Tuesday 29 December 2015

The thousand bells

From Tony de Mello, The Song of the Bird

The temple had stood on an island two miles out to sea. And it held a thousand bells. Big bells, small bells, bells fashioned by the best craftsmen in the world. When a wind blew or a storm raged, all the
temple bells would peal out in unison, producing a symphony that sent the heart of the hearer into raptures.
But over the centuries the island sank into the sea and, with it, the temple and the bells. An ancient tradition said that the bells continued to peal out, ceaselessly, and could be heard by anyone who listened attentively. Inspired by this tradition, a young man traveled thousands of miles, determined to hear those bells. He sat for days on the shore, opposite the place where the temple had once stood, and listened--listened with all his heart. But all he could hear was the sound of the waves breaking on the shore. He made every effort to push away the sound of the waves so that he could hear the bells. But all to no avail; the sound of the sea seemed to flood the universe.
He kept at his task for many weeks. When he got disheartened he would listen to the words of the village pundits who spoke with unction of the legend of the temple bells and of those who had heard them and proved the legend to be true. And his heart would be aflame as he heard their
words . . . only to become discouraged again when weeks of further effort yielded no results.

Finally he decided to give up the attempt. Perhaps he was not destined to be one of those fortunate ones who heard the bells. Perhaps the legend was not true. He would return home and admit failure. It was his final day, and he went to his favorite spot on the shore to say goodbye to the sea and the sky and the wind and the coconut trees. He lay on the sands, gazing up at the sky, listening to the sound of the sea. He did not resist that sound that day. Instead, he gave himself over to it, and found it was a pleasant, soothing sound, this roar of the waves. Soon he became so lost in the sound that he was barely conscious of himself, so deep was the silence that the sound produced in his heart.
In the depth of that silence, he heard it! The tinkle of a tiny bell followed by another, and another and another . . . and soon every one of the thousand temple bells was pealing out in glorious unison, and his heart was transported with wonder and joy.
If you wish to hear the temple bells, listen to the sound of the sea. If you wish to see God, look attentively at creation. Don't reject it; don't reflect on it. Just look at it.

courtesy http://journeyofhearts.org/kirstimd/bells.htm

Saturday 26 December 2015


Preparing the homily for Christmas, the other day, I became aware of the difference between waiting and waiting. Waiting before an immigration counter or a ticket counter can be annoying, or shot through with anxiety, the anxiety of missing a flight, or simply boring. Waiting for person, expecting a person, longing for a person - that is a very different kind of waiting and yearning and longing. And waiting for the Messiah is that kind of waiting. A waiting shot through with longing and yearning, a waiting that is sweet and painful at the same time.

And I am thinking: the waiting of a senior person, like the many seniors in our community, is also to be considered. How do they wait? With what kind of feeling? - And surely we have to learn to pray, to wait with anxious desire, with longing even, for do we not believe that we go to the final encounter, the foretaste of which we believe we have often and even every day? 

Friday 25 December 2015

Natale Pasko

I always found it strange that the Filipino word for Christmas is 'pasko', and then this morning Eusebio told me that in Spanish, Christmas is 'pascua de navidad', which would be pasqua di natale in Italian. Which contains the insight that the Birth is closely linked to the Death - and to the Resurrection. Rossi de Gasperis writes: "Anche quando mettono il Bambino nel presepio, la fede e la liturgia cristiana si snodano sempre dinanzi al Cristo risorto." (Sentieri di vita 2.2, 24). Even when we put the Child into the crib, the Christian faith and the liturgy always unfold before the risen Christ.

Thursday 24 December 2015

Christmas homily

I am trying to put down the homily for tonight, the homily which the Rector Major was supposed to give, but which he passed on to me because he had to go to the dentist to get some work done on his teeth. So perhaps it is the expectation, perhaps it is the self-love that is blocking, but things do not seem to flow. So what is it that I would like to say? I asked for a word, and the word that came was: Jesus is the Word. He is the Word of God, the Word uttered by the Father, the word of love spoken to us.

This Advent has been particularly wonderful, not only because Vannoli led the Christmas novena so well, but because the prophecies sounded simply marvellous. Balaam prophesying against his will, uttering words that utterly escaped his intentions, talking about the Star of Jacob, the Sceptre of Israel. Isaiah and Malachi and Zephaniah talking about Wisdom, and the Shoot of David, the Key and the King. And then the longing: the utter longing with which all this is shot through. The longing that is still the central characteristic of the liturgy of Israel. The longing that is implanted deep in the human heart, the longing for peace and good and trust and love. "The lighting up of the text is at once the lighting up of the self." The light shines upon the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it.

So against this longing, this yearning, this waiting, the Birth is all the more wonderful. I am struck especially by the second readings of the Christmas masses, two of them from the letter to Titus, where Paul speaks of the grace of God that has appeared, the goodness and the loving kindness of God that has appeared among us, literally EPIPHANY. And I think of Jesus, the Face of the Mercy of God. Revelation of the misericordia of the Father. This mercy that is the sum and substance of revelation. And I think of us, called to be epiphany, revelation of God, signs and bearers of his love. But called also to see. So we ask: that we might have eyes to see. Immersed in the cares of the pastoral life and in the world, the Salesian learns to see God in those to whom he has been sent.

But I think also of the three humilities of Ignatius, and of Jesus, messia fallito. This Jesus, born so humbly, in the time of Caesar Augustus and of Quirinius, governor of Syria, Jesus is born in an obscure village on the outskirts of Jerusalem.

And I think: the liturgy of the church is not so different after all from the liturgy of Israel. We who are witnesses to his coming, we also wait for his coming again. We wait in blessed hope for the manifestation of his glory. And while we wait, he teaches us to renounce impiety and worldly desires, and to live sober lives full of justice and piety, a pure people full of zeal for good works.

So we contemplate the child wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in the manger, watched over by Mary and Joseph, ox and ass, and the odd young shepherd, all marvelling, all wondering, with little understanding, but certainly full of joy. And I can't help recalling Scaria's classes: the swaddling clothes are a sign of the king's son; the manger is where the animals eat, and the ox and the ass - they know who their master is and where their food is, unlike the people of God who do not. Not understanding, then, but knowing. Knowing who the master is, and where the food lies. That much is enough. If I cannot be Mary and Joseph, if I cannot be a shepherd, let me be at least ox and ass.

Tuesday 22 December 2015

"Chiamatemi Francesco"

Last night at the little teatro in our Testaccio set up, we saw "Chiamatemi Francesco." The film is not exactly a great work of art, but good all the same, especially in the way it highlights Bergoglio's long engagement with poverty and injustice, or rather with people who are poor and victims of injustice. I realize our pope has lived through, also as provincial, the very difficult years of the right-wing dictatorship in Argentina, that he was often caught between the needs of the people on the one hand, and political and ecclesiastical powers on the other. No wonder he is so strong about ecclesiastics who need to get out of their comfortable little lives and get in touch with the poor. No wonder he insists so much that our contact with the poor will transform us.
Much of Bergoglio's complexity and life was missing from the film, partly also because we saw a version that was edited for the cinema hall (the TV version is 200 minutes, I am told). His deep faith and even his warm ways do not come through very well - though I am told by people who knew him that he rarely smiled as archbishop - except when he went among the people. The Salesian connection is totally absent, of course, and there is no mention at all of his study stint in Germany. But something of the man comes through. And thinking of our own involvement as theology students with the villages around Kristu Jyoti, and our reading of liberation theology, the issues that this film focusses on come alive. With a great desire to know more about how the young Jesuit faced the challenge of liberation theology, no doubt espoused by many of his own Jesuit confreres. And even, the thought crossed me, finding out how our own Egidio Viganò faced the challenge, as a young professor in Chile, and then as Formation Councillor and Rector Major. But above all, how we are to face the issue today. And there, the change is amazing: what was once periphery is now centre. Who would have imagined that 30 years ago.

Monday 21 December 2015

The true story of the financial crisis

This caught my attention today in the International New York Times (Paul Krugman, Sat-Sun, 19-20 December 2015, p. 7): "The true story of the financial crisis is deeply inconvenient to some very rich and powerful people."

The details: in May 2009, the US Congress created a commission to examine the causes of the financial crisis. The idea was to emulate the Pecora Commission of the 1930s, "which used careful historical analysis to help craft regulations that gave America two generations of financial stability."
But some members of the new commission had a different goal. George Santayana famously remarked that 'those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.' What he didn't point out was that some people want to repeat the past - and that such people have an interest in making sure that we don't remember what happened, or that we remember it wrong.
Sure enough, some commission members sought to block consideration of any historical account that might support efforts to rein in runaway bankers.
As one of those members, Peter Wallison of the American Enterprise Institute, wrote to a fellow Republican on the commission, it was important that what they said 'not undermine the ability of the new House G.O.P. to modify or repeal Dodd-Frank,' the financial regulations introduced in 2010. Never mind what really happened; the party line, literally, required telling stories that would help Wall Street to do it all over again.
Paul Krugman goes on to recommend a new movie, "The Big Short," based on a novel by Michael Lewis of the same name, which, according to him, has got the economic, financial and political story all right.
The film achieves this feat mainly by personalizing the tale, focusing not on abstractions but on colorful individuals who saw the rot in the system and tried to make money off that realization. Of course, this still requires explaining what it was all about. Yet even the necessary expository set pieces work amazingly well. For example, we learn how dubious loans were repackaged into supposedly safe 'collateralized debt obligations' via a segment in which the chef Anthony Bourdain explains how last week's fish can be disguised as seafood stew.
... The group of people who recognized that we were experiencing the mother of all housing bubbles, and that this posed big dangers to the real economy, was bigger than the film might lead you to believe. It even included a few (cough) mainstream economists. But it is true that many influential, seemingly authoritative players, from Alan Greenspan on down, insisted not only that there was no bubble but that no bubble was even possible.
And the bubble whose existence they denied really was inflated largely via opaque financial schemes that in many cases amounted to outright fraud - and it is an outrage that basically nobody ended up being punished for those sins aside from innocent bystanders, namely the millions of workers who lost their jobs and the millions of families that lost their homes.
[T]he true story of what happened is deeply inconvenient to some very rich and powerful people.
They and their intellectually hired guns have therefore spent years disseminating an alternative view that the money manager and blogger Barry Ritholtz calls the Big Lie. It's a view that places all the blame for the financial crisis on - you guessed it - too much government, especially government-sponsored agencies supposedly pushing too many loans on the poor.  
So the true story is that some people saw the rot in the system and found ways of making money off that realization - e.g., by repackaging dubious loans into supposedly safe collateralized debt obligations. The blame was put on the many ordinary people who could not pay their debts. Or else on government or government agencies that gave too many loans to poor people. These people - many of them rich and powerful - have no interest in anyone truly discovering the true causes of the financial crisis, and work to block any moves to such discovery....

Sunday 20 December 2015

Sentinels, the religious life

The Isaiah text, 4th day of the Christmas novena, was strange and strangely haunting. The sentinel, waiting for the dawn. Fabio Attard connected this with the consecrated life: we are sentinels, waiting for the dawn, the Dawn, the Daystar that is Christ, the Day of the Lord. We announce that Dawn, we are signposts to it, "eschatological signs." We are like people waiting for the bus: and when there are people waiting, it is reassuring, because very likely the bus will come. 

Sartre and Christmas

Fabio Attard, in his homily during the Christmas novena, mentioned the famous piece by Sartre on Christmas, written at the request of his fellow prisoners-of-war during the Second War. And I thought: just as Balaam did not quite know and certainly did not understand the full import of what he was saying, so perhaps Sartre, and many of those who declare themselves atheist, might not really understand what they are saying when they say it, whether it be to deny God, or to write this utterly beautiful piece. Sartre suspected, surely: he makes the blind man see this vision of the Birth, and he is the blind man. And then, which of us truly sees? And how much do we truly see? 

Friday 18 December 2015

O Antiphons

One version of the O antiphons of these days - but I miss the music of the words here.

December 17  O Wisdom, O Holy Word of God (Sir. 24:3), you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care (Wisd. of Solomon  8:1).  Come and show your people the way to salvation (Isa. 40:3-5). 
“O Sapienza dell’Altissimo, che tutto disponi con forza e dolcezza: vieni ad insegnarci la via della saggezza”.

December 18  O Sacred Lord of Ancient Israel (Exod. 6:2, 3, 12), who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush (Exod. 3:2), who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain:  come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.
December 19  O Flower of Jesse’s Stem, you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples (Isa. 11:10; Rom. 15:12); kings stand silent in your presence (Isa. 5:15); the nations bow down in worship before you.  Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid (Hab. 2:3; Heb. 10:37).
December 20  O Key of David, O royal Power of Israel, controlling at your will the gate of heaven (Isa. 22:22; Rev. 3:7); come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom (Isa. 42:7; Ps. 107:14; Luke 1:79).
December 21  O Radiant Dawn (Zech. 6:12), splendor of eternal light (Heb. 1:3), sun of justice (Mal 4:2):  come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death (Luke 1:78-79; Isa. 9:2).
December 22  O King of all the Nations, the only joy of every human heart (Hag 2:8); O Keystone (Isa. 28:16) of the mighty human arch (Eph. 2:14); come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust (Gen. 2:7).
December 23  O Emmanuel (Isa. 7:14; 8:8), king and lawgiver (Isa. 33:22), desire of the nations (Gen. 49:10), Savior of all, come and set us free, Lord our God.

Thursday 17 December 2015

Phenomenology and misericordia

Dipping into the Manganaro book on Edith Stein (P. Manganaro, F. Nodari, ed. Ripartire da Edith Stein: La scoperta di alcuni manoscritti inediti, Quaderni per l'Università 4, Brescia: Morcelliana, 2014) - all sorts of thoughts about phenomenology.

Stein obviously is doing phenomenology of interiority in its most concrete sense, in the sense that she brackets nothing - not existence, not history, not relationships, not the Other, not God. Talk about "return to the concrete."

The phenomenology of relationships is extremely interesting. Like I am listening to a homily. It is in Italian, and in both language and content not exactly simple: the man who is speaking is theologically well-read and competent; he also knows he is well-read and competent. He is also, to my judgment, somewhat closed - or at least that is the kind of "rash judgment" to which I come listening to him reacting, almost without thinking, to something I said on Swami Shilananda, SJ. So while listening to the homily there is also this background music in my mind: this man is good, he is competent, his grasp of theology is admirable, but he, like others, is prone to judgment. La violenza del pensiero, degli atteggiamenti. La violenza del giudizio. There comes to mind Heidegger: la violenza dell'interpretatione. Man is the violent in the midst of the overwhelming, he says in What is Metaphysics. And, in contrast, the non-violenza del dialogo, the opposite attitude that must characterize true dialogue. Then of course attention shifts to the violenza del mio pensiero, dei miei atteggiamenti, dei miei giudizi in confronto a quello che sta parlando. E poi, alla misericordia. Alla chiamata, ad essere misericordiosi come il Padre nostro è misericordioso. And then the flash, the thought: this is what is meant by graced interiority, this is what perhaps Stein found when she was doing her phenomenology of concrete interiority, with all stops pulled out. She found that there was a More, an Other, a Beyond, that broke into her Self, that invited her, called her. And things change. From thinking: questo qua è tipico, he is judgmental, to: I am judgmental. I am called to misericordia, to compassion, or simply, very simply, to positive regard, because that is how I have been treated, that is what I have experienced: the misericordia di Dio, la infinita bontà di Dio. Basta.

And another instance. This time I am in a group, we are discussing something. There is this person, and I am aware of the many and complex layers in the relationship. What he is saying. Where he is going. Where he appears to be going. What he says about where he is going. And where he is really actually going. And then my reading of all this, and my caution: attenzione, a non cadere nella trappola. An attenzione that translates non into open violence, but into the hidden violence of reserve, of judgment: troppo difficile, troppo pericoloso. This relationship like all relationships is laden with history, but this one particularly more so. There are relationships that are on an even keel. There are others that are 'alive'. The issues are alive, and, if you care to enter, so are the feelings. 

Wednesday 16 December 2015

Presence and eternal life

Whoever welcomes a child welcomes me, and the Father who sent me.
Child: "those to whom we are sent."
Presence: the heavenly Jerusalem - a gathering from East and West - with God, into God.
The presence of God-with-us, Emmanuel
The presence of all our brothers and sisters in God: eternal life
This is eternal life
"We will come and make our HOME with them."

Learning to live the Trinity

Cardinal Braz was insisting the other day, quoting the pope, that we are called to follow Jesus, not alone but in community. Discipleship necessarily involves community. Our religious life is founded - securely - on the Trinity, which is a wonderful mystery of Communion-Love.

We have learnt to adore the Trinity, he said; we have learnt to speak correctly about it; and now we have to learn to live the Trinity.

Christian life without fraternity is impossible and absurd. In this context, the "religious brother" is a reminder to all of this vital dimension of Christian life.

Jesus reveals the mystery of the Trinity. For Kant, the trinity was a matter of indifference: if God were to have revealed himself as 10 persons in one, it would have made no difference, he said. And Karl Rahner, speaking of the way we have ignored the Trinity, said that you could take away the parts in theology about the Trinity, and it would make no difference to the rest.

Jesus is born to bear witness to the truth. He died to gather into one the scattered children of God. The mystery of communion and fraternity is at the very core of the faith.

Tuesday 15 December 2015

Ongoing formation - formazione permanente

Constitution 118 (the print copy of the latest edition has just reached me; my first reaction was, I miss the old Sans Serif font; I don't like the layout and the Cambria font) is entitled "Need for ongoing formation" and runs thus:
118. In the context of a society characterized by pluralism and rapid changes, the evolving nature of each individual and the quality and fruitfulness of our apostolic reli­gious life call for a continuation of our formation after the initial phases.  We try to grow in our human qualities, to conform our­selves more closely to Christ, and to renew our fidelity to Don Bosco, so that we can re­spond to the ever new demands arising from the situation of the young and the poor.

Through personal and community initiatives we nurture our Salesian spiritual life, ensure our theological and pastoral updating, and develop our professional competence and our apostolic inventiveness. 
118. In un contesto pluralista e di rapide
trasformazioni, il carattere evolutivo della
persona e la qualità e fecondità della nostra
vita religiosa apostolica richiedono che, dopo
le fasi iniziali, continuiamo la formazione.
Cerchiamo di crescere nella maturità umana,
di conformarci più profondamente a Cristo e
di rinnovare la fedeltà a Don Bosco, per rispondere
alle esigenze sempre nuove della
condizione giovanile e popolare.
Mediante iniziative personali e comunitarie
coltiviamo la vita spirituale salesiana, l’aggiornamento
teologico e pastorale, la competenza
professionale e la creatività apostolica.
Here ongoing formation is understood as "a continuation of our formation after the initial phases." Perhaps the new understanding has to enter properly into whatever we will write about ongoing formation: understanding 'formation' to mean first and foremost that formation that lasts all our life and that never ends - from womb to tomb, as Cardinal Braz said the other day. Simply because it is the Father forming in us the heart of the Son. Within this ongoing and permanent formation, the phases of initial formation take their place.

In the same logic, the agency has to change, from Ourselves to God. God as first formator must come in more clearly into the text of the Constitutions. Not "we try to grow in our human qualities, to conform ourselves more closely to Christ" etc. but "the Father forming in us the heart of the Son through the Spirit...."

The Ratio (FSDB) naturally reflects the Constiutional text: "It is the natural and absolutely necessary continuation of the process he has lived in his initial formation." (#520)

Vita Consecrata, instead, simply speaks of ongoing formation as an essential dimension of life and an intrinsic requirement of the religious consecration (text quoted by J.J. Bartolomé):

 La formación permanente, en cuanto dimensión esencial de la vida y proceso siempre en realización, «es una exigencia intrínseca de la consagración religiosa.» (VC 69)

New document on the Religious Brother

Salesian Brothers from CRESCO at the Meeting of Young Consecrated Persons, Rome, September 2015

The long-awaited document on the Identity and Mission of the Religious Brother in the Church was released yesterday. I am still trying to locate a digital copy - though someone in the house has promised me a hard copy. 
My first impression of the news item below: it stresses what the religious brother 'says' to the world: it is a vocation that is characterized by "a profound sensibility for all that damages the dignity" of the least, the oppressed, the abandoned.
It goes on to mention the "open question" of authority in mixed religious congregations like ours, and says that Carballo has said that they would ask the Pope to appoint an ad hoc commission to study the matter. Braz seems to have said the other day that the Pope has decided to set up this kind of commission.

From http://agensir.it/chiesa/2015/12/14/identita-e-missione-del-religioso-fratello-nella-chiesa-nel-documento-della-santa-sede-anche-i-nodi-da-sciogliere/: 
Pubblicato il documento "Identità e missione del fratello religioso nella Chiesa" realizzato dalla Congregazione per gli Istituti di vita consacrata e le Società di vita apostolica. Ampio spazio al riconoscimento di una vocazione che si caratterizza per "una profonda sensibilità per tutto ciò che lede la dignità" dei più piccoli, degli oppressi e degli abbandonati. Resta aperta la questione realtiva alla diversa dignità ecclesiale tra religiosi sacerdoti e fratelli all'interno degli Istituti misti, con la possibilità di eleggere un superiore tra le fila dei membri laici.

But somewhere down the line, it does note that what is essential to the religious brother is his being a consecrated person - 'Inoltre il documento, sulla scorta dell’esortazione apostolica “Vita Consecrata”, individua l’essenziale della vita consacrata nella volontà di “conformarsi a Cristo  nel suo modo di vivere, vergine, povero e obbediente”.' As VC indicates the essential, the core of consecrated life consists in the conformation to Christ in his way of living virginal, poor and obedient.

Chrys Saldanha said that the document has been long in the making. An earlier version had been sent to the Rector Major Chavez and his council - it had concentrated solely on the "brother" aspect of the religious brother, forgetting that his basic identity lies in his being a consecrated person. (And it's good to know that document drafts are circulated among people here in Rome at least, and among congregations.) Carballo, in fact, has thanked Benedict XVI for taking the initiative to begin work on this document in 2008. So it's been a good 7 years in the making!

Braz, in his press conference, stresses the dimension of fraternity. And perhaps this dimension is not all that marginal, when you realize the Trinitarian basis of consecrated life. We are all called to mirror the communion-love that is the Trinity, and fraternal life and fraternity, is one of the great ways of mirroring the Trinity. The religious brother is an icon of fraternity - and he is that within his call to follow Christ's concrete options to live poor, virginal and obedient. 

Monday 14 December 2015

Chris Lowney and the Jesuits

Chris Lowney. Leader per vocazione: I principi della leadership secondo i gesuiti. Milano: Il Sole 24 Ore, 2005.

Heroic Leadership: Best Practices from a 450-Year-Old Company That Changed the World: Best Practices from a 450 Year Old Company That Changed the World. Chicago: Loyola Press, 2003.

Friday 11 December 2015

Eternal life - and time, and relation

The discussion the other day about eternal life and the intermediate stages - purgatory, limbo and so on. The overriding affirmation: for God there is no time; so we should not apply our category of time to eternal life. As soon as we die, we are with God.

I would say: the basic affirmation is true: we have to factor into our considerations of eternal life this fact, that God is not temporal, that eternity is temporal.

But I would add: eternal life - the beatific vision - is a relational category, an experiential category. And that might help explain the intermediate states. Quidquid recipitur, ad modum recipientis recipitur. Jesus' experience of the Father is surely different from that of an angel, or of a saint; and so, probably from that of someone whose heart is simply not large enough, broad enough.... 

Thursday 10 December 2015

Formation in context and multiculturality

A good way of studying history is to identify the questions, or the dialectic. This might be also a good way of influencing history.

A - small? - point of discussion these days is the value of formation outside one's province / culture / context. The Rector Major has gone on record to encourage such formation: "at least one phase of formation outside one's context and culture" is more or less what he says in his first letter. The values in conflict here are: formation in loco, and formation outside.

Two points for consideration. Just because one is doing one's formation within one's particular context, there is no guarantee that this is contextualized formation. Something more is needed: the right interaction with context, and appropriation of the experience by attention to what is happening to me / us through such interaction.

Just because one is doing one's formation outside one's context, it does not mean that "one will never be formed." Here the focus is often on the formators, who, not being from the context of the formees, are expected not to understand them. I would say: what is important is the religious and human interiority of the formator, and also his moral and intellectual interiority. A formator who genuinely lives his faith and his charism, and who is learning to be at home with his own affectivity, a formation who is genuine, will be able to reach the heart of the formee regardless of culture.

Tuesday 8 December 2015

Salesian Priest and Salesian Brother

The best theological reflection on the Brother and the Priest that I have seen so far. Bozzolo is principal at Crocetta. one of the most brilliant theologians we have. young. i am amazed at his grasp of theology. and his creativity. 

in summary: the difficulties, practical and theoretical, that we have been experiencing w.r.t. the vocation of the Brother (and of the Priest) are rooted ultimately in an inadequate theology. For certain reasons (among them, the sharp and bitter debates about the catholic priesthood and consecrated celibacy, during the protestant reform; and also a particular understanding of 'reason') we had a theology of the religious life that distinguished it from the priesthood and from the lay vocation by separation. The new understanding is a kind of relational ontology, or a typological ontology. in simple words: there is distinction, but it is for the sake of relation. even simpler: the deacon - 'servant' - is an icon of service to the whole church. he reminds the whole church of the importance of service. So the laity remind the whole church of the importance of the secular reality; and the consecrated persons remind the whole church of its final state, the eschatological state... Strangely, Viganò had already begun saying this way back. Now Bozzolo is bringing it firmly to centre stage. 

Bozzolo, Andrea. “Salesiano Prete e Salesiano Coadiutore: Spunti per un’interpretazione teologica.” Sapientiam dedit illi: Studi su Don Bosco e sul charisma salesiano. Ed. Andrea Bozzolo. Studi di Spiritualità 27. Roma: LAS, 2015. 317-373.


"To die with forgiveness on the lips, like Stephen, like James Foley, I would like to believe, like Jesus. To be able to celebrate Christmas even on the cross."

"Allora non potevo darti delle coccolate perché non ne avevo." (Cosimo the barber, reporting one of the members of his neo-catechumenal community to her husband.)

For the joy that was set before him.

To believe that all this makes sense (Timothy Radcliffe, The Tablet); to be able to forgive, beginning from my little world. 

Sunday 6 December 2015

2 Sunday C of Advent, 2015

1. "The word of God comes to John, son of Zechariah, in the wilderness." With Tiberius as emperor, Pontius Pilate procurator in Judea, Herod and his brother reigning in different parts of the land, Annas and Caiaphas doing their thing in Jerusalem, the word comes to John. God chooses, and chooses with utter freedom. He chooses the small, the insignificant, to carry out his plans. He is supremely free in his choice. His word comes to me today, to us, and it is as powerful as ever, and as ever his supremely free and wise choice. Do I believe?

I am thinking of James Foley, whose throat was slit by a ISIS man in a black hood, and the horrifying video of which went around the world. Who, I keep asking myself, was the stronger of the two? And my heart points in the direction of James rather than the man with the knife, the man who slit his throat. It is James who is the stronger. It is James who takes his place in the long line of those who follow in the steps of Jesus. 
Timothy Radcliffe, "Majesty vested in truth," The Tablet (28 November 2015) 13. Radcliffe quotes Edith Stein: "When she read the life of St Teresa of Avila, she sat bolt upright and said. 'It's true.' It was a truth that enabled her to face death in Auschwitz knowing that life had the final word." 
He quotes Leonard Cheshire: "Leonard Cheshire, the highly decorated RAF pilot and founder of Cheshire Homes, went out for a meal with friends during the Second World War. At some stage, he denied any belief in a personal God, and a friend objected: 'Absolute nonsense. God is a person and you know it perfectly well.' / Cheshire wrote: 'No sooner was the statement made than I knew it to be true. It was not that I had known it all along and just needed a jolt to admit it openly, nor that I had followed a process of reasoning which I found unanswerable, but that purely and simply what up to until then had seemed nonsense now carried total conviction.' " 
"Of course we must combat IS. But ultimately we believe that the Word of God, full of grace and truth, will prevail over every form of nonsense. The late Vaclav Havel, playwright and former president of the Czech Republic, asserted that 'hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out."  (Radcliffe 13.)
2. We are gathered by the word (C ??). Our origin is in the word. What we are, what we do - none of this begins from me, from us. We come from God, by him we are sent. The apostole, the missionary, is one who is called and sent. Not 'choice' but 'call' - choice is beloved of our age, but call is at the centre of vocation.

And mission is not work, but revelation: to be signs and bearers of God's love to the young.

It is the word that call, that gathers, that sends. That we might be witnesses, signs, sacraments of the love and mercy of God.

3. The Baptist is the greatest among those born of women: the wonderful eulogy of Jesus. And then, as ever, the sharp cut: And yet the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he. The least in the kingdom. For eternal life, keep the commandments. But if you have more, if you would be perfect, go, sell, and then come, follow. ME.  Jesus is the novelty. Not grace, but the mediation of grace in Jesus is what distinguishes the Christian from all his other brothers and sisters, in whom also the Spirit works and blows. We are here because we have been touched by the Word made flesh, touched and warmed and loved and called and sent.

4. So we pray for one another. With joy, with affection. That we might grow in love, in wisdom, in every discernment. Charity with knowledge and discernment: how much we Salesians need that. That we might arrive holy and immaculate on the Day of the Lord Jesus. Like Mary. Confident that he who began his work in us knows well how to bring it to completion, fulfilment, perfection. 

Lonergan's Anthropology Revisited: The next fifty years of Vatican II

Delighted to receive a copy of Lonergan's Anthropology Revisited: The next fifty years of Vatican II, which are the Acts of the Lonergan Conference convened by Gerard Whelan at the Gregorian a couple of years ago, with a paper from me that was not read at the Conference but was written afresh at Gerry's request for the volume.

In his comments on my paper in the conclusion, Gerry quotes the famous "mutual self-mediation" text from Lonergan, adding an editorial comment identifying, to his mind, the two distinct starting points that are one. Matter for meditation!

The chat with Gerry was refreshing. I needed it. Gerry has been following the recent Synod very closely; he has an enviable vantage point, given that his window opens out onto the roofs of Rome with the dome of St Peter's hanging over them.

Some points:

The "theology of the people" of Bergoglio's teachers, and Bergoglio's respect for the "religion of the people", as against the disdain with which it is usually regarded
The skewed interpretation of Bergoglio by Vallely and the far more reliable one by Ivory. Vallely met the "opposition" group which now claims that, after the exile in Cordoba, Bergoglio converted to their side. Bergoglio, in his interview with Spadaro: "I was nowhere as conservative as provincial as they make it out to be."
The accusation by the radical liberation theology group among the Jesuits, that Bergoglio provincial was "too Salesian"
Aparecida as a "revolt" by the Latin American bishops against the line of John Paul II, with Bergoglio as one of the chief architects of the text
The See Judge Act methodology of Latin America, now the methodology of the synod.
Kasper as one of the chief theological influences on the pope, along with Bruno Forte
The resonance between See Judge Act and Lonergan's method
Whelan's own work as marrying Lonergan with Doran, chiefly w.r.t. the situation as a theological source. (For me, no problem: not all texts are texts. The situation is, by all means, a text.)

Friday 4 December 2015

Shine Jesus Shine

Cliff Richard – Shine, Jesus, Shine Lyrics

Lord, the Light of Your Love is shining,
In the midst of the darkness shining,
Jesus, Light of the World, shine upon us,
Set us free by the truth You now bring us,
Shine on me. Shine on me.

Shine, Jesus shine,
Fill this land with the Father's glory.
Blaze, Spirit blaze,
Set our hearts on fire.
Flow, river flow,
Flood the nations with grace and mercy.
Send forth Your word,
Lord and let there be light.

Lord I come to Your awesome presence,
From the shadows into Your radiance.
By the blood I may enter Your brightness,
Search me, try me, consume all my darkness.
Shine on me. Shine on me.

As we gaze on Your kindly brightness.
So our faces display Your likeness.
Ever changing from glory to glory,
Mirrored here may our lives tell Your story.
Shine on me. Shine on me.

Wednesday 2 December 2015

Wading into the sea

Walking in the early morning dark, for some reason Ranjit Desai's wonderful Marathi novel Swami came to mind, and the young Peshwa Madhavrao saying to his wife, as his health declines: You were the sea, and I only waded into you up to my ankles. The Peshwas, like other rulers of the time, would leave for their mohims or campaigns at the end of the monsoons and return only just before the beginning of the next - and this brilliant young Peshwa died young. His wife committed sati with him - unbelievable terrible scenes in Desai's novel. Sati, terrible thing that it is: a woman, a wife, deciding to burn on her husband's pyre, living death. Did they have the help of some soporific drug to dull the pain? and was Ramabai's sati done out of love, or sheer tradition, the pressure of society, or from relatives?

James Grant Duff says of the young Peshwa:
"And the plains of Panipat were not more fatal to the Maratha Empire than the early end of this excellent prince…" [4][5]
The poignancy of life and love. What, then, is greatness? What happiness? Wading only up to the ankles. "You are the sea, O Lord, the sea that beckons." One has to learn to let go, walk in deep, breathe under water...

Tuesday 1 December 2015

"He has made him known"

Wangie and the kids, and their Israeli teacher: God's goodness is manifested everywhere, in all kinds of people, often most unexpectedly. When I am tempted to hate, or at least to judge, and to dislike - it is good to remember that the Spirit blows where it will, and most unexpectedly.

David Neuhaus's theological reading of new Christian communities in the Holy Land, among them the Filipinos: for a people that remembers only the unkindness and violence suffered at the hands of the followers of Jesus, the gentleness and kindness they experience at the hands of their Filipino caregivers is truly a revelation and a manifestation of the loving kindness of God. The Filipinos in the Holy Land, along with all others in this service: the face of the Father - part of the ongoing revelation of his mercy.

"No one has ever seen God. The only-begotten, who is closest to the heart of the Father, he has made him known." (Jn 1,18)

Θεὸν  οὐδεὶς  ἑώρακεν  πώποτε·  μονογενὴς  Θεὸς    ὢν  εἰς  τὸν κόλπον  τοῦ  Πατρὸς,  ἐκεῖνος  ἐξηγήσατο. (Jn 1,18)

Encounter and uscita

The idea of encounter / meeting is central in Evangelii Gaudium, because it corresponds to the invitation to set out on the path of pastoral and missionary conversion. This idea seems to be at the origin of the "outward / outgoing movement" (dinamismo dell'uscita) to which Pope Francis invites the whole church. Encounter is at the basis of missionary action through personal testimony.

Going out of ourselves involves encounter, meeting people. Because the faith is the encounter with Jesus, and we are invited to do what the Lord has done: meeting others. 

Sunday 29 November 2015

Seeing as Jesus sees

Rossi de Gasperis: "In our relationships with others, let us try to be friendly not only in the way we behave, but even in the way we think of them, in such a way that, if they were to know what we thought of them, they would be happy, would feel respected, loved, accepted in friendship." And then he goes on: "Thinking of others in Jesus, we will think of them in a way that is much better than what they think of themselves, because there are persons who judge themselves very badly. But the Lord surely does not share these judgments, because he simply loves them completely. Let us, therefore, share in the way the Lord sees, knows and loves people and every created thing (cf. Wis 11,21 -12,1)." Can't help thinking of Lonergan when he says that with the eyes of faith we are able to see the world better than it is, and that "developing the positions" means making others look "better than they are." (Sentieri di vita 2.2, 524-25)

The apparitions of the Madonna

A wonderful theological reading of the apparitions of the Madonna, by Rossi de Gasperis. Something that makes me think immediately of the old and infirm Don Bosco insisting that he was seeing the Madonna in the FMA house of Nizza Monferrato. It is not that Mary appears here and there, says Rossi de Gasperis, but rather that she is always present, seeing that she is risen with Christ and assumed into heaven. And it is the gift and grace and tender mercy of the Lord to allow here and there our eyes to be opened, so that we can see, at least for a moment, things as they are in their heavenly, celestial, spiritual reality. To see, in other words, with the eyes of God. To see as Jesus saw. To see God. 
A way of understanding theologically the visions of the Madonna, in those cases where there is something serious, is perhaps to see them not so much in terms of the Virgin “appearing” in different places, but rather in terms of our eyes opening up contingently to her permanent presence in our history. Mary is the one who is Assumed. Even “in heaven” – i.e., in the definitive scenario of God’s involvement with humanity – there remains the man-woman pair. Jesus is not risen alone, with him is already risen also the Church, as we can see in the martyrdom of Stephen (Acts 7,55-60). Mary is the person who represents all the disciples, of whom she is Mother, historical and mystical sign of the Jerusalem that is the Bride of the Lord. This we can see symbolized in her mantle that covers the many monstrances that are the different churches. One who is in the church is in Mary, because he participates in her spousal response to the visit of God that was “announced” to her. A bit of heaven is therefore already opened up on the earth and in the human condition. One who, thanks to God’s grace, is given to “see”, at least for a moment, the “celestial” dimension of human things, sees Mary. She is the first portion of humanity to be saved, the sign of our final destiny, our vocation. It is not so much, therefore, the Madonna who appears here and there; it is a gift of the Lord that allows the eyes of some men and some women to be opened, for their own sake and for others, in order to accompany and guide the path of all towards “Heaven.” (F. Rossi de Gasperis, Sentieri di vita 2.2:523n7)

Confession - again and again?

“The sacrament of reconciliation is an utterly real contact with Jesus Christ, who pardons sins, these faults that I confess here and now, and who heals, setting right and liberating from their non-sense my moral and spiritual infirmities. It is meaningless, therefore, to say: ‘I don’t know what to tell the confessor; it’s always the same things, I am fed up with myself.’ It is much more important not to get tired of him, that my disgust with myself helps me go back to him again and again, insistently, with a longing for his touch, the caress with which he welcomed the children brought to him, with which he raised the mother-in-law of Peter, or the twelve year old daughter of Jairus, or the woman who had been bent for eighteen years. I will allow him to put his fingers into my ears, touch my tongue with his spittle, place his hands on me, I will allow him to sigh over me with the sighs caused by my obtuseness (cf. Mk 7,32-35). The confession of my sins and of my spiritual infirmities is not an account that I must give of myself, but rather a sensible experience of the Lord Jesus and of his risen body in the midst of the dreariness of my existence, of my misery: it is a celebration of HIM, the only one who does all things well, who makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak (Mk 7,37). [F. Rossi de Gasperis, Sentieri di vita 2.2, 570-71.] 

Friday 27 November 2015

Goodness everywhere

I was touched the other day by the kindness of an Israeli lady. I was walking a Filipino family - mother and three little girls - to the tram. The family has been in great difficulty lately, with the father being arrested and thrown into prison for lack of documents. That night, it was this Israeli lady who came to the house, stayed with the family, and even arranged for a lawyer to help with the case. She was the kindergarten teacher of the oldest kid. I was touched by the affection with which she greeted the girls yesterday, and the little signs of affection that she extended repeatedly to the mother. I realised I should never generalize about people. There are good people everywhere. Barukh ha Shem. 

Friday 20 November 2015

Siby K. George's reading of the Preventive System

Wonderful paper by prof. Siby K. George of IIT Powai, "The Preventive System and Subject Formation," at the International Conference on the Life and Works of Don Bosco organized by the Philosophy Dept. of St Anthony's College, Shillong. 'Subject formation' has of course little to do with teaching, but everything with the formation of the subject and subjects, or persons. I found the paper a great reading of Don Bosco and the Preventive System against the background of modern and postmodern Western philosophy (Siby specializes in the latter). He begins by noting the disincarnate isolated subject in Descartes, the subject as impartial spectator in Adam Smith, the similar transcendental subject of Kant, before going on to Dasein as being-in-the-world (that makes enormous sense against the Cartesian subject as faced with the problem of how to get to the world), the thick subject enmeshed in history, in a world of cares, and, we must add, embodied, enfleshed, sexed, in relation.

Siby goes on to read Don Bosco in the light of Foucault's theorem of the ubiquity of power-knowledge. Inevitably, all systems of education, including the Preventive, are systems of power-knowledge. But Foucault does distinguish between benevolent and violent, dominating, oppressive systems, and the basic intuition of Don Bosco is of course benevolent, though, as we all know, the Preventive System can so easily slip into being Repressive.

The last part of the paper questions what he calls the 'mainstream interpretation' (he cites my paper) that regards religion as the foundation of the Preventive System, and suggests that the system can be practised even in a secular humanist context. "[I]t is not straightforwardly clear how exactly religion could become a culturally acceptable educational strategy except in a mono-religious culture as Italy was in Don Bosco's time." He proposes that we understand religion, in a pluralistic context like that of India, as "a principled ethics of love and reason." He points out also that religion itself need not be theistic. He adds that he does not want to deny "the religious force of the principle of selfless love," citing Charles Taylor who suggests that perhaps only God, "and to some extent those who connect themselves to God, can love human beings when they are utterly abject."

Some thoughts that swim into my mind.

The distinguishing mark of Christianity is not grace / love, but the mediation of grace in Christ Jesus (Lonergan). The mission of the Spirit reaches all. Grace-love - religion in this sense (what Crowe calls the universalist understanding of religion) - is available to all. The transcendental foundation, if you wish to speak that way, is available to all. Which is why anyone can be moral, and such being moral need not be purely 'natural.'

The subject grows, develops and is constructed in interaction with divine and human subjects. The subject is being-in-the-world, not an isolated Cartesian subject. Mutual self-mediation within a tradition.

Perhaps also on the contrast between Heidegger's Angst and Stein's joy, and gift.

So a reflection on the philosophical foundations of the Preventive System would need a section on religion and the religions.

Draw also from Lonergan, Topics in Education, and "Questionnaire."

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