Sunday 25 November 2012

The Czartoryskis of Poland

Am reading James Michener's Poland. So far the story of Poland is almost exclusively the story of a few big families, the 'magnates,' with the petty gentry coming in now and then. Among the magnates are the Czartoryskis: not as rich as the others, but more forward looking, perhaps. Strange to think that one of them insisted on joining Don Bosco, died young, and is now Blessed Augustus Czartoryski (1858-1893). 

Pilate, Thomas, and the King

From Eric Wyckoff's homily this morning, Solemnity of Christ the King:

Pilate asking Jesus: Are you the king of the Jews?
And then, later in the dialogue, subtracting himself from the kingship of Jesus: Am I a Jew?
Pilate engaging in dialogue with Jesus to find out who he is.
But not finally being able to make the act of faith, the surrender, the recognition of Jesus as my king, our king, the king.

Very unlike Thomas's dialogue later in the Gospel of John.
Pilate clings to power; Thomas, to his intellect: Unless I touch and see, I will not believe.
But Thomas, in the end, bows, surrenders, recognizes: My Lord and my God!

The surrender of Mary, the surrender of Paul, the surrender of believers and saints down the centuries.

Allowing Jesus to be king. Taking the crown off from my head, and putting it where it belongs, on Jesus, is how Wyckoff put it. 

Chavez quoting Lonergan

Fr Pascual Chavez, Rector Major of the Salesians, is known to be a reader of Lonergan. In fact, he quotes Lonergan in his letter of convocation of the 27th General Chapter of the Salesians, to be held in 2014: "We are aware and we are convinced that 'without faith, without the eyes of love, the world is too evil for God to be good, for a good God to exist.'" (B. Lonergan, Metodo in teologia [Salamanca: Sigueme, 1988) 118 = Method in Theology [Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990] , citedin P. Chavez, "'Witnesses to the Radical Approach of the Gospel.' Called to live in fidelity to Don Bosco's apostolic project: 'Work and Temperance'." Acts of the General Council, Year XCIII, n. 413 [May-Aug 2012] 40.)

Saturday 24 November 2012

Mary Kicks Jesus Out

Bill Russell's Interesting interpretation of Cana: "Mary Kicks Jesus Out." He says, My hour has not yet come, and she tells him: go, get out, start. You don't belong to me anymore, you belong to them, to the people. The opposite of the possessive mother who can't bear to see her son grow up and fly away and belong to someone else. Bill says Mary is already here beginning to be what she will more fully and clearly be by the end of the Gospel of John: the Mother of all the Living, the Mother of the Faithful, the Mother of the Sons. 

Friday 23 November 2012


There was a thunderclap this morning during meditation. A classical one. Dominique Arnauld said, during the break, that it was a sign of the beginning of winter. All I know is that we were meditating, and that many of us got up with a start. 

The lack of determination

Many branched are the thoughts of one who lacks determination. (The Gita, according to Agastya / Upamanyu Chatterjee, in English, August)

Thursday 22 November 2012

"Dominus flevit" (Luke 19:41-44)

The church of 'Dominus flevit' on the Mount of Olives, Jerusalem

View from 'Dominus flevit' - Jesus would have seen something like this 
Jesus weeps over Jerusalem - the gospel of today. What might be the profound meaning of this extraordinary fact? The gospel of Luke tells us that Jesus wept because he foresaw the destruction of Jerusalem. He wept because this destruction could have been prevented "if only the city had known the time of its visitation." If the city had known, and accepted, the Messiah, would the destruction have been averted? This and other questions I am unable to answer.

What is clear to me is that Jesus weeps out of compassion. Compassion: the ability to feel for another. Compassion is a very human thing. The lack of compassion makes us inhuman. There is a story somewhere in my collections - and it is a Jewish story, if I remember right - where the father weeps for his son, because he is intelligent, he is brilliant, he can read the scriptures even if the book is upside down, but he lacks compassion. He only laughs when he comes across human suffering.

I once knew a young Salesian like that. Intelligent, gifted in many ways, but I noticed that he would laugh, like when he was watching a movie, at moments when normally people were moved.

The lack of compassion is an alarming thing.

The Word of God leads us to ask: am I compassionate? am I able to weep over human suffering, or about the inability of human beings to know the time of their visitation, to recognize the coming of God into their lives? or do I merely spend my life mourning or bemoaning my lot, my fate, my problems? Weeping alone is not enough. The question is whether we weep out of compassion, whether the sufferings of those around us find a place in our hearts.

And we could also ask: does Jesus weep over me? does Jesus weep over us?

Wednesday 21 November 2012

The Crusades and Jerusalem

Ms Merav Mack just gave us a lecture on The Crusades and Jerusalem. Ms Mack teaches Medieval Christian History at Ben Gurion University, and Contemporary Christianity at the Hebrew University. Her PhD thesis at Cambridge was on The Crusades and Merchants, if I am not mistaken.

The lecture was not directly on the crusades, but on 'second generation' crusaders, people who were born in Jerusalem. These were called Farangs (from which our Indian firangi, which means European or foreigner) by the locals, and they themselves began to call themselves Franks.

Ms Mack began with the circular maps of the time, Orbis Terrarum or OT maps, with the top half of the circle representing Asia, and the bottom half divided equally between Europe and Africa. The maps are 'east facing', and the centre of the world is - Jerusalem.

The crusaders had no idea of Jerusalem, except what they knew from the Book of Revelation - the heavenly Jerusalem and the earthly Jerusalem. When they set out, they had no idea of what they might find, or even how far it was.

Queen Melisande (1105 - 1131 - 1161) was an Armenian who married King Baldwin II of Jerusalem, and brought about a fusion of East and West. She was responsible for building most of Crusader Jerusalem: the Holy Sepulchre, St Anne's. She reduced the Cardo to its present proportions, and assigned it to St Anne's. If you go there today and ask the shopkeepers, they will show you still the legend: St Anne's.

There used to be a Scriptorium in the Holy Sepulchre. Hundreds of books copied there are still extant.

William of Tyre (c. 1130-29 - 1186) was born in Jerusalem, and studied in Paris and Bologna. The was appointed by the King of Jersualem, Americ, as tutor of his son, the future Baldwin the Leper.

The Cambrai square map of Jerusalem. (Two bishops of Cambrai came to Jerusalem, so we can date this map.) It is square as compared to the OT maps; and it is North oriented, where the OT were East oriented. And it reflects modern Jerusalem rather exactly.

Crusader stones are recognizable by their borders: they tried to imitate Herodian stones; only, where the latter were fully dressed, Crusader stones are dressed only at the borders.

The Crusader architecture was European, moving from Romanesque to Gothic; but their was Byzantine.

The Crusaders entered Jerusalem through the present Muslim quarter, which was then the Jewish quarter. They expelled both Muslims and Jews, in contrast to Saladin who expelled only the Latins.

They thought the Dome of the Rock was the Temple, which is why Templum Domini appears on the Cambrai map.

The miracle of fire did not happen on the Easter vigil, so the crusaders went on their knees to the Templum, and the next day, according to reports, the miracle happened.

The Aqsa mosque was turned into the king's house. Later it was given to the Templars, who reoriented it to serve as a church. Even today we can see the Rosette, which was the direction of the church.

The Golden Jubilee of the Conquest was celebrated in 1149.

William of Tyre's book has an exceptional beginning. All medieval books begin either with the creation of the world or with Jesus, but William begins "In the time of the Emperor Heraclius..." and goes on to speak of Muhammad.

He learnt Arabic, collected hundreds of documents, and was able to speak of Shia and Sunni.

he also wrote the Islamic History of the Region, which unfortunately is not extant. 

Sunday 18 November 2012

Lucy D'Souza, Salesian Cooperator, RIP

This is the only photo I could find of Lucy - she's the one on my left. The occasion was the Relic Pilgrimage of Don Bosco, Nashik, August 2011, and the gang in the photos is the group of cooperators and aspirants.
Here's another - this one with Keith
Lucy D'Souza, one of our parishioners from Don Bosco Nashik, died very suddenly yesterday. She was just 52. She leaves behind her husband Dominic, and two sons, Bosco and Keith.

Lucy and Dominic were part of the first group of Salesian Cooperators in Don Bosco Parish Nashik. When the group was revived a couple of years ago, they returned and remained actively involved. Lucy was not an up front type of leader, but she was always there, a solid pillar of support and source of strength, quietly inspiring and leading by word and example.

She used to be manager at Janalakshmi Bank up until a couple of years ago, when she decided to resign. Ostensibly the reason was that she wanted to be with Keith who was at the time studying in Goa. Perhaps the real reasons were elsewhere, because Lucy now began a life of intense prayer. I am not quite sure how, but she became involved in the Charismatic Renewal. People came to know that she had the gift of prayer, and I think many of them began coming to her. I am not now able to recall the details, but this much I am sure of, that she would spend a great part of the day in prayer, and that her prayer often had physical manifestations, which I have seen myself. But the physical manifestations might not be the important thing. The important thing was that Lucy loved God and believed. I would often entrust particular intentions to her prayers, and she would pray, and almost always we could see the effect of her prayers.

In the parish also, Lucy was the kind of person who every parish priest turned to. But she was never one to be seen in front. She worked quietly behind the scenes, like counting the church collection, and a hundred other things that often called for great reliability and trustworthiness. And she could manage all the parish priests, however different they were. She had a way of relating to them, and so was also able to tell them certain things that she thought were not right, or that she felt needed communicating.

She would be there for mass every evening with her husband, and then of course she would be part of the little group that would gather and chat for a while on the front stairs.

Lucy was wonderful when her mother-in-law died last year. Things had not been good between them, but Lucy was able to let go and forgive and let her mother-in-law go in peace. I happened to reach back from a trip just at the time, and was able to go and give the anointing.

Lucy and Dominic happened to be in Goa when dad died, and they came not only for the funeral but also for the first mass. And somewhere along the line, I discovered that Lucy's maiden name was Cardoz, which is also the maiden name of my mother, and since their families came from the same part of Goa, Lucy was delighted that we might be related.

It seems such a sad thing that Lucy had to go so suddenly, but there it is. I am sure she was ready for it. She will miss Bosco's wedding. Such are God's ways. Different from ours. But the beautiful thing is that Lucy lived a lovely life, and that is what counts in the end, isn't it? Very much the gospel of these days: don't worry about the end of the world, just live your life well. Eternal life is now, as Ratzinger tells us. "If you love me and keep my commandments, my Father and I will come and dwell with you."

Friday 16 November 2012

The Shefela

Wonderful view of the Shefela, from Tel Morasti
The Shefela - the hilly region in Israel - Palestine between the 'mountains' of Jerusalem and the coastal plain. Congrats to Gabriel for the photo. Note the way the hills recede into the distance. Extraordinary composition, if composition it was. The feeling of... the expanse, of light, of going, but in serenity...

5 Dec 2012: sorry: the photo is not by Gabriel - he happens to be in the photo, one of the two who are obscured by others - but by Luca De Muro. 

The Columbaria

The holes in the walls are the nesting places for the pigeons. 
These are somewhat larger, in a different cave

The cruciform columbarion

The cruciform columbarion
Maresha was famous for its columbaria - huge caves with nesting places for pigeons. They seem to have been really professional, with some 2000 birds in a single cave, supplying manure, meat and also birds for ritual sacrifices. Herod the Great's grandfather owned some such columbaria. 

Sidonian tombs

The Musicians cave

Tomb of Apollophanes

Mural - griffin, wild boar, etc.
Mural, hippo
not a mural
Maresha had a Sidonian community, a properous one, going by the tombs they built. The most famous is that of Apollophanes, son of Sesmaios, leader of the community, with many murals and niches, all now empty. Another is the so-called Musicians' cave, because of a mural with musicians. The murals were destroyed in the course of the 20th century. What we see now are restorations and replacements, on the model of sketches made by the discoverers in the early 20th century - the archaeologists Thirsch and Piters in 1902.  

Bell Caves

The Bell Caves, dating from the Byzantine and early Muslim periods. The caves were quarries, and were obviously dug from top down, flaring as they went down. The limestone blocks were pulled up by ropes through the central opening. The hard and stone structure of the nari and kirton layers made such caves possible. Materials were supplied to the cities of the coastal plain and to Bet Guvrin itself. El-Muquadasi, a 10th century Arab historian, wrote of Bet Guvrin: "It is a land of richness and plenty and in it are many marble quarries...."

Bet Guvrin - Maresha National Park

Entrance to the Bell Caves

Lunch under a carob tree

First crocus peeping out
The Bet Guvrin - Maresha National Park includes the ancient cities of Maresha and Bet Guvrin within its boundaries. The bedrock is soft white limestone (kirton) capped by a harder layer that tends to be darker (nari). This accounts for the many artificial caves in the region, as also the abundant use of white limestone in building.

Maresha is one of the cities noted in Joshua 15:44. It is one of the cities fortified by Rehoboam against Babylon (2 Chron 11:5-8). At the beginning of the 9th century AD, Zerah the Ethiopian attacked Judea and engaged King Asa near Maresha (2 Chron 14:8-10).

During the Persian period, after the destruction of the First Temple, Maresha and southern Judea was settled by Edomites who came from the southeast. At the end of the 4th century AD, Sidonians and even Greeks came to settle in Maresha, bringing with them the Greek culture. A few Egyptians and also Jewish refugees from Jerusalem lived there.

In 113-112 BC, John Hyrcanus I the Hasmonean conquered Maresha, and converted all the residents to Judaism. The upper and lower city became ruins. But Maresha recovered, though the population remained sparse. According to Josephus, it was finally demolished by the Parthian Army in 40 BC.

Bet Guvrin then replaced Maresha. It is first mentioned by Joseph in 68 BC as one of the towns conquered by the Roman general Vespasian. Following the destruction of the Second Temple, it continued to exist as a Jewish settlement until the Bar Kochba revolt in 132-135 AD.

In 200, Emperor Septimus Severus changed its name to Eleuteropolis and granted it municipal status. Five highways, all marked with milestones, led to the city from various directions. This was the period in which the amphitheatre was built. The Jews began to settle again, and in the 3rd-4th centuries Bet Guvrin is mentioned in the Talmud and the Midrashim and by Rabbi Yonathan and Rabbi Yehuda Ben Yaakov.

During the Byzantine period, Bet Guvrin was an important centre of Christianity, with a number of churches. The Bell Caves were dug during this time and during the early Muslim period.

In Crusader times it was a small fortified city, with a church dedicated in 1136.

An Arab village occupied the site until the War of 1948. 



Another view of the amphitheatre

The opening of the gallery under the seating

Artist's imagination of the amphitheatre in use

The amphitheatre converted to a market

A view of the amphitheatre from the outside

The Crusader Church

Artist's imagination of the church in use
Our next stop was at Bet Guvrin - Maresha National Park, which also contains the ruins of the Roman city of Eleuteropolis, The City of the Free. A smallish amphitheatre, uncovered not all that many years ago; and a Crusader Church and Castle. The Church was later converted to a mosque. The amphitheatre was itself converted to a market in Byzantine times, if I am not mistaken. 

Morasti, the town of the prophet Micah

View from Tel Morasti

Vernet explaining on the Tel

Climbing up the Tel 

Vernet pointing out the surrounding towns

View of the coastal plain from Tel Morasti

Tel Morasti
Tel Morasti - town of the prophet Micah. An old Canaanite city, overlooking the later Philistine city of Gath (which is not the present Kiriath Gath).

Vernet made us listen to two beautiful pages he had written himself, in which the prophet Micah introduces himself, his prophecies, the way others later added to his prophecies, and the geography and history of the time. Interesting, he also goes on to indicate how his book overlaps with that of Isaiah his contemporary, how he is the only prophet quoted by another prophet, and how his prophecies come true in the New Testament. "And you Bethlehem Ephratah, from you shall come the ruler of Israel...." (Mic 5:1)

Vernet pointed out that the last verse of Micah (Mic 7) have entered somehow, even if not literally, into the Benedictus and the Magnificat.

Here is Vernet's text, in which Micah speaks to us today:

Welcome, dear friends, to my village: Morasti or Moreshet-Gat.
I said “village”, but actually it was a town, well fortified by Rehoboam because of its position near the border with Philistines, in this extreme part of Shephela of Judea. Here and there you can still see some ruins of walls and towers.
You know quite little about me. Now that I think about it, I could have given some information or details about myself. I never mentioned my father nor any other person or event. I never said a word about my life, whether I was rich or poor, married or single, whether I had difficulties in my life, as Hosea, Amos or Jeremiah did.
I was so fascinated by God’s message that I forgot myself. I hid myself behind my message. Today this would be called an “absolute character”.
Moreover I did not have any secretary, as Jeremiah, who had Baruch who wrote so many biographic details of the prophet. I belonged to the group of the simple ones. But God wanted me as a prophet. In your Bibles I am the sixth among the “minor prophets”. And they divided my book in 7 chapters.
As you well know, I did not write personally all this material. Mine are the basic intuitions, the oracles, the exhortations and the threats. Then, according to the reception they received, other thinkers of Israel deepen those ideas and applied them to their own times and so they edited the book that hold my name during the post-exile period. Indeed, seen from the historical perspective, they interpreted my thought for their circumstances so properly that I myself could have written the pages that those later authors added.
For the most part, my message was due to the particular situation in which I found myself, beginning from geography. You can see the landscape from Morasti: it does not lack either beauty or majesty. Practically you can see the all of Philistine: not far from here you can see this huge “tell” towards North; it was the great city of Gat, one of the capitals of Philistines and once upon a time the refuge of David, with King Achis.
Along the coast, in front of you to the South, is Askelon, and further to the South, Gaza. Near the sea, Ashdod and, to the North, Ekron: this was the Pentapolis of the Philistines, the mortal enemies of Israel. I say “mortal enemies” not only in the political or military sense. Even in the sense that for us prophets could strike right at the heart: the moral and religious sense. In fact from them, as before from the Cananitees, many infiltrations came, which changed the clear law of the Lord and made Israel into a corrupt people, even more than the other peoples. You remember the Latin saying “corruptio optimi, pessima”
After the brilliant period of king Oziah, all the abominations of the pagans entered Judea, as it happen with Samaria under Jeroboam II: moral corruption, and religious and social.
The injustices were many and many the oppressions of the poor. For this reason, like Hosea and Amos, shortly before me, and as my contemporary Isaiah, I raised my voice against these disorders
I wanted to warn Israel and I even threatened Jerusalem. Luckily I was heard and the city was not destroyed: you all remembered the disaster of Sennacherib, king of Assyria, during the siege of the city. Indeed, this was mostly because of the king Ezechia, righteous and faithful man, and because of the presence of the prince of the prophets, Isaiah, man of the court with an enormous influence over the upper classes.
I did not want to get involved with matters of international politics, as Isaiah and Jeremiah did. I thought that the extremely serious situation of those times was very clear to everybody and the king of Assiriah was not a joke, especially after we saw what happen with Tiglatpileser III and later with Salmanasar V and Sargon II, who conquered Samaria and deported its inhabitants.
Talking about other things, I must tell you that for me was a source of pride (I say it among friends) the fact that I was the only prophet quoted by another prophet, and not just quoted but interpreted and celebrated. Read chapter 26 of Jeremiah, especially vv. 17-19 and you find the case.
Another case for my book is the oracle about peace that can be found also in Isaiah. It is useless that modern authors discuss who was the origin, whether he or I. Both of us were inspired by a beautiful song which exalted Jerusalem as a city of peace and this peace message, almost literally, as it was sung then, we put in our books. You know recite it during Morning Prayer under the heading “Isaiah canticle”.
The situation of my country had been critical. Further South of Morasti there was the great city of Lachis, well fortified, it seemed invincible. But the power of the Assyria king conquered it and deported its inhabitants to the land of Mesopotamia. Afterwards he had some low relieves sculptured on his palace at Nineveh, relieves very realistic about the taking of the city and the horrors of the defeat of Lachis.
Even Libna, which you can see below Morasti, was conquered. If you remember, Libna was the hometown of the last queen of Judah mentioned in the Bible: her name was Camutal, wife of Josiah and mother of Sedekiah, who assisted with broken heart to one of the most horrible crimes narrated in the Bible stories. There is even doubt whether she survived the barbaric slaughter of Nebuchadnezzar in the city of Ribla.
This land has seen so much blood!
Shortly before my birth, all this land was shocked by the killing which took place in Lachis with the death of Amaziah, king of Judah. He became too superb for his victories over Edom, Sela (that later will become later the wealthy Petra) and his defeat at Bet Shemes in front of the troops of Johas, king of Israel, and he became hated by his own subjects, who had to pay a huge tribute to Samaria.
Thus a plot against him was organized; the king was attacked in the court in Jerusalem but managed to flee and took refuge in Lachis. His enemies run after him over there and killed him in the city palace.
During my childhood and youth so many times I heard telling this story with a sense of fear and trembling. These feelings grow a sense of fidelity to the Lord, his laws and his people. History has always been a great teacher. Even though I was a simple farmer from Morasti, I heard God in the inner of my heart and tried to make him heard from other. Perhaps this was my charisma and mission.
Another thing which pleased me much was the fact that both Matthew and Luke quoted my book in their Gospels, both Gospels of the childhood of Jesus. Remember these passages: Matthew in chapter 2, talking about Bethlehem as the place of Jesus’s birth; Luke in the Magnificat of Mary (1, 55) and Benedictus of Zechariah (1, 73). You know that I spoke also about our Lady in the prophecy quoted by Matthew. For a prophet there is no greater glory than this: to talk about the Messiah and his Mother.
We all prophesized about the Messiah, in some way or another. I had this special intuition about the city of his birth, Bethlehem, the town of David, his glorious ancestor. Of course, talking about the Son, I could not avoid talking about his Mother: in this way I emphasized the human birth of what the theology of the New Testament will acknowledge as Son of the eternal God.
This reality surpasses so much any expectation that no one of the prophets could even slightly imagine it. Blessed are you who live at the light of the Gospel!
And so, my dear friends, today we talked together, since you came to my town. Perhaps you will never come here again. You have other destinations. But you can always feel me near to you. We can become, if you wish, good friends. God wanted that a simple farmer from Morasti, as I was, to keep talking even in your century. And you will certainly quote me in your future sermons.
Remember, I am the sixth of the Minor Prophets.

Roman milestones

Milestone, with terebinth and carob

Milestone with terebinth


Our second stop was at the Roman milestones, four of them, I think, brought together obviously from their proper locations. The Bordeaux Pilgrim of the early 4th century AD mentions these continually, measuring his journey from Europe to Palestine. He indicates that in 333 AD, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was still incomplete. It was, in fact, completed in 335 AD.

One of the stones has inscriptions in Latin and in Greek.

The trees around the stones are terebinth and carob. 

Canaanite temple

Our first stop on our second trip to the Shefela was at the Canaanite temple, which is found on the left side of the road leading from Bittir down towards Bet Shemesh / Kiryath Gat etc.

It seems this temple was discovered by accident during the construction of the road. It has a flight of steps carved into the rock, a shallow basin for collecting the blood of the sacrifices, of animals and probably also of children, and two sort of rooms carved into the rock face.

The signboard still says that it is a Roman temple. Vernet scoffed at the idea: the Romans use dressed stones, and where have you ever found them carving a stairway in the rock, he asked.

About the road itself: this was the road that David took to go down to the Valley of Elah, the Valley of the Terebinths, where he fought Goliath. It was also the road that the Holy Family took to go down to Gaza and onwards to Egypt. An ancient road, therefore.

From Egypt came the Pharoah Sesank to Jerusalem, where he plundered the Temple, and re-established his dominion.

The Valley of Elah. 1 Sam 17 mentions Socoh, which we will visit in February, because at that time th Lupinus Pilosus flowers in Socoh, and only in Socoh.

Close by is Tel Azekah, and Khirbet Queiyafah (the old Sha-arim).

In the 8th century BC, the Shefela was dominated by the Assyrians. It was a period of prosperity. Lachish was destroyed by Sennacherib, who for some reason was not able to conquer Jerusalem. (See Kings, Chronicles, Isaiah) 

Sigmund Ocasion (1976-2000), Salesian past pupil

I had a visit today from 4 friends of Fr Ric Fernando, among them the mother, I learnt, of a young Filipino boy who died at the age of 23 'in the odour of sanctity', as the old Italian biographies used to say. I remembered vaguely that there were one or two young Filipinos in the calendar of young Salesian saints that had been released years ago, but it was quite a thing to find myself in the presence of the mother of one of them. There does not seem to be much on the net about Sigmund Ocasion, but I found something on, strangely only in Italian. Here is a rough translation:

Sigmund Ocasion was a past pupil of the Salesian school of Mandaluyong (Philippines), to which he remained deeply attached even after he moved with his family to Toronto. A model to his companions, he died of cancer at the age of 23. He was gifted with a lively intelligence and a very special goodness.In the hospital after his cancer was discovered, he was called 'a special guy.' Fr Occhio writes of him: 'I saw in this young man the serene face of Christ in the Holy Shroud.'
Sigmund was born in 1976, and would have been 36 years old today. The only boy among four children, he  grew up in a wonderful family. He attended Don Bosco Mandaluyong from his early years. Besides being close to home, his parents thought the school would provide him a good foundation, human, moral and spiritual. In the school, Sigmund  received several certificates of excellence in religion and an award for being the nicest person. He was a member of the 'Friends of Dominic Savio' and of the 'Apostles of the Young', and also attend the school for animators. In 1992 the family moved to Canada. Sigmund impressed his teachers in Toronto with his performance, and his classmates with his kindness and availability, and soon became a leader. Among other things, he distinguished himself as 'an awesome basketball player,' so much so that he was taken into the Duke University team and became their best player. But life was not easy for the family in Canada, and Sigmund decided to pitch in to help his family. "Mom, I will distribute newspapers to help with the expenses." "You're sure you won't be ashamed?" asked his mother  "Why should I be?" Later, to help with university expenses, he worked in a fast food joint and as a dishwasher in a nursing home. After graduating at the age of 22, he found work as an analyst, showing reliability, competence and decisiveness. The president of the company called him 'a great man' and 'little president.' Just when it seemed that he was on to a life of economic and social success, the sickness manifested itself. Returning from the office, one evening in February 2000, Sigmund felt a sharp pain in his stomach. The diagnosis was cancer of the colon. There was trepidation, tears, prayers, the operation, and then the anxiety of waiting. The surgeon's verdict was not hopeful: the cancer was in its final stages. A Salesian came with the sacrament of the sick. Sigmund was serene. No complaints. It was he, in fact, who was comforting his family. Doctors, nurses, patients called him a 'special boy,' and he received a never-ending stream of visitors. He firmly believed that God has a purpose for his suffering. In the Salesian Newsletter of Canada (2000), Fr Joseph Occhio wrote: "Today, June 14, I will celebrate Mass for the repose of the soul of Sigmund Ocasion. Three months ago, it was discovered that he had terminal cancer. He has been a shining example of Salesian spirituality: his serenity, courage and peace until the time of his death made me think of Dominic Savio."

Sunday 11 November 2012

The widow's mite

Strange that this comes exactly on the day when the gospel is about the Widow and her mite... I received this from Pratap Naik, SJ, and I put it up here. 

Man of the Millennium.....
Mr. Kalayanasundaram worked as a Librarian for 30 years. Every month in his 30 year service he donated his entire salary to help the needy. He worked as a server in a hotel to meet his needs.

He donated even his pension amount of about ten lakh rupees to the needy.
He is the first person in the world to spend his entire earnings for a social cause.
In recognition to his service, the American government honoured him with the ‘Man of the Millennium’ award.
He received a sum of Rs 30 crores as part of this award which he distributed entirely for the needy as usual.
Moved by his passion to help others, Superstar Rajinikant adopted him as his father.
He still stays as a bachelor and dedicated his entire life for serving the society.
You can read more about him hereSee the attachment also.
All our Politicians, Film stars, Business magnets, Cricketers, Press and all Indians should be PROUD and also ashamed of ourselves. The American Government has honored him but we Indians don't even know that such a personality exists among us.

At least have the courtesy to pass this on and on till the whole world comes to know about this
Great Good Samaritan.
Hats off, Kalayanasundaram...
We Indians are extremely proud of you and say
"Lifewithout God is like an unsharpened pencil - it has no point."

Thursday 8 November 2012

The Western Wall and the Herodian tunnel

Yesterday, Victor Luis Cabanas led the First Years and a few others to the Wailing Wall and the 'Herodian tunnel' or the excavations under the Muslim quarter, laying bare parts of the City in Herodian and Roman times. Much of the Western Wall of the Temple has been laid bare, in this walk that begins to the left of the Wailing Wall as you face it, and comes up right in front of the Flagellation. At a certain point, the walk is literally through a concrete 'bunker'. This, if I remember right, opens up into a Hasmonean water channel that seems to have been covered up when Herod expanded the Temple precints.

Along the way, several synagogues. At the Warren Gate, which is the point perhaps closest to the Holy of Holies, there is also the Foundation Stone, the Stone upon which the World was founded, and the Stone upon which Abraham is supposed to have attempted to sacrifice Isaac in obedience to God.

Some points from the handout:

- The Wall and the Temple were probably not finished in Herod the Great's time. Roman coins of a much later mint were found underneath some stones of the Southern Wall.
- The earliest source mentioning Jewish attachment to the Western Wall dates back to 4th century CE.
- The earliest clear Jewish use of the term Western Wall is by the 11th century Ahimaaz ben Paltiel.
- Wailing Wall in English and its equivalents in French and German are translations of the Arabic el-Mabka, the Place of Weeping.
- During the 1920s, amidst growing tensions over rights to the Wall, Arabs began referring to the wall as al-Buraq, following the tradition according to which the Prophet tethered his miraculous winged steed Buraq at the wall.
- The Western Wall stretches for 488 m.
- Jews were banned from Jerusalem after the Bar Kochba revolt in 135 CE.
- The Roman Emperors probably granted permission to Jews to worship on the Mount of Olives and sometimes on the Temple Mount itself.
- Under Constantine I, Jews were given permission to enter the city once a year, on the 9th day of Av, to lament the loss of the Temple at the Wall.
- The Bordeaux Pilgrim (333 CE) suggests that the Jews probably prayed at the perforated stone or the Rock of Moriah. There are comparable accounts also in Gregory of Nazianzen, Jerome in his commentary to Zephaniah (392 CE).
- in 425 CE, Jews of Galilee obtained permission from the Byzantine empress Aelia Eudocia to resettle in Jerusalem and to pray by the ruins of the Temple.
- Umar built a mosque in the 7th century, and left the Western Wall to the Jews.
- Shortly after the siege of Jerusalem in 1193, Saladin's son al-Afdal established a charitable trust on land adjacent to the wall. Houses were built 4 m away from the Wall. 

Yad Vashem

Visit to Yad Vashem. My first, I think. (I don't think we did this in 1994.) David Neuhaus was excellent, with his three levels of interpretation. The museum is a wonderful piece of work, from many points of view: the meticulous reconstruction, the visuals, the narrative, the architecture. The central 'hut' beginning from the happy past and leading out 'through death to resurrection' - the view of the New Israel.

David said some things have been slightly modified after a conference in which Ratisbonne participated, making available to a larger public the documents which had perhaps been more easily accessible to Catholics.

Horrifying to think of what human beings can do to other human beings.

That this might never happen again - to anyone

The historico-critical method and theology

José Manuel Sánchez Caro, a priest of the diocese of Avila, spoke at the Dies Academicus of the Studium Biblicum Francescanum, Jerusalem, on “Historico-critical exegesis and theological exegesis: disjunction or integration?” ("Esegesi storico-critica ed esegesi teologica; scelta alternativa or necessaria integrazione?"). 

He began by recalling a historic intervention made by Benedict XVI on the floor of the Synod on the Word of God. Historic, because it was the first time a pope made an intervention on the floor of a Synod, theoretically as an equal among equals, and not as pope. He said that, unless two levels of exegesis were maintained, the scientific and the theological, we would not be doing justice to the biblical texts. This intervention was inserted literally into the recommendations of the Synod, in proposition 25, and eventually found its way into the post-synodal document, Verbum Domini. 
Michael Legaspi, The Death of Scripture and the Rise of Biblical Studies
Johann David Michaeli.
With the advent of the historical-critical method in Germany, which treated scripture like any other literature, Sacred Scripture took refuge in Pietism and in Fundamentalism. 
The Catholic difficulties were not with the technical aspects of the method, but with its hermeneutical presuppositions. The method was searching for objectivity apart from faith. As Albert Schweitzer pointed out, this resulted merely in results that were subjective, reflecting the particular preoccupations of the investigators. 
Richard Simon was the first among Catholics to use the historico-critical method.
Lagrange, founder of the Ecole Biblique, applied the method to the Old Testament. He had to stop his efforts. 
The opening up of the Catholic Church began with Leo XIII encyclical Providentissimus Deus. Then there was Pius XII's Divino Afflante Spiritu, which recommended a mystical exegesis, the cultivation of both literal and spiritual senses, but also recognized the legitimacy of literary genres, which was one of the cardinal points made by the historico-critical method. 
In 1964 we had Sancta Mater Ecclesia on the historical truth of the gospels, in 1965 Dei Verbum, in 1993 the Interpretation of the Bible in the Church. 
In 1975, the method was attacked in the Revue Biblique, as too complicated, and as separating (sequestering) the bible from the believer. In 1988, Ratzinger took part in a symposium in New York on exegetical methods in the different churches. In his intervention, he noted that God and faith tended to be excluded from the historico-critical method, and that theologians find it difficult to integrate the results of exegesis into their work. He also made a critique of the criticism, noting the presence of certain ideologies. His intervention led to many reactions, already on the floor of the symposium, all faithfully recorded in the Acts. In the Preface to the Acts, the editor took note of a letter sent him by Ratzinger, stating his intention to entrust to a commission the study of interpretation of the bible in the church. This is the origin of the document of 1993. 
In 1989, Joseph Fitzmyer published a study responding to the above. 
Discomfort with the method is seen also among exegetes themselves. Critiques of the method have increased in recent years. 
1. Some tend to the purely secular: see, e.g. Roland Boer, Secularism and Biblical Studies (London). But we could ask: do we have to be atheists in order to study the bible? 2. Others keep a clear separation between scientific exegesis and the reading of scripture in the Church. The majority of Catholic scholars seem to fall in this category.3. Others call for the introduction of a faith reading even in the university. See Reclaiming the Bible for the Church. See Daniel J. Trier, Introducing Theological Interpretation of Scripture: Recovering a Christian Practice. The canonical interpretation of Brevard Childs. 
At any rate, the problem is felt all over, Protestants as well as Catholics. 
Is faith an unacceptable prejudice in exegesis? 
2009 study of Gabino Ulivari.
What we need to do is to preclude dualism. This is the spirit of Ratzinger's intervention, proposition 25, and Verbum Domini n. 34.
A critique of the 'two levels' of Ratzinger is: can we prescind from faith in the first level? 
Caro: we need a unified exegesis. We need to respect the double nature of Scripture, divine and human. This is the starting point of any exegesis. An inspired reading of scripture is possible only in the Spirit and in faith. This can be guaranteed only within the Church, by the action of the same Spirit. 
Dei Verbum stressed the content and unity of scripture; the living Tradition.

My impressions: no mention at all of Lonergan. 

Gianni Caputa's observation: he forgot the Orthodox, and the Jews, who are both interested in the problem. 

Wednesday 7 November 2012

Goal displacement

From the circular of Fr Ian Figueiredo, SDB (INP):
A young man came up to my office recently to discuss his vocation and to seek guidance about
his intended choice.  He was certain of his vocation to the religious priesthood, but was not 4
certain which Congregation or religious society to enter.  After eliminating a couple of groups,
he drew my attention to the fact that he had not mentioned the Salesians.  I expressed my honest surprise at his not having considered the salesian way of life.  What he said next, floored me.  He said, “Father, I have not thought of the Salesians because you people come across to me as a society of managers and administrators.  I am looking for a group that evangelizes”.  So much for an honest appraisal of our lives without the need for a questionnaire or a sociological survey!
At that instant, I refrained from protestations, being convinced that they would have fallen on
incredulous ears.  Would I have been able to convince him that Don Bosco and his salesians
believe that they are called to ‘contribute to the salvation of the young’; that our founder’s
intimate contact with the Lord made him feel for those who are close to God’s heart;  that he
became, like Jesus, a priest who encountered youngsters on the streets and gave them hope and love; that he set in motion, in a spirit of creative faith, several initiatives to respond to the plight of the youngsters he encountered; that people responded to his infectious enthusiasm and joined him in his saving mission that was tied up with human development; that the Oratory was meant to be a home, a school, a Church and a playground?
India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru is credited with the observation made to Zakir
Hussain in 1948 that, “few institutions tend to retain the ideal that gave birth to them.  They tend
towards mediocrity”.  In a similar vein, sociologists tell us that institutions experience a subtle
drift of goals over time.  While stating the goals in the original terms, they experience goaldisplacement: what is actually happening is different from what is said to be happening.  Such goal-displacement, in religious life, is always in the direction of tameness, safety and
institutionalizing of the original vision (charism).
My dear confreres, PC2013 as a stage in the process leading up to GC27, is not so much a period of biding time to await deliberations and lines of actions, as it is already now, for each of us, a time to engage in honest introspection.  The Holy Spirit is at work powerfully in the Church and in the Salesian Congregation, urging us to ask some hard questions.  Are we ready to accept the challenge to refound ourselves as consecrated disciples of Jesus and salesians of Don Bosco?  If we are honest in our answers and determined to bring about a qualitative change in our lives that matches up to our Founder, Don Bosco, then there will be hope.  If not, we can only expect to become redundant, tame and lifeless.  The choice is ours!  

Sunday 4 November 2012

Growth in consciousness and suffering

Nothing is born into consciousness without suffering. (Au and Cannon 119)

Resting in the heart

Wilkie Au and Noreen Cannon illustrate very beautifully a passage from the Gospel of John that is often difficult to understand: the beloved disciple leaning on the heart of Jesus during the Last Supper.

They do it by drawing the parallel with another passage, from the beginning of the gospel: "No one has ever seen God; it is the only Son, who is nearest to the Father's heart, who has made him known" (Jn 1:18)

The parallel stems from the fact that both passages use the word kolpos18 θεὸν οὐδεὶς ἑώρακεν πώποτε· [c]μονογενὴς θεὸς ὁ ὢν εἰς τὸν κόλπον τοῦ πατρὸς ἐκεῖνος ἐξηγήσατο.

In Jn 1:18, it is Jesus, the only Son, who is nestled affectionately in the heart / bosom of God. In Jn 13:23-26, it is the beloved disciple who is reclining at table with his head on the kolpos of Jesus.

"The disciple whom Jesus loved" - not only the particular historical person, but also all Christians called to intimacy with Jesus.

The two scenes are pictorial parallels of what Jn says elsewhere: "As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you." (Jn 15:9)

Each of us is meant to rest intimately in the kolpos of God.

And the commandment to "love one another as I have loved you" (Jn 15:12) calls us to allow others to draw close to us in intimacy, to rest in the affection and warmth of our hearts.

(Au and Cannon 114-16)

The most difficult task

For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation. (Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, cited in Wilke Au and Noreen Cannon, Urgings of the Heart: A Spirituality of Integration [Makati City: St Pauls, 1999] 114.)

Saturday 3 November 2012

The Shema Israel again, in a ghetto in Warsaw

I remember again the story of the young Jew standing in the ruins of the ghetto in Warsaw, after the Nazis had destroyed it and carried away most of the inhabitants. The despair and the pain as he asks God why he has allowed such a thing to happen. And then the heart-rending cry, the ringing proclamation of faith: But even if you do not love us, I will say, I will shout: I will love you, the Lord my God, with all my heart, and with all my soul, and with all my strength.
“Something very surprising happens today in the world: this is the time at which the Almighty turns his Face away from those who cry to him... As soon as I have emptied the last bottle of kerosene on my clothes, I will put this letter into an empty bottle and hide it among the stones. If later someone finds it, he can perhaps understand the sentiments of a Jew, of one of those millions of Jews who have died: a Jew abandoned by the God in whom he believed so intensely... I will love you forever, even if you don’t want it. And these are my last words, my God of anger: Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God the Lord is One.”  
(The passage is from Gian Franco Svidercoschi. I can't just now remember the book. Svidercoschi is a personal friend of Karol Wojtyla. I think he is talking in this book about W's friendship with many Jewish people.)

Here is the full reference: Pier Francesco Fumagalli, “Fratelli maggiori, ‘maestri di fede’: La ‘Lettera a un amico ebreo’ di Svidercoschi, Avvenire (domenica 11 aprile 1993) 13. So the book in question is Lettera a un amico ebreo.

The Shema Israel

With the scribe we could put the question to Jesus himself: what is the greatest commandment of the Law? And we will hear Jesus replying: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” And he adds immediately: “And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” (Mt 12,37-39)

We should pause a moment to savour the beauty, the sublimity, the pregnancy of meaning of these words. All this came home to me years ago, in 1994, in a hotel in Jerusalem overlooking the Holy City. It was a Jewish hotel, and I was with an Italian group. At the end of the stay, the Italians decided to thank their hosts, and they did it by singing the Shema Israel. I can never forget the scene: as the words echoed round the hotel, all the Jewish staff stopped their work, and one by one came and stood around us, with great silence and profound respect, till we had finished singing. It was then that I understood the depth of meaning that the Shema Israel has even for the Jews of today: “Hear O Israel, the Lord is One. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength...” 

The Great Commandment

The gospel of the coming Sunday is about the Great Commandment: Love of God and love of neighbour.

I remember the Shema Israel sung by the parish group of Suello at a nearby hotel in Jerusalem.

I remember Svidercoschi's story of the young Jew in the burnt out ghetto of Warsaw: Even if you do not love us, I want to say: I love you, O Lord my God!

But I ask myself: what is it to love the Lord my God with all my heart, and soul, and mind, and strength?

Surely it involves giving first place to him.

What happens when God truly occupies first place, when truly I love Him with all my heart and soul and mind and strength?

All burdens become light. All choices are for him. All spontaneous and deliberate tendencies and actions regard Him.

And if I find that they do not, what other way is there, than to cast myself upon His mercy, to pray.

How did Jesus love his Father with all his heart and soul and mind and strength? He prayed. He loved. He gave thanks. He surrendered. He never became bitter. He could say hard things without getting all emotional,  and those things did not come from hatred. He prayed: Father. Hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

Friday 2 November 2012

The Judaean Desert and Wadi Qumran

The Gentle Plain (Judaean Desert)

The Valley of Ruban in the Judaean Desert. (The creature with the strange hat is not a Roman soldier.)
I joined the 'rusticatio' (rambling around the countryside?) with Vernet yesterday. This time the destination was that part of the Judaean Desert leading up to wadi Qumran. Our taxi turned left off the road to Jericho at Nabi Musa, the Tomb of Moses according to the Muslims, and deposited us a little further up, beyond a military camp. Then we walked east, but not before Vernet pointed out several features of the landscape: the Mount from which the goat would be precipitated; the general directions of several Byzantine monasteries, including Hyrcania and Saba; and the Valley of Ruban and the Gentle or the Beautiful Plain .

We trudged through the desert for about an hour before making a brief halt for refreshments, and reading of some of the verses of the Bible speaking about the desert. Then again for another hour or so, this time up to the edge of Wadi Qumran. Rugged hills. Some of the birds wheeling about were the blackbirds of San Caritoun, according to Vernet. They have a peculiar patch or stripe on each wing.
A view of the rugged hills of the Wadi

A view of the Wadi

The Wadi again

We had lunch on the edge of the Wadi, and then descended to one of the 'dry waterfalls'. Vernet told us that in times past the depression would fill, and at a certain point the water would pass through a 20 metre tunnel made by the monks of Qumran to an aqueduct leading to the monastery itself. The tunnel is still there - I crawled through it with some others - and the remains of the aqueduct.
Inside the 20 m water tunnel 

The aqueduct filled some 16 cisterns in the monastery, 11 mikveh for the ritual baths, and 5 for drinking and cooking. The ruins show a tower, plenty of these cisterns, a scriptorium, and so on.
A view of the ruins of the Qumran monastery, with the Dead Sea in the background

The tower of the monastery

The monastery is situated on a flat piece of ground that is much lower than the mountains from which we descended. It was founded in the time of Jonathan Maccabee (161-143 BC). Jonathan had been helpful to Alexander Balas, who in turn had done the extraordinary thing of appointing him High Priest. This was a radical departure from tradition, since Jonathan was not of the high priestly family. The appointment led to two schisms. The Oniads went to Egypt and built there a Temple, in Leontopolis. The other group was that of Qumran. They were led probably by the one called the Master of Justice. He was probably the one in line to become high priest. The Qumranites refused to visit the Temple in Jerusalem, which for them had become defiled. They conducted sacrifices in their monastery, though no sacred site has yet been discovered in the ruins.

Qumran was destroyed in 68 AD, by the Romans, on their way to Jerusalem. They probably resisted, and so the Romans stepped in to destroy the monastery. Arrowheads and charred layers have been found on the site. Some monks fled to Masada: documents much like those in Qumran have been discovered there.
Our students clambering up to Cave 6
Cave 6 again

The caves in which the famous scrolls were found are around this raised ground, and quite inaccessible now. Some of our students clambered up with some difficulty to cave no 6, and some returned sliding down the loose mud.

How were these caves accessed by the monks? Very likely there were accesses, which in the course of 2000 years have been washed away. It would seem that the Dead Sea was much larger at the time, coming up almost to the foot of the little hill on which the monastery was built. The caves are on the left side of the wadi as you face the Dead Sea, which is now really quite far away.

Amazing to think that the scrolls remained hidden - and preserved - all these many years, waiting to be discovered.

I was most surprised to hear from one of our students that a fragment of the Gospel of Mark was found in Cave 7. It appears that the Essenes had some contact with the Christian community. (Vernet: fragments of papyrus written in Greek were found here. The Catalan papyrologist Joseph O'Callaghan, SJ, proposed that these were from the New Testament. The jar containing these fragments, unlike others in Qumran, shows the name 'Rome' written twice in black ink in large Hebrew characters.

One of the hypotheses is that John the Baptist was a member of the Essenes, and was likely expelled for his unorthodox ideas. Baptism, it would appear, was peculiar to the Essenes; this is the strongest argument linking the Baptist to them. Perhaps John the Evangelist, who was a disciple of the Baptist, was also a member. That would explain how an ordinary fisherman could write a gospel like that of John. The gospel is also full of Qumranic contrasts: Light and Dark, Death and Life, and so on.

And what about Jesus? Did he know this community? Did he visit them? We do not know. But according to Vernet, it is very likely that he wandered around the Judean Desert, through the same parts that we walked: the Valley of Ruban, the Gentle Plain, the wadis of the Kidron and Qumran. They had water in those days, and he surely needed to drink, even if he was fasting.  

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