Wednesday, April 18, 2012

"By their deaths I felt life..."

* from Wikipedia

“Several times I have decided to leave El Salvador. I almost could except for the children, the poor bruised victims of this insanity. Who would care for them? Whose heart could be so staunch as to favor the reasonable thing in a sea of their tears and loneliness? Not mine, dear friend, not mine.” – Jean Donovan

“I hope you come to find that which gives life a deep meaning… Something worth living for – maybe even worth dying for…” -- Ita Ford, in a letter to her niece

"I want to be remembered as an Alleluia, from head to foot." -- Dorothy Kazel

“I don’t know what tomorrow will bring. I am at peace here and searching – trying to learn what the Lord is asking. At this point, I would hope to be able to go on, God willing. . . . This seems to be what he is asking of me at this moment.” -- Maura Clarke, in a letter to her niece, just weeks before her murder

James, a Michigan federal prison inmate, wrote this letter to the National Catholic Register after reading an article about the four women:

". . . I am 20 years old and in prison. But I need to somehow explain the pain I felt when I read the news of the death of our sisters (in El Salvador).

"Not much in life anymore upsets or shocks me. I did, though, cry and I was moved to learn of what happened. Sitting here in isolation where I read the NCR, I felt a change, I felt the lives of the four (women). I mean, I never knew them but I felt them, I could see them smile and laugh, I felt their kindness and caring for people. This is why I cried, 'Why was it done?' It seemed such a cruel and senseless act.

"All at once I felt hate, sadness, and I really felt pain. I just don't understand! I don't care much about anything, until this day, when I realized how selfish I've been with my own life. I am not a dramatic-speaking person, but if I could give myself to bring them back, I would. By their deaths I felt life; I really felt a need to keep trying and not to give up. . . .

"I will pray for all of you, and at each mass say a prayer for our sisters. . . .


Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Homily for Good Friday 2011, by Father Raniero Cantalamessa

In his passion, writes St. Paul to Timothy, Jesus Christ "has given his noble witness" (1 Timothy 6:13). We ask ourselves: witness to what? Not to the truth of his life or the rightness of his cause. Many have died, and still die today, for a wrong cause, while believing it to be right. Now, the resurrection certainly does testify to the truth of Christ. "God has given public proof about Jesus, by raising him from the dead", as the Apostle was to say in the Areopagus at Athens (Acts 17:31).

Death testifies not to the truth of Christ, but to his love. Of that love, in fact, it is the supreme proof. "No-one can have greater love than to lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). One could object that there is a greater love than giving your life for your friends, and that is to give your life for your enemies. But that is precisely what Jesus has done: "Christ died for the godless," writes the Apostle in the Letter to the Romans. "You could hardly find anyone ready to die, even for the upright; though it is just possible that, for a really good person, someone might undertake to die. So, it is proof of God's own love for us that Christ died for us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:6-8). "He loved us while we were enemies, so that he could turn us into friends"[1], exclaims St. Augustine.

A certain one-sided "theology of the cross" can make us forget the essential point. The cross is not only God's judgment on the world and its wisdom; it is more than the revelation and condemnation of sin. It is not God's "no" to the world, it is the "yes" God speaks to the world from the depths of his love: "That which is wrong," writes the Holy Father in his latest book about Jesus, "the reality of evil, cannot simply be ignored; it cannot just be left to stand. It must be dealt with; it must be overcome. Only this counts as true mercy. And the fact that God now confronts evil himself, because men are incapable of doing so -- therein lies the 'unconditional' goodness of God."[2]

* * *

But how can we have the courage to speak about God's love, with so many human tragedies before our eyes, like the disaster that has struck Japan, or the shipwrecks and drowning incidents of these last few weeks? Should we not mention them at all? But to stay completely silent would be to betray the faith and to be ignorant of the meaning of the mystery we are celebrating today.

There is a truth that must be proclaimed loud and clear on Good Friday. The One whom we contemplate on the cross is God "in person." Yes, he is also the man Jesus of Nazareth, but that man is one person with the Son of the Eternal Father. As long as the fundamental dogma of the Christian faith is not recognized and taken seriously -- the first dogma defined at Nicea, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and is himself God, of one substance with the Father -- human suffering will remain unanswered.

One cannot say that "Job's question has remained unanswered," or that not even the Christian faith has an answer to give to human pain, if one starts by rejecting the answer it claims to have. What do you do to reassure someone that a particular drink contains no poison? You drink it yourself first, in front of him. This is what God has done for humanity: he has drunk the bitter cup of the passion. So, human suffering cannot be a poisoned chalice, it must be more than negativity, loss, absurdity, if God himself has chosen to savor it. At the bottom of the chalice, there must be a pearl.

We know the name of that pearl: resurrection! "In my estimation, all that we suffer in the present time is nothing in comparison with the glory which is destined to be disclosed for us" (Romans 8:18), and again: "He will wipe away all tears from their eyes; there will be no more death, and no more mourning or sadness or pain. The world of the past has gone" (Revelations 21:4).

If life's race ended here below, we would have every reason to despair at the thought of the millions, if not billions, of human beings who start off at a great disadvantage, nailed to the starting line by poverty and underdevelopment, without even a chance to run in the race. But that is not how it is. Death not only cancels out differences, but overturns them. "The poor man died and was carried away by the angels into Abraham's embrace. The rich man also died and was buried … in Hades" (cf. Luke 16:22-23). We cannot apply this scheme of things to the social sphere in a simplistic way, but it is there to warn us that faith in the resurrection lets no-one go on living their own quiet life. It reminds us that the saying "live and let live" must never turn into "live and let die."

The response of the cross is not for us Christians alone, but for everyone, because the Son of God died for all. There is in the mystery of redemption an objective and a subjective aspect. There is the fact in itself, and then awareness of the fact and our faith-response to it. The first extends beyond the second. "The Holy Spirit," says a text of Vatican II, "offers to all the possibility of being made partners, in a way known to God, in the paschal mystery."[3]

One of the ways of being associated with the paschal mystery is precisely through suffering: "To suffer," wrote John Paul II in the days following the attempt on his life and the long convalescence that ensued, "means to become particularly susceptible, particularly open to the working of the salvific powers of God, offered to humanity in Christ."[4] Suffering -- all suffering, but especially that of the innocent and of the martyrs -- brings us into contact with the cross of Christ, in a mysterious way "known only to God."

* * *

After Jesus, those who have "given their noble witness" and "have drunk from the chalice" are the martyrs! The account of a martyr's death was called "Passio," a passion, like that of the sufferings of Jesus to which we have just listened. Once more the Christian world has been visited by the ordeal of martyrdom, which was thought to have ended with the fall of totalitarian atheistic regimes. We cannot pass over their testimony in silence. The first Christians honored their martyrs. The records of their martyrdom were circulated among the churches with immense respect. In this very day, in a great Asian country, Christians have been praying and marching in the streets to avert the threat hanging over them.

One thing distinguishes genuine accounts of martyrdom from legendary ones composed later, after the end of the persecutions. In the former, there is almost no trace of polemics against the persecutors; all attention is concentrated on the heroism of the martyrs, not on the perversity of the judges and executioners. St. Cyprian even ordered his followers to give twenty-five gold coins to the executioner who beheaded him. These are the disciples of the one who died saying: "Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing." Truly, "Jesus' blood speaks a different language from the blood of Abel (Hebrews 12:24): it does not cry out for vengeance and punishment; it brings reconciliation."[5]

Even the world bows before modern witnesses of faith. This explains the unexpected success in France of the film "Of Gods and Men," which tells the story of the seven Cistercian monks slain in Tibhirine on the night of the March 26-27, 1996. And who can fail to admire and be edified by the words of Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic politician in Pakistan who was recently killed for his faith? His testament is a legacy to us, his brothers and sisters in the faith, and it would be an act of ingratitude to allow it to be quickly forgotten.

He wrote: "I was offered high government positions and asked to quit my struggle but I always refused to give up, even at the cost of my life. I do not want popularity; I do not want any position. I just want a place at Jesus' feet. I want my life, my character, my actions to speak for me and indicate that I am following Jesus Christ. Because of this desire, I will consider myself most fortunate if -- in this effort and struggle to help the needy and the poor, to help the persecuted and victimized Christians of Pakistan -- Jesus Christ will accept the sacrifice of my life. I want to live for Christ and I want to die for Him."

We seem to hear again the martyr Ignatius Antioch, when he came to Rome to suffer martyrdom. The powerlessness of the victims doesn't however justify the indifference of the world toward their fate. "The upright person perishes," lamented the prophet Isaiah, "and no one cares. The faithful is taken off and no one takes it to heart" (Isaiah 57:1).

* * *

Christian martyrs are not the only ones, as we have seen, to suffer and die around us. What can we believers offer to those who have no faith, apart from the certainty our own faith gives us that there is a ransom for suffering? We can suffer with those who suffer, weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15).

Before proclaiming the resurrection and the life, with the weeping sisters of Lazarus before Him, "Jesus wept" (John 11:35). At this time we can suffer and weep, most of all with the Japanese people, now recovering from one of the most devastating natural disasters in history. We can also tell those brothers and sisters in humanity that we admire the example of dignity and composure that they have given to the world.

Globalization has at least this positive effect: the suffering of one people becomes the suffering of all, arouses the solidarity of all. It gives us the chance to discover that we are one single human family, joined together for good or ill. It helps us overcome all barriers of race, color or creed. As one of our poets put it: "Peace, you peoples! Too deep the mystery of the prostrate earth."[6]

But we must take in the teaching contained in such events. Earthquakes, hurricanes and other disasters that strike the innocent and the guilty alike are never punishments from God. To say otherwise would be to offend both God and humanity. But they do contain a warning: in this case, against the danger of deluding ourselves that science and technology will be enough to save us. Unless we practice some restraint in this field, we see that they can become more devastating than nature itself.

There was an earthquake also at the moment when Christ died: "The centurion, together with the others guarding Jesus, had seen the earthquake and all that was taking place, and they were terrified and said: ‘In truth, this man was son of God'" (Matthew 27:54). But there was an even bigger one at the moment of his resurrection: "And suddenly there was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled away the stone, and sat on it" (Matthew 28:2). This is how it will always be. Every earthquake that brings death will always be followed by an earthquake of resurrection and life. Someone once said: "Only a god can save us now" (Nur noch ein Gott kann uns rette").[7] We have the sure and certain guarantee that he will do exactly that, because "God loved the world so much that he gave His only-begotten Son" (John 3:16).

Let us, then, prepare to sing the ancient words of the liturgy with new conviction and heartfelt gratitude: "Ecce lignum crucis, in quo salus mundi pependit (See the wood of the cross, on which hung the savior of the world). Venite, adoremus (Come, let us worship)."


[1] St. Augustine, Commentary on the First Letter of John 9,9 (PL 35, 2051).

[2] Cf. J. Ratzinger - Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, Part II, Ignatius Press, San Francisco 2011, p.133.

[3] Gaudium et spes, 22.

[4] Salvifici doloris, 23.

[5] J.Ratzinger - Benedict XVI, op. cit. p.187.

[6] G. Pascoli, I due fanciulli (The two children).

[7] Antwort. Martin Heidegger im Gespräch, Pfullingen 1988.

[Translation by Father Charles Serignat, OFMcap]

-- published by Zenit

Thursday, February 9, 2012

How a Train Whistle Brought a Search for God

By Carmen Elena Villa, from Zenit

ROME, DEC. 11, 2009.- Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi has a powerful memory, such that thinking about the discovery of his vocation leads him to a recollection from age four.

ZENIT spoke with the president of the Pontifical Council for Culture for this week's installation of "God's Men." Asked how he discovered his call to the priesthood, the 67-year-old prelate recounted an incident from right after World War II had ended.

Four-year-old Gianfranco saw how the sun was dropping behind a hill and heard a train whistle as it passed by.

"That sound is something melancholic: It makes one think of the idea of departure," he said. "And I remember with extreme mental clarity the experience of a profound sense of the fragility of things. It was something that made me understand the meaning of death, or in any case the fact of not having definitive security here. I believe that element was important in the search for God."

Discerning his vocation during his seminary years, Ravasi recalled how he began to understand his nostalgia for the infinite, which he had always taken as a call to participate in eternity, and as a priest, to bring others to do the same.

"Then, by this time, I felt the choice for God as the choice for the ultimate meaning of life," he explained.

Faith through culture

Ravasi inherited from his mother his passion for reading. From his earliest youth he read Plato, St. Augustine, Pascal, Kierkegaard, Dostoyevsky: "One sees a fundamental line of those who exalt intuition, illumination more than acquisition," he observed.

The archbishop is also a great music lover, particularly Bach and Mozart, but also Baroque and contemporary styles.

He contends that there is a strong connection between art and spirituality, "because they have the ultimate purpose of discovering through finite instruments -- the word, images, sounds -- and representing the infinite."

So, he noted, "If I wish to understand Christ's passion better, with Bach's 'Passion According to Matthew,' I enter profoundly into a spiritual dimension."

The prelate also confessed his admiration for visual arts, though his inability to create them. "I have so much respect and admiration for the genius that I cannot, I do not want to imitate it because it would be a clumsy thing," he said.

Penning his thoughts

Archbishop Ravasi said he has lost count of the books he has written, but believes in all, they number about 150.

He explained that he likes to write at night: "I don't sleep much -- four hours are enough and it is as if I had rested for eight."

And, the prelate continued, he writes by hand, not with a computer. He confessed that he does not know much about technology (though on Facebook there is a group of his admirers). He is a great researcher but he never uses Google.

Here, too, his memory comes in handy. He admits he can remember the page on which to find something he's read 10 years ago.

"People search on Google for something on hope," the prelate noted, by way of example "and find 58,000 possibilities. What do they do [with those]? Instead, I have perhaps only 300 possibilities, but I know which ones to choose and where."

Called by God

The president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, ordained a priest in the Diocese of Milan in 1966, says he has lived his priestly vocation in three stages: his youth, during which he taught theology for 20 years; the period in which he was prefect of the Ambrosian Library of Milan; and finally the position he now holds in the Roman Curia.

Archbishop Ravasi confessed his current appointment to the Pontifical Council for Culture was a great joy. "It was a new prospect, no longer of Italy but of the universal Church."

When asked what elements cannot be lacking in the life of a priest, the archbishop suggested symbolic places.

The first is a kneeler, he said, because "invocation, prayer, the primacy of grace is essential." Then there is "the work table," where the first book must always be the Bible. Only with these elements can the priest "go out to the square."

Archbishop Ravasi said he considers his temperament to be pessimistic and acknowledged that he tends to dissatisfaction with human fragility, but he affirmed that serving Christ through culture is a mission that fulfills him entirely, and an excellent instrument to dialogue with the secular world.

Because of this, he describes his priesthood as "very serene, very joyful, despite the difficulties."

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

"More beautiful than the beach" -- Volunteering at the Meeting in Riminit

by Brandon Vaidyanathan

domenica 17 gennaio 2010

Why would people pay good money to spend a week of their vacations working long, tiring hours, often in mundane tasks such as sweeping floors or waiting tables?

I had wondered about this ever since, a few years ago, I came across descriptions of the curiously-titled Meeting for Friendship Among the Peoples. A week-long cultural festival of massive proportions. 700,000 plus attendees. Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Atheists, Agnostics. Renowned personalities: Pope John Paul II, Josef Ratzinger, Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama , Emmanuel Levinas, Lech Walesa, José Carreras, Simone Weil, George Smoot, Steven Beckwith, and more. Exhibitions and presentations on an extraordinarily vast array of topics—astronomy, agriculture, chemistry, economics, history, international development, literature, medicine, politics, theology. Soccer tournaments and bicycle races. And all supported by the dedication of more than 3000 volunteers. But what, I wondered, generates such a commitment?

“Come and see,” people would tell me. And so I did. I attended the Meeting in 2008, and in the process, interviewed nearly 100 volunteers between ages 18 to 80, in an attempt to understand what the event means to the people who sustain it.

One curious finding was the difference in the ways in which younger and older volunteers spoke about why they volunteered.

Younger folks I spoke to primarily insisted on the pragmatic value of volunteering at the Meeting. For example, many claimed that the choice to volunteer was merely a way to organize their time at the Meeting: there are so many events and exhibitions that without structure, one would very easily feel exhausted. So volunteering gives you structure and routine, forcing you to make choices only with your limited free time.

I found this reason odd. While nearly everyone I spoke to said they were struck—even deeply moved—by exhibits and “encounters” they attended, many volunteers said that they didn’t get to see all the presentations and exhibits they wanted to. Many, during their breaks, were so exhausted that they would lie sprawled on couches or on the floor. Some said the hotels they were staying in were ghastly, sometimes with roaches and no running water, so they were left very exhausted by the end of the event. Yet, they insisted, it was all worth it. But why?

It is not that such gratitude and faith were absent among younger volunteers. Rather, such factors were more common in the responses of older volunteers, who perhaps had less need to defend their decisions in pragmatic ways.

Most volunteers emphasized the universality of the Meeting—it was an event for everyone—and most of them insisted that it was not a “religious” event, but rather, a “cultural” or “human” event. Yet, they also stressed that it was distinctly Christian. “It is a beautiful and visible form of a culture that is distinctly Christian… The fact of Christ touches all factors of life—all the exhibits,” said one student. As a result, as one middle-aged woman put it, volunteering at the Meeting, year after year, was “more beautiful than going to the beach.”

Younger volunteers offered another pragmatic reason: spending time with one’s friends. They themselves had often been first motivated to volunteer at the event because other friends they trusted had invited them. “Friendship among peoples” surely was being generated at the event—for example, in conversations between Israeli and Palestinian foreign ministers, or between Christian, Muslim, and Buddhist theologians. But the people I spoke to said that they rarely ever made new friendships at the event. It was mainly an occasion to deepen existing friendships, which plausibly could happen anywhere else.

A more telling reason might lie in their insistence that their participation was “not altruism”; they wanted to downplay any allure of selflessness that volunteering might suggest. Rather, each one insisted, there was something in it “for me”—something which benefitted them personally. Volunteering at this event contributed to their growth, to their happiness; it was enriching; it broadened their horizons. But it was not simply the experience of different cultural events and activities. They also learned something about how to work—a different attitude towards work that they could take back into their daily lives. Many said they had learned to see work at the Meeting as “building a cathedral,” where the simplest actions done out of love and fidelity contributed to something great.

It was this sense of building something great together, of sharing something with the world that was the fruit of “the experience of a people,” that older volunteers were more quick to emphasize. There was no attempt to provide pragmatic justification. More prominent among older volunteers was a sense of gratitude and their desire to communicate it. One elderly gentleman, constructing one of the stages before the event (during what is called the Pre-Meeting), said that he was building “la nostra casa.” This was their home, into which they wished to receive the world with hospitality. What they were building, they were willing to say more explicitly, was a space in which to encounter Christ, who was at the source of their friendships, and who had generated their companionship and their culture.

The key to understanding their commitment may lie in one factor that young and old volunteers alike agree on as characteristic of their experience of the event: “la bellezza.” Beauty. They would refer to the beauty of art or astronomy, the beauty of harmony in diversity, the beauty of people who share their deepest struggles and passions, the beauty of friendship, or the beauty of Christ.

Beauty, unlike other pleasures we experience, is something we never tire of. It is perhaps this inexhaustible quality that serves to sustain both its attraction and commitment to it. For these volunteers, it also serves as a constant provocation, inciting them to seek its origin, which is something about which they have little uncertainty. In the words of one student, “In the meeting, the Christian experience is made concrete through works: meetings, exhibits, etc. This strikes people. The first aspect is aesthetic. From here, we can arrive at the root: it is Christ who generates all this.”

reprinted from Il Sussidiario