Message from Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa
A reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 2, Verses 14-18:
Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice, and proclaimed to them, “You who are Jews, indeed all of you staying in Jerusalem. Let this be known to you and listen to my words. These people are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
‘It will come to pass in the last days,’ God says, ‘that I will pour out my spirit upon everyone. Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams. Indeed, upon my servants and my handmaids I will pour out a portion of my spirit in those days, and they shall prophesy.’”
The New Prophecy
I will pour out my Spirit upon everyone! Youth and elderly, men and women, all shall be prophets! These words spoken by Peter on the day of Pentecost seem at odds with what Saint Paul writes about the charisms: “Are all prophets?” the apostle asks the Corinthians, and the answer is evidently no. There is indeed a diversity of charisms. Some are apostles, other prophets, other teachers… (1 Cor 12, 28-29).
In what sense then does Peter see fulfilled on Pentecost the prophecy of Joel according to which, in messianic times, all will be prophets? And in what sense does the Second Vatican Council also affirm that every baptized person must bear witness to Christ with a prophetic spirit? (Lumen gentium 35). The answer to this question puts us on the path to discover the new nature of Christian prophecy.
Announcing the birth of the Precursor, Zechariah his father says: “And you, child, will be called a prophet of the Most High,” (Lc 1, 76) and Jesus says of him that he is “more than a prophet,” (Mt 11, 11). But in the case of John the Baptist, where’s the prophecy? The ancient prophets announced a future salvation; but the Precursor isn’t one who announces future salvation; he points to one who is present.
With the words: “There is one among you whom you do not recognize!” (Jn 1, 26), John the Baptist has inaugurated the new prophecy, that of the time of the Church, that does not consist of announcing a future and distant salvation, but in revealing the hidden presence of Christ in the world. In his cry: “Behold the Lamb of God!” there is the maximum prophetic concentration; a flash, as from a short circuit, or better, an electric arc. It means: “Remember the lamb of the Exodus that your fathers sacrificed in Egypt, and the meek lamb of Isaiah led to slaughter who did not open his mouth? Well what all this was a figure of, is here in front of you.”
In Peter’s speech, the day of Pentecost, this new prophecy is widened from the Precursor to the entire Church. When Peter says, “Today comes to pass what Joel the prophet had prophesied,” once more there is a qualitative leap, as in the preaching of John the Baptist, but immensely more powerful because Easter and Pentecost were involved. It is as if Peter were saying: Everything that the patriarchs waited for, the prophets announced, and the psalms sung has become reality, “it comes to pass now.” “For the promise is made to you and to your children” (Acts 2, 39).
Beloved youth, behold the field and the way of your prophecy. Announce with your life, with your smile that Christ is alive and is present in the world. That he who said, “Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age,” has kept his promise. The world isn’t empty; man is not an “empty passion.” Saint Paul VI, in one of his speeches, said some words that apply in a special way to you youth: “The Church needs her perennial Pentecost; she needs a fire in her heart, words on her lips, prophecy in her gaze,” (General Audience from November 29th, 1972). Prophecy in her gaze! Oh, how many things are contained in this phrase…
Youth with a prophetic gaze! I said that Christian prophecy doesn’t consist of announcing a future event, but a presence in action, that of Christ in the world. This is true, but it isn’t the only content of Christian prophecy. In effect, it also consists of announcing something that’s in the future. Not, however, a temporal future, but an eternal one. It consists of announcing eternal life! Prophets because we open up the horizon of eternal life for men.
Youth with a vision
I have to add one important thing. In this new context inaugurated by the coming of Christ, prophecy isn’t dulled or depersonalized. Yes, all shall be prophets, but not all in the same way. There’s space for a great differentiation according to each person’s role as well as age. To the elders is reserved the charism of having dreams, to the youth, that of having visions.
Youth with a vision! But what, in this case, does it mean to have a vision? It means to live with a purpose, and not just any purpose that will end at death. A purpose which is worth living and dying for.
Youth with a vision means youth with a vocation! To know what man is and what is “natural” for him, human thinking has always been guided by the concept of “nature” (physis); that is by what man is from birth: a rational animal. But the Bible completely ignores the concept of nature as applied to man and instead bases itself on the concept of vocation. Man is not only what he is determined to be from birth, but also what he is called to become with the exercise of freedom, in obedience to the word of God. Man is vocation!
And what is it that man and woman are called to become? It’s simple and the Bible repeats it from beginning to end: to be holy because God is holy. We have been created to be “in the image and likeness of God”: we must become what we are called to be. The Greek verb used in the New Testament for “sin” and “sinning,” is amartano, whose first meaning is to miss the target, to fail to hit the mark. If we do not become saints, we have failed the purpose for which we were created and for which we are in the world. The opposite of a saint is not a sinner, but a failure.
The philosopher Pascal formulated the principle of three orders or levels of greatness: the order of the body or of matter, the order of intelligence, and the order of holiness. Those who possess great riches, or great strength, or great physical beauty are great in the material order. Geniuses – like poets, inventors, writers, artists – are great in the order of the spirit. An almost infinite distance, says Pascal, separates the order of intelligence from the bodily one. But an “infinitely more infinite” distance separates the order of holiness from that of intelligence. In this third order the absolute summit is Jesus Christ; behind him – and in dependence on him – the Virgin Mary and all the saints. (B. Pascal, Thoughts, 593)
This principle allows us to evaluate in the correct manner the people and events around us. The majority of people are stuck on the first level and do not even suspect the existence of a higher plane; for them the only thing that matters is money, power, and pleasure. Others believe that the supreme value and the pinnacle of greatness is that of intelligence; therefore, they seek to excel in the field of literature, of art, of thought. Only a few know that there exists a third level of greatness, holiness.
This third greatness is superior to all because it is founded on what is most noble in human beings, freedom. It’s not up to us to be born rich or poor, intelligent or less intelligent, beautiful or less beautiful; instead it is up to us to be good or bad, honest or dishonest, saints or sinners. “A drop of holiness is worth more than an ocean of genius,” said the musician Gounod, himself a genius.
The good news about holiness is that one is not forced to choose between the three areas of greatness. It is open to all. In other words, one who is rich, or one who aspires to be an athlete, a movie or dance star, or a computer genius, all can strive for holiness. And as a matter of fact, there have been saints in each one of these categories. Just think, in times more recent to us, of Carlo Acutis, a fifteen-year-old boy who died in 2006 and who has been beatified on October 10, 2020 in Assisi. Carlo Acutis was an early computer science genius, so much so that some are now thinking of having him declared the patron of those who work in this field.
Do not be discouraged thinking that the goal is too high and beyond your strength. Yes, it is beyond our strength, but Christian holiness, before being a duty, it is a gift earned for us by Christ. We have freely received and can receive holiness this very day, with faith and the sacraments. Because holiness is given by the presence of the Holy Spirit within us, and Jesus has assured us that the heavenly Father gives the Holy Spirit to those who ask. Courage then, young people of the CCR: be youth with a prophetic gaze, youth who “have visions.”