THE SERVANT GENERAL
ON POPE FRANCIS
NO ONE IN NEED
third and final Advent sermon by Fr. Cantalamessa, papal preacher,
is about the poor. St. Francis of Assisi loved the poor. Pope
Francis loves the poor. We too as CFC-FFL should love the
poor. We have as one of our Core Values the Preferential Option
for the Poor. Our work, in line with our Catholic Church,
is to build the Church of the Poor.
accomplish this through our No One In Need
movement, which now encompasses the fullness of our work with
the poor. Our goal in helping the poor is that there will
be no one in need (Acts 4:34a), according to the model of
the early Christian community after Pentecost. Our rallying
call: Less for self, More for others, Enough for all.
No one in need!
Fr. Cantalamessa says that what we can do concretely for the
poor can be summarized in three words: love them, help them,
evangelize them. This is precisely our two-pronged approach
of love: evangelize and provide practical help. We help the
poor meet Christ, then work with the communities where they
live so that they will live Christ and share Christ. The practical
help comes by way of building physical communities, providing
components of shelter, health, education, livelihood, and
us allow the poor whom we evangelize to also continue to evangelize
us. Like the saints, let our love for the poor be an integral
part of our way to holiness.
The No One In Need movement will
go full blast in 2014. Let us all understand God’s call
to love and care for the poor, as there is much work to be
Father Cantalamessa on the Mystery of the Incarnation
Contemplated Through Francis of Assisi's Eyes
Advent Homily: "to prepare ourselves for Christmas in
the company of Francis of Assisi"
December 20, 2013 (Zenit.org) - Here is a translation of the
third and final Advent sermon by Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa,
preacher of the pontifical household. Father Cantalamessa
gave the sermon today, continuing with his theme for this
Advent, which has been St. Francis of Assisi.
reflection is titled "The Mystery of the Incarnation
Contemplated through Francis of Assisi’s Eyes."
and the Institution of the Crib
all know Francis’ story at Greccio where, three years
before his death, he initiated the Christmas tradition of
the Crib, but it is good to recall it for the highest leaders
in this circumstance. Well, Celano wrote:
two weeks before the feast of the Nativity, Blessed Francis
called a man named John to himself and said to him: ‘If
you would like us to celebrate Jesus’ day of birth at
Greccio, precede me and prepare all that I tell you: I would
like to represent the babe born at Bethlehem , and in some
way see with my bodily eyes the hardships in which he found
himself because of the lack of necessary things for a newborn,
as he was laid in a manger and how he was lying on the hay
between the ox and the donkey.’ […] And the day
of gladness arrived. Francis put on the diaconal vestments
as he was a deacon, and sang the holy Gospel with a resounding
voice: that strong and sweet voice, limpid and sonorous enraptured
all with desires of Heaven. Then he spoke to the people and
with very sweet words called to mind the poor newborn King
and the little town of Bethlehem. “
importance of the episode does not lie so much in the fact
itself or in the spectacular following it had in the Christian
tradition; it lies in the novelty that it reveals of the Saint’s
understanding of the mystery of the Incarnation. The excessive
unilateral insistence, at times downright obsessive, on the
ontological aspects of the Incarnation, (nature, person, hypostatic
union, communication of languages) had often made one lose
from view the true nature of the Christian mystery, reducing
it to a speculative mystery, to be formulated with ever more
rigorous categories, but far removed from the capacity of
of Assisi helps us to integrate the ontological vision of
the Incarnation, with the more existential and religious vision.
In fact, it does not only matter to know that God became
man, it is important to know also what type of man
he became. Significant is the different and complementary
way in which John and Paul describe the event of the Incarnation.
For John it consists in the fact that the Word who was God
was made flesh (cf. John 1:1-14); for Paul it consists
in the fact that “Christ, being of divine nature, took
the form of a servant and he humbled himself and became obedient
unto death” (cf. Philippians 2:5 ff.). For John, the
Word, being God, became man; for
Paul “Christ, though he was rich became poor”
(cf. 2 Corinthians 8:9).
of Assisi is placed in the line of Saint Paul. More than on
the ontological reality of the humanity of Christ (in which
he believed firmly with the whole Church), he insisted , to
the point of being overwhelming, on the humility and poverty
of his humanity. The sources say that two
things had the power to move him to tears every time he heard
talk about them: “the humility of the Incarnation and
the charity of the Passion.” “He could not
think about the great penury, in which the poor Virgin found
herself that day, without weeping. Once, when he was seated
for lunch, a brother reminded him of the poverty of the Blessed
Virgin and the indigence of Christ her Son. He rose from the
table immediately, broke out in sobs of grief and, with his
face bathed in tears, ate the rest of the bread on the naked
Francis gave back “flesh and blood” to the mysteries
of Christianity, often “disincarnated” and reduced
to concepts and syllogisms in theological schools and books.
A German scholar has seen in Francis the one who has created
the conditions for the birth of modern Renaissance art, in
as much as it sets free sacred persons and events from the
stylized rigidity of the past and confers on them concreteness
and the Poor
distinction between the fact of the Incarnation and
the way of it, between its ontological and its existential
dimension, is of interest to us because it casts a singular
light on the present-day problem
of poverty and the attitude of Christians to it.
It helps to give a biblical and theological foundation to
the preferential option for
the poor, proclaimed by the Second Vatican
Council. If, indeed, by the fact of the Incarnation,
the Word has, in a certain sense, assumed every man, as certain
Fathers of the Church said, because of the way in which the
Incarnation happened, the Word
assumed, in an altogether particular claim, the poor, the
humble, the suffering to the point of identifying himself
the poor there is certainly not the same kind of presence
of Christ that there is in the Eucharist and in the other
Sacraments, but it is a presence that is also true, “real.”
He “instituted” this sign, as he instituted the
Eucharist. He who pronounced over the bread the words: “This
is my Body,” said these same words also of the poor.
He said them when, saying what had been done or not done,
for the hungry, the thirsty, the prisoner, the naked and the
exiled, he declared solemnly: “You did it to me”
and “You did not do it to me.” This, in fact,
is the same as saying: “I was that wounded person in
need of some bread, that old man who was dying stiff with
cold on the sidewalk!” “The Conciliar Fathers,”
wrote Jean Guitton, lay observer at Vatican II, “have
rediscovered the sacrament of
poverty, the presence of Christ under the species of those
poor person is also a “vicar of Christ,” one who
takes the place of Christ, Vicar, in the passive not the active
sense. Not in the sense, that is, that what the poor person
does is as if Christ did it, but in the sense that what is
done to the poor person is as if it were done to Christ.
It is true, as Saint Leo the Great wrote, that after the Ascension,
”all that was visible in our Lord Jesus Christ has passed
into the sacramental signs of the Church,” but it
is equally true that, from the existential point of view it
has also passed onto the poor and onto all those of whom he
said: “you did it to me.”
us draw the consequence that derives from all this on the
plane of ecclesiology. On the occasion of the Council, John
XXIII coined the expression “Church
of the poor.” It has a meaning that
goes, perhaps, beyond that which is understood at first sight.
The Church of the poor is not constituted only by the poor
of the Church! In a certain sense, all the poor of the world,
whether they are baptized or not, belong to her. Their poverty
and suffering is their baptism of blood. If Christians are
those who have been “baptized into the death of Christ”
(Romans 6:3), who in fact is more baptized than they
are in the death of Christ?
can they not be considered, in some way, Church of Christ,
if Christ himself has declared them his body? They are “Christians,”
not because they declare themselves as belonging to Christ,
but because Christ has declared them as belonging to himself:
“You did it to me!” If there is a case in which
the controversial expression “anonymous Christians”
can have a plausible application, it is in fact this one of
the Church of Christ is immensely vaster than what the current
statistics say. Not by simply saying this, but truly, really.
None of the founders of religions
has identified himself with the poor as Jesus did. No one
has proclaimed: “All that you did to one of the least
of these my brethren, you did it to me”
(Matthew 25:40), where the “least brother”
does not indicate only a believer in Christ but, as all admit,
from this is that the Pope,
Vicar of Christ, is truly the “Father of the poor,”
the shepherd of this immense flock, and it is a joy and a
stimulation for all Christian people to see how much this
role has been taken to heart by the last Supreme Pontiffs
and in an altogether particular way, by the shepherd who sits
today on Peter’s Chair. He is the most authoritative
voice that is raised in their defense, the voice of those
who do not have a voice. He certainly has not “forgotten
the Pope wrote, in the recent Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii
Gaudium, on the necessity not to remain indifferent in face
of the tragedy of poverty in today’s globalized world,
brings an image to my mind. We tend to put double glazing
between us and the poor. The effect of double glazing, so
exploited today in the building industry, is that it impedes
the passage of cold, of heat, of noise, it dilutes everything,
it deadens and muffles everything. And in fact we see the
poor move, agitated, screaming behind the television screen,
on the pages of newspapers and missionary magazines, but their
cry reaches us as if from very far away. It does not penetrate
our heart. I say it to my own embarrassment and shame. The
word: “the poor!” arouses in rich countries what
the cry “the barbarians” aroused in ancient Romans:
disconcert, panic. They were anxious to build walls and send
armies to the border to keep them at bay; we do the same thing
in other ways. But history says that it is all useless.
cry and protest – and rightly so! – for the children
who are impeded from being born, but should we not do as much
for the millions of children born and left to die from hunger,
sicknesses, children constrained to engage in war and kill
one another for interests of which we in rich countries are
not strangers? Might it not be because they belong to our
continent and have our same color, while the latter belong
to another continent and have a different color? We protest
– and more than justly! – for the elderly, the
sick, the malformed who are helped (sometimes pushed) to die
with euthanasia, but should we not do as much for the elderly
who die frozen from cold or abandoned alone to their fate?
The laissez-fare law of “live and let live” should
never be transformed into the law of “live and let die,”
as is instead happening in the whole world.
natural law is certainly holy, but precisely to have the strength
to observe it we need to start from faith in Jesus Christ.
Saint Paul wrote: “For God has done what the law, weakened
by the flesh, could not do: sending his own Son” (Romans
8:3). With their customs, the early Christians helped the
State to change their laws; we Christians of today cannot
do the contrary and think that it is the State with its laws
that must change people’s customs.
Help, Evangelize the Poor
first thing to do, therefore, in relation to the poor, is
to break the double glazing, to overcome our indifference
and insensibility. As the Pope in fact exhorts
us, we must become “aware” of the poor, allow
ourselves to be gripped by a healthy anxiety over their presence
in our midst, often two steps from our home. What
we should do concretely for them, can be summarized in three
words: love them, help them, and evangelize them.
the poor. Love for the poor is one of the
most common traits of Catholic holiness. In Saint Francis
himself, as we saw in the first meditation, love for the poor,
beginning from the poor Christ, comes before love of poverty
and it was that which led him to marry poverty. For
some Saints, such as Vincent de Paul, Mother Teresa of Calcutta,
and countless others, love for the poor was in fact their
way to holiness, their charism.
love the poor means first of all to respect them and recognize
their dignity. In them, precisely because
of the lack of other titles and secondary distinctions, the
radical dignity of the human being shines in them in a more
vivid light. In a Christmas homily given at Milan, Cardinal
Montini said: “The complete vision of human life under
the light of Christ sees in a poor person something more than
a needy one; he sees a brother mysteriously clothed in a dignity,
which obliges to render him reverence, to receive him with
solicitude, to sympathize with him beyond merit.”
the poor not only merit our commiseration; they also
merit our admiration. They are the
true champions of humanity. Every year cups, and gold, silver
and bronze medals are distributed for merit or to the memory
of someone or to winners of competitions. And perhaps only
because they were able to run in a fraction of a second less
than another 100, 200 or 400 meters over obstacles, and to
jump a centimeter higher than others, or win a marathon or
a slalom competition.
if one were to observe what mortal jumps, what resistance,
what slalom the poor are sometimes capable of, and not once
but their whole life, the records of the most famous athletes
would seem child’s play. What is a marathon in comparisons,
for instance, with a rickshaw-man of Calcutta, who at the
end of his life has done on foot the equivalent of several
tours around the world, in the most enervating heat, pulling
one or two passengers, through disordered streets, between
holes and puddles, wriggling between one car and another not
to have himself overturned?
of Assisi helps us to discover an even stronger motive to
love the poor: the fact that they are not simply our “fellow
men” or our “neighbor”: they are our brothers!
Jesus said: “You have one Father who is in Heaven and
you are all brethren” (cf. Matthew 23:8-9),
but this word was understood up to then as addressed only
to the disciples. In the Christian tradition, brother in the
strict sense is only one who shares the same faith and has
received the same Baptism.
takes up Christ’s word and gives it a universal significance
which is certainly that which Jesus also had in mind. Francis
truly put “the whole world in the state of brotherhood.”
He calls not only his friars and companion in the faith brothers,
but also lepers, brigands, Saracens, that is, believers and
non-believers, the good and bad, above all the poor. He extends
the concept of brother and sister -and this is absolute novelty
- also to inanimate creatures: the sun, the moon, the earth,
water, and finally death. This, evidently, is more poetry
than theology. The Saint knew well that between them and human
creatures, made in the image of God, there is the same difference
that there is between the son of an artist and the works created
by him. But it is because the Poverello’s sense of fraternity
issue of brotherhood is the specific contribution that the
Christian faith can make to reinforce peace in the world and
the struggle against poverty, as the theme of the next World
Day of Peace suggests: “Fraternity, Foundation and Path
for Peace.” Thinking well, it is the only true foundation.
What sense is there in fact to speak of fraternity and human
solidarity, if one begins from a certain scientific vision
of the world which admits, as the only forces in action in
the world, “chance and necessity”? In other words,
if one begins from a philosophical vision such as that of
Nietzsche, according to whom the world is only will to power
and any attempt to oppose this is only a sign of the resentment
of the weak against the strong”? Those are right who
say that “if being is only chaos and strength, action
that seeks peace and justice is destined inevitably to remain
without foundation.” What is lacking in this case
is a sufficient reason to oppose unbridled laissez-fare and
the “inequity” energetically criticized by the
Pope in the Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium.
the duty of loving and respecting the poor there follows that
of helping them. Here Saint James
comes to our aid. Of what profit, he says, is it to be moved
to pity before a brother or a sister lacking clothes and food
and saying to them: “Poor thing, how you suffer! Go,
be warmed and filled!” and you do not give them anything
of which they are in need to warm themselves and be nourished?
Compassion, like faith, is dead without works (cf. James 2:15-17).
In his judgment, Jesus will not say to us: “I was naked
and you had compassion for me,” but “I was naked
and you clothed me.” It is not about getting angry with
God in face of the misery of the world, but with ourselves.
One day, seeing a small girl shivering with cold and crying
from hunger, a man was seized by a feeling of rebellion and
shouted: “O God, where are you? Why don’t you
do something for that innocent creature?” But an interior
voice responded: “I certainly have done something. I
have made you!” And he understood immediately.
however, simple alms are not enough. The problem
of poverty has become global. When the Fathers of the Church
spoke about the poor they were thinking of the poor of their
city, or at most those of the neighboring city. They virtually
did not know anything else, and on the other hand, even if
they had known it, it would have been difficult to bring aid
in a society such as theirs. Today we know that alms is not
enough, even though nothing dispenses us from doing what we
can also at the individual level.
example of so many men and women of our time shows us that
there are so many things that can be done to help -- each
one according to his means and possibilities -- to help the
poor and to promote their uplifting. Speaking of the “cry
of the poor” in Evangelica testificatio, Paul
VI said in particular to us Religious: “It induces certain
ones among you to reach the poor in their condition, to share
their piercing anxieties. On the other hand, it invites not
a few of your institutes to reconvert certain of their works
in favor of the poor.”
eliminate or reduce the unjust and scandalous abyss that exists
between the rich and the poor in the world is the most urgent
and most immense task that the millennium
that concluded a short while ago consigned to the new millennium
which we have entered. Let’s hope that it will not be
again the number one problem that the present millennium leaves
in inheritance to the next one.
to evangelize the poor. This was the mission that Jesus recognized
as his par excellence: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon
me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the
poor” (Luke 4:18) and that he indicated as
a sign of the presence of the Kingdom to the emissaries of
the Baptist: “and the poor have good news preached to
them (Matthew 11:5). We must not
allow our bad conscience to push us to commit the enormous
injustice of depriving of the good news those who are the
first and more natural recipients of it, adducing, perhaps,
as our excuse, the proverb that “a hungry stomach has
multiplies the loaves of bread and at the same time the word,
in fact first he administered, sometimes for three days in
a row, the Word and then he would be concerned also with the
bread. Not from bread alone does the poor man live, but also
from the hope and from every word that comes from the mouth
of God. The poor have the sacrosanct
right to hear the integral Gospel, not in
a reduced or polemical edition; the Gospel that speaks of
love to the poor, but not of hatred for the rich.
in Heaven and Joy on Earth
end on another tone. For Francis of Assisi, Christmas was
not only the occasion to weep about Christ’s poverty;
it was also the feast that had the power to make explode all
the capacity of joy that was in his heart, and it was immense.
At Christmas he literally did foolish things.
this day he wanted the poor and beggars to be satiated by
the rich, and that the oxen and the donkeys receive a more
abundant ration of food and hay more than usually. If I could
speak to the emperor – he said – I would implore
him to issue a general edict, so that all those who do have
the possibility, strew wheat and grain on the roads, so that
on a day of such solemnity the birds, and particularly the
sister skylarks, have it in abundance.”
would become like one of those children whose eyes are full
of wonder before the Crib. During the Christmas function at
Greccio, recounts his biographer, when he spoke the name “Bethlehem“
he would fill his mouth with sound and even more with tender
affection, producing a sound like the bleat of a sheep. And
every time he said “Babe of Bethlehem” or “Jesus,”
he would lick his lips, almost as to relish and retain all
the sweetness of those words.
is a Christmas song that expresses to perfection Saint Francis’
sentiments before the Crib, and this does not astonish us
if we think that it was written, words and music, by a Saint
like him, Saint Alphonsus Mary Liguori. Listening to it in
the Christmas season, let us be moved by its simple but essential
starry skies descending,
comest, glorious King,
manger low Thy bed,
winter's icy sting;
my dearest Child most holy,
trembling in the cold!
art the world's Creator,
here no robe, no fire
Thee, Divine Lord.
fairest, sweetest Infant,
this state of poverty.
more I care for Thee,
Thou, o Love Divine,
now so poor to be.
Father, Venerable Fathers, brothers and sisters, Happy Christmas!
first homily, Francis of Assisi and the Reform of the Church
by the Way of Holiness:
second homily, Humility as Truth and Service in Francis of
Celano, Vita Prima, 84-86 (Franciscan Sources, 468-470).
Ib. 30, (FF 467).
Celano, Vita Seconda, 151 (FF 788).
H. Thode, Franz von Assisi und die Anfange der Kunst des Renaissamce
in Italien, Berlin 1885.
J. Guitton, quoted by R. Gil, Presence of the Poor in the
Council, in “Proyeccion” 48, 1966, p. 30.
St. Leo the Great, Discourse 2 on the Ascension, 2 (PL 54,
In AAS 54, 1962, p. 682.
Cf. The Jesus of Paul VI, published by V. Levi, Milan 1985,
P. Damien Vorreux, Saint Francois d’Assise, Documents,
Paris 1968, p. 36.
V. Mancuso, in La Repubblica, Friday, October 4, 2013.
Paul VI, Evangelica testificatio, 18 (Ench. Vatican 4, p.
Celano, Vita Seconda, 151 (FF 787-788).
Read “Bringing Glad Tidings to the Poor, printed 2000.