Evangelization Needs Sense of Sacred, Says Preacher

Father Cantalamessa Gives Advent Sermon to Pope and Curia

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VATICAN CITY, DEC. 17, 2010 (Zenit.org).- The re-evangelization of the secularized world requires a recovery of the sense of the sacred, says the preacher of the Pontifical Household.

Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa offered this suggestion today during the last in his series of Advent sermons that he has given in the presence of the Pope and the Roman Curia.

Father Cantalamessa proposed at the beginning of the series to offer "a small contribution to the need of the Church" for a New Evangelization, concretely by examining three obstacles to the Gospel message: scientism, secularism and rationalism.

The first reflection centered on scientism, last week's on secularism, and today's on rationalism.

He considered meanings of rationalism, including the tendency "of not recognizing the existence of another field outside its own. In other words, in the refusal that some truth might exist outside that which passes through human reason."

Rationalists, the preacher suggested, in fact humiliate reason and put limits on it, rather than recognizing the "capacity it has to transcend itself."

For dealing with rationalism, Father Cantalamessa pointed to the value of experience and of testimony.

"I do not intend to speak here about the personal, subjective experience of faith," he clarified, "but of a universal and objective experience which we can then make use of in confrontations with persons who are still strangers to the faith. It does not lead to the full faith that saves: faith in Jesus Christ dead and risen, but can help us to create its premise, which is openness to the mystery, the perception of something that is beyond the world and reason."

Experiential fact

In this regard, the Capuchin cited Rudolph Otto and his illustration of how "the traditional affirmation that there is something that is not explained with reason is not a theoretical postulate or one of faith, but a primordial fact of experience."

Father Cantalamessa explained: "There is a feeling that has accompanied humanity since its beginning and it is present in all religions and cultures. [...] This is a primary fact, irreducible to any other sentiment of human experience; it hits man with a shudder when, for some external or internal circumstance to him, he finds himself before the revelation of the 'tremendous and fascinating' mystery of the supernatural."

This experience ranges from the "haunting feeling awakened by stories of spirits and ghost, to the purest stage which is the manifestation of the holiness of God," he said.

Re-ascent

In this context, the preacher affirmed that "the re-evangelization of the secularized world must pass also through the recovery of the sense of the sacred. The terrain of the culture of rationalism -- its cause and at the same time its effect -- is the loss of the sense of the sacred."

The Church, he said, must "help men to re-ascend the slope and rediscover the presence and beauty of the sacred in the world."

Citing Charles Peguy, he noted that the loss of the sacred is "the profound mark of the modern world."

"One notices it in every aspect of life, but in particular in art, in literature and in everyday language," he said. "For many authors, to be described as 'desecrating' is no longer an offense, but a compliment."

More real than reality

Father Cantalamessa observed that "[w]hen the experience of the sacred and the divine that reaches us spontaneously and unexpectedly from outside ourselves, is received and cultivated, it becomes a lived subjective experience."

In this regard, there are "'witnesses' of God who are the saints and, in an altogether particular way, a category of them, the mystics," he said.

The experience of the mystics is a clear invalidation of rationalism, the Capuchin suggested: "When their writings are read, how distant and even naive seem the most subtle argumentations of atheists and rationalists!"

A "sense of wonder and also of pity" arises in confronting them, "as when one is before someone who speaks of things that he manifestly does not know."

The rationalist is like "one who believes he can discover constant errors of grammar in an interlocutor, and does not realize that he or she is simply speaking in another language that he does not know," he proposed. "But there is no desire to get involved in refuting him, so much do even the words said in defense of God appear, at that moment, empty and out of place.

"The mystics are, par excellence, those who have discovered that God 'exists'; in fact, that he alone truly exists and that he is infinitely more real than that which we usually call reality."

Neutralized

Father Cantalamessa lamented that it is a "certain literary fashion" that has "succeeded in neutralizing even the living 'proof' of the existence of God that the mystics are."

He explained: "It did so with a most singular method: not by reducing their number, but by increasing it, not by restricting the phenomenon, but by dilating it to measure. I am referring to those that in a review of the mystics, in anthologies of their writings, or in a history of mysticism, put one next to another, as if they belonged to the same kind of phenomena, St. John of the Cross and Nostradamus, saints and eccentrics, Christian mysticism and Medieval cabbala, hermetism, theosophism, forms of pantheism and finally alchemy.

"True mystics are something else and the Church is right to be so rigorous in her judgment of them."

Christmas lesson

The preacher of the Pontifical Household concluded by drawing out a practical conclusion: "Not only non-believers are in need of unexpected eruptions of the supernatural but also us, believers, to revive our faith." And "Christmas can be a privileged occasion to have this leap of faith. It is the supreme 'theophany' of God, the highest 'manifestation of the Sacred.'"

He noted that Christmas is particularly victimized by the "phenomenon of secularism," which is "despoiling this feast of its character of 'tremendous mystery,'" making it "a feast of family values, of winter, of the tree, of reindeer and of Santa Claus."

To make Christmas an "occasion for a leap of faith," he suggested, believers must find time for silence. "At Christmas, we should feel as if the invitation of the Psalm was personally addressed to us: 'Be still and confess that I am God!'

"The Mother of God is the unsurpassable model of this Christmas silence. [...] Mary's silence at Christmas is more than a simple silence; it is wonder; it is adoration; it is a 'religious silence,' a being overwhelmed by the reality. [...]

"The person who truly participates in Christmas is the one who [...] does what Mary has taught us to do: to kneel, to adore, to be silent!"

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