Saturday 27 September 2014

Luis Timossi on the Ratio and the new document on Spiritual Accompaniment

Early morning, Los Canas, Santiago. Centro de Espiritualidad; formation community with postnovices and theology students, 5 altogether; a campus of the Raul Silva Henriquez University. Just outside and somewhat overlooking the city, though not at all high on the Cordilleras. Chile: country of extraordinary beauty. Quite European Alpine, with snow still lingering on the granite peaks on the left of the city if you look south. Very modern airport and streets. Did not pass barrios like those in Mexico.

Strong element of lay collaboration: the gentleman who came to pick me, Luis, said he was a Salesian, and only later I realized he was what Don Bosco might have called an extern Salesian. This is one of the strong elements in South America, especially in Argentina, where they have 30 communities run by laypeople – which means that lay people are directors of the works, and are treated on a par with Salesian rectors, joining the formation meetings, and even the provincial chapter. They are of course salaried people, and the salary is twice that of a rector of a collegio or school, so there is no ground for complaint on that side. Perhaps the one problem that remains is eventual transfers. For people with families this is not easy; but the Salesians here say that even other ordinary people easily now accept transfers over cities. Getting someone for the works in the interior is far more difficult for now.

The other strong element is the pride in the Salesian charism. Quito has been a major influence; by and large Salesians and especially lay people are very open to participation in courses of ongoing formation in salesianity. Then there are figures like Luis Timossi: former provincial in Argentina, a man who is passionate about Don Bosco and the charism.

He is critical of the Ratio which he says presupposes a personalistic anthropology: I guess he means it presupposes an atomic kind of individualism, or at the very least that it makes the individual Salesian the protagonist and subject of formation, with the community and others community in as helps to his growth. Timossi, instead, would want to see the community as the subject of formation. This is profoundly Trinitarian, and, he says, this is how the Constitutions proceed, at least in the earlier chapters. After C 1 which speaks about Don Bosco, C 2, which you might expect to speak of the individual Salesian, goes on to speak instead of the Salesian congregation, the community of those called to be Salesian – baptized, members of the Church, at the service of young people… Here we come back to the profoundly Trinitarian basis of all Christian life, consecrated life, Salesian life. God is Trinity, God is communion, God is interrelationship. The Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Father, but there is the most profound reciprocity between them, a reciprocity that we believe is the Holy Spirit, is Love. Strangely, Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz was talking about needing to get back to the Trinity not as separate persons but precisely as communion, as relationship, as love. And Angel Fernandez Artime pinpointed fraternity as the royal road to renewal.

Another profound and acute observation made by Timossi was the lack of recognition of the element of reciprocity in spiritual accompaniment, and in formation in general. The model presupposed is top down: I know, you don’t; I will form you, and you will be formed. – And this observation is absolutely accurate in its res: there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that formation and accompaniment are two way processes, in which the formator and director is formed perhaps more than the formee himself.

So there seems to be a great passion in our Ratio for clear and distinct ideas – which is something quite Cartesian. Atomic individualism, top-down procedures, clarity and distinctness, certainty, believing that clear and distinct ideas are all we need to be saved: all quite Cartesian, at the very least part of the dubious heritage of modernity.

So, in Timossi, a very strong recognition of the community dimension of Salesian spiritual accompaniment: the fact that Don Bosco is a man of relationships, who is present with his boys, and who in the context of confidence is able to make little interventions in the confessional. Timossi is an ardent reader of the Letter from Rome of 1884, where Don Bosco pointedly refers to the importance of gaining the confidence of the boys, without which his whole system of education fails to work. Timossi gives whole retreats on this letter, and he says the salesians are amazed that he is able to pull out so much from this letter.

Timossi feels, therefore, that the Jesuit model of spiritual direction is not what we need, precisely because it tends to presuppose a one-to-one relationship that does not overflow into life. He also said that he is not comfortable with the desolation-consolation distinction, which smacks of dualism. Don Bosco, instead, began from the good that he discovered in a boy.

Yet another element that our Ratio and CNAPS fails to recognize is the formation that goes on between peers, among the formees themselves – and this, once again because our documents tend to assume a one-to-one and top-down kind of model.

Timossi is, instead, very comfortable with Carl Rogers. Rogers, he says, not only talks about empathy, but teaches you how to get there: a pedagogy of empathy. The escucha or listening; the eco or feedback; the deep respect for the other; all skills that we need to learn, that are, at present, nowhere integrated in our processes of formation. Our formation tends to be, in the now classic phase, intellectualist: our heads are filled with correct ideas, which we then want to sell / pass on / impose on others. As soon as we begin hearing a problem, our minds begin to formulate answers. So from people like Rogers, we could very well learn a pedagogy of empathy.

Then again, in the course of our discussions yesterday, Timossi also expressed his satisfaction about the moves towards collaboration and coordination between the sectors, most especially those of youth ministry and formation. Formation that is not geared towards youth ministry is an anomaly for us. The question is, of course, how to move forward.

He also greatly appreciated the Consulta Mondiale that Cereda had begun: the idea that the regional coordinators are really part of the formation team at the Pisana.

Tuesday 23 September 2014

New mission strategy?

Chavez, in his Report to GC27, speaks of the growing disproportion, in the Western parts of the salesian congregation, between numbers and works. (p. 346)

I am thinking of the other parts of the congregation where the numbers are growing, and also the works. Is it time to learn lessons from the experience of the West? Despite growing numbers, is it time to take a wise look at our seemingly frenetic desire to expand, to open new works, build new buildings? (There are so many instances where buildings have been built and institutions set up, and now we have to run high and low to pay even the electricity bills, given that the institutions in question are far from self-financing or self-supporting. There is, of course, a simple solution: make them self-sufficient by taking in young people "who can pay." I do not need to say much about this. There are wiser solutions, of course: a middle of the road strategy, 60-40%, for example, or something of the sort.)

Is a new mission strategy called for? A strategy that involves building persons and human communities, rather than structures and institutions?

True, Don Bosco put up huge physical structures and institutions, but, as someone pointed out recently, that was fruit of long evolution. First the young people, and then what they need.

Building people and communities: the point is, how to go about that kind of thing. Empowerment. 

Monday 22 September 2014

FMA General Chapter 23: Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz on the Trinity and consecrated life

Extraordinary intervention by Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz at the Opening of the FMA General Chapter 23 this morning. He placed religious life within three parameters:

  1. the following of Christ
  2. the following of one's founder
  3. sensitivity to the times. 

He spoke of 'mental schemes' that are destructive of the gospel, of consecrated people running the risk of becoming something special. But the greatness of the Council was that it placed religious life within the church, within the people of God: not above, not below, but within. We are not a church made of up castes.

The church has also pointed out the Trinity as the model and source of consecrated life. Here we have to look, not only at each single person, but at the Trinity, at the one God, who is love. Too long we have regarded the Trinity as a difficult and arcane mystery of the faith. We have to learn to live from the Trinity. And we learn this from the Word made flesh, in weakness, and up to the point of death. And we have to ask ourselves: why did God make this kind of choice? Is it somehow linked to love? In what way?

We have to learn to take a fresh look at authority and obedience.

We have to look again also at celibacy. Celibacy cannot be something that keeps us away from people. Celibacy is not a distancing from people. Trinity brings us close to people. (Not too close, otherwise the natural laws will kick into action....)

There is a saying of Pope John Paul II that some people find difficult. The church is made up of two dimensions, charismatic and hierarchical, and they are not subordinated to each other. The Spirit speaks in both. Of course the Spirit will lead us, if we are in the charismatic, to submit to the hierarchical. Don Bosco, for example, did not take the permission of the hierarchy to begin his work for boys. But of course he eventually knew he had to ask for approval, to discover whether what he was doing era di Dio o semplicemente 'mio.'

So the theme of CASA is intimately linked to Trinity.

"If anyone loves me and keeps my commandments, my Father and I will come and make our home in him." The commandments are, of course, the commandment of love.

Sunday 21 September 2014

A Jesuit Letter to a Former Student

I am glad to see the following, especially since some years ago, on a visit to Bom Jesu in Goa, I had bothered to bother a senior and rather well-known Jesuit about books on José Vaz in the bookshop. "To amcho nhoi," was the brusque reply. But then there are always all sorts among all of us. 

The Goan Hand in an Unfinished Mission
A Jesuit Letter to a Former Student

Dear Fr. Jose Vaz,

          We rejoice with the rest of Goa at last night's
          news of your canonization, but as Jesuits we are
          particularly proud of you as our former student,
          and happy for whatever we contributed to your
          growth and apostolate.

It was the Jesuit parish priest of Benaulim, Fr. Jacinto
Pereira, who made you a child of God through Baptism on April
29, 1651.  After a couple of years, you learnt to read and
write under another Jesuit Father in Sancoale and then Latin
in our school in Benaulim.  Finally, you went to our St.
Paul's College in Old Goa for your higher secondary education
to learn rhetoric and the humanities.

I wonder what made you leave the Jesuits and go to the
Dominican Academy of St. Thomas Aquinas for your seminary
studies.  Was it that you did not come up to their admission
requirements?  Those Jesuits at St. Paul's could be rather
selective, I am told.  But I am glad we kept up our

          During your seminary days at Old Goa, did you meet
          the Jesuit martyr Sao Joao de Brito?  He came there
          from Portugal to complete his theological studies.
          You must have surely noticed the big excitement
          with music and decorated streets when on September
          6, 1673 he and his seven companions came to the new
          St. Paul's College, not far from St. Anthony's
          Chapel were you lived.

Your dream of going to Sri Lanka, in spite of the mortal
dangers awaiting you there, was fully supported by your
Jesuit friends.  They welcomed you in their house in Quilon,
where Fr. Manuel Pereira would later teach Tamil to those
going to join you, and furnished you with much useful
information.  They, then, sent you disguised as a coolie to
their house in Tuticorin in March 1687.  You will remember
that here you met a Jesuit friend whom you had known in Goa.
Wasn't it he who helped you and your servant John to cross
over to Sri Lanka after Easter that year, disguised as you
were for the fear of the Dutch?

In Sri Lanka you could build on the foundation laid earlier
by Jesuit missionaries and use chapels and houses they had
built but had to abandon after the Dutch occupation in 1662.
It was through the Jesuits that your letters, smuggled out of
the country, were conveyed to Goa.

Wasn't it due to the reports of your good work that Fr.
Andrew Freyre, the Jesuit Provincial of Malabar, sent to his
fellow Jesuits in Goa that the ecclesiastical authorities
there finally approved the Oratorian Congregation that you
had helped to start?  In 1703 the Jesuit parish priest Fr.
Henry Dolu at Pondicherry tried to support you before the
Papal Legate, Archbishop Carl Thomas Maillard of Tournon,
whom Pope Clement XI had sent to settle some affairs relating
to your work.

          During your school days with the Jesuits you must
          have heard about another Jesuit missionary at
          Madurai who had died in 1656, Fr Roberto de Nobili.
          He was in trouble with local church authorities
          because of his attempts at inculturation and now it
          was your turn that the poor European Archbishop
          could not understand.

He did admire your work but his decision was similar to the
one he had taken regarding the Malabar rites and even the
Archbishop of Goa considered it "ruinous for the Mission".
But you accepted it graciously and promulgated it with much
prudence.  No wonder, therefore, that already in 1690 Fr.
Andrew Freyre had reported to the Viceroy of Goa that you had
worked in the district of Jaffnapatam "with apostolic spirit
and zeal" and that you were "held by all to be a saint."

I wouldn't be surprised if that statement helped to hasten
the process of your canonization -- by a Jesuit Pope!  At any
rate, it was the Jesuit Bishop of Cochin Dom Francisco de
Vasconcellos, who had proposed to the Holy See in about 1737
to initiate the process of your beatification.  The process
was in fact begun in Goa, and a number of miracles were
registered.  But the non-fulfilment of certain essential
formalities led Pope Benedict XIV to cancel the proceedings,
with an order, however, that they should be re-instituted.
But that did not matter to you, because you were already
blessed and crowned by your Divine Master.

          Dear Fr. Jose Vaz, the Church needs people like you
          today: full of love for Christ, generous, creative,
          and committed.  Pray that we have them and also
          pray for us, Jesuits of Goa, who at one time helped
          you to become what you were and to do what you did
          for Christ.

Yours fraternally in Christ,

Gregory Naik, S.J.
Goa Jesuit Province
18 September 2014

Antony Flew changes his mind on atheism...

This would be interesting for anyone who has followed my course Philosophy of God, or simply, for that matter, the Falsificationist Debate.


On 1st November 2007, Professor Antony Flew’s book There is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed his Mind was published by HarperOne. Professor Flew, who died in April 2010, has been called ‘the world's most influential philosophical atheist’, as well as ‘one of the most renowned atheists of the 20th Century’ (see Peter S. Williams’ article “A change of mind for Antony Flew”). In There is a God, Professor Flew recounts how he came to believe in a Creator God as a result of the scientific evidence and philosophical argument.
Not surprisingly, his book caused quite a stir – as can be seen from the miscellaneous customer reviews on Some of those comments (and those elsewhere) implied that Flew was used by his co-author, Roy Varghese, and did not in fact know what was in the book. This is a serious charge to which Professor Flew responded and which he reiterated in a letter (dated 4th June 2008) to a friend of UCCF who has shown it to us. Professor Flew wrote:
 have rebutted these criticisms in the following statement: “My name is on the book and it represents exactly my opinions. I would not have a book issued in my name that I do not 100 per cent agree with. I needed someone to do the actual writing because I’m 84 and that was Roy Varghese’s role. The idea that someone manipulated me because I’m old is exactly wrong. I may be old but it is hard to manipulate me. That is my book and it represents my thinking.”
Professor Flew has written a forthright review of Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion. His article, reproduced below, shows Professor Flew’s key reasons for his belief in a Divine Intelligence. He also makes it clear in There is a God (page 213) that it is possible for an omnipotent being to choose to reveal himself to human beings, or to act in the world in other ways. Professor Flew’s article is offered here as testimony to the developing thinking of someone who is prepared to consider the evidence and follow its implications wherever it leads.
Professor Antony Flew wrote:
The God Delusion by the atheist writer Richard Dawkins, is remarkable in the first place for having achieved some sort of record by selling over a million copies. But what is much more remarkable than that economic achievement is that the contents – or rather lack of contents – of this book show Dawkins himself to have become what he and his fellow secularists typically believe to be an impossibility: namely, a secularist bigot. (Helpfully, my copy of The Oxford Dictionary defines a bigot as ‘an obstinate or intolerant adherent of a point of view’).
The fault of Dawkins as an academic (which he still was during the period in which he composed this book although he has since announced his intention to retire) was his scandalous and apparently deliberate refusal to present the doctrine which he appears to think he has refuted in its strongest form. Thus we find in his index five references to Einstein. They are to the mask of Einstein and Einstein on morality; on a personal God; on the purpose of life (the human situation and on how man is here for the sake of other men and above all for those on whose well-being our own happiness depends); and finally on Einstein’s religious views. But (I find it hard to write with restraint about this obscurantist refusal on the part of Dawkins) he makes no mention of Einstein’s most relevant report: namely, that the integrated complexity of the world of physics has led him to believe that there must be a Divine Intelligence behind it. (I myself think it obvious that if this argument is applicable to the world of physics then it must be hugely more powerful if it is applied to the immeasurably more complicated world of biology.)
Of course many physicists with the highest of reputations do not agree with Einstein in this matter. But an academic attacking some ideological position which s/he believes to be mistaken must of course attack that position in its strongest form. This Dawkins does not do in the case of Einstein and his failure is the crucial index of his insincerity of academic purpose and therefore warrants me in charging him with having become, what he has probably believed to be an impossibility, a secularist bigot.
On page 82 of The God Delusion is a remarkable note. It reads ‘We might be seeing something similar today in the over-publicised tergiversation of the philosopher Antony Flew, who announced in his old age that he had been converted to belief in some sort of deity (triggering a frenzy of eager repetition all around the Internet).’
What is important about this passage is not what Dawkins is saying about Flew but what he is showing here about Dawkins. For if he had had any interest in the truth of the matter of which he was making so much he would surely have brought himself to write me a letter of enquiry. (When I received a torrent of enquiries after an account of my conversion to Deism had been published in the quarterly of the Royal Institute of Philosophy I managed – I believe – eventually to reply to every letter.)
This whole business makes all too clear that Dawkins is not interested in the truth as such but is primarily concerned to discredit an ideological opponent by any available means. That would itself constitute sufficient reason for suspecting that the whole enterprise of The God Delusion was not, as it at least pretended to be, an attempt to discover and spread knowledge of the existence or non-existence of God but rather an attempt – an extremely successful one – to spread the author’s own convictions in this area.
A less important point which needs to be made in this piece is that although the index of The God Delusion notes six references to Deism it provides no definition of the word ‘deism’. This enables Dawkins in his references to Deism to suggest that Deists are a miscellany of believers in this and that. The truth, which Dawkins ought to have learned before this book went to the printers, is that Deists believe in the existence of a God but not the God of any revelation. In fact the first notable public appearance of the notion of Deism was in the American Revolution. The young man who drafted the Declaration of Independence and who later became President Jefferson was a Deist, as were several of the other founding fathers of that abidingly important institution, the United States.
In that monster footnote to what I am inclined to describe as a monster book – The God Delusion – Dawkins reproaches me for what he calls my ignominious decision to accept, in 2006, the Phillip E. Johnson Award for Liberty and Truth. The awarding Institution is Biola, The Bible Institute of Los Angeles. Dawkins does not say outright that his objection to my decision is that Biola is a specifically Christian institution. He obviously assumes (but refrains from actually saying) that this is incompatible with producing first class academic work in every department – not a thesis which would be acceptable in either my own university or Oxford or in Harvard.
In my time at Oxford, in the years immediately succeeding the second world war, Gilbert Ryle (then Waynflete Professor of Metaphysical Philosophy in the University of Oxford) published a hugely influential book The Concept of Mind. This book revealed by implication, but only by implication, that minds are not entities of a sort which could coherently be said to survive the death of those whose minds they were.
Ryle felt responsible for the smooth pursuit of philosophical teaching and the publication of the findings of philosophical research in the university and knew that, at that time, there would have been uproar if he had published his own conclusion that the very idea of a second life after death was self-contradictory and incoherent. He was content for me to do this at a later time and in another place. I told him that if I were ever invited to give one of the Gifford Lecture series my subject would beThe Logic of Mortality. When I was, I did and these Lectures were first published by Blackwell (Oxford) in 1987. They are still in print from Prometheus Books (Amherst, NY).
Finally, as to the suggestion that I have been used by Biola University. If the way I was welcomed by the students and the members of faculty whom I met on my short stay in Biola amounted to being used then I can only express my regret that at the age of 85 I cannot reasonably hope for another visit to this institution.
Note on Lord Gifford (Adam)
The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography describes Lord Gifford as ‘judge and benefactor’. He endowed lectureships at four Scottish universities ‘for promoting, advancing and diffusing natural theology, in the widest sense of that term, in other words the knowledge of God’ and ‘of the foundation of ethics.’ The first lectures were delivered in 1888.
© 2008 Antony Flew

Saturday 20 September 2014

José Luis Carreno, SDB

Jesus-Graciliano has been talking to me these days about Carreno, and he told me once again about a piece written by José Arlegui Suescun, a Spanish Salesian, entitled, "PERFIL DE DON JOSÉ LUIS CARREÑO ETXEANDIA (1905-1986): Sacerdote misionero salesiano," which had been intended for our historical journal, but was not published on the grounds of not being scientific enough. He has kindly given me a soft copy of this piece. 

A few days ago, our library, Natalya, also provided me with something about Carreno which is part of a letter by the Rector Major (probably the one about India, by Pascual Chavez) in the Atti del Consiglio Generale, pp. 24-26. The section bears the title, "Don José Carreno (1905-1986)." 

This afternoon Augustin Pacheco told me that the Mission Procure in Madrid had published a little booklet about Carreno. I should try to lay hold of a copy. 

For the rest, I know there is the mortuary letter written by the provincial of the time when Carreno died, the late 1980s: I believe the surname was Rico. And here it is, cited by Arlegui Suescun: José Antonio Rico, José Luis Carreño Etxeandía Obrero de Dios. Pamplona,  Instituto Politécnico Salesiano 1986.

As far as I know, there does not exist any substantial biography of this great Salesian missionary in India, who Thekkedathu Joseph has defined as the most loved Salesian in India. 

In his little bibliography, Arlegui Suescun mentions the following by way of secondary bibliography, which items fill in some of the missing information above. Strangely, the mortuary letter does not find mention, even though the 3 pages in The Memory are by the same author. J.A. Rico.

2. Escritos Sobre el P. Carreño
1. Rico, J. A. (1998), "Jose Luis Carreno". The Memory of the Salesian Province of Bombay 1928-1998. Matunga: Province Information Office, Don Bosco Provincial House, Ed. Peter Gonsalves., pp. 60–62.
2. Thekkedath, J. 2005, A History of the Salesians of Don Bosco in India from the beginning up to 1951-42. Bangalore, Kristu Jyoti Publications, 2 vols
3. Chávez Villanueva, P. , Carta del Rector Mayor,  en ACG 383, Roma, 8 Setiembre 2003.

For the record, I put down here what Fr Joseph Vaz would often tell me: that an Indian salesian who wanted to write the life of Carreno had gone to visit him in his 'third' (and saddest) phase at the Hogar de los Misioneros in Pamplona. Carreno had refused to hand over his correspondence. After the salesian had left, it is reported that Carreno was seen burning several sacks of correspondence. Fr Vaz thought this was part of the innate delicacy of the man: he did not want the rift and problems between him and others - probably Msgr. Mathias - to be brought to light. 

Carreno was Joe Vaz's novice master. Fr Vaz would often narrate how once Carreno noticed that Joe was shivering. Wait a moment, hombre, he said, and went out. A little later he returned with a blue sweater which he gave to Joe. Joe noticed that the sweater was warm. Only later he realized that his novice master had been wearing a blue sweater under his cassock, and that it was now no longer there. Carreno had given him his own sweater. 

The early salesians of Goa - people like Thomas Fernandes and Elias Diaz and perhaps Romulo Noronha - tell, usually with tears in their eyes, how, when money was scarce and so was food and things, Carreno and others would simply drop into the nearby Goa Medical College, donate blood, and with the few rupees buy rice and footballs and things. The salesians literally gave their blood for the boys. Heroic days. 

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