Wednesday 6 January 2016

Rossi de Gasperis, Freedom from ourselves in the loving following of Jesus

Francesco Rossi de Gasperis, Sentieri di vita: La dinamica degli Esercizi ignaziani nell'itinerario delle Scritture, 2.2. Seconda Settimana, Seconda Parte (Milano: Paoline Editoriale Libri, 2007) 540-46. Ottavo giorno.  


Annotations / VIII




In the light of what we have so far known and have come to know of the person and consciousness of Jesus, let us try to become more and more aware of what we have become, involved as we are in the process of the loving and irrevocable following of him.
Jesus has become the principle not only of our behaviour but of our being. It is impossible to reduce him to formulas, to written or oral rules of conduct, to laws and to normative examples, to propositions and principles, to an ideal or a system of values. Such impossibility, however, does not mean that the influence and the conditioning that we receive from his person remains vague or indeterminate.
When someone conditions me to such an extent that I am afraid to be myself and different from him, it is a sign that I have become dependent, subject to an oppression that alienates me from myself. [540.]
Very different is the loving conditioning that conquers me freely, the conditioning on the part of a person who loves me and who I love, who longs for me and who I long for, to whom I want to belong and who wants to belong to me, like the soul of Jonathan ‘being knit’ (niqeshrah) to the soul of David to the point of loving him as he loved himself (1Sam 18,1). This is a question of a person who I know from within, who I esteem and revere, who fascinates me and with whom I am madly in love, who embraces me and by whom I enjoy being embraced, who seduces me and I allow myself to be seduced (cf Jer 20,7), and in whom – here we need to add a final qualitative leap – I feel, in some way, to have met GOD!
This is a being-in-love that is analogous to the most intense and passionate human love, but that nonetheless transcends in intensity and permanence every love of a creature, because my belonging is without conditions and limits. No other person, man or woman, has the right to possess me like this, as God possesses me, making of me a new man.
We have followed Jesus up to this point, we have accompanied him and have seen him face many confrontations, lack of trust, judgments and abstentions of judgment, superficial enthusiasms and ‘interested’ ones, and many abandonments. No one, however, has known him and reached him in his being as we who have believed and still believe in him, and who by this faith know him, in the same way that he was known by Mary of Bethany, Zacchaeus, Simon Peter and his companions:

66 After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him. 67 Jesus said to the twelve, “Will you also go away?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (Jn 6,66-69)

‘We have left all things and have followed you.’ (Lk 18,28)[1]

We contemplate GOD in Jesus, the Holy One of God, in such a way that the divine criteria and ways take root in us in virtue of a profound sympathy that the Spirit creates between him and us; and in such a way that they condition us, call out to us and torment us when we are not in harmony with them, when we move away from them to assert our own ways and criteria; and console and encourage us, instead, when we remain in harmony with them.  Every dissonance between us and the Spirit of Jesus becomes unbearable, out of love and not out of a mere sense of duty or an egoistic sense of guilt.
Jesus is the cantus firmus of God in us. D. Bonhoeffer writes to his friend E. Bethge:

God and his eternity want to be loved with the whole of our heart; not in a way that earthly love is compromised, but in a certain sense like cantus firmus, with respect to which the other voices of life are a counterpoint.[2]

[Cantus firmus. I think of the Indian ektara, with the single note that keeps sounding all through the performance, terra firma, so that the musicians and singers might not wander away from it. I think also of Lonergan’s room filled with music, and we ignorant of the source.]

Seduction, falling in love, irrevocable belonging, following…. Trying to speak of Jesus and us, we certainly need to use earthly analogies, but in the end the bond between him and us transcends every analogy. His person has become our consciousness, the ‘I’ that is deeper than our very own selves.
This does not mean, however, that we ought to try and copy all that he said and did, or that we should try to repeat his words and his actions. Just the opposite: following him as his disciple, I finally feel free to be myself. This liberation is produced by his presence, it is inspired by his person.
Jesus is the inner inspiration of all that is born of him in his Churches, not because he teaches us to do the things he did, but because starting from him and from attachment to him, each one has become truly himself, and the Church has flowered like a garden of irreducible personal identities: Simon Peter the fisherman turned pastor, and John, the beloved disciple; Paul, the Pharisee rejected by the Jews for being not devoted enough to the Torah and too open to the Gentiles, and James, the head of the Church of the Circumcision, killed by the Jews for being a relative of Jesus and far too attached to him. In truth, loving attachment to the person of Jesus, Messiah and Lord (articulated in the notes of the one polyphonic New Testament), and not any abstract ‘Christian’ ideology, lived in the different historical happenings of their existence and following of Jesus, was the secret of the persons and of the common fraternal destiny of Peter and of John, of Paul and of James. The one person of Jesus (more than his ‘doctrine’) was the ‘rule’ of Anthony the Copt and of Pachomius, of Basil and of Benedict, of Augustine and of Jerome, of Cyril and of Methodius and of Bernard, of Dominic and of Francis, of Brigitte and of Catherine of Siena, of Ignatius and of Francis Xavier, of Teresa of Avila and of John of the Cross, of Teresa of Lisieux and of Edith Stein…. [542-43.]
Where, then, will I find the will of the Lord for me, the key to my identity that unfolds over the course of my history? Not in any single page of the Gospels, not in any Constitution written without me, nor in any decision taken for me by some ‘spiritual father,’ but in prolonged contemplation of the consciousness heart of Jesus, grasped in the unitary and unwritten understanding of the New Testament and reached by prolonged exposure to the light and heat of the sun that is Christ the Lord. The will of the Lord emerges within me when, purified from sin and from the idolatry of my self, and exposed to “the rising sun that comes to visit us from on high” (Lk 1,78-79), I feel inspired (by the Holy Spirit) to follow him in a way that I feel is good for me (cf Rom 12,1-2). My vocation is finally Jesus Christ: allowing him to be fully in me and I in him, in a communion of identification. [543.]

[Is it possible that, for many people, their experience of passion, of crazy, disordinate affection, might actually leave them open to the language that Rossi de Gasperis is using? That it might reveal the abysmal emptiness, the wounds and the woundedness, the unbearable need?
Then there is the “intuition of loss” that Fred Lawrence speaks about, and this too can lay us open. 
The Synod on the Family (2014-15) probably also calls us to the rediscovery of the body as a locus theologicus, a place where God reveals himself. “With my body I worship the Lord. The body that is my vocation, the body, this space, this matter that has been entrusted to me, this body that is my joy and my pain, the source of my delight and of unbearable pain, this body that is my history, all that I am, my existence. This body is called to be involved in the logical sacrifice, the spiritual sacrifice. This is the surrender.”
"I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship [loghike latreia hymon, not pneumatike latreia hymon; it should be translated “worship according to the Word” - literally, logical sacrifice, but that does not communicate at all.].  (Rom 12,1)]

Certainly there will emerge negativities and limitations, and it is important that they arise from within me. I must feel that certain things are not permissible in a disciple of Jesus; they must not even come to mind (cf. Eph 5,3-20). Perhaps I will not understand this immediately! Even the disciples, going around with Jesus, would sometimes come out with things that were inopportune and even diabolic (Lk 9,54-55).[3] So we should not be surprised if there arise within us ideas that are out of place and even unhealthy, but which to us seem quite okay and in keeping with our following of the Lord. A continuous and prolonged familiarity with him will slowly clean us up from within, even if slowly and imperfectly, we who are so full of imperfections.
On the positive side there is an indefinite wealth of creativity that arises from a close communion with the Lord. No one can give us rules in this mater, but we can and should take fraternal counsel from some spiritual person. Today we speak much of discernment and community evaluation. We must be very careful, however, that such a community is, in fact, and not only by right, a spiritual and truly evangelical community. Often, in fact, a community tends to keep down, if not extinguish, the fervour of individuals. The great reforms of community, including those of the Church, begin normally with the devotion and fervour of a few individuals. In any case, however, the community will be a place of discernment of the Spirit, if it lives in the Spirit and not in the Flesh. When, instead, the community is unspiritual, even if it may not be always necessary or opportune to abandon it, it will be necessary to increase even more our personal fidelity to the Spirit, taking help even from outside the community.
The assistance given by others, however, will never be definitve. The only true guarantee, even if not written in any recipe, will be the prolonged contemplation of Jesus and his Gospel. This was the way of Ignatius at Manresa and Charles de Foucauld at Nazareth.
We have spoken here of the passionate love between Jesus and us his disciples, insisting strongly on interiority, on freedom and on the spontaneity of our commitment to him. This does not mean that we set aside or underestimate the importance of external rules and norms. Given our human weaknesses and fragility, these are meant to protect and defend the commitment of which we have been speaking (cf. ES 370).
Still, the real grace of the Gospel and of the New Testament is the absolute primacy of the true and pure love and of the liberty that come from the person of Jesus and are inherent in the freedom he keeps renewing in us, calling us to be his disciples (Jn 8,31).


In the introduction to the pope’s message for Lent 2007, we come across statements about agape-eros – so dear to Pope Benedict XVI – that echo some of the things we have been saying.

[Wonderful to find RdG using this text which José Luis Plascencia used in the retreat he gave to General Chapter 26, and the wonderful reading he made of the Don Bosco’s spirituality and the Preventive System.]

Taking off from the Johannine verse, “They shall look upon him whom they have pierced” (Jn 19,37), the Lenten reflection of Pope Ratzinger invites Christians to remain with Mary and John near Him who on the cross consummates the sacrifice of his life for the whole of humanity (cf. Jn 19,25). Dying crucified on Calvary, Jesus Christ reveals to us the full extent of the love of God. In his encyclical Deus caritas est Benedict XVI had already highlighted the two fundamental forms of this love: agape and eros.

The term agape, which appears many times in the New Testament, indicates the self-giving love of one who looks exclusively for the good of the other. The word eros, on the other hand, denotes the love of one who desires to possess what he or she lacks and yearns for union with the beloved. The love with which God surrounds us is undoubtedly agape. Indeed, can man give to God some good that he does not already possess? All that the human creature is and has is divine gift. It is the creature, then, who is in need of God in everything. But God's love is also eros. In the Old Testament, the Creator of the universe manifests toward the people whom he has chosen as his own a predilection that transcends every human motivation. The prophet Hosea expresses this divine passion with daring images such as the love of a man for an adulterous woman (cf. 3: 1-3). For his part, Ezekiel, speaking of God's relationship with the people of Israel, is not afraid to use strong and passionate language (cf. 16: 1-22). These biblical texts indicate that eros is part of God's very Heart: the Almighty awaits the "yes" of his creatures as a young bridegroom that of his bride. Unfortunately, from its very origins, mankind, seduced by the lies of the Evil One, rejected God's love in the illusion of a self-sufficiency that is impossible (cf. Gn 3: 1-7). Turning in on himself, Adam withdrew from that source of life who is God himself, and became the first of "those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage" (Heb 2: 15). God, however, did not give up. On the contrary, man's "no" was the decisive impulse that moved him to manifest his love in all of its redeeming strength.

The pope continues, talking about the Cross as the revelation of the full extent of the love of God.

Death, which for the first Adam was an extreme sign of loneliness and powerlessness, was thus transformed in the supreme act of love and freedom of the new Adam. One could very well assert, therefore, together with St Maximus the Confessor, that Christ "died, if one could say so, divinely, because he died freely" (Ambigua, 91, 1056). On the Cross, God's eros for us is made manifest. Eros is indeed, as Pseudo-Dionysius expresses it, that force which "does not allow the lover to remain in himself but moves him to become one with the beloved" (De Divinis Nominibus, IV, 13: PG 3, 712). Is there more "mad eros" (N. Cabasilas, Vita in Cristo, 648) than that which led the Son of God to make himself one with us even to the point of suffering as his own the consequences of our offences? …

Dear brothers and sisters, let us look at Christ pierced on the Cross! He is the unsurpassing revelation of God's love, a love in which eros and agape, far from being opposed, enlighten each other. On the Cross, it is God himself who begs the love of his creature: He is thirsty for the love of every one of us. The Apostle Thomas recognized Jesus as "Lord and God" when he put his hand into the wound of his side. Not surprisingly, many of the saints found in the Heart of Jesus the deepest expression of this mystery of love. One could rightly say that the revelation of God's eros toward man is, in reality, the supreme expression of his agape. In all truth, only the love that unites the free gift of oneself with the impassioned desire for reciprocity instils a joy which eases the heaviest of burdens. Jesus said: "When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to myself" (Jn 12: 32). The response the Lord ardently desires of us is above all that we welcome his love and allow ourselves to be drawn to him. Accepting his love, however, is not enough. We need to respond to such love and devote ourselves to communicating it to others. Christ "draws me to himself" in order to unite himself to me, so that I learn to love the brothers with his own love.[4]

The love with which God loves us in Christ, therefore, surpasses both distinterested agape and a possessive and objectifying kind of eros; it goes beyond the spousal love that is anxious to institutionalize itself in matrimony,[5] as also the passionate extra-marital affair. It transcends the friendly affection that demands a heterosexual or homosexual relationship. It is the unique and eternal embrace between the Creator and his creature, the Maker of the Covenant with his beloved, more exhilarating than any human embrace. [546.]*

[1] Cf. Mt 19,27; Mk 10,28.
[2] Resistenza e resa. Lettere e scritti dal carcere, ed. Eberhard Bethge, Italian tr. and ed. A. Gallas, Classici del pensiero cristiano, 2 (Cinisella Balsamo, Milano: San Paolo, 19962) 373-374.
[3] Cf. Mt 16,22-23; Mk 8,32-33.
[4] From the Vatican, 21 November 2006. (Città del Vaticano: Libreria Editrice Vaticano, 2006). See Avvenire (14 February 2007) 5.
[5] Through which a woman is destined to nourish solely the love of a wife, and a man the love of a husband.

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