Thursday 27 February 2014

St Saba, St Theodosius, Herodion, Katisma

Our archaeological excursion began as usual at 0745 hrs. We took the Herodion road, but went first towards San Saba. This involves getting off at San Theodosius (after the Arab village of Al Obeid, which originated in the serving people of the monastery in times past, who eventually became Muslim), and taking two smaller buses which are able to negotiate the winding road that slopes down dramatically towards the monastery, which is almost invisible from the top, except for its two towers.

The monastery, as we were told, is on the bank of the Wadi Kidron, or the Wadi Nar as the Arabs call it - a wonderful hotchpotch of laure built over the years. It would seem that St Saba had settled in a little laura on the opposite bank, but then the monastery itself was built in the present location for convenience. We were shown the original tomb of St Saba, in a little self-standing edicule, and then the remains in the main church, returned there from Venice at the instance of Paul VI. The leaflet given us by the monks recounts, instead, that the Roman Catholics decided to return the body after having been told by an angel. The young monk who was showing us round added: one pope did not obey the angel, so he died; the next pope, frightened, decided to return the body. Paul VI visited the Holy Land in 1964, had the historic meeting with the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras, and probably then decided, in a gesture of goodwill, to ask Venice to return the body.


Unfortunately the young monk did not take kindly to us, taking offence at what he called our ‘touristic’ attitude, complaining that real pilgrims kneel down and pray. He refused to show us the tomb of St John Damascene, though he was kind enough to offer us coffee. We had also forgotten to bring the gift of two bottles of wine, which were left behind in the bus.
With a monk at St Theodosius
However, we tried St Theodosius, and – in contrast to the last time that Fr Vernet had led the excursion here – we were received very kindly by a lay helper, who showed us both the church and the grotto with the tombs of St Theodosius, his mother, and the mothers of St Saba and St Arkadios, besides others. All this despite the violent protestations of a woman - perhaps a nun - who tried to shoo us away. An old monk was, instead, very kind, even asking us to pray for 'water' while we were entering the grotto. We were careful to gift the two bottles of wine right at the start, and also left an offering.


A view of the inner cone: model at the Visitors' Centre

View from Lower Herodion

Framing Vernet in the Triclinium, Lower Herodion

Model of the Palace, Upper Herodion
After this we went to Herodion. Truly remarkable. The 'hill' or 'cone' is artificial, after all. The remarkable palace within the cone was built on the flat surface of a hill, and then the cone was built up around it. There is a road leading to the top, from which you descend to the inner levels. Work of reconstruction is still going on, so we contented ourselves with seeing the peristilium (an inner court with gardens surrounded by columns), the triclinium (dining room), the small Byzantine chapel, the baths, and other things. We could not enter the Jewish Revolt tunnels (terrible and twisted, or terrible because twisted, according to Vernet) from within the cone. However, from the outside someone discovered a path, and so we did enter the tunnels - rather lovingly kept up, was my impression - and also to the site of Herod’s tomb discovered as recently as 2007 by the famous Jewish archaeologist Ehud Netzer.

Then we took the bus and went down to Lower Herodion, where we saw the pool, the library, and some churches.
On the stone on which the Holy Family rested: Katisma
On the way back we stopped at the Katisma, the octagonal Byzantine church built to remember the place where the Holy Family rested on their way from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. By 1600 hrs we were back home.

Wednesday 26 February 2014

San Saba, Herodion and the Katisma

On Thursday, 27 February 2014, we will visit two of the most important landmarks in the Holy Land, one ecclesiastical, the other Jewish: the San Saba monastery, and Herodion.

Geographically, we are in the East South Eastern part of the land, marked by three great wadis: Wadi Farah, Wadi Kidron, and Wadi Kharitoun, all three of which we have seen at one time or another in the last three years.

In the Byzantine period, the Judean desert was inhabited by more than 10,000 monks living in monasteries and laure. Only about 5 or 6 of these monasteries have lasted up to our time: San Saba, St Theodosius, and the Monastery of the Temptation among these. The monks were drawn by the ideal of following Jesus in his 40 days in the Judean desert, an area of 80x30 kms. Many patriarchs of Jerusalem were drawn from among their ranks.

San Saba
The monastery is located in the Kidron Valley, on the right bank. Not far from it is another monastery, St Theodosius, which is not always open to visitors. San Saba instead is, except during Lent. Women are not allowed in at all, at any time.

Close at hand is also Jebel Mumtar, the place of precipitation of the scapegoat on Yom Kippur in older times. Another monastery close by is Scolarius - here is where Euthymius the Great met with Empress Eudoxia. The empress she converted from Monophysitism to the orthodox faith after going to Syria to consult with St Simon the Stylite, who said to her: Why are you coming to me, when in Palestine there is the source of light, Euthymius? The empress returned to Euthymius and converted to the orthodox faith. The Orthodox Church celebrates her as St Eudoxia.

Interestingly, the most important monks of the 4th, 5th and 6th centuries came from Anatolia: Caritone, Gerasimus, Euthymius, Theodosius of Cappadocia, Sabas also from Cappadocia. Then there is St John Damascene, the most important theologian monk: he lived and died in San Saba. The monastery contains two important tombs: that of San Saba (the relics were returned to the monastery from Venice, thanks to Paul VI), and that of John Damascene. There are also hundreds of skulls of monks, many of them martyred during the Persian invasion in 614 AD.

St Sabas was the founder of the monastery, a very charismatic and and very active person. He even reached Constantinople, as a delegate of the monks, to see the Emperor Justinian.

The monastic buildings are a labyrinth, because of constant additions over the years.

Herodion
We know from the testimony of Josephus Flavius that Herod was buried in Herodion. After a search lasting more than 50 years, the tomb was  finally discovered 7 years ago, in 2007, by Ehud Netzer. It was found not on the top, not at the bottom, but on one of the sides of Herodion. The tomb is 25 m high.
A model of Upper Herodion in the Visitors Centre
Upper and Lower Herodion together formed a big city that lasted up to Byzantine times. Among the many buildings, one of the most important is the great pool below, fed by an aqueduct coming from Solomon’s Pools. We would need a week to see the whole place properly. There is even a monastery, given that the last inhabitants of Herodion were Christian monks. There are many Byzantine churches around Herodion. The first serious archaeological dig was made by the Franciscans, led by Fr Corvo, now buried in Capernaum.
The main tower in the 'crater', with damage caused by Roman catapults
Behind the beauty of the architecture, there is also the terrible architecture, including many twisted tunnels, of the Jewish revolts of the time of Bar Kochba. Herodion was one of the camps of the revolts.

Katisma
The Katisma is an octagonal shaped, very rich monastery on the way to Bethlehem. It was founded by Ikelia, wife of the Byzantine ruler of Jerusalem, to commemorate the rest of the Holy Family going from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. The 28 year old Theodosius was a deacon in this monastery; his beautiful voice, attracted many people from Jerusalem. Later he retired to the desert and became a Cenobiac, chief of the monks. Theodosius was also one of the many who went to consult Simon Stylite, who lived on a pillar near Aleppo. A piece of the column is still standing, in the middle of what was the greatest church in Byzantine times till the Hagia Sophia was built.

Monday 24 February 2014

Faith, prayer, and the impatience of Jesus

The gospel of this morning: "I believe; help my unbelief." Jesus is coming down the mountain after a night spent in prayer (see Lk) and the transfiguration. I was struck by the fact that seeing him, the people were amazed and rushed to him. (Twice, for some reason, the text of Mt alludes to the crowd pressing upon Jesus.) And Jesus is impatient upon hearing from the father that the disciples could not cure his son: O faithless generation! How long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me. And after the father makes his request: If I can! All things are possible to one who believes.

By the time they retire 'indoors', however, Jesus is more calm. The disciples ask why they could not cast out the demon. Jesus does not say, because of your lack of faith, or your little faith. He says, quite calmly: this kind can be cast out only by prayer. He makes here a connection between prayer, faith, and healing. And his impatience is also therefore connected to prayer and to faith. He expects his disciples to pray. He models prayer for them.

Don Bosco prayed: we are becoming more and more aware of this, and of the way he valued and encouraged prayer, even, to our eyes, extreme forms of prayer, in his boys and Salesians. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in its Fourth Part on prayer, describes prayer as a relationship.

Prayer is relationship. Prayer is love. The same rules apply to prayer, to our relationship to God, as they apply to other relationships. Only, here, the 'feeling', if at all, comes not at the beginning but at the end. So discipline is unavoidable. The discipline of waiting, with empty hands.

We willingly spend time with those we love. When it comes to God, perhaps the willingness is not there at the beginning. Perhaps the willingness itself is a gift. Or perhaps the gift was given, and it has died the death of neglect and disuse. So we learn to ask. Long. Desire. See Ps 83 (84) that we recited this morning:
My soul is longing and yearning,
Is yearning for the courts of the Lord.
Chiedo costantemente per la grazia di una intima conoscenza di Te, per amarti di piu' e di seguirti di piu'.

The fact is that I am already related. I am already loved. I might be aware of this. I might not be aware of it. A relationship has a chance to grow when we know that we are loved. Without such knowledge, we do not respond. And without a response, love withers and dies. Or at least human love withers and dies. The love of God, I would like to believe, does not follow this law. But ... even God is a beggar before the human heart. The relationship cannot grow unless there is a response. Not even when one partner is God. 

Sunday 23 February 2014

The erotic love of God

The readings of today (7th Sunday ordinary time of the A cycle) hang together in an extraordinary way. It becomes so clear that the word in Leviticus is addressed to the people of Israel: be holy as the Lord your God is holy, do not hate your brother and sister, love your neighbour, where brother, sister, neighbour mean fellow Israelite. And in that context the gospel: You have heard that it was said... But I say unto you: love your enemies and do good to those who hate you.

The model Jesus holds up for such impossible and even irrational behaviour is his heavenly Father himself: not the publican, not the pagan, but the heavenly Father, who makes his sun shine on good and bad alike, and his rain descend on honest and dishonest alike. "Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect." Be compassionate as your heavenly Father is compassionate, Be merciful (misericordioso) as your heavenly Father is merciful, in the version of Luke.

The thought has crossed my mind this week: love is patient, as Paul says in 1 Cor 13, but love is more than patience. Because it is possible to be patient, and yet not truly love. Love is kind and gentle, but love is more than kindness and gentleness. It is possible to be gentle without truly loving. And then it struck me, this morning, that this is what perhaps Benedict XVI was saying when he said, in Deus Caritas Est, that love is not just agape but also eros. Love, in other words, is not truly itself till it descends to the particularity, the singularity of the person. It is not enough to be patient; I have to be able to say to this person: How wonderful that you are! It is not enough to be gentle; I have to be able to say to this person, How wonderful that you exist!

People are certainly able to love in this way, but that kind of love - which we could easily refer to as 'erotic' - is usually restricted to one special person. Jesus of course is pushing us to love everyone in this way.

This is how God loves us, how God loves me: with a love that is not only agape but eros. He loves me, in my particularity, my singularity, my history, my moods, my sinfulness. To me he says what he said to Jesus: This is my beloved son, in whom I delight. Love, true love, involves delighting in persons. And that is - a challenge. Not enough to be kind, not enough to be gentle, though God knows how difficult that itself is. To be able to say to each one of my brothers and sisters: How wonderful that you are! Though sometimes I find myself saying: I will be patient, I will be gentle, but how I wish this person were not around!

It's worth reading Deus Caritas Est again. 

Saturday 22 February 2014

A frisbee joke

Overheard:
Some young Salesians were playing frisbee in a Jerusalem Park, when, strangely enough, a little gang of young orthodox boys got attracted. The young Salesians generously gave them the frisbee.

Switch to Last Judgment:
"I had no frisbee and you gave me a frisbee.
But you told me to give it back.
And you reminded me that you were giving it because you were Christian." 

From Mark Avila, of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary

Yesterday we had a visit from Fr Mark Avila, who is a member of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary - the congregation founded by Pio Brunone Lanteri, and that ran the Convitto Ecclesiastico.

In the course of our conversation I learnt from Mark that the Oblates of the Virgin Mary were quite distinct from the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, founded more or less at the same time. In fact, the 'Oblates of the Virgin Mary' were originally simply 'Oblates of Mary', but they added 'Virgin' to distinguish themselves from the OMI.

This morning, in the course of my teaching 'Don Bosco Founder,' I realized that the English Biographical Memoirs of Saint John Bosco vol. 1 ch. 55 speaks of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, where the Italian Memorie Biografiche vol. 1 speaks correctly of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary, or even simply of the Oblates of Mary.

Don Bosco picked up many of his central ideas from the Convitto and the Oblates: spreading good literature; the apostolate of the Spiritual Exercises not only for priests and religious but also for laypeople; even 'extern Salesians'! And Mark kept talking about his Rector Major: perhaps even that terminology is from them. Mark was quite excited to see Buccellato's discussion of the influence of the Convitto on Don Bosco (Appunti per una 'storia spirituale' del sacerdote Gio' Bosco).

Wednesday 19 February 2014

The free time of a consecrated person, and the perfection of love

Sometimes a young religious asks: what does it matter what I do with my free time, provided I do all that I am supposed to do? And I don't know what to say. But this passage from Jordan Aumann is interesting in this regard:
Although religious have a definite schedule for community exercises, they also need a plan of life for their personal exercises. Community prayer and spiritual reading provide important material for meditation and private recollection, but there is still the question of arranging those hours that are left to the personal initiative of the individual religious. It is a strange paradox to find in a religious house certain individuals who attend the community exercises regularly and perform their duties faithfully but use their free time to do absolutely nothing. It is as if they erroneously believed that they should do nothing except that which is explicitly demanded of them by their rule or their superior. 
This is obviously a serious misunderstanding of the function of the vow of obedience, for it is precisely in those hours of freedom from explicitly commanded duties that the religious manifest the intensity of their desire to perfect themselves. The religious, therefore, whether living in a cloistered community or in one of the active institutes, will always have some free time that can be put to good use or simply wasted. It is for these free hours that the plan of life should provide, and it is in this area that the zealous religious will prudently arrange a schedule of life allowing for reasonable relaxation and at the same time preventing slothfulness. [Spiritual Theology (London / New York: Continuum, 2006) 373-76]

Gentleness, and love

I rarely get insights when I am walking, but this morning was an exception. I was walking back from the FMA convent at Musrara, and was on Rehov Vernet, when I realized the difference between gentleness and love. Looking at some of the people around me, and people I have known, I had the suspicion that it is possible to be gentle with all, without necessarily truly loving each one. There could be this person who never loses his head, never utters a word out of place, is always kind and gentle; but does he really care for everyone around him? Not necessarily, I thought. So gentleness is an element of love, but is not equal to being loving. And love, as Benedict XVI points out, is not just gentleness, but reaches the particularity, individuality, singularity of the person. Love is both agape and eros, it is able to say to a person: "How wonderful that you are!" And the love that comes from God, the love that knows no bounds, is able, I suppose, to say that to everyone. 

Monday 17 February 2014

Patience, and wisdom

From the Letter of James, this morning: try to treat your trials as a happy privilege; you undertsand that your faith is only put to the test to make you patient, but patience too is to have its practical results so that you will become fully-developed, complete, with nothing missing. Wow, I said to myself. I had no idea patience was so sublime: fully-developed, complete, with nothing missing. Three descriptions, one better than the other. Patience as the crowning point in the edifice of ... holiness, becoming like Jesus.

And again: If any of you needs wisdom, he must ask God, who gives to all freely and ungrudgingly; it will be given to him. But ask with faith, without a trace of doubt. (See Jam 1:1-11)

So I ask, both for patience, and for wisdom.

Even though Jesus does seem a tiny bit impatient in the gospel reading of the day when, so soon after the miracle of the multiplication of loaves and fish, and the curing of the deaf and dumb man, the Pharisees come asking for a sign. "With a sigh that came straight from his heart," he answers them: Why does this generation ask for a sign? I tell you solemnly, no sign shall be given to this generation. And he gets into the boat and goes off. (Mk 8:11-13)

Friday 14 February 2014

Meaningful signs of peace

Some years ago, at least in India and perhaps also in Rome, there was the great effort on the part of priests to make the liturgy meaningful. "Let us offer each other a meaningful sign of peace." And there was this young salesian who would screw up his face in a great effort to put meaning into his sign of peace. Perhaps now we realize, with some prompting from Benedict XVI, that the liturgy contains great meaning in itself, and that we need to dwell in it, and live it, let it overflow into life, and then the meaning will surface, will flow...

The true miracle

Jesus opening the ears and loosing the tongue of the deaf and dumb person in today's gospel, perhaps in the region of the Decapolis as he makes his way to the Sea of Galilee. I remembered, somehow, a beautiful movie I saw years and years ago, a movie about Jesus, with this blind girl who longs to see Jesus and be healed by him, and who, in the end, is gifted with a wonderful healing, a healing of the heart, so that she is so happy, despite the fact that she still cannot see. The true miracle: the healing of hearts. Though in front of the human heart, even God is powerless, weak, a beggar (Benedict XVI). It is the miracle of love, of love given, and accepted. Though there is, somehow, the heart of stone that is plucked out, and replaced with a heart of flesh.

I think of ruptured relationships that drift into hardness, or simply momentary ruptures that are healed with simple acts of forgiveness and acceptance of forgiveness and letting bygones be bygones; and bad habits that we struggle to overcome, because perhaps they are rooted in a thousand little other bad habits and attitudes, a lifestyle; or coldness of heart, indifference, self-centredness; or smallness of heart, a heart that beats for me and mine, my friends, my group, my people... 

Chosen and beloved

The other day we reflected on Call and Choice as alternative frameworks for living, and on Choice as the contemporary (Western) cultural default. This morning, suddenly, Chosen, Elect, Beloved sprang into meaning. Bulchand speaking so warmly of God calling us his chosen, his beloved. Chosen before being formed in the womb (Jeremiah). And the young salesian who says to another: I am happy. If one day I find myself unhappy, I will go, without too much fuss. And years ago, a friend telling me: I am in love, and I find it dishonest to remain with my husband, because I do not love him. I do not want to say with him merely because it's convenient to do so, merely because of social pressures. And in the dialogue that ensued, the point that fidelity is not to our feelings, however beautiful and imperative, but to persons, and that persons - are mysteries, much more than they seem, simply because ultimately rooted in the Mystery and Person that is God. So give yourself a chance: don't talk of fidelity to a feeling; be faithful to the person to whom you have given your word. And to us, consecrated celibates: is it really possible to say: If one day I find myself unhappy, I will go without too much fuss? I cannot imagine someone saying that on the day of his wedding. I cannot imagine a married person saying that. It is a recipe for disaster. No guarantee of fidelity, it is true, except the One Guarantee, "He who has called me is faithful." But to keep a door open like that - disastrous.

Paul's passion. "I live, no not I, but Christ my Lord lives in me." (Gal 2:20) "I count everything as rubbish for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord." (Phil 3:8) "O the length and the breadth and the height and the depth of the love of Christ." (Eph 3:18) "Who can separate us from the love of Christ?" (Rom 8:35)

Thursday 13 February 2014

A Visitation meditation

Stephanie Saldana pointed out this text of Christian de Cherge' on the Visitation. (see http://www.petitsfreresevangile.com/Nouvelles%202011/Visitation.htm). I keep it here so that I might be able to go through it some day at leisure.
J'imagine assez bien que nous sommes dans cette situation de Marie qui va voir sa cousine Élisabeth et qui porte en elle un secret vivant qui est encore celui que nous pouvons porter nous-mêmes, une Bonne Nouvelle vivante.
  Elle l'a reçue d'un ange. C'est son secret et c'est aussi le secret de Dieu. Et elle ne doit pas savoir comment s'y prendre pour livrer ce secret. Va-t-elle dire quelque chose à Élisabeth? Peut-elle le dire? Comment le dire? Comment s'y prendre? Faut-il le cacher?
  Et pourtant, tout en elle déborde, mais elle ne sait pas. D'abord c'est le secret de Dieu. Et puis, il se passe quelque chose de semblable dans le sein d’Élisabeth. Elle aussi porte un enfant. Et ce que Marie ne sait pas trop, c'est le lien, le rapport, entre cet enfant qu'elle porte et l'enfant qu’Élisabeth porte. Et ça lui serait plus facile de s'exprimer si elle savait ce lien. Mais sur ce point précis, elle n'a pas eu de révélation, sur la dépendance mutuelle entre les deux enfants.
        Elle sait simplement qu'il y a un lien puisque c'est le signe qui lui a été donné: sa cousine Élisabeth.
  Et il en est ainsi de notre Église qui porte en elle une Bonne Nouvelle - et notre Église c'est chacun de nous - et nous sommes venus un peu comme Marie, d'abord pour rendre service (finalement c'est sa première ambition) ... mais aussi, en portant cette Bonne Nouvelle, comment nous allons nous y prendre pour la dire ... et nous savons que ceux que nous sommes venus rencontrer, ils sont un peu comme Élisabeth, ils sont porteurs d'un message qui vient de Dieu. Et notre Église ne nous dit pas et ne sait pas quel est le lien exact entre la Bonne Nouvelle que nous portons et ce message qui fait vivre l'autre.
Finalement, mon Église ne me dit pas quel est le lien entre le Christ et l'Islam.
Et je vais vers les musulmans sans savoir quel est ce lien.
  Et quand Marie arrive, voici que c'est Élisabeth qui parle la première. Pas tout à fait exact car Marie a dit: as salam alaikum !Que la paix soit avec vous! Et ça c'est une chose que nous pouvons faire. Cette simple salutation a fait vibrer quelque chose, quelqu'un en Élisabeth. Et dans sa vibration, quelque chose s'est dit... qui était la Bonne Nouvelle, pas toute la Bonne Nouvelle, mais ce qu'on pouvait en percevoir dans le moment. D'où me vient-il que l'enfant qui est en moi a tressailli? Et vraisemblablement, l'enfant qui était en Marie a tressailli le premier. En fait, c'est entre les enfants que cela s'est passé cette affaire-là …
Et Élisabeth a libéré le Magnificat de Marie.
 Finalement, si nous sommes attentifs et si nous situons à ce niveau-là notre rencontre avec l'autre, dans une attention et une volonté de le rejoindre, et aussi dans un besoin de ce qu'il est et de ce qu'il a à nous dire, vraisemblablement, il va nous dire quelque chose qui va rejoindre ce que nous portons, montrant qu'il est de connivence ... et nous permettant d'élargir notre Eucharistie, car finalement, le Magnificat que nous pouvons, qu'il nous est donné de chanter: c'est l'Eucharistie.
La première Eucharistie de l’Église, c'était le Magnificat de Marie.
Ce qui veut dire le besoin où nous sommes de l'autre pour faire Eucharistie: pour vous et pour la multitude ...

Saturday 8 February 2014

Bakhita and Balaguer

Today is the memorial of St - I was still calling her Blessed! - Josephine Bakhita. My memories went back immediately to Rome, to the beatification of Bakhita and Balaguer. To the voices that the Opus people, or at least some of them, were not very happy at their founder being beatified with Bakhita, black slave woman that she was. And to the other voice being passed around, that John Paul II had stood his ground. That, for me, was certainly one of the significant elements in his sanctity.

The introduction to the mass this morning was touching: Solomon asking the Lord for the gift of wisdom, for the ability to discern between good and evil; and the invitation to ask, ourselves, for a gift. What might I ask, if I were given the chance?

Bakhita was asked in her later years: if you were to meet the people who enslaved you and tortured you, what would you do? And she seems to have said without hesitation: I would kneel down and kiss their feet. Wow. The gift of forgiveness! Wonderful.

And the interesting thought and inspiration: time to get over any negative attitude towards Balaguer and the Opus. Time to extend Christian cordiality inter nos: Bakhita and Balaguer both on the altars, after all. 

Friday 7 February 2014

John Paul II on the religions as the work of the Spirit

From John Paul II, General Audience, 9 September 1998, on the Christian attitude towards other religions, and interreligious dialogue, in what is, according to Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, the most positive statement of the magisterium regarding other religions:
2. It must first be kept in mind that every quest of the human spirit for truth and goodness, and in the last analysis for God, is inspired by the Holy Spirit. The various religions arose precisely from this primordial human openness to God. At their origins we often find founders who, with the help of God’s Spirit, achieved a deeper religious experience. Handed on to others, this experience took form in the doctrines, rites and precepts of the various religions.
In every authentic religious experience, the most characteristic expression is prayer. Because of the human spirit’s constitutive openness to God’s action of urging it to self-transcendence, we can hold that “every authentic prayer is called forth by the Holy Spirit, who is mysteriously present in the heart of every person” (Address to the Members of the Roman Curia, 22 Dec. 1986, n. 11;L’Osservatore Romano English edition, 5 Jan. 1987, p. 7).
3. The Holy Spirit is not only present in other religions through authentic expressions of prayer. “The Spirit’s presence and activity”, as I wrote in the Encyclical Letter Redemptoris missio, “affect not only individuals but also society and history, peoples, cultures and religions” (n. 28).
Indeed, as the Second Vatican Council teaches, “since Christ died for all, and since all men are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of coming into contact, in a way known to God, with the paschal mystery” (Gaudium et spes, n. 22).
See http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/audiences/1998/documents/hf_jp-ii_aud_09091998_en.html

Sunday 2 February 2014

David dancing, and Michal cribbing

Here is a summary from Vatican Radio of the much talked about homily of Pope Francis on David dancing before the ark:
(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis celebrated Mass on Tuesday morning in the Vatican’s Casa Santa Marta residence. Following the readings of the day, the Holy Father spoke about the proper attitude of the Christian at prayer.   
Reflecting on the episode from the Second Book of Samuel, which was read at Mass, in which “David danced with all his might before the Lord,” Pope Francis recalled that the whole people of Israel were celebrating because the Ark of the Covenant was returning home. He went on to say that David’s prayer of praise, “led him to move beyond all composure,” adding, “this was precisely a prayer of praise.” [La preghiera di lode di Davide, ha proseguito, “lo portò a uscire da ogni compostezza e a danzare davanti al Signore” con “tutte le forze”. Questa, ha commentato, “era proprio la preghiera di lode!”]
Explaining that the passage caused his thoughts to turn to Sarah, Abraham’s wife, who, after giving birth to her son, Isaac, said, “The Lord made ​​me dance with joy.” He said that it is easy to understand a prayer of petition – asking something of the Lord – and prayer of thanksgiving, as well. Even prayer of adoration, he said, “is not so difficult,” to understand. Prayer of praise, however, “We leave aside – it does not come to us so easily [It. Non ci viene così spontanea].”
“‘But, Father! This is for the Renewal in the Spirit folks, not for all Christians!’ No: prayer of praise is a Christian prayer, for all of us. In the Mass, every day, when we sing the Holy, Holy, Holy ... This is a prayer of praise: we praise God for his greatness, because He is great. We say beautiful things to Him, because we happy for His greatness [It. perché ci piace che sia così]. ‘But, Father! I am not able...I have to...’ Well, you’re able to shout when your team scores a goal, and you are not able to sing praises to the Lord? To come out of your shell ever so slightly to sing [His praise]? Praising God is completely gratis. [In it] we do not ask [Him to give us anything]: we do not express gratitude for anything [He has given]; we praise [Him]!” [Ma sei capace di gridare quando la tua squadra segna un goal e non sei capace di cantare le lodi al Signore? Di uscire un po’ dal tuo contegno per cantare questo? Lodare Dio è totalmente gratuito! Non chiediamo, non ringraziamo: lodiamo!”]
We need to pray “whole-heartedly,” he said. “It is also an act of justice, because He is great! He is our God.” David, Pope Franics went on to observe, “was so happy, because the ark was returning, the Lord was returning: his body, too, prayed with that dance.”:
“[Here is] a good question for us to pose to ourselves today: ‘But how am I doing vis à vis prayer of praise? Do I know how to praise the Lord? Do I know how to praise the Lord when I pray the Gloria or the Sanctus? Is my whole heart really in it, or do I merely mouth [the words]. What does David dancing here say to me, and Sarah, dancing for joy? When David enters the city there begins another thing: a party!”
“The joy of praise,” said Pope Francis, “leads us to the joy of the feast - the feast of the family.” The Pope went on to recall how, when David returned to the palace, Michal, the daughter of King Saul, scolded him and asked him if he did not feel ashamed for having danced like that in front of everyone, he, who is the king. Michal “despised David.”
“I wonder sometimes how many times we despise good people in our hearts, good people who praise the Lord as it comes to them, so spontaneously, because they are not cultured, because they do not follow the formalities? [I mean really] despise [them]? The Bible says that, because of this, Michal remained sterile for the rest of her life. What does the Word of God mean, here? [It means] that joy, that the prayer of praise makes us fruitful! Sarah danced in the great moment of her fecundity – at the age of ninety! The fruitfulness that praise of the Lord gives us, the gratuity of praising the Lord: that man or that woman who praises the Lord, who prays praising the Lord, who, when praying the Gloria is filled with joy at doing so, and who, when singing the Sanctus in the Mass rejoices in singing it, is a fruitful person.”
On the other hand, warned Pope Francis, “Those, who are closed in the formality of a prayer that is cold, stingy [It. misurata], might end up as Michal, in the sterility of her formality.” The Pope asked, then, [that we] imagine David dancing, “with all his might before the Lord,” and that, “we think how beautiful it is to make the prayer of praise.” It will do us good, he said, to repeat the words of Psalm 23, which we prayed today: “Lift up your gates, O ye princes, and be ye lifted up, O eternal gates: and the King of Glory shall enter in. Who is this King of Glory? The Lord of hosts, He is the King of Glory.”

The delicacy of a priest

The wonderfully delicate way in which Fr Pozzoli handles the family, in the story of Pope Francis' vocation to the priesthood:
6. In 1955 he [Fr Pozzoli] played a decisive role in the story of my vocation. On 21 September 1954 I got thrown from a horse. I met Fr Carlos B. Duarte Ibarra in Flores (my parish). I went to confession to him by chance... and there — and without sitting at the tax desk like the saint of the day [Matthew] — the Lord was awaiting me “miserando et eligendo”. Then and there I had no doubts that I should become a priest. ...
... I didn’t say anything at home until November 1955: that year I was qualifying at the Industrial School (it was a six year program) and I enrolled for technical chemistry. At home they were doubtful. They were practicing Catholics... but they wanted me to wait for some years while studying at the University. Since I knew how the conflict would end, I went to Fr Pozzoli and told him everything. He examined my vocation. He told me to pray and to leave everything in God’s hands. He gave me the blessing of Mary Help of Christians. Every time I recite Sub tuum praesidium... I think of him. Naturally at home the idea came up: why not talk to Fr Pozzoli? And I, with the best face in the world, said “yes”. I can still remember the scene. It was 12 December 1955. Papa and Mama were celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary. The celebration was a Mass (only my parents and the five children) in the San José di Flores parish. Fr Pozzoli was to celebrate it. Once the Mass had ended, Papa invited him to breakfast at the “Pearl of Flores” pastry shop (Rivera Indarte and Rivadavia, half a block from the Basilica).... Papa thought that Fr Pozzoli would not accept because he asked him if he could (I think that otherwise we would have gone home, six blocks away), but Fr Pozzoli (who knew what the topic of discussion would be) accepted without hesitation. What freedom of spirit and readiness to help a vocation! Halfway through breakfast the subject was raised. Fr Pozzoli said that University was a good thing but that things should be undertaken when God wants them to be undertaken... and he began recounting various vocation stories (without taking sides), and at the end he told the story of his own vocation. He told us how a priest had suggested that he become a priest, how in just a few short years he had become a subdeacon, then deacon and priest... how he had been given what he had not expected.... Well, at this point “finally” my parents’ hearts had melted. Naturally Fr Pozzoli didn’t end by telling them to let me enter seminary nor did he demand a decision from them... He simply knew that he had to “soften” them... and the rest took care of itself. It was just like him: “una de cal y otra de arena ” the Spanish would say [“lime and sand”, which is equivalent to the English “the carrot and stick approach”]. One didn’t know his intention... but he did; and generally he didn’t want to reach the point where one would recognize that “he had won”. When he “got a whiff” that he was about to get what he wanted, he withdrew before the others realized it. Then the decision came on its own, freely from those with whom he was speaking. They didn’t feel forced... but he had prepared their hearts. He had sown, and well... but he left the enjoyment of the harvest to others. [Pope Francis, "The Story of a Vocation," http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=10419, accessed 2 February 2014]

Pope Francis' regret

Something that touched me in Pope Francis' account of his relationship with salesian Father Pozzoli, who played such a decisive role in his vocation:
8. There are two moments in my relationship with Fr Pozzoli that make me sad when I think of them. One was Papa’s death, on 24 September 1961. Fr Pozzoli came to the wake and wanted to take a photo of Papa with his five children.... I was “ashamed” and I arranged for it not to happen. I think that Fr Pozzoli was aware of my attitude, but he didn’t say anything. And to think that in less less than one month he would be dead... The second occasion was his death. A few days before I visited him in the Hospital Italiano. And he was sleeping. I didn’t let them wake him (I really was upset, and I didn’t know what to say to him). I left the room and stayed talking with a Father who was there. A short while after another Father came out of the room and said that Fr Pozzoli had awoken, that he told him about my visit and he had asked that, if I was still there, I come in. I told him to tell him that I’d already left. I don’t know what came over me, if it was shyness or something else.... I was 25 years old and in the first year of philosophy.... But I assure you, Fr Bruno, that if I could “redo ” that moment I would. How many times have I experienced deep pain and regret for my “lie” to Fr Pozzoli when he was about to die. It was one of those moments in life (few, perhaps) that one would like to be able to live over again in order to behave differently. (...) [Pope Francis, "The Story of a Vocation," http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=10419, accessed 2 February 2014]

Why did he do that. Why do we do that. The unwillingness to face the pain, perhaps. The unwillingness to allow the possibility of breaking down, of being at a loss for words. And then the regret.

Thank you Francis for the wonderful honesty which cuts to the heart. 

Saturday 1 February 2014

Love and self-surrender

A surprising comment from Hans Urs von Balthasar:
“What is essential here is the awareness that perfect love, as a total gift of oneself and of all one possesses to God, and for the sake of God, to one’s neighbour, contains an inner relationship not only to the form, but also to the content of a vow. There follows a practical consequence that is of supreme importance for one who is striving toward the goal of love: that he let the concept of total self-surrender be his guide in this pursuit. In the course of such striving, it is neither useful nor advisable to follow every conceivable recommendation, exercise or devotion in order to build from these many small stones a complete mosaic of Christian perfection. This is true even when these practices appear to have a more broadly ‘positive’ and more directly practical character than the seemingly negative one of self-surrender, loss and sacrifice. All these ostensibly ‘positive’ directives about asceticism and a way of life will always bear in themselves a certain character of superficiality and banality, of arbitrariness of choice and perspective, of a clinging to individuality and current taste. The evangelical and traditional guidelines for attaining perfect love, on the contrary, would have everything revolve around the axis of self-surrender, which appears hard and negative only to one who does not love. To one who loves, it is the epitome of all that is worth striving for.” [The Christian State of Life (1983) 63-64.]
The point and criterion and guide to everything - all practices and devotions and ways - is self-surrender, the perfection of love.  Am I, or anyone else, growing in such surrender, might be the question to ask....

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