Monday 31 December 2012

An old family photo

Touched up photo of dad's brother Marcelino Bento, his wife Conceicao, and dad (Paulo Coelho). Seated is probably Conceicao's mother. This is probably the only photo we have of her. 

President of Israel receives Heads of Christian communities

H.E. Shimon Peres, President of Israel, hosted his annual reception for Heads of Christian Communities at his official residence at Rehov HaNasi, not far from Ratisbonne, to wish them for the new year. I think there must have been about 300 people, but that is just a rough guess: Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, even pentecostal groups, I think. The gates opened at 0930, and refreshments were available till about 1100, when all gathered in a large hall. The President entered at 1115, Lina Mahoul sang an interesting Ave Maria, and then H.E. spoke, in English, and quite spontaneously, even though he did have a prepared text.

The upshot of Peres' speech was: appreciation for the good relationship between the Christian communities and the Government of Israel; a strong commitment to peace; practical suggestions about the way to peace. He did not hesitate to speak about the situation in Gaza. No one wants victims on any side, he said. Israel wants to dialogue, but there is no response from the other side. "If they want to build, we are happy. If they shoot, we will shoot." He quoted the three conditions laid down by the 'Quartet' which he said Gaza should accept, among them cessation of terror, and recognition of Israel. I found it interesting that he even mentioned a possible Palestinian state. People have to make a choice, he said: war or peace. Singapore, which is only slightly larger than Gaza, has 5 million inhabitants and the highest per capita income in the world. Gaza could follow suit, with its 1.3 million inhabitants.

He also mentioned the Arab Summer, and said that Israel had no hand in it at all.

Some have objections to peace, but the real problem is that many are sceptical about peace. "I believe in peace," he said. Christians could play a role, he said, in persuading Palestinian leaders to dialogue, and, before that, to be able to speak in one voice.

The real problem of the Middle East is poverty, not politics. We lack land, we lack food, we lack water. Israel was faced with the problem of how to escape its smallness. It chose the way of science. It chose to deepen its science, not to expand its territory. "I believe that none of you believes in a conflict between religion and science." Israel has met two major challenges: agriculture, and home security. Now it is confronting the third front: health. There are remedies but they are costly, available only to the rich. We want to democratize health.

The different wars (which Israel fought?) were rational (national?); terror is irrational.

Good will is more powerful than naked power.

He made an interesting pitch for global corporation. There are two possibilities before us, he said: the traditional way of national power; and the new way shown by the global companies, who contribute to global values such as putting an end to racism and exalting a sense of equality.

"I am proud of our relationship with Christian communities in Israel. We have just now the best relationship between Jews and Christians in 2000 years." Earlier he had said that he respects the Pope very much, and that he reads what he says. I found it interesting that, whenever he spoke about the larger Christian reality, he made references to the Pope and to the Vatican. He reaffirmed Israel's taking responsibility to keep the Holy Sites open and respected.

H.B. Theophilus III opened by saying the gathering was  a celebration of our common humanity, and a living testimony to inclusiveness. He implied that the Greek Orthodox church was the Mother Church of the Holy Land. He affirmed clearly that he believed that dialogue rather than violence was the way forward, and that he condemned violence in all its forms and wherever it occurs. We have to outdo one another in kenosis.

He also mentioned groups that take the law into their own hands. But he appreciated the President for his clear and forthright position. 

Thursday 27 December 2012

Memories of Fr Giuseppe Moja

Moja in the Arese infirmary in his last years
A memory of Fr Giuseppe Moja from one of his friends, Danila Onda, from Italy (e-mail to me of 27 Dec 2012):
We spent Christmas in Ceriana with my mother, Fr. Moja had been there once, he liked the place and took some photos around the village. He particularly liked our big fir tree, he felt very sorry when we had to cut it. I recall he said mass once in the Mother Mary Sanctuary and his short sermon was touching like if he had spoken to each and every one. When we left the church a Lady from the village approached me and said "ho persino pianto quando ha fatto la predica". He knew how to be a man of few words for the good and the bad!! Il "Vecchio brontolone" as I used to call him.
Fr Moja's birthday was 20 December, which he had to share (he didn't like it in the least) with Fr Loddy, and also with the Rector Major, but Fr Chavez was usually far away, so that did not matter as much....  

Like the Rising Sun from on high

Bishop Enrico dal Covolo, who has been with us the last few days, shared a thought the other day: we think we are visiting the Crib. But in reality it is God who is visiting us. The gospel of the day was apt: He visits us, like the Rising Sun from on high.

The prophet Nathan to David, speaking in God's name: "It is not you who will build me a house. I will build you a house."

David dancing before the Ark; John the Baptist leaping in the womb of his mother before the new Ark of the Covenant. But in the Song of Songs, the reversal of perspectives: the Beloved coming leaping and bounding over the hills, and the Beloved is God. And Zephaniah 3:17: God exulting, dancing over his people.

The reality of Christmas: God visiting us. God dancing over us. God exulting over us. The joy is his, before it is ours. 

Tuesday 25 December 2012

A different narrative of the birth of Jesus

I found this narrative of the birth of Jesus in Stephanie Saldana's book, The Bread of Angels. It is a translation of Surah 19 of the Koran, the Mary Surah:
Bismallah al-Rahman al-Raheem
   Once, there lived a woman from the family of Imran who was unable to bear children. One afternoon, she went off to pray alone. She asked God, "Oh, you who hear and know all things, if you will give me a child, then I will offer that child for the rest of his life to your service." She became pregnant, and when the time came for her to give birth, she discovered that she had delivered a girl. "Oh God!" she said. "I have delivered a girl and not a boy!"
   "I know what you have delivered," God responded, "and I shall name her Mary and protect her and her descendants from Satan."
   Mary grew in purity and beauty. She dedicated her life to praying in the temple, and she knew no man. God watched over her, and took care of her, and gave her fruits out of season.
   One day, when Mary was alone in a place in the east, God sent an angel to her in the form of a man.
   Mary was frightened. "I seek refuge in the Compassionate," she called out.
   The angel answered, "I am a messenger from God, sent to announce the gift of a holy son. Oh Mary! God has blessed you with a Word from him named the Messiah Jesus, son of Mary."
   Mary responded, "How can I give birth to a child, when I have known no man?"
   The angel answered, "That is how it is, for God creates what he wills, he can simply say Be! And it will be."
   Mary became pregnant. So she left the city for a faraway place and waited. Her labor pains hit her so strongly that she collapsed beneath a palm tree and cried out, "Why did I not die before this, that I would have been forgotten and out of sight?"
   But he called out from beneath her, "Be not afraid! For God has sent from beneath you a source of water. So shake the tree trunk, and he will make new dates fall on you from the tree. Eat, and drink, that your eye can rejoice, and if you see any man, do not speak to him."
   So Mary gave birth to Jesus. (201-2)
The Sheikha guiding Stephanie in the reading of the Koran notes that even the prophet Jesus, PBUH, does not have a chapter named after him in the Koran. "Mary is extremely precious to us. There is a debate in Islam as to whether or not Mary herself is a prophet. In fact there is a hadith of the prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, which says that Mary will be the first of us to enter paradise at the end of the world." (201)

The angel, the miraculous conception, they are all there. And, going by the hadith cited by the Sheikha, even an allusion to the Assumption. And Jesus, son of Mary, is the Word, and he is the Messiah. Son of Mary: true, because he has no earthly father. The difference lies in the Muslim struggle to respect the Oneness of God. Not so different from the Jewish struggle. But then was it easy for anyone, is it easy for anyone. Not for Joseph. Not for Mary herself. The Sheikha again:
It's one of the chapters Muslims memorize the most often. For us, our mother Mary, peace be upon her, is the model of female piety. She is also a rebel in her society who risked losing everything in order to follow her destiny. She never married, and no one would have believed her if she had told them about her meeting with the angel. Still, she had faith, even when she did not understand what was being asked of her life. That is what allows her to leave everything and to walk off alone, without food or water, waiting to give birth to a child. (202-3)
Feb 2014: Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald mentioned, in the course of his lecture on Christians reading the Koran, that the Mary Surah had something to do with the Apocryphal Gospel of James. Not surprising that the Prophet accessed / picked up this. There was no internet and there were no libraries stocking all the canonical books at the time.

Monday 24 December 2012

The Nativity Basilica and the Grotto, Bethlehem

The Nativity Basilica from the outside. This is the only church in the Holy Land that survives from before 614 AD, when the Persians sacked all the churches they could find. This one was left, because of the images of the 3 Magi, who the Persians recognized as their own...

The entrance to the Basilica... You have to bend when entering

The entrance to the Grotto, which is an underground cave 

Mass in the Grotto

The mass again...
Pictures of the Nativity Basilica and the Grotto from last year, 2011... 

Sunday 23 December 2012

Jesus is not just a number

 A Christmas thought borrowed from a wish sent to me by Mauro Mantovani: the birth of Jesus reminding us that every one of us is unique, every human being special.
«Christmas is the feast of man. A human being is born. He is one of the millions and millions of people who have been born, are being born and will be born on earth. A human being, one item in the vast range of statistics. It is not without reason that Jesus came into the world when a census 'was being held, when a Roman emperor wanted to know the number of subjects in his territory. A human being is an object to be counted, something considered under the aspect of quantity, one of many millions. Yet at the same time he is a single being, unique and unrepeatable. If we celebrate with such solemnity the birth of Jesus, it is to bear witness that every human being somebody unique and unrepeatable. If our human statistics, human categories, human political, economic and social systems, and mere human possibilities fail to ensure that man can be born, live and act as one who is unique and unrepeatable, then all this is ensured by God. For God and before God, the human being is always unique and unrepeatable, somebody thought of and chosen from eternity, some called and identified by his own name»
(Pope John Paul II, Christmas 1978)

“…he will exult over you with loud singing.” (Zephaniah 3:17)

From the Shadyside Presbyterian Church blog,, this beautiful reflection around Zeph 3:17:

Our God, to the best of my knowledge this is the only passage of the Bible that refers to you singing, or even exulting.  To exult is to do more than simply be happy.  It depicts a joy that erupts from a deep place, and so those who have this joy must burst into song.
The prophet claimed that this is what you would do on the day that you entered our midst.  So Christians have long associated this prophecy with the heavenly host singing over the shepherds on the night Christ was born.  I think we’ve been right about that.
The fascinating thing to me is that, on the first Christmas night, you were the only one singing.  The shepherds were “terrified.”  Mary was “pondering.”  And we have no idea what Joseph was thinking at this point.  But you understood the depths of the joy long before the rest of us.  So it has always been.
You exulted with joy only because you love us and found us in Jesus Christ.  It’s a good thing for us that this is your reason for being so thrilled, because the human race is a little slow – especially in catching on to the things that make heaven sing.  Amen.

Saturday 22 December 2012

Salvation - what might that be?

So what is salvation? I think the state in which one enjoys the supernatural virtues - faith, hope and charity - is one way of describing it. Or: being right with God - which is justice. Or having a right relationship with God - which would be a more personalistic way of putting it, as Ratzinger does. Certainly the signs are clear: the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control (Gal 5:22)

And how might salvation be related to issues of justice, poverty, oppression, war, strife? Poverty and injustice in India, injustice and hatred and strife out here...

Ratzinger reminds us that Jesus forgives first, and then he heals, to show that he has the power to forgive. In another place he does not hesitate to feed the hungry crowd - but soon after we find him discoursing on the Bread of Life: You seek me because you have had your fill. Do not labour for the bread that perishes, work instead for the Bread of Life. There is both. And certainly, the fact that it was under Ratzinger that the document on Liberation Theology was issued does not mean at all that a follower of Jesus has the right to ignore the sadness and the suffering of the world. Deus Caritas Est is enough evidence of that.

The point is to remember that at the root there is our relationship to God. After we have overcome all structural sin, we will still have to understand that life is to be found often in the midst of death, peace in surrender and acceptance. The sacrifice of obedience. That is why John is profoundly right when he equates the crucifixion with the glorification. 

The name of Jesus

The NAME: how much that means in this culture. The name Jesus (Jeshua) means "YHWH is salvation," Ratzinger reminds us. Yeshua - that is how both Hebrew and Arabic speakers refer to Jesus here. The angel expounds: "He will save his people from their sins." And Ratzinger comments: this is both too much and too little. Too much because it trespasses upon God; too little, because people were waiting for something far more concrete.

In our time, this is still a challenge. What does Jesus save us from? 'Saving us from our sins': is that enough in a world blighted with such injustices and sufferings? Ratzinger reminds us here of Jesus faced with the paralytic who is let down in front of him: Your sins are forgiven. And then he comments:
Man is a relational being. [!] And if his first, fundamental relationship is disturbed - his relationship with God - then nothing else can be truly in order. This is where the priority lies in Jesus' message and ministry: before all else, he wants to point man toward the essence of his malady, and to show him - if you are not healed there, then however many good things you may find, you are not truly healed. (Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, 44)
This is the whole struggle for a person of my generation - and here is perhaps the difference between my generation and that of our students here - to understand truly the meaning of what Ratzinger is saying.

But then do our students themselves truly understand? They are certainly more ready to believe and to profess what we would have hesitated to believe and profess. But - have they made it their own? What does it mean to them, the forgiveness of sins, and the saving work of Jesus? 

Joseph's obedience

Wonderful to see Ratzinger outlining something I had begun to suspect: that Joseph's obedience is the fruit of a lifetime of discernment. Ratzinger speaks of "an essential quality of the figure of Saint Joseph: his capacity to perceive the divine and his ability to discern. Only a man who is inwardly watchful for the divine, only someone with a real sensitivity for God and his ways, can receive God's message in this way. And an ability to discern was necessary in order to know whether it was simply a dream or whether God's messenger had truly appeared to him and addressed him." (Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives 41.)

And when Ratzinger speaks of Joseph's "inner struggle... to make sense of this breathtaking dream-message" I could not help thinking of Vernet's meditations in Tu Giuseppe.

And another thought: Joseph is here the classical figure of the Jewish believer confronted with the mystery of Jesus. What a challenge that is. 

Friday 21 December 2012

Lonergan on Mystical experience

Finally, while everyone by the dynamic structure of his being is orientated into the second sphere, it seems reserved to the outer accident of circumstance and the inner accident of temperamental disposition to call forth the more intense experiences that leave one now aghast, now amazed, now entranced. (B. Lonergan, Insight, CWL 3:556)
This is from ch. 17 of Insight, section 1 on Metaphysics, Mystery and Myth, and the two spheres are (1) the sphere of reality that is domesticated, familiar, common, and (2) the sphere of the ulterior unknown, of the unexplored and strange, of the undefined surplus of significance and momentousness.  

Joseph's justice

Ratzinger reflecting on Joseph's decision to put away Mary quietly. Joseph the just man, the zaddik. Just as 'believer' sums up the NT attitude, 'just man' sums up the OT attitude. But what is wonderful that with Joseph, already something new begins: the combination of law and love. Joseph deciding not to put Mary to shame, to put her away quietly. Wonderful. (Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, 38-41)

Thursday 20 December 2012

Mary, Ark of the Covenant

Mary, Ark of the Covenant, becoming so real day by day. The David story, David dancing before the Ark, and the parallel with the Visitation story, the baby Baptist leaping in the womb of his mother before the New Ark of the Covenant, has always been dear to me. And now, from different sides, there is more gathering around this theme, this lovely title. The other day Gianni Caputa gave a 'brief' goodnight talk in four points. He began with the burning bush which tradition has it was the acacia spinosa, with thorns growing not only outward but also inward, the inward thorns signifying the fact that God suffers with his people.... He went on to say that the Ark of the Covenant used to be made of the same acacia spinosa wood, because that kind of wood was incorruptible. (In India a similar kind of wood, if not the same - the babul - is also very hard and tough, and has very particular uses.) And then: Mary in Byzantine art is depicted in terms of two symbols: the Burning Bush, and the Ark of the Covenant. It seems that the burning bush is a halo around her head, and the Ark of the Covenant is held in her hands, or perhaps on her womb.

Yesterday I was reading Ratzinger in Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives drawing out so many things from the familiar Annunciation narrative, all pointing in this direction: Mary, the New Ark of the Covenant. He points out that the book of Exodus speaks of God dwelling in the Ark of the Covenant as "in Israel's womb", see Laurentin referring to Ex 33:3 and 34:9). When Zephaniah speaks of "the Lord is in your midst" (Zeph 3:15, 17), it literally reads: "he is in your womb." And the text of the Luke actually seems to mention womb: you shall conceive in your womb. (Ratzinger 28) Then there is the mention of Mary being overshadowed by God's glory and the Holy Spirit. Here is allusion to the cloud that used to cover the Tabernacle, and that will cast its shadow at the Transfiguration. (Ratzinger 29) Mary: Ark of the Covenant.

Can't help remembering our visit to the Olivetan Benedictines at Abu Ghosh, and the strange modern sort of painting at the back of the church, with Mary in the centre, and four or five women dancing below her. We asked Bro Olivier the explanation, and he said the meaning was pointed out, strangely, by a Jewish soldier who knew that we regarded Mary as the bearer of the Shekinah: he said the women were dancing, like David, before the Ark. Wonderful. I wish I could find someone who has taken a picture of that painting.

Strangely, it would seem that no one has yet been able to explain satisfactorily Mary's reply to the angel: How can this be, seeing that I have no husband? Ratzinger points out that this is baffling, because the text indicates that Mary is already betrothed, and, in Jewish custom, that was equivalent to being married, even though the second part of the marriage had not yet followed, the entry into the house of the husband.

Stephanie Saldana

Stephanie Saldana's book (Bread of Angels) is getting interesting. I have finished the 'Incarnation' part and am about to begin 'Crucifixion.' Some of the things she says seem to hit deep. This is a contemporary conversion story, quite different from the classical ones. It speaks to me, despite the obvious differences in the experience field. And it is the story of a Christian experience that is not at all of the Pentecostal or Charismatic kind, and certainly not New Age. Stephanie recounts her experience of undergoing the month long Jesuit Spiritual Exercises, which involve getting into the text of the gospels, walking with Jesus and his companions.... And I like the way Stephanie is able to do that: as an American, as a woman. I guess it is the raw honesty that makes it so contemporary and so real. And perhaps lurking in the background somewhere, also the fact that this is a real person, who lives down in front of Damascus gate, and whose husband comes to class here at Ratisbonne, and sometimes sits in my office discussing Lonergan....

Sunday 16 December 2012

A Syrian Catholic experience

The interior of the Church

A rather young Thomas touching Jesus. The Syrian church has close connections with Thomas

A beautiful icon of Mary. The writing at the bottom is probably Aramaic
Today was a 'Free' Sunday - our confreres can choose to participate in a mass of some Catholic rite other than Latin. Some of us went to the Syrian Catholic Church, a newish church just opposite the Ecole Biblique, near Damascus Gate, outside the Old City. Bishop Melki himself was the celebrant, and six of us priests concelebrated with him. He was very gracious, welcoming us in Italian and even allowing us to say some of the concelebrants' parts in English.

The Syrian Catholic Church is related to the Syro-Malankara Church of Kerala - both of them, I think, belong to the West Syrian tradition, whereas the Syro-Malabar Church belongs to the East Syrian or Chaldean tradition. My impression is that the Syrian Catholic eucharist has been modified - perhaps even Westernized - and perhaps after Vatican II, but this is just a guess. From what I remember, the Syro-Malankara mass is far more - what can I say, exotic. If I am not mistaken, the liturgy of the bread takes place behind a curtain, whereas there was no curtain in the church we attended this morning, and the priest was facing the people.

But it was a very prayerful celebration. I think the Eastern rites have preserved far better than the Latin rite the element of mystery, the transcendent holiness of the Blessed Trinity, and so on. The mass was in Arabic for the most part, with the central parts in Aramaic, which don Caputa tells me is the Syrian form of Aramaic. The Aramaic which Jesus spoke was probably different, somehow closer to the Hebrew that we hear now. The Aramaic we heard during the mass sounded quite a bit like Arabic.

I forgot to mention that they were celebrating a feast that is not done in the Latin rite: The Dream of Joseph, with the angel telling him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife. My translation - probably the Jerusalem Bible - speaks of Joseph as 'a man of honour'. Interestingly, Bishop Melki in his homily mentioned the honour crimes that are still, unfortunately, something that happens in the Middle East. Joseph's honour was quite different: it was an honour that was compassionate, delicate, concerned for the other. And of course his justice which consists of obedience. How did he know that he had to listen to the angel, to a dream? Perhaps it is a lifetime of discerning obedience that led to this point... It was an obedience that was not easy on him. But he obeyed, and in this silent obedience lies his greatness. 

Saturday 15 December 2012

Do not pluck the flowers

Yesterday was the feast of St John of the Cross, one of the great mystic poets of the Catholic Church. Here is something from him in the original Spanish. I like very much the first verse, which says, in the third, fourth and fifth lines: do not pluck the flowers, do not fear the wild beasts... and you will pass both fortresses and frontiers. I put it down here with the translation.
Buscando mis amores
iré por esos montes y riberas;
no cogeré las flores,
ni temeré a las fieras,
y pasaré los fuertes y fronteras.
¡Oh bosques y espesuras
plantadas por la mano del Amado!,
¡oh prado de verduras
de flores esmaltado!,
decid si por vosotros ha pasado.
Mil gracias derramando
pasó por estos sotos con presura;
y, yéndolos mirando,
con sola su figura
vestidos los dejó de su hermosura.

3. Seeking my Love
I will head for the mountains and for watersides,
I will not gather flowers,
nor fear wild beasts;
I will go beyond strong men and frontiers.
4. O woods and thickets,
planted by the hand of my Beloved!
O green meadow,
coated, bright, with flowers,
tell me, has he passed by you?
5. Pouring out a thousand graces,
he passed these groves in haste;
and having looked at them,
with his image alone,
clothed them in beauty.

The Shabbath Rest

Just back from a Reform synagogue in the German Colony area. Fr David Neuhaus was taking his Judaism course people there for the Welcoming of the Shabbath, and I joined in. It was a lovely experience. I did not get the name of the synagogue, but David told us that it consisted mostly of American origin Jews, who spoke English, that they followed the Reform liturgy rather strictly; but that what he liked about them was their concern for justice and for peace, their openness to people of other faiths, including Christians who they welcomed to their services.

We were more than 50 of us who went. We had one book between two because we were so many, and the books had the Hebrew text, transliteration into Roman script, as well as English translations. When I heard so much of English at the start - people welcoming us, including the Rabbi of the place - I was not expecting much, but as soon as the service began, things changed almost magically. The initial singing and in fact most of the singing was led by two young girls, and they sang divinely. The music is extraordinary: extremely Jewish, I thought, and somehow so - apt and fitting. The welcoming of the Shabbath was quite moving: the waves upon waves of longing. To think of the Shabbath is to think of Rest, and I found myself thinking inevitably of Jesus: Come to me you who are heavily laden and I will give you rest. Ratzinger: He is our Rest. He takes the place of the Shabbath. The liturgy was for me the liturgy of Advent. All of Jewish liturgy is liturgy of waiting, of longing, of yearning.... It was powerful. Also the wonderful way in which structure and spontaneity blends, the way people join in. Very 'Protestant' and perhaps 'Charismatic' in flavour, but I found myself responding in a way that I do not respond to Charismatic prayer. 

Friday 14 December 2012

The Benedictines at Abu Ghosh

Two of the monks outside the entrance of the monastery

Bro Olivier

The entrance to the crypt on the left, and the door of the church on the right
Our last visit - and in many ways the most beautiful - was to one of the competing Emmauses - that of the Olivetan Benedictine Monastery at Abu Ghosh, down the hill from Kiriath Yearim / Notre Dame de l'Arche de l'Alliance. The monastery is in itself extremely beautiful, an oasis of green and quiet and beauty in the midst of a town that is quite beautiful in itself. But our visit was even more remarkable because of the hospitality and friendliness of Bro Olivier. Bro Olivier is one of the monks of the community, perhaps the only one who speaks English. He gave us a whole lot of his time, telling us the history of the place and the work of the monks.

It seems that this particular Crusader church, which adjoins the monastery, was never destroyed - perhaps because of the thickness of its walls, some of them 3.6 m thick. It was abandoned after the famous battle of the Horns of Hattin which the Crusaders lost, and was then used as a stable and things. In the 19th century the Consul of France acquired it from the Sultan, and in 1873 it was passed on to France. 25 years later, in 1899, it was restored by Benedictine monks from an abbey in the south of France, who also built a new monastery to support the old church. They left in the 1950s, and the Lazarists were here 1959-74. For 2 years the church and monastery lay abandoned, till in 1976 the Abbot of Bec in Normandy sent monks to Jerusalem, and eventually to Abu Ghosh. The monastery has room for about 14, and presently houses 9 monks. A convent across the garden houses 12 nuns.

The Olivetan Benedictines pray and work - Olivier used to glaze pottery, and now is in charge of making liqueurs, since each monastery has to be self-sufficient. They have no external apostolate. Hospitality is the main thing. Bro Olivier meets many people from all walks of life and all religions. For his diaconate ordination last year he said he was surprised by the number of people who turned up: Christians of course, but also Muslims, both men and women, Palestinians as well as Israelis, religious Jews as well as soldiers, and even 20 bikers with their Harley-Davidsons.

I think the secret is that Olivier and most of the other monks speak Hebrew, and that they have time to waste with people. That is the wonderful thing about being a monk: no other apostolate, and the great value of hospitality. They speak Hebrew, and pray in French, Latin and Hebrew. So naturally a whole world opens up. And they have the time. It's a great apostolate, truly an oasis of peace. "We show that we must live together, and that we can." "I can tell you that my political views are quite different, but I experience that people love me just the same." Wonderful. "I received an sms from a soldier that made me cry and laugh: I miss you. Take care of yourself. Don't go out into the sun."

Kiriath Yearim

From Emmaus Nicopolis we went to Abu Ghosh, which is the site of the old Kiriath Yearim where the Ark of the Covenant rested for some 20 years till David decided to take it to Jerusalem. This site, which is right on the top of the hill, is now occupied by the Church of Our Lady of the Ark of the Covenant - Notre Dame de l'Arche de l'Alliance. The place is looked after by the Sisters of St Joseph of the Apparition, who have a convent and a lovely retreat house on the site. (The visit timings are important to note: 0830 - 1130, and 1430 - 1700, with Sundays closed.)

We sat in the garden overlooking the town of Abu Ghosh and read the passage from 2 Sam 6 which speaks of David bringing the Ark to Jerusalem, the new cart, Uzzah being struck dead by the Lord, David sulking and putting the Ark aside in the house of Obed Edom of Gath, and then, 3 months later, seeing that Obed Edom was prospering, deciding to bring the Ark to Jerusalem, and dancing with all his might before the Lord, to the great scandal of his wife Michal.

Vernet noted the parallels with the account of the Visit of Mary to Elizabeth in Luke. Mary is the new Ark of the Covenant, carrying within her the Glory of the Lord. John the Baptist leaps / dances (SKIRTAN) in the womb of his mother, just as David was dancing (SKIRTAN) before the Lord. Just as the Ark remained 3 months in the house of Obed Edom, so Mary remains 3 months in the house of Zechariah and Elizabeth.

It seems many Jews visit the church of Notre Dame de l'Arche de l'Alliance, probably because of the sacred memory of this place. 

Emmaus Nicopolis

From Lod we went towards Emmaus Nicopolis, which is on the side of the highway opposite to Latroun. There used to be a very large Arab village here called Ammwas, which was completely destroyed in the war of 1948. In its place there is a very large park called Ayalon Park or Canada Park, which is where we had lunch. Adjacent to this park is the property belonging to the Betharam Fathers, and containing the ruins belonging to Emmaus Nicopolis.

There are 4 places in the Holy Land that claim to be Emmaus. Vernet maintains that the true Emmaus is certainly Emmaus Nicopolis. He proposes four criteria for identifying the choice of Emmaus:

1. Biblical: Lk 24. Here we have the beginning of the problem: there are two different readings regarding the distance from Jerusalem to Emmaus: 60 stadia, and 160 stadia. 1 stadium = 200 metres, or 185 m. If the 60 stadia reading is correct, Emmaus will be12 kms from Jerusalem. If the 160 stadia reading is correct, it will 28/29 kms from Jerusalem. Which is the most probable reading? One of the laws of criticism is lectio dificilior potior - the more difficult reading is the more probable one. Normally we do not make a simple thing more difficult or complicated; we tend to make a more difficult thing simpler. So the more probable original reading is the more difficult one - 160 stadia.

2. Toponymy: the conservation of the name through the ages. Till 1948, as I have said already, in the place of Emmaus Nicopolis there was a very big Palestine village called Ammaus. This is the only one among the four claimants that exhibits toponymy. The others are Kubeibeh, Abu Ghosh, and Coloniyeh which is only 6 kms from Jerusalem.  Nicopolis was built Julius Africanus, great friend of the Roman Emperor from Syria. He rebuilt the city to commemorate the place of the Christian tradition. [Another example of toponymy is Jeremiah’s Anathoth - Anata, Sebastia – Sebastiye, Thebes – Tubas. More than 400 names have been preserved in this way.]

3. Archaeology. Emmaus Nicopolis has 3 levels of ruins, Roman, Byzantine, Crusader, which testify to the importance of the place.

4. Literature: the Fathers of the Church such as Eusebius of Caesarea, Jerome and Theodosius all speak of Emmaus Nicopolis. They speak of the domus ecclesia, the house of Cleophas converted into a church. Pilgrims from the Byzantine time all speak of the same place, totally ignoring the other 3 claimants. Only in the Middle Ages, because of the confusion of the 60 stadia, two of these were created for the sake of popular devotion. Emmaus Nicopolis was too far from Jerusalem. Historians like Eusebius of Casesarea  describe a walk of 28 kms, the distance from Jerusalem to Emmaus Nicopolis, as something quite normal, though today we would find it too far. A normal person would walk 25-30 kms, even up to 40 kms a day. Jerusalem to Jericho and back was a day’s walk: 28 kms.

Archaeological excavations seem to reveal the remains of a large house, probably the house of Cleophas. It was eventually completely enclosed within a large Byzantine church. When this was destroyed, a much smaller basilica was built in the baptistery nave of the older church. This also was destroyed in the Perisan invasion and later by the Arab invasion. A much smaller church, consisting of part of the main nave of the old church, was constructed during Crusader times in the 12th century. The restored basilica did not survive the Crusader kingdom, and the Christian presence on the site faded away, except for the name which was somehow preserved in the form of Ammwas.

The rediscovery of the site is a strange story in itself. Blessed Mariam Bavardi, a Carmelite nun from the Bethlehem Carmel, had a vision indicating that she would be shown the site. On a journey passing Latroun, she did discover the ancient ruins of the basilicas. The Betharam Fathers, chaplains of the Carmel, acquired the site, and began excavations. These were done in 1880, 1924 and recent years, uncovering the remains of the two Byzantine basilicas and the ruins of the Crusader church. On the hill behind the ruins is a monastery built by the Betharam Fathers, containing a museum and the chapel of the Community of the Beatitudes, a community of monks, which lives here since 1993.

St George's tomb at Lod / Lydda

From Gezer we went to modern day Lod, the Lydda of the New Testament. At Lod there is an Orthodox Church containing the tomb of St George in its crypt. This church was built on the ruins of a large Crusader church.

The Acts of the Apostles speaks of Peter healing Aeneas the paralytic at Lydda.

The story of St George belongs to the 4th century AD. George was born probably in Anatolia or in Cappadocia. He was a Roman soldier, and he suffered martyrdom at Lydda, where there was a large christian community, and was buried there. With the peace of Constantine he was recognized as a great martyr and veneration to him spread rapidly. He is very much revered by Christians of all the churches of the Holy Land. One of the paintings shows a princess or a young girl in the background, while George fights the traditional dragon. It is likely that he died defending the virtue of a young Christian girl, the dragon being probably a Roman who tried to violate the girl. 


Tel Gezer probably has some 26 levels, beginning from the Cananean period, which is about 2000 BC, the time of the Patriarchs (more or less the time of the arrival of the Aryans in India, probably). The city is not mentioned in the stories of the Patriarchs because it was far from the way they took.

From Gezer we can see the magnificent modern city of Modein to the north and the Plain of Ayalon (mentioned in the Book of Joshua, when Joshua asks the sun to halt), Emmaus Nicopolis to the East, and Yavne, Rehovot, Rishon LeZiyyon to the West.

Gezer has a magnificent chambered gate, and 10 Ashteroth belonging to a Canaanite sanctuary. But its most important artefact is in the archaeological museum in Istanbul: a terracotta piece containing the earliest discovered instance of Hebrew writing, from the 10th century BC, the time of David and Solomon. It is really a simple agricultural calendar. However, there is now a rival, an ostracon found in the newly excavated Khirbet Queiyafa, and this piece is probably from the 11th century BC, which is the time of Saul. An inscription from the Siloam tunnel is also in Istanbul - Palestine was under the Turks in the 19th century.

Another important feature of Gezer is the very unique well from the middle Bronze age. This is the oldest water system in Israel, and its uniqueness lies in the fact that it slopes diagonally to the source of water, rather than going down vertically like most wells. It has a 70 m slope, and a 30 m depth.

1 Kgs 9:15-19 speaks of Solomon making a gift of Gezer to his first wife, who was the daughter of the Pharaoh - though perhaps this is not entirely historical, the book having been written much later .

There is an archaeological confusion between Hazor, Megiddo and Gezer, because all three have similar archaeological features, such as the chambered gates. These gates used to be called Solomonic gates, but now archaeologists recognize that they belong to the period of Ahab, son of Omri, founder of Samaria, about a 100 years later. The kingdom of Judah was small and inferior in comparison to Samaria, which belonged to Ephraim. Also, the so-called Stables of Solomon were actually stores for oil, wine, etc.

1 Mac 13:43-48 speaks of Gezer, which at the time (2nd century BC) was a Hellenistic city, being conquered by Simon Maccabee.

1 Mac 16:11-23 mentions Abubos, son-in-law of Simon Maccabee, killing Simon and two of his sons in 134 BC, in the Fortress of Doc in Jericho, above the monastery of the Mt of Temptation.

Thursday 13 December 2012

Third trip to the Shefela

The dolmens of the Canaanite temple on Tel Gezer

We did our third trip to the Shefela today. The weather held up - it was cloudy and cold, but did not rain. We took the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv road down, and Vernet was in great form. I picked up some titbits meant for the First Years.

- The Maccabees gathered at Nebi Samwel to fight the Seleucids.
- The Military Cemetery on the left contains the graves of Itzhak Rabin, Golda Meir and also Herzl. Herzl, the founder and ideologue of Zionism, was born in Budapest, lived most of his life in Vienna, and wanted to be buried on Mt Carmel in Israel. Ben Gurion overruled both him and his family, and had him buried on the top of the Military Cemetery, just outside Jerusalem. "His fame goes beyond his will and that of his family," Ben Gurion seems to have said.
- Latroun gets its name in a curious way. In the Crusader times, there was a fortress nearby called Le Toron des Chevaliers. Le Toron got corrupted to Latroun, and the similarity with the Latin latro for thief led to its identification with the village of the Good Thief.
- Neve Shalom is a peace village founded by a Dominican priest. Jews, Muslims and Christians live here even today in peace. The name means Oasis of Peace
- The settlement outside Gezer is called Karme Joseph, meaning the vineyard of Joseph. All the street names are after flowers and plants: so Rehov Kalanit, or the Street of the Anemone, Rehov Gefen, or the Street of the Vine, and so on.

Here's a run of the places we visited: Gezer, Lod, Emmaus Nicopolis, Abu Ghosh.

Geography: This is the Shefela of Ephraim, in contrast to the Shefela of Judah. It is the North North-West portion of the Shefela (the rolling hills between the 'mountains' and the coastal plain, 250-450 m. above sea level). It has an excellent position. The two best placed capitals of Israel are Shechem, because it is in the very centre of Palestine, and Gezer in the Shefela of Ephraim, which is both beautiful as well as strategic, not far from the sea, the Via Maris, from Samaria, from Ramallah. It is not much quoted in the Bible, because it was in contact with the pagans near the sea, and was sometimes in the hand of the Philistines.

Wednesday 12 December 2012

Bread of Angels

I've returned to Stephanie Saldana's Bread of Angels. The feeling is surreal: Stephanie is an American from Texas, who writes about her year in Syria learning Arabic, finding there both love and faith. And Stephanie's husband, Frederic, is a student with us here at STS Ratisbonne, and in fact, I've just gone through some chapters of Insight with him, in an attempt to begin covering the philosophy requirements for a Bachelor's degree in Theology in a pontifical university. Stephanie does not even attempt to change names in her book - Frederic, whom she met in Syria, is Frederic. When a book that looks like a novel overflows into life, it's a strange feeling... 

Maligayang Pasko: when faith reduces distances

Here is a piece, written originally in Italian for the website of the Naples province by Giampaolo Nicastro, one of our Salesian students here at Ratisbonne, which I thought I would share with our confreres of the Mumbai province. Something that we all take for granted is quite new for a young Salesian from Naples. But at the bottom of it all is the simple faith of a community of migrant workers far away from home – but very close to the child at Bethlehem.
When I was a kid, I used to think that my father started to put up the Christmas tree too early. Does it make sense to decorate the house when we are not yet in Advent? This year I changed my mind, thank to a simple but very deep experience which I’m sharing with some confreres and with some members of the Filipino community who I serve here in Jerusalem. This experience began already at the beginning of November – much before my father used to put up the Christmas tree! A sort of pre-Advent.
Every Saturday visit four or five Filipino families in their flats. With them we have a simple moment of prayer, then sing some Christmas carols, and then share something to eat. We are also recording some of these carols, and on Christmas Day all the members of the Filipino community of the Good Shepherd will receive a CD as a gift.
I admire the simple and spontaneous faith of these people, the fact that they really put Jesus at the centre of their lives. Celebrating Christmas for them means thinking about their families who are far away, and at the same time it means getting closer to them. In Jerusalem, as in Manila or in Naples, we will contemplate the same mystery, we will receive the same gift, we will sing the same song of praise to the Lord who comes.
Faith becomes visible in the smiling faces, in the generosity of those who open the doors of their houses, in the humility of those who ask for a blessing.
If Advent can bring such fruits, then I think there’s no problem having a longer Advent.
Merry Christmas! Or better… Maligayang Pasko!    

Tuesday 11 December 2012

The little prince and the fox

From Antoine de Saint Exupery, The Little Prince, ch. 21:
"Good morning," said the fox.
"Good morning," the little prince responded politely, although when he turned around he saw nothing.
"I am right here," the voice said, "under the apple tree."
"Who are you?" asked the little prince, and added, "You are very pretty to look at."
"I am a fox," said the fox.
"Come and play with me," proposed the little prince. "I am so unhappy."
"I cannot play with you," the fox said. "I am not tamed."
"Ah! Please excuse me," said the little prince.
But, after some thought, he added:
"What does that mean-- 'tame'?"
"You do not live here," said the fox. "What is it that you are looking for?"
"I am looking for men," said the little prince. "What does that mean-- 'tame'?"
"Men," said the fox. "They have guns, and they hunt. It is very disturbing. They also raise chickens. These are their only interests. Are you looking for chickens?"
"No," said the little prince. "I am looking for friends. What does that mean-- 'tame'?"
"It is an act too often neglected," said the fox. It means to establish ties."
"'To establish ties'?"
"Just that," said the fox. "To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you, I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world..."
"I am beginning to understand," said the little prince. "There is a flower... I think that she has tamed me..."
Sr Benedicta of the Cross connects this with Mt 11:28-30, the gospel of tomorrow, where Jesus says, with a surprising spontaneity: I am meek and gentle of heart." This affirmation, she says, is surprising on the lips of a man who is normally reserved in the expression of his feelings. En l'ecoutant me faire cette confidence, j'entends le petit prince de Saint-Exupery dialoguer avec le renard: 'Qu'est-ce que signifie "apprivoiser",' lui demanda-t-il? 'Ca signifie "creer des liens",' dit le renard. [...] 'Si tu m'apprivoises, nous aurons besoin l'un de l'autre. Tu seras pour moi unique au monde. Je serai pour toi unique au monde.' Osons perdre du temps a ecouter le Fils de l'homme jusqu'a l'accord parfait de nos humanites. Let us learn to waste time to listen to the Son of Man, so that we reach a perfect meeting of our humanities...  

Monday 10 December 2012

A flippant thought

A flippant thought for this Hanukkah morning. Did you know? Colombus discovered America because Jesus was born in Bethlehem.

Columbus was searching for India, and he found America instead. He and the Europeans were searching for India because the land route to India was closed. The land route to India was closed because the Muslims had won in the Crusades. The Crusades were launched because the Muslims had occupied the Holy Land. The Holy Land was Holy because Jesus was born there. So.

What would have happened if Jesus had not to be born in Bethlehem? No United States of America, for one, I suppose. No Christopher Columbus, no Crusades, no ... 

Saturday 8 December 2012

The Immaculate

The Marian dogmas have always been troubling to me, as they are to so many others - till Fr Chrys Saldanha gave me a little book by Joseph Ratzinger, called Daughter Sion. Wonderful little book, laying out so beautifully the scriptural basis from which the church's teachings about Mary arose. Ratzinger points out that in the scriptures it is the church that is called immaculate, and that, over the centuries, knowing that the church in reality is both holy and sinful, we learnt to say: at least in one person it is what it hopes one day to be: Mary, Daughter Sion.

Ratzinger points out that the historico-critical method does not lend itself to seeing how the dogmas emerge from scripture, simply because it tends to treat texts piecemeal. We need to see scripture as a whole, we need typological interpretation, if we are to see such emergence. And he goes on to point out how the sacred writers of the New Testament were quite at home with typological interpretation. When John, for example, uses 'woman' of Mary, he is quite aware of the long resonances of that word in the Old Testament, of the many great women there... and above all of the Daughter Sion, beloved and so often unfaithful. And here is Mary: beloved and faithful. Mary, the first believer. Mary, the source of the Church, mother of the Church, mother of all believers, Jesus' gift to his brothers on the cross. And so we believe that at least in some of its members, at least in one member, the Church is truly holy and spotless. Mary, Immaculate.

The second reading for the feat of today, Ephesians 1:3, in fact goes like this:
Blessed be the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ,
who has blessed us with all the spiritual blessings of heaven in Christ.
Before the world was made, he chose us, he chose us in Christ,
to be holy and spotless, and to live through love in his presence... 

Friday 7 December 2012

Better to limp on the Way...

A text I have loved very much: Aquinas quoting Augustine on the humanity of Jesus as the way to the divinity:

Aquinas, Week 9, Saturday, Office of Readings, from his commentary on St John's Gospel: "Walk in the man and you will arrive at God" (Augustine). It is better to limp in the way than to make good speed beside the way. For he who limps in the way, even though he makes little progress, draws nearer to the destination; but he who walks away from the way gets further from the destination the faster he runs. [Vol.III:157.]

Gentleness and pseudo-gentleness

Van Kaam speaks of gentleness and pseudo-gentleness.

Gentleness: one of the main conditions for congenial compatible compassionate unfolding. There are of course occasions when anger is necessary, and such anger is complementary to gentleness. Life becomes dissonant only when it forms itself exclusively around one or other disposition. Gentleness must be complemented by firmness. (Adrian van Kaam, Formation of the Human Heart 98.) [The Salesian combination of gentleness and firmness.]

Tradition sometimes distorts, e.g. when it leads us to believe that only gentleness should be cultivated. This makes it difficult to come to term with aggressive feelings. 'Anger is unworthy of spiritual persons.'

Gentleness should not arise from fear. It should not be an expression of our need to please people. It must start from where we are in our history: ideally, we are simply people of goodwill who sometimes experience anger, resentment and hostility. 99.

Excessive firmness is a sign of the need to be absolutely in control. Projection of gentleness: gentility. Impeccable politeness rather than gracious receptivity. Emotional life suffers deformities: loss of spontaneity, flexibility, vivacity. "This gentleness is only a facade; it does not flow forth from one's inmost center. One becomes a sick idolator of poise and perfect self-possession. Humanness is denied and maimed by perverted gentility." 101-2.

"Not only anger but any vital feeling may be deadened in order to maintain this pseudogentle, straight-laced comportment." 102. "A mask of pseudogentility may cover up the death of emotion, but it cannot do so lastingly. People soon sense a chill behind one's calculated expressions of concern." 102. "Paralyzed feelings sink into one's infrafocal life, but they do not remain inert in that dark region of consciousness. They grow luxuriantly like mushrooms in murky caves. Somehow they will manifest their hidden presence. Because one bans them from the light of focal awareness, their indirect expression will be twisted and deformed." Perhaps as physical ailments. 102.

"Contrived gentility also blocks the apprehension and appraisal of envy, jealousy, lust, pride, and arrogance. One refuses to own these emotions, to bear with them humbly while working patiently toward their reformation." not surprising when there are sudden bursts of harsh cruelty. 103.

Submerged feelings can twist into deformative anxiety, which can be crude or complex. Crude: direct expression in mind and body. Complex: rigid apprehension and appraisal, inflexibility, unyielding behaviour. Insomnia [?], phobias, depression, obsession. Smooth interaction is affected. [Lonergan on dramatic bias, scotoma, in ch. 6 of Insight.] Spiral development.

Breakout: through confrontation, usually with help of counsellors. This is the normal course when problems are still within normal range. 103.

For counsellors: recognise that pseudogentility can occur in people striving too anxiously to attain spirituality in accordance with some powerful religious or ideological tradition.
In severe cases, refer to experts. "Formation counselors have neither the training nor the time to engage in prolonged periods of treatment over many years." 104.

Deformative transposition of anger. to individuals. To groups: the filthy rich, the lazy poor, the stupidity of women, the foolishness of youth ...

The object may be oneself. Self-depreciation, and subdispositions: false guilt, shame, self-punishment. All may be concealed under a veil of vulnerable gentleness. Often, depression. sometimes, self-depreciation turned to others. 105.

Also: true and make-believe gentleness can exist side by side. Real gentleness is guided by congeniality, compatibility, compassion.

The main strategy of the false gentle life form is transposition of responsibility for anger to others.

"False gentleness always puts a great strain on our human relationships." 106-7. Some people will sense its presence, feel uncomfortable with us.

Pseudogentility and an obsessively preventive life-form. Fixation on deformative accretions of one's formation tradition by one's family, formation segment, or local culture.

Insofar as a form tradition is rooted in a faith tradition, the foundations are beneficial. But interpretations may not be so beneficial. The one competent to correct these is not the formation scientist but the theologian or philosopher. "Their work is of utmost importance for consonant life formation insofar as they influence our proximate form traditions in ultimate ways." 107. [Basic positions and counterpositions.]

"Form traditions, more often than faith traditions, may contain accretions that stress gentle appearance over inner formation. They may instill detrimental forms of false humility. These tend to deny the necessity of at least a minimum of form potency conviction. True humility means that one experiences one's form potency as a gift of the formation mystery. False accretions may suggest that one should negate, cripple, or depreciate any sense of form potency, as if its exertion were sheer arrogance." 107.

In other words: humility is false and destructive when it negates the sense of self-worth, self-esteem. Healthy self-esteem is built up on the awareness of self as gift of God, as beloved of God.

The supreme value: looking good in the eyes of others. Meek appearance no matter how one feels. Looking gentle is the way to gain acceptance. An original person will always feel throttled in such an atmosphere. Could develop prefocal strategies of prevention, among them pseudogentility. 107-8.

Compliant people may not develop the same symptoms as creative and original people, because they readily give up initiative and creativity. The latter instead are prone to develop prevention-obsession as a shield to protect their originality. 109.

Strategies of reformation. 1. being able to forgive the deformers. Most were well-meaning; themselves victims of deformation. 2. Total elimination may be difficult; but mellowing, even slight, is progress, liberation; more room for joy and inner relaxation. 3. reapprehension and reappraisal of one's gentility and hidden aggravation. This slowly affects one's decisions and actions. 4. Formation counsellor. 5. keeping a journal. 6. Reading relevant texts. / Never be discouraged. Believe in the just-noticeable improvements over the years.

Pseudogentility and the life of depreciation. Pseudogentility tends to be depreciative, while true gentleness tends to be appreciative.

Difficult to feel gentle when things are gloomy and life is disappointing.

Cynical sarcastic wit betrays a depreciative point of view. 111.

Self-depreciation, one cause of insomnia. Others may tend instead to sleep too much. 112.

Van Kaam on the formation of the heart

* "One rule for reformation of a depreciative inner life is to let go of our worries." [Van Kaam, Formation of the Human Heart, p. 134.]

"We should not abuse such precious moments of privacy to undermine our health and happiness by dwelling morosely on our emotional conflicts, tensions, and general stresses. Often we will find that in certain stubborn conflicts things finally do get well only after we learn not to fill our private moments with depreciative memories, ... and endless analyses of the problems concerned." [Van Kaam, p. 135.]

* Van Kaam's book seems to be good. Chapters on privacy.
- we need models, but careful that the models are not overwhelming. 151.
- we cannot grow without mediation from the inner- and outer spheres; but these are only means to disclose which of the directives offered is consonant with our preformation. 151.
- temptation to violate the privacy of insecure people. Need to respect the mystery of another, keep a respectful distance, tone down one's expertise ... 158-59.
- importance of appreciation in childhood: security as adult. More risk-taking. More communication with unsympathetic strangers. If an encounter fails, it will not destroy the faith and hope built in me by my experiences as a child. 163.
- positive experiences as a child also help me to be at ease when alone. 163.

Thursday 6 December 2012

Pier Giorgio Frassati

P-G was one of the few saints who did mountaineering, until John Paul II came along...

From a diary entry of Jan 27, 1991, Rome:

Life of [now Blessed] Pier Giorgio Frassati: Luciana speaks rather negatively about the role of [the Salesian] Don Cojazzi. Don Cojazzi, she writes, says in his books about how Pier used to ask him for a story about Jesus. What he does not mention, she says, is that it was only at the insistence of Pier himself that Christ was mentioned at all, during the course of more than two hours of lessons at their house.

It is interesting to note how horrified the parents are when they notice their son getting too religious: saying the rosary every day, going to Mass and communion. What is even more interesting is that they run to various priests to complain about this. There is even one priest who, at the behest of the mother, undertakes to dissuade Pier from reciting the Rosary everyday.

Don C seems to have been a confidante of the mother. However he seems to have done one good thing: at his word, the mother allowed Pier to join one of the sodalities.

For me it is very interesting: how could such faith arise in a context where everything was done to dissuade it? How could a boy, gifted physically, economically, and in many other ways, grow up so serenely? Here there is not to be found the desire to see for oneself what the other side might look like.

And the faith is not a world-denying one; it is, to my mind, even more inserted into the world than that of Don Bosco. Pier actually joined a political party--though of course, it was a catholic party, but a catholic party that was deeply committed socially. He joined a party radically opposed to the liberal politics of his father. Should that be explained in terms of psychology? His spontaneous reaching out to those less fortunate--how does one explain that? True, it happens among many young people, but there is always, as Rahner says, a tinge of rebellion in such reaching out. The leftist tendencies and the desire for justice are usually tempered by the advent of responsibility and authority. When one crosses sides, one leaves behind what is not truly one's own, what does not really belong to one's deepest self.

Not one to play with words, concepts, language, thoughts. The difficulty with study and with writing, explains the sister, must be seen as the reluctance to express what did not really come from the heart. A spontaneous resistance to the 'lies' of what goes under the name of education? But a deep love for Dante and the Bible. And so: not really an intellectual bent of mind, if by intellectual is understood a delight in words, concepts, thoughts, speculation, tinged with the delight in autonomy and the need to rebel, to flex one's muscles and spread one's wings. Does all this contribute to a simple spontaneous faith? Does one have to go through the rubrics of questioning all that one has received, in order that one's faith be soundly rooted, reasoned out, and not merely superficial? Is not precious time and energy lost in this way? One has to begin from scratch at 33, when one should be busy serving the people of God.

And yet: the journey of each one is different. One does not plan in advance. One learns to see the finger of God only from a distance, when far from the actual moment and happening. Yet the lesson to be learnt: not everyone should pass through this painful way. It is not necessary. It should not be projected upon everyone.

Should we then leave the salesian way as it is?

To take a cue from P.G.: not that he accepted tradition and authority as he found it. But that he stumbled upon, discovered, was caught by, seduced by God. At this level, the antinomy crumbles and collapses. The antinomy between freedom and tradition, between autonomy and authority. The Spirit blows where it wills; no one knows from where it comes or where it goes. Here is the source of true renewal. Not that P.G. followed anyone; but that he allowed himself to be led by the Spirit. And perhaps against this background and conviction, an attitude that is less rebellious, more trusting, in the authority of the Church, in the sacraments, a simplicity that allows the riches of the faith of our fathers to speak to us. The Eucharist, confession, devotions, the rosary, our Lady, magisterium.... As against too much talk and little silence, little desire to sit in prayer, little desire to be with others in their needs.

There is a simplicity and purity and strength in P.G. that speaks even at this distance.

And so: preaching and catechising need be less explanations, less turning the Word become flesh into words again; more of enigma and mystery and parable. Jesus never explains; his answers always throw one beyond the expected.

And conversion as the simple task of responding to the call to do something simple each day, every hour. Non-procrastination.

Don Bogliolo's homily on Francis de Sales

From a diary entry of Jan 24, 1991, Rome:

Feast of Francis de Sales. Don Bogliolo's sermon: What matters in Francis is not that he was of noble birth, that he was rich, that he was a bishop. These things do not count. What counts is elsewhere.
- even as a student, one hour of meditation daily, besides prayer, fasting. 3 and later 4 hours of study of theology, when his specialization was law. All this in the context of every possibility of a good life, like all his other companions. His safeguarding of his autonomy against their pressures, against public opinion, against the 'spirit of the age'.
- his leaving everything that life and his family and circumstances could offer, for the priesthood.
- even in the priesthood: the choice of the most difficult task at hand: the life of a missionary in the Chablais.
- the rigours of life in the Chablais. The night spent on a tree, in freezing winter. In a forno, when all the doors of the village were closed to him. The innumerable attempts on his life. Yet his charity won over the protestants to the faith: 36000 conversions. He practised charity, and he knew how much it cost, before he ever wrote about it.
- Paul VI called him one of the precursors of Vatican II: he made holiness come out of the convents and religious houses, convinced that every christian was called to holiness.
- Augustine: homini sunt voluntatis. Weak will, weak man; strong will, strong man. Francis, made to dominate, learned to dominate himself: true strength, true power: self-control, not domination and power over others. From being temperamentally choleric, he became the saint of gentleness and kindness and love.
- And a special light on Francis: every now and then, unknown to his episcopal household, he would fill his pockets with chestnuts, and go among the slums and the poorest quarters of the city, where he was unknown to his people and to the children as His Excellency, or His Grace, or His Lordship, where he was just 'Father'. Was it this that drew Don Bosco to Francis, that made him choose Francis as patron of his work?
- Francis the forerunner of the Council: Francis who cast in sharp relief the humanity of Christianity  The Christian humanism of Francis. He made it clear that to be christian was not to be less human, but indeed to be most human, to be fully human. To be christian, i.e., to be full of love, which is truly being fully human.

H.B. Fouad Twal at Ratisbonne: the New Evangelization

H.B. Fouad Twal, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, gave the lectio magistralis at the Dies Academicus of Studium Theologicum Salesianum, Jerusalem, this morning. The topic was The New Evangelization and the Year of Faith, and I think some of the salient points of the synod, of which H.B. was a member, came out very well.

I liked most Pope Benedict XVI's twinning of confessio and caritas: the two pillars of evangelization, he said, were confessio, knowing and proclaiming the truth of Jesus Christ, and caritas, living the word inseparably in love. Only when both these are there, do we achieve the evangelization hoped for in the Synod. The same sentiments were echoed by the Cardinal Archbishop of Manila, who said that the church must learn humility from Jesus, show respect for every human being, and discover the power of silence and attentive listening. Such words warm the heart: obviously they are words that emerge not only from learning, not merely from learning, but from the profound depths of hearts filled with Love.

Another great emphasis - which is really one of the twin pillars mentioned by the pope - is on Christ. Salesian   Archbishop Tim Costelloe paraphrased a former Rector Major of the Salesians when he said that the fundamental task of the Church is to return Christ to the heart of the Church and to return the Church to Christ, and again, that the only treasure the Church has to offer is Christ. H.B. Fouad Twal himself added: one of the greatest tasks we have is to continually point people to Jesus. The desire of everyone at the synod, he said, was to make evangelization a living encounter with the living Lord. The apostles and the first community of Jerusalem had a cause in which they believed, and for which they were ready to sacrifice themselves. Do we have some such cause? The cause has a name: Jesus!

All this could well become fanaticism, if we do not constantly keep in mind what Jesus himself taught, and what the pope has reminded us so clearly: confessio and caritas, speaking the truth in love, with profound respect for our interlocutors.

I asked H.B. about the atmosphere at the synod: was it hopeful, or was there a feeling of helplessness at the magnitude of the challenges and the task? He replied very frankly: it is difficult to generalize, but there were both elements, bishops who spoke with great serenity and hope, and others who seemed somewhat discouraged. I was thinking of what I heard Peter Bisson SJ say some years ago at one of our Lonergan Workshops. Bisson was talking about the journey of the Jesuits over four General Congregations, and their final point of arrival: not What can we do to redeem the world? but: God is working to redeem the world; our task is to believe in this, to ask what part we might have in it, and to play that part. A wonderful shift of emphasis, I think. We are people of hope, an Easter people, so the only question really is to find out what is our part, and to play that part.

But the other powerful thought and feeling that came over me while listening to H.B., especially to his constant emphasis on the origins of the Church in Nazareth, Bethlehem and Jerusalem, is the thought about the cross. Perhaps he was making a prophecy: inseparably connected to Nazareth and Bethlehem, inseparably connected to the mystery of the incarnation, is the mystery of the cross: through death to life. Perhaps the Church is undergoing, in many places today, the moment of the cross. And surely the Lord is reminding us that this is no reason for despair or for quiet discouragement. Through moments of magnificent destruction too the dross is swept away and the Kingdom of God draws near. 

Wedding photos

One of those classic wedding photos. Dad and Mum were married in 1954.

A wedding photo again, with names scribbled on... Back row: Tony Rodrigues (Borivli), Edward Coelho, Tony Rodrigues (Parel), Lourdes Cardoz, Robert Coelho, John Coelho, Peter Coelho, Michael Fernandes, Sabino Cardoz, and someone I don't know. Front row: Anita, x, x, Ramona, Grace Fernandes Dias, mum, dad, Marcelino Coelho, Annie Coelho Cardoz, Magdalene Coelho Fernandes, x, Rosy Fernandes, Margaret Fernandes, Borivli Tony's mother. The one below Parel Tony and Lourdes Cardoz seems to be mum's father, Antonio Caetano Cardoz, according to the scribble, but I can't recognize him here. On his right is Conceicao Coelho.

The wedding cake

Communion. The wedding mass was celebrated at Our Lady of Seven Dolours Church, Sonapur, Mumbai

Marcelino, dad's eldest brother; his wife Conceicao; Dad; and the old lady who is sitting is probably Conceicao's mother. Marcelino and Conceicao were first cousins, so the old lady is Marcelino's aunt as well as ma-in-law... The photo was probably taken in Carrem, where Conceicao's mother used to live. But that is guesswork. Either Carrem or Zosvaddo, I would say. Goa, in any case.
It was dad and mum's wedding anniversary the other day, 22 November. They were married in 1954, so 2012 would have been their 58th anniversary.

6 Dec 2012: I just realized I've uploaded some of these photos last year. Sorry! 

Wednesday 5 December 2012

Dad's birthday today...

Old photo... Zosvaddo? Carrem? If it's Zosvaddo, this may be the only photo we have from the old days with the kudd in the background

Golden Jubilee, Zosvaddo

Golden Jubilee, Zosvaddo

With Shaheen, Avinash, Vishesh, and Amish - 7 years ago

With Blany, Amish and Avinash, 4 years ago

With Avinash, 4 years ago

Dad would have been - is! - 93 today. 

Monday 3 December 2012

The humanity of Jesus

This is a homily to a gathering of Catholic psychologists at Mumbai, 26 Sep 2002. I put it here as it was given. The inspiration is from a wonderful article in the Italian Catholic review, La Civilta' Cattolica, but I don't have the reference with me right now. What I remember is that I had found it in my Rome years - which means between 1990 and 1994.

This morning, at this Eucharist at which we begin the work of our seminar, I want to begin by inviting all of us to fix our gaze on Jesus Christ. I want to share with you, very rapidly, a series of points about Jesus which I find quite fascinating. 

1. We don’t know how Jesus looked, but we know that he exercised a special fascination on individuals and on crowds. The gospels linger especially on his look. 
2. He must have been a healthy and robust individual, to judge from all the work he put in, his constant moving about, the stress of constant availability, the long nights spent in prayer. And yet he is never once reported as sick. 
3. He has an exquisite sensibility: he is a poet, attentive to details such as the lilies of the field, the hen and her chicks, old and new wine. And yet he is not a dreamer. 
4. He has a synthetic and intuitive intelligence. He has an immediate grasp of situations, he is able to see through the traps set for him, he sees things which others grasp with fatigue, and is able to express the most profound thoughts with simplicity, clarity, grace, and without effort. And yet we are not told that he studied: Where did this man get all this, is what the people say. 
5. We note his goodness. He is moved by human suffering: the widow of Nain, Lazarus. He is immersed in a sea of suffering humanity. Yet he sees and proclaims that the real evil is sin. 
6. He has close friends, and is thoughtful and faithful to them. He takes the trouble to visit the house of Bethany. He has an astonishing level of familiarity with Mary and Martha. He weeps at the death of Lazarus. And he loves his 12 chosen ones, despite the fact that they are far inferior to him in intelligence, sensibility, and nobility of soul. 
7. He is gentle and patient in reproaching, as in the case of the ambitious brothers James and John. But he can also be hard, as with Peter, when someone tempts him to set aside the Father’s will. 
8. His life is marked by a certain solitude and loneliness: the interests, objectives, passions, motivations of human beings are foreign to him. He is easily misunderstood, or not understood, even by those closest to him. 
9. His way out of solitude is prayer. He is hungry for silence – not to escape, recover, find himself, but to pray, to be with his Father. 
10. He feels keenly the transcendence of God, the abyss between the holiness of God and the sinfulness of human beings. He speaks so often of pardon, but he himself never asks for pardon. His life is hard and austere, but it is not a penitent’s life: unlike John, he eats and drinks. 
11. There is no trace in him of the dark night of the soul. There are no reports of ecstasies. He is not overwhelmed by his intimacy with God. He is always serene when coming out of prayer. Unlike the prophets, he is not overwhelmed by the Glory and Holiness of God. 
12. Above all, he is a free man: free from his family, from the Law. Free before Pharisees, authorities, powers. Free from the need for popularity. He seeks only the will of God. He has no illusions. He goes towards his death: he sets his face towards Jerusalem, we are told. He feels fully the anguish of death, yet faces it without histrionics. 
13. We have been contemplating the figure of Jesus of Nazareth. Even to people who do not believe in him, he appears with a wonderful and fascinating humanity. There is in him a unique combination of greatness and humility, of strength and sweetness, of intelligence and sensibility, of closeness to God and to human beings, of profound communion with God and tender closeness to human beings, of tenderness for the humble and strong words for the hypocrites, of absolute freedom before men and total obedience to God. 
14. We could go on to ask ourselves the inevitable questions: who is this Jesus of Nazareth? It is surely a question that each of us has asked, is asking, will continue to ask. This morning, it is not my intention to dwell on that question. My intention is only the more humble one of placing before us the humanity of Jesus, so that we who are in the business or the vocation of helping human beings to grow, might rejoice, be inspired, and be moved by the stature of the fullness of the humanity of Jesus Christ. 

May the Lord, who was supremely aware of himself; who was able to see through the crusts of prejudice to see what lies within the men and women around him; who calls us to see, to remain awake, to be alert; who clearly prefers the self-knowledge of the publicans and sinners to the hypocrisy of the Pharisees; who loves people and changes people by his loving; may this Jesus, the great healer, heal us and help us in our turn to be healers and helpers of our fellow human beings. 

Silence during the Salesian retreat

We have been discussing these days about Salesian retreats and recollections and the issue of silence. Here is something interesting from Giuseppe Buccellato, Notes for a Spiritual History of Father Gio' Bosco, ch. 5:

As time goes on, the model of the Exercises would undergo an evolution. About these early experiences of the Exercises, the Biographical Memoirs recount: “Don Bosco used to announce… that the retreatants were free to converse and stroll about; he wanted that, while they seriously considered their spiritual life, they should also rest and relax, and so he saw to it that appetizers and an extra course were served at lunch. His plans were enthusiastically accepted.” (MB 8:443 = BM 8:199)
Don Bosco clearly wanted to avoid discouraging his young ‘companions.’ But already in the next year, 1867, there was introduced a period of silence, from 1030 to 1200 in the morning. In 1868 there was added the silence from 1630 to 1730, while “tolerating the infractions of some of the more restless.” In 1869 there was adopted the habit of speaking in low tones after breakfast and after supper and noisy games were prohibited. “Towards 1870,” Don Lemoyne continues, “the days of the Exercises became six or eight, and were accompanied by that silence and seriousness even during recreations, that with the increasing number of participants are indispensable for obtaining good fruit.”
When in 1874 the definitive text of the Constitutions was approved the days of the Exercises prescribed were ten or at least six; silence was extended to the whole period “excepting the recreations after lunch and supper.” (MB XVI:416)
About this, we read in the minutes of the third General Chapter: “There was a discussion about the convenience of prescribing absolute silence after breakfast (the tradition of speaking in low tones persisted for a long time) or whether to permit a ‘moderate’ recreation.” The Chapter decided to continue as before, with 17 votes in favour and 15 against.
Don Bosco, not satisfied, presented the proposal again to the Superior Council. In an article entitled “Gli esercizi spirituali nella esperienza di Don Bosco,” Don Brocardo informs us: “There was a time when there was a discussion in the Congregation about whether to abolish the moderate recreation in the afternoon and evening during the Exercises. The Chapter [= Superior Council], at which Don Bosco presided, weighed the pros and cons and came to a vote. Six pronounced themselves in favour of the status quo, one for complete silence. It was believed, Don Ceria remarks, that this was the vote of Don Rua. But a note of Don Cartier, which I found in the archives, reads: ‘Don Rua told me that the vote in favour of total silence was that of Don Bosco.’”
In the light of the conviction that has caught root with the passage of years, that the atmosphere of festivity and communion that characterizes the Salesian spirituality is not ‘compatible’ with an atmosphere of recollection and of silence, this strange fact might be surprising to some. In reality, living contact with the story of the origins contributes, also in this case, to destroy certain common opinions.
In the case of the Exercises of the Salesians, as in other cases, Don Bosco makes use of the necessary principle of graduality. Don Pietro Brocardo observes in this regard: “Also with regard to the Exercises Don Bosco would do, therefore, what was possible: he had a high ideal, but he knew that such a demanding practice had to be developed slowly. His collaborators were still far from understanding the meaning of religious life.”
“If today the congregation is what it is,” Don Lemoyne said in 1930, “it is because in those times it was satisfied to be what it could be.” (MB 11:271 = BM:253) Don Bosco’s ability to present his project in a progressive manner is certainly fruit of his pedagogical wisdom. We have to be, therefore, very careful in evaluating some of the affirmations or choices of the early years, and to contextualize them in their proper historical period, if we are to avoid certain ‘minimalist’ interpretations of the intentions of the founder of the Salesians. 

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