Sunday 31 May 2015

Caldwell's The Fifth Gospel

Just finished reading Ian Caldwell's The Fifth Gospel. "Compulsively readable" is correct: I could not put it down till I finished it finally, yesterday. A whole series of reasons, besides the fact that it is quite well written, except in the middle when it begins wandering a bit: it is based in the "Vatican village"; it is about a Greek Catholic priest who is married, with a 5 year old son, and his brother, a Latin rite priest who is a Vatican diplomat; it is also about relationships between the Catholic and the Orthodox churches, and between the Latin and the Oriental rites within the Catholic church; and it is about the Shroud. A potent combination. The two brothers - who are very different personalities, but who love each other absolutely - are an allusion to the relationships between Latin and Oriental, and perhaps between Catholic and Orthodox. The sub-theme of a Greek Catholic married priest living within the City is another undercurrent: he is a minority; his wife leaves him because she cannot take the pressure; he does not have much money (the single bottle of Fanta on the cupboard); and there is the child to take care of.

The plot around the Shroud is convincing, but not accurate in the end in all its details. I have the impression that much of the storyline turns around the assumption that the Gospel of John is "merely symbolic." But Charlesworth and a slew of scholars, Catholic and Protestant, are slowly showing us that the geographical indicators are far from being symbolic. The pool with 5 porticoes, for example, which no one seemed to be able to find: it is the pool in the compound of the White Fathers in Jerusalem.

But the turns that the story takes are remarkable: the Shroud as a vital element in the Iconoclasm controversy, for example. Is that historical? Is it not? To be checked. The Shroud and Thomas the Twin: whatever the historical merit of this connection, certainly Thomas the Apostle is associated deeply with Edessa, and the links between Edessa, the Aramaic Gospel of Matthew, and India, have still to be properly explored - or at least, to be properly studied (by me). And then 1204: is it such a secret that the Shroud was brought - stolen! - to Europe by the Crusaders?

Saturday 30 May 2015

An ethics of watching

Rossi de Gasperis has a powerful reflection on John the Baptist and Jesus at the beginning of his Sentieri di Vita, 2.2. He makes a contrast between 'natural ethics' and Christian ethics:

“As far as a natural ethic is concerned, at night one sleeps, with the door locked. In the case of Christian ethics, which is an ethic of waiting [advent], one watches: a friend might arrive in the night to ask for bread (Lk 11,5-8). [Cf. Ap 3,20.] Christian ethics is not just any ethics whatever: it is a horizon of desire, of watching and waiting for the Lord to return. Any hour will do, provided he returns. The last word of the New Testament revelation is: ‘Marana tha (= Come, Lord)’ (1 Cor 16,22). [Cf. Phil 4,5; James 5,8; 1 Pet 1,5-7; 4,7; Ap 1,1.3.7; 3,11; 22,6-] In the time between the first and the second coming, the Church makes itself beautiful for the coming of her Spouse. [Cf. Eph 5,22-33.]”

Natural ethics: one sleeps at night, with the door locked. Christian ethics: one watches and waits. A friend might arrive and ask for bread. Above all, the Lord will arrive, at any time. Any hour will do, provided he comes. There is here a Longing, a Watching, a Waiting. All the personal dimension pours into Christian ethics and transforms it. And in the Person are included all persons, in obedience to the Great Command. And all this is the Church makes itself beautiful for the coming of the Spouse. 

Thursday 28 May 2015

Tiberius Caesar and Capri

Tiberius Caesar - the one mentioned in the Gospel of Luke - "In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar" (Lk 3,1) - is also the one who retired to Capri. And of course the one after whom Tiberias was named, by the Herod known as Antipas.

This mention of Tiberius Caesar remained stuck in my memory...

The blue grotto... private swimming pool of Tiberius Caesar

Ian Caldwell, The Fifth Gospel

Picked up Ian Caldwell's The Fifth Gospel the other day at an airport. It looked interesting, set almost totally in what the author insists on referring to as "the Vatican village." Two priests, brothers, one Greek Catholic like his father, the other Latin rite like his mother. Creepy; also heavy with dolore: the Greek Catholic's wife has abandoned him a few months after the birth of their son. And, surprisingly, about the Shroud. Just in these days when the Shroud is being exposed in Turin. About reversing the judgments about the authenticity, and so on.

I have picked up a few books about the Shroud, casual books. I always tend to check whether they mention the study of Danin on the flower images on the Shroud. One did. The others do not. 

Monday 25 May 2015

Aldo Giraudo's talk to the Salesian Bishops in the Duomo of Chieri

The only place where Don Bosco reveals his interiority is during his period of discernment of his vocation, when he speaks about “his style of life, certain habits of the heart, and an absolute lack of the virtues needed for the priestly state.” There is also the fact that Canon Maloria, who John Bosco maintained as confessor not only as a student in Chieri but also during his seminary years, refused to enter into the question of vocation discernment. Was it because he knew John well enough to think that some of his traits – his impetuousness, his need for attention, his pride, “the affections of the heart” – made it difficult to think of an ecclesiastical vocation? We will never know. What we do know is that in John we have a young man who is sharply aware of his own fragility and humanity, and that does us good. We also know that he longed for someone who could guide him: “How I wish I had a guide.”

We also know that one of the reasons for his wanting to be a religious was that he did not trust himself sufficiently in the ecclesiastical state. To this concern of his, Comollo’s uncle replies: let him join the diocesan seminary; with ‘ritiratezza’ and ‘fuga dalla mondanità’ he would be able to overcome his difficulties. John begins his seminary life with a certain rigour: he gives up his juggling and tricks; he wants to put an end to what he refers to as dissipation and his search for attention; and in one of his holidays as a seminarian, he decides never to go hunting again.

Giraudo also pointed out, surely because his audience consisted of bishops, the importance of the figure of Archbishop Chiaverotti, founder of the Chieri seminary. He noted the Jansenist influence, but also said it had some good effects: a very austere clergy, totally dedicated to pastoral work and the direction of souls. The archbishop made significant moves: strict selection of candidates for the seminary, by means of a tough examination, which not only John Bosco but also many of the early Salesians underwent; the decision to found a third seminary at Chieri for those who did not need to acquire civil degrees as in Turin, and anyway could not afford these; the choice of the Chieri location itself, sufficiently far away from the distractions of Turin; personal selection of professors and formators. The flourishing of sanctity in the diocese is in no small part due to the choices made by this far-sighted bishop. We have the notes made by Chiaverotti of several of his interventions in the Chieri seminary, and from these there emerges a model of priestly sanctity: total dedication to the ministry; right intention; correspondence with grace; obedience out of love; and so on. It is interesting to note that the pastoral motivation is not so much “sanctification of oneself” as “sanctification of others.”

Despite the fact that some authors tend to regard Don Bosco’s evaluation of his seminary years as largely negative (“I punti neri del seminario” – the distance from the superiors; the fact that there were seminarians without “right intention”), Giraudo feels that, from the seminary of Chieri, there emerges the young priest Don Bosco, a man who has worked on himself, and who is ready for the work of the Convitto Ecclesiastico.

Called to be "mystics"?

General Chapter 27 invites us to be mystics, prophets of fraternity, and servants of the young. There's probably a semantic problem with the word 'mystic'. Thus Archbishop Thomas Menamparambil, in his "Becoming Mystics and Prophets in Our Times" (Talk at the CRI Golden Jubilee Conference, 7-9 November 2013, Guwahati) talks immediately about "Revival of Interest in Mysticism," mentioning Meister Eckhart, Tauler, Suso and Teilhard de Chardin.
Juan José Bartolomé, instead, in his Mistico, Profeta, Servo (2014) speaks thus: "Being a mystic, i.e., someone totally identified with the will of the Father, is the first element of the profile of Jesus Christ. The salesian, if he is a mystic, lives his vocation with total dedication and in ongoing conversion, under the unconditional supremacy of God. And he finds in the Lord Jesus the perfect model of identification with God the Father and with his cause, the Kingdom.This immersion of oneself in God and his program demands to be confirmed and to be tested, and the overcoming of these trials transforms him, as it happened with Jesus, into a beloved son of God (Mk 9,9-11; Mt 3,13-17; Lc 4,14-15). Only those who are loved are put to the test; only those who are tempted are sent." (12)
Being a mystic in this latter sense is not exactly "mysticism" in the sense of Meister Eckhart, John of the Cross, or Teresa of Avila. It has a far more "ordinary" sense - the sense that talks about "total identification with the will of the Father," the "unconditional supremacy of God." Ecstasies and transports are not excluded, but they are certainly not the bread and butter of being mystics in the sense called for by GC27. GC27 is simply asking every salesian: is God first in your life? and is God a passionate first? What is it that makes you thrilled to get up in the morning? Who is it that is the sunshine of your life? Difficult questions, these, but clear all the same. And the answer is not usually in doubt. "Deep down all of us know exactly where we stand," Bernard Lonergan once said, or something to the effect.

No one is called to "have special experiences," the kind that leave us aghast. You can't really program those: they are gifts, given to those to whom God thinks fit, for his own purposes. But all are called to live in such a way that God is first, and not only first but passionately so. That also is a gift; but it is a gift that I believe is given to all, and of course a gift that is also a task. "You have been given the Spirit; now walk by the Spirit." In the range of experience that we call "religious experience," mysticism, at least in the English language, seems to me to occupy the upper end; it does not coincide with the whole range. 

Sunday 24 May 2015

Vocations and identity

Yesterday, at the Turin airport, we were discussing with the young Salesian bishop Stefan Oster about vocations or the lack of them in Germany, as compared to certain provinces in Italy. At first Stefan said that it was not true that Italy had more vocations than Germany, if you examine the proportions: 2 to 270 confreres in Germany, and some 18 to some 2500 confreres in Italy. But then it is true that even in Italy, some provinces - ILE and INE - have a consistent number of vocations every year as compared to the others. What is the difference? Could it be that sometimes, in the "culture of a province," the passion for the Lord is not quite clear? Certainly there is a generation in some of our own provinces for whom the identity of Jesus remains a problem: Jesus is a wonderful man, but not quite... what the Church says he is. And with this kind of Jesus, religious life cannot but be reduced to something else, a sociological something perhaps, a way of getting "good work" done, but not more. Certainly not a "living memorial" of Jesus. Something gives. And also vocations. 

Friday 1 May 2015

Danin and Baruch on the flowers on the Holy Shroud

A book by Barberis and Boccaletti, first published in 2010, makes mention, in a chapter on the pollen, of the study by Avinoam Danin and Uri Baruch: three plants, Gundelia tournefortii, Cistus Creticus and Zygophyllum domosum, found together only in Palestine, between Jerusalem and Hebron. Danin, in a conference on the Shroud in Turin in 2000, went on to say that Gundelia was found in good quantity also on the Sudario of Oviedo, the blood stained cloth that is said to have been placed on the face of Jesus, and that the bloodstains belong to the same blood group, AB. (pp. 170-72)

See cap. 20: La via dei pollini conduce in Palestina. Bruno Barberis and Massimo Boccaletti, Il "Caso Sindone" non è chiuso (Milano: San Paolo, 2010, 2015)

See also A. Danin, "BOTANY OF THE SHROUD OF TURIN An addition concerning new information since the 1999 report," accessed 28 May 2015. Contains a bibliography.


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