Monday, November 20, 2006

Fr. Cantalamessa: have no fear of "end of the world"

ROME, NOV. 17, 2006 ( Regarding the "end of the world" biblical texts assigned to the lectionary readings for this time of the liturgical year, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, Pontifical Household preacher, says: "My advice is to be calm and to not let yourself be in the least bit troubled by these visions of catastrophe."

So far, so good. Certainly the Christian has nothing to fear who reposes his hope in the promises of Christ. But then Fr. Cantalamessa goes on to suggest a distinction between the "absolute end of the world, after which there can be nothing but eternity," and "the end of a world that is being treated not the end of the world."
Jesus says: "This generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place." Is he mistaken? No, it was the world that was known to his hearers that passed away, the Jewish world. It tragically passed away with the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. When, in 410, the Vandals sacked Rome, many great figures of the time thought that it was the end of the world. They were not all that wrong; one world did end, the one created by Rome with its empire. In this sense, those who, with the destruction of the twin towers on September 11, 2001, thought of the end of the world, were not mistaken ...
Okay, so there is a sense in which we could even say that the "world ends" for each of us as an individual when he dies. Fair enough. Buy why say this? Only to show how Jesus was not mistaken is saying that "This generation will not pass away" before the "end of the world" would come?

Cantalamessa continues:
We must, I think, completely change the attitude with which we listen to these Gospels that speak of the end of the world and the return of Christ. We must no longer regard as a punishment and a veiled threat that which the Scriptures call "the blessed hope" of Christians, that is, the return of our Lord Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13). The mistaken idea we have of God must be corrected. The recurrent talk about the end of the world which is often engaged in by those with a distorted religious sentiment, has a devastating effect on many people. It reinforces the idea of a God who is always angry, ready to vent his wrath on the world. But this is not the God of the Bible which a psalm describes as "merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, who will not always accuse or keep his anger forever ... because he knows that we are made of dust" (Psalm 103:8-14).
Now why this, and why particularly now? Certainly the idea of a God who is "always angry," ready, like Jonathan Edwards' terrible God to vent his wrath capriciously upon the world, is a caricature to be avoided. But if I'm not mistaken, there is also another caricature to be avoided on the other side, and the danger these days is well to that other side -- a God who is so merciful and gracious and slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love that nobody even believes His wrath possible. But the Bible tells us that "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." (Prov 1:7) C'mon Fr. Cantalamessa, how about a bit of divine wrath with that cappuccino and biscotti for breakfast?

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