love her as a mother and show solidarity with her in good and bad.

If you look at a stained glass window of an old cathedral from the street, from outside, you will only see pieces of dark glass held together by strips of black lead. But if you cross the threshold and view it from inside, against the light, you will see a breathtaking spectacle of colours and shapes.

I once had this experience entering the cathedral of Chartres in France and seeing those stained glass windows. It is the same with the Church. Whoever sees it from the outside, with the eyes of the world, will only see its dark and miserable side.

But from the inside, with the eyes of faith and the sense of belonging, you will see what St. Paul saw — a wonderful building in whom the whole structure is joined together, a spouse without spot, a great mystery. A great mystery.

We know the objection, of course: What about all the incoherence within the Church? And nowadays, the terrible scandals of pedophilia?

This is true. The problem is that we cannot accept the fact that God decided to manifest his glory and omnipotence through the awful weakness and imperfections of man, including the men of the Church.


A Scottish Catholic writer, Bruce Marshall, makes a shrewd observation. He says: "The Son of God came into this world and, good carpenter that he became under Joseph's training, he gathered together the most rickety and knotty pieces of wood that he could find, and he built a ship that is still afloat after 2,000 years."

The sins of the Church. Do we think that Jesus does not know them better than we do? Did he not know for whom he was dying? And where were the apostles while he was dying? But he loved the real Church, not an imaginary and ideal one. He died to make her holy and pure, not because she was already holy and pure.

Christ loves his Church in whole, not only for what she is, but also for what she will become — "a new Jerusalem . . . prepared as a bride adorned for her husband" (Revelation 21.02).

This icon of St. Peter from about the sixth century comes from the Greek Orthodox Monastery of St. Catherine in Sinai Egypt.


This icon of St. Peter from about the sixth century comes from the Greek Orthodox Monastery of St. Catherine in Sinai Egypt.

Have we ever asked ourselves why this Church of ours is so miserable and slow? The children criticize their mother for being full of wrinkles, not realizing that they themselves are the cause of these wrinkles.


Christ loved the Church and gave himself for her so that she would be without spot. And the Church would be without spot if we were not there. The Church would have a wrinkle less if I had committed one sin less.

To Martin Luther, who reproached him for remaining in the Catholic Church in spite of its corruption, Erasmus of Rotterdam answered in a letter: "I bear with this Church in the hope that it will improve, just as it is obliged to bear with me in the hope that I will improve."

We must all get ourselves into a new and responsible way of talking about the Church. Of his homeland France, going through a dark period of its history during the last world war, Antoine de St. Exupery, a French writer, wrote something which can be applied to our homeland, the Catholic Church: "As I am one of them, I shall not repudiate them, whatever they might do." (France was collaborating at that time with the Nazi regime.)

"I shall not preach against them in front of strangers. I shall defend them if it is possible to do so. If they shame me, I shall hide it in my heart and keep silent. Whatever I think of them, I shall never bear witness against them.

"A husband does not go from house to house informing his neighbours that his wife is a harlot. He would not honour her like that. As his spouse belongs to his house; he cannot diminish her to make himself appear superior. Instead, when he goes back home, let him give vent to his anger."

Should everyone always keep silent then in the Church? No. Once you have returned home, once you have wept for the Church, once you have humbled yourself beneath her feet, God may command you, as he did with others in the past, including Catherine of Siena, to raise a prophetic voice against the scars of the Church. But not before then, and not without the risky mission causing you some form of death.

Now we are ready to get into the specific theme of this talk. Maybe the bishop was afraid I would skip — no, I won't — the apostolicity of the Church.


The meaning of this attribute is perfectly expressed in a passage from the letter to the Ephesians: "So you are no longer aliens or foreign visitors. You are fellow citizens with the holy people of God and part of God's household. You are built upon the foundations of the apostles and prophets, and Christ Jesus himself is the cornerstone" (Ephesians 2.19-20).

For the Church to be apostolic means, therefore, to be united in Jesus Christ, the cornerstone, through the apostles, who are its foundations. Here a distinction is made between the cornerstone and the foundation.

In 1 Corinthians, Jesus himself is called the foundation: "For nobody can lay down any other foundation than the one which is there already, namely Jesus Christ" (3.11).

But there is no contradiction between the two texts. Christ is the foundation in an active sense and the apostles in a passive sense. In other words, Jesus is the founder, the apostles are the foundation. Jesus is the unfounded founder and the apostles are the founded founders.

The apostolicity of the Church begins with the election of the Twelve. Some scholars say Jesus didn't intend to found anything. Christ announced the kingdom of God, they say ironically, and what followed was the Church.

But this is contradicted by the very fact that Jesus during his life elected the Twelve, for this clearly shows that he intended his work and mission to continue in history after his death. Many parables of Jesus, the growth of a seed into a big tree, grain and weed growing together, become incomprehensible unless we think of a community living and growing in history.

The second constitutive moment of the apostolicity is the sending of the apostles, the so-called Great Commission: "All authority on heaven and earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations. Baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. And teach them to observe all the commands I have given you" (Matthew 28.18-20).

In John's Gospel, the sending of the apostles is linked to the sending of Jesus himself by the Father. "As the Father sent me, so am I sending you" (John 20.21). The primitive Church immediately understood the importance of this principle and coherently extended it to the successors of the apostles.


In the letter to the Corinthians, written before the end of the first Christian century by the Pope St. Clement, we read: "Christ is sent by God, and the apostles by Christ. They (namely the apostles) preaching everywhere in the country and in the city, appointed their first successors, having been put to the test by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons."

So Christ was sent by the Father, the apostles were sent by Christ, the bishops by the apostles. This is the first clear enunciation of the principle of the apostolic succession.

In our Catholic understanding, the apostolic succession includes the transmission of the role of Peter to the bishop of Rome. If Peter is called the foundation of the Church, or the rock, as we read in Matthew — you are Petrus, Cephas, rock, and upon this rock I will build my Church.

If Peter is the foundation of the Church, then the Church can only continue to exist if its foundation continues to exist. It is unthinkable that such solemn prerogatives - "to you I give the keys of the kingdom of heaven" — refer only to the first 20 or 30 years of the Church's life. That they would cease with the apostles' death is unthinkable.

Universally recognized

Throughout the first millennium, all the churches universally recognized this office of Peter, even though somewhat differently in the West than in the East. The problems and divisions crept up in the second millennium.

Today we Catholics admit that these divisions are not entirely the fault of the others, the so-called schismatics, first the Eastern churches and then the Protestants. The primacy instituted by Christ, as with all things human, is sometimes exercised well and at other times not so well. Gradually political and worldly power mixed with the spiritual power, and with this came abuses.

Pope John Paul II, in his letter on ecumenism Ut Unum Sint suggested the possibility of reconsidering the concrete forms in which the pope's primacy is exercised, in such a way as to make the concord of all the churches around the pope possible again.

As Catholics we must hope that this road of reconciliation be followed with ever greater courage and humility by all the churches, and in the Catholic Church especially by fully implementing the collegiality called for by the Vatican Council.

What we cannot accept, however, is that the Church can do without the ministry itself of Peter.


To think that the Church only needs the Bible and the Holy Spirit to interpret it in order for the Church to live and spread the Gospel, is like saying that it would have been sufficient for the founders of the United States to write the American Constitution and show the spirit in which it must be interpreted, without providing any government for the country or any president for the government. Would the United States still exist this way?

We should avoid, however, the danger of reducing the apostolic succession to a mere juridical fact; that is, to be appointed to an episcopal office by a person who has the right to do so.

Besides the juridical element there is a spiritual element consisting in the anointing in the Spirit, thanks to which the elected shares in the prophetic, kingly and priestly anointing of Jesus. The juridical appointment can assure the apostolic succession, but only the anointing of the Spirit can assure the apostolic success.

We could go on, dear brothers and sisters, for hours, speaking of the apostolicity of the Church in this line, and still miss half the point. In fact, whole books can be written on the apostolicity without mentioning the other aspect of the problem.

I'll try to explain what I mean. The term "apostolicity" can have a passive and an active meaning. In the passive meaning, for the Church to be apostolic means to be built upon the apostles, as we have seen. In the active meaning, to be apostolic means to be missionary, to have apostolic zeal, to do what the apostles did to spread the Gospel, evangelize.

This is the aspect of the apostolicity of the Church which is more urgent to rediscover in our day, especially in our secularized western world.

Only after Pentecost were the apostles able to preach Jesus with power.


Only after Pentecost were the apostles able to preach Jesus with power.

Our situation has become very similar to that of the apostles. They had to spread the Gospel to a pre-Christian world, and we have to spread the Gospel in a post-Christian world, so our situation is not very much different from them.


Of course, we are not living in a complete post-Christian world; our presence here is a sign. But generally the culture is a post-Christian culture. So we must learn from the apostles how to be apostolic, how to be missionary.

What do we learn from the apostles? I have no time to get into very many details, but from the apostles we must learn at least two essential things.

First, focus on Jesus. Concentrate on Jesus. Let us remember the beautiful speech of Peter on the day of Pentecost, from Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 2. After being filled with the Spirit, Peter immediately goes out and starts preaching in such an anointed way that 3,000 persons were cut to the heart.

Why? What did Peter say to let 3,000 people feel cut to the heart? He simply said to the people: Men of Israel, listen to what I have to say to you. Jesus of Nazareth - you see, he starts pronouncing a name - Jesus of Nazareth, yes, the person who went among you doing well to everybody, and when Peter is sure that the people have understood whom he is speaking of, he lets two thunderbolts go out. With the first, he kills them all. With the second he raises them to life.

"You have killed him, but God has raised him from the dead." So let the whole House of Israel know - this is a dogmatic and authoritative way of speaking, it's prophetic - let the whole House of Israel must know - this is not a dialectical way of speaking - that God has appointed this Jesus, whom you have crucified, both Christ and Lord.


The primitive Church knew very well the distinction between kerygma and didache. Now kerygma means simply "the cry," something pronounced in a loud voice, but in Christian language kerygma means this cry which contains the most important news of the world, that Jesus died for our sins and rose again for our justification.

Now the didache is the teaching, the catechesis. The important thing to know is that for the apostles and the primitive Church, faith blossoms only in front of the kerygma, not in front of the didache, the moral teaching and so on. This comes later, to form, to build, to mould the faith which has already been started.

And as we are living in a situation very much similar to them, we must rediscover the kerygma, this fundamental message about Jesus which has the power of cutting the hearts of people.

There are many occasions when we can proclaim the kerygma. One of the best occasions is the funeral, because at a funeral everybody is open to listen to some message, because in front of death there is no other message but that of Jesus. This is the moment when we should tell people that death has been conquered and Jesus has opened the way for everybody into life.


So the first thing we must learn from the apostles to be apostolic, to be missionary, is to proclaim the Gospel.

You see, even the order in which the events are mentioned in the kerygma is very significant. That is, he died and he rose again, not the contrary. So there is first suffering and death, and then glory, pleasure, joy.

Why is this order important? Good Friday and then the Sunday of the Resurrection - why? Because in human experience, the contrary has failed. People want pleasure immediately, and what follows is usually suffering and death. We can see this in drugs or in abuse of sex. There is excitement, pleasure which is followed, as you know, by destruction of self and others.

Now Jesus has invented a new way to happiness — not first pleasure and then suffering, but suffering and then pleasure, which means that the last word belongs to pleasure, and is eternal joy and eternal happiness. This is a revolution and we Christians should convince young people that Jesus has the right answer to their desire of happiness.

A few years ago, as you know, in London there was an atheistic campaign whose slogan was "God probably doesn't exist, so stop worrying and enjoy life." Now, the most dangerous element in this slogan is not the premise that "God probably doesn't exist," because this is an opinion. The most dangerous element is the conclusion, "so enjoy life," which suggests that faith is an obstacle to happiness, and which is a lie, a tremendous lie.

So this is the first thing we must learn from the apostles to be apostolic: go back to the kerygma, trust the kerygma, the intrinsic power of kerygma. Jesus is alive in the kerygma. Anytime the kerygma is proclaimed, Jesus is working his presence there.


The second I will mention is the power of the Holy Spirit. If we want to re-evangelize our secularized countries, we must go through a Pentecost experience. Only after Pentecost were the apostles able to preach Jesus with such power.

There is a detail in the Gospel of Luke which is telling. While Matthew and Mark let Jesus say as the last word "Go into the whole world," Luke says almost the contrary. According to Luke, Jesus says to the apostles, "Stay," not "Go." "Stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high."

And my experience is an exhilarating experience to proclaim the kerygma in the power of the Spirit. Your archbishop chose this beautiful limina for this series of talks, Nothing More Beautiful than being a Christian.

I can say that there is nothing more beautiful, more exciting, more noble than to be a Christian, an evangelizer of Jesus.