"It took Pentecost for them to understand Jesus," said the Franciscan Capuchin Catholic priest who serves as preacher to the Papal Household in Vatican City. And only when the apostles had a full idea of Jesus and a new love for him, he said, were they equipped to be effective preachers.
Cantalamessa spoke as part of Beeson's weekly worship series at the invitation of the divinity school and the Diocese of Birmingham in Alabama. He based his sermon on scripture from Acts 2: 1-12, which he said at its core references that all present were "filled with the holy spirit."
"Being filled with the holy spirit means to be filled with the love of God," he said. "When the spirit comes to the heart, it opens a new eye in us, with which we start looking at God. Then we can say, 'Father, I know you.'"
The difference in Christianity and other religions is that the others tell people what they must do to achieve a goal, he said. Christianity doesn't start with duties, but it begins with what God has done for them, as in grace. "The greatest commandment of all, to love our brother, comes after "He loved us.'"
"If we want to be effective, faithful disciples of Jesus Christ, we must go from living for ourselves to living for the Lord," he advised. "Your intention must be so your first goal isn't ego or success, but for the glory of God."
Cantalamessa's Samford visit was his last stop on a speaking tour of several U.S. cities before he returns to the Papal Household, where he preaches weekly sermons during Advent and Lent in the presence of the Pope, cardinals, bishops and other officials.
He was appointed to his post in 1980 by Pope John Paul II and has remained in the position under the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI. Considered to be the only person allowed to preach to the Pope, he has been active in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal movement and is a member of the Catholic delegation for the Dialogue with Pentecostal Churches.
Beeson dean Dr. Timothy George welcomed Cantalamessa and the many visitors in the audience who were perhaps attending their first Beeson service. Samford's Hodges Chapel was filled for the worship program, which included special music by Schola Cantorum from Birmingham's St. Paul's Cathedral.
Rev. Robert J. Baker, S.T.D., bishop of the Birmingham diocese, introduced the guest speaker, noting that Cantalamessa's role in preaching to the Pope and other high church officials is akin to "preaching to the choir." "But even the choir needs preaching to occasionally so that they sing together in better harmony," said Baker.
Beeson divinity student Jordan Whittington, a lifelong Baptist from Tuscaloosa, Ala., was grateful for the opportunity to hear Cantalamessa's sermon. "I appreciate that there are lines of theology that we may disagree on, but that doesn't stop the community of Christians from coming together to worship," he said.