Monday 30 December 2013

Saturday 28 December 2013

Spirituality and religion and ethics, yet again

Yet another possible danger of spirituality versus religion: the intrinsically individual nature of the contemporary search for spirituality in the West: the contamination by the individualism that originated with modernity. Which means that I am supreme, I pick and choose; and that I will probably not allow myself to be challenged. Thus Hahnenberg:
"[T]he principal weakness of choice - as a fundamental framework for the spiritual life - is the way it can so easily short-circuit personal transformation. If relgious traditions and religious institutions no longer provide the context for the spiritual life, but instead serve as resources for our own spiritual constructions, can they ever really challenge us? Despite the sincerity of the search, does Christianity, in the end, become a collection of commodities from which I pick and choose, determining whether or not they fit into my life - a life whose basic pattern is set well before any real encounter with the demands of the Gospel?" (Edward P. Hahnenberg, Awakening Vocation: A Theology of Christian Call [Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2010] xiii)

Suffering, pain and the goodness of God

Antony Flew's challenge to religious people: if you can show what might possibly falsify a religious statement such as "God is a loving father," that statement can be considered meaningful. If not, it is simply meaningless.

When a child is sick, his father goes out of his way, and will do all in his power, to try to cure him. We call such a father a 'good father.' He would be a bad father if he were not to do all in his power to cure his child. But God? How can we call God a loving father, when he seems not to do all in his power - and he is all-powerful - to help his children? What is the meaning of calling God a loving father? If the goodness of God is compatible with any and every state of affairs, what is the meaning of 'good' here?

A statement is meaningful only if we know what would have to happen to falsify it. So: what would have to happen to falsify the statement that God is a loving father?

Flew's challenge is formidable. Hare and Mitchell try to answer him in thier own way, but Flew makes short schrift of their answers. What I love is I.M. Crombie's answer, and to the best of my knowledge, Flew has not responded to it.  Here is the final part of the answer:
"There are three main fortresses behind which he goes. For, first, he looks for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come; he believes, that is, that we do not see all of the picture, and that the parts which we do not see are precisely the parts which determine the deign of the whole. He admits that if this hope be vain then we are of all men the most miserable. Second, he claims that he sees in Christ the verification, and to some extent also the specification, of the divine love. That is to say, he finds in Christ not only convincing evidence of God's concern for us, but also what sort of love the divine love is, what sort of benefits God is concerned to give us. He sees that, on the New Testament scale of values, it is better for a man to lose the whole world if he can thereby save his soul (which means his relationship to God); and that for that hope it is reasonable to sacrifice all that he has, and to undergo the death of the body and the mortification of the spirit. Third, he claims that in the religious life, of others, if not as yet in his own, the divine love may be encountered, that the promise 'I will not fail thee nor forsake thee' is, if rightly understood, confirmed there. If, of course, this promise is interpreted as involving immunity from bodily suffering, it will be refuted; but no reader of the New Testament has any right so to interpret it. It is less glaringly, but as decisively, wrong to interpret it as involving immunity from spiritual suffering; for in the New Testament only the undergoing of death (which means the abdication of control over one's destiny) can be the beginning of life. What then does it promise? It promises that to the man who begins on the way of the Christian life, on the way that is of seeking life through death, of seeking relationship with God through the abdication of self-sovereignty claimed by Adam, that to him the fight will be hard but not impossible, progress often indiscernible, but real, progress which is towards the paring away of self-hood, and which is therefore often given through defeat and humiliation, but a defeat and humiliation which are not final, which leave it possible to continue. This is the extra-parental nurture of religious belief of which I spoke earlier, and it is the third of the prepared positions on to which the Christian retreats, claiming that the image and reflection of the love of God may be seen not only hereafter, not only in Christ, but also, if dimly, in the concrete process of living the Christian life.
     One final word. Religion has indeed its problems; but it is useless to consider them outside their religious context. Seen as a whole religion makes rough sense, though it does not make limpidity."
(I.M. Crombie, in Antony Flew, Richard M. Hare, Basil Mitchell, and I. M. Crombie, "Theology and Falsification," New Essays in Philosophical Theology, eds. Antony Flew and Alasdair MacIntyre  [London: SCM, 1969] 129-30) 
In his use of Christian language and belief - and especially in his appeal to the resurrection - Crombie reminds me of John Milbank. The links need to be explored.  

Wednesday 25 December 2013

The all-sufficiency of God

Jesus the Gift, the Sign.
And when we talk of gift, the question that arises is: am I happy with this gift? Am I satisfied? Is it enough for me?
God in his goodness gives us the Gift, and many other gifts besides, most of the time. If God were to give me only this Gift, would I be happy? Would I be content?

The all-sufficiency of God: "All I want is you, Senor," Willie Juan learns to pray in the parable narrated, I think, by Brennan Manning. "All I want is you, Senor." "My happiness lies in you alone."
What else have I in heaven but you
Apart from you I want nothing on earth
My body and my heart faint for joy
God is my possession forever.
To be able to say these words of Psalm with all my heart: that would truly be Christmas.

"Neither death nor life..." Paul says. And how true this is. Perhaps Paddy Chayefsky, in his extraordinary play Gideon, captures this well: when Gideon complains to God about all the killing God is ordering, God - like Krishna to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita? - tells him that he must learn to see things as God sees them. Not death, not life, but life in God, that is what Jesus comes to proclaim: I am the Way, the Truth, the Life. I am the Resurrection and the Life.

Saturday 21 December 2013

The sign of Emmanuel

The coming Sunday, 4th of Advent, has the very same readings as those for 20 December: the prophecy of Isaiah regarding the Virgin birth, and the fulfilment of that prophecy as narrated in the gospels.

Isaiah tells Ahaz to ask for a sign, and the king, because he does not really want to hear or obey the word of God, piously says he will not put God to the test. The sign is given anyway, and the sign is the Virgin and child.

The sign that is given to us, whether we want it or not, is Mary and the Child. The Child who is Emmanuel, God with us.

This is the sign that is given yet again to us, today, everyday, every Christmas: God is with us.

Let me let this Word wash over me. Over my concrete reality. What is my reality? What is the reality of my life? What are my joys, and what makes me suffer? What is it that I find hard, difficult, unbearable, impossible? In the midst of that reality, comes the Word: God is with us. I am with you.

Suffering is of many kinds. Perhaps for today we could say: there is suffering for which I am at least partly responsible; and there is suffering that has come my way, in which I have had no role to play. If I am suffering because I have eaten too much pansit, and too many sweets and chocolates, then I am responsible for this suffering. If I have fallen down and broken my arm because I drank too much on Christmas day, I am responsible for this suffering. But if I fell down and broke my arm because I slipped on the ice, I am not responsible for this suffering.

In both kinds of suffering, the Word comes to us: Christ is born. God is with us. I am with you.

My first response is to believe, with all my heart. Do I believe?

My next response is to see what God is telling me. If I am responsible for my suffering, is he telling me to change? Is he telling me to stop eating too much, stop drinking too much? And if I am not responsible for my suffering, he still says: I am with you. Nowhere in the New Testament do we find Jesus promising us a life without suffering. What he does promise is: I will be with you, till the end of the world. I am with you, and that is enough. Is it enough for me? That may be the challenge God is putting before me today: to believe in his all-sufficiency, to believe that he is enough for me, that he is happiness enough for me, that he is my happiness. [Psalm.] Whether things change or not, God is with me, and that is enough.

Tuesday 17 December 2013


Impossible suffering in the Philippines, as also, differently, in so many parts of the world and the Middle East.

Our hearts and our minds ask: how? why?

And God's answer is very different, very difficult.

Paddy Chayefsky's Gideon comes to mind: God dismisses the questions of Gideon. You do not understand. You think too much like a man. For you this world, this life, is everything. I have a much larger picture. Can't help recalling Krishna saying much the same thing, especially in his Theophany, to the Arjuna agonizing over killing of relatives, teachers, friends.

God's point of view. Humanism, and the making absolute of the human. Rationalism. The third pole of the two-pronged dialectic (see Lonergan, Insight).

A constant challenge to one who reads the Word. How do we rest? How do we take vibrant, ringing joy, as on the 3rd Sunday of Advent, in the face of the miseries and misfortunes of the world, and of our personal lives?

Perhaps: "God educating us, leading us by the hand..." (Tit 2:12) 


The other day we had the gospel passage that follows Jesus' Jubelruf: Come to me all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest.

Ratzinger / Benedict XVI points out the deep meaning of rest here: I will give you rest: Jesus puts himself in the place of the Sabbath rest. He is revolutionary, and the Jewish scholar realizes that all too clearly.

Jesus is our Rest. He is our Home. He is our final destination.

How is my heart today? Is it at rest? Is it restless? If it is restless, why? And what can I do to reach rest? What am I doing that is preventing me from resting in the Rest? And do I want to reach rest?

And if I think it is at rest, have I truly reached the rest that is the Rest? Or have I perhaps mistaken some halfway house, some house along the way, for the Rest that is Jesus?

Spirituality and religion and ethics, continued

Further on the topic of spirituality and religion. (I've just sent something to Mark Ulyseas for Live Encounters January 2014. Not completely satisfactory. Not substantial enough.)

The well-known saying of Dostoievsky from The Brothers Karamazov came to mind: If there is no God, everything is permitted.

If God is dead, then man is the creator of values and of meaning (Nietzsche). This is, probably, at least a species of nihilism, where nihilism means that there is no inherent, intrinsic meaning to things, but that it is imposed on them by man.

In practice - as Nietzsche recognized only too clearly - this will mean that the strongest will impose his / their will on the others. The Overman, the Superman. The ideology for the Nazis. And the hidden, unacknowledged ideology of many others, including savage capitalism?

Stanley Hauerwas on the deep inconsistency and peril of the postmodern who, wanting to defend victims, ends up by not defending them, because what basis does he have for defending them rather than defending his own skin, or his own particular group? Rorty's ethnocentrism.

So: does God assure sane values? Does religion assure sane values?

Does the 'true hero' of Sartre, the atheist, have any light to go by?

Perhaps Lonergan would say yes: the inbuilt dynamisms, the transcendental notions.

Is he carried by the tradition? No doubt. And if that tradition is Christian, he is carried by it. As Gentile or Croce said: we are not Christians, but we cannot call ourselves non-Christian.

Or is it perhaps that we need to respect autonomy as against heteronomy, as Kant said?

The Epiphany or Appearing

"but when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit, which he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life." (Tit 3:4-7)

And the previous text once again:

"For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men, training us to renounce irreligion and worldly passions, and to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world, awaiting our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ..." (Tit 2:11-13)

When God appeared - when Jesus came - he saved us by washing and renewal in the Holy Spirit.

The divine pedagogy

"For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men, training us to renounce irreligion and worldly passions, and to live sober, upright and godly lives in this world..." (Tit 2:11-12 RSVCE)

"For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say 'No' to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age" (NIV)

What is translated as 'training' or 'teaching' here is paideuousa hmaV. God is educating us, leading us by the hand, so that we might renounce irreligion - or ungodliness - and worldly passions. I like this: God educating us, leading us by the hand. This text does not talk about dramatic transformation - and really, not even Paul's conversion was total and instantaneous. It talks about God leading us by the hand, through the ups and downs of life, bringing us to himself, to become like him. 

Thursday 12 December 2013


Alice Roosevelt of her father, President Theodore Roosevelt: "Father has depths of insincerity not even he has plumbed." (Gore Vidal, Empire: A Novel [New York: Random House, 1987] 381)

Tuesday 10 December 2013

Ferdinand Ebner (1882-1931)

I had first heard about Ferdinand Ebner from Massimiliano De Luca, a Salesian from the IME province. Ebner, Massimiliano told me, was known as the philosopher of the gift. I learn now that Ebner was, together with Buber, one of the philosophers of dialogue, of the I-Thou, something he discovered and coined quite independent of Buber. Ebner was a primary school teacher in Austria, and never became quite as well known as Buber, but it would seem that he did have a significant influence upon a host of well-known theologians, including Karl Rahner and Joseph Ratzinger. So that is one more element in the background from which Ratzinger's work springs. In the sense that his thought was cognate to Christian theology, if not itself theological, Ebner is also mentioned together with Gabriel Marcel. He himself, though Christian and Catholic, had a complex relationship with the church, struggling with anti-clerical feelings all through life. He is known as a philosopher of the word, and much of his thinking centres around the Prologue of the Gospel of John: "In the beginning was the word." (Wittgenstein instead played with this: Im Anfang war die Tat. In the beginning was the deed.) I find the little I have read strangely evocative. 

"In the beginning was the word"

I've spent the last week trying to digest John Milbank's "The Midwinter Sacrifice," found in The Blackwell Companion to Postmodern Theology, ed. Graham Ward, himself one of the names associated with Radical Orthodoxy, the new thinking that has emerged within the Anglican communion. I had read the piece some years ago while preparing for my talk on tradition-innovation dynamics within Christianity, and had come away intrigued by Milbank's reflections on gift. Now I realize that he is trying to reconceive the ethical in terms of gift-exchange, while vigorously opposing what he calls a 'recent consensus' that sees gift as unilateral giving, and that is associated with names like Jan Patocka (who I have never heard of till now), Derrida, Levinas and Jean-Luc Marion. The problem is that the idea of gift as unilateral is easily secularized, and even perhaps finds its best consistency in a secularized horizon, as I remember Sartre saying: the true hero, the true saint, is the atheist, because he does what he does for no reward at all.

Just now I am wondering whether to go on with this rather exciting reflection on gift and sacrifice and ethics, or go on to working out something to meet Gerry Whelan's request for a piece on Lonergan's anthropology. I have begun dipping into the pieces Massimiliano De Luca sent me about Ferdinand Ebner, another philosopher who I had never heard of, but who Massimiliano calls the Philosopher of the Gift. From John D. Caputo's piece in The Blackwell Companion, it is obvious that gift has been one of the themes that Derrida has made popular.

The little I have read about Ebner I find intriguing (see Baccarini, Emilio. “In principio era la parola: La svolta di Ferdinand Ebner.” Dialegesthai: Rivista telematica di filosofia [in linea], anno 1 (1999) [inserito il 10 marzo 1999], disponibile su World Wide Web: , [61 KB], ISSN 1128-5478.) The thought that comes to me is the fecundity of the word, the symbolic word, language that is pregnant: it has the capacity to arouse thought in a way that is so different from theoretical language or even the language of interiority. And I am powerfully drawn to it. That is what, in the end, I find fascinating in the language of the later Heidegger, I suppose. On the other hand, 'free' speculation is always easier.  

Ebner seems to dwell very much on the word, and on the human being as the speaking animal or speaking being, the human being as realized / constituted in the I-thou relationship. This is another revolt against the objectivization of the I in Cartesian philosophy. 

Sunday 1 December 2013

Byte size thinking

Is this an inbuilt danger of blogging, the web in general, and all the contemporary means and tools of communication - sms, tweets and what not - that we so easily limit ourselves to byte-size thinking? And is this perhaps not pre-eminently post-modern, the limiting oneself, willy-nilly, to the impression, the fragment, the fleeting, the superficial? Am I, in other words, finding myself conditioned almost into byte-sized thinking? Certainly there is the pain, the difficulty, the formidability of sustained thinking. Just now I have begun reading Milbank's "The Midwinter Sacrifice." Found, of all things, in an anthology of postmodern theology - Graham Ward's The Blackwell Companion to Postmodern Theology. Milbank tends to be formidable, and I am experiencing an unease, a dis-ease, the dizzying sensation, the vertigo, like I am about to step onto the glass pane at the top of the CN Tower in Toronto, which I know is solid, and that so many thousands of people have stepped on to it without incident, and yet the mind, the body holds back, cautious, unwilling to let go, unwilling to trust. 

Thursday 28 November 2013

The Gregorian Lonergan Conference 2013

The Gregorian Lonergan Conference "Revisiting Lonergan's Anthropology" began this afternoon, with registrations at 1600, the welcome by the Rector, P. Francois-Xavier Dumortier, SJ, and the keynote address by Fred Lawrence, "Lonergan's Quest for a Hermeneutics of Authenticity," followed by a drinks reception and dinner for the speakers at La Cabana, not far from the Greg, on via Mancini.

The Rector said that there were three reasons for the Conference: (1) it was the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, and Lonergan was an expert to the Canadian bishops (something I did not know); (2) it was the 60th anniversary of Lonergan's coming to teach at the Greg (he came in 1953); (3) it was an occasion to push Lonergan's thought further. He used a nice phrase: a theology that was rigorosa and vigorosa. Among other things, Dumortier also said that he had been a student of Fred Lawrence's at Boston College, 32 years ago.

Fred's answers to questions were particularly wonderful, perhaps in the way he combined intelligere with diligere, something he had himself been talking about. When someone asked him whether he saw a link between Lonergan and Rahner's mystagogy, he said: of course. And then: I really don't understand why people feel compelled to choose one theologian and reject the other. You can love them all. Lonergan loved referring to Rahner, and he once said to Fred: Geist in Welt is wonderful. Isn't it wonderful that he and I came to the same insights quite independently? And he loved Balthasar too. So: we need to have friends who can help us, we need to be friends rather than competitors.

A good gathering, the Conference. Met Bryan Lobo, finally. And Joao Vila-Cha, Francisco Galan and his wife Genevieve, Hillary Mooney, Tim Healy, SJ, Massimo Pampaloni, who teaches at the Oriental Institute, and of course Cloe Taddei-Ferretti. Jeremy Wilkins and his wife are here too. Chae Young Kim, Neil Ormerod, Catherine Clifford (Ottawa, specialized in ecclesiology and ecumenical dialogue), Joseph Ogbonnaya. Peter Fleet from England. And, someone I am seeing after many years, Matthew Lamb, who will be on tomorrow, with "Lonergan's Gregorian Years: Deepening his Anthropology."

Fred was sharing a story about Ratzinger. Fred was in Basel, attending Karl Barth's classes there. Barth (I did not know this) had been an observer at the Council - he later wrote Ad limina apostolorum. After the Council, he would do Dei Verbum one semester, and Calvin the next; Gaudium et Spes one semester, and Luther the next, and so on. Once he invited the young Ratzinger to field questions, which Ratzinger did in a wonderful way, without being defensive or anything. Fred said that, as the only Catholic in this very Protestant university, he felt proud of Ratzinger's performance. He also said that, in many ways, Pope Ratzinger had prepared the ground and made possible what Francis was doing today.

Sunday 17 November 2013

End time readings: Homily, 33 Sunday C

In the last week we have been already hearing about the Day of the Lord and the coming of the Kingdom. Jesus tends to be mysterious and baffling. If someone says, here it is, there is it, do not pay attention: the kingdom of God is within you. And again: two women will be grinding corn, one will be taken, one will be left. And the disciples ask: Where, Lord? And he answers: where the body is, there the vultures gather.

The Day of the Lord is about the end, about our End. And what is our End? We used to learn in the old catechism, in the very first question: why did God make me? and the answer was memorable: to know him, to love him, to serve him, and to be happy with him forever. The End, our End, is God.

Our End is God revealed in Jesus. "Show us the Father and we will be satisfied," says Philip. And Jesus: "Philip, I have been with you so long, and still you ask? He who has seen me has seen the Father." And: Where I am going you cannot come yet. Once again Philip: where are you going? And Jesus: "I am the Way, the Truth, the Life."

Heaven is not a time. Heaven is not a place. The end of the world does not matter, because the End is now. "If anyone loves me and keeps my commandments, my Father and I will come and dwell in him." We taste little bits of heaven already in this life. And in the Eucharist we celebrate Jesus who has come, who will come, and who comes every day.

The End is Jesus. We pray that we might follow him and enjoy him with undivided heart.

Friday 15 November 2013

A Gospel History of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ: Stephens' Khristapurana?

Leonard Fernandes brought the following to my notice:
A Gospel History of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ: Or A Life of the Man of Sorrows. Stephen, Thomas. Published by Dean and Son ca. 1860's, London, 1860
The question: is this Thomas Stephens' Khristapurana?

Thursday 14 November 2013

Filipino-flavoured Oscars

The three Filipino entries to the Oscar Awards seem interesting: Transit, Metro Manila and Ilo Ilo.

Hannah Espia's Transit will be very real to so many of our Filipino friends here in the Holy Land. It is the story of Moises, a Filipino single-dad working as a caregiver in Herlzliya, Israel. Moises returns to his apartment in Tel Aviv to celebrate his son Joshua's fourth birthday, and discovers that the Israeli government is going to deport children of foreign workers. This is no mere story: such things have happened.

Metro Manila is a Filipino-British film set entirely in the Philippines. Directed by British filmmaker Sean Ellis, it is about a poor family that comes to the big city in search of a better life.

Then there is Singaporean entry to the Oscars, Ilo Ilo. The film is set in Singapore, and involves a Pinay caregiver-nanny Teresa who has to adopt a bipolar personality in dealing with the spoiled brat son Jiale, the pregnant mother Hwee Lang, and the unemployed father Teck.

Monday 11 November 2013

A thousand bells

Tony de Mello's story (in The Song of the Bird, I think) of the thousand bells: I don't quite remember the details, but it does come to mind when I read the Word and when the meaning leaps up and grabs me. I sit on the shore of the ocean and I try to hear the bells. And one day I hear them: a thousand of them. 

Useless servants

The intriguing gospel text for tomorrow, Tuesday, Week 32, Year I: after you have done all that you were supposed to do, say: We are useless servants. What might that mean? Helpful reading it in conjunction with other 'master-servant' texts in the gospels. There is the parable of the talents: to the servant who has multiplied his talents, from 5 to 10, the master says: Well done, good and faithful servant! (Not: useless servant) Enter into the joy of your master. (Mt 25:21) And to those who fed, gave drink, clothed, visited the least of the brethren, the Lord says: enter into the kingdom prepared for you by my Father. Here we seem to have not law, but excess. But perhaps there is also the note of motivation: why am I doing what I am doing? Do I have expectations - of praise, of a good word, of reward? Does my relationship to the Lord have overtones of a commercial transaction ("I was so good, and this is what God did to me")? God is free. I am free. I do because I do, because it is good to do. I am good because it is good to be good. Because it flows from love. 

Saturday 9 November 2013

Dormitories at Qumran

A view of the 'tower' at Khirbet Qumran
Qumran again: Vernet said, as I've heard him saying before about the ruins at Qumran: they've found a scriptorium, a refectory, about 16 mikvaioth or ritual baths, and so on, but they've never found a dormitory. What were their sleeping arrangements?

Good question, and perhaps a classic case of 'imposition of categories' onto a 'text.' Anyone who has lived in a small house in India or Africa will know that you don't have, and you don't have to have, often because you just don't have the space, a separate something called 'dormitory.' You eat, you clear up space, you sleep. At home in Wadala we did not sleep in the kitchen, but almost everywhere else! I would imagine the members of the yahad did the same. 

Friday 8 November 2013

Christological levels

The Qumran latrine field is outside the photo, to the right of where the group is

This is a photo from last year. Once again, the latrine field of Qumran is to the right, outside the photo, unfortunately
We had a very interesting 'comment' during our visit to Qumran yesterday. Vernet said he would raise 'a very human question': what were the Qumran toilet arrangements, keeping in mind the rather large number of members (80 to 120)? Unbelievably, even on this point some enterprising soul has carried out extensive scientific research, identifying an area about 300 m or more away from the 'monastery' as the defecation location, going so far as to identify (remains of?) peculiar bacteria (whose scientific names I naturally forget) in the soil....

And that brings to mind some implications of Lonergan's position that any reality must be analyzed on all its constituent levels. In simpler terms, any human reality will have human dimensions, but also 'psychic' (in the sense of what we share with animals), biological, chemical and physical (in the sense of sub-atomic?) dimensions. And if Christ is fully divine and fully human, it follows that Christology will also involve all five 'genera'.... There is no doubt that the reality of this Land entered into the schemes of recurrence that pertained to Jesus of Nazareth, that it entered, formed part of his dynamic human reality, and exited as it does for all human beings, that therefore this Land, this dust, this flora and fauna, these people, they are privileged to somehow share in physical and chemical realities that once might have formed part of the reality of Jesus. Though all this sounds so shitty, I can only say wow. I really ought to be calling this blog by a title that occurred to me during meditation this morning, but I can't quite bring myself to do it... I don't find it disrespectful in the least, but I can imagine any number of people thinking differently.

Phil McShane might be one who would understand. I wish I could find the places where he talks about this in his voluminous output. 

Tuesday 5 November 2013

All Saints Today

The saints tell us, remind us, that the best way of living is “for God” – the primacy of God.

Sanctity today, however, would ask: do we live with a dichotomy? Fuga mundi? Or did Jesus show us another way, a wonderfully different way, which Pope Francis is showing somehow? So the saeculum is brining us to another realization of the great mystery of a fascinating God, who we believe was revealed in Jesus Christ: a God who does not flee the world, and who does not think we have to flee the world in order to come to him. True, Jesus relativizes the world radically – see how he warns about the cares of this world – but he does not “flee the world.” He eats. He drinks. But he does not have a place to lay his head, and his kingdom is not of this world.

Invited and divided

Tuesday, Week 31, Year I

The parable that Jesus tells in Lk 14:15-24 about the invitees who do not turn up for the banquet, is very likely meant for the Chosen People. (KEKLEMENOI = the Called, related therefore to Ecclesia, I am supposing.) But also perhaps for people who are far too involved in the cares of this world. This is a familiar enough theme with Jesus: Martha, Martha, you are worried and anxious about many things.... and the seed that falls into the ground and is then choked by thorns, the worries and cares of this world. So we might think we are the new Israel, for are we not those who have accepted the invitation, or at least found ourselves somehow within? And still we might find ourselves sometimes, often, all the time with divided hearts, torn between God and the cares of this world. What might those "cares" be? What are my distractions? What are the many pulls on my heart? I ask for light to see, to know, and for an undivided heart. 

Saturday 2 November 2013

Hasty decisions and the importance of discernment

From the pope’s interview with the Jesuit:
“But I am always wary of decisions made hastily. I am always wary of the first decision, that is, the first thing that comes to my mind if I have to make a decision. This is usually the wrong thing. I have to wait and assess, looking deep into myself, taking the necessary time. The wisdom of discernment redeems the necessary ambiguity of life and helps us find the most appropriate means, which do not always coincide with what looks great and strong.”
This rings true for me.

Thursday 31 October 2013

Being Christian

Pope John XXIII's Pacem in Terris implies, for example, that being Christian cannot at all be a question of being concerned with any one nation, but with the good of all nations. It cannot even be a question of being concerned only about Christians, but about all peoples. 

The vocation to politics

One of the things highlighted by Cardinal Turkson in his lectio magistralis this morning at our Dies Academicus was the vocation of Christians to politics (his whole text is already available online!):
It is noteworthy that all the modern Holy Fathers have, in one way or another, encouraged Catholics to take up their role in politics, to embrace the vocation to politics as a high form of charity. Benedict XVI repeatedly called for the formation of Catholics capable of assuming responsibility in the various areas of society, “especially in politics. This area needs more than ever people who are capable of building a “good life” for the benefit and at the service of all, especially young people. Indeed, Christians, pilgrims bound for Heaven but who already live an anticipation of eternity on earth cannot shirk this commitment.” Pope Francis has also invited the faithful to become interested and participate creatively in politics. [Text from page,_a_good/en1-742387 of the Vatican Radio website]
Politics - and economics - have to form part of all education, and certainly of Christian education and of catechesis.

In this context, it is good to note that the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, of which Turkson is the president, released in 2011 a significant document entitled "TOWARDS REFORMING THE INTERNATIONAL FINANCIAL AND MONETARY SYSTEMS IN THE CONTEXT OF GLOBAL PUBLIC AUTHORITY." [See]

The 2011 document speaks of the 'real economy', which probably refers to the "production of goods and services," contrasting it with the 'global financial market' which it says has grown much more rapidly than the former, and even with 'shadow markets' which have "no controls and limits."

It calls for the creation of a global public authority and questions the existing exchange systems, saying that the Bretton Woods Agreement has become inadequate.

Saturday 26 October 2013

An Ethiopian Wedding

Berhane and Fiyor got married in Cana this morning. Wonderful occasion, plenty of colour, joy and fellowship. Enjira and 'wet' on the lawns outside the Alon Centre, Ginosar, and then a boat ride with plenty of music and dancing.

The four biblical pools

Rusticatio - the four biblical pools: the Upper Pool at Mamilla, the Lower Pool near Jaffa Gate (also called the Patriarch's Pool), Beth-zatha at St Anne's, and the Pool of Siloam in the City of David. The first two are mentioned in the Old Testament, the other two in the New. All four were enlarged by Herod, if I remember right.
Group in the Upper Pool of Mamilla

The true marvel of ancient engineering, however, is Hezekiah's Tunnel, built to connect the Gihon Spring to the Pool of Siloam, and both enclosed within the then city walls by King Hezekiah. The tunnel, carved through solid rock, is 533 metres long, and seems to have taken 4 years to complete. Sennacherib came to Jerusalem after having conquered Lachish, but he approached the City from the North. To have approached it from the south, as is the hypothesis of some, would have been foolish in military terms, because his army would have been marching through the Gehenna and Kidron valleys flanking the City of David. All invaders have always attacked Jerusalem from the relatively easier North. The minimalists, says Vernet, are quite wrong when they place the Upper Pool (associated with the prophecy of Isaiah) in the City of David.

Inside the Tunnel

The tunnel again

Another view of the tunnel

Friday 25 October 2013

Rejoice, thank, pray

Wonderful combination of joy, prayer, and thanksgiving in Paul:
"Rejoice always,
pray constantly,
give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus." (1 Thess 4:16-18)
"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.
Let all men know your forbearance.
The Lord is at hand.
Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (Phil 4:4-7)
Deeply rooted, all this, in the quiet confidence that it is Christ Jesus himself who is interceding for us:
"Christ Jesus... is at the right hand of God, and intercedes for us." (Rom 8:34)

Faith, hope and love, 'informed' and 'uninformed'

Some of the ways of speaking of medieval theology sound atrocious to our ears today, as for example the doctrine of 'informed' and 'uninformed' acts of faith and hope. But reading 1 Cor 13, Paul's hymn to love, makes me realize why the medieval theologians felt compelled to talk in that way. Paul, as is well known, implies that we can have faith without love: "if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing." In the systematic language of the medieval theologians, this becomes the doctrine of informed and uninformed acts: we can have acts of faith and hope even before receiving the 'theological' or 'infused' virtues of faith, hope and charity; but we can never have acts of charity without the infused virtue of charity. Or at least that is how it seems to me, on the basis of cursory reading of Lonergan's De ente supernaturali, his supplementary notes to Pere Bleau's notes on Grace. 

Tuesday 22 October 2013

God reads me

"You are more than an ideology, whatever your convictions, and Shakespeare speaks to as much of you as you can bring to him. That is to say: Shakespeare reads you more fully than you can read him." 
That is literary critic Harold Bloom speaking about what Shakespeare can do to us. It sounds remarkably like what God can do to us through the biblical text. Paul L. Allen says that God reads or understands us more fully than we can understand God, and it's a wonderful insight. When we read the scriptures, it is God who reads us, far more fully than we read him. (Bloom, How to Read and Why [New York: Simon and Schuster, 2000) 28, cited in Allen,Theological Method: A Guide for the Perplexed [London / New York: T&T Clark International, 2012] 14.)

Saturday 12 October 2013

The one who came to give thanks

The gospel of the ten lepers and of the one who returned to give thanks (28th Sunday Year C). The grateful one did not get anything more. The others did not lose what they received. God does not withdraw his gifts. "Even if we are faithless, he will remain faithful" (2nd R). "God does not repent of his gifts."

Gratitude is a beautiful thing because there are no reasons to explain it. Why should I be grateful? There are no reasons. (Just like there are no reasons for climbing mountains. Why climb mountains, What's the point, Gus asked the other day. Why, because they are there, was the only thing I could think of.) Gratitude has no ulterior motivations. It is something pure and free. An act of our freedom. True thanksgiving is for mature people. It is something that either flows from deep within us, or does not flow at all. Yet it is something that thrills the heart of God.

Interesting contrast between Elisha's rejection of the gift in the First Reading, and Jesus' acceptance of the Samaritan's gratitude. Perhaps the contrast is between the 9 who focus on the Gift, and the 1 who is able to raise his eyes and see the Giver.
The ox recognizes his owner and the donkey the one who feeds it, But my people do not recognize me.
He came unto his own, and his own received him not. 
There were many lepers in Israel, yet only Naaman the Syrian was cured.  
The tragedy of Israel who fails to recognize its Master when he comes.

Elisha refuses the gift, Jesus accepts gratitude, because here there is something greater than Elisha, and Solomon, and the Temple. And we, I, am called to recognize this something greater, this Someone greater.

Jesus himself is a great example of someone who constantly acknowledges the Giver. Besides the Our Father, the gospels have preserved two explicit prayers of Jesus, and each begins with thanksgiving:
I thank you Father, for having hidden these things...
And before raising Lazarus:
Father, I thank you for having heard me. I know you always hear me.
Jesus constantly makes petitions, the Father always hears his prayers, but before asking for anything, Jesus, it would seem, turns to his Father. For Jesus, the Giver is more precious than the gift. He is the trasure, and in him the Son's heart abides. And the gift is given as well:
Seek first the kingdom of heaven and its justice, and all these things will be given you as well. (Mt 6:33)
And then also His example of thanking the Father in every circumstance. The Samaritan came to thank Jesus for his cure. But shall we thank God only when we receive something good from him? Paul is very clear:
Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thess 5:18)
Why? simply because there is nothing we have not received. "Faith in One God means living in thanksgiving." (Catechism of the Catholic Church 224) "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor 4:7) "What shall I render to the Lord for his bounty to me?" (Ps 116:12)

This is very radical: we are called to thank God in every circumstance of our lives: in joy and sorrow, in happiness and pain. Often we say, "Everything is going fine, thanks be to God." Fr M.J. Mathew used to tell us: learn to say, "Everything is not fine, thanks be to God." Hamdulillah. Barukh ha Shem! Learn to live life as gift. Learn to live in thanksgiving. Like Francis of Assisi:
The story is told of Francis of Assisi and his companion Brother Masseo, who were journeying from town to town in France. As usual they begged for their food, Francis taking one street and Masseo another. Francis was small of stature and clearly a beggar and he earned only a few scraps of dry bread. But Brother Masseo was tall and handsome and he receive large portions of fresh bread. They met outside the town near a fountain to share the alms they had been given. Masseo took note of what was lacking in their meal: cloth, knife, house, table, servants. But Francis could only exclaim joyfully: We are not worthy of this vast treasure. For we have bread, a table of stone, clear water, and God to serve us." (Joan Puls, Every Bush is Burning 2) 
So we thank God
in every circumstance
and raise our eyes to the Giver
thanking him most especially for the Gift of his Son and the Gift of his Spirit.
Our minds hurt against this Mystery, but thanks we can learn to give.

Friday 11 October 2013

Ein Gedi by the Dead Sea

The very first thing we saw in Ein Gedi were the ibexes, and now I learn that Gedi comes from gdi which actually means goat or wild goat.

Ein Gedi is mentioned several times in the Bible. In 2 Chronicles 20:2 it is identified with Hazazon-tamar, where the Moabites and Ammonites gathered in order to fight Josaphat. In Genesis 14:7 Hazazon-tamar is mentioned as being an Amorite city, smitten by Chedorlaomer in his war against the cities of the plain. In Joshua 15:62, Ein Gedi is enumerated among the cities of the Tribe of Judah in the desert Betharaba, but Ezekiel 47:10 shows that it was also a fisherman's town. Later, King David hides in the desert of Ein Gedi (1 Samuel 24:1-2) and King Saul seeks him "even upon the most craggy rocks, which are accessible only to wild goats" (1 Samuel 24:3). The Song of Songs (Songs 1:14) speaks of the "vineyards of En Gedi." The words of Ecclesiasticus 24:18, "I was exalted like a palm tree in Cades" (’en aígialoîs), may perhaps be understood of the palm trees of Ein Gedi.

The other wonderful thing about Ein Gedi is of course, the Ein, the spring - or springs - the Nature Reserve folder mentions four of them. My first impression was - the Israelis have done a marvellous job of creating an artificial flow of water. But if you go by the folder, it would appear that the water is natural. Or perhaps the truth lies somewhere in between, if we are to go by the many pipes you see if you look even casually. Whatever - the effect is marvellous, a true oasis in a desert. Naturally a place where the young David thought of hiding from Saul, naturally where Saul would search for him, and then the wonderful story of David sparing Saul....

My pictures are poor this time - what a pity. But there will be more on the cache, I'm sure. 

Wednesday 9 October 2013

Learning to pray - and to love - with Jonah

The first reading of today, from the final part of the short Book of Jonah, reminded me of our lonely little kitten in the garden, and the way four or five of us were gathered around it the other day, including our neighbour Natasha. In parting, Natasha said she loved animals. And then: it's much easier to take care of animals. It's easier than taking care of human beings. And I said, how true. At the most a kitten can scratch you or bite you. But human beings are capable of much more.

In chapter 4 of the Book of Jonah we see God gently teaching a lesson to a Jonah who is "so angry that he could die." God makes a plant grow over Jonah's hut to give him shade, and then he makes it die, and Jonah is furious, once again so angry that he could die. And God: you feel so much for this plant for which you did nothing. Do you wonder that I feel for the thousands of people in Nineveh? Do you have reason to be angry?

The Jonah story is wonderful: short, and to the point. In the first chapter, Jonah runs away, "flees to Tarshish." In the second, he is swallowed by a great fish and learns to pray in the belly of the whale. In the third, he preaches, finally, all the while hoping the people of Nineveh, pagans all, goiim, would not convert. In the fourth, he actually pitches camp outside the city, waiting to see what would happen. And that is where God catches up once again with him.

Eugene H. Peterson: don't flee to Tarshish. Learn instead to pray in the belly of the whale. Learn to face the darkness within. "The religious must learn to live with his or her own darkness, with the interior horror of temptation and fantasy. Salvation affects the whole of the psyche; to try to escape boredom, sexual frustration, restlessness, unsatisfied desire by searching for fresh tasks and fresh ideas is to attempt to seal off these areas from grace." Peterson at 20-21, quoting Rowan Williams, Christian Spirituality (Atlanta: John Know, 1980) 94-95.

And the main point of the Book: a gentle rebuke to Israel's nationalistic exclusivism. A call to universalism: God is the God of all peoples. We don't need this lesson? Perhaps. But don't we all tend to want to work with and for those we like, ignoring those we don't? And is there not the all too human and frequent temptation to think that we are sent to work only for "our own people"?

But I love Jonah. He is utterly human, utterly imperfect, a prophet who actually runs away from God's command, someone who does not want people to listen to God's word, and he can get very angry, and even better, express his anger to God. But he is called nonetheless, and he is sent, and educated gently and not so gently by God. 

Tuesday 8 October 2013

October daze

Another glorious October day. At 1030 in the morning, the haze is gone, to be replaced by a crystal clear blue sky, a wonderful nip in the air, and glorious light. I found myself lingering on the drive, unable to quite tear myself away and get back to work. Very very strange. 

O'Collins' case for women deacons

A surprisingly bold article by Gerald O'Collins, making a case for women deacons: see "Unlock the Door: The case for women in the diaconate," The Tablet (25 May 2013) 4-5.

The ITC document, "Le diaconat: evolution et perspectives" (2002), reached two conclusions:

  1. The deaconesses mentioned in the tradition of the Ancient Church ... were not purely and simply equivalent to the deacons.
  2. In the unity of the Sacrament of Orders, there exists a clear distinction between the ministries of the bishop and the priests on the one hand, and the diaconal ministry on the other. 
O'Collins proposes that if one stresses the clear distinction, a door could be opened.  He goes on to point out that the distinction was highlighted in an addition to canon 1009 made by Benedict XVI in October 2009: "Those who are constituted in the order of the episcopate or the presbyterate receive the mission and capacity to act in the person of Christ the Head, whereas deacons are empowered to serve the people of God in the ministries of the liturgy, the word, and charity." 

Of course there is also canon 1024 that limits ordination to baptised men. 

Vatican II, while recognizing the unity of holy orders, had also taught that, unlike bishops and priests, deacons are ordained not for priesthood but for service. To support this distinction, LG 29 drew on sources from the Early Church (see note 74).

The Council of Chalcedon (canon 15) legislated for the ordination of women deacons. Popes allowed Western bishops to ordain women deacons up to the eleventh century. The office died out in the Middle Ages. But there are still women deacons among the Coptic Orthodox and Greek Orthodox. 

The ten lepers

I joined the Deacons of our community for lectio divina this morning, and the text was Lk 17:11-19, the cure of the ten lepers. Thanks also to the bilingual Greek-English New Testament that Eric gave me last year, all sorts of new things came up from the text. "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us," the ten cry out, from a distance.

The village that Jesus is entering is on the border of Samaria and Galilee, and I know Vernet pointed that village out to us, though I've quite forgotten the name. A nondescript village in the Palestinian side. The lepers are obviously outside the village, and they dare not approach Jesus. So they cry out, from a distance: "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us." IESOU EPISTATA, ELEESON HEMAS. Not exactly Kyrie eleison, but close enough: Master, have mercy on us. What a wonderful prayer, and what a wonderful way of recognizing at least in some way who Jesus is: he is Master, and he is one who can have mercy on us.

And Jesus: he does not touch them. He commands them, he tells them, he speaks to them, he gives them a word: Go and show yourselves to the priests. And then the ten are cleansed, and one turns back, praising God with a loud voice, and falls on his face at Jesus' feet, giving him thanks. KAI EPESEN EPI PROSOPON PARA TOUS PODAS AUTOU EUCHARISTON AUTO.

And he, a Samaritan. All sorts of levels and echoes in this text. Liturgical, but also the liturgy that is life: communion, fellowship, Jesus who breaks barriers, who inaugurates the new family of God, who dies that he might bring into one the scattered children of God.

And then Jesus: Where are the other nine? Jesus who commands, and then strangely expects his command to be flouted. Where are the other nine? "Neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, but in spirit and in truth." Jesus, the new Temple. Are there times when we need to flout the word of Jesus?

And then finally: Rise and go your way. ANASTAS POREUOU. Stand up and go your way is a poor translation, missing all the echoes of Rise, Resurrection, ANASTAS.

"Jesus, Master, have mercy on us. Wash us by your word. Raise us up to life in you."

Saturday 5 October 2013

Blessed Alberto Marvelli

The optional memoria today for the Salesian Family of Blessed Alberto Marvelli, who used to frequent the Salesian Oratory in Rimini in his youth. Alberto died at the age of 38. His short life is marked by a remarkable love and concrete concern for the poor and those in need, in a special way during the Second War, but also afterwards. What struck me this morning was that he found his energy in the Eucharist. A profound desire for sanctity, and a touching love for the Lord in the Eucharist. 

Thursday 3 October 2013

October days

It is October, and bellissimo: blue skies like one tends to find in Italy (azzurro! no other word for it), a nip in the air, and the slight haze that one associates with the onset of winter days at home. A sense of great well-being. And somehow, through a train of associations, the mind goes back and picks up snatches of drives through Goa, perhaps also in the month of October: with Phyllis Wallbank from the airport, down through the road skirting the Zuari, in and out of lovely San Jacinto, and then through that impossibly beautiful road cutting through the villages of Tiswadi, with the little and not-so-little Goan houses on both sides, the fish market where the cross chapel refuses to get out of the road, the quaint crossing over a tiny branch of the river or the sea whatever that might be. And then flashes of driving through the other inner road skirting the Zuari again, but this time going from Cortalim to Loutolim... the flashes of river on the left, the coconut tree lined roads with the chiaroscuro of light and dark, the unexpected little ponds with water lilies.... Goa!

Wednesday 2 October 2013


A photo from FB courtesy Ilidio de Noronha. But this is the translation I love:

What else have I in heaven but you?
Apart from you I want nothing on earth
My body and my heart faint for joy;
God is my possession for ever. (Ps 72/73,25-26)

Tuesday 1 October 2013

The body of Jesus

The human body is a meeting point of myriads of schemes of recurrence, a flux, in constant interaction with the environment. De Smet, speaking of ancient Indian conceptions, refers to the human being as a crossroads...

I was thinking of the body of Jesus in this way: surely Christology will have to take into account the fact that his body was in constant interaction with the environment. And that therefore in a sense Jesus has passed into even the physicality of this land.... This may be the point made by Lonergan and so much insisted by Philip McShane, that any scientific approach must take into account all the sublated layers.... 

San Lorenzo Ruiz and the Shogun

San Lorenzo Ruiz of Manila died in Japan, together with others. I guess he was part of the Christian Century, or rather of the shutting up and closing down of Japan after that century under the Shogun, the one called Toranaga in Clavell's book. And Gonsalo Garcia too, probably. Lorenzo was hung upside down, so that he eventually suffocated to death. Which was probably prolonged by the fine Japanese art of making little slits on the temples so that blood could drip out, drop at a time.... 

Electronic prayer

With the coming of the new students, the electronic revolution has begun entering our chapel: Kindle, I-pad or I-pod, whatever that is...

I wonder if virtual screens will become a reality in our time, the kind you see in movies with Tom Cruise, you swipe your fingers in the air in front of you and the screen, all translucent like, appears there in front of you, and you can enlarge or reduce it as you do on touch screens...  

Saturday 28 September 2013

Food habits, old and new

Great looking article on food (in ancient Israel), "Knaidlach, Talmudic Style," by Ronit Vered in Haaretz Magazine (27 September 2013) 28-30. The ancient people here seem to have eaten mostly only bread, according to Dr Suzanne Weingarten, researcher of Jewish food in ancient times. The lucky ones might have had dal - lentil stew - along with their bread. For most people the only additive was salt. And the flat bread would get hard very soon, so it had to be immersed in water to make it edible. Most people, according to Weingarten, did not have the money or time to gather wood and grind grain. "Producing enough flour for one loaf of bread required several hours of strenuous physical work." Work, yes, I found myself saying. But in my own physical memory I remember the home use mill stones that my grandmother used to grind rice, and it wasn't all that much work. I wonder how old home use millstones are.

As for meat, some scholar believe that it was very rare, perhaps limited to the three pilgrimage festivals, Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot, when they would bring a sacrifice to God, and to weddings. "Slaughtering an animal that provided milk, wool, eggs or labor was an act that was almost unimaginable." Perhaps. In my memory, it was normal to have meat once a week. In the villages, the occasional slaughter of a pig, and, more commonly, but not all that frequent, a chicken from those running free around the house, and which would docilely come into the house and jump into their cane coops at night. Free-range chickens, I guess you would call them now.

And about eggs during the Talmudic period, Weingarten writes: "A fascinating subject. Women used to raise hens in the yard in order to provide an additional income for the families." They still do, they still do, and they certainly did not many years ago in my village in Goa. 

Friday 27 September 2013

Jaffa - Joppa - Yafo

The museum is just under this piazza, near this lovely hotel next to St Peter's Church.
Jaffa - Joppa - Yafo. Some Muslim author decided to connect it with Japhet, one of the three sons of Noah - the other two being Shem of the Semites and Ham of the Africans. Then there was Japu, if I am not mistaken, of the Egyptians. Jaffa has always been the midpoint between Egypt and Akko / Tyre, along the Via Maris, the Way of the Sea.

And then the Andromeda story: wonderful in its imagination. And wonderful that somehow the Greek imagination managed to draw in even a part of the Holy Land....

And Jonah setting out from Jaffa, fleeing from the Lord... and being swallowed up by a huge fish, despite the fact that there are no whales in the Mediterranean, from what we are told.

And the European painters with their paintings of Jaffa, despite never having seen the place. Based on descriptions left by people who had been there.

And Jaffa, the Gate of Jerusalem. Jaffa has a Jerusalem Gate, and Jerusalem has a Jaffa Gate.

And the Jews in Jaffa: our young and enthusiastic guide, with his Medusa hair, told us that archaeology had proved the Greek and Roman historians wrong. They had told us that Jews were forbidden to live in Jerusalem and Jaffa after the destruction of the City by the Romans under Titus and Vespasian, but archaeologists had discovered a good house in the main street of Jaffa, and also an inscription telling us who it belonged to: someone called Judah Agronimus, someone who used a cup that could have been used only by the Kohanim, the high priests, and so ... And I was wondering: what if that Judah, from a priestly family perhaps, was not Jewish but Jewish-Christian? But that is mere speculation. 

Thursday 26 September 2013

Jaffa - and Tel Aviv again

I love Jaffa. St Peter's Church, the bedsheet dream, the opening to the Gentiles, the charm of the old city. The museum and our young guide was a bonus. (Tutankhamen historical, Abraham non-existent if you go by historical evidence. The Hebrews perhaps having picked up monotheism from Egypt. The twelve layers of Jaffa. And so on.) Unfortunately, because of the Jewish feast of the Torah, many of the cafes and restaurants were closed.

The two young men who stopped by as we were singing and playing. They looked like evangelists to me, and so they were. One was from New Zealand, the other an Israeli. I asked him whether he was born Jewish. He said yes. How did you convert? Someone proposed Christ to me, he said very simply, and I began praying about it: God, I said, if Jesus is the Messiah, show it to me. And he did. I received baptism soon after. We parted with blessings. I admire the courage, the boldness, the zeal. On our side, another Jewish young man simply stopped by and joined some of our guys playing chess. That kind of boldness and simplicity is admirable too. But I guess it is not in our system to begin direct evangelizing.

All this not far from where Peter had his bedsheet dream. "Take and eat." And the gates opened to the Gentiles. Our young guide was correct: here is where Christianity stopped being a Jewish sect and became an international religion. And the presentations were excellent, and very fair, we all thought. And the Mediterranean astounding, as ever. 

Tuesday 17 September 2013

Nutella and chilly

Spotted: one of our brothers from North-East India enjoying nutella with bread and a nice fat red chilly. I hear he also puts chilly in his wine. He says its delicious. I've told him more or less that this would be blogged, and he did not object.

I wish I had a camera. The colours were tremendous: nutella brown, bread white, and a startlingly red chilly with a green top from Fr Stephen's garden... 

Monday 16 September 2013

Don Bosco on Alphonse Ratisbonne's conversion

This morning I was searching for the two references to Ratisbonne in the Biographical Memoirs of Don Bosco, and I just could not find them. I thought I had taken note of them somewhere, but they were nowhere to be found, not on my computer, not on this blog. This afternoon, just now, I went down again and pulled out the Index to the Memorie Biographiche, and was leafing through it with a prayer. The mystery was solved: my eye fell on "Indice delle Cose," and I guess then that there must be an "Indice dei Nomi," and so it was, and there it was: Ratisbona (convertito), mentioned twice in the Memorie, in vol. 2:115-117 and 16:208. The English references are BM 2:90-91 and BM 16:162.

Vol. 2 contains an excerpt from Don Bosco's Compendio di Storia Ecclesiastica, and is part of a chapter on Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. Here Don Bosco describes Alphonse Ratisbonne's miraculous conversion, as also his founding of the Religious of Sion.

Vol. 16 instead has a very brief reference of a visit of Don Bosco in Paris to a boarding school run by the "Congregation of Notre Dame de Sion" founded "by the noted Jewish convert, Alphonse Ratisbonne," and ends by saying that we have no details about this visit.   

Sunday 15 September 2013

Deep calls to deep

Buccellato's book is even more challenging that I thought. Again and again he marshals the facts: Don Bosco repeatedly returns to the theme of prayer, and even prolonged, ecstatic, mystical prayer, in the lives of his youngsters as well as in others written by him, and not so well known, such as Beata Maria degli Angeli (1865). (Buccellato 107) When Savio died, Don Bosco was just 42 years old. Already he reveals something that has escaped most of us all these years, that he is able to recognize supernatural gifts of prayer, gifts that are quite out of the ordinary. And already people like Caviglia had told us, but perhaps we were not able to hear, that if the young Don Bosco was able to recognize these gifts, he must have had some experience of them himself. Not, certainly, in the same dramatic manifest way as his friend Comollo. Don Bosco's reserve is amazing, so amazing that it has been so easy for us to bypass almost completely his life of prayer, his extraordinary relationship to God. But it is there, this constant experience, if you wish, this relationship with God that dominated his life so completely. It is by our own authenticity that we are able to recognize the achievement of authenticity in another, as our friend Lonergan so gently points out. 

Saturday 14 September 2013

Recommended summer reading

Summer is at an end, all over again for me, but I chanced upon a whole pile of The Tablet accumulating here in our parlour over the holidays. I could not resist the urge to jot down some of the recommended summer reading:

  • Lily Koppel. The Astronaut Wives Club. (Headline) The having to be perfect wives, with perfect children and perfect homes, and keeping perfectly silent when it all went wrong. 
  • Michael Arditti. The Breath of Night. (Arcadia). A well-born English missionary in the Philippines, radicalized by poverty and piety.
  • Stephanie Dalley. The Mystery of the Hanging Garden of Babylon. (Oxford U.P.) What the Assyriologist Dalley discovered about the missing Hanging Gardens.
  • Madeline Miller.The Song of Achilles. (Bloomsbury) Telling the story of the Trojan War from the viewpoint of Patroclus.
  • Denys Turner. Thomas Aquinas: A Portrait (Yale U.P.) Described by Eamon Duffy as lucid, gripping and beautifully written, so that it ousts even Chesterton's famous study.
  • D.H. Lawrence. "The Woman Who Rode Away." (Penguin Classics) A discontented Mexican wife and mother decides to visit a nearby tribe reputed to still practise human sacrifice.
  • Francis Spufford. Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity can still make surprising emotional sense. (Faber & Faber). Wonderfully well-written and even humourous.
  • Anthony Trollope. Can You Forgive Her? (Oxford World Classics)
  • James Salter. All That Is. (Picador)
  • Penelope Fitzgerald. Human Voices. 
  • Penelope Fitzgerald. The Beginning of Spring.
  • Penelope Fitzgerald. The Blue Flower. (Flamingo) Fictional life of the German poet Novalis.
  • Eiji Yoshikawa. Musashi. (Kodansha USA) Historical novel about the early life of Japan's most famous swordsman. Written in the 1930s, translated into English 30 years ago, "a cracking read."
  • Henry Buckley. The Life and Death of the Spanish Republic. (I.B. Tauris) Eyewitness account of the Spanish Civil War.
  • Ian McEwan. Sweet Tooth. (Vintage)
  • D.H. Lawrence. Sea and Sardinia. (Penguin)
  • Jaroslav Hasek. The Good Soldier Svejk. Tr. Cecil Parrott. (Penguin) "the funniest book I've ever read" (Piers Plowright) 
  • Charles Moore. Margaret Thatcher: the authorized biography. (Allen Lane) Comprehensive, objective, illuminating, charitable. "As compelling as a novel."
  • Frederick Raphael and Joseph Epstein. Distant Intimacy: a friendship in the age of the internet. (Yale U.P.) Wicked, and wickedly enjoyable.
  • Anthony Trollope. The Duke's Children. (Oxford World Classics)
  • Antonio Pennacchi. The Mussolini Canal. (Dedalus) The story of a northern Italian peasant family intertwined with the early career of Mussolini.
  • Graham Greene. Our Man in Havana. (Vintage) James Wormold, unsuccessful vacuum cleaner salesman and accidental spy extraordinaire.
  • Matthew Green. The Wizard of the Nile. (Portobello Books) The stranger than fiction but true story of Joseph Kony, anti-hero, wanted for torture, slavery and war crimes by The Hague.
  • Ian Kershaw. The End. (Allen Lane) Why Germany continued to fight when all was lost, by Hitler's biographer.
  • Francis Spufford. The Child that Books Built. (Faber & Faber)
  • Edney Silvestre. If I Close My Eyes Now. (Doubleday) Crime fiction under the raging Rio sun.
  • Donna Leon. A Question of Belief. (Arrow)
  • Dervla Murphy. A Month by the Sea: encounters in Gaza. (Eland)  
  • L.P. Hartley. Eustace and Hilda. (Faber & Faber). The story of a boy dominated by his older, puritanical sister. "in any age and by any standards, a masterpiece" (Lord David Cecil)
  • Charlotte Rogan. The Lifeboat. (Virago)
  • George Gissing. New Grub Street. (Oxford World Classics) First published in 1891.
["Summer Reading," chosen by regular reviewers,The Tablet, 27 July 2013, 18-20.]

Reality and illusion

More and more novels with convoluted endings, that blur the line between reality and fiction. I did the last chapter of Vidal's The Golden Age yesterday: Vidal has, of course, entered his own fictional book in earlier chapters, and now he takes over, in the first person, and the creator meets his creature/s, especially Peter Sanford, Vidal's alter ego in the book. What is reality? What fiction? Was there a conspiracy about getting the US into the Second War? Was there not? At any rate, Vidal lets Peter have the last word in the book. More or less. The last word is 'Nothing.' Vidal can't resist going further, of course, so he comments: 'That is something.' And then goes on to add an Afterword about sources and so on.

Umberto Eco is fond of playing tricks with reality. The author of The Life of Pi too, Yann Martel. And, if I am not mistaken, The Matrix series. I know a professor who used to have The Matrix as recommended viewing for his metaphysics students. They were all too happy about it, of course. 

Friday 13 September 2013

Abel Pann again

"Sarai" (1940)

Abel Pann again. What's new is that I've been passing the Mayanot Gallery almost every day the last two years, and seeing this and other pictures there. And this morning, when I stopped, or was it yesterday, I realized that some of the pieces on display there might actually be originals. I did not enter to check out, though. All I know is that the pieces are extraordinary, like the one above. What did Pann draw on for his inspiration? Surely no modern Hebrew person looks or dresses quite like this today? 

Ritiratezza, prayer and the profane

I finally managed to return to my translation of Giuseppe Buccellato's Appunti per una 'storia spirituale' del sacerdote Gio' Bosco - quite appropriate in these days when the Relics of Don Bosco are in the Holy Land.

I am struck once again by Don Bosco's insistence on ritiratezza - which is probably best translated 'spirit of recollection' - and prayer. It is something he picked up from Cafasso at the Convitto, or rather something that was reinforced by Cafasso, because Buccellato does not forget to point out that the young farmhand Johnny was rather different from other young farmhands of the time, because of his remarkable spirit of prayer.

And then the little note on how John Bosco, perhaps already as a seminarian, decides to keep aside 'profane literature.' I knew of his remark that his extensive reading of the Greek and Latin classics had led to a sort of 'distaste' for spiritual literature, and that it was his discovery of the Imitation of Christ that probably set him on the road to recovery. But this remark about setting aside profane literature is challenging. Profane literature: Vidal, for example, is very much profane literature. His main characters, those for whom he displays an undoubted affinity, are all atheist: Caroline Sanford, the publisher turned actress; James Burden Day, the senator, who now and then is not beyond perjuring his professed lifelong atheism; and Peter Sanford, Caroline's nephew and publisher of The American Idea. Profane does not necessarily mean bad. It merely means 'not under God.' But that, going by Rossi de Gasperis, is bad enough. For what is not under God is - evil. That is the somewhat unpalatable truth that Rossi de Gasperis is putting forward, and that perhaps John Bosco's resolution points to. Is there a different way of reading the profane and the secular today? Question. Is God totally absent in the profane and the secular? Question. Is it possible to live as though God did not exist or did not matter if he did? More than a question.

Vidal's 'The Golden Age' again

I'm coming to the end of Gore Vidal's The Golden Age, and I must say I am getting addicted to Vidal's novels. He has this droll sense of humour, and is absolutely sharp in his observations of human behaviour, though he can get boring at times. I enjoyed Lincoln tremendously, and this one, focussing on Franklin Roosevelt, his successor Harry Truman - the one who dropped the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki - and their eventful times, with the Second World War morphing into the Long Cold War. Strangely the novel ends with Peter Sanford as an old man in the time of the Clinton presidency. And Peter seems to be an alter ego of Gore Vidal, who himself makes an appearance in the novel. Though perhaps Aeneas Duncan, Peter's partner in The American Idea, is also part Vidal - the novel makes him the author of a manuscript called The Golden Age.
"FDR is like Lincoln, masterly and unknowable, his ‘vast depths of benign insincerity could never be entirely plumbed by any mere mortal’." Zachary Leader, "No Accident," at as of 14 Sep 2013.

Rose da Cruz

I received the news yesterday of the death of a cousin, Rose da Cruz, who used to live in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania. She passed away quietly in her sleep, and must have been over 70. RIP.

Rose belonged to a gang of 7 sisters, or was it 5, and 1 brother. The boy got married, and only one of the girls. The others - 6 or 4 as the case may be - remained unmarried. Victoria, the eldest, taught at a school run by the Baldegger Schwestern in Dar, and upon retirement chose to join the Sisters. She lives at the motherhouse in Baldegg now, and must be over 80 years old. But Rose was the most colourful, in my opinion: lively, gregarious, and unwilling to get married. Not that offers were lacking. She was not exceptionally good looking, but wherever she went she received offers of marriage, or at least that is what she kept telling us. Her comment: Who wants to get married? They only want my money.

Rose and her sisters had an Italian friend who used to go over to Dar and stay with them, so they picked up some Italian that way. I remember the time Rose and this good lady, whose name I forget now, came to Rome, when I was a student in the early 1990s. They took me out to lunch, and Rose kept saying loudly and boldly, "Io piace questo," and "Io piace quello." Rose was fun. God bless her and give her rest. We will miss her. It was nice that she and Esme managed to pay one last visit to Goa and look up the relatives not two months ago, though sadly I missed seeing them.

Rose was the daughter of my maternal grandmother's only brother. He upped and went to East Africa as a young man, got cheated out of most of his money, probably by someone close to him, and so could not return to Goa for many years. He did return eventually though, for a visit, and I think we had some photos of him somewhere. The girls visited somewhat more often, and it was mostly Rose and Esme and sometimes Victoria. I don't remember ever having seen Peter. There was a possibility of my visiting them in Dar, at least twice, but it was not convenient, and now perhaps it is too late, with Peter gone, and Rose, and perhaps some others.  

Thursday 12 September 2013

Don Bosco in the Holy Land

Some of the very first photos of the Relics of Don Bosco, being offloaded from the plane at Terminal 1 of Ben Gurion, and received in prayer by those gathered there, SDBs, FMAs, Cooperators, Friends of Don Bosco, and airport authorities and security personnel. 

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