Wednesday 30 March 2016

Nouwen on Easter

Henri Nouwen in The Road to Daybreak says  there was nothing in the resurrection that would force people to believe:

"Rather, it was an event for the friends of Jesus, for those who had known him, listened to him and believed in him. It was a very intimate event: a word here, a gesture there and a gradual awareness that something new was being born - small, hardly noticed but with the potential to change the face of the earth. Mary Magdalene heard her name. John and Peter saw the empty grave. Jesus' friends felt their hearts burn in encounters that find expression in the remarkable words, 'He is risen.' All had remained the same, while all had changed "
The faith, hope and love of that first  community of believing men and women began to spread like a fire, taking light into the darkest places of the human experience,  because they had experienced the light of Jesus' love that  illuminated the dark places of their own hearts and minds.

Our call as Easter people  is to be bearers and proclaimers of Good news that was born of an empty tomb.

Monday 28 March 2016

The Identity and Mission of the Religious Brother in the Church

The CIVCSA recently released a long-in-the-making document on the Identity and Mission of the Religious Brother in the Church.

I try to summarize here the main points of this document.

1. The name Brother 

First of all, it notes that the name BROTHER is traditional (perhaps the Frate of the Franciscans and others) - but that following Vita Consecrata 60, it will use the term Religious Brother, or simply Brother. This choice is itself significant, because the document identifies Fraternity as the specifying element of the identity and mission of the Brother. For what concerns the consecrated aspect of his vocation, it refers back to Vita Consecrata and the ecclesiology of communion promoted by Vatican II. (#3)

Thus the name Brother "underlines the common dignity and fundamental equality of all believers" - sons in the Son of the same Father, and called to form a universal brotherhood in Christ, the firstborn of many brothers. (#1) Within the ecclesial community, the Brother is "the prophetic memory of Jesus-Brother, who told his followers: 'And you are all brothers' (Mt 23:8)." (#1)

2. The Brother as a sign and icon of fraternity-communion

Some have found this somewhat disappointing and even reductive, on the grounds that the true root of the vocation is consecration. But if we believe that God is Communion-Love, fraternity cannot be considered marginal. It is at the very core of the faith. The document notes that the renewal brought about by Vatican II illuminated the core of the being of the church: that it is a mystery of communion. That mystery is the divine plan for the salvation of humanity. And the source of this mystery is the Trinity. The communion that is the Trinity is, in fact, the model, source and goal of the communion of Christians with Christ and with one another. (#5)

Consecrated life, which finds itself at the very heart of the Church (VC 3), must look into that heart to discover and understand itself. And so it is that the Brother finds here, in the heart of the Church, in communion, the "profound meaning of his own vocation." (#5)

3. The underlying logic of relation

There is an important theological shift that underlies the whole document. We might refer to this as the shift to definition not by exclusion but by relation - an ontology of relation, or a logic of relation.

The tendency of the more traditional theology of consecrated life, or of the states of life in the church, was to define by exclusion or separation, by what made us different from one another. Thus religious were defined by the vows which the layperson and the secular priest did not take, and the priest was defined by the ministry that he was able to perform and which the religious per se were not able to, and so on - with the laity more or less being left out of the picture.

Since Christifideles Laici, certainly, and perhaps a bit earlier - VC - but not so clearly in Pastores Dabo Vobis, if I am not mistaken, we have been seeing this new ontology of relation underlying the teaching about the states of life within the church - the attempt to define by relation rather than exclusion. That is why we have such an abundant use of the term 'sign' in the document we are considering, along with the terms 'prophet' and 'witness' or 'testimony'. Thus, all in the church are called to be brothers and sisters, but the religious Brother is the prophetic memory of Jesus-Brother, who reminds all his followers that they are brothers, sons and daughters of the one Father.
"Many of the characteristics deemed formerly as specific or even exclusive to consecrated life are considered today as belonging to the common treasure of the Church and are proposed for all the faithful. Religious today are challenged to recognise themselves in what, though being held in common, they live in such a particular way that it becomes, through their lives, a sign for everyone." (#3)
Pope Francis has been saying, in fact, that radicality is not exclusive to consecrated people: all are called to the radical following of Jesus. Consecrated people are called to be witnesses, prophetic signs. That is why the pope lays so much stress on joy: Wherever there are consecrated persons, there is joy. And that is why I find it so significant that the very first booklet released by the CIVCSA during the Year of Consecrated Life was on Joy: Rejoice! All are called to radical following of Jesus, and, indeed, all are called to a joyful following; but religious are the ones who remind everyone of this, and so they are by vocation called to joy. A dour religious would be a contradiction in terms.

I like this explanation, this new logic of relation. It helps us understand the vocation of the deacon, for example. The deacon, we are used to say, is characterized by service, diakonia. But all are called to serve, in imitation and in obedience to Jesus who gave us the example and asked us to do it in memory of him. The deacon's vocation and mission is to be a sign, an icon, a reminder to all of us in the church of this important and vital aspect of the following of Jesus.

Thus the Servant of YHWH is made a covenant of the people (Is 42,6). Jesus seals this new covenant and calls the church to continue this mission of being a covenant of the people. "Being part of this people and its mission, the Religious Brother lives the call to be memory of the covenant by his consecration to God in a fraternal life in community for mission. (VC 72)." (#5)

Religious Brothers finds their natural habitat in the context of communion. In the church, "they keep alive the obligation of brotherhood as a confession of the Trinity." (#6)

4. A communion and a fraternity that expands 

"The bonds of communion of the Religious Brother extend beyond the boundaries of the Church, because he is driven by the same 'universal character that distinguishes the People of God'. (LG 19)" (#6)

Pope Francis takes up this theme in his letter of indiction of the Year of Consecrated Life, when he speaks of the expansion of community in concentric circles, inviting consecrated persons to look beyond their own communities to other institutes within the church, and beyond to other churches, and even to other religions and to humanity itself.

At the root of the vocation of the Brother is an experience of solidarity, like that of Moses. The Brother has a fine sensitivity to everything that hurts the dignity of the least privileged. (#6)

5. The 'obscuring' of the vocation of the Brother

The document admits that the vocation of the Brother has run the risk, especially in male religious congregations, of being obscured by the priestly ministry.

It emphasizes that the fundamental objective of consecrated life is "the cultivation of the collective Christian treasure, which is contained and given to all the faithful in the sacraments of initiation" and adds that it does this "in a special way, seeking to imitate Christ in his way of living: chaste, poor and obedient. (VC 16, 31)." (#9) [The objective: cultivating the common treasure. The way: by being a living memorial of Christ.]

Interestingly, in the list of aspects of the common treasure we find also "personal integration of laicità and sacralità," translated, badly, as the lay and consecrated identity. But the line that follows is clearer: "Thus he maintains the unity between the profane and the sacred, a unity which has become more evident since the human incarnation of the Son of God." (#10) I think this is important for the Salesian Brother: he is one who, by his vocation, integrates the secular/profane and the sacred dimensions of the common treasure of the church.

Another aspect of the common treasure that is relevant to the Salesian Brother is his being a "sign of God's presence in secular realities."  The Brother "seeks and points to God in the secular realities of culture, science, human health, the workplace, and the care of the weak and disadvantaged. Similarly, he seeks and points to the human being, man and woman, 'whole and entire, body and soul, heart and conscience, mind and will,' convinced that 'the human person deserves to be preserved; human society deserves to be renewed'." (#10) We have here the great example of the Jesuit Brother Giuseppe Castiglione, missionary in China in the 18th century, acknowledged by the Chinese as a great artist, painter and architect.

5. The structure of the document

The document emphasizes that fraternity is, first of all, a gift; then, that it is a gift that is shared, creating community; and finally, that it is also mission.

We recognize the divine origin of fraternity and communion.

We recognize that we are not first of all individuals: we are community. God calls us as community, the Spirit creates brotherhood.

We recognize also that the deepest mission of the church is to cooperate with God in creating and constructing community, universal brotherhood - and that within this mission, the Brother has a special role, that of sign, prophet, icon, witness to brotherhood.

Saturday 26 March 2016

The "religious priesthood" as Johannine and Marian

From Andrea Bozzolo, “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. 346ff

The “religious priesthood” is Johannine, in Balthasar’s words.
The different ways of following Christ are rooted in the Christ event.
Peter: typical of the diocesan clergy. He is given an office, and in order to do it well, is given love.
John: symbol of the religious clergy. He impersonates love, and from this, he is given the priestly office.
Peter was married; John a virgin.
The presence of John at the cross with Mary shows the special Marian connection of CL and of the priests who are religious. In them the ministerial and objective priesthood is in a special way associated with the subjective and existential priesthood of the oblation of oneself, as demanded by the vows. In them, the grace of ordination is situated within the Marian space of obedience to God proper of their order, within a characteristic form of actuation of the Johannine love that Mary always teaches the founders and their spiritual sons. [347.]

This happened in the life of DB. For him the feminine church of the baptismal priesthood introduces to the logic of the ministry. This church for him had the face of Mary, and of his mother. [347-49.]
The comment on the day of his ordination: B gives a theological reading. The connection between celebrating mass and personal involvement in the sacrifice of Jesus. [349.]

The priesthood of religious is born and develops within the sequela, as willingness to accept the objective ecclesial ministry because the Lord asks it as a reality within the mission.
So while the diocesan seminarian thinks of the objective demands of his ministry and tries to prepare for it learning the love of Christ, the religious finds the ministry within his religious calling. [350.]

Friday 25 March 2016

Fagiano / Pheasant


The other day, after the intermediate session of the council ended, the urge to get out, break, take a pausa. So I got out to do some shopping in the nearest centre, three or four stops down the road towards town. A long wait for the 808, longer than usual; perhaps I had just missed a bus, perhaps they had skipped a percorso as they are sometimes wont to do. Anyway, it came, and I reached the shop, did the purchases, came out hoping to get a bus in a few minutes. it turned out to be a long wait. I kept looking at Muoversi a Roma every minute or so. In the end, I decided to walk a bit. After all, I was not far from home. First try, the footpath ended abruptly, came back. Second try, after a longish wait, gingerly across the pathless road, up along a field. And then there, the bird that I thought must be a fagiano, a pheasant, the thing that Fili swears he has seen in the Pisana, and that I have been longing to see. There - in the field, running away, of course. Not as large as I had expected, but there. It turns out from the net that it was a pheasant / fagiano after all. Thrilling. Just next to the Caso del Bracho where we entertained Chrys before he left, and which we are not likely to visit again. A bus passing by, missing it, the sensation that you have when you miss this rare kind of bus. though behind it was marked "Deposito." So perhaps it was not a miss after all. Another interminable wait at the next stop, the one near the Casa del Bracho, and then, finally, 808. A bit humiliating and a bit excessive, this kind of break, but useful all the same. And the fagiano was worth it. 

Thursday 24 March 2016

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

“E se l’evangelizzazione chiedesse una novità nella vita consacrata?” Va’ e infiamma il mondo. La testimonianza della vita consacrata. Momenti di riflessione sull’occasione dell’Anno della Vita Consacrata. Facoltà di Missiologia, Pontificia Università Gregoriana, Roma, 3 dicembre 2015.


We are living in a change of era. This is not just a cultural change, but an epochal change, a change of era. Romano Guardini, N. Berdyaev, Ivanov, all have spoken about this. Something new is being born, and has been in preparation for many years.

We have been living in an age of atomism, of individualism. But now the systems are breaking down. It is not easy to come across persons who are able to really reveal what an institution is all about. It is easier to find persons who show that there are problems within and with the institutions. It is a good moment for the revelation of the person, for a shift from the individual to the person.

Pope Francis has said that the central question for consecrated life and for the church is communion. 50 years ago, Vatican II oriented the church in this direction, the direction of communion. But, as a cardinal said during a synod: from where will this church of communion, this synodal church, come, if we continue with a formation that is totally based on the individual?

In his letter to consecrated persons, the pope has spoken of consecrated life as the home and the school of communion. But how will this be, if we still think that it is the individual who will create community? Theologically this is completely wrong: communion is a divine gift; if it is not given, it cannot be created.   

The pope goes further, in his letter: he invites religious to go beyond the boundaries of their charisms. There is a temptation to think of charism as something that distinguishes. But this is wrong! Charisms are our way of belonging to the church, not ways of distinguishing ourselves from one another.

So what does evangelization ask of consecrated persons?

First, we need to realize that the era of the para-state church, the para-imperial church, is over. Consecrated life cannot any longer be thought of as a way of maintaining para-state institutions and functions. The era of functional consecrated life is over. The saints of the last few centuries were all saints of institutions. But the saints of the first centuries of the church were not saints of institutions. They lived in an era that was quite different.

The person of the religious is a theophany, a revelation of God. All our works were originally theophany. “If you do not believe me, believe at least the works, and you will see that I have been sent by God.” John Paul II once said: we have put so much into works of charity, we are exhausted doing good. And yet the world does not believe.

So the question is: how to make the Other emerge? We teach, we speak so much, but we find it difficult to reveal the Lord. Congar said that it took Christians four centuries before they could say anything sensible about the Lord, but they were able to show the Lord all the time.

Second, we need to rethink formative itineraries. Our works demand the perfection of individuals. But no one is interested any longer in our perfection. The world does not need to see our perfection. The individual can reveal only himself, he cannot reveal the Other. But the Son reveals the Father. This is the mission of those who are baptised: to reveal the Other, to reveal the Father. But from the novitiate onwards we are taught to perfect ourselves. To what end? We need to rethink our formation. The devotional tendencies we see around us are horrible. Many, most of these end up in psychotherapy.

We are fixated on the perfection of the individual. But when the individual receives the life of God, he dies. We cannot think of constructing the Christian on the basis of the perfect individual, because the individual dies, and is reborn as person, as part of the Body of Christ.

We have the idea that we first build humanity and then spirituality. But that only means that baptism is an optional. Can we really build humanity without the Spirit? The Fathers of the church were clear on this point: the individual cannot be corrected, but only regenerated. We cannot know God if we do not first become sons of God. Sons are not self-made men. They are generated of the Father. The death of the individual is the discovery of the person. It is not the individual who saves himself, it is in belonging to the Body that we are saved.

Third, consecrated life is meant to be a theophany. Life is communion. God is love. We are constituted as communion. The era of institutions is over.

The first evangelization passed through work. The second also has to pass through work. So we cannot be separated from the world. Congar: why did Vatican II insist so much on the laity? Because only they are still truly in touch with the world – not priests, not religious, but the laity. We have made the mistake of trying to bring the laity into our institutions, but we must do just the opposite: we have to get out of our institutions into the world. 

Pope Francis has been saying: from consecrated persons, we ask for testimony. Ivanov says that the nature of the Church is symbolic. Being symbolic: within one reality we discover another. One reality leads to the discovery of another. The world discovers in us the Other. For this, we need to be with the people, in their midst. We are midwives to life, Ivanov used to say. We go to the missions, we build schools and hospitals. We have to make sure they are theophanies as they were meant to be. We need to reflect critically on what has happened among us here.

Fourth, Europa orientale docet. John Paul II believed that East Europe had to speak to the Church. The church in the East was given a time of grace under communism. And any great gift of God must be for the sake of all, for the whole church. By now, unfortunately, the East has imitated the West, and all its mistakes. The grace was this: that when we were freed from all our works, our institutions, even our properties, when we could not even associate, there remained only the person as the locus of theophany. We were able to evangelize, to create networks, to create communion, to fascinate, to attract. There were religious everywhere – they were doctors, nurses, workers, cleaners, they were everywhere. And everything was flourishing. God is giving us a message, a direction, through this experience. God teaches us through history. He is guiding us into a new era, a new human existence, an existence according to God, according to Christ.

Fifth, the mentality of communion. We are stubbornly attached to our mentality, to our ways of thinking, of theologizing. We have many professors of theology, but few who know how to theologize, few who are able to think.

There was a time when churches were theological in their constitution, in their architecture, in the way they were built. In the Church of John the Baptist in France, on the summer solstice the sun shines upon Christ, and on the winter solstice it shines upon the capitals, on the flora and fauna, on creation. Christ, as Ephrem said, illuminates the whole of the cosmos. The ancient churches had the glorious Christ presiding over the apse, and the whole church full of his body, the saints, one leading to the other. And the figures were not perfect, because man offers, but it is God who perfects. The newer churches instead are reflections of individualism: the altar is not connected to the rest of the church; there are many altars, one different from the other; there are many saints and many devotions, and there is the individual who relates to his Christ and to his saint and prays for his intentions.

Theology used to be done in the church itself. There was no need to go to the university to search for it. Now instead, the church [architecture] does not create the mentality of communion. And in fact, we pray, we are even passionate about the church, but we go home and in the evenings we watch the world, at our television sets. Even religious communities. The mentality is created by the world, not by the church.


Friday 18 March 2016

The logic of the Preventive System, the logic of the heart

The Preventive System involves the logic of God, which is a logic of the heart.

The logic of God is most clearly seen in the episode of the woman caught in adultery, in Jn 8. The profound respect for someone who is a woman, and who is a sinner. The refusal to judge. The brilliant way out of the trap.

Without contact with the Eternal Intelligence we cannot live the Preventive System. It degenerates into a dumb application of rules and regulations, of do's and dont's. See G. Chiosso's remarks. 

The Salesian consecrated vocation in its two forms

An outline


  • therapy for the world
  • living the life of Christ, of the Resurrection: living constantly before the Father, who is enough to fill our lives 

The Salesian priest

The Salesian brother

  • as brother: icon of the Trinity, of communion, of fraternity 
  • as lay: icon of the sacredness of the secular


The Benedictus contains so many phrases that make me think: salvation - forgiveness of sins - freedom from our enemies - the tender compassion of God. I ask myself: what is salvation? What enemies? And more clearly: where have I experienced salvation?

The thought came to me: certainly in the forgiveness of sin. But also in the life of God - in faith, hope, charity.

Hope and charity: fundamental ways of living out the Preventive System. Hope for our young people, our formees, for all people - with respect, therefore, for their "times," and patience, like God. Charity - which is a pastoral charity, a charity of the Good Shepherd. Which is also fraternity, a fraternity that expands in concentric circles, to embrace the whole of humanity, because that is the limit if any of the Fatherhood of God. And faith, seen especially clearly at moments of decision - and moments of crisis. Because in these moments we fall back to what is most basic to us, or at least to what comes most spontaneously. Most spontaneously: could be my likes and dislikes; could be the group to which I belong, or the culture, or the nation. Most spontaneously, individual and group bias kick in. And sometimes, also general bias: the despair of changing ever, the myopic concentration on the here and now, the disdain and sneering at the long term as idealistic, utopian, impractical. "We have to survive."

A good exercise would be to write down my experience of salvation, of forgiveness, of freedom from enemies, of compassion. And then to ask: who is centre stage here? Do the young people come in at all? Do the sorrows of the world, and its joys, come in? Am I the eternal atomistic individual, concerned mainly and chiefly about myself, and even when concerned about others, about them in function of myself?

Ongoing formation: paying attention to what I am experiencing, going through, living. Because I am convinced that God is present there. "What I am experiencing" is of course not Cartesian: I in the We, the We as before the I. The dialectic of seeing and showing. 

Friday 11 March 2016

Rupnik's provocations

Just watched, with the novice masters who are here, a video of Marko Rupnik, part of a talk he gave at the Gregorian at the end of 2015 on the Consecrated Life in our times. Extraordinary is the only word I have. Here is a man who speaks from the Spirit.

The end of the individual and the birth of the person, and its consequences for consecrated life. No longer the institution at the centre. No longer the perfection of the individual as formation, and the thought that the community will be built up from such individuals.

I thought of De Smet and his writings on the loss of the person in the modern West, and the slow rediscovery. Precisely this contrast between person and individual. Person, a term that was born in the throes of Christian thinking about the Trinity.

And communion as absolutely at the core of the faith. Charisms as ways of belonging to the church, not ways of distinguishing ourselves from one another in the church. The call of the pope to communion, to consecrated life opening itself to other institutes within the church, outside the church, to other churches, to other religions.

A new spirituality. One that is based not on individuals and their excellence, but on the community. A model for us in the formation team here. No individual stars, but together. The Spirit creating communion wherever the Spirit blows.

Religious life as we have known it up to now is over. The para-state Church is dead. The para-state Church based institutions are dead. We have to allow God to raise us to new life. What? Where? And what formation?

Which way to go with a pope who used to pray with evangelical Christians, who was used to being prayed over by their pastors, who has close friends among these pastors who call him Jorge, with one of them having written a book about him. What to say of this pastor's remark that there is a new joy that marks all that pope Bergoglio does. And there is. His face was absolutely shining last Sunday at the Angelus.

And what to make of 4 sisters slaughtered in Yemen, and Tom missing up to now. What to make of the thousands whose lives have become unimaginable ruins. What are we being told. In a world preparing to be Trumped.

Not that the team has not been chosen with care. But the fact that individually some of the members ought not to have been there at all. Yet: at the base, a certain openness, a certain humility - the kind of humility that genuinely respects the Other in his otherness and his culture -, a certain willingness to learn, a certain surrenderedness because somewhere one knows that one lives because it has been given to him to live. Not perfect at all; but knowing that, and being grateful, every now and then if not at every moment.

So the odd emphasis of the recent document from the CIVCSA on the Religious Brother, with its almost exclusive emphasis on fraternity, is not so odd after all. Because fraternity is central, it is communion, and communion is mission, because we believe that God is Communion. The religious brother as witness to communion. At the deepest levels of his being. Icon of communion. Witness to the specificity of the Christian witness: that the One to whom we witness is communion. Believing, even if not understanding. And LIVING it. "It took Christians four centuries before they could begin to say something sensible about the Trinity. But they certainly showed it before that, in a way that we have not been able to show it since. See how they love one another." (Congar)

And Rupnik: becoming more and more brilliant and light as time goes on. My amateur impression, at least. From the red of the Redemptoris Mater chapel, to the light and glory of the mosaics in the Church dedicated to John Paul II in Krakow, and the chapel in the cathedral in Madrid. 

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