Wednesday 22 January 2014

Fraternal charity and prayer

A wonderful realization yesterday, reading chapter 14 of the gospel of John. If you love me, keep my commandments. Which ones? Love one another as I have loved you. And then, 14:21: If you keep my commandments - if you love one another in the way I have loved you - my Father will love you, and I will love you, and I will reveal myself to you. Or again: my Father and I will come and make our home in you.

Love of neighbour directly connected with the dwelling of the Father and Son in us, making our home in us, revealing themselves to us... A good thought for the retreat. Fraternal charity as a great path to prayer, if you want to put it that way. And here, a leaf from Tony De Mello's extremely threatening exercise: arrange all the others in a line, starting from the one you love most. A great exercise that can be done even in the silence of my heart, because certainly I carry such lines in my heart. And even very simply, the little exercise of looking at each confrere and asking about love - and praying for the love that I need.

But the deep connection there in the Johannine text between love and what we call so abstractly 'prayer' is lovely. It is, after all, the deep - and unsurprising - connection between love of God and love of neighbour that was, for Jesus, without a doubt, the greatest commandment.

The constant challenge, to love even the un-love-ly. To love even those who refuse to love, who refuse to respond to little overtures of love. James Alison again. 

Saturday 18 January 2014

Education and communication - and politics

Decisions - whether political or other - are most often based upon perceptions, or else on what one wants people to perceive. Or perhaps it would be better to say, they are always based (also) on perceptions, on interpretations of data, however scientific the process leading up to the data. The point is that politics is also engaged in the art of creating perceptions - which is the role of the media, and education. Two arms that all totalitarian governments - or perhaps all governments - have always been careful to control. This intersection between communication and politics is what gives the unity to Gore Vidal's Narratives of Empire. How else to explain how Caroline Sanford, the main character sort of, begins as a newspaper publisher, goes on to become the leading actress in the early days of the movies, and then comes back to the publishing, sort of, while the United States goes on to take its place at the centre of the world stage. The newspapers first, and then the movies, and then television, I suppose: all profoundly linked to the work of politics.  

Religious government might easily be no different - if faith does not shoot through the entire process, and if it does not realize that it is Called and Carried. 

Baptized into his death

Von Balthasar provides a good interpretation of 'being baptized into his death'. The gift of grace - participation in "the free obedience and obedient freedom of divine love" might have involved no renunciation for paradisal man. But for fallen man it creates "an agonizing tension between the laws of sinful nature and those of reconciling grace." "The obedience of faith means the sacrifice of personal autonomy; the surrender of one's life to Christ means emptying oneself of one's own nature.The state of grace puts the stamp of death on one's innerworldly state: 'Do you not know that all we who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into his death? For we are buried with him by means of baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ has arisen from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also may walk in newness of life' (Rom 6:3-4)."

And he goes on: "Though definitive in nature, this death is reflected in man's consciousness as a demand that he 'take up his cross daily' (Lk 9:23).... [The Christian State of Life 218.]

Lonergan following Aquinas talks of the gift of sanctifying grace as a change in the probabilities: where before the probability was loaded in favour of doing evil, now it is loaded in favour of doing good. Yet experience shows that falls from grace are frequent, and one wonders why. Perhaps one needs to call in the analysis of human development, and its laws, one of them being the law of integration: a change that is initiated on one level has to be integrated on all levels; else man becomes a basket case, and what is not integrated tends to wither away and die.

Perhaps we could call in also the phenomenon of falling in love: falling in love is not enough; unless it is concretized and given expression, unless the risk of expressing it is taken, it will atrophy and die.

Or perhaps Thomas had all this when he says that the gift, which is operative grace, is at once also cooperative grace, and as such calls for our active cooperation... The dialectic, therefore, between grace and freedom cannot be ignored. God does not save us 'automatically' - though sometimes we find ourselves wishing he would; but perhaps there is bad faith involved in this kind of wish: the wanting to have the 'good feeling' of being right with God, while also hoping to retain whatever else.  

Friday 10 January 2014

Love, and service

I've never thought of connecting love and service - but that is exactly what Hans Urs von Balthasar is doing. Of course, the love he is talking about is the love of God, and the argument is that, since we are creatures, our love for God has the inner form of service. It cannot be otherwise, given the analogia entis, the infinite distance between God and us.

And then the concept might not be as new as it looks: it is probably related to Thomas Aquinas' debitum: the reverential service of God. Thomas certainly considered the natural virtue of religion as a species of the virtue of justice: giving to God what is God's due.

Thursday 9 January 2014

The delicateness of God's love

An interesting description of love from the great theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar:
“But love does not urge itself or its self-giving upon the beloved.” It even regulates its degree of self-giving. “To love with all our strength does not mean indiscriminately to drag into the house and cast at the feet of the beloved all the outward and inward gifts we possess. To do so might prove embarrassing to the beloved. At the very least, it would be indiscreet and might well result in the rejection and return of these untimely gifts. This does not mean that love cannot from time to time offer a gift of friendship, perhaps as a surprise. But, for the most part, the gift proper to it is to place itself and all it possesses at the disposal of the beloved, allowing him to decide, to choose, what will be given him. This presumes, on the part of the one who loves, a disposition of self-giving that is no less perfect than that required for a literal and voluntary renunciation of all one’s possessions.” [The Christian State of Life (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1983) 54-55.] 
The point is that this is a description of love at its best, perfect love. This is how, in other words, God loves us. His love is so delicate that he will not indiscriminately drag into the house and cast at our feet all that he possesses. He waits, he surprises us now and then, he allows us to choose, even when we have already said some sort of Yes to him. No wonder Scripture speaks of the patience of God.


Wisdom from Erwin Rommel:
Men are basically smart or dumb and lazy or ambitious. The dumb and ambitious ones are dangerous and I get rid of them. The dumb and lazy ones I give mundane duties. The smart ambitious ones I put on my staff. The smart and lazy ones I make my commanders.

Wednesday 8 January 2014


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

Monday 6 January 2014

Choice vs Call

In an interesting book with the title Awakening Vocation, Edward Hahnenberg makes a sharp observation: our "contemporary cultural default", he says, is CHOICE. He suggests instead that CALL offers a more constructive alternative. Choice presupposes, in the ultimate analysis, the autonomous individual. Call, instead, presupposes a person - or perhaps persons in community - before Someone who Calls.

Given that we are all by now somehow enveloped or even overwhelmed by the culture of the West, it is likely that our cultural default - meaning the spontaneous way we think, and perhaps our ultimate category, or one of them at least - is indeed Choice. And that holds also for consecrated persons whose basic life choice is in fact a response to a Call. Or at the very least, it plays interference. Sometimes large scale.

I think Hahnenberg has touched an important chord.  He is calling us to reimagine our lives as lived before God. 

Sunday 5 January 2014

Sophia and Logos

Perhaps this is the first time I have ever celebrated the Second Sunday after Christmas. In India this is usually already the Feast of the Epiphany, and the last two years I have probably celebrated according to the Filipino calendar, which is the same. So this was quite new for me. And, as Vernet pointed out, an extraordinary set of readings, the most extraordinary of the whole of Advent and Christmastide combined, according to him. A first reading, about wisdom, from the Book of Ecclesiasticus (24:1-2, 8-12); a second from Eph (1:3-6, 15-18); and the gospel from the Prologue of John (1:1-18).

I am sure scholars have done all sorts of studies on Wisdom and the Word, SOPHIA and LOGOS. What struck this morning was the creator saying to Wisdom: pitch your tent in Jacob. "The Word was made flesh and pitched his tent among us." ἐσκήνωσεν ἐν ἡμῖν: moved his tent in among us (see ESKENOSEN EN HEMIN. I understand, even though I am surprised to find this in the text here, the theological connection between pitching his tent and kenosis. But what, if at all, is the linguistic connection? Is "pitching one's tent" usually rendered by some variation of kenosis?

Note: I learnt today that ESKENOSEN has nothing directly to do with KENOSIS. The root of the word means 'tent'. But, it would appear, S-K-N amounts in Hebrew to SHEKINAH. Wonderful, the ways of the Word. 

Thursday 2 January 2014

The 'race to the bottom'

This excerpt from Howard Richards and Joanna Swanger, Gandhi and the Future of Economics, ed. Ivo Coelho (Dignity Press, 2013) 279-80, gives us an idea of the social cost of current economic policies in India. The authors are here presenting the "New International Division of Labor" (NIDL) analysis of India's 'economic miracle.' The upshot of this interpretation is that the boom is merely temporary - India happens, at present, to be placed in a position to take advantage of capital flows, but will in the end lose out, as capital keeps flowing to where costs of production are lowest (the 'race to the bottom'):
It might be difficult for certain readers to take to heart the levels of physical exhaustion endured by and the emotional tolls exacted from people who cannot rely upon institutionalized social security programs to any significant extent and who must rely on long daily commutes or even seasonal migrations in order to have any hope of keeping themselves and their families alive, but Breman’s fieldwork notes offer a glimpse. He writes: M is a widow and only allows herself to be recruited for brickyards that she can reach from Chikhligam in a fairly short time. That is because her two children have to stay in the village. The eight-year-old daughter is old enough to work together with her mother, but not the four-year-old son. Both thus stay at home where the girl looks after her little brother. The neighbours keep an eye on them. M returns home once a month to put affairs in order and to bring money for the coming weeks. This year she is working near Surat, and travelling back and forth is a heavy charge on her meagre budget. She leaves the brickyard early in the afternoon, reaches Chikhligam in the evening, and then stays until late the following afternoon. In this way she loses as little work as possible. On the other hand, she has no breathing space in which to recuperate. When she returns at the end of the season, M is worn out.[1]

[1] Breman 70. The increasing labour market flexibility engendered by India’s neoliberal reforms has hit formal sector workers as well. Breman reports that although the Factory Act explicitly stipulates a working day of eight hours maximum, power loom operators in textile mills, paid piece-rate, feel they have little choice but to work shifts that are far longer, in order to make enough money to keep body and soul together and also simply in order not to be replaced by others willing to work the long shifts. Ibid. 124-131.

Wednesday 1 January 2014

The importance of the Septuagint

From a conversation with Richard Amalanathan, SDB: the Seventy, the translators of what we now call the Septuagint, had translated a large number of books, which they divided into those meant for all, and those meant only for an elite. Only the Ethiopians, the Geez church, have all these books. (This was really surprising for me: I had never heard that the LXX had translated a large number of esoteric books, and that the Ethiopians still had them. Wow.)

Again: in Jesus' time, in Paul's time, in the period of the composition of the New Testament, therefore, it was the Septuagint rather than the Masoretic that was used. So the Septuagint is all important for us Christians. That it was the Septuagint that was commonly used is confirmed more and more by the Qumran documents.

Yet again: the Hebrew bible (the Tanakh) was fluid for a long time. When the LXX worked, it was fluid. Even in New Testament times, there was as yet no Jewish canon. There are many biblical quotes in the New Testament that we cannot trace back to the known books of the Old Testament.

Spirituality and religion, again and again

On the topic of spirituality and religion, or spirituality without religion: would Rossi de Gasperis' thought be applicable: that anything that excludes God, a life lived without God, outside of God, is quite simply ... evil? Evil not as deliberate malice, but simply as living life without God?

On another note on the same topic: I ask myself, why religion? why Christianity? and I recall a Lonergan answer somewhere, quite simple, but direct: because it is true, and true demands to be accepted, upheld, followed.

Apart from this, of course, there is the somehow lesser reason that we need the outer word of religion, given that we are incarnate beings. And: God saves us, not as individuals, but together. Individualism: the privatism of modernity. We have to be careful to demythologize that particular myth. 

Edward Hahnenberg's theology of vocation

I learnt something new from Edward Hahnenberg, in his book on the theology of vocation: that it was Luther who first recognized that God calls people in their everyday lives, and not only in the priesthood and in the monastery. Francis de Sales has this recognition very clearly, and also Don Bosco, who made sanctity available and possible to his youngsters; but it took Vatican II to sanction the universal call to holiness for the whole church.

Hahnenberg, however, points out the pitfalls in this universalization of the call: the danger of secularization of the call, the danger that God's call is somehow absorbed into a secular vocation. According to him, the root problem is that, for Protestants, the theology of vocation is embedded in the theology of creation. Here, he says, the Catholics have an advantage, because for them, the theology of vocation is embedded in the theology of grace. Besides this, there is the strong Ignatian tradition of discernment, which preserves the individual and concrete dimensions of the call. Hahnenberg goes on in his book to complement this Ignatian stress with other, postmodern and contemporary (liberation) emphases: vocation is discovered through the other, and most especially through the other who is in need.

My question: when Hahnenberg criticizes the 'two-tier' theology of nature and grace, what exactly is he criticizing?

His bibliography is strong on Rahner, and Barth, but there is no mention of Lonergan. 

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