Good Friday: The cross has changed the meaning of suffering, says papal preacher

Pope Francis prays by the crucifix in St. Peter’s Basilica April 10, 2020. Credit: Vatican Media.

Through his death on the cross, Jesus has redeemed all human pain, including the suffering caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap., said at the Vatican on Good Friday.

The apostolic preacher said, “the cross of Christ has changed the meaning of pain and human suffering — of every kind of suffering, physical and moral.”

“It is no longer punishment a curse. It was redeemed at its root when the Son of God took it upon himself,” he said April 10 in St. Peter’s Basilica.

Due to the coronavirus crisis, the solemn celebration took place with only a small congregation. As a precaution, only Pope Francis kissed the crucifix during the adoration of the cross.

Speaking during the liturgy of the Lord’s Passion, celebrated by Pope Francis, Cantalamessa asked: “What is the surest proof that the drink someone offers you is not poisoned? It is if that person drinks from the same cup before you do.”

“This is what God has done: on the cross, he drank, in front of the whole world, the cup of pain down to its dregs. This is how he showed us it is not poisoned, but that there is a pearl at the bottom of this chalice,” he stated.

Cantalamessa has been the apostolic preacher, or preacher to the papal household, since 1980.

At the beginning of the liturgy for the Lord’s Passion, Pope Francis lay prostrate on the floor of St. Peter’s Basilica in front of the miraculous crucifix of the Church of San Marcello al Corso.

He then listened to the scripture readings, including the passion account in the Gospel of St. John.

Preaching after the Gospel reading, Cantalamessa pointed to the Word of God as having the answer to the present pain and suffering of the coronavirus pandemic.

“What we have just listened to is the account of the objectively greatest evil committed on earth,” he said, explaining that “the cross is better understood by its effects than by its causes.”

“And what were the effects of Christ’s death? Being justified through faith in him, being reconciled and at peace with God, and being filled with the hope of eternal life!” he said.

“Did God the Father possibly desire the death of his Son in order to draw good out of it?” Cantalamessa said. “No, he simply permitted human freedom to take its course, making it serve, however, his own purposes and not those of human beings.”

He added that the same is true of natural disasters like earthquakes and plagues. God does not bring them about, but he has given nature a form of freedom, different from that of human freedom, he stated. God allows nature “to evolve according to its own laws of development.”

“The pandemic of the coronavirus has abruptly roused us from the greatest danger individuals and humanity have always been susceptible to: the delusion of omnipotence,” Cantalamessa said, noting that scripture teaches us that during difficult times, the first thing we should do is “cry out to God.”

“Does God perhaps like to be petitioned so that he can grant his benefits? Can our prayer perhaps make God change his plans?” he asked. “No, but there are things that God has decided to grant us as the fruit both of his grace and of our prayer, almost as though sharing with his creatures the credit for the benefit received.”

“God is the one who prompts us to do it: ‘Seek and you will find,’ Jesus said; ‘knock and the door will be opened to you.’”

Cantalamessa quoted Pope St. John Paul II, who wrote from his hospital bed after the assassination attempt against him: “To suffer means to become particularly susceptible, particularly open to the working of the salvific powers of God, offered to humanity in Christ.’”

“Thanks to the cross of Christ, suffering has also become in its own way a kind of ‘universal sacrament of salvation’ for the human race,” he said.