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," http://amitavghosh.com/blog/?p=3496

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'."  

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