VATICAN CITY, APRIL 15, 2011 (Zenit.org).- One of the greatest gifts Christianity has given to humanity is the principle of service, says the preacher of the Pontifical Household.
Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa made this reflection today when he gave his fourth Lenten sermon in the presence of Benedict XVI and members of the Roman Curia. The preacher continued with his Lenten series on love with a homily titled “Love Must Be Active: The Social Relevance of the Gospel.”
The preacher noted that the first Christian communities were characterized by “sharing”: “What urged them to do this was not an ideal of poverty, but of charity; the aim was not to make everyone poor, but that none of their members should ever be in want.”
Tracing the “need to translate love into concrete gestures” from the Apostle Paul to modern Christianity, Father Cantalamessa noted that the teaching follows the “example of the Lord, whose compassion for the poor, the sick and the hungry was never simply an empty sentiment but was always translated into concrete help.”
Christian charity, he noted, “was converted into specially created initiatives — and later, institutions — for the care of the sick, the support of widows and orphans, providing aid to prisoners, soup-kitchens for the poor, assistance to foreigners, etc.”
In 1891, the preacher continued, Leo XIII wrote the Church’s first social encyclical, titled “Rerum Novarum.” Other Pontiffs, including Benedict XVI, have followed suit, adding to and building up a “new form of ecclesiastical magisterium.”
“The Gospel does not provide direct solutions to social problems,” Father Cantalamessa said. “It does, however, contain useful principles by which concrete responses to different historical situations can be framed. Since social situations and problems change from one age to another, the Christian on each occasion is called to embody Gospel principles in the situation of the moment.”
“This is precisely the contribution made by the social encyclicals of the popes,” the preacher continued. “This is why there is a succession of such encyclicals, with each one taking up the subject at the point where the previous ones left off, […] and they update the subject on the basis of new needs emerging in society […] and also of the new questions constantly being asked in the light of the word of God.”
“In fact,” Father Cantalamessa affirmed, “one of the principles by which the Gospel has influenced the social sphere most decisively and beneficially is precisely that of service. Not for nothing does it occupy an important place in the Church’s social teaching. Jesus made service one of the pivotal points of his teaching; he himself said he had come to serve, not to be served.”
He called the Church’s teaching on the principle of service one of the “finest gifts [Christianity] has given to the world.”
The preacher explained: “Service is a universal principle; it applies to every aspect of life: the state ought to be at the service of its citizens, politics at the service of the state, the doctor at the service of his patients, the teacher at the service of his pupils, etc. But it applies in an altogether special way to the servants of the Church.
“Service is not, in itself, a virtue […], but it flows from various virtues, especially humility and charity. It is one way in which that love which ‘does not pursue selfish interests, but those of others,’ manifests itself, and gives of itself without seeking any return.”
“Service in the Gospel,” he concluded, “unlike service in the world, is not the proper characteristic of the inferior, of the one in need, but rather of the superior, of the one who is raised high.”
Quoting the Gospels, Father Cantalmessa noted that in the Church, “it is first of all ‘the leader’ who must be ‘like the one who serves,’ the first must be ‘slave to all.'”