08 September 2012

What can you do for the Church?

Transcript of the interview done with the late Carlo Maria Cardinal Martini on 8 August 2012, his last interview before his death. The interview was conducted by a fellow Jesuit, Fr. Georg Sporschill, SJ,  and freelance writer Federica Radice, and published in the Italian paper Corriere della Sera. This particular translation was done by Fr. Joseph Komonchak from dotCommonweal. 

How do you see the situation of the Church? 

The Church is tired, in prosperous Europe and in America. Our culture is out of date; our Churches are big; our religious houses are empty, and the Church’s bureaucratic apparatus is growing, and our rites and our vestments are pompous. Do such things really express what we are today? ... Prosperity weighs us down. We find ourselves like the rich young man who went away sad when Jesus called him to become his disciple. I know that it’s not easy to leave everything behind. At least could we seek people who are free and closer to their neighbors, as Bishop Romero was and the Jesuit martyrs of El Salvador? Where among us are heroes to inspire us? We must never limit them by institutional bonds. 

Who can help the Church today? 

Fr. Karl Rahner liked to use the image of embers hidden under ashes. I see in the Church today so many ashes above the enbers that I’m often assailed by a sense of powerlessness. How can the embers be freed from the ashes in order to rekindle the flame of love? First of all, we have to look for those embers. Where are the individuals full of generosity, like the Good Samaritan? Who have faith like that of the Roman centurion? Who are as enthusiastic as John the Baptist? Who dare new things, as Paul did? Who are faithful as Mary Magdalene was? I advise the Pope and the bishops to look for twelve people outside the lines for administrative posts [posti direzionali]–people who are close to the poorest and who are surrounded by young people and are trying out new things. We need that comparison with people who are on fire so that the spirit can spread everywhere. 

What means do you advise against the Church’s weariness? 

I have three important ones to mention. The first is conversion: the Church has to recognize its own errors and has to travel a radical journey of change, beginning with the Pope and the bishops. The scandals of pedophilia are driving us to undertake a journey of conversion. Questions about sexuality and all the themes involving the body are an example of this. They are important for everyone, at times they’re even too important. In this area is the Church still a point of reference or only a caricature in the media?

The second is the Word of God. Vatican II restored the Bible to Catholics. ... Only someone who receives this Word in his heart can be among those who will help the renewal of the Church and will know how to respond to personal questions wisely. The Word of God is simple and seeks as its companion a heart that is listening. ... Neither the clergy nor Church law can substitute for a person’s inwardness. All the external rules, the laws, the dogmas were given to us in order to clarify the inner voice and to discern spirits.

For whom are the sacraments? They are the third means of healing. The sacraments are not a disciplinary instrument, but a help for people at moments on their journey and when life makes them weak. Are we bringing the sacraments to the people who need a new strength? I’m thinking of all the divorced people and couples who have remarried and extended families. They need a special protection. The Church maintains the indissolubility of marriage. It is a grace when a marriage and a family succeed. ... The attitude we take toward extended families will determine whether their children come near to the Church. A woman is abandoned by her husband and finds a new companion who is concerned for her and her three children. The second love succeeds. If this family is discriminated against, not only the woman, but her children, too, will be cut off. If the parents feel external to the Church and do not experience its support, the Church will lose the future generation. Before Communion we pray: “Lord, I am not worthy...” We know we are unworthy. ... Love is grace. Love is a gift. The question whether the divorced can receive Communion would have to be turned upside down. How can the Church come to the aid of complex family situations with the power of the sacraments? 

What do you do personally? 

The Church is two hundred years behind. Why is it not being stirred? Are we afraid? Afraid instead of courageous? Faith is the Church’s foundation–faith, confidence, courage. I’m old and ill and depend on the help of others. The good people around me enable me to experience love. This love is stronger than the feeling of discouragement that I sometimes feel in looking at the Church in Europe. Only love conquers weariness. God is Love. 

I have a question for you: “What can you do for the Church?”

07 September 2012

Wineskins and Spiritual Integrity

Friday of the 22nd Week in Ordinary Time - 7 September 2012
Gospel Reading: Lk 5, 33-39

In using the analogy of wine and wineskins, Jesus teaches us that following God means maintaining a spiritual integrity. Simply put, we need to be consistent between what we believe and what we do, between our interior life and the external manifestations of our faith. Otherwise, it would be as foolish as ruining new clothes to patch up old ones, or keeping new wines in old wineskins.

Further, the road to spiritual integrity entails a journey from the old self to the new one. We call this process conversion. If we are to really live in Christ, we need to change our mind (literally what metanoia means) and align it with God's will. First, we need to open our minds to God's Word. (This is where the detractors of Jesus failed.) And then, we need to commit to walk in His Way.

I would like to suggest a breakdown of things in our journey towards spiritual integrity this way:

1. Just do it. And put all things in.

Sometime ago somebody asked me this question: "How does one become a good Christian?" I remembered saying, "Just do it." Not very original. Then again, is there a better time to start - or restart - truly living the faith than now?

To my original reply, I would like to add this one: "Don't forget to put all things in". Christ died for us. He gave His life for us. Isn't it just fair that we give our whole self to Him as well? Being a disciple of Christ demands that we take the plunge with Him.

2.Consider not just what needs to be done. Equally important are those that we need to stop doing.

In committing to change for the better, it is equally important to both know how to move forward and what to let go. Otherwise, we will be like birds with wings but with feet tied down to the ground.

I believe in keeping lists. So I suggest listing down the things we need to start doing, and the things we need to let go.

3. Small change is the currency of transformation.

This is one of those lessons I learned from the spirituality of St. Ignatius. It may be a wise thing to dream big dreams, to set visions that are as yet far from our reach. But wiser still is knowing that reaching them means taking the steady, sometimes boring, small steps.

Epic breakthroughs do not happen overnight. They are the accumulation of small victories and hard-earned lessons from various defeats along the way. 

4. Do it with others.

Simply put, God doesn't intend that we carry the burden by ourselves or that we journey alone. The whole history of salvation has always been within the context of a God-founded community. Find friends who will support you, seek kindred spirits. Share your faith with others. They too might just need a dose of unexpected witnessing. Better yet, join a Christian community - a BEC, a charismatic group, a youth group. Or if you are already in one, appreciate God's gift to you of a faith community, even with all its imperfections.

And if ever we find ourselves at one point alone and in an unfamiliar place, know that we will never be truly alone. For God is with us. We may speak about the great journey of faith, but really it is about discovering the God who has always been here with us. That is why we need spiritual integrity, so our eyes may see clearly and our hearts discern freely God's presence and love already embracing us even when we were/are still sinners.

06 September 2012

Fishers of Men

Thursday of the 22nd Week in Ordinary Time
Gospel Reading: Lk 5,1-11

In the Gospel passage today, we hear the story of the call of Peter as narrated by Luke. Here the call is best summed up by the words of Jesus: "Do not be afraid. From now on you will be catching men".

There is something down-to-earth beautiful with the analogy of the disciple of Christ as a fisherman or fisher of men. The craft of fishing has many parallels to the mission of evangelization.

1. Fishing takes a lot of patience.

Any serious fisher - whether as a livelihood or recreation - would tell you that is not a craft for the impatient. Fishing involves a lot of waiting, as well as learning where to find and lure in fish. And learning to be a good fisher takes time and patience.

No one becomes a good disciple of Christ overnight. Thus, God does not expect from us immediate perfection but openness to growth. Patience is required as we strive to practice the virtues and deepen our knowledge of the faith. And then as we grow from being evangelized to becoming evangelizers, we need to be patient with others as well. Each one has its own pace of growth.

2. Fishing involves creativity.

Fisherfolks use baits, lures and nets, and various strategies to catch fish. Sports fishers even use different types and designs of lures and baits for different varieties of fish. Add to this the collaboration of fisherfolks who work as a team to haul their catch for the day.

Evangelization involves creativity as well. I remember an advice by our professor in pastoral theology: "your homilies, your message, should not only be nutritious, they should also be delicious." It is not only the content of our teaching that matters, but also how we deliver it. How many times have we heard many people get turned off not so much by how difficult the teachings of the Church are, but the manner by which some Christians deliver those teachings? In this regard, I remember a saying often attributed to Pope John Paul II: "Faith must be proposed, it must not be imposed."

Thus, as with fishing, it is not only the good intention that matters, it is also how through our witnessing people may come to be edified with the Christian message, not turned off by it.

3. Fishing requires us to trust in the Lord.

Inasmuch as fishing is a human endeavor, it is also subject to many uncertainties and circumstances beyond human control. Even as fisherfolks need to grow in the skills of fishing and study patterns of seasons, the weather, fish migration, their behavior, and the likes, they also recognize that their success largely depends on the generosity of the God who provides.

In the mission of being fishers of men, the fundamental principle that we need to grasp is that the salvation of men and women is primarily God's work. We are but His collaborators. We work for Him and with Him, and find joy and meaning in our labor of love. Sometimes there may be some tough questions to answer, sometimes the view ahead may be unclear, sometimes, as in the experience of Peter and friends, we may labor for a time and end up without any catch to show. It is during times like these that our faith is both tested and perfected. We have faith that the God who calls us will also provide the fruit of our labor and the means to sustain it.

And then when we are able to catch men and women, the Lord Himself will turn them into yet another generation of fishers of men.

One last story...

A young man felt the vocation to become a monk and spiritual leader to many, and responded to it. He went to a monastery for years to be formed and trained. Eventually he became a monk and slowly built a reputation as a wise and holy one. Now, twenty years have passed since his initial response, and he couldn't but feel somehow disappointed with the way his ministry turned out. For through the years he was able to gather and form only a few who were seeking for a deeper way of life.

One afternoon, the monk was walking along the beach when he chanced upon a young boy throwing something into the sea. When he got closer, he saw that the boy was picking and throwing starfish into the sea. "What are you doing?", he asked. "I am saving these starfish by throwing them back to the sea", came the reply. He pressed further: "But there may be hundreds or a thousand of them scattered all over the beach, you can't save all of them. How does it matter to you?" The boy picked one starfish from the sand and threw it to the sea, and then told him: "For that one, yes, it would matter much to him that he was saved."

We need not go very far, or seek a wider audience (although we could already do that too, given the wide range of media available in our time) in order to become fishers of men. The people around us, those close to us, those who know us - they are the men and women to fish for God. Let us pray that they may find us worthy of the calling that the Lord has entrusted to us.