Cardinal Cantalamessa's remarks from the Day of Renewal

By Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa
Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Note: These are the cardinal's remarks from the Day of Renewal held on Sept. 25 2023.

Dear brothers and sisters of the Archdiocese of Chicago, Peace be with you! Your pastor Cardinal Blase Cupich has asked me to share with you some of the reflections on evangelization I proposed to the Roman Curia last Lent. I leave aside what was especially meant for that audience while adding what seems to me more important and practical at the present occasion.

What does the word of God say to a church which – though wounded in itself and compromised in the eyes of the world – has a surge of hope and wants to resume, with new impetus, her evangelizing mission? It says that it is necessary to start afresh from the person of Christ, to speak of him “in time and out of time;” never considering the discourse about him presupposed or completed. Jesus must not be in the background, but at the heart of every proclamation.

The secular world does its best (and unfortunately it succeeds!) in keeping the name of Jesus apart, or silenced, in every discourse about the church. We must do everything to always let his name resound.

Not to hide our failure behind his name, but because he is the strength and life of the church. Christianity is not a set of doctrines nor is it an ethical system; it is a person: “We preach Jesus Christ!”, emphatically cries the apostle Paul.

We need to remember this while engaged in the works of the synod. Moral or institutional issues should never become so important as to relegate in the background Jesus Christ, the risen Lord of the Church.

In pope Francis’ Evangelii Gaudium, we read these words:

I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her (EG,3).

Despite its apparent simplicity, the expression “a personal encounter” contains a novelty that we must try to understand. Other ways of conceiving our relationship with Christ were familiar to us Catholics in the past.

We used to speak of a sacramental relationship and of an ecclesial relationship, as members of the body of Christ. There was no talk – or at least it was not common to talk – of a personal relationship with Jesus, as between an I and a you, open to every believer.

During the five centuries we have behind us, Catholic spirituality and pastoral care have viewed this way of conceiving salvation with suspicion. A danger of subjectivism was seen in it, that is, of conceiving faith and salvation as a personal experience, without a true relationship with tradition and with the faith of the rest of the church.

The multiplication of currents and denominations in the Protestant world only strengthened this conviction.

Now we have entered, thank God, a new phase in which we strive to see differences, not necessarily as mutually incompatible and therefore to be fought, but, as far as possible, as riches to be shared. In this new climate, the exhortation to have a “personal relationship with Christ” has nothing dangerous about it.

On the contrary, this way of conceiving faith is the only one possible, given that faith can no longer be taken for granted, and that it is not absorbed as children within the family or the school, but must be the fruit of personal decision.

The success of a mission can no longer be measured by the number of confessions heard and Communions distributed, but by how many people have passed from being nominal Christians to real Christians, that is, convinced and active in the life of the parish.

Let us try to understand what this famous “personal encounter” with Christ actually consists of. It is like meeting a person live, after having known him or her for years only through a photo. One can know books about Jesus, doctrines, heresies about Jesus,but not know him alive and present.

For many baptized believers, Jesus is a character from the past, a personality, not a living person. There is a huge difference between a personality and a person!

It helps to understand the difference to look at what happens in the human sphere when you pass from knowing a person to falling in love with him or her. One can know everything about a woman or a man: their name, what studies they have done, what family they belong to...

Then one day a spark is kindled and one falls in love with that woman or that man. Everything changes. They want to be with that person, have him or her for themselves, afraid of displeasing or of not being worthy of him or her.

What can we do to let this spark for the person of Jesus be kindled in us and in those we approach? It will not be kindled in whoever listens to the Gospel message unless it burns – at least as a desire and as a resolution – in whoever is proclaiming it.

There have been and there are exceptions; the word of God has its own strength and can act, at times, even if pronounced by those who do not live according to it; but that is the exception.

For the consolation and encouragement of those who work institutionally in the field of evangelization, I would like to tell them that not everything depends on them. It depends on them to create the conditions for that spark to ignite and spread, but it happens in the most unexpected ways.

In the majority of cases that I have known in my life, a life-changing discovery of Christ was brought about by meeting someone who had already experienced that grace, by participating in a gathering, by hearing a testimony, by having experienced God’s presence in a moment of great suffering, and by having received the so-called baptism of the Spirit, as it happened to me.

Here we see the need to increasingly rely on lay people - men and women - for evangelization. They are more inserted into the fabric of life in which those circumstances usually occur. Also due to the scarcity of its number, it is easier for the clergy to be pastors than fishers of souls: easier to shepherd with the word and the sacraments those who come to the church than to go and catch those who are far away.

The laity can help us in the task of fishermen. Many of them have discovered what it means to know a living Jesus and are eager to share their discovery with others.

Pope Francis’ Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium begins with the following words:

The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew. In this exhortation I wish to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy.

There is joy for those who encounter Jesus Christ, but there is joy in those who help others to meet him, too!

The solemn “Go!” addressed to the congregation at the end of every Mass is an echo of the “Go!” Jesus addressed to the Apostles  before leaving them: “ Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” (Mk 16:15).

There is a remark to make about this Great commission of Jesus. According to Mark and Matthew, the last command given by Jesus to the apostles is “Go!”: “Go into the whole world …”  

According to Luke, the last word of Jesus seems to be the opposite; “Stay, remain!” “Stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (Lk 24:49). Of course, the two commands are not opposed to each other. Together they mean, “Go, but not until you have received the Holy Spirit.

The best I can wish for the Archdiocese of Chicago at this occasion, is to experience a new outpouring of the Spirit, a powerful renewal of the anointing received at baptism, at confirmation and at the priestly ordination. I join you in praying for this to happen! And you, please, pray for me!