We present the homily given by Bishop Massimo Camisasca November 3rd, the day of his 75th birthday, during the Mass celebrated in the Cathedral of Reggio Emilia.

Dear brothers and sisters,

The first short parable in the Gospel that we have just listened to [Wednesday of the 31st week in Ordinary Time, Lk 14:25-33] exhorts us to a vigilance that can allow us to see our work through to the end.

As I thank the vicar-general and those who wanted this Mass on the occasion of my 75th birthday, I want to express my hope that this occasion will serve as a good reminder for all of us.

Every birthday is, above all, a moment of gratitude to God since He has wanted us and has lovingly cared for us over the course of our life. In order to overcome and defeat our fears and difficulties, it is sufficient to cultivate the wonder that is born from our own discovery of being in the world, an object of thought and love of the Father. And not only this: we know that the Father waits for us, even if we do not know all the possible trials and sufferings that will bring us closer to Him, purifying our hearts from the gunk that builds up along the way. My wish is that this Eucharist be, as always, an act of thanksgiving in which the tiny offering of my life and my obedience to the Father are united to the immense sacrifice of Christ.

This evening’s Gospel speaks to us of the conditions for following Jesus. At first glance, it is one of the most disconcerting texts in the synoptic Gospels, especially if we read it superficially, without putting it in the context of the comprehensive teaching of Jesus. In this passage, He speaks to us of a triple detachment as the absolutely necessary condition for being able to follow Him. The expressions He uses are very strong and cannot be read in contradiction with the 4th Commandment, with the exhortation to love oneself, nor with the joy that Jesus often exhibits in His relationship with creation. He always contemplates creation with His gaze turned to the Father and to the goodness of the universe that is invoked in the Book of Genesis.

What does He mean, then, with this verb “hate”? In order to follow Him, He asks that our dedication to Him be intelligent and total. “This hatred does not mean to lay snares but inspires the virtue of piety, leading us to disobey the voices of those that want to distract us,” writes Basil of Caesarea [1]. We have to follow Him with the necessary weapons, after having been trained by an education of love. “Hatred, farewells, and separation are not ends in themselves but a necessary gate, beyond which we learn to see the world in a different way.” [2]

There are three umbilical cords that must be cut. The first is that attachment we can have to our family, or to the individual members of the family, that is inappropriate, as it puts them before love for Jesus. Each of us can make an examination of conscience here. We all know how difficult it can be to take steps towards maturity in the relationship with those who raised us, with our brothers and sisters, with our relatives. Jesus does not invite us to be disinterested in them, much less to despise them. He wants us, however, to be free. “With the added expression ‘more than me’, it is clear that He permits us to love, but not more than we love Him. He demands our greatest affection,” writes Cyril of Alexandria [3].  Everything that could be cumbersome must be eliminated. How many times I have had to intervene to help people free themselves from inheritance lawsuits! We have to love through distance, aware that the truest way to love those most dear to us is to adhere to our own vocation.

Jesus then invites us to cut a second umbilical cord: love towards ourselves that is lived as idolatry towards our own “I”, our own success, the way we are perceived by others. This does not mean that we cannot love ourselves. Jesus said: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mk 12:31). We have to love ourselves in a true way, looking at ourselves as Jesus looks at us, free from any narcissism and will to self-affirmation. In the end, Jesus invites us to take up our cross and follow Him. That is: He invites us to welcome all the contradictions, fatigues, and battles that represent a participation in His cross. He invites us to be witnesses, to not fear martyrdom. To remember the joy and peace that he promises and gives to each of his disciples. Klaus Berger expresses this idea pithily: “Jesus does not exhort us to meanness but wants to call us to freedom: to freedom from the tangle of the family […] and to the freedom from narcissism that never ceases to blind us”[4]. It is “as if we had been transported to another world in terms of our way of life,”[5] comments Basil of Caesarea.

The conclusion of this Gospel passage can also seem a bit disconcerting to us: a third cord is cut through the renunciation of possessions. One can live this renunciation in the literal sense, but it is valid for all of us as an invitation to not attach ourselves to the things that we have, to not place our hope in them, to give generously, to meet the needs of the poor and of our brothers in difficulty. “When…one is separated from everything, one finally becomes free enough to rejoice over every ray of sunlight… Jesus demands that we become sovereign over ourselves, that we not exhaust ourselves in conflicts due to personal connections, loyalties, parties … The Jesus that the Gospels present to us is a man for the young…he shares their longing for liberation.”[6]

If we look deeply at these words of Jesus, we discover that, precisely because they represent a path of freedom, they are a promise of joy and serenity for the days that await us. This is my prayer for myself, for my family, for my collaborators, and for all of you in this Holy Mass in which I will remember, in a particular way, my father and mother.




Citations (in Italian)

[1] Basil of Cesarea, Sul battesimo, 1,1.

[2] K. Berger, Commento al Nuovo Testamento, Vol. 1, Queriniana, Brescia 2011 (2014), pp. 340-341.

[3] Cyril of Alexandria, Commento a Luca, Om. 105.

[4] K. Berger, Commento al Nuovo Testamento, cit., p. 339.

[5] Basil of Cesarea, Regole ampie, 2.

[6] K. Berger, Commento al Nuovo Testamento, cit., p. 340.

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