Saturday 29 March 2014

SDBs and FMAs: mutual self-mediation in human formation

Preparing for class this morning on Don Bosco Founder and Mary Mazzarello co-Foundress of the FMA, I was reading Cagliero's beautiful testimony:
"Don Bosco appointed me Director of the new Institute and I used confer with him frequently and seek his sound advice regarding the formation of the Sisters and their religious and moral spirit. In his usual kindly way he would put me at ease, saying, 'You know the spirit of our Oratory, our Preventive System: the secret of gaining the affection, attention and obedience of the boys, loving them all and never hurting their feelings, assisting them day and night with fatherly care, patient charity and unfailing kindliness. Well, our good Mother Mazzarello possesses all these qualities, and we can be quite confident that the government of the Institute and the Sisters is in good hands. She has only to align herself, as she does, with the spirit, system and distinctive character of our Oratory and our Salesian Constitutions and deliberations. The Sisters' Congregation is the same as ours. It has the same aim and uses the same means, and with example and word Mother Mazzarello inculcates both in her Sisters. They in their turn imitate their Mother, and rather than superiors, rectresses and mistresses, they are tender mothers among the girls they are educating." (Memoria Storica of Cardinal Cagliero, written in 1918 and kept in the FMA Generalate; cited by Maccono in St Mary Domenica Mazzarello, Co-foundress and first Superior General of the FMA, I 274; Turin-FMA 1960). [Cited in Vigano', AGC 301.]
Perhaps its time that SDBs looked to Mary, and to the other Mary who is Mazzarello, as well as to many other FMAs like Mother Virginia Marchetti and Sr Adriana Grasso of Cremisan who embody what Don Bosco called 'the spirit of the Oratory.' It would be a move away from a unidirectional relationship between SDBs and FMAs and a move in the direction of 'mutual self-mediation' between two important branches of the Salesian Family. This, I think, is very much an aspect of what Vigano's remark that the FMAs are part of the overall charismatic project of Don Bosco. 

Two loaves and a restaurant

I feel very much like the boy with two loaves, the loaves that Jesus took and transformed into bread for a multitude. That was the gospel that was taken on the day of our recollection, in small violation of Lenten liturgical norms - but providential. The boy who probably said to himself: Why me? Why my two loaves? I was looking forward to enjoying them myself, and perhaps with a few friends.

And once it is clear that the loaves are being taken, I find myself wishing I had, not two loaves, but a whole restaurant, a whole supermarket, a whole bazar...

But the Lord probably does not want a restaurant or a bazar, but just these two loaves - not forgetting the five small fish. Only, he wants all. He is the boss. "The Lord's hand is not foreshortened," in the wonderful phrase from the Pentateuch.

Wednesday 26 March 2014

Christian de Cherge': A Theology of Hope, by Christian Salenson

Stephanie Saldana lent me Christian Salenson's Christian de Cherge': A Theology of Hope (Trappist, Kentucky: Cistercian Publications / Collegeville: Liturgical, 2012).  Salenson says that, while de Cherge' was no professional theologian (though he had studied with the White Fathers' at the PISAI in Rome), his talks and homilies and other small writings betray a profound theology of encounter (which Salenson prefers to theology of interreligious dialogue) permeated and sustained by hope.

On the way, Salenson mentions other monks who have contributed to encounter and dialogue, including Henri Le Saux, Bede Griffiths, Francis Acharya, Jules Monchanin, Charles de Foucauld and Thomas Merton. He also mentions Louis Massignon along with Charles de Foucauld among people who were transformed by their encounter with Islam.

From Salenson I learn about certain foundational experiences of de Cherge': a Muslim policeman, father of 10, who gave his own life for his (de Cherge's); the experience of praying for three hours together with a Muslim, in the year before his profession as a monk; and the meeting with emir Sayah Attiyah, who spared the monastery on Christmas Eve, and was found murdered the next day. de Cherge' owed his vocation as a monk in Algeria to Muhammad who gave his life for him, and that giving of his life permeated every Eucharist that de Cherge' celebrated.

De Cherge' manifests the same ability to 'hold in tension' that Dupuis remarks about Abhishiktananda (Le Saux). The ability not to pass too hastily to judgment and categorization. The hope in the communion of saints, in, finally, a God who knows what he is doing.

(Stephanie mentions specially ch. 7: A Greater Christ; ch. 10: Eschatology; ch. 11: The Visitation.)

Friday 21 March 2014


First view of Masada...

Another view of Masada

And yet another, from the foot of the Roman ramp

The Roman ramp

Herod's plaster - fresh as if it were done yesterday

Masada - for its geography, landscape, beauty, colour, tragedy, after the glorious days of Herod the Great.

Herod faced the Parthians at what later became Herodion and overcame them against all odds. Even Josephus, who has no sympathy for Herod, says that he was saved only by divine intervention. Herod never forgot the place, and that is why he built his mausoleum there - the unbelievably magnificent Herodion. From Herodion he went to Masada with his mother and Mariamne, as well as a younger brother, and from there to Petra to ask for financial help with which to ransom his brother Fasael who was being held prisoner by the Parthians in Galilee. The King of Petra, however, refused; and Fasael committed suicide by banging his head on his prison wall.

Herod then went to Egypt, to ask for help from the Jewish community of Alexandria. While he was there, Cleopatra invited him to dinner and to spend the night with him, but Herod, not trusting her, refused, and managed to flee to Anatolia by the last ship. From Anatolia, he went on to Rome, where eventually he obtained the kingship.

What survives of Herod’s construction is still magnificent: the northern and the southern palaces, the huge water cisterns half way up the hill, with the arrangement to get water from the catchment area above, the baths – all interspersed with poorer constructions from the Sicari who occupied it and who chose to die rather than fall into the hands of the Romans who were at the gates. The extraordinary Roman ramp is still there, after all these years, as are the stone boundaries of the 8 Roman camps and the circumvallation that the Romans put up to prevent anyone from escaping from the fort. And also a smallish Byzantine church: the monks were the last inhabitants of Masada. We went up from the Roman ramp side, and came down from the Snake Path. Those who wanted climbed down also to the extraordinary northern palaces on their three levels.

Perhaps the most poignant remains from the Sicari are the ten ostraca, with names: probably the lots cast by Eleazar ben Yair to see who would have to do the killing of all the others, before dying themselves.  

Tel Arad

The Hebrew 'high place' in Tel Arad... the only one surviving

A view of the city from the citadel of Tel Arad

The well of Tel Arad - which used to be a depression gathering water, around which the city grew
We set out for Tel Arad through the Cremisan checkpoint and the road to Hebron. Just outside the checkpoint Vernet pointed out the many towers dotting the terraced hills: such watchtowers are mentioned many times in the bible. A little further along, the beginning of Wadi Khariton; then the settlement of Efrat or Ephrathah (not Illit Bethlehem or whatever!), and Kibbutz Eleazar, in honour of Eleazar the Maccabee. Eleazar met his death on the nearby plateau: he made a charge against the chief elephant of the Seleucids, managed to bring down the animal, but was crushed when it fell upon him.

The Valley of Berakah remembers the Israelite victory over the Edomites.

Hebron also has marks of Herod: the Tomb of the Patriarchs was built by him, as was a memorial at Mamre, where the angels appeared to Abraham. Hebron is called El Khalil by the Muslims: El Khalil means The Friend of God - a reference to Abraham. A road branches right from the highway, leading to Macpelah, the Tomb of the Patriarchs, sacred today to both Jews and Muslims.

Harhul is the highest point in Southern Judea, more than 1000 m above sea level. The Muslim tradition honours here the tomb of the Prophet Gad, who appears in the David saga.

The southern part of Judea used to be Idumea after the Exile. Here David with 600 men was a fugitive from the vengeance of Saul. It contains also the desert of Ziph. Here also is the Carmel of Judea, where the wise and prudent Abigail spared David from dirtying his hands with the blood of her husband Nabal.

The town of Aristobolias was founded by Aristobulus, the son of Alexander Jannaeus and Alexandra; his brother was the peaceful John Hyrcanus.

Kirioth is reputed to be the birthplace of Judas Iskariot, the only apostle from Judah, but according to Vernet this is not likely.

Extremely fertile lands, and quite green after the recent rains.

And finally, we come to Tel Arad. Tel Arad is an ancient city in Southern Judea, unique because it is the only place in Israel which still has a 'high place' - the only one not destroyed in the reform of Hezekiah and Josiah. These kings were enforcing the Deuteronomic doctrine: all worship should be only in the Temple in Jerusalem, no more high places. The city, in the heart of the desert, is from the early bronze, and existed for 500 years. It has some houses, a Canaanite temple, the high place, and the walls.

Tuesday 18 March 2014

Therese's Little Way

Manuel Hurtado Solis just presented Therese of Lisieux's autobiography. What struck me very much was what Manuel said towards the end: that Therese found her way to holiness precisely because of her frailty, her weakness, and that she showed this way to us: that we need not worry about who is ahead of us and how, we will find our way to God precisely through that which seems an obstacle and a weakness.

The other little thing was the echo with Don Bosco: to be cheerful. "Here sanctity consists in being cheerful." No other way, I suppose, for someone totally surrendered to God. 

Fr Laconi's introduction to the Golden Jubilee Eucharist in Cremisan

I thought I would keep Fr Laconi's introduction here, because I was touched by its simplicity.

50° di ordinazione sacerdotale
Gerusalemme 1964 - sabato 14 marzo  -  Cremisan 2014 - domenica 16 marzo
Mio motto sacerdotale
“ Per me il vivere è Cristo “ ( Fil.1.4 )
Introduzione alla Celebrazione
50 anni fa, di buon mattino, ci si reta da qui a Cerusalemme, alla chiesa concattedrale del Patriarcato latino, per il rito dell’ordinazione sacerdotale che sarebbe iniziato alle ore 07,00.
Era un sabato, liturgicamente il sabato ”Sitientes”. Eravamo due diaconi . don V.Pozzo  ed io. Ordinante era il Patriarca Alberto Gori, francescano.    Tutto il rito si è svolto in latino.
Non c’erano parenti presenti, non fotografi ufficiali. Solo qualche foto ,in bianco e nero, presa da un confratello studente tramanda l’avvenimento, oltre l’immaginetta ricordo.
Ciò non influì sulla solennità del rito e sulla importanza del momento.
Già il lunedì dopo, a parte la prima messa celebrata da me in casa, seguita il giorno di San Giuseppe da una accademia, e la celebrazione matutina nei principali luoghi santi (Betlemme e Gerusalemme) nei giorni sucessivi, l’anno accademico riprese il suo corso normale.
Solo dopo terminati gli esami  ai primi di luglio si sarebbe tornati in famiglia per le prime messe al paese natio: per me dopo 10 anni, per don Vittorio 12. Comunque per questo non ci sentivamo  ne eroi ne  vittime, era un corricolo questo normale accettato pacificamente, come parte integrante della chiamata missionaria...
I 50 anni sono passati velocemente. Certo ora e qui non è il caso di fare bilanci, ci penserà a suo tempo nella sua Misericordia il Signore Gesù. L’importante è continuare a fare di Cristo  il centro propulsore della vita e della missione, vivendo sempre e dovunque con Lui e, per Lui , nei fratelli e facendolo con una maggiore e migliore fedeltà e dedizione.
Tutti voi presenti entrate a fare parte delle intenzioni di questa mia celebrazione, con un posto speciale a Cremisan, a quanti vi hanno lavorato e vi lavorano, ai formatori ed amici di allora.
Disponiamoci ora a celebrare questa Eucarestia, preceduta, per me, da altre 18000 circa, Eucarisia vero atto di lode e di ringraziamento, chiedendo perdono al Signore dei nostri peccati e delle nostre (almeno per me) infedeltà e debolezze. 

Bn: - Ho fatta mia , con qualche lieve modifica formale, condividendola pienamente, la introduzione alla sua messa giubilare di don Vittorio celebrata al Fidar in compagnia dei confratelli della casa e poche altre persone.
Può servire come un riandare indietro di 50 anni per rivivere una esperienza forte di tutti allo studentato di teologia diallora  e per stimolare anche al presente ad una più intima semplicità.
Ringrazio quanti si sono uniti a me nella preghiera in questi giorni per lodare e benedire il Signore Gesù datore di ogni vero bene. Un grazie particolare per la loro generosità e bontà a tutti i presenti con me nella cappella di Cremisan  e all’agape fraterna che ha  seguito la celebrazione della mesa giubilare,  domenica 16 marzo 2014.
Un arrivederci a tutti al mio paesello, Ussassai OG in Sardegna, il 17.08.2014  per la celebrazione con tutti i parenti, amici e compaesani , insieme al 50°di Messa anche il 60° di vita religisa salesiana missionaria in Ter

Friday 14 March 2014

States of Christian Life

This course that I did not want to teach, this course that made me despair - it is turning out to be fruitful, after all. Good stuff there - practical stuff on the lay vocation, on the priesthood, on consecrated life, on discernment and spiritual direction. The documents from the Vatican that I had no idea existed: Directory on the Life and Ministry of Priests; The Priest, Minister of Mercy. The always lucid writings of Ratzinger / Benedict XVI, betraying a deep abiding intimacy with Jesus, and inviting, constantly, to that same intimacy. The surprisingly different yet mostly convincing arguments of von Balthasar.

Always, Jonah the reluctant prophet. Like working with the scouts in Rome.

And learning to pray in the belly of the fish. From a dark, dank place.

And facing reality without airbrushing it. There are no ideal parishes, communities, congregations, church. 

Hidden depths

We are sort of dealing with Eugene H. Peterson in class (Under the Unpredictable Plant), and what he says struck me forcefully again: his sharing about how he lost respect for his parishioners, because they had such puny ideas, they were so much involved in the fast food culture that they sought him out for fast religion help. And how Dostoevsky helped him plunge beneath the surface to discover hidden depths, fire, passion, God. “The stories [of people] go unnoticed not because they are kept secret but because the people around are blind to God. So many eyes, glazed by television [and ears and hearts glazed by gossip and idle talk], don’t see the God stories being enacted right before them....”

Plunging beneath the surface to discover hidden depths: good advice. Beneath the surface of reaction, displaced anger, stubbornness; vagueness, miserable communication, safeguarding of 'privacy'; stubborn refusal or resistance to change, or just a very pacific resistance that still just barely betrays itself.... beneath all this, fire, passion, God at work? The challenge to believe, to see, to believe that I might see....

The Shias and the Catechism of the Catholic Church

Wonderful talk on Shia Islam by Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald. Among the things I learned was that Irani Shias took the trouble to translate the Catechism of the Catholic Church into Farsi. They went over to Lebanon to consult with Church authorities there about certain terms - given that Farsi has plenty of borrowings from Arabic, and then also showed the translation to the bishop in Iran - who happens to be a Salesian - and who said that the translation was very good. Extremely interesting instance of the interreligious.

Shias in India - the 'Twelvers' are the largest group; the Khojas with the Aga Khan as their head; and the Bohras with their Syedna. The Twelvers believe that the twelfth Imam went into Occultation, and that he is still alive, but invisible. The Khojas believe that the present Aga Khan is the 49th successor of Ali, who they believe was designated successor by the Prophet himself. I've forgotten the exact status of the Bohras, but the Syedna is one of the representatives of the (hidden) Imam, I think. 

Wednesday 12 March 2014

The fragrance of the smadar

Just learned something new from Smadar Carmi Giberman who was here to negotiate about using our church for her choir: smadar means the 'flower of the grape,' and the word is mentioned in the Song of Songs. Carmi also, interesting, means 'my vineyard'.

The fig-tree putteth forth her green figs, and the vines in blossom give forth their fragrance. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away. (2:13)

the vines in blossom give forth their fragrance.
, וְהַגְּפָנִים סְמָדַר נָתְנוּ רֵיחַ

I certainly know the fragrance of the cashew in flower on the hills of home, and I remember the vines in blossom when we still had the vineyard in Divyadaan, but I just don't recall the fragrance of the smadar. I wish I did. 

Tuesday 11 March 2014

On the priesthood

Piergiorgio Gianazza came in yesterday with the new Directory for the Ministry and the Life of Priests (2013) from the Congregation for the Clergy. A wonderful resource not only for the course on States of Christian Life, but also for our formation here in general. The book also contained a leaflet, an examination of conscience for priests. I looked that up, and found another precious document: The Priest, Minister of Divine Mercy: An Aid for Confessors and Spiritual Directors (2011); the examination of conscience is an appendix to this document, which deals with the sacrament of reconciliation. Then I remembered I had some books of Benedict XVI on the priesthood, and there they were on my shelf: Ministers of Your Joy: Reflections on Priestly Spirituality (London: St Pauls, 2005), and Pope Benedict XVI: The Priesthood (Manila: St Pauls, 2009), a little book of quotations from his teaching. And then, perhaps most beautiful of all, I went back to something I have been wanting to read all these years: the fourth part of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, on prayer. 

Saturday 8 March 2014

Zen flowing

Pirsig's famous book came to mind this morning, unbidden: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Climbing with mind and climbing without mind. Struggling every inch, versus flowing, going with. Using the energy of the other to your own advantage: the key art of judo karate, I guess. And so the answer: not reaction, but flow. Go with, so as to then use the energy. 

Friday 7 March 2014

Love as complacentia

"Love is a certain contented quiescence (complacentia) in what is good." This is a line from Lonergan's De Deo Trino: Pars systematica, now available as The Triune God: Systematics (Collected Works vol. 12), at p. 675. I had no idea that complacentia was so closely related to love. Crowe's work, Complacency and Concern in Aquinas....

Rusticatio to Wadi Qelt

A view of the Wadi Phara / Qelt and the Judean desert
Another great rusticatio today - to Wadi Qelt and the monastery of St George of Kosiba, mainly. We left by a taxi which took us first to the ruins of the crusader fortress near the Good Samaritan, and then deposited us, as per Vernet's instructions, at a point from where we walked - a good hour and a half, I think - towards the monastery. Flanking us on the left, all the time, was a stupendous view of Wadi Phara which is also known in its lower reaches as Wadi Qelt. Wadi Phara was of course the goal of another rusticatio, two years ago, a memorable one. Unfortunately, this time, the wadi was quite bereft of water.
First view of the monastery

The monastery again

And yet again
After a halfway halt for rest and refreshment, we reached the monastery: a stupendous view from the top, though I think the domes were even more beautiful when they used to be painted a striking blue. From the gate barring the road it is another half hour walk up to the gate of the monastery. We were quite relieved to see the timings put out there quite clearly: 0900 to 1300 every single day. We had a half hour to spare. The monks, I must say, were extremely kind and hospitable, and we, on our part, got easily into the atmosphere of silence and prayer. I spent a wonderful 20 minutes sitting on the floor of the main chapel, praying: recalling Jesus who had spent his 40 days in this desert, and who, possibly, had spent time even in the Wadi Qelt - the wadis being places where water could easily be found. (As Vernet said, it is said he ate nothing for 40 days; it is not said that he drank nothing.) The imagination stretched backwards to a time when there was no monastery, but only the wadi, probably always full of water in those days; and the caves, and the three Herodian aqueducts bringing water to his palaces and to the city of Jericho. Jesus spending time alone - quite alone - with no one for company except 'the wild beasts.' We had seen droppings of various creatures - little beads, smaller than those of goats; little larger droppings; and other fairly large ones. I was very fortunate to see not only the iracis (irex?) but even a few antelope on our way back. It is something quite wonderful to see wildlife still surviving, despite human inroads. So Jesus, spending a day alone, two days alone, 40 days alone. Led by the Spirit, and full of the Spirit. After having heard the voice of his Father: This is my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Vernet's homily was quite touching: the Lord complaining that Israel, his beloved, had abandoned him, had become useless and good for nothing, like the loincloth Jeremiah had buried in a cleft in the rock at Wadi Phara. The monks, not abandoning the Lord, but clinging to him. In imitation of Jesus, over whom the Father had said just the opposite of what he says to Israel: You are my Beloved Son, in you I am well pleased. To hear these words, now, here, being addressed not only to the Son, but to all his sons, to me.... He is there, and he listens: to me, to what I have to say, to the pains and the joys of my heart, and the pains are lifted, and the joys multiply.
Vernet explaining about the monastery
Making our way to Jericho along the Wadi Qelt

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