Fr Cantalamessa, a Capuchin friar, was appointed the Preacher to the Papal Household by Pope St John Paul II. In this capacity, he provides meditations to the Pope and other high-ranking clergy each Friday during Lent and Advent. This is part of his homily in St Peter's Basilica on Good Friday, 2013.
Christ entered death as we enter a dark prison; but he came out of it from the opposite wall. He did not return from whence he came, like Lazarus who returned to life to die again.
He has opened a breach towards life that no one can ever close, and through which everyone can follow him.
Death is no longer a wall against which every human hope is shattered; it has become a bridge to eternity. A "bridge of sighs", perhaps because no one likes to die, but a bridge, no longer a bottomless pit that swallows everything.
"Love is strong as death", says the Song of Songs (Sgs 8:6). In Christ it was stronger than death!
The Christian faith could return on our continent and in the secularised world for the same reason it made its entrance: as the only message which has a sure answer to the great questions of life and death.
The cross separates unbelievers from believers, because for the ones it is scandal and madness, for the others is the power and wisdom of God (cf 1 Cor 1:23-24); but in a deeper sense it unites all men, believers and unbelievers.
"Jesus had to die ... not for the nation only, but to gather into one the dispersed children of God" (cf Jn 11:51f). The new heavens and the new Earth belong to everyone and are for everyone, because Christ died for everyone.
The urgency that comes from all this is that of evangelising: "The love of Christ urges us, at the thought that one has died for all" (2 Cor 5:14). It urges us to evangelise!
Let us announce to the world the good news that "there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because the law of the spirit which gives life in Christ Jesus has delivered us from the law of sin and death" (Rom 8:1-2).
In Rome, as unfortunately in all big cities, there are so many homeless people who only have a few rags upon their body and some poor belongings that they carry along in a plastic bag.
Let us imagine that one day this voice spreads: on Via Condotti (everyone knows what Via Condotti represents in Rome!) there is the owner of a fashion boutique who, for some unknown reason, whether out of interest or generosity, invites all the homeless of Termini railway station to come to her shop; she invites them to take off their soiled rags, to have a good shower and then choose the garment they want among those displayed and take it away free of charge.
All say in their heart: "This is a fairy-tale, it never happens!" Very true, but what never happens among men is what can happen every day between men and God, because, before Him, we are those homeless people!
This is what happens in a good confession: you take off your dirty rags, your sins, receive the bath of mercy and rise "clothed in the garments of salvation, covered with the robe of righteousness" (Isaiah 61:10).
The tax collector of the parable went up into the temple to pray; he said simply but from the depth of his heart: "God, be merciful to me a sinner!", and "he went down to his house justified" (Luke 18:14), reconciled, made new, innocent. The same could be said of us, if we have his same faith and repentance, when we go home after this liturgy.
Among the personages of the Passion with whom we can identify, I realise that I have neglected to name one that more than all awaits those who will follow his example: the good thief.
The good thief made a complete confession of sin; he says to his companion who insults Jesus: "Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong" (Luke 23:40f.).
Here the good thief shows himself an excellent theologian. Only God in fact, if he suffers, suffers absolutely as innocent; every other being who suffers should say: "I suffer justly," because even if he is not responsible for the action imputed to him, he is never altogether without fault.
Only the pain of innocent children is similar to God's and because of this it is so mysterious and so sacred.
How many atrocious crimes in recent times remained anonymous, how many unresolved cases exist! The good thief launches an appeal to those responsible: do like me, come out into the open, confess your fault; you also will experience the joy I had when I heard Jesus' word: "Today you will be with me in Paradise!" (Luke 23:43).
How many confessed offenders can confirm that it was also like this for them: that they passed from hell to heaven the day that they had the courage to repent and confess their fault.
I have known some myself. The paradise promised is peace of conscience, the possibility of looking at oneself in the mirror or of looking at one's children without having to have contempt for oneself.
Do not take your secret to your grave; it would procure for you a far more fearful condemnation than the human. Our people are not merciless with one who has made a mistake but recognises the evil done, sincerely, not just for some calculation.
On the contrary! They are ready to be merciful and to accompany the repentant one on his journey of redemption (which in every case becomes shorter).
"God forgives many things, for a good work," says Lucia to the Unnamed in Manzoni's novel The Betrothed; with greater truth we can say, he forgives many things by one act of repentance.
He promised it solemnly: "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool" (Isaiah 1:18).
Let us take up now and do what we heard at the beginning, it is our task this day: with joyful voices let us exalt the victory of the cross, intone hymns of praise to the Lord.