Thursday 25 June 2015

The language of beauty

Recent General Chapters have been calling for a new language with which to speak to youth. Pope Francis, in EG 15, makes a useful suggestion: the language of beauty. Timothy Radcliffe suggests topics such as beauty, freedom, happiness and truth as talking points to just about anyone at all, and it worked beautifully in the meeting with the young staff of the college at Siliguri. Plato's ladder of beauty in the Symposium, so effectively used by Peter Henrici in his Gregorian course, A Philosophical Discourse for Theology. Von Balthasar, of course, on beauty and form. Gildasio Mendes, provincial BCG. The beauty of Christ. The beauty of every human being and of the world. And now, Pope Francis again in the last chapter of Laudato Si':

225. ... Nature is filled with words of love, but how can we listen to them amid constant noise, interminable and nerve-wracking distractions, or the cult of appearances? Many people today sense a profound imbalance which drives them to frenetic activity and makes them feel busy, in a constant hurry which in turn leads them to ride rough-shod over everything around them. This too affects how they treat the environment. An integral ecology includes taking time to recover a serene harmony with creation, reflecting on our lifestyle and our ideals, and contemplating the Creator who lives among us and surrounds us, whose presence “must not be contrived but found, uncovered”.[155]



226. We are speaking of an attitude of the heart, one which approaches life with serene attentiveness, which is capable of being fully present to someone without thinking of what comes next, which accepts each moment as a gift from God to be lived to the full. Jesus taught us this attitude when he invited us to contemplate the lilies of the field and the birds of the air, or when seeing the rich young man and knowing his restlessness, “he looked at him with love” (Mk 10:21). He was completely present to everyone and to everything, and in this way he showed us the way to overcome that unhealthy anxiety which makes us superficial, aggressive and compulsive consumers.

233. The universe unfolds in God, who fills it completely. Hence, there is a mystical meaning to be found in a leaf, in a mountain trail, in a dewdrop, in a poor person’s face.[159] The ideal is not only to pass from the exterior to the interior to discover the action of God in the soul, but also to discover God in all things. Saint Bonaventure teaches us that “contemplation deepens the more we feel the working of God’s grace within our hearts, and the better we learn to encounter God in creatures outside ourselves”.[160]

234. Saint John of the Cross taught that all the goodness present in the realities and experiences of this world “is present in God eminently and infinitely, or more properly, in each of these sublime realities is God”.[161] This is not because the finite things of this world are really divine, but because the mystic experiences the intimate connection between God and all beings, and thus feels that “all things are God”.[162] Standing awestruck before a mountain, he or she cannot separate this experience from God, and perceives that the interior awe being lived has to be entrusted to the Lord: “Mountains have heights and they are plentiful, vast, beautiful, graceful, bright and fragrant. These mountains are what my Beloved is to me. Lonely valleys are quiet, pleasant, cool, shady and flowing with fresh water; in the variety of their groves and in the sweet song of the birds, they afford abundant recreation and delight to the senses, and in their solitude and silence, they refresh us and give rest. These valleys are what my Beloved is to me”.[163]

235. The Sacraments are a privileged way in which nature is taken up by God to become a means of mediating supernatural life. Through our worship of God, we are invited to embrace the world on a different plane. Water, oil, fire and colours are taken up in all their symbolic power and incorporated in our act of praise. The hand that blesses is an instrument of God’s love and a reflection of the closeness of Jesus Christ, who came to accompany us on the journey of life. Water poured over the body of a child in Baptism is a sign of new life. Encountering God does not mean fleeing from this world or turning our back on nature. This is especially clear in the spirituality of the Christian East. “Beauty, which in the East is one of the best loved names expressing the divine harmony and the model of humanity transfigured, appears everywhere: in the shape of a church, in the sounds, in the colours, in the lights, in the scents”.[164] For Christians, all the creatures of the material universe find their true meaning in the incarnate Word, for the Son of God has incorporated in his person part of the material world, planting in it a seed of definitive transformation. “Christianity does not reject matter. Rather, bodiliness is considered in all its value in the liturgical act, whereby the human body is disclosed in its inner nature as a temple of the Holy Spirit and is united with the Lord Jesus, who himself took a body for the world’s salvation”.[165]

236. It is in the Eucharist that all that has been created finds its greatest exaltation. Grace, which tends to manifest itself tangibly, found unsurpassable expression when God himself became man and gave himself as food for his creatures. The Lord, in the culmination of the mystery of the Incarnation, chose to reach our intimate depths through a fragment of matter. He comes not from above, but from within, he comes that we might find him in this world of ours. In the Eucharist, fullness is already achieved; it is the living centre of the universe, the overflowing core of love and of inexhaustible life. Joined to the incarnate Son, present in the Eucharist, the whole cosmos gives thanks to God. Indeed the Eucharist is itself an act of cosmic love: “Yes, cosmic! Because even when it is celebrated on the humble altar of a country church, the Eucharist is always in some way celebrated on the altar of the world”.[166] The Eucharist joins heaven and earth; it embraces and penetrates all creation. The world which came forth from God’s hands returns to him in blessed and undivided adoration: in the bread of the Eucharist, “creation is projected towards divinization, towards the holy wedding feast, towards unification with the Creator himself”.[167] Thus, the Eucharist is also a source of light and motivation for our concerns for the environment, directing us to be stewards of all creation.

I have a dream (Abba)

I have a dream, a song to sing
To help me cope with anything
If you see the wonder of a fairy tale
You can take the future even if you fail
I believe in angels
Something good in everything I see
I believe in angels
When I know the time is right for me
I'll cross the stream - I have a dream

I have a dream, a fantasy
To help me through reality
And my destination makes it worth the while
Pushing through the darkness still another mile
I believe in angels
Something good in everything I see
I believe in angels
When I know the time is right for me
I'll cross the stream - I have a dream
I'll cross the stream - I have a dream

I have a dream, a song to sing
To help me cope with anything
If you see the wonder of a fairy tale
You can take the future even if you fail
I believe in angels
Something good in everything I see
I believe in angels
When I know the time is right for me
I'll cross the stream - I have a dream
I'll cross the stream - I have a dream

Soundness of eye

"The lamp of the body is the eye. If your eye is sound, your whole body will be filled with light..." (Mt 6,19-23)

Jesus, the Puro di occhio (Rossi de Gasperis). The importance of SEEING, of VISION, and of training of vision. Therefore of READING, of the intellectual dimension of formation.

V.T. Thomas retreat: the eye is the gate of the soul. "Sin crouching at the door" (Genesis). The challenge of the net today, with the image culture. 

Wednesday 17 June 2015

Sayings

"Everyone has a good wolf and a bad wolf. If you feed the good wolf, it will grow. If you feed the bad wolf, the bad wolf will grow. So you are responsible."

"Everyone has a light and a shadow. The more intense the light, the greater the darkness."

"If he did it with full responsibility, it's his choice, and he has to face the consequences. If he did it without full responsibility, that's sad. He has to grow." 

Your Father will reward you

The reading of today, from the gospel of Matthew, ch. 6:

Concerning Almsgiving

6 “Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
“Thus, when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by men. Truly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Concerning Prayer

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have their rewardBut when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.[a]

Concerning Fasting

16 “And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have their reward17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

My question: What is the reward that Jesus talks about? A hint from what the father says to the elder son, who complains that he has been given nothing, in the famous parable of the Prodigal Son: "You have been with me always, and all I have is yours." The reward seems to be "being with the Father always". And more: if James Alison is right, and the "joy that was set before him" was the joy of seeing all men and women, good bad and ugly, together with the Father, then the reward is "being with God and with all our brothers and sisters." 

While Jesus speaks in images, and while when he says heaven we often think of a place up there, questions like the ones above lead us to glimpse what he is pointing us to, and it is wonderful. Heaven, as Ratzinger says, begins already now. It is a being with. And as Plascencia says, Salesian presence is an anticipation of heaven, because it is a mediation of this being with God and with all our brothers and sisters.

Saturday 13 June 2015

Two extremes in our attitudes towards evangelization: "Hit them on the head" and "don't say anything that will disturb, that will be seen as an imposition, that is 'ours'." The former is the temptation or the practice of all the radical, 'fundamentalist' groups inside and outside the church. I admire their courage and their clarity; I abhor their lack of respect for people, and their, in general, lack of sensitivity. I don't find that very Jesus-like. The latter is the temptation with perhaps remote roots or not-so-remote influences of New Age and liberal theological tendencies, and perhaps a recurrent Salesian temptation in the last few decades. There must be a saner attitude, neither one nor the other extreme. Jesus is extremely clear about his identity, and will not budge: "Will you also go away?" Yet he is also extremely respectful. I can't identify him with gospel-thumping fire-and-brimstone preachers. It is above all the beauty of his person, the splendour of his being that reaches out and touches, attracts, fascinates, and sometimes also repels. Not everyone was taken up with him.

This is very Salesian: we were not born to be fundamentalist, even if there are others within the church who might be more radical, more clear, more towards the gospel-thumping right, and more more today, visible, attractive to large swathes of people, 'successful', because of clarity, visibility, identity. Ours is a different approach. But it cannot be any less radical in its driving passion; otherwise we are lost. 

The method used in GC27

In his "presentation" of the Acts of the GC27, the Rector Major discusses briefly the method followed during the chapter: listening, interpretation, way forward (ascolto, lettura, cammino). He also mentions the difficulties experienced in applying this method.

I think the difficulty lay chiefly in distinguishing the first two moments, ascolto and lettura. Or rather, in putting them down distinctly, as they appear now in the text of the chapter. I think the two moments can be distinguished, but that the end result is a unitary / unified reading-judgment. One can certainly distinguish experiencing, understanding and judgment, but it is quite artificial to put down three sections corresponding to these three moments. In point of fact, what we called "lettura" is equivalent to understanding + judgment, and it presupposed the moment of "ascolto" or listening or experience. Cammino is quite clear: what we are to do.

In some future chapter, it might be better to think of a two part process: (1) an interpretation or reading of the situation, naturally arising from listening ("how we read the situation," naturally with the eyes of faith); (2) the way forward, or what we are to do. 

Wednesday 10 June 2015

The spendour and the glory

Both the readings of today (Wednesday, Week 10) focus on the  relationship between Old Law and New, Old Alliance and New. Especially since the first reading is from 1 Cor 3, which brings in the theme of the veil over the face of Moses / the Israelites, and the greater splendour and glory of Jesus, it is easy to think here of Tabor and the Transfiguration, of Jesus glorious between Moses and Elijah glorious. The Old Testament shines in the light of the New, and the New in the light of the Old. The New and the Old belong together.

We are invited to read the Word of God, OT and NT. We are called to fix our eyes on Jesus.

We are given the promise that we will be transformed, transfigured, degree by degree, day by day, into his likeness, through the work of the Spirit.

Radical testimony is not drudgery. It is a matter of DELIGHT, of joy - in the splendour of Jesus, in the glory of the Lord. And we are promised that we will be transformed, that we will become splendid and glorious like Jesus. 

Featured post

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

“EVANGELIZATION – DOES IT CALL FOR SOMETHING NEW FROM CONSECRATED LIFE?” MARKO RUPNIK, SJ “E se l’evangelizzazione chiedesse una novit...