Good Friday homily in context

While I don’t usually comment on religion, I am a libertarian who believes in the natural connection between faith and liberty. I am also a “practicing” Catholic. So permit me to comment on the furor raised in the media over a sermon given at the Vatican’s Good Friday service.

There is no question the Catholic Church has an abysmal record in dealing with the accusations of pedophilia and sexual misconduct by its priests. The scandal is not so much the sexual abuse as it is the blatant and continuing cover-up.  It pains me whenever the media reports on the issue,  first because the institutional Church still has not come to grips with it and second because the media coverage is blatantly biased and uneducated.

Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa  delivered a reflection on St. Paul’s letter to the Hebrews in which he quoted a letter from a Jewish friend.  His friend, not Father Cantalmessa, said, “I am following with indignation the violent and concentric attacks against the Church, the Pope and all the faithful by the whole world. The use of stereotypes, the passing from personal responsibility and guilt to a collective guilt remind me of the more shameful aspects of anti-Semitism.”

The Vatican immediately disassociated itself from the homily, Jewish groups denounced the remarks as anti-Semitic and one Catholic bishop called the words “unfortunate and reprehensible.

Did any of them read the homily, I wonder?  You can read the entire homily here (translated from the original Italian).

Here’s my take on the homily.

Father Cantalamessa was doing what a Catholic preacher is supposed to do; he was trying to explain how the words of the Scripture have relevance today. The homily is 26 paragraphs long. The quote was in the next to the last paragraph.

In the homily, Father Cantalamessa talked about violence and sacrifice. He explored the ancient practice of offering animal sacrifice in order to placate or win favor from God. In this ritual, the sins of those making the sacrifice were placed on the animal (sometimes a goat, hence our word scapegoat).

In Jesus, that entire scheme was reversed. “It is no longer man that offers sacrifices to God, but God who ‘sacrifices’ himself for man, consigning for him to death his Only-begotten Son,” Father Cantalamessa said.

The sacrifice of Jesus “contains a formidable message” for today’s world, he said. “The modern value of the defense of victims, of the weak and of threatened life is born on the terrain of Christianity …”

Father Cantalmessa said that unfortunately, the same culture that condemns violence “favors and exalts it” in such things as films, video games, and the news media.

“A generation of youth that has had the very rare privilege of not knowing a real war and of never having been called to arms, amuses itself … to invent little wars, driven by the same instinct that moved the primordial horde,” he said.

He addresses other forms of violence, including school bullying, child abuse, including that perpetrated by clergy, and spousal abuse, saying that violence is often sparked by “herd psychology” which leads to the choice of a scapegoat to identify as a “a common enemy — in general, the weakest element, the different one.”

Near the end of the homily, he notes the rare coincidence of Passover and Holy Week occurring at the same time. It is here he introduces the letter from his unnamed Jewish friend, because it is the Jews who” know from experience what it means to be victims of collective violence and also because of this they are quick to recognize the recurring symptoms.”

That is the context of the quote maligned as anti-Semitic.

So, what I get from the homily is that violence is bad, it is good to protect people form violence, and you should not condemn an entire group of people (a church?) because of the bad actions of a few of its members.

But don’t take my word (or the media’s word) for it. Read the homily yourself, reflect and decide for yourself.


  1. Thanks for sharing, I found this story, while surfing for some downloads and ran across this site, thoughtful comments and good points made.

  2. People will condemn a group rather than the single person or persons. This way they try to destroy the group. A group they have hated for years but this is a way to support it. They did it with blacks, Jews, Whites, and all others. The bad thing is a lot of these people call themselves Christians. IT WAS A VERY GOOD ARTICLE.

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