Saturday 27 December 2014

Being Salesian - football, guitar and spiritual direction

"Personal accompaniment" - walking with the young - or simply what we still call spiritual direction: one of the great contemporary ways of being salesian. Something that goes clearly back to Don Bosco himself, but that somehow has probably dropped out of the personal and collective 'images' that we today carry of what it means to be Salesian. Our Youth Ministry department has been working on this theme for years already, and so has our Formation department. An idea whose time has come - or perhaps an idea that we are rediscovering. "The Salesian as spiritual director of young people" - and notice that we are not talking here only of senior salesians, "di una certa età."

Reason - and dialogue

Don Bosco grew up and was educated during a particularly conservative period in Italian history, a period of reaction against many things but also the European Enlightenment. That is why it is all the more surprising that he chose to include 'reason' in his summing up of his educative system in terms of Reason, Religion, Loving Kindness. I am sure there are studies on this point, but I am feeling these days that we need to understand 'reason' in terms of 'dialogue.'
At the conclusion of the recently concluded Salesian Historical Congress, prof. Giorgio Chiosso wonderfully highlighted the fact that the Preventive System is “a pedagogy of personal freedom, one that relies on the force of interpersonal relationships, and that gives due value to the affective component”. This kind of system, he went on to say, is far superior to a pedagogy of authority that presupposes a distance between masters and pupils, and that relies more on impersonal rules than on living relationships. Perhaps this is not all that new; but what struck me very much was the comment that followed, where the professor drew a contrast between the gifted educator and a run-of-the-mill one: where the former is able to translate the great principles of the system in creative ways into everyday life, the latter is constantly tempted to hide his own insecurity by means of a recourse to rules, norms, and behaviour that is more or less standard.

Don Bosco's heart

A free translation of a touching incident in the life of Don Bosco, as narrated by Fr Francesco Dalmazzo: "Don Rua and I were walking with Don Bosco, when suddenly he left us and went over to help a young bricklayer who was in tears because he was finding it difficult to handle his overloaded cart. We were on one of the main streets of the city and there was Don Bosco, helping the boy push his car."
Don Francesco Dalmazzo al “processo di santità” di Don Bosco, sotto giuramento. nel 1892: «Io vidi un giorno Don Bosco lasciare don Rua e me, che lo accompagnavamo, per aiutare un giovane muratore a trascinare un carretto sovraccarico, a cui si sentiva impotente e lo dimostrava piangendo, e questo in una delle principali vie della città»

"Being educated"

Some years ago - including my own years as provincial - the policy in Salesian India was not to send salesians in initial formation for study abroad. There were good reasons for that policy. But perhaps a little rethink is now necessary, not only for Salesian India, but for Salesians all over the world. Don Angel is quite explicit on the matter: "we should not be afraid nor put obstacles in the way of our young confreres studying outside their own Province. One does not love one's homeland, roots and origins any less on account of not studying in the same place. There is no truth in that idea and there is no danger of losing a sense of reality. On the contrary, one's horizons are widened and the capacity to understand diversity and differences increased - something that is essential in our world of today and of tomorrow." (AGC 419:26)

In The Crisis of Western Education, Christopher Dawson says:

Until a man acquires some knowledge of another culture, he cannot be said to be educated, since his whole outlook is so conditioned by his own social environment that he does not realize its limitations.[1]



[1] Dawson, The Crisis of Western Education (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1961) 113.

Also Italian...

To Salesians, on learning languages: "We have to prepare the new generations to learn languages, and among these the Italian language, so that with the passing of time access to the sources and to the original writings of our Founder and of the Congregation does not become something almost impossible through ignorance of the language." (Angel Fernandez, AGC 419:25)
In this context, the often heard cry about the UPS, that it should offer English language options, might have to be thought out and thought through. Certainly one of the more important reasons why a salesian might need to come and study in Italy is that at least a certain number of salesians in each part of the world might know Italian and know it well. Without a first-hand access to the sources, we are condemned to keep repeating "reason, religion, loving kindness," and often without knowing what to really make of it beyond the usual and often trite observations.

Knock when you need me

"Community life": what might that mean, concretely? Snatches of remembered dialogue: "I am available. When you want, knock." Enough? Perhaps better the attitude that we learnt, or should have learnt, in practical training: to be attentive to each young person, his moods, his needs, his state.... So, not necessarily a community life where we are all the time creating opportunities for being together - though such moments are no doubt necessary - but the attitude. Don Angel: to Cain's question, Am I my brother's keeper? our answer is Yes. And not just keepers but carers. "Do I care?" Am I really concerned?

Multiple identities

The many conversions of a (Salesian) life: one, certainly, is facing the challenge of New Age and (re)discovering Christ as Centre, as Love. (One of my friends asked me years ago: How can an intelligent man be a Christian?). The one, when that bridge has been crossed, is MULTIPLE IDENTITIES. Multiple identities is now a canonized possibility on the internet - but something that predates internet.
Eugenio Riva the other day: "Una dicotomia pericolosa insidia in profondità lapersona: la separazione tra l'identità personale e la missione religiosa." A dangerous dichotomy: the separation between personal identity and religious [translate 'monk' or 'monastic' for some of my friends] mission. One has discovered that one has been found - but that is still one thing among many, not yet a pearl of great price, not yet treasure for which one is ready to sell everything. One is one thing when watching a movie or reading a book, another thing in church, and perhaps yet another at work.
Someone is going to get very theological and remind me that Jesus is the classic case of multiple identity - and that's a very very interesting opening, new categories for an ongoing theology. But one gets the point when one wants to. Jesus in the synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus on the Lakeside, Jesus before Pilate - the multiplicity is swept up magnificently into a unity that dwells constantly in the Presence of the Father. "Did you not know I would be about my Father's business?" And Don Bosco: priest everywhere, in Florence as in Rome and in Turin, before the great and mighty and with his boys.... Viganò contributed a magnificent term: the grace of unity.

The Name

I am reading - slowly, as one should really read - the first letter of our Rector Major, Angel Fernandes, on this Friday morning that is the feast of St Stephen, when perhaps our Ratisbonne community is in Bet Gemal, this beautiful property, the House of Gamaliel, where probably Stephen was buried. Don Angel is reminding us that we are not just salesians, but salesian consecrated persons, and that we find our raison d'etre not in what we do, but in what we are, signs that speak.
Several of us have been marked by New Age. I can't forget that OSHO, Bhagavan Shree Rajneesh, was our next door neighbour in Pune. Not that we do not speak of Christ - we do, and so did Osho, and brilliantly. Not that we do not care for Christ. But perhaps he remains a great figure, a beloved figure - one among many. Is that enough for a "salesian consecrated person"? Don Angel says, somewhat elliptically: "the way ahead is a return to a meeting with Him Who gives meaning to every moment." And I think: yes, this is it. There is no 'reason,' in the end, for being a disciple and a follower. There is only love. There is this, that one turns and looks at one's life, one's experience, and discovers - or fails to discover - that one has been loved by a special love, that one is able to identity and name with a Name. Not an idea, however brilliant. Not even an example, however powerful. But a person, with a name.

A Christmas story

Yesterday Chiara, FMA novice, was driving me to Castel Gandolfo for mass in her community, when we saw, on the almost empty road of Christmas morning, a family with three children sitting by the roadside, and a car parked at some distance. We hesitated, and then Chiara: shall we go back to see? and I: ok. We found a way to turn back, and the family turned out to be a Rom family. they said they were ok, were waiting for a bus, but buses were few Christmas morning, and could we give them a lift. Which we did, bundling all 5 of them into the backseat. They did not have to go far, were happy to get off somewhere up the road, and were very happy and did not even ask for anything.
How to be brothers and sisters to the Rom community is a big question. Is it just a question of helping the children to go to school? This has perhaps been tried, without great success. Here, as in every case, I think respect would demand that we work with the community rather than with individuals, and organically rather than through sporadic interventions, even though charity will always call for such interventions at certain moments. The community has to decide about its future. And it has to know that it is respected, and that it has brothers and sisters when it needs them. Utopian? Perhaps. Or else, just simple participation and empowerment. Or, even more simply, just what God does with us: he loves us, and refuses to impose his love on us.

But what I liked above all was Chiara's courage and decisiveness: on a Christmas morning, on the way to mass, she did not hesitate to turn back, stop, ask.

Tuesday 23 December 2014

A poem from Minh

Minh writes: 'During these days of celebrations, i can't help but think about the refugees and people suffering in the Middle East. A poet told me this a while ago, "Take silence and respect it. If your heart is bleeding, make the best of it. There is heat in freezing, be a testament." I often think about my family history and stories that I have heard about the war. Below is a poem that I wrote in memory.'

Mid-Autumn Moon Festival

Red paper lanterns hung on every house -
candles lit like little moons,
tasty colored sticky rice,
and mooncakes with sweet fillings.
Grandmother – with a straw basket balancing on her head
walked out in the fields of rice paddies
on her tiny feet digging wet soil,
her day hasn’t ended yet.

In the Moon Festival of 1972,
with paper red lanterns
my brother and I ran across the fields
to see dances, street parades.
We heard helicopters roar above us,
deafening sounds with sky colors.
But what did we know -
we were children
and our day was only beginning.

We walked to the edge of our silent river,
waved to our distant grandmother,
but we were not sure if it was her.
Thirsty, with both hands
we dipped from our river
 it passed through our fingers – red.
Time stopped for me
memories are now laced with tears.

Saturday 20 December 2014

Setting his face towards Jerusalem (Lk 9:51)

Rossi de Gasperis notes that, from Lk 9:51, when the days are fulfilled for his assumption (going up), Jesus sets his face (hardens his face - a prophetic expression) towards Jerusalem. From this point on, Jesus is constantly on his journey to Jerusalem and to his Father. That ascent to his Father has to pass through Jerusalem. That ascent is also our own ascent. And Rossi de Gasperis asks: we can accept that we ascend, with Jesus, to the Father. But why must our ascent pass through Jerusalem?

Why must my ascent pass through Jerusalem?

Friday 19 December 2014

The physicality of the incarnation

The reality of the earth passed into Jesus, and the reality of Jesus passed into the earth. Or let me begin again: a human being is a whole set of schemes of recurrence. Which, in simple words, means that we are not enclosed in our skins, but are in constant interaction with our environment. Enough to think of the breathing cycle, or the food cycle. But also seeing, hearing, touching, feeling... and then thinking and judging and loving. The world passes into us and we into the world. The world passed into Jesus and he into the world. Walking through Jerusalem, I would think: these hills, these trees or something like them, they passed into Jesus and were lifted up to consciousness and language and praise and thanksgiving. This moon, this sun, this Lake... Even these cats, they are probably descendants of the cats that were around when he walked around. And then, these people - flesh of his flesh. How not to love them. Even when they, or some of them, are infuriatingly cruel and unjust and insensitive.

The pilgrims kissing the stones of Jerusalem. Stones!

The incarnation is a very physical thing. 

Mahougnon Venance Sinsin, new doctor of philosophy

Venance Sinsin defended his doctoral thesis this evening at the Università Pontificia Salesiana, on the theory of knowing in the philosophy of Bertrand Russell, comparing this with the epistemology of Aristotle. The guide was Scaria Thuruthiyil, and the readers were Cristiana Freni and Maurizio Marin. Venance, who is already on the formation team at Gerini, is a valuable addition to the Faculty of Philosophy of the UPS. He was very much at home with his material, confident and articulate.

The joke I learnt long ago, teaching history of contemporary Western philosophy, ran like this: What is Russell's philosophy? The right answer is: Which year? So when I asked Venance a few days ago, Why Russell? he surprised me with a  great reply: because Russell provided the questions which Wittgenstein spent a lifetime answering. "Every philosopher fights his own demons," and among Wittgenstein's demons was Russell. Cristina Freni, in fact, cited something to this effect from Russell, something like: When you find someone saying something that strikes you as obviously absurd, instead of arguing with him and trying to confute him, stop a while and try to ask yourself: What is that led this intelligent person to this position?

Scaria had warned me that Marin knew Aristotle well, and that we could expect some hard questioning from him, and we were not disappointed. Leafing through the thesis, I myself thought that the Aristotle section could improve. I would have to ask about the two types of understanding, direct and reflective; about not only direct intellection, in other words, but also that intellection that leads to judgment. It is not enough to say: Russell is realist. We need to ask: and how did he think that we reach reality? It is not enough, again, to say that Russell believed in the reality of external objects, first of all because the internal-external pair inevitably tends to bring in the Cartesian problematic by the back door, and then because we would need to ask: what is his 'model' of reality, what is his 'sense' of reality? - But then here is an area where I myself need to attain clarity.

What I liked was that Venance clearly told us that Russell abandoned naive realism in favour of the constructive activity of the mind. What he did not really discuss was, how did Russell get out of the Kantian conundrum? If the mind has a constructive activity - and surely it has - how do we attain truth, if truth is correspondence, adaequatio? I would love to hear Venance on that.

He did speak about Russell's Monist phase, by which I understand that Russell refused to think of a subject apart from an object, obviously trying to sidestep the Cartesian problematic, but instead held for a 'unity' of subject and object. Was he trying, vaguely, to say what Lonergan said in Verbum: the critical problem is not a question of reaching out from a subject to an object, but acknowledging that we find ourselves within being, within which we then learn to make distinctions between subjects and objects.

But it is good to be around where such things are discussed. One has always the nagging sensation that one is wasting one's time, engaging in useless subtleties, but again, one also remembers that such things like truth and being and identity and difference do affect us at levels that are surprisingly not only deep but also practical. I will be forgiven for mentioning in this breath the classical doctrines of the blessed Trinity and Christology. Some day I should dedicate time to getting a little clearer about all this.

Some other questions: what about Aquinas' statement, so often repeated by Lonergan, that Aristotle learnt to say what he did say about understanding and knowing by repeatedly turning to his own experience of understanding? What about the sharp contrast Aquinas knows to make between what Lonergan calls Aristotle's theorem of knowing by identity, in contrast to Plato's theorem of knowing as confrontation - a contrast that, I believe, has much to do with the overcoming of the subject-object split in epistemology? And could we go much much deeper into the theme of wisdom, especially on the theme of wisdom as the virtue of right judgment? The key word here, in many ways, is virtue, habit: it makes us remember that knowing is not just a single act and not even just a series of single acts. What about the shift from propositions and the attendant need for clarity, to the multiply complex and variegated affair that is ordinary language and ordinary knowing, something that Wittgenstein learnt eventually to grapple with?

Monday 15 December 2014

Our Lady of Guadalupe - Filiberto's homily

I put up here Filiberto Gonzalez' homily on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. 

Cari confratelli,

I giochi con cui si trattenevano i bambini non erano strani a Gesù, e come buon comunicatore prende spunto da questi per interpellare chi non era d’accordo né con Lui né con il Battista. Giovanni Battista portava un messaggio che attuava in una forma di vita austera che criticava il potere religioso e politico, e fu respinto da loro. Dicevano: “è posseduto da un demonio”.Venne Gesù e dicono: “ecco, è un mangione e un beone, un amico di pubblicani e peccatori”, uno che non viene da Dio  perché non fa ne insegna come sempre si è fatto e insegnato.

Gesù si lamenta per la mancanza di coerenza di questa gente. Sempre trovano pretesto per non accettare la gioia della vita, ne la novità dell’amore generoso e incondizionato di Dio portate da Gesù. Sempre si trovano facilmente argomenti e pretesti per rifiutare coloro che pensano e fanno diversamente dalle tradizioni imposte da un tipo di potere: civile, politico o religioso.

Gesù smaschera la loro e la nostra incoerenza: è la legge dell’amore smisurato e gratuito di Dio che conta, e non le nostre rigide leggi egoiste che cercano di escludere i piccoli, l’ignoranti, e i poveri. Perché Dio non pensa né agisce come noi. Per questo gli ultimi saranno i primi, e quelli che si ritengono primi saranno ultimi. Certo che questo non piace ai sommi sacerdoti, agli scribi e ai farisei abituati a misurare, contare, pesare giudicare quanti non pensano come loro. Questo tipo di persone mai vogliono ballare né cantare al ritmo dell’amore gratuito e misericordioso di Dio.

Voglio condividere con voi un’altra esperienza. La presenza di Maria di Guadalupe durante l’Avvento, dentro alla storia dell’evangelizzazione dell’America, un popolo che grida e prega: Maranatha ! Vieni Signore Gesù !

Così come l’Incarnazione non è avvenuta senza Maria, l’evangelizzazione non è stata e non sarà una realtà senza Maria. Il processo di evangelizzazione, di inculturazione del Vangelo nell’America è incominciato e continua con la presenza materna di Maria. Si tratta di un parto doloroso e prolungato, fatto di croce e spada a un tempo, dove il volto materno di Dio ha toccato il cuore dell’intero popolo, nato dalla mescolanza delle culture, del sangue e dei colori della pelle.

La Madonna si stampa sulla tela con volto bruno, mite, sereno. E siccome la conquista è stata una guerra di morte, Lei si presenta in cinta, portando la vita e il futuro: il Figlio di Dio. Sceglie come mediatore proprio un povero indigeno, Juan Diego, per non imporre il messaggio con l’astuzia delle parole, la prepotenza bellica o il potere religioso. In questo modo mette a prova tutti: Chiesa, conquistatori, indigeni, anche lo stesso messaggero indigeno, perché la fiducia si pone in Dio, non nelle proprie forze o nella logica umana. Parlando con “Juan Dieguito” tocca il cuore del popolo con un linguaggio tenero e materno: “mio figliolo, non avere paura, Io sono la Madre del vero Dio che tutto ha creato; io sono tua madre, non sei abbandonato né orfano.” Ed è cosi che il popolo, non soltanto quello indigeno, si è innamorato di Maria e del frutto del suo grembo. Davanti a un volto tanto amabile e mite, il ghiaccio si scioglie, finisce la guerra, la vendetta sparisce, e tutti, bianchi e bruni diventano figli nel Figlio portato da Maria di Guadalupe.

È cosi che la fede cristiana ha avuto il suo primo annuncio nella persona e nel messaggio di Maria. Quell’annuncio si sviluppa e passa attraverso diversi momenti della storia. Sembra che quasi cinquecento anni non bastino, sembra che Maria di Guadalupe cerchi nuovi mediatori, nuovi testimoni, per una nuova evangelizzazione. Questi siamo noi e le nuove vocazioni con l’atteggiamento umile di figli e servitori come “Juan Dieguito”.

In questo Avvento Gesù viene come dono del Padre nel grembo di Maria. Diciamo con il popolo di Dio e le persone di buona volontà: Vieni, Signore Gesù !
December 12: Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Dear Confreres,

The games that are played to attract children were not foreign to Jesus, and as good communicators let us dwell on these games and look closely at those who did not agree with Jesus nor with the Baptist. John the Baptist had a message which advocated a form of austere life, criticizing the religious and political power; and John was rejected by them. They said, "He is possessed by a demon." Then Jesus comes and they say, "Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners," believing that He does not come from God because He does not do and teach what has always been done and taught.

Jesus complains about the lack of consistency of these people. They always find an excuse not to accept the joy of life, not to accept the novelty of the generous and unconditional love of God as preached by Jesus. They always easily find reasons and pretexts to reject those who think and do differently from the traditions imposed by some kind of power, be it civil, political or religious.

Jesus unmasks their inconsistency, and ours too: It is the law of the immeasurable and free love of God that counts, and not our selfish rigid laws that seek to exclude the small, the ignorant, and the poor. But God does not think nor act like us. For this reason, the last shall be the first, and those who consider themselves first will be last. Of course this thinking did not please the high priests, the scribes and Pharisees who were used to measure, count, weigh and judge those who do not think like them. These type of persons never want to dance nor sing to the rhythm of the gratuitous and merciful love of God.

I want to share with you another experience. The presence of our Lady of Guadalupe during Advent, in the history of the evangelization of America, a nation that cries and prays: Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus!

Just as the Incarnation could not happen without Mary, evangelization does not and will not be a reality without Mary. The process of evangelization, the inculturation of the Gospel in America has begun and continues with the maternal presence of Mary. It is like a painful and prolonged childbirth, made of cross and sword in a time, where the maternal face of God has touched the hearts of the entire nation, born from the mixing of cultures, of blood and of various skin colors.

The Madonna is pictured on the canvas with a brown face, gentle, serene. And since the conquest was a war of death, she is shown pregnant, bringing life and the future: the Son of God. He chose as a mediator a really poor native, Juan Diego, so as not to force the message with cunning words, with the arrogance of a warrior nor with religious power. In this way, putting everybody to the test: the Church, the conquerors, the locals, and also even the very same native messenger, because trust is placed in God, not in one's own strength or human logic. Speaking with "Juan Dieguito" she touches the hearts of the people with a language so tender and motherly: "My dear son, do not be afraid, I am the Mother of the true God who created all things; I am your mother, you are not abandoned nor orphaned." And it is in this way that the people, not only that native, fell in love with Mary and the fruit of her womb. In front of a face so sweet and mild, the ice melts, it ends the war, revenge disappears, and everybody -the whites and the colored persons-  become sons in the Son brought by Mary of Guadalupe.

This is how the Christian faith had its first announcement in the person and the message of Mary. That announcement developed and passed through different moments in history. It seems that  almost five hundred years are not enough, it seems that Mary of Guadalupe still looks for new mediators, new witnesses, for a new evangelization. These new mediators are ourselves and the new vocations who possess childlike humility and attitudes of servants just like "Juan Dieguito."

In this Advent Jesus comes as a gift of the Father in the womb of Mary. We say together with the people of God and people of goodwill: Come, Lord Jesus!



Multiple identities

Multiple identities - not something new, really. When I go up to take a photo with a celebrity, for example, which identity is predominant? The Salesian-consecrated-priestly identity, or simply the curiosity and thrill of being at a public event and close up to a celebrity? The Rector Major was clearly being Rector Major when he interacted with Patti Smith to thank her in the name of the youngsters who would never be able to thank her, and when he remarked about her remarkable ability to create a contemplative silence around her. Patti Smith, I had the impression, was simply and totally herself when she stood before us on the stage, and that, I think, accounted for the powerful impression she had. John Paul II was another such: a powerful presence that could reach out and touch thousands of people before him, simply because he was all there. Don Bosco: everywhere the priest, whether in Florence or in Valdocco, with the high and mighty or with his poor boys. And Jesus? classic case of multiple identity - and total harmony. All there.

A contemporary challenge to contemporary Salesians: to be completely what we are, every time, every where. 

Sunday 14 December 2014

Like water into a sponge


In quelli che procedono dal buono al meglio, il buon angelo li tocca dolcemente, lievemente, soavemente. Dio entra come acqua in una spugna. “Dobbiamo riconoscere che le consolazioni del Signore non consistono solo nelle visioni mistiche o nelle transverberazioni di Teresa d’Avila, ma proprio in quest’acqua che come una goccia entra in una spugna e pian piano la permea a la fa rivivere. Così l’esperienza dell’amicizia, l’interesse per le cose quotidiane, il senso del bello e dell’ordine, lo splendore di una primavera, i fiori nel nostro giardino, il canto degli uccelli al mattino… son tutte cose che ci sostengono, ci nutrono, senza che noi lo possiamo pesare con una bilancia.” (Rossi de Gasperis, Sentieri di vita 2.2 269)

Those who are moving from good to better the good angel touches sweetly, lightly, gently. God enters like water into a sponge. Translated into ordinary life, this means that the consolations of God - perhaps we might want to call these 'experiences of God' - cannot be limited only to mystical visions and the transverberations of the great Teresa. They include simple things like the experience of friendship, interest in the things of everyday life, the sense of beauty and order, the splendour of springtime, the flowers in our garden, the singing of birds in the morning, and, I would add, music that touches your heart. 

Friday 12 December 2014

Tu, Giovanni

I am still reading Joan Maria Vernet's latest, Tu Giovanni. Once again Vernet presses the whole of himself, mind and heart, learning, archaeology, geography, history, exegesis, into the service of popular writing. But he does not quite succeed in entering into the pain of one who has lost the One he loves. Perhaps because the one who writes lives constantly in the love that does not pass.

"Ani le dodì ve dodì li." I to the beloved and the beloved to me. I am my beloved's and beloved is mine. The singing, the dancing, but also the pain. "We piped, and you would not dance; we sang dirges, and you would not mourn." But the one who loves, enters into both pain and joy. And I like to think that the One who loves was fully what he was, divine and human, and that while he knew everything, he also did not know everything. Divine and human, without admixture, as the dogma would have it. 

La Guadalupana

Filiberto Gonsalez, our councillor for communication, gave a splendid homily on Our Lady of Guadalupe this morning. The more I hear, the more I marvel at this apparition of Our Lady: the wonderful compassion and wisdom of God that chose to bypass the highways of power and authority, political as well as religious, and to appear to someone on the underside of history, the subaltern, Juan Diegito. "In a country where so many of us have mothers without fathers, God in his compassion chose to send us a Mother," Felipe Plascencia said so many years ago in a homily here in Rome, Testaccio.

Filiberto was talking about singing and dancing to the different drum that is the music of God: "ballare e cantare al ritmo del amore misericordioso di Dio." I would add: ballare e anche piangere. Jesus talks of both. 

Machiavelli again

A newspaper article by Luciano Canfora (Corriere della Sera, giovedì 11 dicembre 2014, p. 43) indicates a new 3 volume encyclopaedia (Enciclopedia Machiavelliana, ed. Gennaro Sasso and Giorgio Inglese, Treccani) on Machiavelli, cost 1400 euro. Vols. 1 and 2 contain different entries in the usual alphabetical order, while vol. 3 contains a collection of Machiavelli's writings with an introduction by Sasso.

One of the questions raised is about the originality of Machiavelli and other modern authors, especially given the fact that some of them explicitly seem to have said that they took everything from the ancients (see Leibniz, and Machiavelli himself). The solution is rather obvious: the founders of modernity thought out the new in dialogue with the ancients - though Hobbes, for one, very clearly takes his distance from Aristotle's axiom about the social nature of human beings: "This axiom - though accepted by many, is just false."

Another observation is that in some similar way, each one who reads the moderns does it in his own way. Thus there is the Machiavelli of Antonio Gramsci, quite different from that of Mussolini (I never knew that the Duca had a book on the topic, but it turns out that he does: Preludio al Machiavelli - and it should not be surprising, really). On the other hand, the Counter Reformation had castigated Machiavelli as the 'cattivo maestro.'

Might be interesting to read once again, in this light, what Fred Lawrence has to say about Machiavelli.

One thing is clear: Machiavelli is more alive than we might want to think. He is one of the creators of the modern Western world, and, through its influence, on the rest of the world.

Tuesday 2 December 2014

Sanctity with its foibles

Ignatius' eighth rule in the Spiritual Exercises takes up again the second (consolation without a cause). When there is consolation without a cause, it is clear that only God acts, and we do not. Ignatius, however, is very attentive and cautious here. He urges us to distinguish this moment from the successive one. Here the soul remains fervent, but other elements enter: from one’s habitual ways of thinking, deductions from concepts and judgments, or from the influence of either the good or the bad angel. Here we formulate opinions and proposals that are not directly given by God, and so they should be carefully examined before giving them credit and putting them into practice. (ES 336)

There are examples of saints who begin with a good movement, but then go on to ambiguous things, much less holy, more questionable. How can this happen? Because in this second movement, there enter human beings, concepts, motivations, cultural images, ways of thinking, interests that are more or less pure, considerations of advantage and disadvantage, etc. [Here is where the whole of our cultural conditioning enters. The whole discussion about Italianity and Salesianity can be put into this context.] the Lord never ensures that the purity of the starting point is preserved intact up to the point of arrival. Things begun by God can be corrupted by men. We can even go up to the point of sin. So Ignatius says: it is important to examine carefully what happens between beginning and end. Even certain vocations can begin very pure, and then get corrupted. / God calls, certainly, but he does not canonize all that comes after. There is nothing automatic in the field of the Spirit and of sanctity. [Rossi de Gasperis 266-67.]

See the bible: God calls Israel at Sinai; Israel always remains the people of God; but this does not mean that everything it does can be canonized. We need to discern with great attention and vigilance the moment of consolation from that which follows. In my cooperation with God, all my ‘inquinamento’ can enter. The case of John the Baptist is exemplary: he had formed, from some biblical texts, an image of Jesus that did not match the reality of Jesus. [267.]

We have to be totally ‘unprejudiced’ [we should not be completely taken up: a healthy scepticism w.r.t. anyone and anything] with any event. “Esiste un disincanto essenziale alla santità cristiana.” Jn 2:23-25: Jesus did not put his trust in them, because he knew them, … he knew what was in every man. Jesus entrusts himself unconditionally only to his Father. The diabolic influence can infiltrate everywhere. / Even saints can go wrong. Perfect discernment belongs only to Kingdom. Here all things are mixed up. “Se una persona commette schiocchezze non significa che non sia santa.” [anche questo!]

So: saints can have their foibles. Just because someone has his limitations, it does not mean he is not a saint. This explains how even great saints can have their, often culture based, limitations. Someone may be saintly and pro-Israeli; someone else saintly and pro-Palestinian. There is no carte blanche sanctity.  


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