Wednesday 19 April 2017

Consecrated life and the Good News

Three thoughts from three different authors, to be read together:

Agastya 'August' in Upamanyu Chatterjee, English, August: An Indian Story (Penguin Books – Faber & Faber, 1988), representing a not-hostile but quite common opinion among the Indian elite already in the late 1980's, and certainly more aggressive now in the time of the saffron family:

“The Block Panchayat office was a five-minute drive away, beyond the Dutch hospital. As the jeep skirted the hospital, he again marvelled at its incongruity. Here on this red sand, which nurtured only wizened trees, ugly Rest Houses and squalid shacks selling tea and juice of sugarcane, were these acres of green lawn and digni­fied grey stone. He wondered at motivation: what had induced the Dutch to build a hospital of charity in an obscure corner of India, or the Germans to fund an Indian curer of lepers? But he was greatly amused, a few weeks later, to learn that the Dutch missionaries at the hospital were converting tribals to Christianity. But his laughter at the news wasn't cynical, it was mildly incredulous, because it sounded so absurd, that in this age of AIDS and the atom, some missionaries were converting the heathens to the Lord's Path before healing them. God, he laughed, when will these Christians ever grow up? And even the bubble memory of his mother didn't embarrass him. From then on the hospital, by its very elegance and beauty, began to look a little ridiculous. Lakhs of rupees just to seduce a few tribals, to make the sign of the Cross over some sick, illiterate and bewildered individual called Anganagla, or something like that, and insist on a David or John before or after his name. Maybe, he sometimes thought when he passed the hospital, they had a red phone, a hot-line to the Vatican, and had to send in daily reports. Tour Highness/ (but what did they actually call him? Maybe George Ringo I) 'four more heathens captured today. Two unsuccessful cases were Muslims. They were very very angry and snatched the medicines out of our hands and left.' (245-246)

And certainly, no one ever came to say in Jompanna, except Caucasian missionaries, with Malayali nuns in their wake.” (Chatterjee 249)

F. Rossi de Gasperis, Sentieri di vita: La dinamica degli Esercizi ignaziani nell’itinerario delle Scritture. 3. Terza e Quarta Settimana. I Misteri della Pasqua del Messia Gesù (Milano: Paoline, 2010) describing the nature of the Good News, which is not quite "converting heathens to the Lord's Path":

The embrace of Mary here cannot yet be the final embrace [amplesso] that would be the consummation of the spousal and eschatological union of the Messiah with the messianic people, signified by the Woman. Here we have only a first and very affectionate meeting between the two, followed by the departure of the Woman for a mission: that of the proclamation of the good news that she will give to all the disciples, telling them “‘I have seen the Lord!” and what he had said to her.” (Jn 20,18) This Good News fills the time of the Church, from the resurrection of the Lord to his second and final coming. [3:477.]

And Marko Rupnik:

The time of functional religious life is over. Religious and their institutions either reveal the Lord or else have no meaning at all. 

Tuesday 18 April 2017


Fr John Bosco Vincent Raj, SDB, from the Holy Land, tells me that Christians there do not usually use the expression SALAM ALEKUM, which is used commonly by the Muslims. At Easter the Christians say AL MASIH QAM, HAKKAN QAM - Christ is risen, truly risen! 

In Arabic, the gospel text can be transliterated SALAMUN LAKUM, or else simply SALAM LAKUM. 

The Jews use the greeting SHALOM ALEKEM. This is also the greeting of Jesus in the gospel text in Hebrew. 

Wednesday 29 March 2017

The pool of Bethzatha

In the gospel text of this morning, let us concentrate on two figures: that of the man who is healed, and that of Jesus.

The man who is healed is somewhat strange:

·      This is one of the rare cases where Jesus himself takes the initiative: “Do you want to be healed?” And the man is unable to say a clear Yes or No: he prevaricates: There is no one to help me into the water when it is moved. The question is put to me, to us all: Do I really want to be healed? Do I really want to obtain that for which I ask in prayer? We all know the famous prayer of St Augustine: “Lord, give me chastity, but not yet.”
·      The man does not know who it is that has healed him – and this is strange, because in most cases the one healed immediately wants to follow Jesus.
·      After Jesus meets him in the Temple, the man goes back to the Jews – to report on Jesus? One does not know, and one only hopes not.

So there is this strange man, but also not so strange, because he represents us all, he manifests the mystery of the human heart, the deviousness of the human heart.

And then there is Jesus – he is the real water of life. The water of life is not in the pool of Bethzatha; it is Jesus, from whose heart burst forth springs of living water, the gift of the Holy Spirit. He is the water of life, the living water that brings life wherever it flows. He is the water that heals.

Jesus is a mystery: he is not easy to understand – also because his thoughts are not our thoughts. What does he mean when he says to the man he has healed: “Go and do not sin any more, that nothing worse befall you”? What is he doing to our scale of values, where physical health and well-being is usually at the top?

It is not enough to know Jesus. it is not enough to accept him as ONE among MANY. He asks for EVERYTHING: Go, sell all that you have, and come, follow me. This is the meaning of the primacy of God: God is to be first, not one among the many interests and loves of our life. He is the ONE THING NECESSARY, for which the jar of perfume is to be broken and “wasted,” for whom our time is to be wasted (Mary of Bethany), for whom our life is to be wasted.

Let us ask insistently, with Ignatius of Loyola, for intimate knowledge of Jesus, that we might love him more dearly and follow him more closely. Let us ask for it with all our hearts. Let us ask that we might want what he wants – for we cannot even take for granted that we are able to want what he wants.


Thursday 23 March 2017

The fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets

The texts of today's readings are difficult (Deut 4,1.5-9; Mt 5,17-19). But let us concentrate on the opening words of the Gospel: "I have come not to abolish but to fulfill the Law and the Prophets."

Jesus has not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets. The Law and the Prophets is a way, for the Jews, to speak of almost the whole of their Holy Scriptures. Another way of talking about these is "Moses and Elijah." So when Moses and Elijah appear at the side of Jesus during the transfiguration, it is the Law and the Prophets bearing witness to Jesus. And the beautiful thing is that, in the gospel of Luke, we are told that Moses and Elijah appear glorified alongside Jesus glorified. The Law and the Prophets light up in the presence of Jesus, and Jesus lights up in their presence. The Old Testament lit up by the New, and the New lights up in the presence of the Old. There is no choice: the Old Testament is part of the Body of Jesus, part of the mystery of his incarnation. We cannot neglect the Old if we truly want to enter into the mystery of the New.

The second point is that Jesus is the fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets. He is not one more Law among other Laws. He is not one more prophet among other prophets. He is the One who is to come, the One thing necessary.

Let us remember Mary of Bethany, who breaks the vase of pure nard to anoint the head of Jesus – and the way Jesus defends her in the face of criticism ("This could have been sold and the money given to the poor"). Let us remember Mary again, who chooses to waste time at the feet of Jesus, earning a reproach from her sister - and there also Jesus defends her. It is not enough to talk about and work for the poor. It is not enough to do a thousand things - because work can begin from me, from us. But mission begins from Him. We are Called and Sent - by Him. There is a personal element here that cannot be bypassed. There is a relationship of love with the Lord who has loved us first, and called, and sent. We are people who are in love, a love that relativizes everything and that transforms everything. It is worth reading the Song of Songs, as we were invited to do during the Year of Consecrated Life, in order to understand the relationship to which we are called. It is important to clarify this central relationship without which our religious life makes no sense. it is worth asking ourselves about the meaning of our consecrated life.

"Ask insistently for intimate knowledge of the Lord, that we might love him more dearly and follow him more nearly." (Ignatius of Loyola)

(See F. Rossi de Gasperis, Sentieri di vita 3,47-50 for the basic inspiration) 

Sunday 19 March 2017

Thomas Aquinas, depression, baths

Philip McShane had told me once about Thomas Aquinas' great practical sense: one of the remedies for depression that he recommends is a good bath - by which he does not exactly mean a shower, I suppose, which did not exist in the 13th century. A good soak: wonderful! Other remedies include chatting with a good friend, taking a walk, having a glass of wine....

Here's another version of Thomas' remedies for depression, with the reference: Summa Theologiae I-II, qq. 35-37:

Friday 17 March 2017

Cherry blossoms

I thought I saw the fallen flower
Returning to its branch
Only to find it was a butterfly.

Rakka eda ni
Kaeru to mireba
Kocho Kana

[Arakida Moritake (1472 - 1549)]

Tuesday 14 February 2017

Flower in the crannied wall

From Fred Lawrence, on Valentine's day:

The general idea of value coincides with the idea of the good, of
excellence. Excellence may pertain to an object itself, rise from
it in isolation from all other things, and remain despite utter
uselessness. Such is the absolute value of truth, of noble and
heroic deeds, of the flower in the crannied wall.

Bernard Lonergan, For a New Political Economy, Collected Works of
Bernard Lonergan, vol. 21, edited by Philip McShane (Toronto; Toronto
University Press, 1998), 31.

Flower in the Crannied Wall

Alfred Tennyson

Flower in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out of the crannies,--
Hold you here root and all, in my hand,
Little flower—but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,
I should know what God and man is.

Saturday 11 February 2017

Nakedness and Glory and Life

The first reading from Genesis these days is about Adam and Eve, the fall, the two trees (strange how catechism had made it appear that there was only one tree), and the nakedness of Adam and Eve.

Nakedness: not a value at all for the Jews. A huge value for the Greeks, with their fascination for the beauty of the human body.

On the cross the Body of Jesus is naked, and it is meant as a humiliation, both by Romans and for the Jews. The veil of the Temple is torn, and the Shekinah is revealed in its glory.

And, if Adam and Eve have eaten of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, God now bars the way to the Garden, so that they might not eat of the Tree of Life "and live forever."

And yet when the Body of Jesus hangs naked on the cross, and the veil of the Temple is torn, we are given Life.

The via pulchritudinis: Vita Consecrata speaks of the way of beauty as an intrinsic part of formation: we are attracted, drawn by the beauty of the Lord, drawn to following him even in his most particular choices. Drawn by beauty. "When I am lifted up, I will draw all things to myself." Drawn by beauty, and by love.

Amazing how Pope Francis is concentrating on "beyond doctrine": mercy, beauty, joy, peace.

Wednesday 8 February 2017


About Amitav Ghosh's The Glass Palace:
"No one is directly indicted in the novel, not a single person idealised. Yet casually mentioned details get linked across space and time to form haunting patterns, their cumulative effect staying with the reader long after the novel is over. For all its vividness of description and range of human experiences, The Glass Palace will remain for me memorable mainly as the most scathing critique of British colonialism I have ever come across in fiction." - Meenakshi Mukherjee in The Hindu
I've just finished reading Ghosh's The Shadow Lines, with the quizzical subtitle, Celebrating 25 years. A difficult book to read, at least for me who reads these things is snatches, often separated by weeks and months and other novels and things to do. But the end was riveting, and then everything falls into place. Utterly penetrating.

And the day before yesterday, or whatever day it was: the utterly disturbing find of Ghosh's blog on the Japanese slaves in Goa...

In an Antique Land was even more interesting: I began reading it in 2011, months before I received the call to go to Jerusalem. It was a borrowed book, from Sheila's library, and I returned it. And then could not lay my hands on another copy for three years, until, finally, in Rome I bought a copy and finished it. By then I had been through three years in the Holy Land, learnt that the Cairo geniza was far from fictional, gone through Sacred Trash, another utterly interesting book centering around the geniza. But I had expected more from Ghosh. Perhaps that comes from the outsider viewpoint: he is somehow unable to get inside what the geniza might mean to a Jew, or even to a Christian. And the story he weaves - or finds? - in the fragments is extremely interesting, but then - he is caught between genres, I guess. Ghosh in this book cannot decide whether to do textual criticism or exegesis or simply write a novel. Impossible to classify this book. Based on the author's actual experiences of living in Egypt as a student. There are people who will actually go to the lengths of learning Arabic to write their doctoral theses. And then they go on to become novelists.

Tuesday 7 February 2017

Pre-"Silence": The 26 Japanese martyrs

Yesterday to the "Sala Deskur" inside the Vatican, not far from Casa Santa Marta, for a screening of a 1930s black and white silent movie, "I 26 martiri giapponesi." Sala Deskur is the place where the popes watch movies when they decide to - a rather simple small hall, holding about 50 people.
The movie was produced in Japan in 1931, and in 1935 bought by the Salesians and diffused as part of the 60th anniversary of the Salesian Missions. As such, there are no credits anywhere, but only a reference to "Missioni don Bosco," subtitles in Italian, and a concluding appeal to benefactors.
The movie was found in the movie collection in the archives of Valdocco. It has been restored - converted into digital format and cleaned up - by an Italian government agency (RAI perhaps?), with which we have signed a contract for the conservation of this precious archive.
Very well done for a 1930s production. It appears that the producer / director was a Japanese, who worked in consultation with a Japanese Catholic. The movie concentrates on the Franciscan missionaries in some part of Kyoto; the Jesuits are not mentioned, and neither is Gonsalo Garcia or the Mexican Franciscan. There are no scenes of torture; only the final crucifixion scene which is strangely stylized, and the martyrs die not because they are crucified - they are tied to the crosses - but because they are lanced.
I found myself strangely cold and unmoved, except perhaps by the scene in which the two young boys insist on joining the Franciscans in martyrdom. "Of gods and men" touched me far more, portraying as it does the very real anguish felt by men who are consecrated but faced with the ultimate consequences of their consecration. Cereda said that this was the way of all the martyrs - he meant that they all went singing to their death, as shown in our movie. I am not so sure. Or rather, I know that the Thiberrine movie touches me far more. Just as the Don Bosco of Pietro Stella moves me infinitely more than the one of other books and biographies.

Monday 6 February 2017

The Japanese connection

Today is the feast of Paolo Miki and companions, martyrs in Japan. Among the companions, there is also Gonsalo Garcia, born in Vasai (Bassein) near Mumbai around 1557. Educated by the Jesuits, he was taken by them to Japan where he learnt the language and became a popular catechist. He left the mission and became a trader. In the Philippines he got to know the Franciscans and became a lay brother. In Japan, once again, he preached for 4 years. In 1597 he was crucified along with Paolo Miki and others, including, Filiberto tells me, a Mexican Franciscan, 3 Japanese Jesuits and 17 Japanese laymen.

The Japanese connection with India is interesting. Francis Xavier was probably the first missionary to reach Japan, from India. The Collegio Sao Paulo in Old Goa - now only the ruins remain - was an international college housing many foreigners, including, if I am not mistaken, Japanese, Javanese, Malays and Burmese. [See Ricardo Cabral, The Development of Teacher Education in Portuguese Goa (1841-1961). New Delhi: Concept, 2009, pp. 5-6.]

But look at this gory piece of information that comes from, of all people, Amitav Ghosh! "Goa's Japanese slaves,"

We were saying this morning at table: unfortunately evangelization was mixed up with commerce and trade; which was probably why the British and others got on the side of the Shogun to poison his mind against the Portuguese and the Spanish. But that the Portuguese were dealing with slaves - ugh. The Jesuits were almost certainly doing evangelization + trade. Hopefully they were not among those involved in the slave trade.

Thursday 2 February 2017

Charles Baudelaire and Oscar Wilde - two dandies attracted by God

"Due dandy attratti da Dio" – title of an interesting article in the Osservatore Romano: Il Settimanale (12 gennaio 2017, p. 17) of all places.

In prison at Reading, Wilde rediscovered Baudelaire, and cites him in his De profundis: "O Signore, datemi la forza e il coraggio di contemplare il mio corpo e il mio cuore senza disgusto": O Lord, give me the strength and the courage to look at my body and my heart without disgust.

Roberto Righetto, author of this article (I saw one by him on Camus in today's Avvenire), comments:
"Tutta la poesia di Baudelaire può essere considerata un grido dall'abisso, una discesa agli inferi e una ricerca incessante continuamente sospesa fra Dio e Satana. Come scrive padre Ferdinando Castelli nel suo libro Dio come tormento (editrice Ancora, 2010), 'Baudelaire vive nel male: lo fiuta, lo respira, lo accoglie, ma con la consapevolezza che esso è maledizione e degradazione. Alla voluttà e ai piaceri della carne, anche quando li ha cercati con forsennata voluttà, ha sempre guardato come a un "peccato", a un consegnarsi al disfacimento e alla morte'. Così, l'elemento cristiano della sua opera va ricercato nella sua coscienza del peccato, tanto che per Claudel egli non è altro che 'il poeta del rimorso'. Schiavo delle droghe, in uno stato psichico spesso torbido e instabile, egli concepisce il mondo come caduta e come perdita. Solo nelle lettere alla madre, composte negli ultimi tempi, sembra pacificato anche se non avvinto dal Dio cristiano." 
Righetto concludes with a mention of accidia or sloth, which he calls today's dominant vice:
"Sarebbe però inutile e improprio soffermarsi solo sulla ricerca di redenzione dei due scrittori. Che restano personaggi estremamente contradditori, nella vita come nell'opera. Star dei salotti letterari dell'epoca, spesso esposti all'eccesso e allo scandalo con i loro comportamenti, dediti all'edonismo pagano, non smisero mai di cercare la bellezza restando spesso imprigionati - come ha rivelato Enzo Bianchi - nell'ennui, in quella che i padri del deserto chiamavano accidia, la pigrizia dello spirito, il vizio capitale oggi dominante. Wilde, che negli ultimi anni si fece cattolico, la definì 'la sola cosa orribile di questo mondo', mentre per Baudelaire era 'il vizio più laido e immondo'."  

Featured post

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