Thursday 31 October 2013

Being Christian

Pope John XXIII's Pacem in Terris implies, for example, that being Christian cannot at all be a question of being concerned with any one nation, but with the good of all nations. It cannot even be a question of being concerned only about Christians, but about all peoples. 

The vocation to politics

One of the things highlighted by Cardinal Turkson in his lectio magistralis this morning at our Dies Academicus was the vocation of Christians to politics (his whole text is already available online!):
It is noteworthy that all the modern Holy Fathers have, in one way or another, encouraged Catholics to take up their role in politics, to embrace the vocation to politics as a high form of charity. Benedict XVI repeatedly called for the formation of Catholics capable of assuming responsibility in the various areas of society, “especially in politics. This area needs more than ever people who are capable of building a “good life” for the benefit and at the service of all, especially young people. Indeed, Christians, pilgrims bound for Heaven but who already live an anticipation of eternity on earth cannot shirk this commitment.” Pope Francis has also invited the faithful to become interested and participate creatively in politics. [Text from page,_a_good/en1-742387 of the Vatican Radio website]
Politics - and economics - have to form part of all education, and certainly of Christian education and of catechesis.

In this context, it is good to note that the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, of which Turkson is the president, released in 2011 a significant document entitled "TOWARDS REFORMING THE INTERNATIONAL FINANCIAL AND MONETARY SYSTEMS IN THE CONTEXT OF GLOBAL PUBLIC AUTHORITY." [See]

The 2011 document speaks of the 'real economy', which probably refers to the "production of goods and services," contrasting it with the 'global financial market' which it says has grown much more rapidly than the former, and even with 'shadow markets' which have "no controls and limits."

It calls for the creation of a global public authority and questions the existing exchange systems, saying that the Bretton Woods Agreement has become inadequate.

Saturday 26 October 2013

An Ethiopian Wedding

Berhane and Fiyor got married in Cana this morning. Wonderful occasion, plenty of colour, joy and fellowship. Enjira and 'wet' on the lawns outside the Alon Centre, Ginosar, and then a boat ride with plenty of music and dancing.

The four biblical pools

Rusticatio - the four biblical pools: the Upper Pool at Mamilla, the Lower Pool near Jaffa Gate (also called the Patriarch's Pool), Beth-zatha at St Anne's, and the Pool of Siloam in the City of David. The first two are mentioned in the Old Testament, the other two in the New. All four were enlarged by Herod, if I remember right.
Group in the Upper Pool of Mamilla

The true marvel of ancient engineering, however, is Hezekiah's Tunnel, built to connect the Gihon Spring to the Pool of Siloam, and both enclosed within the then city walls by King Hezekiah. The tunnel, carved through solid rock, is 533 metres long, and seems to have taken 4 years to complete. Sennacherib came to Jerusalem after having conquered Lachish, but he approached the City from the North. To have approached it from the south, as is the hypothesis of some, would have been foolish in military terms, because his army would have been marching through the Gehenna and Kidron valleys flanking the City of David. All invaders have always attacked Jerusalem from the relatively easier North. The minimalists, says Vernet, are quite wrong when they place the Upper Pool (associated with the prophecy of Isaiah) in the City of David.

Inside the Tunnel

The tunnel again

Another view of the tunnel

Friday 25 October 2013

Rejoice, thank, pray

Wonderful combination of joy, prayer, and thanksgiving in Paul:
"Rejoice always,
pray constantly,
give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus." (1 Thess 4:16-18)
"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.
Let all men know your forbearance.
The Lord is at hand.
Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (Phil 4:4-7)
Deeply rooted, all this, in the quiet confidence that it is Christ Jesus himself who is interceding for us:
"Christ Jesus... is at the right hand of God, and intercedes for us." (Rom 8:34)

Faith, hope and love, 'informed' and 'uninformed'

Some of the ways of speaking of medieval theology sound atrocious to our ears today, as for example the doctrine of 'informed' and 'uninformed' acts of faith and hope. But reading 1 Cor 13, Paul's hymn to love, makes me realize why the medieval theologians felt compelled to talk in that way. Paul, as is well known, implies that we can have faith without love: "if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing." In the systematic language of the medieval theologians, this becomes the doctrine of informed and uninformed acts: we can have acts of faith and hope even before receiving the 'theological' or 'infused' virtues of faith, hope and charity; but we can never have acts of charity without the infused virtue of charity. Or at least that is how it seems to me, on the basis of cursory reading of Lonergan's De ente supernaturali, his supplementary notes to Pere Bleau's notes on Grace. 

Tuesday 22 October 2013

God reads me

"You are more than an ideology, whatever your convictions, and Shakespeare speaks to as much of you as you can bring to him. That is to say: Shakespeare reads you more fully than you can read him." 
That is literary critic Harold Bloom speaking about what Shakespeare can do to us. It sounds remarkably like what God can do to us through the biblical text. Paul L. Allen says that God reads or understands us more fully than we can understand God, and it's a wonderful insight. When we read the scriptures, it is God who reads us, far more fully than we read him. (Bloom, How to Read and Why [New York: Simon and Schuster, 2000) 28, cited in Allen,Theological Method: A Guide for the Perplexed [London / New York: T&T Clark International, 2012] 14.)

Saturday 12 October 2013

The one who came to give thanks

The gospel of the ten lepers and of the one who returned to give thanks (28th Sunday Year C). The grateful one did not get anything more. The others did not lose what they received. God does not withdraw his gifts. "Even if we are faithless, he will remain faithful" (2nd R). "God does not repent of his gifts."

Gratitude is a beautiful thing because there are no reasons to explain it. Why should I be grateful? There are no reasons. (Just like there are no reasons for climbing mountains. Why climb mountains, What's the point, Gus asked the other day. Why, because they are there, was the only thing I could think of.) Gratitude has no ulterior motivations. It is something pure and free. An act of our freedom. True thanksgiving is for mature people. It is something that either flows from deep within us, or does not flow at all. Yet it is something that thrills the heart of God.

Interesting contrast between Elisha's rejection of the gift in the First Reading, and Jesus' acceptance of the Samaritan's gratitude. Perhaps the contrast is between the 9 who focus on the Gift, and the 1 who is able to raise his eyes and see the Giver.
The ox recognizes his owner and the donkey the one who feeds it, But my people do not recognize me.
He came unto his own, and his own received him not. 
There were many lepers in Israel, yet only Naaman the Syrian was cured.  
The tragedy of Israel who fails to recognize its Master when he comes.

Elisha refuses the gift, Jesus accepts gratitude, because here there is something greater than Elisha, and Solomon, and the Temple. And we, I, am called to recognize this something greater, this Someone greater.

Jesus himself is a great example of someone who constantly acknowledges the Giver. Besides the Our Father, the gospels have preserved two explicit prayers of Jesus, and each begins with thanksgiving:
I thank you Father, for having hidden these things...
And before raising Lazarus:
Father, I thank you for having heard me. I know you always hear me.
Jesus constantly makes petitions, the Father always hears his prayers, but before asking for anything, Jesus, it would seem, turns to his Father. For Jesus, the Giver is more precious than the gift. He is the trasure, and in him the Son's heart abides. And the gift is given as well:
Seek first the kingdom of heaven and its justice, and all these things will be given you as well. (Mt 6:33)
And then also His example of thanking the Father in every circumstance. The Samaritan came to thank Jesus for his cure. But shall we thank God only when we receive something good from him? Paul is very clear:
Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thess 5:18)
Why? simply because there is nothing we have not received. "Faith in One God means living in thanksgiving." (Catechism of the Catholic Church 224) "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor 4:7) "What shall I render to the Lord for his bounty to me?" (Ps 116:12)

This is very radical: we are called to thank God in every circumstance of our lives: in joy and sorrow, in happiness and pain. Often we say, "Everything is going fine, thanks be to God." Fr M.J. Mathew used to tell us: learn to say, "Everything is not fine, thanks be to God." Hamdulillah. Barukh ha Shem! Learn to live life as gift. Learn to live in thanksgiving. Like Francis of Assisi:
The story is told of Francis of Assisi and his companion Brother Masseo, who were journeying from town to town in France. As usual they begged for their food, Francis taking one street and Masseo another. Francis was small of stature and clearly a beggar and he earned only a few scraps of dry bread. But Brother Masseo was tall and handsome and he receive large portions of fresh bread. They met outside the town near a fountain to share the alms they had been given. Masseo took note of what was lacking in their meal: cloth, knife, house, table, servants. But Francis could only exclaim joyfully: We are not worthy of this vast treasure. For we have bread, a table of stone, clear water, and God to serve us." (Joan Puls, Every Bush is Burning 2) 
So we thank God
in every circumstance
and raise our eyes to the Giver
thanking him most especially for the Gift of his Son and the Gift of his Spirit.
Our minds hurt against this Mystery, but thanks we can learn to give.

Friday 11 October 2013

Ein Gedi by the Dead Sea

The very first thing we saw in Ein Gedi were the ibexes, and now I learn that Gedi comes from gdi which actually means goat or wild goat.

Ein Gedi is mentioned several times in the Bible. In 2 Chronicles 20:2 it is identified with Hazazon-tamar, where the Moabites and Ammonites gathered in order to fight Josaphat. In Genesis 14:7 Hazazon-tamar is mentioned as being an Amorite city, smitten by Chedorlaomer in his war against the cities of the plain. In Joshua 15:62, Ein Gedi is enumerated among the cities of the Tribe of Judah in the desert Betharaba, but Ezekiel 47:10 shows that it was also a fisherman's town. Later, King David hides in the desert of Ein Gedi (1 Samuel 24:1-2) and King Saul seeks him "even upon the most craggy rocks, which are accessible only to wild goats" (1 Samuel 24:3). The Song of Songs (Songs 1:14) speaks of the "vineyards of En Gedi." The words of Ecclesiasticus 24:18, "I was exalted like a palm tree in Cades" (’en aígialoîs), may perhaps be understood of the palm trees of Ein Gedi.

The other wonderful thing about Ein Gedi is of course, the Ein, the spring - or springs - the Nature Reserve folder mentions four of them. My first impression was - the Israelis have done a marvellous job of creating an artificial flow of water. But if you go by the folder, it would appear that the water is natural. Or perhaps the truth lies somewhere in between, if we are to go by the many pipes you see if you look even casually. Whatever - the effect is marvellous, a true oasis in a desert. Naturally a place where the young David thought of hiding from Saul, naturally where Saul would search for him, and then the wonderful story of David sparing Saul....

My pictures are poor this time - what a pity. But there will be more on the cache, I'm sure. 

Wednesday 9 October 2013

Learning to pray - and to love - with Jonah

The first reading of today, from the final part of the short Book of Jonah, reminded me of our lonely little kitten in the garden, and the way four or five of us were gathered around it the other day, including our neighbour Natasha. In parting, Natasha said she loved animals. And then: it's much easier to take care of animals. It's easier than taking care of human beings. And I said, how true. At the most a kitten can scratch you or bite you. But human beings are capable of much more.

In chapter 4 of the Book of Jonah we see God gently teaching a lesson to a Jonah who is "so angry that he could die." God makes a plant grow over Jonah's hut to give him shade, and then he makes it die, and Jonah is furious, once again so angry that he could die. And God: you feel so much for this plant for which you did nothing. Do you wonder that I feel for the thousands of people in Nineveh? Do you have reason to be angry?

The Jonah story is wonderful: short, and to the point. In the first chapter, Jonah runs away, "flees to Tarshish." In the second, he is swallowed by a great fish and learns to pray in the belly of the whale. In the third, he preaches, finally, all the while hoping the people of Nineveh, pagans all, goiim, would not convert. In the fourth, he actually pitches camp outside the city, waiting to see what would happen. And that is where God catches up once again with him.

Eugene H. Peterson: don't flee to Tarshish. Learn instead to pray in the belly of the whale. Learn to face the darkness within. "The religious must learn to live with his or her own darkness, with the interior horror of temptation and fantasy. Salvation affects the whole of the psyche; to try to escape boredom, sexual frustration, restlessness, unsatisfied desire by searching for fresh tasks and fresh ideas is to attempt to seal off these areas from grace." Peterson at 20-21, quoting Rowan Williams, Christian Spirituality (Atlanta: John Know, 1980) 94-95.

And the main point of the Book: a gentle rebuke to Israel's nationalistic exclusivism. A call to universalism: God is the God of all peoples. We don't need this lesson? Perhaps. But don't we all tend to want to work with and for those we like, ignoring those we don't? And is there not the all too human and frequent temptation to think that we are sent to work only for "our own people"?

But I love Jonah. He is utterly human, utterly imperfect, a prophet who actually runs away from God's command, someone who does not want people to listen to God's word, and he can get very angry, and even better, express his anger to God. But he is called nonetheless, and he is sent, and educated gently and not so gently by God. 

Tuesday 8 October 2013

October daze

Another glorious October day. At 1030 in the morning, the haze is gone, to be replaced by a crystal clear blue sky, a wonderful nip in the air, and glorious light. I found myself lingering on the drive, unable to quite tear myself away and get back to work. Very very strange. 

O'Collins' case for women deacons

A surprisingly bold article by Gerald O'Collins, making a case for women deacons: see "Unlock the Door: The case for women in the diaconate," The Tablet (25 May 2013) 4-5.

The ITC document, "Le diaconat: evolution et perspectives" (2002), reached two conclusions:

  1. The deaconesses mentioned in the tradition of the Ancient Church ... were not purely and simply equivalent to the deacons.
  2. In the unity of the Sacrament of Orders, there exists a clear distinction between the ministries of the bishop and the priests on the one hand, and the diaconal ministry on the other. 
O'Collins proposes that if one stresses the clear distinction, a door could be opened.  He goes on to point out that the distinction was highlighted in an addition to canon 1009 made by Benedict XVI in October 2009: "Those who are constituted in the order of the episcopate or the presbyterate receive the mission and capacity to act in the person of Christ the Head, whereas deacons are empowered to serve the people of God in the ministries of the liturgy, the word, and charity." 

Of course there is also canon 1024 that limits ordination to baptised men. 

Vatican II, while recognizing the unity of holy orders, had also taught that, unlike bishops and priests, deacons are ordained not for priesthood but for service. To support this distinction, LG 29 drew on sources from the Early Church (see note 74).

The Council of Chalcedon (canon 15) legislated for the ordination of women deacons. Popes allowed Western bishops to ordain women deacons up to the eleventh century. The office died out in the Middle Ages. But there are still women deacons among the Coptic Orthodox and Greek Orthodox. 

The ten lepers

I joined the Deacons of our community for lectio divina this morning, and the text was Lk 17:11-19, the cure of the ten lepers. Thanks also to the bilingual Greek-English New Testament that Eric gave me last year, all sorts of new things came up from the text. "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us," the ten cry out, from a distance.

The village that Jesus is entering is on the border of Samaria and Galilee, and I know Vernet pointed that village out to us, though I've quite forgotten the name. A nondescript village in the Palestinian side. The lepers are obviously outside the village, and they dare not approach Jesus. So they cry out, from a distance: "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us." IESOU EPISTATA, ELEESON HEMAS. Not exactly Kyrie eleison, but close enough: Master, have mercy on us. What a wonderful prayer, and what a wonderful way of recognizing at least in some way who Jesus is: he is Master, and he is one who can have mercy on us.

And Jesus: he does not touch them. He commands them, he tells them, he speaks to them, he gives them a word: Go and show yourselves to the priests. And then the ten are cleansed, and one turns back, praising God with a loud voice, and falls on his face at Jesus' feet, giving him thanks. KAI EPESEN EPI PROSOPON PARA TOUS PODAS AUTOU EUCHARISTON AUTO.

And he, a Samaritan. All sorts of levels and echoes in this text. Liturgical, but also the liturgy that is life: communion, fellowship, Jesus who breaks barriers, who inaugurates the new family of God, who dies that he might bring into one the scattered children of God.

And then Jesus: Where are the other nine? Jesus who commands, and then strangely expects his command to be flouted. Where are the other nine? "Neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, but in spirit and in truth." Jesus, the new Temple. Are there times when we need to flout the word of Jesus?

And then finally: Rise and go your way. ANASTAS POREUOU. Stand up and go your way is a poor translation, missing all the echoes of Rise, Resurrection, ANASTAS.

"Jesus, Master, have mercy on us. Wash us by your word. Raise us up to life in you."

Saturday 5 October 2013

Blessed Alberto Marvelli

The optional memoria today for the Salesian Family of Blessed Alberto Marvelli, who used to frequent the Salesian Oratory in Rimini in his youth. Alberto died at the age of 38. His short life is marked by a remarkable love and concrete concern for the poor and those in need, in a special way during the Second War, but also afterwards. What struck me this morning was that he found his energy in the Eucharist. A profound desire for sanctity, and a touching love for the Lord in the Eucharist. 

Thursday 3 October 2013

October days

It is October, and bellissimo: blue skies like one tends to find in Italy (azzurro! no other word for it), a nip in the air, and the slight haze that one associates with the onset of winter days at home. A sense of great well-being. And somehow, through a train of associations, the mind goes back and picks up snatches of drives through Goa, perhaps also in the month of October: with Phyllis Wallbank from the airport, down through the road skirting the Zuari, in and out of lovely San Jacinto, and then through that impossibly beautiful road cutting through the villages of Tiswadi, with the little and not-so-little Goan houses on both sides, the fish market where the cross chapel refuses to get out of the road, the quaint crossing over a tiny branch of the river or the sea whatever that might be. And then flashes of driving through the other inner road skirting the Zuari again, but this time going from Cortalim to Loutolim... the flashes of river on the left, the coconut tree lined roads with the chiaroscuro of light and dark, the unexpected little ponds with water lilies.... Goa!

Wednesday 2 October 2013


A photo from FB courtesy Ilidio de Noronha. But this is the translation I love:

What else have I in heaven but you?
Apart from you I want nothing on earth
My body and my heart faint for joy;
God is my possession for ever. (Ps 72/73,25-26)

Tuesday 1 October 2013

The body of Jesus

The human body is a meeting point of myriads of schemes of recurrence, a flux, in constant interaction with the environment. De Smet, speaking of ancient Indian conceptions, refers to the human being as a crossroads...

I was thinking of the body of Jesus in this way: surely Christology will have to take into account the fact that his body was in constant interaction with the environment. And that therefore in a sense Jesus has passed into even the physicality of this land.... This may be the point made by Lonergan and so much insisted by Philip McShane, that any scientific approach must take into account all the sublated layers.... 

San Lorenzo Ruiz and the Shogun

San Lorenzo Ruiz of Manila died in Japan, together with others. I guess he was part of the Christian Century, or rather of the shutting up and closing down of Japan after that century under the Shogun, the one called Toranaga in Clavell's book. And Gonsalo Garcia too, probably. Lorenzo was hung upside down, so that he eventually suffocated to death. Which was probably prolonged by the fine Japanese art of making little slits on the temples so that blood could drip out, drop at a time.... 

Electronic prayer

With the coming of the new students, the electronic revolution has begun entering our chapel: Kindle, I-pad or I-pod, whatever that is...

I wonder if virtual screens will become a reality in our time, the kind you see in movies with Tom Cruise, you swipe your fingers in the air in front of you and the screen, all translucent like, appears there in front of you, and you can enlarge or reduce it as you do on touch screens...  

Featured post

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