ROME – On Good Friday Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the papal household, said the biggest thing people should fear about the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic is not an economic but a sort of anthropological “recession,” meaning surrendering the gains in human understanding the crisis has occasioned.
“When, in the memory of humanity, have the people of all nations ever felt themselves so united, so equal, so less in conflict than at this moment of pain? We have forgotten about building walls,” Cantalamessa said April 10, saying global solidarity is one of the major emerging effects of the coronavirus.
COVID-19 “knows no borders. In an instant, it has broken down all the barriers and distinctions of race, nation, religion, wealth, and power,” the 85-year-old Capuchin said.
“We should not revert to that prior time when this moment has passed, we should not waste this opportunity,” he said. “Let us not allow so much pain, so many deaths, and so much heroic engagement on the part of health workers to have been in vain.”
“Returning to the way things were,” he said, “is the ‘recession’ we should fear the most.”
He quoted Chapter 2 of the Book of Isaiah, which says, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; One nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again.”
The current crisis is an opportune time to fulfill this prophecy, he said, urging the world, and youth in particularly, to “say ‘enough!’ to the tragic race toward arms.”
“Say it with all your might, you young people, because it is above all your destiny that is at stake,” he said, urging unlimited resources to be invested instead in the weapons that will help with the most urgent necessities: Healthcare, hygiene, food, fighting poverty, and caring for creation.
“Let us leave to the next generation a world poorer in goods and money, if need be, but richer in its humanity,” he said.
Good Friday is the only papal liturgy during the year when the pope himself does not preach. It’s given by the preacher of the papal household, who for the past 40 years has been Cantalamessa, who also offers meditations for the Roman Curia every Friday during Lent and Advent.
Like the rest of the papal activities during Lent and Holy Week, this year Cantalamessa’s weekly Lenten reflections were livestreamed for curial officials who were not in the office due to coronavirus restrictions.
After processing to the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s Basilica, where the liturgy was held, the 83-year-old Pope Francis knelt in front of a crucifix. Due to healthcare concerns, the traditional veneration of the cross, during which faithful each approach the cross to kiss the wounds of Jesus, was omitted.
In his homily, Cantalamessa said Jesus’s crucifixion and death, which he called the “greatest evil committed on earth,” is better understood by its effects than its causes.
While justification and salvation are the primary effects of Jesus’s sacrifice, he said one effect that is both timely and relevant given the current pandemic is that it “changed the meaning of pain and human suffering.”
“It is no longer punishment, a curse. It was redeemed at its root when the Son of God took it upon himself,” he said.
In terms of the coronavirus, Cantalamessa said the outbreak must also be looked at through lens of effects rather than causes, focusing more on the positive aspects than the tragic stories and numbers recycled in the news.
“The pandemic has abruptly roused us from the greatest danger individuals and humanity have always been susceptible to: the delusion of omnipotence,” he said, noting that it took a microscopic virus to remind humanity that it is mortal, and that “military power and technology are not sufficient to save us.”
With humanity, God at times “disrupts our projects and our calm to save us from the abyss we don’t see,” he said.
Though God does not cause the virus, he allows it, Cantalamessa said, adding, “If these scourges were punishments of God, it would not be explained why they strike equally good and bad, and why the poor usually bring the worst consequences of them. Are they more sinners than others?”
Rather, “God participates in our pain to overcome it,” he said, insisting that God did not want his son to die so that good would come from it, but he “permitted human freedom to take its course, making it serve, however, his own purposes and not those of human beings.”
The same goes for disasters such as earthquakes and plagues, he said, saying nature also has “a kind of freedom as well,” and evolves “according to its own laws of development.”
When tragedies strike, the first thing to do is cry out to God, he said, explaining that God does not enjoy being invoked so he can hand out favors, and nor can human prayers change his plans. Rather, “there are things that God has decided to grant us as the fruit both of his grace and of our prayer, almost as though sharing with his creatures the credit for the benefit received,” Cantalamessa said.
Like the Israelites, who after being bitten by a poisonous snake in the desert were cured when Moses hoisted a bronze snake onto a pole, declaring that anyone who looked at it would be saved, “We too at this moment have been bitten by an invisible, poisonous ‘serpent’.”
Healing comes from looking at Jesus on the cross, he said, urging Christians to “adore him on behalf of ourselves and of the whole human race. The one who looks on him with faith does not die. And if that person dies, it will be to enter eternal life.”
“We too, after these days that we hope will be short, shall rise and come out of the tombs of our homes,” not to go back to the way things were, he said, but to “a more fraternal, more human, more Christian life!”
Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen