Below is another worthy reflection offered by the preacher to the Papal household – Fr. Rainero Cantalamessa. It is taken from the “Blessed are the Peacemakers” chapter in “Beatitudes: Eight Steps to Happiness.”
The Pope’s message (Pope Benedict XVI’s message for World Day of Peace, 2007: “The Human Person, the Heart of Peace.”) dedicates a paragraph to the difficulty that we meet today in the relationship between religion and the secular world:
“As far as the free expression of personal faith is concerned, another disturbing symptom of lack of peace in the world is represented by the difficulties that both Christians and the followers of other religions frequently encounter in publicly and freely professing their religious convictions. There are regimes that impose a single religion upon everyone, while secular regimes often lead not so much to violent persecution as to systematic cultural denigration of religious beliefs. In both instances, a fundamental human right is not being respected, with serious repercussions for peaceful coexistence.”
There is a sign of this attempt to marginalize religious beliefs every December, namely, the campaign in America and various countries of Europe against the religious symbols of Christmas. The reason cited is the desire not to offend people of other religions who live among us, especially Muslims. But this is only a pretext. It is actually part of secularized society – not the Muslims – who do not want these symbols. Muslims have nothing against Christian Christmas, which they also honor. In the Koran there is a sura dedicated to the birth of Jesus that is worth knowing about and that could encourage dialogue and friendship among religions.
Behold! The angel said:
“O Mary! Allah giveth thee
Glad tidings of a Word
From Him: his name
Will be Christ Jesus.
The son of Mary, held in honour
In this world and the Hereafter
And of (the company of) those
Nearest to Allah.
She said: “O my Lord!
How shall I have a son
When no man hath touched me?”
He said: “Even so:
What He willeth:
When He hath decreed
A Plan, He but saith
To it, ‘Be,’ and it is!” (The Holy Qur’an, sura 3)
We have reached the height of absurdity when some Muslims celebrate the birth of Christ and tell us that “it is not Muslims who do not believe in the miraculous birth of Christ,” while people who call themselves Christians want to make Christmas a winter festival populated only by reindeer and teddy bears.
We Christians cannot, however, let ourselves become resentful and argumentative with the secular world. Alongside the dialogue and the peace among religions, there is another task for the peacemaker: peace between believers and nonbelievers, between religious people and the secular world that is dismissive or hostile to religion. We need to give a reason, with firmness, for the hope that is in us but to do so, as the First Letter of Peter exhorts, “with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15-16).
“Reverence” in this case does not mean a human respect that keeps Jesus hidden to avoid arousing reactions. It means a respect for the interior life that is known only to God and that no one can violate or force to change. It does not mean putting Jesus aside but demonstrating Jesus and the gospel by our lives. We only hope that equal respect will by shown by others toward Christians, which unfortunately has often been lacking up until now.