Dead. Cantalamessa: “Sister death opens up our existence with the Risen One”

The memory of the dead

The memory of the dead – Photogram

“We were born to die”. This famous maxim attributed to Saint Augustine can represent the supporting architrave – even in a hermeneutic key – to understand in the light of ultimate realities the true thought on eternal life and the afterlife of Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa. The Milanese publishing house of the Pavonian religious Àncora wanted to republish, and thus re-propose to readers in these liturgically strong days as the solemnities of All Saints and the Dead, a classic of the spirituality of the well-known Capuchin friar minor from the Marches, born in 1934, who since 1980 has covered the role of preacher of the Papal Household (the first edition dates back to 1991) Sorella morte (72 pages, € 10, also available in an ebook version).

Within these pages, much of the ars predicatoria of Cantalamessa emerges which ideally brings us back to his meditations for the sermons of Advent and Lent – which the religious created cardinal in November 2020 by Francis – usually addresses to the members of the Roman Curia and to the Pontiff.

The main intent of the essay is above all that of rediscovering the beauty of dying in a Christian manner provided with the comfort of all the Sacraments: first of all Confession with particular attention to “mortal sins” to access, and without stumbling, eternal life. In these dense pages Cantalamessa challenges the current mentality not to see in death only the end of an existence (his words against the growing phenomenon of euthanasia are very current in this regard) but only the beginning of a new life next to the Risen One. . It is no coincidence that he points out as models of holiness to which to entrust our accompanying us towards the “good death” and to prepare ourselves for it in every moment of our earthly existence, just as the Gospel of Matthew says “Watch therefore, because you know neither the day nor the the hour », two saints very dear to him: Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) and Leopoldo Mandic (1866-1942).

The narrative fulcrum of this essay is that of bringing out its mystagogical but also pedagogical aspect in death. «Death is no longer just a terrible pedagogue that teaches to live, a threat and a deterrent; it has become a mystagogical death, a way to penetrate the heart of the Christian mystery ”. The Capuchin theologian recalls how the very institution of the Eucharist by Jesus represents a means for not forgetting the link with the ultimate realities. “We can do the same, indeed Jesus invented this means to make us share in his death, to unite with himself”.

Embracing «Sister death» – in the opinion of Cantalamessa – who is an «authentic elder sister», basically means making our own the teachings of what the Poverello of Assisi professed and testified to in the prayer of the Canticle of creatures.

But from the Capuchin religious comes another “counter-current” invitation: to restore in our consciences, now lukewarm and dormant towards the sacred, the fear of “eternal death”, and why not of sin and the final judgment.

It is no coincidence that Cardinal Cantalamessa in these pages recalls the importance that the tolling of death bells, the visit to the dying, as well as to cemeteries, the famous maxim Memento mori (“Remember that you must die”) had in the Christian tradition , the rite of imposition of ashes on the first Wednesday of Lent or how the transition to another life “for our loved ones” was celebrated in the historic heart and in the most vital places of worship of our city. And not on the edge of our metropolises. As happens today in many European situations where the celebration of a “civil” funeral often “anonymous” (without hope and references to the Resurrection of the bodies) is an event to be experienced as a tribute to the only life worthily lived in which only the hobbies and virtues of the lamented.

The death in the judgment of Cantalamessa must be perceived as an Easter and joyful moment, also in the light of the Magisterium of the Second Vatican Council, and as an “authentic epiphany of faith” since the first to defeat it was Jesus with His Resurrection. A singular suggestion comes from the Capuchin cardinal: when a funeral is celebrated, the priest himself, perhaps helped by a network of trusted lay people, remembers the history of faith and authentically lived life of the deceased and thus offers an authentic “ministry of consolation in the name of Christian community “.

Dead. Cantalamessa: “Sister death opens up our existence with the Risen One”