Thursday 28 February 2013

Poverty and love

The rich man in the gospel of today (Lk 16:19-31) is really a decent fellow, and even pleasant and likeable. He allows or tolerates this poor dirty beggar at the gate of his beautiful house. When he is in Hell, far from ranting and raving and being jealous, he politely asks for some small token of help. He knows Lazarus by name - and how many even of us religious would know by name the beggars who often sit at our gates and come to our doorsteps. And when help is not possible, he thinks of his brothers who might be helped.

So what was wrong? Why did this rich man deserve Hell? The only reason we are given is: "remember that during your life good things came your way, just as bad things came the way of Lazarus."

What is Jesus telling us through this parable? What is he calling his followers to? And what is he calling us religious to, with our vow of poverty?

I have no straight answer to this. All I can do at this moment is to look at Jesus himself, which is what I find helpful to do when the meaning of a gospel passage remains obscure to me. Jesus, who though he was rich, made himself poor, so that we might become rich (2 Cor 8:9) - alluded to in the Salesian Constitutions 72, "Gospel significance of our poverty." Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality to God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself..." (Phil 2:6)

I find it wonderful to turn once again to the teaching of Benedict XVI, on this day when he lays down his Petrine ministry: Benedict who has taught us to see Jesus always as a revelation of God. Jesus' poverty, Jesus' self-emptying, is not merely a moral example for us. It is revelation of what God is, who God is. God who is infinite self-emptying in the love that is Trinity. God, for whom poverty is another name for love, and love another name for poverty.

So our poverty is deeply linked to love. It is not just deprivation. It is not just asceticism. It is not just good example. It is somehow the self-emptying, the utter thoughtfulness, the self-giving that is love.

So what am I called to do today? How am I called "to put on the mind of Christ"? How am I called to be poor today? And my gaze does not remain only with giving up, with renunciation, with money and things. It extends to all the areas of my life. I am called today to give up, to renounce, not out of a prudence that is really caution, certainly not out of resentment, but out of love. It is love that calls me to this particular renunciation, it is love that is this renunciation, and nothing else.

"A poverty that is not born of love is not a poverty to be desired, nor does it make us like God." (Jose Luis Plascencia)

Wednesday 27 February 2013

Vandana Mataji dies

Just read that Vandana Mataji is dead. RIP. Wonderful woman, who I've heard about through Sara Grant and others, but never had the fortune of meeting. One more of the great pioneers of the ashram / inculturation movement in India is no more. I know the tension between this movement and the subaltern / Dalit one, but ... in the very Catholic attitude of not either-or but both-and, I hope and pray that one day the Indian Church or the Church in India will have the courage to take the new step. I might have said, thesis - antithesis - synthesis, but that is far too Hegelian for me. Better to speak in terms of wisdom, prudence, and the discernment that refuses to go black and white, but learns slowly, with help from the Spirit, to see what is good wherever it is found, and to embrace it as coming from the Spirit...


Sunday 24 February 2013

Intellectual ascesis and Lent

Paolo Carlotti, vice dean of the Faculty of Theology of the Salesian Pontifical University, shared some extremely interesting thoughts about the study of theology. One was about the ascesis involved in intellectual work. In the medieval universities, he said, the most difficult questions were taken up during Lent - because they recognized that such intellectual work implies a notable spiritual commitment and effort - as when we have to confront our received ideas and change them. 

"Per me si e' fatto uomo"

Today what strikes me in the phrase of Ignatius is: "per me si e' fatto uomo." He became a man for me.

Rossi de Gasperis: the mysteries of the Torah and the Prophets is the only praeparatio evangelica offered us by the Father, who gives us the Son. This is the only 'parable' of the eternal King, far more true than the Ignatian one of the 'temporal king.' The Father prepared the Son over a period stretching over many centuries, through many events, in a very precise geographical setting and through a history full of sanctity and sinfulness, prophecy and wisdom, errors and violence, truth and falsity, light and darkness. Here God reveals himself, and here he continues to reveal himself even today, incarnating himself through the Church in the most diverse countries and cultures.

"per me si e' fatto ebreo." So even our dear neighbour is somehow quite special, because he is part of that history that God assumed so marvellously and so mysteriously into himself....

And now he incarnates himself through the Church in every nation and in every culture.

He wants to draw all humanity into himself, as once he drew in the history and geography of his people.

He wants to draw each human being therefore, with all the glory and the misery, into himself.

He wants to draw each confrere of this community into himself.

Before this mystery I am called to fall down and adore. 

Saturday 23 February 2013

Bread and stones and prayer

"Ask and you will receive... If your son asks for bread, will you give him a stone? ... If you who are evil know how to give good things to your children...."

But: even the children of God can ask for stones, and God will not answer their prayers.

The point is not so much the efficacy of asking and seeking. The point is the goodness of God. 

To be free

Jesus, walking free up and down this Holy Land. We all, called to be free like him. Free from our own petty desires. To do only those things we best like to do and that we do best. To minister to those people whom we like, who we are drawn to, who we are comfortable with, perhaps 'our own people.'

Called to let go, to be free. Jesus walking in total freedom. Free in the house of Simon the Pharisee. Free when the woman wets his feet with her tears and dries them with her hair. Free before Pilate. Free before Herod. Free before Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, Herodians. Free before the expectations of his family, his brothers and sisters, John the Baptist, even his mother. Free. 

Cross and innocence

Jesus carried his cross in total innocence: I am reminded of the day in Lent when we have the long first reading of the account of Susanna and Daniel, and then the gospel passage from John 7 of the woman caught in adultery. Susanna, innocent and saved; the adulterous woman, not innocent and saved; and then Jesus, innocent and not saved.

So Jesus carried his cross in total innocence. This is sometimes our situation too, and we, like Jesus, are called to accept it, to embrace the cross as the will of God's good pleasure (Francis de Sales). But sometimes we are not innocent victims: our crosses are the result at least in part of our own sins. 

Transfiguration and mutual self-mediation

The Transfiguration - the gospel of tomorrow is from Luke! - I was thinking is a mutual self-mediation moment. And Fred Lawrence's famous phrase: the coming to light of the self is at once the coming to light of the tradition. Rossi de Gasperis who points out that only the gospel of Luke speaks of Moses and Elijah in their glory with Jesus in his glory: Gesu' glorioso tra Mose' ed Elia gloriosi. And goes on to say that Jesus can be understood in a thousand ways, but only in the light of the Old Testament can he be understood perfectly, properly: his glory shines. And the OT can also be understood in a thousand ways, but only in the light of Jesus does it come to its peak and fulfilment, it becomes glorious. 

Friday 22 February 2013

Peter, and Israel, and Mary, and the church

Peter - as imperfect as they come, and the marvel is that the gospels make no effort to gloss over his imperfections and his sin. In contrast to much later hagiography in the church. So Peter is like the Old Testament, the history of Israel, imperfect as it is, full of blood and tears. This is the Israel that God has spoken in and through, this is Peter who the Lord has chosen and loved, and here is where we all stand.

And Mary? Perfect? Yes, I would think so. With Christ. And yet - completely human. Mary: at least in her, the church is already holy and immaculate. 

Charity cannot exclude anyone

Don Paolo Carlotti, vice-dean of the Faculty of Theology, said the mass this morning on the Feast of the See of St Peter. He spoke about the Pope presiding over the church in charity, and went on to say that charity is inclusive. A charity that excludes anyone is no longer charity. This is a thought I agree with completely: love is, in itself, all-inclusive. Anything less is really less than love, or perhaps no love at all. But Carlotti was probably thinking of the ministry of Peter, a ministry that is profoundly linked to the unity of the Church - in love. A prayer!

And then he spoke of thanksgiving: thanksgiving to God for the gift of Benedict XVI to the church, and thanksgiving also to Benedict XVI himself, for the wonderful example of meekness and humility in speaking the truth. I thought, that is particularly apt: a great example of the ability to speak the truth in humility. "Speaking the truth in love," as St Paul says.

"If you who are evil..."

And yesterday, the gospel, where Jesus turns to his listeners and says: "If you who are evil know how to give good things to your children..." If you who are evil: what might be the meaning of 'evil' here? Could it mean a merely human way of looking at things? Was that not the substance of the temptations of Jesus - to adopt a merely human way of looking at things, to allow a merely human way of thinking to infiltrate into what RdG calls the images of the vocation of the Messiah provided by the history of Israel? And is this not what Jesus means when he says to Peter, Get behind me, Satan?

Evil: a merely human way of looking at things. Harsh? Not really. Evil: not God's way of looking at things.

How profound the connection between evil and obedience: evil, the opposite of the will of God. And in this sense, how easy to fall prey to it.

"If you who are evil..." 

Gesu' glorioso tra Mose' ed Elia gloriosi...

I'm dipping into Rossi de Gasperis' Sentieri di vita again, the first chapter on the Transfiguration. Once again his insistence: Jesus cannot be understood without the Old Testament, without the concrete history of his people, and vice versa. Gesu' glorioso tra Mose' ed Elia gloriosi - something found only in Luke's account of the Transfiguration.

What I am especially struck by, this morning, is that RdG insists on not spiritualizing too easily the real and often bloody and distressing history of Israel. It is a real history. It is in and through that history that God has wanted to work and to speak. So I am reminded of Lonergan's famous passage at the end of "Mission and the Spirit," where he asks: and where do we find the experience of grace? and he answers: everywhere, through the ups and downs of life, as God allows evil to take its course, etc. That answer I have read so far only in an individual key. This morning I realize that it applies equally well to the history of Israel.

Saturday 9 February 2013

Jesus and Mary and the space for the Father

Very beautiful reflection on Jesus and Mary in Rossi de Gasperis' Sentieri di vita. It would seem that Mary is to be included among the relatives of Jesus who are perplexed at the way he is going about his ministry, and that there was, therefore, a moment of misunderstanding, or at least a failure to understand, between Jesus and Mary.

Jesus' ministry unfolds completely in the power of the Spirit and in obedience to his Father's will, revealed to him at his baptism. That is what he says already at the age of 12 to his mother: did you not know I would be about my Father's business? And the evangelist says: They did not understand the things he was saying. And then: Mary kept these things in her heart. 

But then: Mary herself has, from the beginning, walked in the Spirit and been obedient to the Father, even when she does not understand. Even before she conceived, between her and Jesus is the luminous cloud that is the Father. 

The moment of failure to understand is there; we need not deny it. But neither Jesus nor Mary rush to resolve it in a merely horizontal way. Both of them make habitual space in their hearts for the Father's will. And where did Jesus learn to do so, if not from his mother? In them both we find this great capacity to preserve, in silence, a space for the Father's will. And so we find them, on the cross and at the foot of the cross, together again. And even there, even after her entrustment to the disciple and of the disciple to her, she keeps her silence. 

Jesus and Mary, bound together in profound obedience to the Father's will, despite lack of understanding.

Wednesday 6 February 2013

The Church of the Primacy of Peter, Tabgha

The church of the Primacy of Peter, Tabgha, at the bottom of the Mount of the Beatitudes, is in the custody of the Franciscans, and was constructed in 1933, on the ruins of a church of the 4th century, which was destroyed in the 13th century.

In the 9th century it was known as the Place of the Coals, remembering the charcoal fire made by Jesus. In the same century, in 808 AD, there is talk of 12 heart-shaped stones placed on the little beach in front of the church, to represent the 12 apostles.

The famous pilgrim Egeria mentions also the Mensa Christi. The limestone projection in the sanctuary is regarded as this Mensa Christi, the place where Jesus made breakfast for his disciples. 

Monday 4 February 2013

Amar Ali Darvesh and Don Bosco

The other day our students put up a skit, where one of them was 'the problem', and different groups tried to lift him up, to no avail until all of them got together. It reminded me of a picnic long ago, from Pune across the Katraj Ghat to a place called Baneshwar. Baneshwar is obviously a Hindu temple, but somewhere along the way is also a Muslim sufi dargah to Amar Ali Darvesh or Kamar Ali Darvesh. The dargah has a famous roundish flattish stone, substantial though not huge; and if 11 people each put their index finger under the stone and shout, Amar Ali Darvesh ki jai! the stone is easily lifted up. All of us tried it, and it worked. But there was one skeptic called Thomas D. who insisted on trying it differently. So 11 guys did the same thing, but shouted Don Bosco ki jai! and the stone went up all the same.

One more Don Bosco story 'inedito.' 

Sunday 3 February 2013

Yohannan Elichaj

Just met Yohannan Elichaj, Little Brother of Jesus, living in an Arab village in East Jerusalem, fluent in Arabic and Hebrew, with a smattering even of Urdu and Hindi, 56 years in the Land... and an Israeli citizen to boot. Impressive. 

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