Wednesday 19 April 2017

Consecrated life and the Good News

Three thoughts from three different authors, to be read together:

Agastya 'August' in Upamanyu Chatterjee, English, August: An Indian Story (Penguin Books – Faber & Faber, 1988), representing a not-hostile but quite common opinion among the Indian elite already in the late 1980's, and certainly more aggressive now in the time of the saffron family:

“The Block Panchayat office was a five-minute drive away, beyond the Dutch hospital. As the jeep skirted the hospital, he again marvelled at its incongruity. Here on this red sand, which nurtured only wizened trees, ugly Rest Houses and squalid shacks selling tea and juice of sugarcane, were these acres of green lawn and digni­fied grey stone. He wondered at motivation: what had induced the Dutch to build a hospital of charity in an obscure corner of India, or the Germans to fund an Indian curer of lepers? But he was greatly amused, a few weeks later, to learn that the Dutch missionaries at the hospital were converting tribals to Christianity. But his laughter at the news wasn't cynical, it was mildly incredulous, because it sounded so absurd, that in this age of AIDS and the atom, some missionaries were converting the heathens to the Lord's Path before healing them. God, he laughed, when will these Christians ever grow up? And even the bubble memory of his mother didn't embarrass him. From then on the hospital, by its very elegance and beauty, began to look a little ridiculous. Lakhs of rupees just to seduce a few tribals, to make the sign of the Cross over some sick, illiterate and bewildered individual called Anganagla, or something like that, and insist on a David or John before or after his name. Maybe, he sometimes thought when he passed the hospital, they had a red phone, a hot-line to the Vatican, and had to send in daily reports. Tour Highness/ (but what did they actually call him? Maybe George Ringo I) 'four more heathens captured today. Two unsuccessful cases were Muslims. They were very very angry and snatched the medicines out of our hands and left.' (245-246)

And certainly, no one ever came to say in Jompanna, except Caucasian missionaries, with Malayali nuns in their wake.” (Chatterjee 249)

F. Rossi de Gasperis, Sentieri di vita: La dinamica degli Esercizi ignaziani nell’itinerario delle Scritture. 3. Terza e Quarta Settimana. I Misteri della Pasqua del Messia Gesù (Milano: Paoline, 2010) describing the nature of the Good News, which is not quite "converting heathens to the Lord's Path":

The embrace of Mary here cannot yet be the final embrace [amplesso] that would be the consummation of the spousal and eschatological union of the Messiah with the messianic people, signified by the Woman. Here we have only a first and very affectionate meeting between the two, followed by the departure of the Woman for a mission: that of the proclamation of the good news that she will give to all the disciples, telling them “‘I have seen the Lord!” and what he had said to her.” (Jn 20,18) This Good News fills the time of the Church, from the resurrection of the Lord to his second and final coming. [3:477.]

And Marko Rupnik:

The time of functional religious life is over. Religious and their institutions either reveal the Lord or else have no meaning at all. 

Tuesday 18 April 2017


Fr John Bosco Vincent Raj, SDB, from the Holy Land, tells me that Christians there do not usually use the expression SALAM ALEKUM, which is used commonly by the Muslims. At Easter the Christians say AL MASIH QAM, HAKKAN QAM - Christ is risen, truly risen! 

In Arabic, the gospel text can be transliterated SALAMUN LAKUM, or else simply SALAM LAKUM. 

The Jews use the greeting SHALOM ALEKEM. This is also the greeting of Jesus in the gospel text in Hebrew. 

Wednesday 29 March 2017

The pool of Bethzatha

In the gospel text of this morning, let us concentrate on two figures: that of the man who is healed, and that of Jesus.

The man who is healed is somewhat strange:

·      This is one of the rare cases where Jesus himself takes the initiative: “Do you want to be healed?” And the man is unable to say a clear Yes or No: he prevaricates: There is no one to help me into the water when it is moved. The question is put to me, to us all: Do I really want to be healed? Do I really want to obtain that for which I ask in prayer? We all know the famous prayer of St Augustine: “Lord, give me chastity, but not yet.”
·      The man does not know who it is that has healed him – and this is strange, because in most cases the one healed immediately wants to follow Jesus.
·      After Jesus meets him in the Temple, the man goes back to the Jews – to report on Jesus? One does not know, and one only hopes not.

So there is this strange man, but also not so strange, because he represents us all, he manifests the mystery of the human heart, the deviousness of the human heart.

And then there is Jesus – he is the real water of life. The water of life is not in the pool of Bethzatha; it is Jesus, from whose heart burst forth springs of living water, the gift of the Holy Spirit. He is the water of life, the living water that brings life wherever it flows. He is the water that heals.

Jesus is a mystery: he is not easy to understand – also because his thoughts are not our thoughts. What does he mean when he says to the man he has healed: “Go and do not sin any more, that nothing worse befall you”? What is he doing to our scale of values, where physical health and well-being is usually at the top?

It is not enough to know Jesus. it is not enough to accept him as ONE among MANY. He asks for EVERYTHING: Go, sell all that you have, and come, follow me. This is the meaning of the primacy of God: God is to be first, not one among the many interests and loves of our life. He is the ONE THING NECESSARY, for which the jar of perfume is to be broken and “wasted,” for whom our time is to be wasted (Mary of Bethany), for whom our life is to be wasted.

Let us ask insistently, with Ignatius of Loyola, for intimate knowledge of Jesus, that we might love him more dearly and follow him more closely. Let us ask for it with all our hearts. Let us ask that we might want what he wants – for we cannot even take for granted that we are able to want what he wants.


Thursday 23 March 2017

The fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets

The texts of today's readings are difficult (Deut 4,1.5-9; Mt 5,17-19). But let us concentrate on the opening words of the Gospel: "I have come not to abolish but to fulfill the Law and the Prophets."

Jesus has not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets. The Law and the Prophets is a way, for the Jews, to speak of almost the whole of their Holy Scriptures. Another way of talking about these is "Moses and Elijah." So when Moses and Elijah appear at the side of Jesus during the transfiguration, it is the Law and the Prophets bearing witness to Jesus. And the beautiful thing is that, in the gospel of Luke, we are told that Moses and Elijah appear glorified alongside Jesus glorified. The Law and the Prophets light up in the presence of Jesus, and Jesus lights up in their presence. The Old Testament lit up by the New, and the New lights up in the presence of the Old. There is no choice: the Old Testament is part of the Body of Jesus, part of the mystery of his incarnation. We cannot neglect the Old if we truly want to enter into the mystery of the New.

The second point is that Jesus is the fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets. He is not one more Law among other Laws. He is not one more prophet among other prophets. He is the One who is to come, the One thing necessary.

Let us remember Mary of Bethany, who breaks the vase of pure nard to anoint the head of Jesus – and the way Jesus defends her in the face of criticism ("This could have been sold and the money given to the poor"). Let us remember Mary again, who chooses to waste time at the feet of Jesus, earning a reproach from her sister - and there also Jesus defends her. It is not enough to talk about and work for the poor. It is not enough to do a thousand things - because work can begin from me, from us. But mission begins from Him. We are Called and Sent - by Him. There is a personal element here that cannot be bypassed. There is a relationship of love with the Lord who has loved us first, and called, and sent. We are people who are in love, a love that relativizes everything and that transforms everything. It is worth reading the Song of Songs, as we were invited to do during the Year of Consecrated Life, in order to understand the relationship to which we are called. It is important to clarify this central relationship without which our religious life makes no sense. it is worth asking ourselves about the meaning of our consecrated life.

"Ask insistently for intimate knowledge of the Lord, that we might love him more dearly and follow him more nearly." (Ignatius of Loyola)

(See F. Rossi de Gasperis, Sentieri di vita 3,47-50 for the basic inspiration) 

Sunday 19 March 2017

Thomas Aquinas, depression, baths

Philip McShane had told me once about Thomas Aquinas' great practical sense: one of the remedies for depression that he recommends is a good bath - by which he does not exactly mean a shower, I suppose, which did not exist in the 13th century. A good soak: wonderful! Other remedies include chatting with a good friend, taking a walk, having a glass of wine....

Here's another version of Thomas' remedies for depression, with the reference: Summa Theologiae I-II, qq. 35-37:

Friday 17 March 2017

Cherry blossoms

I thought I saw the fallen flower
Returning to its branch
Only to find it was a butterfly.

Rakka eda ni
Kaeru to mireba
Kocho Kana

[Arakida Moritake (1472 - 1549)]

Tuesday 14 February 2017

Flower in the crannied wall

From Fred Lawrence, on Valentine's day:

The general idea of value coincides with the idea of the good, of
excellence. Excellence may pertain to an object itself, rise from
it in isolation from all other things, and remain despite utter
uselessness. Such is the absolute value of truth, of noble and
heroic deeds, of the flower in the crannied wall.

Bernard Lonergan, For a New Political Economy, Collected Works of
Bernard Lonergan, vol. 21, edited by Philip McShane (Toronto; Toronto
University Press, 1998), 31.

Flower in the Crannied Wall

Alfred Tennyson

Flower in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out of the crannies,--
Hold you here root and all, in my hand,
Little flower—but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,
I should know what God and man is.

Featured post

Rupnik, “E se l’evangelizzazione chiedesse una novità nella vita consacrata?” English summary