Cardinal Cantalamessa: Journey with Mary this Advent

Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa, the Preacher of the Papal Household, delivers his second Advent homily to Pope Francis.

By Joseph Tulloch

In his second sermon for Advent 2023, Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa meditated on Mary’s journey of faith.

The Cardinal, a Franciscan friar, delivered his homily on Friday morning to the Papal Household, including Pope Francis himself.

Mary’s spiritual journey

Cardinal Cantalamessa began his homily by noting that, for a long time, Christians failed to appreciate the richness of Mary’s spiritual journey.

“It was taken for granted,” he said, “that she had made her act of faith at the moment of the Annunciation and remained in it all her life.”

This changed, the Italian friar noted, with the Second Vatican Council, which affirmed that Mary “advanced in the pilgrimage of faith” (LG, 58).

The Cardinal thus went on to stress the variety of Mary’s spiritual journey: the “joyful enthusiasm” of her meeting with Elizabeth, the shocking revelation of Simeon’s prophecy, and “all the ups and downs of her Son’s life”, ending, finally, in the cross.

“Of Mary,” Cardinal Cantalamessa concluded, “we must say, with much greater reason, what the Apostle says of Abraham: Mary believed, hoping against all hope, and thus she became the mother of many peoples. Our mother in faith!”

Joining Mary in belief

Cardinal Cantalamessa then went on to quote from St Augustine: “Mary believed, and in her life what she believed came true. Let us also believe, so that what came true in her can benefit us too!”

In order to give a “current context” to these words of Augustine’s, the Italian friar turned to a phrase from the French writer Blaise Pascal: “The heart has its reasons that reason does not know … The heart, and not the reason, feels God.”

He thus called upon his listeners, again quoting Pascal, to “Return to your heart!”

“Return from your wanderings that have led you astray; return to the Lord … Return to the heart: there examine what perhaps you perceive of God, because the image of God is found there. Christ dwells in the interiority of man.”

At Christmas, invite Jesus into your heart

Cardinal Cantalamessa brought his sermon to a close with an encouragement to “open the door of our heart” and “make it a cradle for the baby Jesus, making him feel, in the chill of this world, the warmth of our love and our infinite gratitude.”

“This”, he suggested, “is not just a beautiful, poetic fiction; it is the most difficult undertaking in life. Giving birth to Jesus means letting one’s “self” die, or at least renewing the decision to no longer live for ourselves, but for Him who was born, died and rose again for us.”

Thia undertaking, Cardinal Cantalamessa stressed, “will not end with Christmas, but it might begin with it.”