Tuesday 29 January 2013

The Mount of the Beatitudes

The Shrine of the Beatitudes, on the Mount of the Beatitudes in Galilee. A Barluzzi creation, one of his more inspired ones, I think. I love this church. It is extraordinary, for conception, beauty and location. 

The Sea of Galilee


Views of the Sea of Galilee from the Mount of the Beatitudes... 

Chiedere costantemente...

From 22 January 2013: At the Beatitudes. A group of priests from the diocese of Crema, Italy, with their bishop, making their retreat here. The preacher, I was surprised to note, was Francesco Rossi de Gasperis – the name is familiar from the Lonergan corpus. I have his book with me here, a book of the Ignatian exercises based on the places of the Holy Land. I have just been reading the first chapter, on Mt Tabor… I find it very interesting. Sentieri di vita: La dinamica degli Esercizi ignaziani nell’itinerario delle Scritture. 2.2 Seconda Settimana, Seconda Parte. Milano: Paoline, 2007.

And this sentence  from the Exercises cut me to the heart: "Chiedere intima conoscenza del Signore, che per me si e' fatto uomo, affinche' lo ami e lo segua di pu'." (ES 104, RdG 10-11) It remained with me all through the retreat, and in my heart it transmuted thus: ask constantly for an intimate knowledge of the Lord who became man for me, so that I might love him and follow him more closely. Chiedere costantemente per una conoscenza intima di Gesu', per amarlo e seguirlo di piu'. Chiedere insistentemente... 

Not different from the prayer of petition that Aumann lists as one of the three great means of growth in the spiritual life. And perhaps not different from the desire for perfection which he lists as first among the secondary means for growth. 

Vernet turned to me last night and said: Do you know which was for me the real end of the retreat? It was the last sentence you quoted in your homily. And he went on to mention precisely "Chiedere costantemente..." 

For me and my generation, for whom the prayer of petition has been somewhat sidelined and looked down upon as an inferior form of prayer - I speak naturally of my own context in India - this is a great discovery, and, for me, a great gift.

Sunday 27 January 2013

Magdala of the dried fish

On our way up to the Mount of the Beatitudes a few days ago, we stopped at the Magdala site. The site belongs to the Legionaries of Christ, who had intended to build a religious hotel, like the one at Notre Dame which they look after. In the process, they discovered ruins of the old town of Magdala, the town of Mary of Magdala: a synagogue dating from the time of Jesus, houses with mikvehs, places for preparing dry fish, for which Magdala was famous - in fact, its other name was Taricheae, in Greek, the place of the dried fish. What strikes me about these fishing villages on the Lake of Galilee is the way they bear an astounding similarity to our own fishing villages, say, on the Mumbai coast - I am thinking here of Uttan, from which so many of our salesians come: the same little houses, crowded together, though perhaps the black basalt stone is peculiar to Galilee and reminds me of the Ahmednagar villages. But yes, fishing villages even now are prosperous places, and it appear that it was so also then. Vernet said yesterday that Jesus left Nazareth and came to settle down in Capharnaum because Capharnaum was an important town. If we go by the ruins, it was a tiny town. You can imagine what Nazareth must have been like. Sperduto expresses it perfectly. "What good can come from Nazareth," a young brother reminded me when I said this. 

Tuesday 22 January 2013

St James Armenian Church, Jerusalem

Ecumenical prayer at St James Apostolic Armenian church, Jerusalem. The Armenians claim that James the Great was martyred here, and that this was also the house of James the Less, first bishop of Jerusalem. Vernet says this was one of the main entrances to the royal palace / fortress of Herod the Great, part of which is now the 'Citadel of David.'

The first thing that struck in the church was the darkness: the doors were covered with blinds, and in the warm darkness the lamps that hang everywhere were delightful. The whole service was conducted with such natural light; there seem to be no artificial lights at all in the church.

Then: almost no pews in the church, but lots of carpets. Very oriental. (Fusion of east and west, the preacher said. He also mentioned the great Queen Melisande, and how the Armenians were the mediators between the Muslim rulers and the Christians.)

The next thing was the altar: very different (see the second photo above). Then the peculiar headgear of the priests: the pointed top, also above the main altar, and the church: symbolic of Mt Ararat in Armenia.

Then the seminarians: the minor seminarians, all smartly suited, and the major seminarians in black soutanes. Quite a good number. Is this the reason why so many Armenian girls here remain unmarried?

The service was in Armenian, Coptic, Amharic-Geze, and Syrian. Also some English here and there. The homily - very strong plea for unity - was in English, given by an Armenian priest. Several blessings in different languages and by bishops of different churches.

All in all, a wonderful service. 

Sunday 20 January 2013

Making vows

A simple and beautiful thought from Timothy Radcliffe: how is it that we can make our vows, in an age when giving a word seems so foolish? And he says: because it is God who has first given his word to us, made promises to us: to love us, to cherish us, to be with us, forever. (Sing a New Song 31-2)

Friday 18 January 2013

Christians and Jews

Charlesworth narrated a story from (Martin?) Buber: why are Christians and Jews fighting?> The Christian says He will come again. The Jews say: He will come. Both are waiting for him. So when he comes, we will ask: have you been here before?

James H. Charlesworth on the Gospel of John and the archaeology of Jerusalem

Just back from James Charlesworth’s lecture on The Gospel of John and the Archaeology of Jerusalem, at Dormitio. Charlesworth, Director and Editor, Princeton Dead Sea Scrolls Project. The little ‘Diwan’ was packed… Diwan probably because of the Dormitio interest in Eastern Churches and Languages. And the lecture was one of those 'lifetime experiences' - the man was competent, humorous, and very 'catholic' in the sense of open and ecumenical. There were several Jewish people in the audience, and a range of Christian denominations.

Charlesworth's main thesis was that the Gospel of John must be credited for far more historical knowledge and accuracy than is common admitted. He spoke of a paradigm shift. The old paradigm: (1) John depends on the Synoptics; (2) John is the latest gospel. (3) It's Greek (and therefore late). (4) Its Christology is advance (and there it's late). The new paradigm: (1) It is unlikely that John depends on the Synoptics. (2) This is the most Jewish of all the gospels. See Jn 12, with its Qumran language - 'sons of light' etc. (3) The Parables of Enoch, which we thought was post-Christian, now turns out to be pre-Jesus. It speaks of the son of Man and identifies him with the Messiah, and it is based in Galilee. John's parables and the Son of Man traidtion is a pre-70's stratum. (4) There is no connection between genius and chronology. One of the most advanced symbolic cultures was right here (in the Holy Land). What we have are not just ideas, but real stories. The aspects of architecture, the knowledge of Jerusalem, and the Judaism of the gospel of John point to it being an early gospel. John is therefore quite essential to a study of Jesus (Charlesworth says Schweitzer never used the term 'historical Jesus' - that was an invention of the popularizers.)

We should ask not about the date of the 5th edition (redaction) of John, but of the1st. This seems to be pre-70s, pre-destruction of Qumran (68 AD).

We know now that almost all the documents of Masada come from Qumran.

John speaks of Beth-zatha, with its five porticoes. The old paradigm refused to take this as historical, and preferred a symbolic interpretation: it alludes to the Pentateuch. But archaeology has revealed Beth-zatha with five porticoes at St Anne's. John speaks of being an eye-witness; Luke says only that he has gathered information from the eye-witnesses.

When the Romans burned Jerusalem, they burned early Christianity and Judaism. The greatest Christian heresy is anti-Semitism. There is so much of the Jewish in Chrisitanity.

Some people say that the Asclepion is from Aelia Capitolina. But if there were 500 Roman soldiers in the Antonia, which was right next to Beth-zatha, it stands to reason that there might have been an Asclepion in Beth-zatha, and traces have been found. Asclepion was the god who healed soldiers.

The Pool of Siloam (Sent): an accident (the bursting of a large pipe) led to the discovery of this Pool recently. It is a large mikveh. Why were two large mikvehs (the other being Beth-zatha) needed in a city of about 35,000 people? Because of the influx of pilgrims thrice a year: no one could enter the Temple without the ritual bath.

Two great writing sects: the Essenes and the followers of Jesus. It is not unimaginable that there might have been some interaction.

Rhetoric belongs to the Greek world, not to the Semitic. The Semitic would have fact, history, upon which symbolic meanings would be piled. Pure ideas is a Greek thing. We cannot ascribe it to John.

Things are changing. there is a paradigm shift. Bultmann's voice was strong in Tubingen even 4 years ago; now people don't know where his office used to be.

Thursday 17 January 2013

The greatest service: education to freedom

Felicísimo Martínez OP: “There is no greater service to a person than to educate him or her to freedom… The fear of freedom may be rooted in the good-will of those who feel responsible for others and it can be legitimated by an appeal to realism, but this makes it no less a lack of faith in the vigour and force of the Christian experience. Fear and lack of faith always go hand in hand.” [Radcliffe 93-4.]

"The Order is a home for sinners"

I like the following reflection of Timothy Radcliffe's.

In her vision, Radcliffe says, the Father says to St Catherine that the ship of St Dominic is one in which both the perfect and the not-so-perfect fare well. The order is a home for sinners. T.S. Eliot tells us of people who are dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good. Radcliffe says, instead, that the religious system of government is not meant to obviate the need to be good; it is ultimately grounded, instead, upon a search for virtue. [Radcliffe, Sing a New Song: The Christian Vocation (Dublin: Dominican Publications, 1999) 89.]

Radcliffe, of course, was the General of the Dominicans. Could we say the same about the Salesian Congregation, with our adage that, if other congregations were able to take converted sinners, ours was not? Whatever: the fact remains that we are certainly not perfect, not all of us. I like Radcliffe's realism. 

Fortitude presumes vulnerability

“Fortitude presumes vulnerability; without vulnerability there is no possibility of fortitude. An angel cannot be courageous because it is not vulnerable. To be brave means to be ready to sustain a wound. Since human beings are substantially vulnerable, then we can be courageous.” [Joseph Pieper, A Brief Reader on the Virtues of the Human Heart, tr. Paul C. Duggan (San Francisco, 1992) 24, cited in Radcliffe 91.]
Radcliffe takes the occasion to make a connection between governance in religious communities and vulnerability. He has just given the example of Jesus, the strong and vulnerable man, and he says that good government demands of us the courage to be vulnerable. We have to grant power to our brothers rather than undermining them.

A paradoxical relationship to power

Timothy Radcliffe:
“The life of Jesus shows a paradoxical relationship to power. He was the man of powerful words, who summoned the disciples to follow him, who healed the sick, cast out demons, raised the dead and dared to confront the religious authorities of his time. and yet he was the powerless one who refused the protection of the sword of Peter, and who was hung upon a cross.
With this strong and vulnerable man, power was always healing, and life-giving. It never cast down, diminished, made little, destroyed. It was not a power over people, so much as a power that he gave to them. Indeed he was most powerful precisely in refusing to be a channel of violence, in bearing it in his body, in letting it stop with him. He took his passion and death into his own hands, and made it fruitful, a gift, Eucharist.” [Sing a New Song: The Christian Vocation (Dublin: Dominican Publications, 1999) 91.]

The first and radical beatitude

Vecchi again on obedience:
In the Gospel there is a beatitude which explicitly speaks of the “pure of heart”.  There is another which refers to the “poor in spirit”.  Other speak of the meek, those who seek after justice, the peacemakers and the persecuted.  Obedience does not receive specific mention, but we could well say that it is proclaimed in every line of the Gospel.  It leads all the others.  It is the totality of the Gospel which from the Annunciation to Christ’s death on the cross, proclaims the beatitude of communion with the Father. 
It is the beatitude which links the Son intimately with the Father.  Whoever wants to follow in the way of Christ is called to enter into the Mystery of his obedience. (AGC 375)

The deepest reason for the crisis of obedience

Vecchi on the crisis of the religious vow of obedience:
We have to admit therefore that in  the current culture obedience does not have a good press.  It is not one of those virtues which immediately excites fellow feeling, nor perhaps is it one of the gifts which today’s young person or adult wants to possess to the extent that it becomes a habitual request in his daily prayer, for example.  But the deepest reason is not found in the practice but in the failure to grasp the theological foundation we have expressed in the title.  Religious obedience, in fact, is meant to be united with that of Christ for the redemption of the world. (AGC 375)

Obedience and mediation

From Vecchi, AGC 375, "I Have Come to do Your Will," on obedience and mediation:
A correct understanding of the “spirituality of the incarnation” will help us to a calm acceptance of the presence of mediations as “day by day interpreters of God’s will”.
The spirituality of incarnation: surely a question of acknowledging and understanding that God has chosen to come to us in two ways, the way of the Spirit and the way of the Son. The mission of the Spirit is beyond bounds of space and time, and is immediate, acting upon the heart, blowing where it will. The mission of the Son is incarnate in space and time, and therefore necessarily calls for "warm human bodies" to continue it - and this is the Church, the Body of Christ, the locus of mediations.

Wednesday 16 January 2013

An icon of prayer

This morning's gospel, Mk 1:29-39, wonderful in the context of our approaching retreat in Galilee, on the Mount of the Beatitudes: Jesus preaching and teaching, healing and casting out demons, and, in the middle of it all, praying: "a great while before dawn, he rose and went out to a lonely place, and prayed there."

Jesus, of all people, was surely in constant contact with his Father, in constant union: the tradition talks of Jesus as permanently enjoying the beatific vision which will hopefully be ours only in the next life. So why does Jesus go to pray? What makes his rise early in the morning and seek out a lonely place to pray? What moves him? And what was his prayer like? What did he pray about? We do not know, we are not told, except sometimes when we get little glimpses, like when he says, "I bless you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for having hidden these things from the wise and revealed them to the little ones!" But Jesus praying early in the morning, late at night, in some lonely place, that is fascinating for me. It is an icon that I can hold in my heart and before my mind as I go to Galilee next week.

Jesus at prayer: part of our Imitation of him, part of our sequela: called to be like him even in this. Looking at one we love, we become like him or her: this is a human law that we experience, that we all have experienced. Looking at the Beloved, we are transformed into the Beloved, transfigured into his likeness, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians.

In our own salesian tradition, we have the icon of the young boy Johnny Bosco praying, lost in contemplation, in the Moglia fields, and Stella saying that the 3 years he spent on that farm as a farmhand were, far from wasted, precious years in which he began to taste the delight of prayer. We have also a young Mary Mazzarello, unable to go across the valley to the parish church, spending hours at the window of the little house of Valponasca, anothe amazing image of what grace, the Love of God, can do.

That we might "fan into a flame the gift we have received."

Tuesday 15 January 2013

Drops of hope

Very interesting encounter after the Taize prayer service at our place the other night: Myron, an Israeli person from the Gush Etzion kibbutz, and Pastor John, who, interesting, is staying with Myron at the settlement. Both Myron and John are deeply interested in working for peace, and they believe in doing the little things. Myron's way is to give lifts to people whom he sees on the road from Gush Etzion to Jerusalem. His own people think he's crazy, but he says it is they who are crazy, having chosen to live in the settlement. This is his way of getting to know and becoming friends with people, and most of those hitch-hiking or walking to Jerusalem are Palestinians. John came to Israel and wanted to meet a settler, and his taxi driver took him to the only person he knew: Myron.

Drops in the ocean, but we are people of hope. I am inspired. And, besides, hope is a theological virtue. Which simply means, it is God's work in us. It is part of what we mean and what we become when we say: We believe. 

Sunday 13 January 2013

The wisdom of the Catholic spiritual tradition

As I struggle with the 'traditional' and 'objective' language of this wonderful book, Jordan Aumann's Spiritual Theology, which our fourth year students have used for their spiritual theology course, I realize that, with the discomfort and rejection of such language after the Council, we have thrown away or neglected or rejected the riches of a large part of the tradition and wisdom of the Catholic spiritual tradition. Perhaps the consequences of this are being felt in a place like Catholic India, and Salesian India. And perhaps we should pick up the courage and the energy to retrieve the treasures of the tradition, while integrating them with the new questions, the new situations, the new demands: the new sensitivity towards the subaltern, the feminine, the cosmos and the eco-system, the religions, the cultures, and so on. 

Thursday 10 January 2013

Ratisbonne in snow

Ratisbonne in snow... and our brothers in Independence Park.

A Fairly Honourable Defeat

Some notes I had made on Iris Murdoch's intriguing novel, A Fairly Honourable Defeat.

M: takes one thing at a time, without bothering to look at the consequences, and then is surprised about the consequences.

R: the important thing for him is his self-image, or perhaps his image. His problem is hubris: he wants to be seen as 'good' and 'wise' and is shattered at the thought of public loss of face.

H: deeply needy of affection, insecure.

J: wicked? or only brutally honest? But plays, and big time, is unaffected by blame, and does not feel responsible for the consequences of his actions on others.

Tallis: comes out best, though a really pitiable life. He is the polar opposite of J, has no self-conceit like R, cares but in a funny way: M - his father - Peter.

This is one of those novels who aim is neither to entertain nor to titillate, but to just observe life minutely and to put it down, trying to capture the drama. 

Wednesday 9 January 2013

The Day of Judgment

San Francesco di Sales, il cui umanesimo e carita' ispiravano don Bosco, amava dire che nel giorno del Giudizio e' meglio essere giudicati da Dio che dalla propria madre. (Don Giuseppe Quadrio: Un uomo e prete del nostro tempo42)
St Francis de Sales loved to say that, on the day of Judgment, it is far better to be judged by God than by one's own mother. 

The priest: vicar of the love of Christ

Who is the priest, according to Quadrio?
Il sacerdote e' il Christus hodie, il Cristo oggi, "un Cristo autentico in cui il divino e l'umano sono integri e armoniosamente uniti"; e' il vicarius amoris Christi (il Vicario dell'amore di Cristo) perche' fa le veci di Lui nell'amare le anime"; colui che non delude le attese della povera gente: "Sappiate capire, sentire, cercare, compatire, scusare, amare. Non temete: tutti aspettano soltanto questo! ... Prima che con i dotti discorsi predicate il Vangelo con la bonta' semplice e accogliente, con l'amicizia serena, con l'interessamento cordiale, con l'aiuto disinteressato..." (Don Giuseppe Quadrio: Un uomo e prete del nostro tempo28)
The priest is Christ today, an authentic Christ in whom the divine and the human are harmoniously integrated. He is the vicar of the love of Christ, because through him Christ loves people. He is the one who does not betray the hopes of the people. Learn to understand, feel, search, suffer with, excuse, love. Don't be afraid: everyone expects just this! Preach the gospel not so much through learned discourses but with a simple goodness that knows how to welcome people, with serene friendship, with cordial interest, with disinterested help. 

Suffering, loneliness, indifference, abandonment

This is the surprising part: Quadrio writing about his feelings in his sickness.
Non e' stato un periodo facile quello passato all'Ateneo: il dolore fu in lui sempre presente come malattia, come incomprensione, come sofferenza morale: "Perche' basta che uno si ammali per uscire dall'orbita del vostro interessamento? Perche' quando uno sta male, vi dimenticate che lo chiamavate parente? O che voi non li volete i parenti malati? Come i Nazisti! ... Perche' non sono riuscito nella mia vita a farmi almeno un piccolo credito per l'ora del bisogno e dello sconforto? Perche' il fallimento? Perche'?" (Don Giuseppe Quadrio: Un uomo e prete del nostro tempo26-27)
Un lungo sfogo accompagnato da un "Confiteor", commovente che tempera il suo lamento da Giobbe: "Mi confesso di aver assaporato senza allontanarla l'amarezza della solitudine, dell'indifferenza e dell'abbandono di chi egoisticamente pensavo piu' prossimo. Mi confesso di aver disperato della riconoscenza e dell'umanita' del mio prossimo senza reagire. Mi confesso di non aver sufficientemente combattuto all'interno e all'esterno questi sentimenti come frutti naturali del mio amor proprio ferito ed esasperato e del mio fisico malato" (9 gennaio 1952). (27)
Nelle vacanze del 1951 era stato in Germania ed era tornato con un malessere generale: "Signore ti offro quest'ora di agonia in unione alla tua agonia nell'orto e sulla croce... Signore, insegnami finalmente a soffrire con dignita', con virilita' in pace e silenzio senza fare il mendicante di conforti umani, i quali - come dimostra il tuo esempio (tre volte hai chiesto ai discepoli, tre volte invano) - non verranno mai" (10 gennaio 1952, ore 14,30) (27)
Consoling to see the humanity of a saintly person: he misses the concern and the company of his confreres, he complains about it, and then he confesses his feelings of bitterness (amarezza is somewhat of a different flavour) because of loneliness, indifference, abandonment by "those who I selfishly thought most close to me". He confesses at having despaired of the humanity of his confreres. He confesses not having sufficiently fought against these feelings which he calls fruit of his wounded and 'exasperated' self-love... Strong words, but very touching not least in their frankness and transparency, through which in the end the Spirit shines through.

The temptations of a professor

Quadrio again:
Ti prometto solennemente, o Maria, di volermi impegnare totalmente a farmi santo, presto santo, gran santo, di volermi abbandonare dolcissimamente all'opera, alla guida dello Spirito Santo. Ti prego di aiutarmi a vincere gli ostacoli contro cui devo cozzare: il mio interesse, tornaconto, lo spirito di arrivismo. Ottienimi, o Mamma, dal tuo soavissimo Sposo, lo Spirito Santo, l'abbondanza dei suoi sette doni nella Pentecoste di quest'anno che spero sara' memorabile nella mia vita. (Dal Diario, 23 maggio 1944) (Don Giuseppe Quadrio: Un uomo e prete del nostro tempo24)
Working towards one's own interest, for one's own benefit, the spirit of ambition: all things over which a professor and a formator has to keep constant vigil. 


Quadrio writes:
Sono umiliato di me stesso e della mia debolezza... Ora e' tempo di ricominciare da capo! (Don Giuseppe Quadrio: Un uomo e prete del nostro tempo18)
Portero' con Gesu' la pena del mio peccato: faro' penitenza, ridandogli le anime rubate: buon esempio e carita'; sanando le piaghe dell'anima mia: candore dell'anima mia. Tutto con amore: 'Le saranno rimessi i peccati perche' ha molto amato'. (Luca 7, 47) (19)
Foolish to try to guess what the sins might have been, but very likely a hint is given by "le anime rubate" and the lack of "buon esempio e carita'." The point is the delicateness of the conscience.

The Salesian formator

In a program of life for 1942-43, written during the annual retreat, don Giuseppe Quadrio says:
Saro' per ognuno dei miei chierici (giovani che si preparavano al sacerdozio con i limiti e i pregi dei giovanotti 'figli del loro tempo') un vero fratello: cordiale, affabile, sorridente, accogliente. Cerchero' quelli che non mi avvicinano; incoraggero' i timidi; consolero' gli abbatuti, salutero' sempre per primo chi mi incontra; non lascero' passare tempo notevole senza intrattenermi con tutti; offriro' sempre un favore a tutti; vincero' la timidezza e la ritrosia. (Don Giuseppe Quadrio: Un uomo e prete del nostro tempo,18)
I will be, for all my young seminarians, a true brother: cordial, affable, smiling, welcoming. I will seek out those who do not approach me; encourage those who are timid; console those who are 'down'; always be the first to wish. I will not let too much time pass without meeting each one; I will always be ready to do a favour to everyone. I will overcome my own timidity and backwardness... What a program.

The priest must be human

Surprising things in this little booklet on don Quadrio (Don Giuseppe Quadrio: Un uomo e prete del nostro tempo, ed. Comunita` Salesiana di Torino Crocetta [Turin: Editrice Elledici, 2012]). Here's one on the priesthood:
Dobbiamo evitare il sacerdozio disincarnato in cui il divino non e' riusito ad assumere una vera e completa umanita`. Abbiamo allora dei preti che non sono uomini autentici, ma larve di umanita': dei marziani piovuti dal cielo, disumani ed estranei, incapaci di capire e di farsi capire dagli uomini del proprio tempo e del proprio ambiente. Dimenticano che Cristo, per salvare gli uomini, dicese... si incarno'... si fece uomo, volle diventare in tutto simile a noi, fuorche' nel peccato. Se siamo il ponte tra gli uomini e Dio, bisogna che la testata del ponte sia solidamente poggiata sulla sponda dell'umanita', accessibile a tutti quelli per cui fu costruito. (16)
Quadrio seems to have made a decisive choice for Don Bosco and the salesian congregation on the basis of this conviction: "Don Quadrio fu attratto dalla figura di don Bosco per la sua profonda umanita' sacerdotale." (16) He speaks of having come into contact with Don Bosco through a book: "Oh, libro benedetto e indimenticabile messomi tra le mani dalla Vergine Santa affinche' io trovassi in esso la mia vocazione. Don Bosco da quelle pagine mi affascino', mi conquise e fui suo. Io non cessero' finche' avro' vita, di benedire quel libro che, attraverso molte mani, veniva a me dall'amatissimo don Tettamanti, allora parroco di San Giacomo." (13)

The booklet continues:
Convinto che la grazia di Dio passava nel cuore dell'uomo attraverso il ponte dell'amicizia, amava essere umano: 'Chiunque vi avvicina, senta che nella vostra persona apparuit benignitas et humanitas Salvatoris notri, e' apparsa l'umanita' e la bonta' del Salvatore nostro. Gli uomini che vi avvicinano o che vi fuggono sono tutti indistintamente affamati di bonta', di comprensione, di solidarieta', d'amore.' (17-18)

Tuesday 8 January 2013

For a renewal of the friendly chat

A huge number of practical and useful suggestions for Salesian rectors in the final chapter of Pietro Brocardo's Maturare in dialogo fraterno. I put down some points here.

The chapter begins by noting that the friendly chat is an irreplaceable (the word used is 'irrinunziable') aspect of the Salesian charismatic identity. This is interesting, especially since we have not really focussed much on this aspect in the last two general chapters - even though we have mentioned it in passing, when talking about the importance of the role and the preparation of the Rector.

The revival of the friendly chat should not be seen as something that can be done by itself. It is linked to a whole set of elements and factors that form part of community life:
  • recovering the common patrimony of our salesian spirituality, without which we risk not having a common language and criteria for action;
  • learning to work together with others, and first of all with the confreres of the community;
  • recovering the value of discipline: especially personal interior discipline, which, however, necessarily presupposes exterior discipline: a common timetable, common moments in the day, fidelity to one's commitments, fidelity to one's daily duties;
  • re-qualifying oneself professionally, which does not mean going for new courses and degrees, but acquiring the ability to understand new 'languages', the ability to read the 'disorder' of society without demonizing it immediately; facing the future without lamentations; etc.
  • reconstructing the sources of unity: searching for the synthesis between interior life, one's own personal history, the salesian spirit, the fundamental motivations of our vocation, the challenges of the present;
  • keeping constantly in mind the great conditioning factors of today: the frenetic speed of the life of communities and of individuals; the mismatch between a certain type of formation and the complex and multiple demands and tasks that the congregation has to face today; the challenges arising from postmodernism.
Two ways of thinking about the community: (1) faithful observance of common commitments, timetable, etc. (2) fraternity and deep sharing. 

For a balance between the two tendencies
  1. Rethinking the salesian community
  2. Attention to confreres in their particular situations
  3. Life with the youth
  4. The timetable of the community
  5. Communication
Creating a climate of dialogue
  1. Availability. Confreres everywhere want the Rector to be always present in the house, and always available, with the office always open to welcome people. Whether we want it or not, the Rector remains the animating centre and the guide of the community, and not merely the juridical head. 
  2. Privileging what is essential. What characterizes the Salesian Rector, according to Don Bosco and an unbroken tradition, is his ability to "far fare", animating his confreres in their tasks without falling into the temptation to do things himself. The Rector safeguards his time for dialoguing with his confreres, with a special predilection for the young, the old and the sick. 
  3. The passion for dialogue and for formation. This is a question of an attitude. Without a passion for dialogue and for formation, the actions in themselves - keeping the office open, being available, keeping contact - are not enough. 
  4. Meeting the confreres every day. This is the secret of the good running of the community. Not letting a day pass without saying a word to each confrere. Amazing effect on building confidence and sincere affection, leading to deeper and more fruitful chats in the setting perhaps of the office. 
  5. Concrete care of the confreres
  6. Making the first move. Don't wait for others to make the first move. Make it yourself: a welcoming attitude, a smile, a cordial greeting, frequent stops in the course of the day just to say How are you.
  7. Putting people at ease. The confreres should not be led to think: If I say this, the Rector will get mad; if I share this with him, he will think badly of me; if I give him that suggestion, he will respond badly to me; if I bring to his notice that particular attitude of his, he will not look at me for some days. The Salesian Rector is instead a man with a large smile and great heart, the heart of the merciful Father. 
  8. Being the first to practice what one preaches. Authoritativeness is more important than authority today. In our best salesian tradition, the Rector animates and governs more through his fatherliness, at once gentle and strong, than through orders and commands. Not only is education a matter of the heart, but even religious discipline and community life are ruled by affection and communion rather than by rules. And along this line, the Rector should be the first one to put into practice what he preaches. 
  9. Having the courage to come to the point. Many Rectors are good in animation, taking initiatives, even sacrificing themselves for the community, but, strangely, the community does not function well, or else progresses only very slowly. The problem is that the Rector, despite being warm and approachable and knowing how to take the first step, tends to remain on the plane of generalities, and lacks the ability to come down to the concrete. This is a difficult art. There is risk of impinging on the freedom of the person, on the sacred sphere of the individual conscience, or of giving useless homilies that are out of place. It is a question instead of challenging, confronting, sowing seeds without expecting immediate results. The fatherliness of the Rector must guide this patient and precious art. It is fruit of a long journey into the Salesian charism, personal depth, synthesis of personal maturity, interiorization of the essentials of the charism, and a reading of the signs of the times. 
  10. The 'triangle' of success: animation, the Goodnight, the friendly chat. All three are needed. When even one is left out or left aside, things begin to limp. When all three are there, things will go very well. 

Monday 7 January 2013

Light of the world

The other day we saw a movie called "Joshua." As I suspected, it was a modern day life of Jesus: Jesus, Joshua, appears in an American town, is a carpenter, has 12 disciples, goes around doing good and healing. Not an excellent movie, and then it is always difficult to do a movie about Jesus. I was dreading the end, and right enough, Joshua gets into trouble with the parish priest, who complains to Rome, and then the Vatican summons Joshua for an investigation. Thankfully the movie does not end with the Vatican crucifying Joshua.

My point, however, is how Joshua is able to light up the lives of individuals and of the town.

Today's gospel continues the theme of Epiphany, of Light. Jesus lights up the place where he is, he lights up lives. A prophecy that I have come to love:
Land of Zebulun, Land of Naphtali,
Galilee of the Gentiles.
The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light.
On those who sat in the shadow of death
a Light has shone. (Is 8:23 - 9:1)
The rest of the passage from Matthew enables us to have a glimpse of the fascination exerted by Jesus: the crowds that come to see him, from Syria, Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, Transjordania....

Jesus, Light of the World.

That same Jesus, who says to us: You are the Light of the World.

Jesus, Epiphany of the Father. Calling us, in our turn, to be epiphany of the Father.

Every now and then we catch glimpses of this light, in our own community as elsewhere. In acts of kindness, gentleness, generosity, availability, thoughtfulness, concern. Our community is at least a beautiful set of Christmas lights, if not the Light of the Sun.

We pray to be daily transformed into Light.

The person of Christ

A remark of Lonergan's: God in us is the Holy Spirit; but God in Christ is the Son. In us, the Holy Spirit does not take over or replace our personality; but the person of Christ is the person of the Son.

"Or does it point to an inner reality such as is our own divine sonship through Christ and in the Spirit, so that as God in us is the Spirit, so God in Jesus is the Word? Or does the sonship of Jesus mean, as the church for centuries has understood it, that Jesus was truly a man leading a truly human life but his identity was the identity of the eternal Son of God consubstantial with the Father?" (B. Lonergan, "Christology Today: Methodological Reflections," A Third Collection, 1985, 88)

Since the proposition I am highlighting is a question, followed by another question which is the last in a series of questions, some exegesis is obviously needed before we can conclude to what Lonergan himself might be backing up. 

Friday 4 January 2013

Tasting the spiritual life

"Da quell'epoca ho cominciato a gustare che cosa sia vita spirituale, giacche' prima agiva piuttosto materialmente e come macchina che fa una cosa, senza saperne la ragione." (Don Bosco, Memorie dell'Oratorio, ed. Antonio da Silva Ferreira [Rome: LAS, 1992] 47. Cited in Brocardo 40.)

"Come macchina che fa una cosa, senza saperne la ragione": from the state of a machine that does things without knowing why, to "enjoying a first taste of the spiritual life" - which, it would seem, here consists of doing things not just 'materially' but knowingly. "Know before whom you stand." David dancing "with all his might," and Uzzah touching the Ark without thinking. 

God comes first - Mamma Margaret

Mamma Margaret to her young son John, when she heard that he was thinking of joining the religious life, and after a visit from the parish priest don Bartolomeo Dassano telling her about it: "Il parrocco voleva che io ti dissuadessi da questa decisione, in vista del bisogno che potrei avere in avvenire del to aiuto. Ma io ti dico: in queste cose non c'entro, perche' Dio e' prima di tutto." (Cited in Brocardo 36)

"Dio e' prima di tutto." This unlettered woman had understood the core of the young Jesus' message to his own mother: "Did you not know I must be about my Father's business?" My Father has the first claim on me. Dio e' prima di tutto.

The manifestation of conscience and spiritual direction

The Jesuit manifestation of conscience was a good response to the new reality: the Jesuits often worked alone and in faraway places. They did not have the support of the community  The unity of the Order and the best use of the talents of each one demanded a strong personal bond with the superior.

Several institutes in the post-Tridentine era adopted the Ignatian model, but transformed it mostly into spiritual direction. Thus, for example, the Constitutions of the Visitation Sisters written by St Francis de Sales talk about a monthly opening up of the heart to the superior. 

Rendiconto, manifestation of conscience, and spiritual direction

In the early years of the Desert Fathers and the early cenobitic communities, the spiritual directors were not priests. When, in the 9th century, the number of priests in the monasteries increased, the manifestation of conscience was absorbed into the practice of devotional confession. This is perhaps the reason why the constitutions of the great mendicant orders do not speak of manifestation of conscience. The same applies to the female communities, who were directed spiritually by religious priests. [Brocardo 21-22.]

Wincenty Fecki offers the following conclusions:
1. the opening up of conscience in direction, though encouraged and considered important, was never considered an essential element of the religious state.
2. always offered, it was never imposed as an obligation.
3. even the rule indicating certain persons as authorized to receive the manifestation of one's heart was never obligatory.
4. the openness of conscience was always and only ordered towards the spiritual good of individuals.
5. nothing significant is said about the modality and times of the manifestation of one's soul, and not even whether this should be done during confession or outside of it when the superior or his delegates are priests. [Brocardo 22.]

The situation changes dramatically with St Ignatius of Loyola. For Ignatius, the manifestation of conscience is
1. an essential and constitutive element of the Society
2. is obligatory and is made to one's superiors
3. its object is the external as well as the internal forum. [Brocardo 22.]

Such manifestation of conscience enables the superior to assign the right man to the right place. The rendiconto thus changes from being an instrument of individual perfection to something geared primarily to the good of souls, of the Church, of the Society. Thus the Jesuit rendiconto must be distinguished from classical 'spiritual direction'. That still exists among the Jesuits, but is entrusted to a 'spiritual father' in each community.   

The spiritual director as model

Sayings from the Desert Fathers:

Un fratello si reca dall’Apa Poemen e gli dice: “Dei fratelli vivono con me, vuoi che dia loro ordine?” “No,” gli risponde l’anziano. “Fa’ il tuo lavoro tu prima di tutto, diventa per loro un modello non un legislatore.” [Brocardo 20.]

Un aspirante alla vita eremitica vorrebbe temere ed amare di più il Signore. “Va’ – gli risponde padre Paisio – attacati a un fratello che tema Dio e nello stargli vicino imparerai anche tu a temere Dio.” [Brocardo 20.]

Manifesting the movements of the heart

A questi anziani, l’esperienza ha insegnato ciò che trova riscontro nelle odierne scienze dell’uomo, e cioè che la semplice manifestazione di fantasie, di pensieri molesti, di turbamenti, che salgono dal profondo, è già una prima liberazione spirituale, una vittoria sulle ‘astuzie’ del maligno e insieme, quasi sempre, la gioia di una vera pace interiore. [Brocardo 21.]

These elders, the desert fathers, learned from experience what we find today in the human sciences, that the simple and frank manifestation of fantasies, evil thoughts, disturbances that emerge from the depths of the heart, is already a first spiritual liberation, a victory over the cunning of the Evil one and, at the same time, almost always, the joy coming from true inner peace. 

"Confidence cannot be imposed"

“Occorre presentare il rendiconto tenendo presente questa sensibilità, come pure la graduale maturazione dei confratelli, riconoscendo che la confidenza non si può imporre, e che molto dipende da come il direttore si presenta e viene percepito dal singolo confratello.” [Brocardo 16.]

The rendiconto must be presented with this sensibility in mind, as also the process of gradual growth of the confreres. We must recognize that confidence cannot be imposed, and that much depends on how the Rector presents himself and how he is perceived by each confrere. 

Thursday 3 January 2013

Fraternity rather than paternity in spiritual accompaniment

The following from Brocardo is amazing, more so because I've just been hearing almost exactly the same words from one of my young confreres:

The first and most indispensable condition for the friendly chat is, as Don Bosco wanted, a fatherly authoritativeness. However, what is wanted is an authoritativeness with a new face. Today the confreres want to be treated as companions on a common journey. They would like someone to listen attentively to the reasons for their choices and to the positions they have reached, even if these have to be eventually added to  or corrected. Then there is the expectation, either clear or implicit, of affective attention. Confreres ask that they be not left alone, they expect a sharing of their troubles and their struggles. Such requests go more in the direction of fraternity than paternity: a brother who accompanies - perhaps an older brother - is more easily accepted than a father who feels he has already 'arrived' and that he has all the answers. [Brocardo 15.]

Gentleness, goodness, and the friendly chat

Pietro Brocardo, speaking of the renewal of the friendly chat, notes that in this renewal we have to draw much from the Salesian magisterium, beginning from don Bosco himself. And the first 'absolute' that he mentions here is goodness and gentleness (dolcezza). He says that Don Bosco's priesthood - of which he was always acutely conscious - was marked by this goodness and gentleness, which shone out in its highest form in the sacrament of Reconciliation (which for him coincided with spiritual direction) and in the rendiconto. It was easy to confide in a saint who was not frightening and who seemed to be, like Francis de Sales, goodness and gentleness in person, and this filled the heart with serenity and joy. “Confidarsi con un santo, che non metteva paura e che sembrava, come san Francesco di Sales, la bontà e la dolcezza in persona, era di certo facile e colmava l’anima di serenità e di gioia.” [Brocardo, Maturare in dialogo fraterno: Dal 'rendiconto' di don Bosco al 'colloquio fraterno' (Rome: LAS, 2000) 15.] 

Formation and redemption

The other day I spoke about the three mysteries in the process of formation, and especially in spiritual direction: God, the 'directee' and the 'director.' Of these, God is certainly a mystery, but in quite a different sense. On God we can simply rely: God is faithful, love us, and we can be sure that he will do his part. The other two hearts are mysteries in the sense that they are unpredictable, but also human and fragile, and often marked by sin.

Somehow this fact is connected to the distinction between two types of suffering: the one that comes from the outside, such as persecution, and the other that is rooted in our own sinfulness. I personally find the former much easier; it is the latter that I find really distressful. And that helps me understand in some way something that we repeat so often: that Christ saves us from our sins. Somewhere here is part of the meaning of redemption, salvation, liberation. The coming of Christ has not put an end to the suffering and death that forms part of the world. It is concerned with sin. Has it put an end to sin? Not exactly, I suppose: because even here, we are faced with the mystery of the human heart. Redemption is grace, it has to do with love, and where there is love, there is freedom.

But the basic core remains: Christ delivers us from our self-centredness, he not only shows us but also  enables us to live no longer for ourselves but for God and for our fellow human beings.

Somewhere here also the connection that Ratzinger makes between the light of Glory and the Cross: "The theology of glory is inseparably linked with the theology of the Cross. The Suffering Servant has the great mission to bring God's light to the world. Yet it is in the darkness of the Cross that this mission is fulfilled." (The Infancy Narratives 85) 

Tuesday 1 January 2013

A reading list for theology students

For the NT, Fr Eric Wyckoff suggests starting with Mark, then John, then 1-2 Corinthains, and then Luke-Acts together, and then up to each one from there on.  For the OT, he suggests following Fr. Ska's "anthology" posted on the Biblicum webpage:  http://www.biblico.it/doc-vari/ska_antolbibl.html

The following are books that are theological and also deeply spiritual at the same time:

Ratzinger, Joseph. Daughter Sion.
Ratzinger, Joseph. Jesus of Nazareth, vol. 1.
Ratzinger, Joseph. Jesus of Nazareth, vol 2.
Ratzinger, Joseph. Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives.

Peace, redemption, liberation, salvation

Provoked perhaps by Stephanie's questions in her fascinating book, The Bread of Angels, and certainly because of yesterday's reception by the President of Israel and today's World Day of Peace, I find myself mulling over peace. Is peace possible? Is there a way to real peace in the Holy Land and in the Middle East? And what to say about the terrible tragedy of nearby Syria, where people are talking of some 30,000 deaths, not to speak of the devastation that comes in the wake of such violence? How celebrate Christmas, how speak of the Prince of Peace, how wish one another a happy new year?

I just want to place in juxtaposition the reflections of Ratzinger on Caesar Augustus and Jesus.
The kingdom that Jesus proclaimed, the kingdom of God, is of another kind..... It applies to man in the depths of his being, and it opens him toward the true God. The peace of Jesus is a peace that the world cannot give (cf. Jn 14:27). 
And then he returns to the question, which remains:
Ultimately, the question here is what redemption, liberation and salvation actually mean. (Ratzinger, The Infancy Narratives 78)
So the peace that Jesus brings is - different. Cessation of war, arrival of prosperity, e.g. in Syria, would be wonderful, but that would not be all. And - this is the difficult thing - the peace that Jesus brings might well be found also in the midst of the most terrible things. Because it is not the absence of suffering. It is 'being right with God and with human beings.' It is a heart filled with love, a heart in which there is no place for hatred. And in that sense Frederic is right when he says that, whatever else, he has come to the monastery to learn to love.

Badly put. But I think there is something there.

2 Jan 2013: Ratzinger on redemption:
God is love. But love can also be hated when it challenges us to transcend ourselves. It is not a romantic 'good feeling.' Redemption is not 'wellness,' it is not about basking in self-indulgence; on the contrary it is a liberation from imprisonment in self-absorption. This liberation comes at a price: the anguish of the Cross. (The Infancy Narratives 86)

"Men of good will"

Ratzinger points out a new and better translation of the hymn of the angels, which normally runs "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men of good will." The German Bishops' Conference, he says, translates this as "Menschen seiner Gnade", men of his grace. The Italian Bishops' Conference translates: "uomini che egli ama."

But which are the people who are people of God's grace? Which are the men he loves? And Ratzinger, invoking Lk 3:22 - "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased" - suggests: the man with whom God is pleased is Jesus  and the reason is that Jesus lives completely oriented toward the Father, focused upon him and in communion of will with him. So men with whom God is pleased are those who share the attitude of the Son - those who are conformed to Christ.

And what might that mean concretely, here and now, for me?

The Inshirah

A beautiful verse from the Koran, the Inshirah, something that Muslims recite in times of difficulty:
N'avons-Nous point ouvert ta poitrine
Et depose loin de toi le faix
qui accablait don dos...?
En verite, a cote de l'adversite est la felicite!
Oui, a cote de l'adversite est la felicite!
Have We not opened your breast
And removed from you your burden
Which weighed down your back...?
Truly, with every difficulty there is relief,
With every difficulty there is relief.
(Stephanie Saldana, The Bread of Angels, 241)

The burden removed from the breast: God taking out the heart of stone, and putting in the heart of flesh (Ezekiel)?

Certainly echoed in Kahlil Gibran, who speaks of joy and sadness, happiness and adversity lying side by side on the same bed in The Prophet.

Ratzinger, The Infancy Narratives

Ratzinger makes an unexpected plea for the historicity of the Infancy Narratives:
    I tend to regard as the one true explanation of these stories something that Joachim Gnilka, following Gerhard Delling, expressed as a question: "Might the mystery surroudhing the birth of Jesus... be a later addition prefixed to the Gospel, or does it not rather serve to indicate that the mystery was already known? It is just that there was a desire not to say too much about it, or to reduce it to an event like any other" (Das Matthausevangelium, p. 30)
    It seems natural to me that only after Mary's death could the mystery be made public and pass into the shared patrimony of early Christianity.... (The Infancy Narratives 53) 
Which reminds me of something perhaps connected: my conversation with Dr Petra Heldt yesterday, at the reception given by Shimon Peres. Dr Petra is a Protestant Pastor who teaches patrology at the Hebrew University - quite a combination. And she made the surprising observation to me - it was so surprising that I asked her to repeat it - that the theologians of the pre-critical period - 16th and 17th centuries - were more reliable in their exegesis of the Gospel of John than those of the period of historical criticism. The pre-critical theologians and writers have been dismissed out of hand precisely for being pre-critical, but Dr Petra says several of them had lived in the Holy Land, that they knew the geography and topography rather well, and certainly better than the critical historians who came after them. The latter have imposed an unnecessarily mystical and mystifying interpretation of John. John is to be taken far more literally than we have so far wanted to, she said. John, in other words, knew what he was saying, and not everything is to be taken merely symbolically, though no doubt this level of interpretation is also surely present and legitimate. 

Blessed are the peacemakers

Lorenzo preached this morning using Benedict XVI's Message for the World Day of Peace. I was thinking of Shimon Peres' plea for peace that we heard yesterday, and became sharply aware of the the difference between the two. Both were calling for a belief in the possibility of peace, both were against the prevailing scepticism about peace in some quarters. But the difference lies in the word 'pardon'. That word did not occur in Peres' speech. Perhaps it could not occur. But it did occur in the pope's message. And it is perhaps the only way. For injustices are very real. The violence that has been, the unfairness, none of it can be cancelled. There is only forgiving love that can overcome. There is, in the end, only the Law of the Cross. And every time I forgive, I am becoming part of the redeeming work of God. "Blessed are the peacemakers." 

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