Wednesday 30 November 2011

Daniel Attinger, Apocalypse de Jean

 The librarian at the Bibliotheque St Anne, Jerusalem, is Daniel Attinger, a Protestant pastor and member of the community of Bose in Jerusalem. He is the author of Apocalypse de Jean: A la recontre du Christ devoile, which Bill Russell, our professor, says opened up the book of Apocalypse to him. There is, of course, another Apocalyptic author in Jerusalem, and that is our doctor, John Ben-Daniel. See John and Gloria Ben-Daniel, The Apocalypse in the Light of the Temple: A New Approach to the Book of Revelation (Jerusalem: Beit Yochanan, 2003). Quite another take, though. 

Gianni Sgreva's lecture on exorcism

Yesterday Fr Gianni Sgreva, a Passionist priest, gave us a lecture on Exorcism. Fr Sgreva is an experienced exorcist. He told us that he had his first experience when he was 35 years old, at the Shrine of Medjugorje. He also reminded us that a priest needs the explicit permission or faculty from the local bishop if he is to exorcise someone.

Among the things we learned: there are degrees of possession: from the possession true and proper, to infestation, etc. It would seem that the devil can attack either the body, or the soul, or the spirit. Thus it can happen that even holy persons can be subject to attacks. Attacks can be either invited by the person, or caused by other people. Fr Sgreva mentioned witchcraft, black magicians, and the like.

Above all he reminded us that exorcism is one of the three exousia or powers given by Jesus to his disciples, whom he sent out to preach, to heal, and to cast out demons.

He said that deliverance was solely the work of God, and God works when and as he wills. Sometimes, therefore, deliverance comes not during the prayer of exorcism, but later. He spoke of a young man who had undergone exorcism for over 3 years; and then, later, he reported that he was free, and was studying to be a priest. 

Tuesday 29 November 2011

Rejoicing in the incarnation

The gospel of this morning: an invitation to rejoice in the incarnation. "Blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. Many prophets and kings longed to see what you see and to hear what you hear, but they did not."

The babe dancing in the womb of Elizabeth. David dancing before the Ark of the Lord. And Ratzinger inviting us to learn to rejoice in the incarnation.

From aesthetics to something more profound

Jesus weeping over Jerusalem; Jesus prophesying the destruction of the Temple, saying not one stone would be left over another: merely aesthetic, a lament over this beautiful city and its glorious Temple? Or something more profound? "You did not know the time of your visitation."

I am reminded of Kierkegaard's progression, from the aesthetic dilettante, to the ethical, to the religious.

"Put on the mind of Christ." It is certainly quite different from our own.

Monday 28 November 2011

Many will come from east and west

It is interesting that the very first readings of the Weekdays of Advent speak about the coming together of all peoples. Isaiah 2 speaks of all the nations streaming to Jerusalem, and God bringing about peace. In Matthew 8 Jesus speaks about many coming from east and west to take their places with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.

The end of the liturgical year and the beginning of Advent remind us repeatedly about the end of the world. The end is not only our 'final destination' but also the 'purpose' towards which God directs all things. St Paul sums it up: the reconciliation of all things - including all people and nations - in Christ. And the Letter to the Hebrews 12:2 speaks of Jesus enduring the cross because of "the joy that was set before him." I am reminded of James Alison and Brendan Lovett again: the joy that Jesus looked forward to was precisely the reconciliation of all things and all people in himself.
It was the possibility of delighting forever in a huge celebration along with a huge multitude of us human beings, people who are good, bad, creative, depressive, but humans and, for that reason, loved. (Raising Abel: The Recovery of the Eschatological Imagination, New York, Crossroad, 1996, 189 = Living in the End Times, London: SPCK, 1998. Lovett 222)

Saturday 26 November 2011

Marcel Pagnol

I was mentioning the movie My Father's Glory to Pere Dominique Arnauld the other day. He was enthusiastic about it, La gloire de mon pere, in French. He told me that Marcel Pagnol had two other books / films, one of which was Le chateau de ma mere. I forget the third one. It would be delightful to get my hands on these... These are sort of autobiographical works by this famous French man of letters. 

Wednesday 23 November 2011

St King David and others

I was amazed to learn yesterday that there is, in Jerusalem, a feast of St King David and the holy ancestors of Our Lord Jesus Christ - on 16 December, actually, the first day of the Christmas novena. There is also a feast of St Abraham, also restricted to the Church in Jerusalem. Someone told me that there is even a feast of the Good Thief! 

The languages of the Holy Land

It is amazing how many languages are needed in Christian Jerusalem. The Franciscans who are the big presence here, use Italian. The Benedictines of Dormition Abbey use German. Several communities and institutions use French: the Missionaries of Africa who run St Anne's and the Pool of Bethesda, as well as Eleona or the Pater Noster garden; the Sisters of Sion who run Ecce Homo; the Latroun monastery; the Abu Ghosh monastery; and so on. In general, French seems to be the second language of most Arab-speaking Christians. The Latin Patriarchate uses French almost more than English. The Salesians of the MOR province use Italian, though many of them know Arabic and now, increasingly, English too.

Then of course there is Hebrew and Arabic. The road signs are in Hebrew, Arabic and English. 

The man who ate too much


Yesterday one of our students was telling me that he was reading the life of Pope John XXXIII, and how much he loved the man. He was recalling how the French were offended when this fat and ugly old man was sent to them as Nuncio; how Roncalli had learnt Turkish and other languages in the places he was posted, much to the disapproval of the Vatican, but to the delight of the Turks and others, and how he is still much loved and remembered in Turkey; and so on. The student also said that he loved Papa Giovanni for another reason: he was fat, like himself, and there are very few saints who were fat. I told him there were some, and remembered the following story: 

“One day the Baal Shem Tov became curious about who would be seated on the other side of him in the Kingdom of heaven. So he approached the Holy One and was given a name. The man in question was alive and lived alone deep in a forest. The Baal decided that he would seek out this man and speak with him. After all they would be spending eternity together, and it would be good to know him better.
One day he was travelling, and decided to go a bit out of his way to find this man. After much searching, and as the Sabbath was drawing near, he found the house, in the middle of the forest. He knocked.
After a long time the door opened and the Baal Shem Tov saw the largest and most unkempt man he had ever seen. He stared rudely, not welcoming him nor speaking. The Baal requested to come in, as the Sabbath was drawing near. The man grunted, stood aside, made way, but said nothing.
It was the Baal who had to say the Sabbath prayers. The other man said nothing. As soon as the prayers were finished, the man started pulling out food from every nook and corner and proceeded to eat, eat and eat. The Baal was stunned. Finally he asked for something, and was given a crust. Finally everything was pushed away and they went to sleep.
The Baal was troubled and disturbed. This was the man who would sit next to him in heaven for eternity. He did not even keep the Sabbath. Perhaps he prayed at night. He kept vigil. He found nothing. The other man slept soundly.
The next day passed the same way, with the other man eating, eating, eating, and now and then throwing something to the Baal.
The next morning the Baal prepared to leave, but before that he blurted out: The Lord says you are holy, and that you are going to spend eternity next to me. But I don’t understand you. You don’t appear holy. You don’t keep the Sabbath. You do not pray. You do not even practice hospitality! Who are you? And why do you live like this?
The man did not reply for the longest time. Then finally he looked straight into the Baal Shem Tov’s eyes and spoke.
‘I was a boy. I lived here with my mother and father, my sisters, my grandfather and grandmother. We were poor, but we were happy. Then one day the Cossacks came. My father hid me. They dragged my father away. I heard the screams of my mother and sisters and grandparents. I watched them tying my father to a tree and torturing him horribly. They taunted him and tried to get him to deny the Holy One. Eventually they poured fuel over him and set fire to him. My father was a small, thin man and he burned fast. The flames went out quickly, and it was over.
‘I came back and buried what was left of my family. I stayed on. But I made myself a promise. When the Cossacks come again, they will find me and tie me to a tree. But I won’t go quickly. I will be so huge, so fat, so strong that when they put the match to me, I will burn and burn, hot and furious. I will burn long, crying out: The Lord our God, the Lord is one, and I will love the Lord my God with all my heart, and with all my soul, and with all my strength.... They will hear my words screaming in their ears and I will refuse to burn out. I will just keep burning.’
There was a long silence. The great hunk of a man stood before the Baal Shem Tov with great tears running down his face, and then began to pray, oblivious once again of the Baal.
‘O God, Master of the Universe, how long? How long will your people continue to kill and slaughter one another? How long, O Lord, will you suffer us and stand by and watch us destroying your creatures? How long, O Lord, will you weep over your children and their fights and their hatreds? How long, O Lord, how long?’
The Baal Shem Tov withdrew as quietly as he could. For the first time, he wondered if he were worthy to sit next to this man in the Kingdom of heaven.”[1]


[1] Megan McKenna, Lent: The Sunday Readings: Reflections and Stories (Bangalore: Claretian Publications, 2007)90-94.

Thursday 17 November 2011

The Dies Academicus at Ratisbonne

Several points to muse over from the Dies Academicus and the inauguration of STS as the Jerusalem Campus of the Faculty of Theology of the Salesian Pontifical University.

One is the hint at the special status of Jerusalem as the meeting point of the Old World, Africa and Asia (Pizzaballa, the Franciscan Custos): Jerusalem as the cross-roads of cultures.

The other is the invitation from Msgr. Franco, the Apostolic Nuncio, to think already of going further, in the direction of a master's degree in Salesian interests such as catechetics and pastoral theology.

The cultures point is both interesting and challenging. Interesting because we have here not only a meeting of cultures, but also of religions, Christian denominations, and rites. Our own community is intercultural, and therefore a practical stage on which to live out interculturality. The neighbours are a challenge: to overcome our own deep-seated feelings, and so on. So ecumenism, interreligious dialogue, intercultural dialogue: several pertinent areas.

The Salesian point is always interesting. If we leave first-phase specializations - archaeology, grammar, lexicology, dictionaries, and exegesis at various levels and different fields - largely to the Dominicans, the Franciscans, the Jesuits, we could still contribute by way of second-phase specializations. Catechetics and pastoral theology come under the specialization of 'communications', at least in Lonergan's way of thinking. Much place for creative thinking here. But the creativity will flow from a new appropriation of doctrines and new systematics.

Another area is that of method. The strengths and limitations of the historico-critical method; the existence and contribution of other exegetical methods; the insertion of these into the process of theology, perhaps functionally divided, so as to avoid the danger of the imperialism of specializations.

And, linked to the topic of cultures: the incarnation of reason. An incarnated reason illuminated by faith. A joyful faith, as Msgr Srei stressed this morning - a resurrection faith. But also an integral faith, with the parrhesia, the boldness, of bearing witness to what is sometimes not quite politically correct.  

Chinese reason



The Dies Academicus is over. Archbishop Savio Hon Tai Fai gave the lectio magistralis, "Theology, Wisdom and Evangelization." I liked the lecture. It was suggestive. It was not direct in the occidental manner. It was - chinese, I think. The archbishop began by invoking a suggestive phrase: theology, not as fides quaerens intellectum, but as fides quaerens sapientiam. Theology as the search for wisdom. And the needed and sought after wisdom as coming only through friendship with Christ. Friendship is a term that echoes through Chinese (Christian) thinking ever since Matteo Ricci wrote his De Amicitia. It is also a term that has long been around Western thinking, at least since Aristotle made friendship a condition for philosophizing.

The other element that remains with me from the talk is the metaphor of leaves, dead leaves. The metaphor comes from the title of the memoirs of Cardinal Celso Costantini, first Pontifical Delegate to China, and later Secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. Obviously the man means something to Archbishop Hon Tai Fai: he is a predecessor. But the memoirs: Foglie secche. And a quote:
One evening in Beijing, I left the house for the first time after a serious illness and went with the faithful D.G. Comisso to the imperial park and entered the enclosure of a solitary pagoda. ... The enclosure was full of large trees. ... It was autumn. Many leaves had already fallen to the ground. The guardian of the pagoda came out from a side house and began to sweep the floor, piling up the leaves in the corners to bring them out and lay them somewhere in a wild and remote place.
It seems to me that my life resembles one of those autumnal trees; many leaves have fallen, others are about to fall. As the guardian, I have also decided to pick some dry leaves up; the leaves are not longer valid, but may still contain some hidden and useful wisdom in germ. Even the most humble life may reserve some good seed of experience. This is the reason of this book and its title. 
The archbishop did not say as much, but dry leaves, dead leaves, evoke the whole cycle of life, death and resurrection.

Someone said, during the day, that we can speak today, not of philosophy as ancilla theologiae, but of theology as ancilla of the dialogue between faith and reason. Whatever. I found the archbishop edging towards a new use of reason: no longer the pure reason, whatever that might have been, of the past, but the incarnate reason of many colours. He gave us an example of a Chinese use of reason: allusive rather than direct and to the point; metaphorical, certainly, rather than purely theoretical. He said many things without saying many things. There is undoubtedly a concern for respect. He quotes Benedict XV upbraiding the missionaries for being more zealous about expanding the interests of their own countries than that of the Kingdom of God (Maximum illud, 30 November 1919). He refers to Costantini quoting the example of the Indian Buddhists "who were able to forget their architectonic style" and take up that of the Chinese. He talks about friendship with all.

This is a postmodern use of reason insofar as it is an incarnate reason that is used. It is not a postmodern use of reason, if by postmodern we mean utter degradation of all powers of reason.

And, at any rate, there is always several incarnate reasons engaging in scholarship, retrieving texts ancient and new, gently engaging in dialectic and inviting to radical displacements in intellectual, moral and religious areas, and moving towards taking a personal stand.

The historico-critical method has its great merits. Taken in isolation, infected by the imperialism of specializations, it can be incomplete and even damaging. But inserted into the movement of research, exegesis, history, dialectic, foundations, it can pour, together with other methods, into new appropriations of doctrines, ongoing systematics, and fresh communication.

The Atonement

I found, surprisingly, a copy of Ian McEwan's The Atonement in our library. Impressive film, which I saw during some flight years ago. The novel is equally good, if not better. The long musings of the principals do not really come through in the film. The film is a different medium, really. Haunting images, pace, focus, and so on. But writing is different. There is a quality in McEwan's writing that grips the imagination profoundly, if I may use that word. The Atonement is the story of lives that might have been, if only someone had not. That someone turns out to be a precocious young girl, hardly a child. Or perhaps I find the novel gripping because it portrays so well, and once again, the class divide that used to mark, and perhaps still marks, British society. Class divide: sensitive issue. 

Tuesday 8 November 2011

Salesian Convent, Bethlehem



These photos are from the "Salesian Convent" - which is the Salesian house at Bethlehem (not the FMA house, which is adjacent), a solid building built somewhere in 1862. It is built with the usual white 'Jerusalem' stone, which sets off the flowers very graciously... 

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