“Stronger than death” – Happy Easter

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“One thing above all appears different, seen with the eyes of faith: death! 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, as Lazarus did 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!”

Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, Homily for Good Friday 2013 (Also available in Dutch).

A rabbi and the pope

From the Catholic News Agency come snippets of an interview with Rabbi Jack Bemporad, director of ther Center for Interreligious  Understanding in New Jersey, United States. Rabbi Bemporad is presented as a ‘lone voice’ accusing the media attacks on the person of Pope Benedict XVI “one dimensional”. He said so after the comparison drawn in Father Raneiro Cantalamessa’s Good Friday homily, between anti-Semitism and the media depiction of the Catholic Church. Although the rabbi concedes that Fr. Cantalemessa used a “poor example”, his “point is correct”.

“We’re so quick to judge, we’re so quick to condemn,” Rabbi Bemporad said. “There’s no charity, there’s no compassion, no sympathy, and no, by the way, self-criticism”.

“The tragedy of the media,” Rabbi Bemporad went on, “is that it has a capacity to educate, instead what it does is cater to the worst element in human beings. The most voyeuristic element”.

The crimes committed by certain representatives of the Church are horrible and should be condemned by all well-thinking people. There is no disagreement about that. But in the light of these terrible acts we must keep a clear mind in order to come up with solutions. I’ve stated this before: the emotional response is understandable but immature. Immaturity is not bad, but it does indicate that there is a mature response which will ultimately lead to solutions that are agreeable for all. At the moment, major parts of the media remain stuck in the immature emotional response, mindlessly lashing out at anything that even looks Catholic. In that process the innocent are accused and slandered along with the guilty. That can never be the goal of a society which considers itself civilised.

As the visible head of the Church, Pope Benedict XVI deserves and needs our support. In France, several bishops and representatives of religious communities and laity have taken the initiative to write a letter of support to the pope. You can sign it here.

The biased reporting of a comparison

I am seeing tweets and media reports which claim that Pope Benedict XVI or his spokesperson (there seems to be disagreement) compared the current biased media reporting against the Church and the pope to the persecution of the Jews during the Holocaust. Said media are tumbling over one another to be the first to spout their indignation at this comparison.

But what really happened? Zenit has the answer. The person making the comparison was Father Raneiro Cantalamessa, preacher of the Pontifical Household, and he made them during his Good Friday homily. Here is the passage in question:

“By a rare coincidence, this year our Easter falls on the same week of the Jewish Passover which is the ancestor and matrix within which it was formed. This pushes us to direct a thought to our Jewish brothers. They 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. I received in this week the letter of a Jewish friend and, with his permission, I share here a part of it.

“He 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. Therefore I desire to express to you personally, to the Pope and to the whole Church my solidarity as Jew of dialogue and of all those that in the Jewish world (and there are many) share these sentiments of brotherhood. Our Passover and yours undoubtedly have different elements, but we both live with Messianic hope that surely will reunite us in the love of our common Father. I wish you and all Catholics a Good Easter.””

Can you say ‘whoops’, media and twitter users? It was not the pope, nor Fr. Cantalamessa, but a Jewish friend of the latter who recognised the similarities. I can’t help but consider this yet another example of the failure of certain modern media outlets and its consumers to be objective and to think before they write.

I also see criticism from Catholic circles against Father Cantalamessa for using the passage from the letter in his homily. I am not entirely sure why that is so. Is it because it focusses the attention on a painful situation? Well, the media bias deserves to be called out. Is it because it sounds like the Church assuming the role of the victim? Perhaps, but that is not entirely unwarranted and does not say anything about the culpability of the Church or her officials in other cases. Or is it perhaps because Fr. Cantalamessa should have known that this passage would be picked up and distorted? Well, he obviously should have known (and who’s to say he didn’t?), but that in itself is not enough reason to keep quiet about it.

In the current climate of accusation and defence it is so very important to read carefully. It is us, the readers, who must make the distinction between fact and fiction, between objectivity and hype. Because we can no longer rely on the media to do it for us.