Sunday 27 April 2014

John Paul II (1920-2005): Reminiscences

I share something I wrote years ago, when John Paul II had just died.

Pope John Paul II died on 2 April 2005 after a papacy covering over 26 years. For most young people, he is the only Pope they have ever known. Many beautiful and moving tributes have been and will be written about this great Pope. Let me add a little personal note to this chorus.
 I have not always liked this Pope. As a young Catholic seminarian, I struggled to enter into the Catholic faith and to find my place in the Church. When John Paul II made his first trip to India, I was a student in Kristu Jyoti College, which is the theological seminary run by the Salesians of Don Bosco in Bangalore. The College had organized a trip to Chennai to see the Pope. Some of my companions and I decided not to go along. We felt that we had to show our solidarity with our employees and so many others who could not afford to make the trip. But maybe, somewhere in the background, there was also a slight disdain for the Pope. He was too conservative. He did not understand liberation theology and birth control and the real needs of people.
 I was sent to Rome for a Ph.D. in philosophy just when the first Gulf War was about to begin. The daily appeals of the Pope to both Bush and Saddam were an eye-opener to me. I realized then the power of the media: none of the papers reported his appeals, except the Avvenire which was the Italian Bishops’ paper, and of course the Osservatore Romano, the official Vatican paper. The thought crept into my mind: could it be that my opinions about this Pope, and so many other opinions, were based on a one-sided, skewed coverage? Whatever. But there was no denying the fact that in the community of Testaccio where I was living, the only ones who were openly against the war were us Indians – and the Pope. Even the Pope’s Vicar chose to maintain a studied silence. This was, perhaps, the turning point in my relationship to John Paul II, the beginning of a life-long admiration.
 My first papal audience was amusing. I was doing an Italian course at the Salesian Pontifical University in Rome. I had just picked up some German, and so became friendly with the German Salesians attending the course. They turned up for the audience in shirt sleeves, and teased me good-naturedly when they saw me in my Roman collar. “We did not know that you were devoted to this Polish Pope,” they said. We went to the Sala Nervi. We had seats that were quite far from the aisle. After the audience, John Paul moved down the aisle, as was his custom. I suddenly became aware that the seats next to me were empty. The German Salesians were standing on the seats near the aisle, frantically trying to reach out and to touch the Pope. The Pope did such things to people.
 During my three and a half year stay in Rome, I was fortunate to meet the Pope on several occasions. In the Sala Clementina he asked me whether I was from Kerala. I knew then that he was not infallible. No, I said, I was from Goa. Oh, Goa, he said, Yes, I remember Goa very well. The last time I saw him was once again in the Sala Nervi, but this time I was right in the very front row, thanks to the influence of Don Giacomo Tagliabue. I found myself inexplicably moved during the audience, and when the Pope came round to shake hands, I could not control my tears. He had that kind of gift. I remember seeing pictures of the World Youth Day in Denver, the camera passing over little groups of young people sitting all over the site, many of them simply weeping.
 The other image I carry is of the Pope at prayer. I was fortunate to be allowed to join him at Mass in his private chapel. When we were ushered in quietly, he was already at his prie-dieu, praying. What was remarkable was that he was praying with loud groans and sighs that day. Did he always pray like that? I do not know. But those were the days of the Balkan war, and the thought crossed my mind: he is praying for his people, and he suffers with them.
 During my years in Rome, I used to help out as chaplain of a group of young people who were part of the Catholic Scouting Movement (AGESCI). Every weekly meeting included a moment of catechesis. In my first year, the book I was using was Tony De Mello’s Song of the Bird. To my great astonishment, the stories invariably fell flat. The youngsters would often end up discussing, together with the theological ants, the size and location of the sting in the ants heaven. I abandoned Tony and took up the Gospel of Mark and some of the teachings of the Pope. They did not always like what they were hearing, but they understood it - like Herod, who did not like what John the Baptist was saying, but nonetheless listened eagerly to him. I realize that Tony was engaged in questioning ossified traditions and ways of thinking. But the young people of Rome had nothing to be pulled down. They were practically blank slates as far as traditional Christianity was concerned. They were virgin soil. The gospel and the Pope made sense.
 What was it about John Paul II that was able to electrify crowds of thousands and tens of thousands? What was the secret of that extraordinary charisma? Why was it that young people flocked to him? How was he able to establish the most extraordinary connections with people who were otherwise quite different from him, like the young communist mayor of Rome, Rutelli? Often I have thought about this, and the thought that comes to me was always: here is a man who believes with all his heart. None of the hesitations for him, no wishy washy statements, no shilly-shallying. He was a man who believed, and he was all there. There seemed to be not a shred of doubt in him. He was not, in that sense, a ‘man of the times.’ He was no post-modern. He was extraordinarily secure and extraordinarily firm. He was a rock. And it seemed to have worked. There was magic in him, as we are hearing time and again these days. Or better, there was simply the powerful attraction of a man who had surrendered everything and who had allowed himself to be totally led by the Spirit.
 John Paul II was without doubt the most popular Pope of our times. But what strikes me is that he did not bend backwards to become popular. He was certainly a master of symbols: kissing new ground, touching people, embracing babies, proclaiming the Great Jubilee. There is much to be learnt from how he went about animating the world. He was one who made full and abundant use of the marvelous modern means of communication to reach out to his worldwide flock and to many more besides. But he never hesitated to teach what might be received as unpopular. He recalled the Church firmly to its basics. He invited the whole Church to holiness.
 Karol Wojtyla’s pastoral heart was rooted in a profound grasp of the mysteries of the Catholic faith and the philosophical issues connected with them, and his writings will continue to keep many generations of scholars busy. It is not yet very well known, for example, that John Paul II made what is probably a significant theological advance. In his Theology of the Body, he proposed a brilliant and bold new analogy for the Holy Trinity. Where Augustine had suggested that we might get some idea of the relationship of Father and Son by studying the procession of the word from the mind, John Paul II suggests that the very love between man and woman, made in the image of God, gives us some inkling of the mystery of the Triune God. The love between man and woman is a desire to be one without loss of individuality. It is a faint and yet powerful symbol of the Trinity. It is the life of God built into our very beings and natures. From this central insight, John Paul goes on to give an entirely new perspective to marriage, to celibacy, to the whole of theology. It is extraordinary to think that the newly elected Pope gave the whole Church a catechesis on the theology of the body every Wednesday for five years.
 The Lord had prepared Karol Wojtyla well for the task of strengthening his brethren. The early years of his life are shrouded in deep suffering. By the age of 18, he had lost all who were dearest to him: his mother, his beloved elder brother, and his father. The joy, the serenity, the deep and unshakeable confidence that marked his years as Pope were forged in the crucible of much suffering. The end of his life was similarly marked by suffering. But this time it was a suffering that was clearly suffused with the light of the Resurrection.
 In death, as in life, John Paul II continues to reach out to millions and to strengthen their faith. In a little read book, the philosopher and theologian Bernard Lonergan has a wonderful thing to say about the way God operates upon our freedom:             “Indeed, both above and below, both right and left, the free choice has determinants over which it exercises no control. God directly controls the orientation of the will to ends; indirectly He controls the situation which intellect apprehends and in which will has to choose; indirectly He also controls both the higher determinants of intellectu­al attitude or mental pattern and the lower determinants of mood and temperament; finally, each free choice is free only hic et nunc, for no man can decide today what he is to will tomorrow. There is no end of room for God to work on the free choice without violating it, to govern above its self-governance, to set the stage and guide the reactions and give each character its personal role in the drama of life.” [Lonergan, Grace and Freedom 115, emphases added.] John Paul II was one of the ways in which the providence of God reached out and touched me.
 Classical Catholic theology used to speak of the two ‘divine missions.’ In simple words, this meant that God comes to us in two ways: through the Spirit who blows where he will, and is not bound by limits of space and time, and through the Son, who came to us in a particular space and time. The Spirit reaches out to every human being and to all cultures, peoples, times and nations. The Son’s action instead is prolonged in space and time through the Church. The Church, like its founder, is both divine and human; unlike its divine founder, however, it is marked by light as well as darkness. John Paul II was so much part of the light. We have been truly blessed. We can only be grateful to the Father of mercies for having raised up such an extraordinary pastor in our midst.

Friday 25 April 2014

The two calls of Peter

Some things remain for a long time. One of these is something I read for my BTh thesis years ago, an article by someone called Cullinan, I think, which spoke of the two calls of Peter, both by the Lake. In between these two calls is, of course, the crash. The first Peter is enthusiastic, impulsive, generous, but there is a sense of reliance on himself. The second Peter can no longer rely on himself. He has betrayed his friend. Now he can rely only on the love of Jesus for him, and on his own love for Jesus. This is the direction in which Jesus leads him, ever so gently, in a moment of extraordinary gentleness and delicacy.

In our own experience of following Jesus, perhaps some of us will identify with the Beloved Disciple, but most of us will probably identify with Peter, and most of us need to be called twice, or thrice, or many times, till we realize that we rely not on ourselves or on our own perceptions of our self-sufficiency, but on the love of Jesus and on our love for him.

So I ask myself today: where am I in the following of Jesus? At what point? Do I realize that I can rely only on his love for me, and on my response to him?

This is a very personal love, a love that is not only agape but also philia, as only the Greek text of the gospel reveals to us (twice AGAPAS ME? - PHILI TE, and then PHILI ME?), and not only philia, but even eros, as we might learn from the Song of Songs (hortus conclusus, fons signatus) and Hosea and Benedict XVI.

I am reminded also that Augustine reflected much on the figure of Peter in his musings on grace and his attempt to understand the dialectic of grace and freedom. He reflected on the Peter who impulsively declares his readiness to follow Jesus unto death, his betrayal soon after, and the Peter who, at the end of his life, did follow his master unto death, even death on a cross. And he found here the difference between the grace that is a good desire, and grace that is not only desire but also performance. (Desire alone is not enough. I found myself laughing yesterday, when I said to myself, I wanted to learn Hebrew, unfortunately I did not, and then immediately realized that this was one of those desires that have no teeth: I was not really serious about learning Hebrew. It was, as I often say to myself, a aesthetic thing. And so much of what seems religious in my life is really nothing but the aesthetic: it looks nice, it feels nice, it is beautiful. But it has no teeth, and so does not lead to transformation. Not enough to feel good. Tony De Mello: you don't really want to change, do you? You never really ask God to change you. All you want is that he repair your toys.) And then he asked: why does God give us desire but not performance? His answer: so that we might fall on our knees and beg for the performance. God moves our hearts without our wanting it, and that is the nature of the grace that is love. But love cannot be love if it takes away our freedom; and so there is the moment of freedom, the moment when I say yes to God, or I say no to him. Prayer is perhaps the supreme expression of our freedom. In between the two Peters is the whole dialectic of grace and freedom, which is a dialectic of love, the dialectic of "Do you love me?" and an often tearful "You know all things, you know I love you."

There is, at the heart of the Christian faith, something utterly personal, utterly personal relationship with Jesus, which cannot be substituted by word, by activity, or by New Age abstractions. It is a love which is agape, philia, eros, as I have tried to say.

The good news is that if w.r.t. a human love we can never quite be sure, w.r.t. the love of God, of this much we are sure, we can be sure: that on his part, he loves us, and not only loves but also waits, desires, longs for us.

And from this dialectic of love flows the pastoral commission: feed my lambs, feed my sheep. Here comes the work and the activity so beloved to Salesians. Deep within the love of God, there emerges the love for our brothers and sisters. 

Thursday 24 April 2014

Qualities required in a spiritual director

"It is obvious that not every Christian deserves the kind of trust spiritual direction seems to require. It may be less obvious that not all ordained ministers deserve such trust. For example, a recent study of the Roman Catholic priesthood reported that a large majority could be described in this fashion:
The chief area in which underdeveloped priests manifest their lack of psychological growth is in their relationships with other persons. These relationships are ordinarily distant, highly stylized, and frequently unrewarding for the priest and for the other person... they have few close friends... In underdeveloped priests there are evidences of passivity, exaggerated docility, and a tendency to identify themselves through the role of the priesthood rather than through their own personalities.... They mistrust themselves, feel unworthy, and frequently hold back from using their full capacities.... It is surprising to find in this group of men a general inability to articulate a deep level of personal religious faith. (Note: Eugene C. Kennedy and Vincent J. Heckler, The Catholic Priest in the United States: Psychological Investigations [Washington, D.C.: United States Catholic Conference, 1972] 9-11.) 
It is clear that such men would have grave difficulties attempting to be the kind of spiritual director envisaged in this book. These men have their greatest difficulties precisely in the area of relationships. They would not inspire trust in relatively mature people who were seeking spiritual direction. From the description it would appear that these men also do not have much appropriated experience of a loving God and so could hardly mediate such a God to directees. ... Both men and women who share the same characteristics as these underdeveloped priests should be discouraged from the work of spiritual direction until they have overcome the developmental lags from which they suffer, since the basis for trust in such persons cannot be their experienced trustworthiness as brothers or sisters growing in their relationships with God and others." (William A. Barry and William J. Connolly, The Practice of Spiritual Direction [New York: Seabury, 1982] 122-23) 

Hortus Conclusus and the Way of the Heart

From Solomon's Pools we came to Artas. Here, against a lovely hillside and on one bank of the Wadi coming down from Solomon's Pools, we have the beautiful convent and Shrine of Our Lady of the Garden, Our Lady of the Hortus Conclusus. See the Song of Songs 4:12: You are an enclosed garden and a sealed fountain, hortus conclusus et fons signatus. 

The fons signatus is identified with a perpetual fountain just outside of the Convent. 

Both Hortus Conclusus and Fons Signatus are names for Mary in the tradition. They indicate her virginity and her total consecration to God. 

Sr Maria Rosa, superior of the convent, impressed us with her joy and simplicity. She, who had been a teacher of philosophy and theology, came to Artas and learned nursing as well as Arabic, so as to minister to the people of Artas. "We have to open our hearts, we have to make them canals for Jesus to enter - when he wants, as he wants, how he wants. We have to be really servants." What a wonderful description of diakonia, I thought. 

The painting of Mary holding the child Jesus is remarkable: Mary holds the child's hands and guides it to bless. Berakhah once again. 

And Hortus Conclusus is wonderful, with all the background of the Song of Songs, immortal book, the book of love, the Love which is God, and the love that must flow in our hearts. A wonderful point to begin my ministry, I thought, the ministry of animating formation for the congregation. With Mary, the Hortus Conclusus, the Enclosed Garden that is not Enclosed but absolutely Fruitful. The work of forming hearts. Don Bosco's way, the way of the heart. 

The Valley of Berakhah, and Solomon's Pools

On the way back from Hebron, we stopped at the Valley of Berakhah (2 Chr 20:24-30), where the booty was held after a battle led by King Josaphat. The valley lies between Bethlehem and Hebron and is still very rich and fertile. 

Then we have Bet Zaccariah (1 Mac 6:28-47), where Judas Maccabee and his brothers joined battle against the Seleucids. Here Eleazar the Maccabee brought down the elephant on which the king was supposed to be sitting, but was crushed by the falling elephant. A settlement or kibbutz on the place now commemorates Eleazar. 

From there, taking the road to Bethlehem South, we came to Solomon's Pools, three huge pools built to collect water. See Qohelet 2:5-6: I built pools to irrigate the gardens. And from there it's not far to Hortus Conclusus (Song of Songs 4:12). 

Hebron and Machpelah

The last archaeological excursion of the year was to Hebron, which used to be known as Kiriath Arba, and to the Muslims is Al Khalil, referring to Abraham, the Friend of God.

Hebron, in Palestine, is 35 kms directly south of Jerusalem. It is the second holiest place for the Jews, because of the tombs of the patriarchs there, and the fourth holiest place for the Muslims, coming after Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem.

The name Kiriath Arba is curious - the City of the Four - given that there are only three pairs of patriarchs buried there: Abraham and Sarah; Isaac and Rebecca; Jacob and Leah. Gen 23 speaks of Abraham buying the field and cave of Machpelah to bury Sarah. Gen 25:7-12 speaks of the burial of Abraham himself by Isaac and Ishmael (who seems to have returned for this occasion, something I had never noticed before).

Hebron is also mentioned in Num 13, where the Atarim or explorers sent by Moses to scout the land reach it and cut down a huge cluster (eschol) of grapes there - the Valley of Eschol.

Close by is the field and the oak of Mamre, the famous place where Abraham was visited by the three angels (Gen 18:1-15); unfortunately it is not open to visitors. Vernet said it is protected by a fence, and there is nothing else to see. Immediately after this visit, we have the incident of Abraham bargaining with the Lord for Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 18:16-33).

The great edifice at Machpelah was built by Herod the Great. It reveals the originality of his architecture, with enormous blocks of stone. It is a rectangular structure of 63x36 m. Curiously, it is not known by Josephus Flavius. It is known as Haram Al Khalil by the Arabs; Salahaddin added four minarets, two of which still survive. Inside the enclosure are the 3 pairs of tombs. They are actually cenotaphs, empty tombs, or memorial tombs, funerary monuments more than tombs.

The other curious thing is that to date no proper entrance has been discovered into the Herodian edifice. The present day entrance is obviously a shabby entrance made into the edifice. Below the cenotaphs are the Machpelah caves, which seem to have been explored only very secretly, with no consistency among the various descriptions.

Here, in Hebron, David was proclaimed king of Judah, and seven years later, king of Israel too (2 Sam 2:1-7). Several sons of David were born here (2 Sam 3:1-5). Abner, one of Saul's generals, was killed here by Joab, one of David's generals, causing political problems to David (2 Sam 3:22-24). The tomb of Abner may be found just outside the Haram Al Khalil.

2 Sam 5:1-12 speaks of David conquering Jerusalem. This was a political move. The kingdom of Saul was small and poor in comparison with the kingdom of the north, with capital at Samaria. The kingdom of David was even smaller, because of the Canaanite city state in between his domain and those of Saul. David conquered this city, and it has remained ever since the heart of Judaism.

Hebron is the richest city in Palestine, rival to Nablus. 150,000 inhabitants. In the centre of this city, totally Muslim, are four small colonies of Jews - this quite apart from the huge settlement of Kiriath Arba outside Hebron. 

We went inside the kasbah in the old city of Hebron, that was quite an experience: shops all closed down; not many tourists and pilgrims; paltry businesses attempting to be run by the locals. (I tried to buy almonds, very cheap at 13 NIS; unfortunately the ones I checked were bad; sign of lack of movement.) 

Sunday 20 April 2014

on the Resurrection

From Aneesh Chacko on the Resurrection:

To All those who Think, Live and Appropriate the Resurrection Faith,

“Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope” (1 Pet 3:15).
“And if Christ has not been raised, then empty is our preaching; empty too, your faith” (1 Cor 15:14).

In early church fathers, particularly in St. Augustine and St. Anselm we find this peculiar aspect of seeking to understand. This is clear from their theological formulae. Augustine’s formulae crede ut intelligas “I believe in order to understand” Intellige ut credas, “I understand, the better to believe” and St. Anslem’s fides quaerens intellectum “faith seeking understanding,” credo ut intelligam “I believe in order to understand” put us on the right track to understand the mysteries of our faith, especially our faith in the resurrection of the Son of God.

In my theological formation one happiest thing that I would take with me is the experience of a seminar on “the Resurrection of the Son of God” under the expertise of Br. Abraham Antony, SDB. The main focus of the seminar was on the New Testament evidences, particularly the first letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians (15), and the gospels. Several insights dawned on our minds as we were grappling with the texts of the New Testament. We unearthed the following:

The creedal formula: the short phrases used by the early Christians to express their faith in Jesus (Christ is risen, alleluia). In 1 Cor 15:3-5 “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures; that he was buried; that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures; that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve” is the earliest creedal formula that we have in the NT. In the Gospels we see that there is a shift in the expression of the creedal formula into creedal story. This shows the enthusiasm of the NT writers to express the experience of the resurrection in new ways, to make it lasting in the minds of the hearers.

The use of the ‘divine passive’: St. Paul uses the passive voice in referring to the resurrection. Such a usage is called the “divine passive” because God’s agency in the action is implied [that he was raised on the third day” (1 Cor 15:4)]. The Resurrection is an action of God. Take another instance of the rolled away stone from the gospel of Mark, “when they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back” (Mk 16:4). Here too we see the use of the perfect passive. In the gospel of Matthew the stone was rolled away through the agency of an earthquake/an angel of the Lord. Here in mark what is implied is a divine agency. God is the main actor in the drama of salvation.

Now what is the credibility of our resurrection faith? Many people today treat the resurrection as a mythical story. Some others consider it as a symbol of the continuation of Jesus’ activity through the apostles, Christians. These are spurious claims. What is important is to consider the historicity of the event. The myths are ahistorical in nature. In the resurrection narratives we have the mention of the places like Judea, Jerusalem, and Galilee. They are historical places. No one would dare to accept martyrdom for a mythological story. The early Christians and Christians even today lay down their life for their faith in the resurrected Lord. This is the credibility of the resurrection. The resurrection faith helps us to live with this conviction, “you are not your own. For you have been purchased at a price” (1 Cor 6:19,20). The victorious Lord is in Control of our lives and not we. He leads us, shows us the way and he has promised us, “I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:20).

Another important aspect of our faith is the dimension of ‘living with the mystery.’ The resurrection of Jesus is a mystery, the truth that cannot be contained in limited linguistic categories. Next Sunday (27/04/2014) Bl. John Paul II will be declare a saint together with Pope John XXIII. In his encyclical Redemptor Hominis, Pope John Paul II applies the term “mystery” to Christ about 50 times. Hence, it is a forceful reminder that in our pilgrimage of faith, we must be content with glimpses, parables and partial insights.

Friday 18 April 2014

A catholic attitude: not only Christians but also Muslims are suffering in the Middle East

Persecution of Christians in the Middle East: Communiqué of the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries in the Holy Land

COMMUNIQUE - 2 April 2014, the Catholic Ordinaries in the Holy Land and the Justice and Peace Committee issued a statement about the persecution of Christians in the Middle East.

Are Christians being persecuted in the Middle East?
Persecution! In many parts of the Western world, this word is people’s lips. It is said that Christians are being persecuted in the Middle East today! However, what is really happening? How should we speak in truth and integrity as Christians and as Church about the suffering and violence that are going on in the region?
There is no doubt that the recent upheavals in the Middle East, initially called the Arab Spring, have opened the way for extremist groups and forces that, in the name of a political interpretation of Islam, are wreaking havoc in many countries, particularly in Iraq, Egypt and Syria. There is no doubt that many of these extremists consider Christians as infidels, as enemies, as agents of hostile foreign powers or simply as an easy target for extortion.
However, in the name of truth, we must point out that Christians are not the only victims of this violence and savagery. Secular Muslims, all those defined as “heretic”, “schismatic” or simply “non-conformist” are being attacked and murdered in the prevailing chaos. In areas where Sunni extremists dominate, Shiites are being slaughtered. In areas where Shiite extremists dominate, Sunnis are being killed. Yes, the Christians are at times targeted precisely because they are Christians, having a different set of beliefs and unprotected. However they fall victim alongside many others who are suffering and dying in these times of death and destruction. They are driven from their homes alongside many others and together they become refugees, in total destitution.
These uprisings began because the peoples of the Middle East dreamed of a new age of dignity, democracy, freedom and social justice. Dictatorial regimes, which had guaranteed “law and order”, but at the terrible price of military and police repression, fell. With them, the order they had imposed crumbled. Christians had lived in relative security under these dictatorial regimes. They feared that, if this strong authority disappeared, chaos and extremist groups would take over, seizing power and bringing about violence and persecution. Therefore some Christians tended to defend these regimes. Instead, loyalty to their faith and concern for the good of their country, should perhaps have led them to speak out much earlier, telling the truth and calling for necessary reforms, in view of more justice and respect of human rights, standing alongside both many courageous Christians and Muslims who did speak out.
We fully understand the fears and sufferings of our brothers and sisters in Christ, when by violence they lose members of their families and are driven out of their homes. They have the right to count on our solidarity and prayers. In certain circumstances their only consolation and hope is to be found in Jesus’ words: “Happy are those who are persecuted in the cause of right: theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:10). However, the repetition of the word “persecution” in some circles (usually referring only to what Christians suffer at the hands of criminals claiming to be Muslims) plays into the hands of extremists, at home and abroad, whose aim is to sow prejudice and hatred, setting peoples and religions against one another.
Christians and Muslims need to stand together against the new forces of extremism and destruction. All Christians and many Muslims are threatened by these forces that seek to create a society devoid of Christians and where only very few Muslims will be at home. All those who seek dignity, democracy, freedom and prosperity are under attack. We must stand together and speak out in truth and freedom.
All of us, Christians and Muslims, must also be aware that the outside world will not make any real move to protect us. International and local political powers seek their own interests. We, alone, can build a common future together. We have to adapt ourselves to our realities, even realities of death, and must learn together how to emerge from persecution and destruction into a new dignified life in our own countries.
Together, we must seek out all those who dream as we do of a society in which Muslims and Christians and Jews are equal citizens, living side by side, building together a society in which new generations can live and prosper.
Finally, we pray for all, for those who join their efforts to ours, and for those who are harming us now or even killing us. We pray that God may allow them to see the goodness He has put in the heart of each one. May God transform every human being from the depth of his or her heart, enabling them to love every human being as God does, He who is the Creator and Lover of all. Our only protection is in our Lord and like Him we offer our lives for those who persecute us as well as for those who, with us, stand in defense of love, truth and dignity.
Jerusalem, 2 April 2014

"With loud cries and tears"

"During his life Jesus offered entreaties to God with loud cries and tears."
Jesus weeping over Jerusalem: Dominus flevit.
"See how he loved him," the Jews say upon seeing Jesus weeping for his friend Lazarus.
"He went out and wept bitterly," we read about Peter in the gospel of Luke, after his triple negation of his friend, and after the look of Jesus.
"Do not weep for me, but weep instead for yourselves and your children," Jesus says to the women of Jerusalem.

Jesus weeping - for his friend Lazarus, and in the Garden - for whom?

Peter weeping - for whom? For himself? For his friend whom he had betrayed?

And Jesus telling the women - and all of us - to weep for ourselves, not for him. Is that the key? To his suffering, his agony, his cry of abandonment (Eloi Eloi...)?

These are not tears of self-pity. These are not the tears of impending loss, or not only that ("the intuition of loss"). The focus - is elsewhere. On the Other.

The communique of the bishops of the Holy Land is impressive, in this regard (see "Persecution of Christians in the Middle East: Communiqué of the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries in the Holy Land," at  

The seven last words at Agron Street

I landed up for a variety of reasons at the Seven Last Words service at Holy Rosary Church, Agron Street. To the best of my knowledge, this is the only such service in all of Jerusalem. Three laypeople and four of our brothers preached, a word each. I had not intended to stay on for the whole service, but I ended up doing precisely that. It was a beautiful service. The Word is alive and active. Quite apart from the fact that each one who spoke did so wonderfully, and often very personally, there is something that happens when the Word is proclaimed and broken.

The meditation on the promise of paradise to the Good Thief involved a very personal sharing about being touched by Jesus. The person who meditated on the third word - the gifting of the mother to the beloved disciple and vice versa - shared her own experience of her mother, and touched on the whole vital relationship between mother and son, mother and daughter.

One of our brothers gave a quite extraordinary reflection on Eloi Eloi lama sabachthani, the feelings of Jesus speaking in his mother tongue, the sense of abandonment so soon after the great surrender and trust of the night in Gethsemane, Jesus' identification with the sins and the suffering and the abandonment of all the world, of you and me, and the fact that psalm 22, from which the word is taken, ends with a proclamation of trust in God, God who saves - Yeshua. In me, this led to a reflection on the other fundamental relationship, between father and son, and this is so interesting, coming immediately after that between mother and child.

The fifth word was "I thirst," and the brother who preached connected it to Jesus thirsty at Jacob's well, the absence of wine at Cana, and the fact that there were only 6 stone jars there: the seventh being Jesus, the new wine, the good wine, the abundant wine. I thought of Da mihi animas caetera tolle: the thirst of Don Bosco for souls, for the hapiness, now and forever, of his young people. I thought of GC26 reminding us that this is a prayer, and invocation: we pray that we might have this thirst and not some other, we pray that God might grant us the grace of being instruments and signs and bearers of his love, we pray that God might grant us persons and take away the rest. 

Thursday 17 April 2014

Meditations of a young Salesian in Holy Week

Era una notte di aprile, mercoledì santo. Aprile eppure freddo come un giorno in pieno inverno, quando il vento ti sputa in faccia la sua fredda rabbia, rabbia che ti penetra nelle ossa, freddo che ti fa desiderare un posto coperto e caldo, un posto dove accucciarsi e sentire il tepore che man mano avanza sul corpo. Correva sul suo motorino, troppo piccolo per le sue dimensioni. Certo aveva perso molti chili da quando aveva iniziato una dieta con tanta determinazione e malgrado i risultati e i complimenti ricevuti qui e li da chi lo conosceva non riusciva a sentirsi di proporzioni "normali". Si sentiva sempre oversize e sovrabbondante e comunque a parte tutto rimaneva un uomo dalla taglia grande. Quella sera si sentiva avvolto dai pensieri che neanche il vento freddo riusciva a spazzare via. Tremava dal freddo e la mente volava spiccando il volo dal suo stato d'animo che da un pò non capiva. La luna lo guardava con il suo occhio gelido percorrere i tornanti che lo separavano dal rione "Amicizia", il posto dove viveva da dieci mesi e che lo vedeva impegnato. Gli piaceva quel posto fatto di tanta umanità e tantissime contraddizioni, un posto dove la normalità, semmai esistesse davvero, era fatta di aneddoti , soprannomi, l'arte di arrangiarsi e di storie, tante storie. Pensava ai posti lasciati da dove era andato via lasciando tuttavia una parte di se... dov'era casa infine? Già cos'é casa? Dov'é la casa? Pensava tutto questo quando imboccò l'arteria principale del rione, quella da cui si dipanavano mezze vie, mezze piazze e le schiere delle palazzine popolari gonfie di quell'umanità in cui si era immerso ormai da mesi. Era quasi certo che avrebbe trovato qualcuno per strada, del resto le vacanze pasquali erano appena iniziate quindi niente levataccia per i ragazzi del quartiere e questo voleva dire maggiore libertà e la possibilità di far tardi. Ma far tardi voleva dire perder tempo girando per le strade del quartiere in un infinito vai e vieni da un capo all'altro per fermarsi magari su un muretto per un pò. Così non si meravigliò quando vide alcuni ragazzi e come consuetudine si fermò per un saluto e una buona parola. Subito Emanuele e Marco, due ragazzi allampanati dall'adolescenza e dai cambiamenti che comporta, gli si avvicinarono e lo riempirono di domande alcune inutili altre incredibilmente argute. "Ma dove vai? Da dove vieni? Ma perché sei sempre giù? Ma davvero vivi qui?". Già, in quel suo continuo fare la spola da una parte all'altra della sua comunità non era chiaro effettivamente dove vivesse. Subito la discussione scivolò su altri argomenti e poi una domanda tagliò la comunicazione: "Ma tu ci vuoi davvero bene?". Cosa rispondere? Ma ancor prima che la risposta venisse fuori l'altro ragazzo intervenne: "Certo che ci vuole bene, è come un padre per noi". Lo era. E di seguito "Io gli voglio troppo bene, ma quanto rimani?. E in un lampo pensò a tutte le ipotesi di fuga fatte in quelle ultime settimane e d'improvviso si vergognò di se stesso, come aveva potuto anche solo pensarlo? Doveva rispondere in qualche modo diplomatico e quindi risucì a dire "Non dipende da me". E anche questa volta la risposta non tardò a venire: "Non ti faremmo mai andare via, no mai e poi mai lo permetteremmo". Sazio, congedò quei due mascalzoni dandogli appuntamento per il giorno dopo e data loro la buona notte si diresse verso la sua meta. Scese dal motorino e aprì il cancello e pensò: "Sono a casa!". Si era proprio a casa e non c'era nient'altro da aggiungere, la casa era dov'era il cuore e il suo cuore era proprio li. Quanto voleva bene a quei due mascalzoni e a tutti gli altri, sentì in un attimo di commozione che avrebbe dato la vita per loro. Saliva i gradini pensando che in fondo la casa non ha niente a che fare con qualcosa di materiale, non era un luogo fisico, era un meta luogo. Avrebbe voluto avere braccia così grandi da abbracciare tutto il rione, perché quella era casa e gli era stato rivelato da due adolescenti che con il loro modo di fare semplice e innocente, malgrado il contesto e malgrado i problemi, avevano messo a nudo ciò che era essenziale e  fondamentale. Buona notte Marco, buona notte Emanuele, inconsapevoli filosofi notturni che avevano decretato una grande verità: l'amore è casa!
Grazie, caro amico, per la condivisione.

Sunday 13 April 2014

The existential gap

According to the Existentialism Lectures, if there is a lack of conversion on the part of the subject, then there is an existential gap. “The existential gap, then, is the gap between what is overt in what one is and what is covert in what one is. [...] He can repeat the words and not have the meaning, because his horizon is not broad enough to give a meaning to the theses that he can repeat.” (Lonergan, Phenomenology and Logic 281)

Interiority and spiritual accompaniment

Jack Finnegan (SDB from Ireland) was talking the other day about the importance of interiority (in the context of formation and growth and spiritual accompaniment), and I was delighted when he said that Lonergan is one of the authors he likes for having given so much place to interiority. He also reads Derrida, and Gianni Vattimo. Finnegan is a trained psychotherapist who teaches practical spiritual accompaniment (which means he does not teach only theory), among other places also at the Universita' Pontificia Salesiana, in the course for formators there. 

Saturday 12 April 2014

International departments as 'central clearinghouses'

These days I have been thinking off and on about Lonergan's 'clearing house' comment in "The Response of the Jesuit as Priest and Apostle in the Modern World," A Second Collection, ed. William F.J. Ryan and Bernard J. Tyrrell (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1974) 165-214. Since I don't have the text at hand, I quote from an article of mine written some years ago. I find it extremely interesting in the context of the new position I find myself in, and of the 'methodological discussion' that I hear has been going on in my department:
On the other hand, Bernard Lonergan has an article containing a very interesting proposal for the ministry of the Jesuit priest in the modern world.  A principal duty of priests, Lonergan says, is to lead and teach the people of God. But all leadership and teaching takes place in the context of one’s times, and the times – Lonergan is writing some 40 years ago – are marked by modernity, secularism and self-destructiveness. The modern Jesuit, Lonergan goes on, has to (1) overcome vestiges of his classicist upbringing; (2) discerningly accept the gains of modernity; and (3) work out strategies for dealing with secularist views on religion and with concomitant distortions in our notion of human knowledge, our apprehension of human reality, and our organization of human affairs. Just how such strategies are to be worked out is an enormous question, but Lonergan offers the following hints: such a strategy will be a creative project emerging from an understanding of a situation and a grasp of what can be done about it; it will not be a static project set forth once and for all, but an ongoing one, constantly revised in the light of feedback from its implementation; it will be not a single ongoing project but a set of ongoing processes, “constantly reported to some central clearinghouse.” This central clearinghouse will have the twofold function of drawing attention to conflicts between separate parts; and keeping all parts informed both of what has been achieved elsewhere and of what has been tried and found wanting.  
A few offhand reflections.
1. While to 'modernity' we have to now add 'post-modernity,' the challenge of modernity remains. We would have to do some reading and interpretation to pinpoint what Lonergan means by modernity, but certainly 'overcoming vestiges of classicism' is something we might still have to do, as also 'discerningly accept the gains of modernity' - though perhaps we have been better on the latter than on the former.
2. Overcoming vestiges of classicism: some light is shed by the points enumerated by Lonergan: a creative project emerging from understanding of concrete situations; an ongoing project that is constantly being revised; and, in fact, a set of ongoing processes.
3. Constantly reported to some central clearinghouse which has the function of drawing attention to conflicts between parts; and sharing information between parts.

As far as the specific formation of formators is concerned:
1. There is the task of learning from what is already happening, both inside and outside the congregation: collecting 'best practices.'
2. Legitimizing formation not as a uniform process, not even a single but variegated process, but as a set of ongoing processes.
3. Promoting constant sharing, 'verification,' improvement.

14 April 2014: the formation section of the Report of the Rector Major on the State of the Congregation 2008-14 identifies the following three challenges, but only in passing: secularization [sic], globalization, and postmodernity. (p. 39)

Wednesday 2 April 2014

As certain as the dawn

The spring showers have brought a wonderful freshness: the trees, the grass, the plants, the flowers, even the skies.
Hosea: God who is distressed for us. God who longs for us. God who complains about our love.
The true focus of Lent, I realize, is not me, not even my sinfulness. It is God.
So: let us return to the Lord
Let us set ourselves to know the Lord
That he will come is as certain as the dawn.
Our part: to be open

To show our openness in little concrete ways.

Tuesday 1 April 2014

Ralph Fiennes' uncle, Sebastian Moore

Small world: Sebastian Moore turns out to be Ralph Fiennes' great-uncle. I grew up reading Moore's The Crucified God is No Stranger (or something like that, the title). God is a New Language. Wonderful, fresh, to the radicality of my salesian youthfulness. And then the great surprise of meeting him at the Lonergan Workshop, perhaps the first one I attended. Quite formidable, with his wit and sharpness. But then also him dragging my huge bags, with Fred Lawrence, across Boston. Moore was Pope Francis long back. He would probably scream at this. He died 28 February 2014. RIP. Or perhaps not. No Peace in Heaven with him around. Asking God to be a New Language and all that. 
A radical uncle
06 March 2014
WITTY, radical and unpredictable – that is how actor Ralph Fiennes summed up his great-uncle, Dom Sebastian Moore, who died last week aged 96.
The star of The English Patient, Schindler’s List and The Grand Budapest Hotel (reviewed on page 29), told us how much he enjoyed the homilies of Dom Sebastian – known to Fiennes and his family as “Uncle Patrick” – at family weddings and funerals.
“We loved them because he was always so radical and what he said was never predictable,” the actor said. “Jesus always seemed in his head an extremely radical and contemporary figure. He made any question of faith exciting and challenging.
“As someone who stopped going to church at 13, I always found anything he articulated about belief very immediate and had meaning for me. We all adored him being there and giving a view that was witty and radical.”
Ralph Fiennes said that Dom Sebastian had been a supportive influence on the life of the actor’s mother, Jennifer Lash, sister of the theologian Nicholas Lash. He recalled how “Uncle Patrick” would visit him and his five siblings, who include actor Joseph Fiennes and director Martha Fiennes.
A large family turnout is expected at Dom Sebastian’s funeral, which is due to take place on Friday at Downside Abbey, Somerset

Christian de Cherge' on Islam

From the thought of Christian de Cherge':

  • He had no precise idea of the place of Islam in the plan of God; but this led him to a commitment to dialogue "that had its source in his faith in the Father's plan of love and unity." [The divine solution to the problem of evil is one, Lonergan says in the final chapter of Insight - and that solution, heuristically, consists of the conjugate forms of faith, hope and charity, and, the Christian believes, in supernatural conjugate forms.] 
  • He refused to confine Islam to the idea people have of it, or even to what Muslims themselves say about it, or to what we see of it in its historical manifestations.
  • The encounter with Islam reveals a common faith in the mercy of God, which makes both Christians and Muslims (and Jews) witnesses to the one merciful God. 
  • For de Cherge', hope is the governing virtue in dialogue with Islam. [Salenson, Christian de Cherge': A Theology of Hope (Collegeville: Liturgical, 2012) 46.]

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