Wednesday 28 May 2014

Formation, celibacy, prayer, intellectual conversion...

Fred Lawrence on formation: In his De virginitate, Gregory of Nyssa said that if a person is going to successfully undertake a life of celibacy, he (or she) needs to have both a lively prayer life, and a lot going on above the neck--i.e., something like a life that incorporates study (the vita theoretica).
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Saturday 24 May 2014

Giuseppe Quadrio at Crocetta

We also visited the tomb of Ven. Giuseppe Quadrio at Crocetta, in the public church. I had no idea the tomb was there. But here, another great figure for formation. On the tomb: docibilis Spiritu Sanctu. A motto that he took, a new name that he adopted, and which, according to Luigi Testa, the fourth term rector of Crocetta, cost him blood to live up to. 

The icon of the Trinity at Crocetta

My first visit to Crocetta yesterday. The community chapel: extremely well done, and most impressive of all the icon of the Trinity on the sanctuary wall. It is a copy of icon of the famous visit of the three angels to Abraham at Hebron, but to see it so large, and so well done, is remarkable.

So many details: the three angels are all very young; androgynous; similar looking; and each carries a staff that indicates the person: Father, Son, Spirit, in that order. Young: because God is ever young, ever new, ever fresh. Androgynous, not because ambiguous, but because God is before the division of male and female, and we are created male and female in the image of God. Similar looking, of course, not one old and the other young, and the third feminine. The serenity too: perhaps quite in contrast with the same God who wants to, soon after, destroy Sodom and Gomorrah because of their sinfulness. The single bowl in front of them: full of wine? something red anyway. I wonder what that means. Not the meat and milk that Abraham placed before them.

Mystery anyway. With the single tree in the background. 

Valter Danna at Valdocco

Great surprise to meet don Valter Danna at lunch today. Valter Danna is vicar general of the archdiocese of Turin, but also a well-known philosopher and Lonergan scholar here in Italy. 

The periphery is in our Salesian DNA

Don Angel, our Rector Major, has been interacting with different groups in the last few days: sdb novices at Pinerolo, sdb and fma novices together yesterday here in Valdocco, and the Quito group this morning. One of the points that he makes very forcefully is about the Salesian option for the periphery. This is something that Pope Francis has been saying, pushing the church towards the poor. Don Angel said yesterday: I would like to see, in 6 years, the salesian congregation with a clearer option for the poor. "The periphery is in our Salesian DNA. Don Bosco began here, in Valdocco, and Valdocco in those years was the periphery." We are not here to preserve walls. Even if Valdocco does not meet the Salesian criteria in these years, we must have the courage to close it, he said, or at least that is what it sounded to me - he was speaking in Spanish. A very strong and clear message. 

Salesian formation in Quito

This morning, in Valdocco, I had the opportunity to get to know about the Salesian Formation centre at Quito from close up. The last part of a four part course was concluding here in Valdocco, and the Rector Major spent close to two hours with the participants, a wonderful mixture of laypeople, sdbs, and a sister from the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary.

The first thing that struck me was the presence of so many lay people for this course in Salesianity. Extraordinary. Perhaps unique in the Salesian world. And then the way the lay people spoke: of their Salesian vocation, of the mission, of youth.

In the several years of its existence, the Quito centre has been a true centre of formation and animation. The wonderful thing is that both sdbs and laypeople feel the need of such formation, and participate willingly in it. The centre has made a difference, and I think it is worth looking into whether this experience can be multiplied and incarnated in other parts of the salesian world.

Sunday 11 May 2014

Shepherd and pasture, Way and destination

Jesus - the Shepherd who enters by the gate, and also the Gate itself.
And not only the Gate, the Way, but also the Destination, Truth, Life.
Shepherd as well as pasture. "He who has seen me has seen the Father." "We will come and dwell with him." "We will make our home in him."
To find him is to find all. It is to be at home. It is to be at rest. In green pastures. 

Joan-Maria Vernet's homily at the golden jubilee of his priestly ordination

On every anniversary of my priestly ordination, I propose to reflect about the greatness of the priesthood, about the responsibility of a priest today, about priestly holiness and the challenges for a priest in our time.  I try to do this, but I am not able to continue. Suddenly another fulfilling and happy thought enters my mind: the thougtht and the fullness of joy and gratefulness to God for the gift, the great gift of my priesthood.

This happens now as well. The joy and the thankfulness to God for the gift of my priestly vocation is so great that any other thought is necessarily put away.  I found an explanation for this in the beautiful homily of Pope Francis during Holy Thursday Mass this year: “The Lord anointed us in Christ with the oil of gladness”. The Pope analyses this gladness and paradoxically sees its roots in the existential poverty of the priest. It seems a contradiction. Yes. But it is true.

Pope Francis says that the priest is the poorest of men, the most useless of servants, the most ignorant of men, the frailest of Christians. No one is more “little” than a priest left to his own devices;

The priest has willingly accepted his own poverty: no family, no career, no personal realization. He has given God all, present and future.

The priest is like the ancient Levites of the OT, the poorest of the Israelites, without a piece of land, living on the donations of his brothers the Israelites. But, for the Levites there was this theology: “Dominus pars hereditatis meae”: “The Lord is my allotted portion”.

The same happens to the priest. His inheritance is the Lord, and the Lord totally fills his very existence. He accomplishes the word of Jesus: “The one who loses his life will have it”. The initial vacuum of his life is immediately filled by the fullness of Christ, who is the inexhaustible gladness of his heart and of his life.

The priest can be defined by the words he pronounces in the Mass regarding the Bread: taken, blessed, broken, given. His life is really taken, taken by Christ, blessed with innumerable graces, broken to  more easily reach a great number of brothers, and given, given up without measure, out of love. The important thing of his total donation is that such a generosity is made out of love.

Today’s gospel reflects the priestly mission very well. Although sometimes the priest can represent one of the disciples of Emmaus, discouraged and sad, normally the priest, because of his vocation, has the role of Christ, encouraging others, lifting up their spirit, returning their joy and strength, and the others can acknowledge him in breaking the bread. To have personally met Jesus, to have known him and to have loved him is the treasure of the priest, the root of his gladness and of his total dedication do him. The spiritual poverty of his heart has been filled to the brim by the joy of becoming a friend of Jesus, his coworker in the abundant harvest of God’s kingdom. With Jesus, the poorest of men becomes the richest of all: his treasures are always present, in his hands, in his soul.

Even on the level of a simply human vocation, the catholic priest can be the most satisfactory of jobs. Modern statistics show that the priestly vocation is the one that can reach more happiness, more interior freedom, more joy and sharing satisfaction than any other human job. It is enough to see the vocation of St. John Bosco, the saint of young, always smiling, happy making happy his young people. Speaking now of don Bosco, today I consider my Salesian vocation as well. I belong to the Salesian family, founded by the Saint of the young. I was enchanted by the spirit of don Bosco, perfect radiance of the Gospel of Jesus. Jesus raised the son of the widow of Nain, and saying: “Talita kumi” raised the daughter of Jairus, giving life, freedom, full development of all human possibilities to those two young persons. This is the Salesian vocation, to help young people to live, to hope, to walk.

Dear brothers and sisters, we are in the month of May, I received my priestly ordination in this month traditionally dedicated to our blessed Mother Mary. I must say a very clear and sweet truth: Mary has  always been at my side. She has guided me and sustained me, filling my heart and my days with joy.

As a concluding expression of my joy and gratefulness to God, allow me to express to the young students of Ratisbonne this wish: courage, love Jesus, trust Jesus, focus Jesus, ask continually for a deep intimacy with Jesus. Believe in his faithfulness, always alive, always loving. He never deceives, he leads his friends to the completion of their happiness. And to all, brothers and sisters, I thank you very much for coming to this celebration and I say to you all: “Praise the Lord with me!”.

Sunday 4 May 2014

Some historical notes on the New Testament from Rota and Main

Some interesting historical notes on the New Testament gathered by one of our professors here from the STS Cultural Initiative, Marie-Alphonse Ratisbonne Anniversary, 3 May 2014, mainly from the talks of Olivier Rota and Emmanuelle Main.

Paul never taught that the Law had been abolished.  Rather, he affirmed that it was not an alternative or a replacement for faith in Christ.  He understood how demanding the Law was and had little faith in the Galatians’ ability to keep it properly.  One needs to be brought up in a halakhic mentality and begin the learning process right from childhood.  Better to be righteous gentiles than Jews of poor observance.

Christianity and Rabbinical Judaism were both children of Biblical Judaism.  (Perhaps one other sibling died young at Qumran?)  The events of 70 CE occasioned a kind of metamorphosis: what would Judaism without a Temple, cult and priesthood look like?

Early Christianity and early Rabbinical Judaism were like two people in the same room, with everything that implies.  Each would like to have complete autonomy and independence, but many things are conditioned by the presence of the other.  Competition is practically inevitable, and one’s identity is greatly determined “in relation to” the other.  Both experienced the same milieu in different ways.

Jesus’ prayer during the crucifixion, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing,” may have been pedagogical for the early Church (and for perpetuity!)  Christians were not to take Jesus’ death as a reason to hold anything against Jews or against soldiers or servants of the Empire.

Saturday 3 May 2014

Ratisbonne Bicentenary Symposium

The STS Jerusalem organized a 'Cultural Day' featuring a symposium in commemoration of the Bicentenary of the birth of Marie-Alphonse Ratisbonne (1814-2014), founder of the Ratisbonne Monastery, among other things. The superiors general of the Sisters and Fathers of Sion were present - Sr Oonah O'Shean and Fr Donizete Ribeiro - together with historians Emmanuelle Main and Olivier Rota, Bro Elio Passeto and Sr Maureen Cusick.

It had never struck me that Sion, the Holy City, is a symbol of Mary and a symbol of the Church. So the name is quite profound - Religious of Notre Dame de Sion.

Passeto said that Marie-Alphonse came to the Holy Land not only to look after stone buildings (he put put three beautiful ones - Ecce Homo, Ain Karem and St Pierre de Ratisbonne) but also and especially teh living stones - he worked for children, regardless of religion, he worked for the Children of God, in a time much before ecumenism became popular.

He was also deeply involved in the revival of the Latin Patriarchate, at a time of great poverty, when there was neither clergy nor seminary, neither schools nor residences nor churches. He worked with all his energy for the local church, and even helped other religious to enter - Dominicans, Jesuits, etc.

I liked Elio's thought about the particular and the universal: the passage from the one to the other does not necessitate leaving behind or abandoning or overcoming the particular. God acts from particular to universal without cancelling the particular - the land, the people, the city. Marie-Alphonse is a model of the particular vocation that is open to and welcomes the universal.

From Emmanuelle Main I learned that Alphonse was initially indifferent to all religion, including his own. It was after his brother Theodor's conversion that he began to feel that Catholicism was fanatical. The plight of the Jews of Europe moved Alphonse. He felt that the chief cause of their misery was thier stubborn attachment to their religion, but he also said, strangely, that the Jews were a people destitute of religion. When he converted, he said: I do not renounce Moses, or Isaiah, or David or Solomon; I do renounce Judas.

Olivier Rota in his talk came around to the central issue in the charism of the Religious of Sion: the shift from conversion to dialogue. Sr Clare said she had been brought up to think of this as a 180 degre turn, but was happy to see Rota stressing the continuity. Sr Maureen remembered the ambivalence of the Sisters when she was growing up, on the topic of conversion. I realized that, despite the differences, there is a deep connection between dialogue here and dialogue in India. The conversion-dialogue question is at the very core. Upon being asked, the panelists expounded on their current understanding of the question. Rota, I thought, stayed with the standard reply: we realize now that conversion is first of all converting to one's own religion, becoming a better Jew or a better Christian. Passeto said clearly that conversion is no longer a question, and by that he probably meant 'proselytism' in the sense of an aggressive and often disrespectful stance. He quoted Cardinal Kurt Koch at the Angelicum in 2012: the Jews and the Christians are one people of God in their differences. Rota pointed out that Jesus asked people for a more absolute faith in God, more trust in God. He demanded more than what the Jews and Jewish masters of his time demanded. And then, the confrontation and contact with alterity is a great challenge to grow. If you are in touch only with yourselves and with your own kind, you do not grow as much as when you are in constant touch with the Other. The more diverse your encounters, the richer is the process of mutual self-mediation.

Main spoke of the Trinity as the true basis for encounter and dialogue. So not a dia-logos, a talking between two, but a tria-logos, with God as the third. Echoes of Panikkar: the testis, the third, the Spirit that breaks through, that speaks, that bears witness.

Rota also insisted on identity: you do not skip or pass over the difficult bits, what you are deeply convinced of. Panikkar would say: do not make an epoche; that would be unauthentic, for it would be you speaking at your penultimate level, while the other is speaking at her ultimate level.

I was wondering in all this: there is an emotional component and an intellectual component in all dialogue, and certainly in dialogue with the Jews: which one is predominant just now? I did not get around to asking the question.

Sr Maureen said that after 50 years of Nostra Aetate, we had probably still before us the challenge of absorbing that teaching, and helping our students absorb it and appropriate it.

Sr Oonah asked how the call to the new evangelization related to dialogue. Proselytizing, she said, is anathema, and pointed out that Theodor himself never encouraged this; he only asked the sisters to pray. Each child was to be respected, in her culture, in her religious tradition.

We might need, in fact, an intrareligious dialogue, a dialogue within the church: what, for example, for we understand by dialogue? We might need a common understanding of dialogue.

Rota made a remark that I found extremely interesting: all the councils before Vatican II opposed something, clarified something by opposition and rejection; the Vatican II did not. It sought to define the identity of the church not in opposition but in relation. And this is something utterly new, and no wonder, not always clear, and very challenging.

Wonderful exchange, I thought. Not always of 'immediate interest' to our students, perhaps; but of extreme significance anyway, to my mind.

The issue of the outer word does need to be confronted properly. And here is matter to chew upon. At some point, with Judaism and with Islam, we have to face dialectical opposites. But there is a way. It needs to be expatiated with greater care and concern.

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