The texts of Carlos G. Vallés
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Year 2012
1st
I tell you

In memory of a friend

A TV team from Poland has come to shoot an interview with me about Anthony de Mello. They began by asking me whether I knew Tony as a Christian, as they had carried out several interviews about him in India and they had been told all sort of things. I told them Tony was a good Christian but not a good Catholic. His love for Jesus and for the gospels was evident, but he did not feel the same affection and fidelity for the Church and the Vatican. I told him once, in view of his repeated criticisms of the Church: “Tony, if that is what you feel, you should leave the Church.” He answered me: “Leaving the Church, Carlos? She does not deserve that compliment.” This was not very appreciative. His repeated expresion was, “Let the Church sit lightly on you”, that is, don’t take it too seriously – not even to make you protest against her. Tony was a great person who did and keeps on doing much good to many people, and precisely for that we have to maintain his greatness and not his failures. History has a right to know.

When I arrived in India, Tony was a novice in Mumbai and I first met him there. Later on we coincided for two years in the Pune theologate. When I was in Ahmedabad I came to know that Tony had announced a Month Retreat for any takers. I signed up at once. Shorly after that, the provincial, Fr José Javier Aizpún, told me: “You are a professor of mathematics at the university, and many young Jesuits have you as their spiritual director. You do mathematics, but you don’t know psychology or counselling, and you would profit by learning something like that at the Sadhana courses Tony de Mello is giving in Lonawla. He has the Maxi-Sadhana of nine months, and the Mini-Sadhana of one month. You could go to the Mini.” I answered him: “You don’t know me, Aizipún. There are no minis for me. If I go to Sádhana, it will be Maxi Sádhana.” And I went. Thanks to a good provincial.

Tony was eminently personal and original, but there were also deep influences in his formation. The first influence on him came from Fr Calveras SJ, a great authority and great director of St Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercices which Tony learned from him. Later he was greatly influenced by America where he studied and where he returned again and again. In Sadhana we used to say that were always at the mercy of Tony’s last journey to the United States. The two great influences on him were the Gestalt psychology of Fritz Perls and Barry Stevens, and the non-directive counselling of Carl Rogers.

The “Gestalt prayer” was the Sadhana code of conduct, and we repeated it at every occasion to remind ourselves of its content which was always the norm for us:

“I do my thing, and you do your thing.
I am not in this world to live up to your expectations,
and you are not in this world to live up to mine.
You are you, and I am I.
And if by chance we meet each other, it is wonderful.
If not, it cannot be helped.”

Barry Stevens wrote the book “Don’t push the river, it flows by itself”, whose titly contains the whole book. Another of her quotes I also remember: si had been listening to a public talk by Fritz Perls, and when coming out she said: “I’ve been listening to Frizt for over an hour; I don’t remember a single thing of all he has said and I have taken no notes, but it is all inside me and my body, and it’ll come up whenever I need it.” Gestalt.

Carls Rogers’ “non-directive counselling” is something like putting a mirror before the person so that they can see themselves in it while talking to the therapist who goes on echoing whatever they say. This was Tony’s favourite illustration:

Client: – Sometimes I feel a desire to commit suicide.
Therapist: – I understand you sometimes feel a desire to commit suicide.

– Just now I feel like putting an end to my life.
– I hear you say that just now you feel like putting an end to your life.
– I’m going to get up from my chair.
– You are going to get up from your chair.
– I’m going to the window and I open it.
– You are going to the window and opening it.
– I throw myself out of the window.
– You throw yourself out of the window.
– (The client throws himself out of the window and the sound was heard:) Plop!
– (The therapist looks out of the window, looks down and says:) Plop!

End of the interview. And of the client.

Even so, I believe the greatest influence on Tony was Osho. Bhagavan Shree Rakneesh, as he was first called, was a Jain, philosophy professor who became famous throughout India as a public speaker. I coincided with him every year during the Paryushan in Bombay and Ahmedabad where we both gave lectures, so that I came to know him as a fellow speaker, and he even invited me to present a book of his, though I gently declined as the title of the book was “From Sex to Superconsciousness”, which is not my speciality. Osho established his own school in Pune (where Tony was at the time), attracted wide audiences, followers and disciples, started another school in Oregon, United States, where he was accused of violating the immigration laws and spent some days in jail. He came back to India and, although he never wrote anything himself, his talks were transcribed and published in many books (182 in the present editor’s list) which became very popular not only in India but in versions all over the world, and they remain so to this day. Tony kept in his room a large cupboard which was always locked and nobody knew what was in it. When he died they opened it and it was found to be full of Osho’s books from top to botton. Many of the stories Tony told in his talks and his books come from there. But he never quoted Osho or mentioned him in any way, much less acknowledged his debt to him. As I had know him personally, Tony asked me about Osho every time we met in order to get his last news and ideas. Tony was not in any way proud or vain, but he was ambitious as he had great qualities and he knew it, and his aim was to become the “Christian Osho”, as he himself told me, and he certainly was well on the way. He spoke Spanish as well as English, which gave him access to the whole world, and he travelled throughout the world giving courses and talks. He truly practiced inner detachment and holy indifference, and he showed and possessed a great peace of mind, but his organism couldn’t stand the pressure, and he died of a heart attack. I grow thoughtful when I think he was six years younger to me, and I’m 86. After “The Song of the Bird” and “The Prayer of the Frog” he was preparing another book with the title “The Roar of the Lion”. The roar did not come.

I reminded my Polish friends that in his very books there were already some objectionable points. One of his stories in “The Song of the Bird” is “The Fair of Religions” in which Christians, Jews, Muslims have each their stall… without God eventually choosing any. Another story (broadcast as a sketch on the BBC) is the one of the football game between Catholics and Protestants. Jesus, who is among the spectators, cheers equally at the goals of either team. Both are the same, it would seem. I read the first draft of “The Song of the Bird” and Tony laughed with me commenting on some of the more “risky” stories which he suppressed before publication. And I told my Polish audience what the General of the Jesuits, Peter Hans Kolvenbach, is supposed to have said at Tony’s death: “Tony died in time. If he had lived a little longer he would have got into trouble with Rome. I also told them that that fear became reality, and eleven years ofter Tony’s death, the then Cardinal Ratzinger published from the Congregation for the Defence of the Faith a “notification” in which he gave some quotations from Tony’s books with the remark: “The above mentioned assertions are not compatible with the Catholic faith.” My Polish friends did not seem to mind.

I left them with the final summary of all Tony taught: “Choiceless, effortless, purposeless awareness.” Every word hides a treasure. Full of meaning ond of feeling. That was Sádhana, and so I told my friends.

At the end I sung to them, a little out of tune, the Sádhana hymn we enjoyed singing together, and I wonder if it is still in use. The words was typically Tony’s, and the music I proposed for it was the one of the German song “Ein Scheider hat’ne Maus”. Some of them knew the song, and we all sung together in farewell. These were the words:

“We’re sorry to let you go,
We’re sorry to let you go;
But what the hell are you doing here?
We’re sorry to let you go.

At least this must have mystified you a little.

You tell me

Question: You often mention in your books the importance of detachment. Attachments are responsible for our sufferings, and we should release them as far as possible. But how can one live without attachments? Family, friends, whatever is pleasing to us, whatever we need for our living… all that implies attachment. How to detach ourselves?

Answer: The first thing we have to detach ourselves from is our attachment to logic. I mean to the exaggerated logic you are just using. We are too Aristotelian. Common sense is above logic. Without exaggerating common sense either, of course. We do need things and we love persons and we prefer some situations to others, and all that is fine and requires some interest and commitment and affection for those persons that come into our life. But always with due balance. Life is essential to life, but the attitude “I cannot live without you” is dangerous. In our Sadhana course, Tony de Mello had us say our best friends: “I love you, I hope to love you all my life, but I can live without you.” A healthy exercise. Recommended for couples.

Psalm

Psalm 119 – The exile’s prayer

Hard is my lot, exiled in Meshech, dwelling by the tents of Kedar!Strange names, Meshech and Kedar. Strange lands for a man who loves his home and is forced to dwell in far-off places with people he does not know and a language he does not understand. The curse of modern man. The sin of our civilization. The exile, the expatriate, the refugee. Whole groups of men uprooted from their land, or single individuals persecuted for their beliefs. Man has to flee before man, has to hide his face before his brothers. Scars of fear on the face of humankind.

I pray for all those who have been deprived of their right to live in their land, who have been forcible ejected, discriminated against, persecuted, expelled. For all those who have had to build a new home away from their true home and live in a culture alien to their own culture. For all those who come from one country while their children are born in another, who live in their own families the strain of uniting two traditions in one home. For all those who dream of a promised land while camping in the desert. I pray for all the exiles on earth that they may preserve their roots while growing new flowers, that they may find friendship and give love, that their neighbours may become their brothers, and their wanderings may remind mankind that we all are one. I pray that their exile may strengthen their personality and confirm their values while they learn to appreciate new values around them and assimilate them into their own. I pray that they may feel exiles no longer, but may make themselves at home in mind and in body, and prosper where they are with the warmth of their hope and the strength of their faith.

As I pray for them I realize I am praying for myself, too. I, too, am an exile. I, too, live in Meshech and Kedar, away from home among people who do not speak my language. The language of the spirit is an unknown language over here. The society where I live speaks the language of money, of success, of power, of violence. I don’t understand that language, and I feel lost in my own world. I long for other landscapes and other fields. I know I am on my way, and I feel the complex of the exile and the impatience of the pilgrim.

I want for me now the synthesis I have desired for others. I want to keep my roots and give new flowers; to treasure my own culture while I assimilate those of others; to love my home and love my exile too, showing in my active resignation the hope that can convert the desert into a garden and earth into heaven.
I am an exile today to be a citizen of heaven for ever.

Meditation

In India we tell the story of two young men who meet on the street going in opposite directions. They are friends and they greet each other while they both ask the same question at the same time: “Where are you going?” One answers: “I’m going to the temple for darshan. You know I go every day, and today that we meet come along with me, and it’ll do good to both of us.” His friend answers: “I’m going somewhere else. I’m going to a prostitute. You know I like to go from time to time, and one is waiting for me today. Come with me and you’ll have another. We’ll both have a good time.” But both had to go where they were going, and after a short exchange of news on the road the said goodbye and each went his way.

The one who went to the brothel spent his time there as planned but did not enjoy himself. In the midst of it all he kept thinking of his friend, secretly envying him and blaming himself for not having gone to the temple with him. How much better would it have been to go with his friend to a holy place and get some peace for his soul! While here he was wasting his time and his money in a silly way, pretending he was enjoying himself while he was not, and it was now too late to change and he had to put on a good face till the end. He felt sorry and he promised himself that next time he would go to the temple with his friend.

His friend, on the other hand, reached the temple and tried to recollect himself and pray with devotion, but without success. He kept thinking about his friend in the brothel and what a good time he was having there, and what a fool he had been not to go with him and to miss such a good occasion of having a really good time for once. He blamed himself for his shyness and his uncouthness, he sat listless for a while, and finally he bowed quickly and went out of the temple promising himself that next time he would not be a fool and would cheerfully go to the other place with his friend.

The message is clear. The story does not recommend the visit to the brothel, neither, in fact, the visit to the temple. The lesson is the importance of doing what one is doing avoiding the usual trap of doing one thing while thinking of another. Both friends missed the fun. None of them enjoyed what he was doing, as he was thinking of what the other was doing. It would be interesting to imagine the next meeting of the two friends. What did they tell each other about their experiences?

1st
I tell you

More about Tony

There has been much feedback from the last Web. All are interested in Tony, and each has the image they have formed of him to themselves, and any new trait that does not fit the image, disturbs. In Chile they never forgave me for saying Tony wore a wig. He did wear one. You have only to look carefully at his photograph on the cover of my book “Unencumbered by Baggage” to realize it), but that did not fit with what his readers imagined or idealized him to be. He was not quite bald, but he had little hair and he wore a wig.

I’ll tell you some Sadhana stories. Phrases as “I like this book but it is too long”, “we’re in summer but it is cold”, “I want to rest but I have too much work” were forbidden in Sadhana. Why? Because of the “but” in them. “But” is an adversative conjunction, and that is the sting. “Adversative.” It makes adversaries of the two parts of the same sentence. It splits down the middle the person who speaks and things in that way. That destroys the unity of the person. In Sadhana we had to be careful because as soon as we were distracted and uttered a “but”, all lifted their hands in protest. We had to say “and”, not “but”. I like this book…, and it is too long, “we’re in summer and it is cold”, “I want to rest and I’ve too much work.”That is, I am the same person who wants to rest and who has too much work, but (sorry for the “but”), I’m not divided into two, I don’t have two identities, I’m not wrestling between work and rest; I’m just taking note of the present situation that is offering me two options and I go on choosing the one that at each moment appears as the right one to my unique and undivided person. This was the “but” chapter in Sadhana and a very healthy exercise it was. We learned much from it, and we surely laughed a lot.

I told my Polish friends, of whom I spoke, one of the more risqué of Tony’s anecdotes which do not appear in writings about him, but they understood it and enjoyed it, and that encourages me to tell it here. Tony was the spiritual father of young Jesuit seminarians in training, and one day he was counseling one of them in a routine interview in his room. Tony told us how, as they were both conversing, he began to feel some sexual attraction towards the young man. Tony was no homosexual, but he experienced normal attractions as anybody else, and then he realized with his keen awareness that the feeling was not allowing him to concentrate in what the young man was saying. Then he did what he felt he had to do. He simply told the young man about it, so that he was freed from his distraction, gained credibility, gave a greater depth and sincerity to the interview, lightened up the ensuing dialogue, and both the men came out edified and reassured by the new experience. This left us with a recent, typical, unusual example of Tony’s also unusual personality. He went on to tell the story of the psychologist who received in his consult a young lady who after a brief introduction told him shamefacedly: “Don’t tell me you wouldn’t like to have sex with me.” To which the psychologist answered unruffled: “Yes, I would like it…, and I’m not going to do it.” No show of indignation or protest, only a quiet statement of facts. Notice the importance of the “and” instead of the “but”. It is the same person who feels attracted and who rejects the invitation.No struggle between opposite feelings, and no split personality. I would like to do it, and I’m not going to do it. Perfect integration.

You tell me

Question: My mother has died before I could apologize to her for not having behaved properly towards her in my life. Now I blame myself for not having done it. I find no peace. I cannot pray. Can a person forgive from heaven? How do we know we have been forgiven?

Answer: We talk about this with tact and restraint, as death and eternity are beyond our ken. We do know that a mother’s heart is not going to allow her daughter to suffer on earth while she is glorified in heaven. The daughter’s remorse is not a matter of religion or morals but of psychology, and it has to be treated as such. What is helpful for us in this message is the lesson to learn to love those around us and to tell them we love them. Let no one of them leave us without our having told them our love.

Psalm

Psalm 120 – My weak points

“The Lord is your guardian,
your defence at your right hand.”
I know the meaning, Lord, of that image of ancient warfare. I stand with the sword in my right hand, ready to strike, while my left hand holds the protecting shield over my body. That covers the front and left side of my body, but leaves my right side uncovered when I throw the spear or wield the sword. You, my guardian, know that, and that is why you stand at my right hand, to protect with your shield what I leave unprotected with mine, my vulnerable side at that moment, the weak point of my defence. Thank you, Lord, for your knowledge of the dangers of the world, your knowledge of my own weaknesses and your readiness to protect me where I need it most.

I have my weaknesses, Lord, and it is a comfort to me to realise that you know them better than I myself know them. I am well-meaning and faithful, but I have moods and tempers and passions and fits, and I never know what I may do before a sudden opposition or an unexpected test. My right side is naked, and any flying arrow may find its deadly way into my open body. Stand at my right hand, and cover me, Lord.

Make me aware of my weak points, of my blind spots, of my hidden dangers. Open my eyes to those flaws in me which all my friends know so well, and I alone seem to be unaware of. Make me see what everybody sees in me, what so often annoys them without my realising it, what they all comment among themselves about me without ever telling me. Make me notice my most common failings, remember them, and protect for the future those sides of my personality which I see weak and undefended. And keep your guard over me, Lord, as I always will have some exposed approaches left and will need your shield to cover me in moments of danger.

“The Lord will guard you against all evil;
he will guard you, body and soul.
The Lord will guard your going and your coming,
now and for evermore.”

Meditation

Sweet water

It once happened that a Japanese ship arrived at the Amazon Delta after a long voyage, and entered into the immense river. The voyage had taken longer than expected, and they had run short of drinking-water. They addressed the first ship they crossed, and asked for drinking-water by means of signals. The sailors on this ship were local people, and they answered also by signals: “Throw a bucket on the waters!” The Japanese thought for a moment that those sailors were joking, but then they did as told, and to their surprise, they found that the waters on which they were sailing were sweet waters. They could drink their fill.

To sail on sweet waters and to feel thirsty. Sad destiny of the human race. Rivers in Japan are short, since its islands do not give scope for a large course, and as they are short, they are also narrow and never reach the amplitude of a delta. That is why the Japanese sailors could not recognise a river in the large expanse of its gaping mouth. They thought it had to be still the ocean, and its waters would be salty. We are all islanders and know only short rivers. We get lost in the wide waters of the Amazon Delta.

The sweet water is here at hand. It is all around us. And we are tormented by thirst. We beg from all those we meet on our trip: Please, give us some water to drink! And when they tell us to throw down a bucket and haul it and drink from it, we think they are fooling us. Yet the water is here. No need to wait, to beg to buy. Salvation comes to meet us. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Maybe we missed it precisely because it was so close. Now we know.

 

15th
I tell you

I played tennis in my young days, and I’ve enjoyed reading Andre Agassi’s autobiography, of which I give you here a few paragraphs. He says life is like tennis.

“Days before my thirty-third birthday, I’m the oldest player ever ranked number one. I fly to Rome, feeling like Ponce de León, and get off the plane with a geriatric twinge in my shoulder. I play the one thousandth match of my career. And I remember every one of them. I begin the game against my nineteen-year opponent, and I enter the game with that perfect blend of caring and not caring which is the best preparation. Half way through, however, I’m losing. I can’t concentrate, and without concentration there is no game. But suddenly I notice in the face of my young opponent that he is all intent on winning and afraid of losing. And he loses. Feeling makes the game. Look at the ball, but look also at your opponent’s face.

Steffi [his wife, Stefanie Graf, women’s tennis champion] gives me insights from her experience. Stop thinking, she says. Feeling is the thing. Feeling.

I have to play in Las Vegas but I am in pain. No way to move my shoulder. Each attempt brings a yell of pain. My trainer’s philosophy in all things is not to flee the pain. To accept it, welcome it, recognise that pain is life. And life is pain. He sings in the car:
“Cause feeling pain’s a hard way
To know you’re alive.”

I’m the number one tennis player on earth, and yet I feel empty. If being number one feels empty, what’s the point? Why not just retire? I tell myself that retiring won’t solve my essential problem, it won’t help me figure out who am I and what I want to do with my life. I’ll be a twenty-five-year-old retiree, which sounds a lot like a ninth-grade-dropout. What I need is a new goal. The problem, all this time, is that I’ve had the wrong goals. I never really wanted to be number one, that was just something others wanted for me. I didn’t even want to play tennis. My father forced me. So I’m now number one. My record is far superior to all other players’ records. Now a computer loves me. So what? I lie in bed at night, taut as a wire, playing matches on the ceiling.

I’m set to play Chang. I play with a chip on my shoulder. I envy his work ethic, admire his court discipline – but I just don’t like the guy. He continues to say without compunction that Christ is on his side of the court and every time he beats someone, he points to the sky, he thanks God, credits God for the win, which offends me. That God should take sides in a tennis match, that God should side against me, that God should be in Chang’s box, feels ludicrous and insulting, a blend of egotism and religion that chafes me. I beat him in four sets. Christ loses.

I’ve been going through a personal crisis for quite some time. Not just losing a game but questioning my very existence. It’s plain rebellion against everything. I’ve mutilated my hair, grown my nails, including one pink nail that’s two inches long and painted fire-engine red. I’ve pierced by body, broken rules, busted curfew, picked fistfights, thrown tantrums, cut classes, even slipped into the girls’ barracks after hours. (Bollettiery Tennis Academy) I’ve consumed gallons of whiskey, often while sitting brazen atop my bunk. What rebellion is left? What new sin can I commit to show the world I’m unhappy and want to go home?

I play a practice match against my father. I’m up 5-2, serving for the match. I’ve never beaten my father, and he looks as if he’s about to lose. Suddenly he walks off the court. Get your stuff, he says. Let’s go. He won’t finish. He’d rather sneak away than lose to his son. Deep down, I know it’s the last time we’ll ever play. Packing my bag, zipping the cover on my racket, I feel a thrill greater than anything I’ve felt after any win. This is the sweetest win of my life, and it will be hard to top. I’ll take this win over a wheelbarrow full of silver dollars because this is the win that made my father finally sneak away from me.

My father has built the dragon, a wicked machine that throws balls to me at an incredible rate and speed. Facing it is just hell. My father says that if I hit 2,500 balls each day, I’ll hit 17,500 balls each week, and at the end of one year I’ll have hit nearly one million balls. He believes in maths. Numbers, he says, don’t lie. A child who hits one million balls each year will be unbeatable.

I’m seven years old, talking to myself, because I’m scared, and because I’m the only person who listens to me. Under my breath I whisper; just quit, Andre, just give up. Put down your racket and walk off this court, right now. Go into the house and get something good to eat. Play with Rita, Philly, or Tami. Sit with Mom while she knits or does her jigsaw puzzle. Doesn’t that sound nice? Wouldn’t that feel like heaven, Andre? To just quit? To never play tennis again? But I can’t. Not only would my father chase me around the house with my racket, but something in my gut, some deep unseen muscle, won’t let me. I hate tennis, hate it with all my heart, and still I keep playing, keep hitting all morning and all afternoon, because I have no choice. No matter how much I want to stop, I don’t. I keep begging myself to stop, and I keep playing, and this gap, this contradiction between what I want to do and what I actually do, feels like the core of my life.

I’m a young man, relatively speaking. Thirty-six. But I wake as if ninety-six. After three decades of sprinting, stopping on a dime, jumping high and landing hard, my body no longer feels like my body, especially in the morning. Consequently my mind doesn’t feel like my mind. Upon opening my eyes I’m a stranger to myself, and while, again, this isn’t new, in the morning it’s more pronounced. I run quickly through the basic facts. My name is Andre Agassi. My wife’s name is Stefanie Graf. We have two children, a son and daughter, five and three. We live in Las Vegas, Nevada, but currently reside in a suite at the Four Seasons Hotel in New York City, because I’m playing in the 2006 U.S. Open. My last U.S. Open. In fact my last tournament ever. I play tennis for a living, even though I hate tennis, hate it with a dark and secret passion, and always have. As this last piece of identity falls into place, I slide to my knees and in a whisper I say: Please let this be over. Then: I’m not ready for it to be over. Now, from the next room, I hear Stefanie and the children. They’re eating breakfast, talking, laughing. My overwhelming desire to see and touch them, plus a powerful craving for caffeine, gives me the inspiration I need to hoist myself up, to go vertical. Hate brings me to my knees, love gets me on my feet.

[He builds a school in his name, and here is a telling experience with one or its students.]
Not long ago, while walking through the high school, I was flagged down by a boy. He was fifteen, shy, with soulful eyes and chubby cheeks. He asked if he could speak to me privately.
Of course, I said.
We stepped into an alcove off the main hallway.
He didn’t know where to start. I told him to start at the beginning.
My life changed a year ago, he said. My father died. He was killed. Murdered, you know.
I’m sorry.
After that, I really lost my way. I didn’t know what I was going to do.
His eyes grew cloudy with tears.
Then I came to this school, he said. And it gave me direction. It gave me hope. It gave me a life. So I’ve been keeping an eye out for you, Mr. Agassi, and when you came by, I had to introduce myself and tell you, you know. Thanks.
I hugged him. I told him that it was I who needed to thank him.

[He plays Marcos Baghdatis and wins. After the exhausting game, both lay alone on adjacent cots in the locker room.] “In my peripheral vision I detect slight movement. I turn to see Baghdatis extending his hand. His face says, We did that. I reach out, take his hand, and we remain this way, holding hands, as the TV screen in front of us flickers with scenes of our savage battle. We relive the match. We relive our lives.”

You tell me

Question: My husband has asked my permission to go to bed from time to time with another woman. Can I give it to him?

Answer: No. The prohibition not to go with other women does not come from you but from God; it is God’s Law that imposes it and as such it has to be respected and accepted in conscience. Another thing is that you may forgive him, but even that has to be carefully considered. You can, you should forgive him for the harm he has done to you placing you in such a situation, but you cannot forgive him for his offense to God, and for that he has to go to a confessor who represents God in the sacrament of penance. This pardon requires repentance and resolution not to do it again.

Keep also in mind that marriage is more important than sex. For yourselves, for your children, and for society as a whole you must do all you can to carry on with your marriage. I hope you succeed in it.

Psalm

Psalm 121 – City of Peace

Jerusalem, your name is peace, yet you have never seen peace since your foundation. You are meant to be a city where people come together in unity, and yet throughout history they have come to you to fight. Your walls were built and demolished, a new Temple was erected on the ruins of the old, you have seen many rulers sit on David’s throne, and today armed police patrol your narrow streets day and night.

Jerusalem, what has become of our peace? Was it a sin to proclaim it, was it a provocation to call yourself the City of Peace? Why is your history so torturing and your sky so darkened with hatred? Is your name City of Peace or City of Fear? Are you not the heart of all the tribes of Israel, the cradle of believing humankind, the home of all the children of God? Why are you news in the papers instead of being blessing in a prayer? Why have you to be protected, you whose aim and duty was to protect all men and women that came to you?

I always consider myself as on my way to you. Perpetual pilgrim of your eternal charm. Always dreaming of your gates, walking towards your temple, scanning the horizon for the profile of your towers against the sky. For me your name means everything I have to reach in this life and in the next. Justice, holiness, salvation, peace. You are symbol and hope, fantasy and prayer, poetry and stone. I am always walking towards you, and my heart rejoices when it exhorts my brothers: “Let us go to the house of the Lord!”

I wish you well, Jerusalem! I wish your markets may prosper and your gardens may flower; I wish for your people to mix together and for your towers to stand strong. And above all I wish for you to be true to your name, that you may have peace and give it to all that come to you in search of it from all corners of the world.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
“May those who love you prosper;
peace by within your ramparts
and prosperity in your palaces.”
For the sake of these my brothers and my friends
I will say, “Peace be within you.”
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God
I will pray for your good.

Meditation

Only the person who has stopped causing harm to himself or herself
can be a true ecologist.

(Chamalú)I am so much a part of nature that, when I harm myself, I harm the environment around me. And when I harm the environment, I harm myself. This is the close link that converts one’s own care into selfless virtue, and disinterested generosity into personal benefit. Ecology is no optional activity of indifferent choice; it is law of life and personal responsibility towards the whole world that lives with all of us who live in it, and weakens with us when we fall sick. We are one with the air we breathe and the earth we walk on. Their destiny, for evil or for good, is irrevocably our destiny.

In smoking, we stain not only our lungs, but the air that surrounds us. In cutting down a tree, we cut down on our oxygen. In soiling a lawn, we lose freshness ourselves. And in insulting nature we lose dignity, self-respect, nobility. Any harm done outside, is a harm inside; and every attack against our surroundings is a loss at the centre. We are life and limb in the body of nature.

Putting it positively, when I do good to other persons and other things, I do good to myself. And when I do good to myself in its true and deeper meaning, I do it also to everybody and everything around me. A healthy, clean, balanced, serene, and responsible life is not only the best favour I can do to myself, but at the same time the best service I can render society at large. Therein lies its merit.

Ecology is love of neighbour because it thinks of others, thinks of future generations, thinks of universal benefits, and leads people to sacrifice themselves for results they will never see. When exhorting ourselves to love our neighbor, we first think, led by the meaning of the very word, of those near us, of relatives, acquaintances, friends, fellow human beings within reach of our feelings and our help. That was a good beginning. Now we learn how to lift our eyes, look far, and begin to love men and women of the future; that is, to plan improvements and prepare amenities for generations still to come, to preserve our planet and improve environments for people who have not yet been born, to renew nature for men and women who will never know us to thank us. All that is love. All that is the great commandment. All that is boundless generosity in genuine disinterestedness. All that is Gospel and Grace and the Kingdom of God on earth.

The good of one is the good of all. And in this “all” are included not only fellow men and women, but, in a newly-learnt and progressively opened generosity, all that lives and exists at our side, all that is life and being and nature – all that is creation. Everything is encompassed by the fraternal embrace that unites us all in a universal family.

The ecological conscience has revealed to us the harm we do ourselves with unhealthy habits, which till recently appeared to be respectable and acceptable. Now we cannot claim ignorance. We are not innocent any more. It is time to stop the harm we cause to ourselves. That is ecology’s first principle.

1st
I tell you

We’ve already risen

This is what the Buddha was once asked, and this is how he answered:

– How many disciples do you have?
– Ten thousand.
– And how many of them had reached enlightened?
– All of them, but they don’t know it.

Enlightenment in Buddhism is opening the soul’s eyes, seeing reality, discovering the true meaning of life, feeling encouraged to see what we truly are in our human life and getting ready to enjoy what we are going to be for eternity. The Buddha, escaped from the royal court and meditating under a tree, had that experience that enlightened his mind with the light of truth and changed him from disappointed prince to enlightened master to help others to spiritual awareness down the centuries. And he spent the rest of his life telling others what he had seen himself.

“Buddha” means “The Enlightened One”, and the name defines the person and the life of Siddharta Gautama. To see Truth is the supreme experience in life, and he who sees it cannot keep quiet, cannot hold back, has to talk, to communicate, to encourage, to convince. “We cannot help talking” said the Apostles when they told about their encounters with the risen Christ (Acts 4:20).The strength of personal witness of the indispensable basis of all preaching and all doctrine. People then will react to it in various ways. Nothing comes to him who nothing expects.

This seems an innocent dialogue, one of the may anecdotes of the Buddha that amuses us and instructs us, but in reality it is something more serious, and it touches us Christians too very closely. St Paul uses the same language for us: “God has risen us up in union with Christ Jesus and has enthroned us with him in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 2:6) The important point in this sentence is its grammar. St Paul uses the two verbs “has risen us up” and “has enthroned us” in the aorist, which in Greek is the verb tense to describe an action that has been completed in the past. It has already happened. It has been done. We are already sitting down on our thrones with Christ Jesus in heaven. What happens is that we haven’t heard about it yet. As Buddha’s disciples that are already enlightened but they don’t know it. We have already risen but we haven’t realized it. It doesn’t show in us. We are not convinced. Nietzsche used to taunt us: “You Christians should appeared a little more redeemed for us to take you seriously.” Jesus’ resurrection was marvelous for him, but it doesn’t yet show in us. And we don’t even need to sit under a tree in order to be transformed. It is enough to truly believe what our faith teaches us. We have already risen.

You tell me

Question: What do you think about the priestly ordination of women.

Answer: The Church considers the question as closed with its refusal that it calls “definitive” (although not “dogmatic” or “infallible” or ex cathedra which would make it into a dogma); but it is still talked about, and the English Catholic weekly The Tablet keeps on carrying an advertisement in favour of it. I am not moved by the argument that as there is a greater and greater dearth of priests, women would have to be ordained to carry out religious services. This would be introducing women’s priesthood through the back door as though it could not be helped, and that does not appear to me as correct. I rather argue, with all humility and respect, in a direct way under the responsibility of my own Christian conscience.

The main argument of the Church to refuse ordination to women is that she has no mandate of Jesus for that, as Jesus did not ordain them. To that I say that Jesus did ordain married men, so that the Church does have a mandate to ordain them, and yet the Latin Church refuses to do so. The argument from Jesus’ mandate, therefore, is not conclusive. The Latin Church refuses to ordain married men although Jesus did ordain them, and yet it says it cannot ordain women because Jesus did not ordain them. It doesn’t fit.

Again, it doesn’t appear proper to me to forbid speaking about it. It is better that what theologians call “the sense of the faithful” (sensus fidelium) be shaped freely, since the Holy Spirit also directs the Church through it. You have asked me, and I humbly tell you what I think, whatever risk that may entail.

Psalm

Psalm 122 – My eyes’ prayer

My eyes speak as they turn, and so today my eyes are praying as they turn to you, Lord.

“I lift my eyes to you
whose throne is in heaven.”

My eyes are lifted up, as in figure and imagery you are in heaven, and heaven is on high. While I live the routine of my days my eyes are usually down to watch my own step, or looking ahead of me, not in order to see people but in order not to bump into them. I see people and traffic, then buildings and rooms, papers and books, flashing co­lours and printed words. I see a thousand images in a pass­ing instant. Only I don’t see you.

When I talk with people I am aware that my eyes speak too. They give me away. They express likes and dis­likes, interest and boredom, instant pleasure or flashing anger. A twinkle of the eye can be more expressive than a whole speech. A loving regard can convey more affection than a love poem. My eyes speak silently, tenderly, effec­tively.

Today my eyes are turned to you, Lord. And that is prayer. No words, no petitions, no praises. Just my eyes turned to heaven. I know that you can read their message and understand their language. A tender look of faith and devotion, of confidence and love. Just looking at you. Gently turning my eyes up. I feel it does good to me. My eyes tell me that they like to look up. I let them follow their liking, and I accompany the direction of their look with the longing of my soul.

“As the eyes of a slave follow his master’s hand,
or the eyes of a slave-girl her mistress,
so our eyes are turned to the Lord our God
waiting for kindness from him.”

Meditation

Break the Pitcher

When the pitcher is broken,
Its space becomes infinite.
The Self is in question. My beloved and cherished pitcher, the earthly container of my existence, the treasured conscience of my presence in this world, the conch of my being. All that I am before myself and before all those who know me, my memory and my past, my personality and my character, my dreams and my regrets. All that I feel and guess and breathe. My own being. My Self.

That is all my possession, of course, and that is why it is so important to me. Those are all my savings so to say, and I keep them carefully and protect them zealously. They have to last me a lifetime, and, I hope a whole eternity. They are all I have, because that are myself, and that is why that frame of my being is so precious and irreplaceable for me. My own Self is everything to me.

But then I also see that it is quite limited. A minimal bit of existence. A speck of dust. An atom in creation. The pitcher, however well-shaped and embellished it may be, is brief and narrow, and encloses only a tiny portion of space. And I also know, in the midst of faith glimpses and hope projections, that this limited space is destined to become large, to unite with other such spaces in heartfelt brotherhood, to open up to the whole of creation and to the Creator himself in mystical union of all-embracing love. The pitcher is meant to become cosmos. I know it and I want it.

But how will that be done? That is the hard point. Rather than hard, painful. It will be done by breaking the pitcher. It is the only way. The way to infinity is the breaking of the limited. The condition of life is death. He who wants to follow me has to deny himself. He who wants to save his soul will lose it. He who wants to keep his pitcher, will drown in it. In order to open up I must break the shell. And I feel it. I am afraid. I get the sensation that I shall remain naked, with nothing to hold on to. I know that this death will lead me to life. But I am frightened at the lonely void. What will happen to me without my pitcher? Though now I hear the revealing echo of my rebellious question: And what will happen to me if I hold on to my pitcher? I don’t want to be stunted. Better to trust and to jump. Faith is the path to growth.

The Self fights back and refuses to come down from the throne, to leave the reigns, to vacate the centre of the circle. It has always been at the heart of things, and it fears that without it nothing is going to work. It does not lack arguments, authorities, persuasions to prove its point. But then it also knows the fallacy of its own reasoning, and already guesses that its own humble withdrawal is the beginning of salvation. “He must become more and more; I must become less and less.” “I live, now not I; Christ lives in me.” I must withdraw to make place for him. I must break my pitcher to be filled with infinity. I must die that he may live in me. I know it with the wisdom of all ages and sages who point at the Self as the outstanding obstacle in the way of final liberation. I ask for the courage to take the decisive step.

My dear beloved pitcher, let me break you gently and lovingly. Believe me, please: This is the best thing that could happen to us.

 

15th
I tell you

LIFE AT 90
[This is what I spoke the other day at the celebration of the 90th birthday of a friend.]

I am qualified to speak as I too am approaching the figure, and also because I organized in its day the celebration of my mother’s 90th birthday, so that I already have some experience in the matter. I was then in India, and my mother wrote to me saying that few people reach 100, and so we should celebrate her 90 just in case. Then, of course, she went on and lived till the age of 102. So get ready, Mari Ros, because you still have a long way to go. This feast today will be the rehearsal for your feast of 100 years!

You have been a professor, Mari Ros, as I’ve been, and so I know the blessings of our profession as you do. The first is the memory, affection, recognition our students manifest, directly or indirectly, along so many years. Many anecdotes remain in our memory, and I’m just going to give a couple of them to make the point.

I was teaching a class of 110 students, which is quite a number. The classroom was an amphitheater, and the girls traditionally occupied the first rows, with the boys seated behind. In front of me, right in the middle of the first row, used to seat a bright girl, Ila Shah, who was the first to register understanding in her alert face. She went through her mathematics gloriously year by year, and left the college at the end. Not very long after that, I received in the mail an invitation card. Her wedding. I always did my best to attend old students’ weddings as I knew how much they appreciated the presence of an old teacher and his blessing. There she was, resplendent in her bride’s attire. She touched my feet and bent her head while I gently touched it in blessing. Then I teased her in jest. “Let’s revise some trigonometry. Can you tell me what sine square of theta plus cosine square of theta is? She laughed my question away. I remonstrated: “So you have forgotten all the mathematics I taught you?” To which she answered at once: “Yes, I have forgotten all of mathematics. But the mathematics teacher I’ll never forget!” I haven’t forgotten her either.

The day the new course began I made it a point to stand at the gate of the college to welcome the students, greeting back the old ones and making a first acquaintance with the new. I would ask them their manes, the place they were coming from, the courses and subjects they wanted to take, and sometimes I added a more loaded question at the end: “What is your aim in coming now to college after school?” Most answers were commonplace, but once a boy got serious on hearing my question, and answered with another question: “Shall I tell you?” – “Yes, if you like to.” He began his story: “My mother died when I was very small, only two years old. No picture of her had been kept, and so I don’t even know her face. And her sickness was not so serious, it was TB, which could have been cured, but there was no doctor in my village, they were late in realizing the seriousness of the case, they took her in a bullock-cart to the nearest town, but by then they could do nothing and she died. That has given me great pain which is always with me. Now I’ve worked hard at school, I’ve come to a good college for my Pre-Science course so that I can get admission into medical college and become a doctor. And then, if my mother died because there was no good doctor in our village, I’ll see to it that small children do not lose their mothers in the village where I am.

Another boy, with problems at home, would come often to unburden himself with me, and once he told me: “I don’t understand it, but I feel greater confidence and affection with you than with my own father.” And he added to my surprise: “Of course, in the last incarnation you must have been my father, and I your son.”

Apart from the students’ recognition and affection, another great blessing of the teacher is just the pleasure of teaching. To prove an important mathematical theorem to a large class of gifted students is a privilege few can enjoy. I just mention one such experience. The theorem on “The necessary and sufficient condition for the existence of the inverse function of a complex variable function” is a theorem that takes a full hour to explain on the blackboard to a class. Equation after equation, blackboard after blackboard, step after step the theorem goes on taking shape with the suspense of an Agatha Christie novel. I had left the result to be obtained written on the upper corner of the blackboard to the left, and at the end I wrote the final result we had obtained and pointed at the first I had left in the upper corner. They were identical. At that moment the bell rung for the end of the class, and the students broke into applause. Those days are never forgotten.

G. H. Hardy was the best know English mathematician of the last century, and the Gujarat University commissioned me to translate into Gujarati his famous treatise “A Course of Pure Mathematics”, which was quite a job for me as I had written nothing in the language so far, but which precisely introduced me into the ways or writing in Gujarati and led me to a writing career, which in time became more important to me than my mathematical work. Hardy established rigor in mathematical proofs and worked for the cause “with the zeal of a missionary preaching the Bible to cannibals” as he wrote. He was an atheist and called himself “God’s personal enemy”, which is not quite denying God’s existence, and he used to say wryly that, “It’s rather unfortunate that some of the happiest hours of my life should have been spent within sound of a Roman Catholic Church”. That lack of religious belief did cast a shadow on his otherwise inspiring life, and he ended his autobiography “A Mathematician’s Apology” with these sad words: “I have never done anything ‘useful’. No discovery of mine has made, or is likely to make, directly or indirectly, for good or ill, the least difference to the amenity of the world. I have helped to train other mathematicians, but mathematicians of the same kind as myself, and their work has been, so far at any rate as I have helped them to it, as useless as my own. Judged by all practical standards, the value of my mathematical life is nil; and outside mathematics it is trivial anyhow. I have just one chance of escaping a verdict of complete triviality, that I may be judged to have created something worth creating. And that I have created something is undeniable; the question is about its value.” That unjustified pessimism led him to attempt suicide, and to comment, as he did not succeed in his attempt, that he had not been good even at that. Sad episode that reminds us that mathematics by themselves are not enough. Something else is needed to give value to life, and this is the point I wanted to make.

I’ll tell you, Mari Ros, the best anecdote of my life as a teacher, which also reflects yours, even if your students may not have expressly told you that, but your influence did remain with them and you know it. Some of my students went on to become mathematics teachers themselves. The matric exam to join college those days was very tough. It was a written exam and the examiner did not know who had written the paper he was correcting, neither did the student know who was correcting his paper. Everything went by numbers without names. But there were ways and means, and an old student of mine, who was an examiner for the matric exam, received one day the visit of a man who told him he was the father of a student who knew that his paper had come to him for its valuation. His son, he explained, was quite bright, but had been confused at the exam and had written badly. So he requested the examiner to give passing marks to his son… for a consideration. The examiner answered him: “How do you propose to me such an indignity? Don’t you know that I am Fr Valles’ student?”

Life goes on, Mari Ros, and we with it. There are three things we, at our age, can do to keep in good shape. First: walking. A while every day, with or without a stick, with or without a companion, far or near, but every day without fail. Second: reading, keeping abreast of news, commenting them, discussing them. Third: social relations. Family, friends, meetings, visits. Contact with those who love us keeps us alive and joyful.

These are my memories. Mari Ros, parallel to yours. They have been your life all these 90 years and they bring you now the joy and satisfaction to have lived them out. When I saw your photograph in the program for today’s function, I mentioned to others what a fine portrait of yours it was, but they told me it was no special photograph, but just a passport photo of yours enlarged. Everybody comes out badly in a passport photo, but yours is the best passport photo I’ve seen in my life. Keep that smile forever.

1st
I tell you

Yesterday I met a Jesuit companion of our young years who is now a missionary in Japan, and I recollected with him for a long time the memory of other dear companions, with a nostalgic feeling for those who are no longer with us. One of these names, Juanjo, has particularly shaken my memory, and my eyes go wet as I write this about him. It is to him I am indebted for going to India, which is the best that has happened to me in my life. I tell you how it happened.

I had never thought of going to the missions, even though it was the “fashion” among us at the time. Once in our novitiate we had to answer in writing a questionnaire on the missions which began with the question: “Have the missions played any part in your Jesuit vocation?” I answered, “No”, and I scratched the rest of the questions. What happened, then?

What happened was that one Thursday afternoon it rained in Oña, the place in Spain where I was doing my three years philosophy as part of my Jesuit studies. Thursdays were the days when the afternoon was left free for long walks around, in groups of three prearranged for the whole week, and we talked for half-an-hour in Latin and the in Spanish with equal cheerfulness, and we laughed too in both languages. But if it rained, there was no walk and no assigned companions. We just got together by twos or threes and spent the afternoon going round and round the magnificent Gothic cloister of the old Cistercian monastery that was now our seminary.

That Thursday afternoon rained heavily all the time, and I found myself going round and round with a good companion. This was Juanjo. In one of our first rounds he just let out and told me: “Brother Valles [no question of “Carlos” and beginning with “Brother”] why don’t we apply to go to the missions?” I told him I had never thought of that, but he argued in this way in our novitiate language: “Look here, Brother, we have left the ‘world’ for Christ, but now this ‘world’ we have left is coming back to us by the back door. You are going to be sent to Rome to be professor of Sacred Scripture in our Gregorian University, which is a great honour; and I’m being sent to get a degree and teach in our Deusto University, which is no less an honour. We’ve not come here to get honours. Since we’ve left the ‘world’ let’s now leave our country, go to any foreign land in the missions where nobody will know us, where we’ll have to learn a strange language we’ll never master, and where we’ll spend our lives totally unknown, serving others without glory or honours. Fr Provincial is soon coming round to give us our appointments, so let’s ask him to send as to the missions.” We went round and round the cloister and the point, but he didn’t convince me.

But then next Thursday it rained again. We went to the cloister again. I began to go round and round with Juanjo again. And he charged again. This time he did convince me. To the missions we go? Round and round again, this time with a clear aim in mind. There was a problem. I was being sent to the Gregorian University, and they were not going to send a future theology professor to get lost in the, surely worthy but not precisely intellectual, of the missions. But Juanjo did not give up and suggested a trick. Pope Pius XII had asked for missionaries to Japan. Japan had lost the war against the United States, and as a consequence it was for the first time in its history opening up to American influence, and the pope reasoned that it would also open up to its religion and become Christian. Accordingly, Pius XII ordered the Jesuit General WlodimirLedóchowski to sent immediately as many Jesuits as posible from all countries in the world as missionaries to Japan. That was my chance.

That same day I wrote a letter to Father Provincial, Fernando Arellano, asking to be sent to Japan. He answered me by return of post: “Not Japan, but India. Father General has entrusted to our province the Gujarat Mission in India; the best thing I want to do there is to establish a Catholic College in the Gujarat capital, Ahmedabad, and I was thinking of names for its first professors. I’m going to come soon to your place to give you your appointments. In your case I was not seing clearly where to send you, and your letter has decided it. You go to India. You’ll be starting the new college. I myself want to visit India and I’ll be going there in November with all the newly appointed. Congratulations!” I arrived in India in November with the new group. I was sent to study mathematics at St Xavier’s College in Chennai. As simple as that.

That was how my happy appointment to India was due to the rain two consecutive Thursdays in the afternoon. Meteorology can be more important than it seems. Friendship too.

Thank you, Juanjo. (Sorry, “Thank you, Brother Madariaga”.) Frindship has always been my first concern in life, and you were a great friend.

Japan was not converted. The pope was mistaken. The friend from Japan I met yesterday knew the story and referred to it as “Pope Pius XII’s mirage”. I hope you’ve enjoyed the repeated mention of “the world” among us. It was an obsession. The catechism taught us: “The enemies of the soul are three: the world, the devil, and the flesh.” We had to defeat them. That was our language and our effort. Juanjo was sent to work in Venezuela. There he lived, worked, and died. Wenevermetagain. Myeyesgowet.

I remember the date of Fr Provincial’s letter to me. 15th March 1949, The feast of St Claude de la Colombiêre (then a blessed). That letter changed my life.

You tell me

Question: I don’t understand the workings of Divine Providence. I understand that we, humans, are free, and that can cause harm to others, but nature does not depend on us and its earthquakes and volcanoes and more commonly its summers where we steam and its winters when we frieze and people even die of cold do not come from man but directly and exclusively from the hand of an omnipotent and loving God who wants to give us the best and can do so in this land he has created especially for us. Couldn’t he, then, have created a planet better adapted to human habitation?

Answer: Neither do I understand Divine Providence, J.R., and I ask myself whether God could not have made for us a kínder and gentler planet. When I see in midwinter on the streets of Madrid in the early morning poor people who have spent the freezing night tucked up against a wall, it is my soul that freezes too. There is a great Christian effort to eliminate poverty in the world, but it never reaches everywhere. There is no question of understanding Divine Providence but of accepting it, J.R. The Divine Providence is not a subject of philosophy but of faith. The philosopher Leibniz became famous for his theory that the actual world was the best of all possible worlds, because God, being perfect, cannot but have done his best in creation as a loving father would do if he was building a home for his children. Very logical, of course, but it is enough to open one’s eyes in order to see that it is not true. There is too much misery in the world caused directly by the elements without any intervention of humans. I rather prefer to say that, yes, God is all that we devotedly and respectfully say of him, that he is good and omnipotent and just and loving, but that above all he is supremely free and is not bound by what we think of him and does not behave as we tell him to behave. And he has shown his freedom in making us sweat a little and sneeze a little. A good handkerchief will do.

Psalm

TPsalm 123 – Deliverance

In my dark moments I think, Lord, that life is a trap. Forgive me for saying so before you who made life and are responsible for its working, but I sometimes feel I am just trapped in the mesh of a worthless and senseless existence like a bird in a fowler’s snare. No use flapping my wings, no use straining my legs. I am trapped in the iron grip of my own mortal doubt. I can go nowhere. Maybe there is nowhere to go.

Of all the depressions that come over me, this sense of helplessness is the most grievous one. I feel I can do noth­ing. I feel I am nothing. A lump of clay, an inert mass, an existential cipher. My life is of no account, if it can be called life at all. I mean nothing to anybody, least of all to myself. My coming into this world has made no difference to humankind, neither will my going from it do. The wind comes and goes, but it at least sways the flowers and makes the trees sing. I count for nothing. I feel nothing. I see life as a cruel game in which I am tossed to and fro without ever being asked where I want to go and what I want to do. Or, more deeply, the deadly fact is that I don’t know where I want to go and what I want to do: it is in my own bodily self that the roots of my helplessness are grounded. And that is my despair.

I am trapped, body and soul, in a trap of my own mak­ing. Maybe I expected too much from life, from myself, from you, Lord, if I may speak to you when even your exis­tence means nothing to me (and allow me to say so before you, if only to manifest to you the extent of my derelic­tion). I had hopes that never materialized, and dreams that never came true. Life has played me false with the ruthless indifference of a cruel game. I am stuck in the misery of a meaningless birth.

My only prayer today, Lord, (and even that I have to borrow word by word from your Psalm as I can frame no prayer on my own) is that you deliver me from my present darkness that I may soon make mine from the heart the words you have inspired:

“We have escaped like a bird from the fowler’s trap:
The trap broke, and so we escaped.
Our help is in the name of the Lord,
maker of heaven and earth!”

Break my trap soon, Lord!

Meditation

The tired earth

Theearthistired.
Thatiswhywe are tired.

(Omagua saying)We call it “the old earth”. From old time it keeps turning round and round itself and around the sun. No wonder it feels a little giddy and a little tired. Countless ages in constant friction.Always the same orbit, the same seasons, the same eclipses. Much routine and endless boredom. When it trembles from time to time in an earthquake, it seems to be trying to shake off its growing laziness. It was going to sleep when it remembered it had to continue in orbit. A shake-down, and back to the merry-go-round. The fair has to go on.

I don’t think we’ve got it right. I don’t think the earth is tired and is now passing on its tiredness on to us,but the other way around: we are tired in the first instance, and in pure psychological projection for our own exculpation, we accuse the earth of fatigue, only to be able to complain that it has passed the disease on to us. That is sheer calumny against the good earth. It is we that are guilty of fatigue.

It is we that are tired of going round and round in the repeated timetable of daily boredom. He samehouse, thesamework, thesame faces. Thesameproblems. And – more important – the same unending turns round ourselves, trying to improve ourselves, to purify ourselves, to ripen in character and grow in the spirit. We do not seem to have accomplished much, apart from getting tired and discouraged in our efforts. Trying so much and achieving so little is what makes us feel tired and despondent. So many rounds, and we seem to be right where we began.What is the use of keeping at it?

Every time I go to a psychologist friend to clear up dark corners I meet with the same unpleasant surprise: complexes that I thought were unraveled, are still knotted up, and blocks I thought removed are still solidly entrenched in the middle of the way. But had we not worked at it already? Yes, indeed, we had: and we have to continue working at the same. The same resentments, the same fears, the same anxiety, the same conditionings.All that treacherous inside programming to which I am enslaved since my life began, and which I thought had been sufficiently unmasked, challenged, counteracted and annulled, now turns out to be more alive and active within me that ever, tying down my faculties and lowering my energies. I feel lazy to have to face the same challenge again…, knowing perfectly well that it will start once more all over again.

And it is here that the earth gives me strength, because it reminds me that it has faithfully followed the same course always without faltering. Calendar, tides, solstices, and equinoxes.All at the same time and in the same order.And yet all with the same energy and the same faith. We have to pass, of course, through winter chills and spring awakenings; but we do it with unflinching enthusiasm before the noble task which is all the more attractive because it never ends.

The earth blooms with new vigor, and it inspires new life in us. We continue in orbit!

 

15th
I tell you

Our guilt complex is a sad heritage we elders carry on our shoulders. When we were young, everything was sin. So we were told and so we believed it. A “bad thought” consented for an instant was enough to throw us into hell for all eternity unless you had immediately gone to confession or had made an act of perfect contrition, which we were told it was very hard to make and one could never trust he had done it properly. That explained the long queues before the confessional every morning in order to be able to receive Holy Communion. The queue…, the waiting…; father, well, last night…; yes, son…, three Hail Marys and Holy Communion… The “bad thought”, by the way, was not precisely planning to steal a bank, but only sex. On Saturdays we sodalists had Mass together at Our Lady’s chapel, and since it did not have a tabernacle they first placed on the paten as many hosts as boys were going to receive communion. Everyone of us was asked before everybody else, “Are you going to receive Holy Communion?” We all knew that a “yes” answer meant that the person in question had not masturbated that night and so could straightaway go to communion and meant to do so, while a “no” answer meant masturbation without confession yet, and so no Holy Communion. It is embarrassing to tell it, but that was the fact. An intolerable and wholly anti-Christian guilt complex. In my opinion, God does not take into account faults that do not do harm to anybody.

Or so I learned in India. Sins are everywhere the same, of course, but the difference was that, so long as no harm was caused to anyone, a sin was not an offence to God but only the breaking of a law, something like parking one’s car under a No Parking sign without causing any harm to anybody, which leads to a fine if you are caught and to nothing in particular if you are not. Nobody accuses themselves in confession of having double-parked. Sin, in India, is an offence to God only if it has done any harm to a person which God takes as done to himself. Else, it is a pure breaking of a law which comes down to paying a fine with no other consequence. The amusing point is that the fine can be equally paid before and after the fault. This is very convenient, but it has to be explained.

A friend of mine who was a Brahmin and consequently a vegetarian, helped himself to a leg of chicken at a faculty meal in College where I was sitting by his side. I said nothing, but he sensed the irregularity and volunteered an explanation. He turned to me and said: “I know I’m not allowed to eat meat, but as I knew I was coming the eat here today and I would take the opportunity to eat chicken which my wife never gives me at home, I went to the temple before coming here to make an offering as a penance for the sin I was going to commit, and so I can now enjoy the chicken with a good conscience. It is delicious.” I do not think God took offence at the good Brahmin’s menu.

I was reminded of the anecdote I once read of a lady in New York who finds of an evening she has nothing to cook for her husband that night, takes her car and goes out to buy some food. As she exceeds the speed limit, a policeman stops her and fines her. She then asks the policeman: “See, I’m in a great hurry because I’ve nothingat home for supper and my husband will get angry. Could you, please, charge me for the return fine also so that we save time?” Funny, but it explains the situation. She is not hurting anybody, she’s only breakinga law, and she just wants to pay the fine before he commits the fault.

Going to confession before committing the sin. Imagine a young man going to confession on Friday evening and saying: “See, father, I’m going to spend the weekend with friends, boys and girls, and, well, you know, things will happen between us. Could you give me absolution beforehand for this weekend so that I can enjoy myself with a good conscience?” It makes us smile, and that is the difference between East and West. Another Hindu friend told me philosophically: “Sin as a metaphysical limitation of the human being, yes; sin as an offence to God, no.” I repeat that there is question here only of sins that don’t harm anybody, because if harm is caused this is unacceptable and it is an offence to God; but in the majority of cases (missing Mass, working on a Sunday, white lies, and chiefly willful sex which is the most popular example) no harm is done to anybody. There is only question there of breaking a law, and the fine can be paid before or after. This has some advantages. So long as no harm is done, “sin is not an “offense to God”. It does not make “sinners” out of us. I learned that in India. It is also true that formerly sin was in everything and not it is nowhere. We’ve gone from one extreme to another as was to be expected. It’s time we tried to find the middle.

When I tell these things to my friends, they all tell me they will definitely come to India.

You tell me

Question: Is it true that the pope wanted to approve the use of the contraceptive pill and the cardinals refused? I’ve heard something about that and I would like to know the truth.

Answer: It is an unpleasant topic, but you have a right to know, and I’ll tell you the truth. The pill had begun to be marketed at the middle of the XX century, and when Catholics doubted whether it was allowed or not, pope John XXIII named a commission to study the point and give him advice, but he died the same year and was succeeded by pope Paul VI. In 1965 the commission, by a two-third majority, advised the approval of the pill, and then the pope privately consulted the bishops who were in the commission, and they advised the same. Paul VI was called Hamlet for his doubts and procrastinations, and spent three years thinking about it. At the end, in July 1968 he published the encyclical Humani Generis and in it he strictly forbad the use of the pill. That is, he went against the two-thirds majority of the commissions he himself had appointed. Cardinal Ottaviani, who was the thirteenth child in a large family (so that he said that if the pill had existed at the time of his parents he would not have been born), and whose shield bore the motto SEMPER IDEM (always the same), and who was very near to the pope, convinced him that if he were to change the Church’s doctrine and allow now what up till now had been forbidden, the Church would lose credibility. Paul VI let himself be convinced and he forbad the pill in 1968. In spite of the pope’s prohibition, the pill became popular, and I can tell you how I came to know about all this. I was in India when all this was happening, and I came to know from Catholic magazines, but it didn’t interest me much as I was dealing mostly with Hindus, and they didn’t worry much about the Catholic Church’s doctrine. I then came back to Spain for the first time, and I asked what attitude to take in the confessional on this matter. Father Provincial told me: “The women do not mention it, and we don’t ask them.” A split between doctrine and practice. Today the prohibition stands and the practice of ignoring it stands. The Church, eventually, lost credibility for refusing to change.Ottaviani was wrong.

Psalm

Psalm 124 – Endurance

Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken but stands fast for ever.The sight of a mountain brings always joy to my heart. I guess the reason is that a mountain speaks of perseverance, solidity, endurance, and I need those virtues in my life. A mountain on the horizon is what I would like to be in my behavior: steadfast and firm. That is why I like to sit on the rocks and look steadily at the mountain in front of me: that long look is a prayer that the steadfastness of the mountain may come into my life.

“Mount Zion cannot be shaken.” I cannot say the same about myself. Any little wind of adversity shakes me to my foundations and pulls me to the ground. And, again, any breeze of empty flattery lifts me up above myself only to dash me with greater violence on the rock of despair. I waver, I hesitate, I doubt. I lose courage and lack constancy. I begin many plans and I drop them half way. I promise regular practice, and I interrupt it at the first obstacle. I cannot trust myself. And now you, Lord, point out to me the road to constancy: to trust in you. “Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion.” Trust in you is my support and my strength.

Teach me to trust you, Lord, that my life may be firm. Teach me to rely on you, since I cannot rely on myself. Teach me to climb Mount Zion in desire and in faith, to find in its summit what I lack in my valley. Teach me to lean on the eternal rock of your word, your promise, your love, that I may find in you what I have never been able to find in myself. Let me feel in my life the loveable words of your psalm:

As the hills enfold Jerusalem, so the Lord enfolds his people, now and evermore.

Meditation

The gate

An esoteric saying by Patriarch Dogen:
To reach the Gate
you have to be recommended
by ten thousand beings.
It sounds mysterious. Though on closer examination it soon begins to yield meaning. “To reach the Gate” means, of course, to “reach” the final destination that is prepared for us as fruit of our life and destiny of our being. The goal is called, in paradox and metaphor, “Gate”, because to reach is to enter, and to draw near is to pass through. The question is how to arrive. And we are told that we need a recommendation for it. Not any recommendation either, but the recommendation of no less than ten thousand beings. Who are these ten thousand beings? Why precisely ten thousand? The second question is the key to the first. Ten thousand is the open figure that includes all, that is, in our case, all the beings that have come in contact with us along all our lives. It is they that have to sign our recommendation. Without their combined intercession we cannot reach.

The husband has to be recommended by his wife, and wife by her husband. Parents by children, and children by parents.Acquaintances, friends, relatives, companions, colleagues, coworkers, teachers, students. All those we know and all those that know us, even if it be in the nodding of a passing encounter. All of them have to testify in our favour if we are to reach. And not only human beings, but all kinds of beings. Dogs and cats, birds and squirrels, flowers and butterflies, plants and trees. The house in which I live, the room I occupy, the air I breathe; the earth and the stars and the sun and the moon. All have to bear witness in my favour and recommend my cause if I am to arrive.

And what is the recommendation I expect from them? They are not precisely supposed to say that I am good or bad, as creation does not judge men and women; they are only to testify that I was there, that they saw me, that they touched me, and that I too saw them, greeted them, smiled on them as I went ahead gently and lovingly on my way through life. They have to testify that I have lived, that is, that I have noticed them, that I have not passed through life as one blind and deaf and senseless, that I have seen colours and heard voices, that I have always known where I was and what was happening with exact conscience and alert awareness, that I have enjoyed and suffered, that I have touched and felt and loved and lived. These are my saving witnesses before the final Gate.

In some boat, car, or ski competitions the runner has compulsorily to pass through a number of fixed places, and if he or she skips any of there, they are disqualified. And there are controls to verify their appearance at each required spot. What those ten thousand beings have to do for me is something similar to those controls. They are not there to say that I have won the race, but simply that I have passed through them. I have not skipped any control. I have not ignored either joy or pain; I have not escaped company nor eschewed solitude; I have not closed myself before beauty nor before ugliness; I have not stopped my ears before music nor before noise. I have passed through each control in full consciousness of the living experience. When ten thousand beings can say that of me, I shall reach the Gate.

To live in contact.To be where I am. To do what I do. To see what I see. Day by day and hour by hour. This is the heart of life. There is no question of the events beings great or small, important or trivial. Everything counts. What matters is to give life and value to each happening with conscious presence at the given moment. What is needed is not heroic deeds but attentive conscience. A greater merit attends our daily actions and our light moments, as our responsible presence in them will prepare and render easy our attention in the moments of greater importance.

Another Japanese saying reinforces and illustrates the same attitude:
A grain of wheat
weighs as much as Mount Sumeru.

We have not to despise the light moments of life. All count. All weigh. The grain of wheat and Mount Sumeru. In that, they are all equal. All watch my path and witness my course. I lose as much by missing one as by missing the other. They are all controls at which I have to check. They are all beings aligned to bear witness to me. The grain speaks as loud as the mountain, and in honouring both will I find the balance of my life. Not to miss anything of the gifts of creation.

Ten thousand beings seemed a large number. Now we realize they are quite few. It I learn how to live with open eyes, I will soon reach the Gate.

1st
I tell you

A friend of mine has told me something amusing that has happened to him, which shows how words change meaning without our realizing it. And the change is not always for the best. He is an Indian and he had gone to London for a visit. He knows English perfectly well as he learned it as a child, so that he had no problem with language. Or so he thought. One day in a meeting of a number of people more or less acquainted together, one of them approached him and asked him pointblank: “Are you gay?” He, in his innocence, understood that the other man was asking him whether he was cheerful, and cheerfully answered: “Of course, I’m gay.” It took him some time to realize that he was being asked whether he was homosexual, and he had to react quickly to extricate himself from the awkward misunderstanding. I told him that Dom Moraes, editor of The Times of India, had had the same experience quite a few years ago and told it amusingly.

I’ve looked it up in the Oxford Dictionary, and the meaning it gives for “gay” in its third edition (1949) is first “mirthful” and then “dissolute”, while the sixth edition (2000) gives first and plainly “homosexual” and then as old-fashioned “happy and full of fun”. Language is here witness to a lowering of moral standards. Be careful to feel gay in England.

You tell me

“I’m writing to you for a doubt that is causing me great pain. A friend of mine has died. He was a homosexual, while I’m not, but we were good friends and we respected each other. Now my doubt is whether he can be in heaven as he was a practicing homosexual. Can you give me some light?”

It was God who made him a homosexual, L., and God always likes what he makes, as the book of Genesis tells at the end of all the days of creation when God sees what he had created and says, “And God saw that it was good”. Not only did he create Adam and Eve, but he also has created each one of us as we are, with a soul specially created for each one with all its tendencies and its senses. And God likes everything he has created. He is not now going to condemn someone for being as he created him and acting accordingly. It’s true, also, that at times homosexuality does not come from birth but from circumstances, but then God has set the person in those circumstances, so that it comes to the same. We respect the mystery of life and death, we accept everybody, we trust in the love God has for all of us and in his infinite mercy. And we don’t judge anybody.

Psalm

Psalm 125 – The tides that turn

“When the Lord turned the tide of Zion’s fortune,
we were like men who had found new health.
Our mouths were full of laughter,
and our tongues sang aloud for joy.”
Life is a turning tide, and I have experienced its highs and lows in relentless rhythm along many years and changes and moods. I know how the barrenness of the desert can be turned overnight into fertility “as streams return in the dry south.” Sudden rains flood a dried up riverbed, and all the fields along its course smile a spontaneous green. That is the power of the Lord’s hand when it touches a parched land… or a human life.

Touch my life, Lord, release the streams of grace, turn the tide and make me smile for joy. And meanwhile give me the faith and the patience to wait for your time, with the certainty that the day will come and the streams will run again in the dry south.

I know the law of life: “Those who sow in tears, shall reap with joy.” Let me work and toil and struggle with the hope that one day the tide will turn and I will smile and sing. Let me realise that there is no success without hard work, no advancement without painstaking effort. For any progress in the life of my profession or of my spirit I must strain myself, bring out all my resources, do my best. The work of the sower is slow and taxing, but it becomes bearable with the promise of the future crop. I know that to reap I have to sow, and to sing I have first to weep.

Is not my whole life a field to be sown in tears? I don’t want to dramatize my existence, but there are enough tears in my life to justify the thought. Life is hard work, and sowing eternity is an uphill task. I pray that the certainty of the crop may bring already now a smile to my tired face; I ask to be allowed to borrow a song from the feast of heaven to practice if already with anticipated joy while I sow on earth.

“Sowers may go out weeping,
carrying their bags of seed;
but they will come back with songs of joy,
carrying home their sheaves.”

Meditation

The secret of honey

The bee does not take pollen from a fallen flower. (Chinese proverb)The flower just fallen from the branch is still full of pollen, and it is easy to collect it from the ground where it lies, without straining wings or braving heights. Yet the bee does not even approach it. It does not count in its search the flowers that are lying on theground. It follows its high even path and its direct collection from live flowers. It does notouch the spilt nectar of fallen flowers.

The beehive maintains high standards of excellence. The best for their honey.The best for their queen.The best for the humming swarm of dedicated workers in their home-made industry. Everything has to be of the highest quality in the reign of perfection. The hexagons that are cells, the smooth walls, the ventilation of the labyrinthine quarters, the security of the royal court.Everything exact, measured, perfect.And if the highest quality is demanded of everything in use in the beehive, all the more so of the daily food that sustains the united colony in its vigor and its strength. The nectar that is going to be life and energy in the exacting task, has to be itself clean and pure and vivid and recent in the integrity of its substance and in the power of its calories. The nectar has to come from a living flower. That is why the bees never touch the fallen flowers on the ground.

Life itself asks for standards of excellence. To do things well, to give one’s best, to nurse details, to aim at fullness, to strive for excellence. To love perfection. We all have our own limitations, and it is good to know them, to accept them, and to respect them; but within our possibilities there are summits of action and there is fullness of life which we can reach without overstrain or anxiety, and there we can aim with firm conviction and strong determination. Never to do things by halves when we can do them in full, never to bargain in sacrifice, never to curtail the commitment, never to tone down live. Never to stoop to the fallen flower when there are thousands on the branches inviting our flight if our wings can take the challenge and our heart can rise in the pursuance of excellence. Pure honey comes from the flowers on the tree.

Every time I see a bee I salute it in its exact, linearflight. Princess of excellence. Champion of homework.Pride of the beehive. Help me to overcome in my life the temptation to rest in mediocrity, and daily to renew the uplifting vow to do all that I do in my best possible way, even if no one sees me or no one appreciates it, but simply out of the fullness of my being, my duty to share and my joy to live.

Now I know how honey is sweet.
And how to make my own life sweet too.

 

15th
I tell you

THE VATICAN INVESTIGATES NUNS IN THE US
I greatly appreciate nuns and love them, and I always say they are the best we have with their dispensaries, hospitals, orphanages, leper-asylums, schools, with their presence with their smile and their commitment to the hardest work in the world in the name of Jesus. That is why the way the Vatican is treating our nuns in the United States has hurt me. “The Tablet” of 28 April bears this title on its front page: “They committed their lives to God; they’re dedicated to the service of the poor; the Vatican says they’re laudable. Yet now they face the wrath of Rome.” This is the editorial:

“The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) has investigated the activities of the organisation which represents the great majority of religious sisters in the United States, and it did not like what it found. As a result, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious has been told to accept close supervision of its activities to bring it back into line with church teaching and policy. Roughly nine out of ten of the 50,000-plus nuns in America are in communities affiliated to the conference, which is recognized by the Vatican but which now risks losing that status. The conference is alleged to have had a radical feminist agenda, and its unacceptable activities include giving currency in various ways to opinions deemed contrary to church teaching, such as over the ordination of women, the treatment of homosexuals or contraception.

It is fair to say that the discussion of such opinions constitutes only a small part of the conference’s activities, that these are not its official policy but the views of some of its members, and that many nuns in groups affiliated to it may disagree with some or all of them. It is also fair to say that the leadership of the conference has seemed willing to risk or even provoke a reaction from the church authorities. More nuanced critiques might on occasion have been more prudent.

That does not mean the CDF’s reaction is well-advised. With its usual indifference to public relations, the Vatican has outraged vast swathes of American Catholics who hold nuns in the highest esteem, not least because of their magnificent work in health care and education and in the alleviation of poverty and hardship.

They are indeed the glory of the American Catholic Church. Unlike the bishops, they were untarnished by the scandal of child abuse and subsequent cover-ups. The Leadership Conference tended to take a different line from the bishops on such matters as President Obama’s health-care reforms (including contraception, homosexuality and abortion which are the issue here), perhaps because they are closer to the people most affected by them. But these are not shock troops. The have devoted their lives to prayer and works of mercy. Nuns have no official preaching role, and no duty to act as agents or advocates on behalf of the bishops on public policy matters. It may be the factor which encouraged the conference to feel it had the liberty to question the Church’s official policies. But if those policies are soundly based, the hierarchy should have nothing to fear. The resort to discipline can easily look like a last-ditch attempt to shore up a weak position. It can even more easily look like bullying.

No reform would work without the consent of the majority of sisters. That consent is likely to depend on preserving a forum in which conscientious doubts about church policy can be responsibly aired and discussed – whether the authorities like it or not. To screw the lid down without such a safety valve would be to risk an explosion.”

You tell me

I’m still young, I’m not yet 40, but I’ve been diagnosed cancer and I am under treatment. I assure you I’ve always been a good person and I’ve done no harm to anybody. You can ask my family and my friends and you’ll see how all speak well of me. And now this happens to me. How can this be explained? What hurts me more than the cancer itself is the lack of sense or of justice in it all. Why should this happen to me?

Before pain all explanations fail, J., and pious considerations are no use, rather the contrary. Yes, good may come out of evil, and we’ll have a good time in heaven, but here and now there is no explanation and there is no solace. Life is what it is, and we get what we get. Ever since Bible times we’ve been complaining, Why do evil men thrive while good men suffer? Not that it’s always that way, but there are cases, and we always have at hand examples of some shameless person with success in life and some fine people overwhelmed with grief. That is a fact, and we have to admit it. Or course, if “good” people would always thrive and “bad” people would always suffer, we all would become good out of sheer selfishness, and so there would be no merit in that. In practice everything gets mixed up, and we try to do good, believing as we do that that is the best for all concerned.

Psalm

Psalm 126 – Prayer of the compulsive worker

“In vain you rise up early and go late to rest,
toiling for the bread you eat;
the Lord supplies the need of those he loves.”
Thank you, Lord, for this timely reminder. I work too much, I work because I believe myself to be indispensable, I work to achieve recognition, I work to escape from facing myself. And I cover up all that by saying that I work for you and your kingdom and my brothers and sisters in it. Hard work for me is an addiction, only that it has a respectable name and so I can be proud of it while I drug myself with its intoxication. I feel glad, Lord, that you have found me out and have plainly denounced my vice and declared its futility. You have gently laughed at my long hours of work, and have with one word destroyed my reputation. Between you and me, Lord, I am happy you uncovered my plot, and I feel relieved of a burden I had uselessly put on my shoulders.

Unless the Lord builds the house,
its builders will have toiled in vain.
Unless the Lord keeps watch over a city,
in vain the watchman stands on guard.

Not that I don’t have to work; I have to be somehow at my desk as the watchman has to be at his post if the city is to be guarded. But in reality, Lord, you are watching the city and you are building the house and you are doing the work at my desk, and your presence makes me feel lighter as we share responsibilities and I gently let the burden shift on to you.

I may still get up early, as a long habit is not easily broken, but I’ll surely approach my work now with a light heart and a knowing smile. Let’s pretend, let’s keep up the show, let’s play the game. Yes, work is only a game, and I now see it so and want to take it for what it is. No more slogging for results, but playing a friendly match without worrying about the score. I already feel lighter and relaxed; closer to you, Lord, and even happier with my very work. Do you know what I guess? That now that I relax the grip on my work and reduce its time and its intensity… it’s going to go even better!

Meditation

Prayer before a traffic-light

“Lord, please, add for me
As a bonus at the end of my life
All the times I’ve been kept waiting
Before red traffic-lights.”
A good bonus it would be. So many idle whiles standing on the kerb or sitting in the car, staring impatiently at the red disc that keeps us stuck on the asphalt in enforced immobility.The waiting, the fretting, the cursing at having missed the green light by a second, the doubting whether the traffic-light is working at all or it has got stuck at the red, the repeated looking at the watch, the sudden jump when at long last the light turns to green, the push to the pedestrian in front or the blowing of the horn for the car that blocks our way and is starting half a second late. If all these little whiles are added up and presented to us at the end, we are sure to enjoy a good bit of extra time.

This is what they do in football. The referee adds at the end of the match the times the game was halted. The ninety minutes have to be exactly filled, and, if the ball was at rest, those idle whiles have to be timed and added at the end of the game. The public have the right to see a full match.

I continue to muse before the red traffic-light that gave rise to these thoughts. The question seems to be to recover lost time. But need it be really lost? There are people who use that time to listen to music, to do aerobics as they can, to have the car’s wind-screen wiped clean, or to record on the dictaphone a letter for the secretary to take down. One can put the time to good use somehow or other. Just now I am using my enforced vigil before a red light to give shape to these thoughts, and I will write them down as soon as I reach home. Is this not using up the time?

But there is more to it. Is this not putting time to good use? Or, better stated, what is the need to have to do something in order to prove toothers and to myself that I am truly and conscientiously using up all my time? Have I not the right to be just quiet before the traffic-light without doing anything? Quiet, I say, not only in my legs and in the wheels of my car, but also in my thinking and in my brooding. Quiet in my mind, in my imagination, and in my senses.Quiet before the red disc, without any inner urge to break it to pieces with a stone-throw, without looking at the watch, without cursing the traffic.Quiet as a Buddhist monk in the peace of his looks and the serenity of his existence. Quiet where I am, doing what I do, feeling what I feel, being what I am. Everything is part of life. Walking and waiting. Working and resting. Pushing and yielding. Green and red. And each portion of life is an important as any other. We must learn how to keep quiet.

There is no “wasted” time. No “lost” time. There is nothing to “recover”. No “time out” to make up for. Every time is right time, if only we know how to live it out in its own way and in its own meaning. There is no need to start jumping and jogging and doing gymnastics and dictating memoranda in order to make “good use” or time. Each time is good on its own terms. The green light is a green light and the red light is a red light. Time to stop, to interrupt, to slow down. And to know how to stop, to interrupt, and to slow down is important in life. Time to let time pass. Letting time pass is one of the most difficult things in life. Quietly, elegantly, generously.To know how to be, how to contemplate, how to live.To make friends with the red as with the green.To let the traffic-lights free to play their own game. Not to call the green “good” and the red “bad”. Taking things as they come, and traffic-lights in their colours. Everything serves, everything lives, everything counts. Or, better still, nothing has to count, to justify itself, to fill up time and come up to expectations. Empty spaces count as much as filled-up ones, and valleys are as much part of the landscape as are summits. Just as red lights are as much part of traffic as are green lights. I am going to change my prayer:

Lord, teach me how to waste time.
Make me realize that everything has its place in life,
and that in respecting each turn in itself
lies the secret of the fullness of life.

The light has turned green. Ahead we go.

1st
I tell you

[From “Taxi” by Khaled Al Khamisi, p. 73]

The taxi driver’s face reflected a deep sadness which encompassed his whole being. It was as though all the worries in the world would have built themselves into a pyramid to stand inverted on the head of the poor wretch. To look at him was enough to realize that something serious had happened to him.

When I asked him about the cause of such a deep sadness, he answered me:

– I don’t know what to do or how to manage. I’m turning the problem round and round in my head, and I’m unable to arrive at any conclusion. I’m going to get mad, and I’m feeling as though my head were about to burst.

– What’s wrong with you?

– The only thing wrong with me is my work. Daily I take six children to school and I take from each only eighty pounds a month. Two days ago the father of a boy and a girl is in jail. Yesterday when I went to collect the month’s money, his wife told me what had happened and asked me to wait for his release. For the school lift to be worth its while there must be seven or eight boys, but I take only six. But then I’m thinking what’s the mother of those kids to do. She is a strict Muslim, wears a veil and never leaves her home. My wife tells me: “This is your work and you need your pay. Tell her that either she pays up or you stop taking her children.” Their mother swore on the Holy Quran that she had not enough money for meals, and she added that patience is the key to happiness, and that she would eventually pay. I don’t know what to do. My conscience tells me that I must take the children, but at the same time I’m hungry and I need something to eat. What do you think?

– I find it very difficult to give an opinion. It is not the same to look at it from the outside as from the inside – I gave as a diplomatic answer.

– I’m asking you seriously, if you were in my place, what would you do?

– I would do the right thing. I would take the children and I wouldn’t worry more about it – I said taking sides.

– My father – may his soul rest in peace – used to say: “If you do good, it’ll come back to you. It’s like the sound and its echo: if you don’t shout aloud, you won’t hear the echo.” Blessed be my father, but he lived in other days. He would come back from work at three in the afternoon and would sit down with us. Whereas I see my children only on weekends… that is if I see them at all.

– So then?

– Well, if I take the children for this month and their father is not released, till when can I wait? I can’t go on like this for ever. Yesterday my wife got angry with me for taking the children. But then, to say it all, I adore little Amina; she is five years old and just like Asma, my niece, who is a charming, beautiful, gentle child. Have you ever seen a girl who is quiet and mischievous at the same time? Such is Amina. I really don’t know what to do.

– Coming down from the car I asked him to take a decision, to carry it out, and not to think any more about it. He charged me his fare without even looking at what I had given him. He didn’t seem to be in a better mood than when I came in.

You tell me

Question: I’ve left out reading the gospel daily as I used to do. On the one hand, my conscience is pricking me, and on the other I simply don’t feel now like doing it. What should I do?

Answer: Reading the gospel daily is a great Christian costume, and it doesn’t take much time. If daily mass is not possible, at least gospel reading brings us God’s daily message in his word, and that is a great help and light and encouragement for good living. Nothing better. The danger is, and you are sensing it now, that the costume becomes an obligation, the obligation turns wearisome just because it is an obligation, and it begins to be resented and resisted till it is eventually left. It is important that religious acts be done cheerfully. Wait a little longer and see whether you again feel like it. Don’t force yourself.

Psalm

Psalm 127 – The family meal

It is a grace to take meals together, to sit at table with my brothers, to eat in common the fruit of our own labours, to feel like a family and talk and comment the events of the day with the informal intimacy of the happy group. It is a blessing to have meals together. Maybe the common dining room unites us as much as the common chapel does. We are body and soul, and if we learn to pray together and to eat together we’ll be half way towards learning the necessary art of living together.

I want to learn the art of conversation at table which frames a savoury dish in the elegant gesture of wit and pleasantry. No business meals, no hurried lunches, no makeshift sandwiches at the office while work goes on: that is insulting the mind and trespassing on the body. A meal has its liturgy too, and I want to follow its rubrics with the reverence due to my body, privileged part of God’s creation.

Good food is a Biblicalblessing on a good man’s table. I appreciate good food with Christian thanksgiving to enliven the most earthly part of our existence with the simplest of pleasures in its daily recurrence. Has not heaven been compared to a banquet by people who knew about it? If heaven is a banquet, every meal is a rehearsal for heaven.

May the Psalm’s blessing descend on all our meals as we say grace at table:

You shall eat the fruit of our own labours,
you shall be happy and you shall prosper.
May the Lord bless you from Zion;
may you share the prosperity of Jerusalem
all the days of your life.

Meditation

The tree is.
(Zen)I am fascinated by the simplicity of the radical principle. All that is to be said, has been said in it. Nothing more is needed. Any explanation is complication, and by trying to make things clear, we make them more obscure. But I need a littleof this temporary obscurity of reasoningto sort outmatters formyself. I find so much meaning in that little sentence of quiet wisdom! The tree is. Minimal expression.Impartial statement.Eternal truth. I laugh at myself seeing it is so simple…, and it continues to be so difficult. But I love to touch at least with thetip of my fingers the very centre towards which my whole life tends without ever reaching it or understanding it. The simplicity of being. Everything is there. The tree is. And, in just being, it is all it is meant to be. It growsand sends down roots and drinks in sap, and puts forth branches and leaves, and provides shadow and gives fruits, and it stands watch on the landscape, sketching on the flat earth the vertical profile of its burgeoning life. The tree is. And by “being” in fullness and patience, it achieves the total expression of its green incarnation. The tree is, and that is all. Biography in three words.

I have pounded on life trying desperately to get results out of it. I have always made all efforts in order to obtain the desired result, and the catch has always been in that “in order to”. That expression denotes purpose and intention, and it is that attitude of striving for something that has spoiled my best moments and has transformed into anxiety first and disappointment later the strong efforts that make up my existence. I studied in order to learn; I fasted in order to obtain devotion; I meditated in order to find God; I kept silence in order to reach contemplation. I write books in order to fulfill myself; I read in order to write books; I save my time in order to read; I plan my life in order to save time. I rest in order to gain strength; I work in order to give glory to God; I attend courses in order to improve myself; I give courses in order to improve others. There is always an “in order to” in the midst of all that I do, and its slavery forces my efforts, exacts results, weighs actions, judges behaviours, and makes me always tense before obtaining the goal, and sad after trying to obtain it as I never really reach the goal.

I tried a method for better sleep on days when constant travel hindered my night’s rest. I used it the first day, and it worked. I slept like a log. I felt happy. Got it! At last! I know now, and I’ll never look back! I used the method the second day, and I failed. Not a wink of sleep. I felt miserable. The method failed. I spoke it out with a woman friend of mine who is a born psychologist. She laughed. “Don’t you see it? You fell into the trap. To work in order to obtain results is something that never works. Whatever is done through an effort, defeats the very effort.You condition your sleep to your method; and when it works, you feel exultant, so that the conditioning is reinforced; and when it fails, you break down. The only real work is to be oneself. To work through ‘being’ is the only valid approach.”

I have been quoting for years Krishnamurti’s sentence: “Every effort is a distraction from the is.”I have quoted it in books and conferences, in conversations and in reflections with myself. I have quoted it with love, with feeling, with internal joy andwith emotional reverence. I have sensedit create a reverential silence in minds and consciences with the sudden vision of a vital life secret. I have letit find itsown way between novelty and surprise towards the deep understanding of the unavoidable and practical mystery that life on earth is.I have come to pronounce it with such conviction and such naturalness that I myself thought I had understood it.And so for many years…

Today I have realized that I had never understood it. It has been while looking at the tree. While contemplating in it the mystery of “being” without the distraction of “doing”. The tree by itself, without any “justification”, “mission”, or “result”. It does not have to justify its existence with commercial outputs. Neither have I. It is enough for me to be. To be fully, radically, botanically like the master tree. Out of being, in the succession of the seasons, will later come whatever has to come, and be born whatever has to be born. Everything will be done. Provided everything is.

For a moment I have smiled under the illusion that now I have finally understood Krishnamurti. I knew the secret of the esoteric phrase. I had received the initiation. I had arrived. But then the realization dawned on me that I have not yet understood a word. Things are as they were. Nothing has changed. The initial compulsion of my programmed life continues to drag me along, towards the necessary achievement of successes, triumphs, results. Everything has to be done “in order to” obtain something else. Always the future, the goal, the projection. So that as a result, I am not I, I am not where I am, I never do what I do. My only consolationis that now, at least, I know it. Andknowing it, I open up myself to the hope and the dream of the day when I shall learn how to live without goals.

The tree is.

I, simply and humbly, am.

 

15th
I tell you

[From the book “Tienegracia…” by James Martin, SJ]

124. Some years ago I was complaining before my spiritual director how excessively busy I was at the time. I was widely deepening my study of Holy Scripture, was accepting too many tasks, was never refusing any work, never turning down an invitation to direct some Spiritual Exercises, never passing over the opportunity to speak in a parish, always trying to be more “productive”… I certainly was productive, but I also was feeling overwhelmed by the excessive work. Instead of scolding me or lecturing to me, my spiritual director just told me a story that changed my life.

A man one day comes into the dining room at his firm and sits down by the side of a friend. He opens his bag, takes out a sandwich, unwraps it and contemplates it with a sad look on his face.

“Again!”, he tells his friend.

“What’s happening?”, asks the friend.

“A cheese sandwich.I hate cheese sandwiches! – he goes on as he starts eating itdismally – they are horrible. They are so dry…”.

The next day he sits down by the side of the same friend, opens his bag and bursts out: “I can’t believe it: another cheese sandwich!” His friend shakes his head in sympathy while he watches him eat his rotten sandwich with a gesture of disgust.

The third day he goes again, sits by his friend, opens his bag and exclaims: “Impossible! A cheese sandwich again!”

His friend shakes his head in understanding and offers his comment: “Boy, you really hate those cheese sandwiches, don’t you?” – “Yes, I can’t stand them!”

The scene is repeated day after day till the friend finally takes courage and advices: “Excuse me for butting in, but why don’t you simply ask your wife to stop making cheese sandwiches for you?”

“I’m not married”, answers the man.

“Then”, asks his friend – “who prepares those cheese sandwiches for you?”

“Why, I myself”, answers the man.

This story made me laugh wholeheartedly, but he made me also reflect on myself. It made me realize that, like the man in the story, I was the one responsible for the excess in my work. I was saying yes to all the requests, accepting all invitations, never refusing a talk or an interview however busy I might be. I was making those cheese sandwiches I later hated. And that’s the real problem with me – and with many of us.

You tell me

Do you believe in hell?

I’ve been asked many times the question, but I take it up again as it hadn’t come up for some time. Every Christian has to believe in hell as it is a dogma of faith in Catholicism and it is mentioned fourteen times in the gospels. The description of the Last Judgment coms directly from Jesus’ lips: “A curse is on you; go from my sight to the eternal fire that is ready for the devil and his angels.” It is hard but it has to be accepted. Then people tell me (and they have told me that a number of times): “Yes, there is a hell…, but it is empty!” And they smile at their solution. But it is no solution. Hell would then be just an empty threat without and fulfillment. Just as we do with little children and the bogeyman. We tell them that if they don’t eat or sleep or behave properly the bogeyman will come and take them away. And it doesn’t come, of course. This is not serious. Besides, those who tell mi that know perfectly well that hell is not empty. It is full of devils. And the devils are angels. This is a hard teaching. However grave the offence of God may be there is no proportion between missing Mass on a Sunday and going to hell for all eternity. I hope God has something better in mind for all. We’ll find out some day…, in joy, I hope.

Psalm

Psalm 129 – Prayer of prayers

Out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord!Whatever prayers I am making to you, Lord, I mean all of them to be preceded by this verse: “Out of the depths.” Whatever prayer I make to you I mean it, Lord, I make it from the depths of my humility and from the depths of my heart, I make it from the seriousness of my experience and the urgency of my salvation. Whatever I pray, I pray with all my heart and all my soul, putting my whole life into each word, my whole being in every request. Every prayer I make is the breath of my soul, my hope of survival and my claim to eternal joy. I am serious when I pray, Lord, and it is no routine, no habit, no need to conform to usage or keep appearances or give good example that drives me to your presence and sets me on my knees. It is the need to be myself, in all the poverty of my being and all the greatness ofmy hope; and I can be that only before you in prayer. That is why I pray, Lord.

I know my misery, I know my indignity, I know my sin. But I also know your pardon and your grace, and I wait for you eagerly to receive your visit in time of need. “Out of the depths.”

I wait for the Lord with all my soul,
I hope for the fulfillment of his word.
My soul waits for the Lord
more eagerly than watchmen for the morning.
Like men who watch for the morning,
O Israel, look for the Lord.

Sense. Lord, my eagerness, and see my seriousness. I need you as the watchman needs the dawn. I need you as the earth needs the sun. When I pray, I pray in dead earnest, knowing as I do that you are everything to me, and that prayer is my daily link with you.

So today I pray for my prayers. I remind myself before you of their meaning and their importance. I pray to continue praying from the depth of my heart, and I pray for you to continue to see each prayer of mine as a prayer of my whole being for my whole life.

“Out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord!”

Meditation

Praise my Lord!

Most High, Almighty, Good Lord,
yours are the praises, the glory,
thehonour, and all blessings!
To You alone, Most High, do they belong,
and no man is worthy to pronounce your name.
Be praised, my Lord, with all Your Creatures,
especially Lord Brother Sun,
by whom You give us the light of day!
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendour.
Of You, Most High, he is a symbol!
Be praised, my Lord,
for Sister Moon and the Stars!
In the sky You formed them
bright and lovey and fair.
Be praised, my Lord, for Brother Wind
and for the Air,
and cloudy and clear and all Weather,
by which You give sustenance
to Your creatures!
Be praised, my Lord, for Sister Water,
who is very useful and humble
and lovelyand chaste!
Be praised, my Lord, for Brother Fire,
by whom You give us light at night,
and he is beautiful and merry
and mighty and strong!
Be praised, my Lord,
for our Sister Mother Earth,
who sustains and governs us,
and produces fruits
withcolourful flowers and leaves!
Be praised, my Lord,
for those who forgive for love of You
and endure infirmities and tribulations.
Blessed are those
who shall endure them in peace,
for by You, Most High, they will be crowned!
Be praised, my Lord,
for our Sister Bodily Death,
from whom no living man canescape!
Woe to those who shall die in mortal sin!
Blessed are those whom she will find
in Your most holy will,
for the Second Death will not harm them.
Praise and bless my Lord and thank Him
and serve Him with great humility!
(St Francis of Assisi)

1st
I tell you

[Some more quotations from James Martin’s book “Tienegracia…” as you seem to have liked the previous ones.]

183. Groucho Marx was once waiting in a hall when a priest, with his hard collar, recognized him, went up to him and started congratulating him warmly: “Thank you, Groucho, for all the joy and laughter you give to people!” Groucho answered him: “I should rather thank you, priests, who make it easy for us to give people their joy back, as it is you that have taken it away from them with all the fear and trembling you put into them.”

106. A newspaper man innocently asked pope John XXIII: “Your Holiness, who many people work in the Vatican?” To which he answered: “Roughly, about half.”

107. Somebody asked John XXIII about the Italian custom to close down offices in the afternoon: “Your Holiness, we understand that the Vatican closes in the afternoon so that its officials do not work then.” The pope answered him: “Not exactly. The offices are closed in the afternoons, but when the officials do not work is in the mornings.”

107. John XXIII came to visit the Holy Spirit Hospital in Rome, and Mother Superior introduced himself to him thus: “I am the Superior of the Holy Spirit.” To what the pope answered: “I am only the Vicar of Christ.”

115. The Provincial of the New York Jesuits was visiting the infirmary where old and sick priests and brothers were kept. He was saying how the Jesuits in the province were getting older, and he added: “We now have so many old people that we don’t have enough places to keep them in, and in the infirmary there is not even one room for each. To which an old father answered: “Don’t worry, father, we’ll try to keep dying as fast as possible.”

127. It is well-known that St Lawrence joked with his executioners who were burning him on an iron grid telling them: “On this side I’m already properly done; you can turn me to the other side.” In the same line, St Thomas More in the XVI century told his executioner as he was climbing the steps to the gallows: “Please, help me to come up; to come down I’ll manage on my own.”

197. Timothy Radcliffe, Superior General of the Dominicans, used to tell how an old Benedictine monk was receiving holy communion, and when the officiating priest said: “The Body of Christ”, he cheerfully answered, “Yes, yes, I know.”

You tell me

“I’m a religious sister and recently we’ve had a meeting to discuss the matter of vocations. We formerly used to have many, and how there are very few young girls that are thinking about entering the novitiate. Some of us said that our congregation is already more than two centuries old and it was fine when it began, but times have changed and it does not answer any more to the mentality of young people today. Other have put the blame on the young people themselves who are not interested in religion and who are afraid of making long term commitments, let alone lifelong ones. What do you think about this?

First of all, lack of vocations is now affecting all of us, and we all feel it. Formerly we used to say that God was sending us many vocations to show us in that way that he was pleased with us, and thus he blessed us and our work. But we are our work are still the same, and we have few vocations.

I don’t think we should “blame” the young people neither society as such nor religious life itself. What has certainly taken place is a change in young people’s mentality, and not precisely with respect to religious life but to life in general. The change is that formerly options taken for life were more valued that merely temporary ones, whereas now lifelong options do not seem acceptable and people prefer to remain open to all options life may go on offering. Life is longer, options are more varied, individual freedom is more valued, and a definitive choice early in life and for ever is not looked upon favorably. This applies to everything: marriage, studies, profession, residence, religious life, priesthood. Of course, one has to go on making choices in life, but at the same time it is desired to keep as many as possible options open for a greater freedom. That’s how there are so many de facto couples as against traditional consecrated marriage. This lowers down the value of the relationship and makes is into something temporal and superficial.

Fortunately a priesthood for, say, ten years, after which the priest would go back to the lay status is inconceivable. Sterling values have to be preserved as the best we have in our human existence. “You are a priest for ever.”

Psalm

Psalm 130 – The prayer of the intellectual

Too many words, Lord, too many ideas, too many arguments. Even to my prayer have I brought the weight of my own reasoning, the irrational burden of my rationality. I am an addict of the syllogism, a slave of reason, a victim of enlightenment. I cloud my prayers with my sophistication, and blunt the edge of my needs with the verbosity of my expressions. I have seen my vice, and I want to return for once to the simplicity and the innocence of childhood. I feel happy to do so.

Today, my hear is not proud, not are my eyes haughty; I do not busy myself with great matters or things too marvelous for me. No; I submit myself. I account myself lowly, as a weaned child clinging to its mother.

I submit myself, Lord. I submit my intellect to you. I put aside my concepts, my knowledge, my theories, my lucubrations. I have thought so much that I have made the intellect you gave me to find you into an obstacle to see you. I resign, Lord. Tame my reason and chasten my thought. Still my intellect and pacify my mind. Suppress the noise within me that does not allow me to hear your voice in my heart.

Let me rest in your arms, O Lord, like a child in his mother’s arms. How much I love that image! I close my eyes, I relax my limbs, I feel the gentle touch, the warmth, the care. I fall asleep in the simplicity of my soul. This is the prayer that does me most good, Lord.

Meditation

(Letter of Chief Sheatl, of the Suwamish tribe, to the President of the United States, Franklin Pierce, in 1854)

The Great Chief in Washington has sent us word that he desires to buy our land. This can never be. Every particle of this land is sacred to my people. Every shining leaf, every sandy beach, every mist in the dark forest, every lying glen and every flying insect is sacred in the memory and in the experience of my people. The sap that gives life to the tree carries the history of the men in red skins.

We are part of the land, and the land is part of us. The fragrant flowers are our sisters; the cattle, the horse, the majestic eagle are all our brothers. The rocky summits, the even prairies, the bodily heat of cold and of man, all belong to the same family.

Whatever happens to the land, will ultimately happen to the sons of the land. All things share in the same breath: whether it is animal, tree, or human. All things are related as the blood that unites the whole family. How can you buy the heaven and the earth? Can you perchance buy the air you breathe? Can you buy the warmth of the soil? Can you buy the life of animals? If all animals were to disappear, man would die in solitude of spirit, because whatever happens to the animals today happens to man tomorrow. All things are related with one another. No, you can never buy our land.

 

15th
I tell you

[Some quotations from the book on the pope by his brother, Georg Ratzinger, San Pablo 2012.]

9. What thrilled Joseph most as a child was a teddy bear he saw in the toy shop window across the street. Every day, even with wind and rain, we crossed the street to have a look at the bear. But one day, just before Christmas, the bear was not there. My brother cried bitterly and would not be consoled. The Christmas arrived, and its toys with it. When Joseph entered the room with the Christmas tree and the toys he started laughing for joy: in the midst of all the toys the teddy bear was waiting for him. The Child Jesus had specially brought it for him. This afforded him his greatest joy in all his childhood.

52. The whole family would go for vespers on Saturday evening, to mass on Sunday morning, often two masses, an early one to receive holy communion and a solemn one at noon, we said night prayers and the blessing at table. I’m convinced that it is the lack of this traditional piety in many families that is one of the reasons why there are so few vocations for the priesthood today. In fact, what one sees now in many families is not Christian faith but a kind of practical atheism, and God now takes no part in family life.

57. At Easter, apart from Easter eggs, our mother prepared for us all a special breakfast with an Easter lamb. That was some breakfast!

59. We celebrated our birthdays with a very special drink: Málaga wine from the south of Spain, which was the one we all liked best.

185. We both studied together at the seminary. One day the archbishop of Munich, cardinal Faulhaber, came for lunch with us. Our rector himself went to serve him soup, but he upset the whole tureen on the cardinal drenching his whole cassock. The rector apologized saying, “Don’t worry, there is more soup in the kitchen”, and the cardinal retorted, “Yes, for you to throw it over me!”

You tell me

YOUR PLIGHT: After a whole year or a very heavy personal crisis and trials that had marked me for ever, I have wept much and I have felt alone. Where is God? Why don’t I feel his presence? Does he exist at all? I don’t want to believe in a god who wants or permits or arranges for such things to happen to me, a god who has written down my destiny without my being able to change it in any way. People tell me God is trying me in order to give me something better in heaven, and that whatever happens to me is the best than could happen. So if a child dies, is that the best for its parents? Never. I prefer to become an atheist rather than believing in such an inhuman god. There is only silence. Why does he not listen to me? Why does he see us suffer and does nothing about it? Why did Jesus say “Ask and it shall be given unto you” when we ask and get nothing. I’m exhausted and disappointed. Why does he not do anything at all? Why do we have to wait for the next life in order to be happy? If there is a next life at all!

MY REACTION: What you say, C., is what I’ve been saying all my life, only not with such vehemence. Suffering has no explanation. It does not fit with the essential concept of an all-loving and all-powerful God. That means that the image of God we have formed for ourselves does not quite correspond with the reality. God is infinite, and our image of him is finite. We imagine a god who is necessarily anthropomorphic, not only in aspect but also in character, and we expect him to behave as we believe he has to behave, and that of course is not God. In India I learned the distinction between the concrete God (saguna Brahma) and the abstract God (nirguna Brahma), or the God of the beginners and the God of those advanced in the spiritual life. Our spiritual progress consists in passing from the concrete God to the abstract God in our faith and in our devotion. To say that God does everything for our good, that he draws good from evil, that in heaven we’ll see and understand everything, and that the more we suffer in this life the more shall we enjoy ourselves in the next is all very well but does not respond to reality. A great-aunt of mine fell sick in her old life and the parish priest went to see her and tried to console her saying that God was sending her this trial in order to give her a higher place in heave. To which my aunty answered: “But, father, in heaven I’ll be quite satisfied with just a small corner!” My aunty knew theology well!

Suffering is a great mystery which we’ll do well to accept in faith and humility. I thank you for your frankness which has inspired me to be frank too. Suffering has to be dealt with in full respect and reverence. And with full sincerity too.

Psalm

Psalm 131 – A dwelling for the Lord

David had a noble heart. He had his failings, too, but he redeemed the impulses of his passion with the nobility of his reactions. He could not bear that the Ark of the Lord rested still under a tent while he had already a king’s palace in the newly conquered Jerusalem. His reaction when he realised this was typical of him:

I will not enter my house nor will I mount my bed, I will not close my eyes in slumber, until I find a sanctuary for the Lord, a dwelling for the Mighty One of Jacob.

Since then, the obsession of Israel was to find a worthy “resting” place of the Ark they had brought through the desert as witness and instrument of God’s presence with them.

Arise, O Lord,and come to your resting place, you and the Ark of your power.
The Lord accepted the invitation of his people, and chose Zion for his home. “This is my resting place for ever: there will I make my home, for such is my desire.”

A resting-place for the Lord.Glory and pride of Israel. If the first commandment is to love the Lord above all things, a practical consequence of it will be to prepare for him a building above all buildings. Such a faith has given rise to the most beautiful manifestations of the art and imagination of man, whose zeal and endeavor have covered with temples all the corners of inhabited earth. The most majestic dwellings today on man’s earth are your temples, Lord, and we all who believe feel in our hearts the satisfaction David felt when he pronounced his oath. You have a worthy resting place on earth, Lord.

Our uneasiness now is rather the opposite, Lord. You have now a resting placebut many men and women have none. Many of your children do not have today a roof over their heads to protect them from heat and cold, from wind and rain. David’s oath hangs heavily over our heads in this new dimension which our consciences open for us. How can I sleep in a comfortable bed when my brother sleeps in the public street under a ruthless sky? How can I build for myself a house of cedar when the Ark of the Lord, the poor of the Lord, live in huts whose walls are newspapers and whose roofs are made of plastic bags heaped together?

Whatever we do to the smallest of men, we do for you, Lord. To find habitable dwellings for these your children is to find them for you. I renew David´s oath in the name of all humankind, and pray that you may not allow us to rest in sinful complacency while our brothers suffer the naked scourge of weather in a homeless existence.

O Lord, remember David, and the oath he swore to you.

Meditation

Flowers speak

It is said of Ignatius Loyola that on his walks through the gardens of his Roman residence in his old age he would caress with his walking stick the flowers along his way telling them gently: “Keep quiet, keep quiet, I do understand you, I do understand you.”

He knew their language. He understood what they were telling him. We too understand at once the fanciful dialogue. But there is a difference. For us this is only an edifying anecdote in a saint’s life. For Ignatius it was a personal experience. He spoke out his feelings with the tip of his stick, and then listened to the flowery answer with striking realism. They shouted so much that he had to ask them to keep quiet.

Ignatius had been a warrior and a courtier. He reached the classroom late in life. Poetry was not his forte.But he was a mystic, and he saw God in God’s creation. We are not so much surprised at his reaction in the garden when we remember what he wrote at the end of his Spiritual Exercises, that through centuries have guided souls in the ways of the spiritual life, to give the retreatant a way of life for the future:

“Consider now how God dwells in his creatures, in elements, plants, animals and men, and so in my own self, giving me life, understanding and feeling, and making me into his temple as he has made me into his own image.

Consider too how God works for me in all created things on the face of the earth, that is earth and sky, plants and trees, animalsand birds, giving them being, growth and feeling.

Contemplate how all good things come from above, as my own strength comes from God’s infinite strength, and so with justice, goodness, piety, mercy…, as the rays descend from the sun and the waters from their source.(Contemplation to obtain love)

All creatures are sacred. God is in them all, “works” in them, lives in them as he lives in me, and all that exists flows down from him. Divine presence in earthly surroundings.Kinship of heaven and earth.Closeness of the Creator with his creation. Everything speaks to us of him because he is in everything.

“Keep quiet, keep quite; I do understand you.”

Flowers that speak.>

1st
I tell you

[A few more quotes from the book of the pope’s brother, Georg Ratzinger, about him. Did you know that the actual pope did not pass the exam of his PhD thesis?

198. We two brothers were ordained together. We were highly surprised at seeing the amount of people that turned up for the ceremony. We had been told that on the same day a bicycle race would take place in Traunstein, and so we should not be upset if only a few people turned up at our ceremony. But later we learned that there had been hardly a fewspectators in the race because most people had come to our first mass. Things are not quite the same now.

200. The blessing given by a just ordained priest is considered as something very special. A saying in Baviera says, “To receive the blessing of a new priest it is worthwhile to wear out the soles of one’s shoes. We spent full days going through the city, house to house from morning to evening, and everywhere we were cordially received. In each house we were given an aperitif and some money, but we felt particularly happy to see how people appreciated the blessing of the priest. Again and again we were witnesses to the eagerness with which people expected the arrival of the priest, a man that had been called by God to serve them.

204. The parish priest in our parish was Max Blumstein, and he became our model. He was always available to all who needed him, and that held till his last breath: he died while he was taking holy communion to a sick person. My brother began his priestly ministry as a vicar to that parish priest. Every morning he spent one hour in the confessional, on Saturdays up to four hours. He went by cycle to burials, baptisms and weddings, and he was in charge of the young people in the parish, while he taught religion class 19 hours a week.

212. My brother presented his PhD thesis, which was needed for him to become a theology professor, but the examiner, Schmaus, failed him and rejected his thesis. His whole world seemed to collapse suddenly. What would he do? As a failure in the examination he would have to leave the faculty in utter shame. At the most he could apply for a vicarage, which also gave right to a house to live in, but that was not an acceptable proposition for him. Fortunately, though Schmauswas very respected by his colleagues, he could not get the board’s consent to reject the thesis as a whole, and it was given back to my brother for its correction. Schmaus has annotated in the margin a number of corrections to be made, but Ratzinger suppressed all the part in which those corrections had been made and enlarged the remaining part. He still had to pass a public exam before two professors, Schmaus and Söhngen. It so happened that the two of them started to discuss so vehemently with each other that they forgot Ratzinger. So he finally got his professorship. He was 29.

236. For Ratzinger it was an irresistible temptation to be offered in 1966 the dogmatic theology chair that had become vacant. A Tubinga theologian who insisted much on Ratzinger being called was Hans Küng. They knew each other from the council. It was only later that they became adversaries.

269. It was the second day of the conclave for the election of the new pope. At 18:40 hours the Chilean cardinal Jorge Medina Estévez appeared in St Peter’s balcony through heavy red velvet curtains, greeted first the crowd in French, Italian and German [not in Spanish] and then went on with the old Latin formula: “Annuntionvobisgaudium magnum: Habemuspapam!”. (I announce you a great joy: We have a pope!) The crowd burst into cries. <

When he pronounced thename “Josephum”, Joseph, I froze in my bones. I knew the situation was tense. I was impatient to see how he would continue.

And then came the rest of the formula: “SanctaeRomanae Ecclesiae Cardinalem Ratzinger” (the cardinal of the Holy Roman Church, Ratzinger). I felt greatly disturbed. I thought it was a great challenge, a heavy burden for him, and I became seriously concerned for him. The whole afternoon and late into the next day the phone rang continuously, but I didn’t take it. “Go to hell all of you!” was what I thought. I didn’t even call him. Next morning he called me, or rather tried to call me, since I didn’t take the call. And it was my brother! My landlady heard the phone and so it was she, not myself, who first got the news.

 

You tell me

Dear Father Carlos, I’m again the young religious who wrote to you some time ago, and now I write to you to tell you how a friend has come to me with a rather surprising question. He asked me, “Brother, how can I know whether God is calling me to be a priest? Tell me what have I to do in order to know that God is calling me.” I had to give him an answer, but it didn’t satisfy him as I only told him that it is a feeling one cannot express but which is inside you. So I now want to ask you how did you feel God’s call, just in case some other comes to me with the same question.

Answer: God’s call usually comes to us through our circumstances, Miguel Angel, not through any extraordinary vision or revelation. I’ve described my own case in full detail in my book “The Art of Choosing”. God speaks to us and shapes us through the atmosphere in which we live, our environment, circumstances, conditionings, family, friendships that go on pointing the way and preparing the decision. Then faith and personal fervor do the rest. When I was going to the novitiate and my friends asked my why was I going, I would tell them with a naïve but absolutely sincere conviction: “I feel that God is calling me just as I feel and see that you are calling with me.” If I hadn’t joined, I would have acted against my conscience. It seems exaggerated, but it is plain truth. We never “know” but we “feel”. Just as you beautifully tell me that you are feeling. When one asks, How will I know that God is calling me? That means he is doubting. That never works. When Mozart was asked, “What did you do to become such a great musician?” he answered: “Not to ask that question.” Music is felt. So is a vocation. Thanks for writing, and best wishes to you, Carlos.

Psalm

Psalm 132 – Family prayer

The greatest blessing in a home is that all brothers and sisters in it love one another. In the many years they live together they learn to play together, to fight together, to know one another as no one else ever will know them, to defend one another with a loyalty unequalled by any other loyalty on earth: the loyalty of members of one family. Blood speaks in the heart, and brothers and sisters have the same blood running in their veins.

“How good it is and how pleasant
for brothers to live together!”

One may add, with the sadness of experience and the realism of history, “How good… and how rare!” The strongest bonds of nature can be loosened, and the very witness of the one blood can be silenced. Brother persecutes brother, and the pages of history are stained with the records of fratricidal wars. Peace in a home is no obvious atmosphere to be taken for granted, but noble achievement to be strived after with common determination by all.

A special blessing from the Lord awaits that happy family achievement.

“It is like the fragrant oil poured on the head
and falling over the beard,
Aaron’s beard, when the oil runs down
over the collar of his vestments.
It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling
on the mountains of Zion.”

The fragrance of oil and the freshness of dew will signify the smoothness and richness of life together. Unity is strength, and unity is happiness in the family where all members live together in harmony.

I pray for each family, I pray for mine, I pray for all brothers and sisters in the world, that fraternal love may fully occupy its beneficent place in the hearts of men and women.

“There the Lord bestows his blessings:
life for ever more!”

Meditation

Nature devalued

I believe in reverence.
Reverence for creatures,
for men and women, for beauty,
for all that is sacred.

(Cardinal Daniélou)Reverence, respect, adoration.Worshipful attitude that consecrates life on earth in faith-inspired recognition of its divineorigin. Reverence before God and his creations, before men and women, before landscapes andhorizons, before the beautiful and the sacred. A heartfelt expression of homage and veneration before the presence of the Creator in each one of his creations.Humble admiration.Artistic appreciation.Cosmic mysticism.

The leisurely ritual of sunset.The serene majesty of a summit in the snow.The green miracle of a tree in spring.The friendly beauty of ahuman face. All these are footprints. All these are pointers. Rays of the sun, brooks of a spring, breezes of dawn. The whole world is marked by that divine quality that tells its origin and points to its destiny. Every flower is an angel, and every rock a sacrament. We are overtaken by silence when welook on nature, because we perceive in it the perfume of the fingers that shaped it. Silence and prayer.

We arelosing the sense of adoration. Everything is profane. Everything is scientifically explained and irresponsibly enjoyed – so long as there is the money for it. The heavens are astrophysics, the sea is sport, birds are targets; mountains are excursion. Persons are statistics; music is noise; work is competition; love is sex. Things have lost their mystery, their secret, their sacred character. Everything can be got by money and can be enjoyed in levity. We have suffered the greatest devaluation I the world markets; the devaluation of nature.

We must again learn wonder, learn worship, learn how to kneel down and how to bow our heads in reverence. We must recover the sense of the sacred in all things that surround us, as they all come from God and to him they return. We must recognize the steps and feel the presence. We must see God again in the breeze that blows past us, in the rain that soaks us, in the smile that welcomes us, in the hand we shake in greeting, in the air that gives us life and in the earth that sustains us. We must recover the time and the mood and the peace of mind to contemplate a sunset, to walk in the forest, to look at the sea, to march in fantasy through the heavens with the clouds and the birds. We must learn again how to be thrilled by the color of a rosebud and the song of the nightingale. We have to discover again God’s image in the face and the word and the gait and the look of every man and woman that comes up to us in life and accompanies our steps. We have to revive our reverence for the whole of creation as reverence for its loving Creator. It is only when we acquire this faith dimension in our perspective that we can begin to experience the fullness of life.

Can it be that we have lost respect for creation because we have lost respect for ourselves?

1st
I tell you

I’ve been a few days in Philadelphia giving some talks to the Indian community there. They asked me to speak about Gandhi, which I did most willingly as I admire him greatly. In fact, in his centenary year (1969) I wrote a book about him, and that book won the first price of the Gujarati Language Academy on that year. I now plan to translate the book into English and Spanish as its subtitle “An alternative to violence” shows how actual it continues to be. In India itself people are forgetting him. The elders knew him as a contemporary, while to young people today Gandhi is just past history.

One day I was in the house of some friends in the city of Ahmedabad in India, and while we, grownups, were in conversation, two small children were sitting on the floor doing their lesson. I suddenly heard one of them ask the other: “Who was Gandhi?” Obviously they had been taught about Gandhi at school and they were revising the lesson. I pricked my ears, and heard the other child answer: “Gandhi? Lesson number four.”

That was all. A lesson in their textbook, a name in history, a subject for the examination. This is the difference. Unavoidable, of course, but sad as we all are the losers.

You tell me

You’ve taken it ill as I can see, dear. I’m sorry but I know what I wrote. You know, better than I do, that your foundress’s motto, her guiding principle in her own spiritual life and in the spirituality of the religious congregation he founded, was the Latin: “nulla dies sine linea” (that is, “do not let a single day pass without having written at least a line”) transformed by her into “nulla dies sine cruce”, that is “not a day without a cross”, no to let a day pass without adding to it some voluntary penance or mortification to bring suffering on oneself. I allowed myself to say that we have enough troubles and difficulties that life brings on us daily to add to them on our own account. We were told in our formation that we should mortify ourselves with unpleasantness bought by ourselves on to ourselves. To “mortify” means to kill in Latin, as “mors” is “death”. Quite a cheerful prospect.

Psalm

Psalm 134 – Og and Sihon

Names in the history of Israel – which is my own history. Og and Sihon. The kings that would not let Israel pass. Giants among men, conceited in their power that denied right of way to the Israelites even when they promised not to touch their vineyards nor drink from their wells. Obstacles on the way to the Promised Land. And God laid them low with all their people. The Lord will not tolerate that anything or anybody may try to stop the forward march of his People towards their destiny. Israel will remember those foreign names and make them symbol and memory of timely deliverance against impossible odds, a legend in its annals and a verse in the Psalms of thanksgiving for help and victory.

Obstacles on the way to the Promised Land. Og and Sihon are also present in my memory. Dangers I have experienced, disappointments I have met, moments when it seemed all chances were over, mistakes that appeared to invalidate any effort to go ahead. My own way to spiritual progress seemed to be blocked, more times than I care to remember, by unyielding obstacles that marked almost the end of the journey. Giant kings and proud armies. And, on my part, spiritual fatigue and lack of faith. How could I get by? How could I go ahead?

Yet those unsurmountable obstacles disappeared, the way was cleared and the journey continued. A mighty hand opened the way for me again and renewed hopes and bestowed courage. I have my own legends and my own names too, my own private memories and my own secret history. No more obstacles, however formidable, will now frighten me. So long as I remember Sihon and Og, my way will remain open till the end.

“He struck down might nations and slew great kings, Sihon king of the Amorites, Og the king of Bashan, and all the princes of Canaan, and gave their land to Israel, to Israel his people as their patrimony. O Lord, your name endures forever; your renown, O Lord, shall last for all generations.

 

15th
I tell you

A lovely story

In the last issue of the Catholic weekly “The Tablet” someone tells the following story, simple in itself, but very telling and delicate, showing a very good taste and elegance of manners in an otherwise awkward moment for all involved.

“I was third in line at the supermarket checkout, and the young woman who was at the front was bagging up what she had bought: a basket of unbranded essentials that had clearly been chosen because they were cheap. She was shabbily dressed, and looked weary and dirty; the baby in the pram beside her looked wearier and dirtier still Wen she was told how much she had to pay, she opened her purse and poured its contents onto the counter but whichever way she arranged the coins, there weren’t enough. Here was a moment of hideous embarrassment.

While I was wondering whether if I offered to pay the shortfall I would make that embarrassment worse, I saw the man in front of me slip his hand into his pocket, fish out a $10 note, and let it drop to the floor. ‘Excuse me’, he said, pointing to it. ‘I think that fell out of your purse.’ He had helped without patronizing or humiliating her. The only person to see what had happened was me.”

[This little story has brought tears to my eyes. So beautiful, so simple, so elegant, so Christian. And I was the only person who noticed it.]

Google logic

I was walking along a street vegetable market when I noticed the name on the advertising cardboard on top of some elongated, pale-skin, smooth potatoes: ROSAMUNDA POTATOES. Quite a poetic name. I didn’t know where they were coming from, what their name was due to, or what their specific virtue was. I just saw the name and went on walking. On both sides were all kinds of vegetables and flowers with all kinds of names. Vegetable show of smells, colours, and tastes.A feast to the senses.

As I went ahead on my walk I realised I was humming a tune to myself. It does happen at times. Without previous notice, without any reason, without realising it, one finds oneself humming a melody that comes by itself to the mind, takes shape on one’s lips and gently becomes notes in the air. It is always welcome.

Then suddenly I stopped in my tracks, stood still, and took notice. What was that melody? It was familiar, of course, though I didn’t identify it for a start. Sometimes it is difficult to place the spontaneous sounds that just come up from the bottom of our memory and strike a song. “I know it, but I don’t remember what it is” is the expression. That was what I thought for a while, till I suddenly struck my forehead in recognition and smiled to myself. Of course I knew what it was. I placed the melody and I found out why it had come up now. It was the motif of the third movement of Schubert’s Rosamunda, a melody he himself liked so much and was so proud of that he used it again in the andante of his String Quartet in A Minor, and in one of his piano variations. One of Schubert’s most beautiful and most popular melodies. I went on singing it.

And I went on thinking on the vagaries of our mind. From the Rosamunda Potatoes to Schubert’s Rosamunda. Just like that. Computer connection.Internet link.Google logic. That is, a word that unites two concepts just on the strength of the sound of the word, even if potatoes have nothing to do with music. And I find myself singing a particular melody after seeing a particular kind of potatoes in a vegetable market.

One thing gladdens me. My memory has recorded many such melodies, I have a good collection of records, my personal e-pod. All I now need is outside stimuli that may bring out from my mind happy memories to keep me smiling and singing. I have found a new version of Schubert’s famous melody. A vegetable version. Music gladdens life. It also gladdens a dish of potatoes. Schubert’spotatoes.

You tell me

“If God is a loving Father, who is it that he is not closer to his children? Why is it so difficult for us to understand many things we see to happen around us? Why is he not more approachable in his word which can only be properly explained and preached by professional experts in the study of the Bible? Why so many things we don’t understand and have to put up with without an explanation. Why? Why? Why? Greetings. A.F.”

“You trouble yourself, A.F., with questions that have no answer. They come from the concept we ourselves have shaper for us about God, which has little to do with reality. It is a ‘pocket god’, an anthropomorphic god who is only a more powerful man than we are, and that, of course, is not God. The true God is infinite, transcendent, ‘Totally Other’ as philosophers call him. Worship and reverence. Leave questions aside and live your life as it is, live the present in full contact and intensity, and don’t lose your time with useless questionings. Get back your even temper and good humor, and don’t get angry with yourself or with God. Greetings, Carlos

Psalm

Psalm 134 – Og and Sihon

Names in the history of Israel – which is my own history. Og and Sihon. The kings that would not let Israel pass. Giants among men, conceited in their power that denied right of way to the Israelites even when they promised not to touch their vineyards nor drink from their wells. Obstacles on the way to the Promised Land. And God laid them low with all their people. The Lord will not tolerate that anything or anybody may try to stop the forward march of his People towards their destiny. Israel will remember those foreign names and make them symbol and memory of timely deliverance against impossible odds, a legend in its annals and a verse in the Psalms of thanksgiving for help and victory.

Obstacles on the way to the Promised Land. Og and Sihon are also present in my memory. Dangers I have experienced, disappointments I have met, moments when it seemed all chances were over, mistakes that appeared to invalidate any effort to go ahead. My own way to spiritual progress seemed to be blocked, more times than I care to remember, by unyielding obstacles that marked almost the end of the journey. Giant kings and proud armies. And, on my part, spiritual fatigue and lack of faith. How could I get by? How could I go ahead?

Yet those unsurmountable obstacles disappeared, the way was cleared and the journey continued. A mighty hand opened the way for me again and renewed hopes and bestowed courage. I have my own legends and my own names too, my own private memories and my own secret history. No more obstacles, however formidable, will now frighten me. So long as I remember Sihon and Og, my way will remain open till the end.

“He struck down might nations and slew great kings, Sihon king of the Amorites, Og the king of Bashan, and all the princes of Canaan, and gave their land to Israel, to Israel his people as their patrimony. O Lord, your name endures forever; your renown, O Lord, shall last for all generations.

Meditation

The artist’s opinion

God saw all that he had made, and it was very good indeed.
(Genesis)God is painting on the canvas of the seven days, and as a consummate painter he steps back a little from the easel at the end of the session, looks at the picture in detail from a distance, and delights in his work. God likes what he has made. He enjoys his creation. His dream from eternity goes on taking shape on the cosmic canvas, and he murmurs to himself with an artist’s appreciation: “It is all well done; very well done indeed.”

The light and the heavens, the waters and the earth, the grass and the trees, the sun and the moon and the stars, the fish and the birds and the animals on land, and the man and the woman who give meaning to the whole picture with the innocent and rational image of God’s own inner life. All was good indeed. Nature was docile. Life was friendly. Joy was at hand. Adam gave the animals their names, and God walked in the garden in the evening breeze.

But paradise was lost. The gate was closed with the sword of flame in the angel’s hand. The snake dragged its belly on the dust. The land gave forth brambles and thorns. The woman gave birth in labor. And sweat dampened the forehead of man as he toiled in the fields to earn his bread. The first spring broke down to mankind’s lasting sorrow. The angel had closed the gates of paradise.

But not for ever. One day another angel, clothed in winged whispers of new creation, called on a maid and spoke to her with joy of childbirth and of promises, of a great name and a great work, of prophecies about to be fulfilled and a kingdom about to be proclaimed. The maid listened in reverence, and gently bowed her head. And spring came to flower again.

The Church has always sung with faith in the sacred night of the Easter Vigil: “O God, you wonderfully created the dignity of the human race, and then redeemed it even more marvelously…!” The second spring is even more marvelous than the first. The Incarnation is the crowning of Creation. The presence, in flesh and brotherhood, of God himself on the earth we walk, is more than compensation for the lost comforts of the early paradise. Resurrection and Ascension are the gateway to a new glory and a new life. We now have with us Word and Spirit, Baptism and Eucharist, Body and Head, Father and Homeland here now in hope, and for ever one day in eternal promise. If we only open our eyes and appreciate life and understand providence, our present situation is, by far, better and higher, in God’s loving design, than the initial idyll of the bland paradise. Let us learn to value what we have.

I t is true that there is pain and suffering, that there is poverty and injustice, that there is sickness and death; and to do always whatever is in our hands to restore equality, remedy afflictions and still violence, will permanently be our first concern in live conscience and firm commitment. But let us not curse the picture for its shadows. Let us not miss the vision because of the tunnel. Let us not mistrust creation simply because some people abuse it. The world God created continues to be good in its origin and its root, in its abundance and its beauty, in its destiny and its glory. In it do we live the lives that prepare us for the final joy. Let us not despise its hospitality.

They say that this world will have an end. That is the way both scriptures and science speak. I imagine that when physics will be over and salvation history will close its final chapter, God will again take a walk through the galleries of his creative art, will have one more look at the finished picture, and will say to himself in final understanding and expert appreciation: “It was well done; very well done indeed.”

I like this world. Because God likes it.

Day 1
I tell you

What’s up?

“What’s up” is the last gimmick in our mobiles. What’s happening? What’s new? What is being talked about? What’s the news? Electronic chatting from screen to screen.Constant contact.In writing or by word of mouth. That’s what our mobiles have brought us. The latest in social communication.

Though not all that modern.Demosthenes (and that was well before Christ) in his famous “Pro corona” speech tells how the favourite occupation of Athenians in his time was to walk round and round the Main Square asking one another, “Legetaitikainon?” = “Anything new?” What’s up?

In fact the Bible itself says the same thing. St Luke in the Acts of the Apostles 17/21 says literally that “all the Athenians had time for nothing except talking or hearing about the latest novelty.” Though they had no mobiles. They at least walked around while asking and answering one another.

It would seem humankind has always been the same. We are all heirs to the Athenians. Anything new?

Boring numbers

In the set of the positive integers there are some interesting numbers, like the prime numbers, perfect squares or perfect cubes, multiples of 10, and so on, and one could think there are also other boring numbers, that is, numbers without anything in particular to be said of them. But in mathematics we have a theorem to prove that there are no boring numbers, and all have some interesting thing to be said of them. The proof of the theorem is based (as usual) on another theorem that states, “Every non-empty well-ordered set of numbers has a first number.” As, for instance, the set 1, 2, 3, 4… has 1 as its first member. Clear enough. Let’s now take the set of all boring numbers. If the set is empty, there are no boring numbers; and if it is not empty, as it is well-ordered it’ll have a first member. Well then, this first member of the boring numbers is interesting for being the first of its boring kind, so that we have a contradiction and the set has to be an empty set and consequently there are no boring numbers. QED. Quod Erat Demonstrandum.

You tell me

“I have an only son, aged 21. He has become an atheist. I’m doing all I can to bring him back to the faith, but he remains stubborn. I daily pray for him and for his conversion, and I’ve had masses said for the same intention. What else can I do?”

“If I may tell you, you can still do one thing. You can stop trying to convince him. Just as you hear it. The more you insist, the more he’ll resist. On the other hand, if you accept him as he is, it is much more likely that he may change with time. I lived many years in India, where some of my best friends were atheists. They are the “Jains”, who belong to an “atheistic religion” if one may say so. And they were excellent persons. Some of my colleagues in the teaching staff of St Xavier’s College were Jain, and consequently atheists, and we all got very well together. I never felt better than anybody. The important point is that you keep the best possible relationship with your son, happen what may.”

Psalm

Psalm 135 –The great Hal-lel

It is good to give thanks to the Lord, for his love endures for ever. Give thanks to the God of gods; his love endures for ever. Give thanks to the Lord of lords; his love endures for ever.Israel sings its thanksgiving in the feast of the Pasch, listing with loving memory all the great works of the Lord, from creation and deliverance to conquest and daily care, under the meaningful monotony of the single refrain: “His love endures for ever.”

In wisdom he made the heavens; his love endures for ever, He laid the earth upon the waters; his love endures for ever. He made the great lights, his love endures for ever; the sun to rule by day, his love endures for ever; the moon and the stars to rule by night, his love endures for ever.

To the official litany I add my own private verses.

He brought me to life; his love endures for ever. He placed me in a loving family; his love endures for ever. He taught me to pronounce his name; his love endures for ever. He opened his scriptures to me; his love endures for ever. He called me to his service; his love endures or ever. He sent me to help his people; his love endures for ever. He gives joy in my heart; his love endures for ever. He has called me his friend; his love endures for ever.

Now I go on in the silence of my heart, recounting those moments he alone and I know, moments of bliss and intimacy, moments of sorrow and repentance, moments of mercy and grace. His love endures for ever.

My life made into a prayer, my memories into a loving litany, my history into a psalm. And after every event, big or small, painful or delightful, hidden or manifest, comes the verse that gives meaning to all and unifies my life in the single thrust of God’s own providence: his love endures for ever.

Give thanks to the God of heaven,for his love endures for ever.

Meditation

After our priestly ordination in India we were being greeted by relatives and friends, and one of them, not a very close one but a person of great intelligence and feeling, came close, shook hands with me, and then keeping for a moment my hands in his, told me in my ear: “Keep your hands clean. They have touched Christ.”

The memory stuck with me. Hands and body and life and soul. We have touched Christ, and his touch sanctifies and vivifies. Crowds and hurry and pushing and pressing bring our bodies together, and we can sanctify space because he is in us. In all of us.

When I speak in public I move freely my hands and I let them speak, communicate, describe in their own way the thoughts of my own mind. Our hands are pigeons that fly with our message and our love.

Each handshake is a prayer, each embrace is a psalm, each caress is a sacrament. Our touch communicates better than our words and it reaches farther and deeper.

Jesus asked: “¿Who has touched me?”

We must learn how to touch.

 

15th
I tell you

Refrains are, in any language and country, a source of popular wisdom and of practical behavior. I’m giving you here a few from India.

“The first pleasure is health.” Fundamental. St Ignatius used to say: “With a healthy body you’ll be able to do much; with a sick body, I don’t know what you’ll do.”

“A guest comes; God comes.” This was already in Latin: “Venit hospes, venit Christus.” But there is also another on guests: “The first day, the guest is a guest; the second, he’s a nuisance; if he stays a third day… he’s lost his head.”

“Mangoes do not ripen in a hurry.” In India we say that the fruit that tempted Adam and Eve in Paradise was not an apple but a mango. An apple was not worth the trouble, while a mango was well worth it.

“The crow alighted and the branch fell.” This also was in Latin: “Post hoc ergo propter hoc.” The branch was already broken and about to fall by itself, but at that very moment the crow sat on it and it looked as though that had provoked the fall.

“Tea, coffee and chocolate shorten the gourmet’s life.” They tell you this while they are offering you the unavoidable tea in every visit. And all take it cheerfully.

“Someone walking at midday? It’s a mad dog or an Englishman.” This must be a remembrance of the time when the British ruled over India.

You tell me

Question: Is it true that St Paul had a poor idea of marriage and that he said it was better not to marry?

Answer: Yes, it’s true he said that. ”It is good for man not to touch a woman.” “I would like all men were like myself (single)”. “To those still single and to all widows I tell: it is good to stay as I am.” “Do you have a wife? Do not seek separation. Are you without a wife? Don’t seek a woman. But if you marry, that is not a sin, and if a woman marries it’s no sin either.” 1 Corinthians, 7. It’s not very pleasant to hear all that. “If you marry, that’s no sin” is not precisely a commendation of marriage. But St Paul himself changed his mind along his life. In Ephesians he says about marriage: “This is a great mystery, and I refer it to Christ and to the Church.” And in 1 Timothy, written towards the end of his life, he instructs his disciple thus: “I want young widows to marry.” Thanks for asking.

Psalm

Psalm 136 – How can I sing?

“How could we sing the Lord’s song
in a foreign land?”
This is the cross and the paradox of my own life, Lord. How can I sing when others weep? How can I dance when others mourn? How can I eat when others starve? How can I sleep when others watch? How can I rest when others toil? How can I live when others die? This world is exile, trial and contradiction; how can I speak of happiness in it when I see misery all around me and in my own soul?

Rivers invite gaiety, but we weep by their side; trees wave their branches to music, but we have hung our mute harps on them; people ask for songs, but we answer with laments. How can we speak of Jerusalem while we are in Babylon!

“By the rivers of Babylon we sat down
and wept when we remembered Zion.
There on the willow-trees we hung up our harps,
for there those who carried us off demanded music and singing,
and our captors called on us to be merry:
‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion.’

How could we sing the Lord’s song
in a foreign land?”

Make me sensitive, Lord, to the pain around me. Do not allow me to forget the sufferings of men far and near, the trials of humankind in our age, the agony of millions in the face of hunger, destitution and death. Let me not grow callous, forgetful or deaf. Humans suffer and life is exile. Those who suffer are my brothers and sisters, and I suffer with them.

There is a time for joy in life; but there is also the serious tragic conscience of the plight of our age and our responsibility to alleviate suffering and restore peace.

I want to sing, Lord, to sing the praises of your name and the joys of life as you had taught me in the festivals of Zion. But I cannot sing now in the bitterness of exile. Thus my very question, “How can I sing?” is a prayer to you that you may shorten the exile, redeem humankind, bring joy back to earth that I may sing again.

If you want to hear again the songs of Zion, Lord, bring the joy of Zion back on the face of the earth.

Meditation

Parable of the kingdom

“Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow and reap and store in barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth more than the birds? Can anxious thought add a single day to your life? And why be anxious about clothes? Consider how the lilies grow in the fields; they do not work, they do not spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his splendour was not attired like one of them. If that is how God clothes the grass in the fields, which is there today and tomorrow is thrown on the stove, will he not all the more clothe you? How little faith you have.!”
(Sermon on the Mount)

Jesus lives close to nature and he takes from it his inspiration and his images. He preaches outdoors and he says what he sees and draws lessons from what he observes. The birds in the sky and the lilies on the fields, and the sower and the leaven and the fig tree and the vine. All become teaching in his lips as he sees in everything the presence of the Father who gives life to each being and sense to each situation. The gospel was born in the open fields.

He calls us “men of little faith”, thus showing our weakness and our poverty. We don’t see far, we don’t look inside, we don’t search below the surface, we don’t reach the mystery. We don’t see divine providence in a flower, or the life of man in a vine’s branch. We lack imagination, we lack depth, we lack faith. We do not realise the meaning of the incarnation, where God becomes man and thus he breathes the air we breathe and treads on the earth on which we walk. He opens to us in the whole of nature new landscapes of faith.

“The sower went out…”, and since that moment nobody has been able to see a field without seeing in it the seed, the word, the grace, the bushes that hinder and the yield of a hundred to one. Jesus came… and the whole world became a parable of the kingdom. It is now for us to listen to it.

1st
I tell you

What’s up?

“What’s up” is the last gimmick in our mobiles. What’s happening? What’s new? What is being talked about? What’s the news? Electronic chatting from screen to screen.Constant contact.In writing or by word of mouth. That’s what our mobiles have brought us. The latest in social communication.

Though not all that modern.Demosthenes (and that was well before Christ) in his famous “Pro corona” speech tells how the favourite occupation of Athenians in his time was to walk round and round the Main Square asking one another, “Legetaitikainon?” = “Anything new?” What’s up?

In fact the Bible itself says the same thing. St Luke in the Acts of the Apostles 17/21 says literally that “all the Athenians had time for nothing except talking or hearing about the latest novelty.” Though they had no mobiles. They at least walked around while asking and answering one another.

It would seem humankind has always been the same. We are all heirs to the Athenians. Anything new?

Boring numbers

In the set of the positive integers there are some interesting numbers, like the prime numbers, perfect squares or perfect cubes, multiples of 10, and so on, and one could think there are also other boring numbers, that is, numbers without anything in particular to be said of them. But in mathematics we have a theorem to prove that there are no boring numbers, and all have some interesting thing to be said of them. The proof of the theorem is based (as usual) on another theorem that states, “Every non-empty well-ordered set of numbers has a first number.” As, for instance, the set 1, 2, 3, 4… has 1 as its first member. Clear enough. Let’s now take the set of all boring numbers. If the set is empty, there are no boring numbers; and if it is not empty, as it is well-ordered it’ll have a first member. Well then, this first member of the boring numbers is interesting for being the first of its boring kind, so that we have a contradiction and the set has to be an empty set and consequently there are no boring numbers. QED. Quod Erat Demonstrandum.

You tell me

“I have an only son, aged 21. He has become an atheist. I’m doing all I can to bring him back to the faith, but he remains stubborn. I daily pray for him and for his conversion, and I’ve had masses said for the same intention. What else can I do?”

“If I may tell you, you can still do one thing. You can stop trying to convince him. Just as you hear it. The more you insist, the more he’ll resist. On the other hand, if you accept him as he is, it is much more likely that he may change with time. I lived many years in India, where some of my best friends were atheists. They are the “Jains”, who belong to an “atheistic religion” if one may say so. And they were excellent persons. Some of my colleagues in the teaching staff of St Xavier’s College were Jain, and consequently atheists, and we all got very well together. I never felt better than anybody. The important point is that you keep the best possible relationship with your son, happen what may.”

Psalm

Psalm 135 –The great Hal-lel

It is good to give thanks to the Lord, for his love endures for ever. Give thanks to the God of gods; his love endures for ever. Give thanks to the Lord of lords; his love endures for ever.Israel sings its thanksgiving in the feast of the Pasch, listing with loving memory all the great works of the Lord, from creation and deliverance to conquest and daily care, under the meaningful monotony of the single refrain: “His love endures for ever.”

In wisdom he made the heavens; his love endures for ever, He laid the earth upon the waters; his love endures for ever. He made the great lights, his love endures for ever; the sun to rule by day, his love endures for ever; the moon and the stars to rule by night, his love endures for ever.

To the official litany I add my own private verses.

He brought me to life; his love endures for ever. He placed me in a loving family; his love endures for ever. He taught me to pronounce his name; his love endures for ever. He opened his scriptures to me; his love endures for ever. He called me to his service; his love endures or ever. He sent me to help his people; his love endures for ever. He gives joy in my heart; his love endures for ever. He has called me his friend; his love endures for ever.

Now I go on in the silence of my heart, recounting those moments he alone and I know, moments of bliss and intimacy, moments of sorrow and repentance, moments of mercy and grace. His love endures for ever.

My life made into a prayer, my memories into a loving litany, my history into a psalm. And after every event, big or small, painful or delightful, hidden or manifest, comes the verse that gives meaning to all and unifies my life in the single thrust of God’s own providence: his love endures for ever.

Give thanks to the God of heaven,for his love endures for ever.

Meditation

After our priestly ordination in India we were being greeted by relatives and friends, and one of them, not a very close one but a person of great intelligence and feeling, came close, shook hands with me, and then keeping for a moment my hands in his, told me in my ear: “Keep your hands clean. They have touched Christ.”

The memory stuck with me. Hands and body and life and soul. We have touched Christ, and his touch sanctifies and vivifies. Crowds and hurry and pushing and pressing bring our bodies together, and we can sanctify space because he is in us. In all of us.

When I speak in public I move freely my hands and I let them speak, communicate, describe in their own way the thoughts of my own mind. Our hands are pigeons that fly with our message and our love.

Each handshake is a prayer, each embrace is a psalm, each caress is a sacrament. Our touch communicates better than our words and it reaches farther and deeper.

Jesus asked: “¿Who has touched me?”

We must learn how to touch.

 

15th
I tell you

Refrains are, in any language and country, a source of popular wisdom and of practical behavior. I’m giving you here a few from India.

“The first pleasure is health.” Fundamental. St Ignatius used to say: “With a healthy body you’ll be able to do much; with a sick body, I don’t know what you’ll do.”

“A guest comes; God comes.” This was already in Latin: “Venit hospes, venit Christus.” But there is also another on guests: “The first day, the guest is a guest; the second, he’s a nuisance; if he stays a third day… he’s lost his head.”

“Mangoes do not ripen in a hurry.” In India we say that the fruit that tempted Adam and Eve in Paradise was not an apple but a mango. An apple was not worth the trouble, while a mango was well worth it.

“The crow alighted and the branch fell.” This also was in Latin: “Post hoc ergo propter hoc.” The branch was already broken and about to fall by itself, but at that very moment the crow sat on it and it looked as though that had provoked the fall.

“Tea, coffee and chocolate shorten the gourmet’s life.” They tell you this while they are offering you the unavoidable tea in every visit. And all take it cheerfully.

“Someone walking at midday? It’s a mad dog or an Englishman.” This must be a remembrance of the time when the British ruled over India.

You tell me

Question: Is it true that St Paul had a poor idea of marriage and that he said it was better not to marry?

Answer: Yes, it’s true he said that. ”It is good for man not to touch a woman.” “I would like all men were like myself (single)”. “To those still single and to all widows I tell: it is good to stay as I am.” “Do you have a wife? Do not seek separation. Are you without a wife? Don’t seek a woman. But if you marry, that is not a sin, and if a woman marries it’s no sin either.” 1 Corinthians, 7. It’s not very pleasant to hear all that. “If you marry, that’s no sin” is not precisely a commendation of marriage. But St Paul himself changed his mind along his life. In Ephesians he says about marriage: “This is a great mystery, and I refer it to Christ and to the Church.” And in 1 Timothy, written towards the end of his life, he instructs his disciple thus: “I want young widows to marry.” Thanks for asking.

Psalm

Psalm 136 – How can I sing?

“How could we sing the Lord’s song
in a foreign land?”
This is the cross and the paradox of my own life, Lord. How can I sing when others weep? How can I dance when others mourn? How can I eat when others starve? How can I sleep when others watch? How can I rest when others toil? How can I live when others die? This world is exile, trial and contradiction; how can I speak of happiness in it when I see misery all around me and in my own soul?

Rivers invite gaiety, but we weep by their side; trees wave their branches to music, but we have hung our mute harps on them; people ask for songs, but we answer with laments. How can we speak of Jerusalem while we are in Babylon!

“By the rivers of Babylon we sat down
and wept when we remembered Zion.
There on the willow-trees we hung up our harps,
for there those who carried us off demanded music and singing,
and our captors called on us to be merry:
‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion.’

How could we sing the Lord’s song
in a foreign land?”

Make me sensitive, Lord, to the pain around me. Do not allow me to forget the sufferings of men far and near, the trials of humankind in our age, the agony of millions in the face of hunger, destitution and death. Let me not grow callous, forgetful or deaf. Humans suffer and life is exile. Those who suffer are my brothers and sisters, and I suffer with them.

There is a time for joy in life; but there is also the serious tragic conscience of the plight of our age and our responsibility to alleviate suffering and restore peace.

I want to sing, Lord, to sing the praises of your name and the joys of life as you had taught me in the festivals of Zion. But I cannot sing now in the bitterness of exile. Thus my very question, “How can I sing?” is a prayer to you that you may shorten the exile, redeem humankind, bring joy back to earth that I may sing again.

If you want to hear again the songs of Zion, Lord, bring the joy of Zion back on the face of the earth.

Meditation

Parable of the kingdom

Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow and reap and store in barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth more than the birds? Can anxious thought add a single day to your life? And why be anxious about clothes? Consider how the lilies grow in the fields; they do not work, they do not spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his splendour was not attired like one of them. If that is how God clothes the grass in the fields, which is there today and tomorrow is thrown on the stove, will he not all the more clothe you? How little faith you have.!”
(Sermon on the Mount)

Jesus lives close to nature and he takes from it his inspiration and his images. He preaches outdoors and he says what he sees and draws lessons from what he observes. The birds in the sky and the lilies on the fields, and the sower and the leaven and the fig tree and the vine. All become teaching in his lips as he sees in everything the presence of the Father who gives life to each being and sense to each situation. The gospel was born in the open fields.

He calls us “men of little faith”, thus showing our weakness and our poverty. We don’t see far, we don’t look inside, we don’t search below the surface, we don’t reach the mystery. We don’t see divine providence in a flower, or the life of man in a vine’s branch. We lack imagination, we lack depth, we lack faith. We do not realise the meaning of the incarnation, where God becomes man and thus he breathes the air we breathe and treads on the earth on which we walk. He opens to us in the whole of nature new landscapes of faith.

“The sower went out…”, and since that moment nobody has been able to see a field without seeing in it the seed, the word, the grace, the bushes that hinder and the yield of a hundred to one. Jesus came… and the whole world became a parable of the kingdom. It is now for us to listen to it.

1st
I tell you

Virgin and Child
[A woman, Isabel de Bertodano, shares with us her reaction before Leonardo da Vinci’s picture “Madonna Litta” (Our Lady of the Milk)]

As a woman expecting her first child late in December [note the Christmasly date], my immediate reaction to Leonardo’s painting is a feeling of trepidation. At the moment, facing the looming obstacle of the birth, I cannot imagine being at the stage that Mary is with her son, and I am pretty sure I will never look quite so composed.

Mary is the universal symbol of motherhood, portrayed throughout history as tender, docile and long-suffering. Just like the flawless Demi Moore, as a role model for new mothers she is an intimidating sight.

We know little of the moment of Jesus’ birth from the gospels. There is no mention of whether it was a painful messy frightening – all such details are left to our imagination. Likewise, artists down the ages have invariably chosen to skip over this episode. Though we are spared none of the blood and agony later in Jesus’ life, we are rarely shown the reality of his birth. Instead, we see Mary, postpartum, looking unfeasibly sleek and dignified, betraying none of the stress of labour or broken nights. Other mothers tell me she is holding her baby in a way that would make it impossible to breastfeed. Like photographs of Victorian families posing stiffly, scenes such as this seem remote, even dissembling.

Leonardo’s portrayal of Mary is just one of countless images by artists who have used their imaginations to conjure her face, her hair, her clothing. Leonardo has depicted her as a white woman, her hair glossy and groomed. She is a teenage symbol of womanhood, chaste and fertile, innocent and wise, full of divine grace as well as human.

My husband and I are constantly told that the arrival of our baby will be life changing, in both positive and negative ways. We will, at least temporarily, give up the freedom we have to relish the ability to travel, to work, to sleep through the night, to leave the house with nothing but a set ofkeys and a wallet, to accept spontaneous invitations and to stay late in the pub. We will have a small, demanding autocrat on our hands and everything else will become secondary. In this sense, in the painting, Jesus looks like any other baby.

But people also tell us that we will not necessarily miss these things. As a friend who is a besotted new father said to me recently, “You will be so in love with your baby that you won’t want to go out anyway.”

[It is heartening to get that sense from Mary’s face in this painting.]

You tell me

You quote John 16:26, “I’m not telling you I’ll pray to the Father for you, as the Father himself loves you”, and they you ask me: “If Jesus does not anymore intercedes for us as we already know the Father, why do we pray to him and to Our Lady and to the saints that they may intercede for us?

I understand these are ways of talking informally in ordinary conversation. The Father knows everything, of course, but he likes us to remember him and to pray to him. There is a Gujarati proverb in India which says: “If you don’t ask her, even you mother will not give you a second helping.” She is longing to give it, but she also likes you to ask her. Petitionary prayer is meant more to teach us how to practice our faith than to get favours from God. The only kind of prayer Jesus taught us himself was petitionary prayer. Christian tradition in all ages confirms its value.

Psalm

Psalm 139 – Justice to the downtrodden

I know that the Lord will give their due to the needy and justice to the downtrodden.I renew my faith in your justice, Lord, in the face of a world where justice seems to fail. I have tried prayers and action, I have tried words and writings, I have tried persuasion and revolution… and injustice continues to thrive on the face of the earth. What more can I do?

I cannot sit down in resignation and let things as they are And I can do nothing to change them for all my efforts. I long for a just world with all my heart. And I see glaring injustice all around me. I believe in a just God. And I live in an unjust society I suffer, Lord, and I want you to know it.

I know that your views are different from mine, that you see what I do not see, andyour time is measured in eternity. But my life is finite, Lord, and I expect to get a glimpse of your justice while I walk on your earth.

I know that human happiness is deceptive, and richesmay bring misery while poverty may bring joy. But my spirit revolts before inhuman degradation, and my heart cannot stand the look of hunger on the face of a child.

I don’t want to preach, I don’t want to argue, I don’t want to pray. I want to be one with the suffering of my brothers and sisters to remind you, in the unity of existence and faith, of theplight of your peopleon earth.

Meditation

When I open my window every morning,I see Mount Fuji.We are glad to know it. Perhaps we even feel gently jealousof the Japanese sage who, just on opening thewindow of his own house in the morning, can enjoy the view, at once artistic and sacred, of the perfect mountain in its snowy cone; a mountain pregnantwith tradition and feeling, symbol of a nation and a people, of a faith andan effort to rise from an earthly basis to a vertex in the clouds near the highest heavens. Mount Fuji, image and inspiration of the Japanese people and of all those who with them appreciate their values and delve in their spirituality. Its view every dawn from one’s own home consecrates, no doubt, and ennobles the rest of the day with the pointed reminder of the eternal goal that awaits us while it guides our steps day by day in grateful pilgrimage. Happy indeed the man or woman who begins the day at the feet of the sacred triangle of Mount Fuji against the rising sun.

Things change a little when we come to know that the Japanese sage who uttered those words lived very far away from Mount Fuji, indeed he lived in another one of Japan’s thousand islands from where no other land could be seen even in the far horizon, and, what is worse, his house was situated in the midst of a little village and its crowded streets, where the only thing he could see on opening his window in the morning was the wall of the neighbour’s house with its off-colour paint and its weather stains in desolate condition. To top it all our good man had never left his village and had never in his life seen Mount Fuji, which he only knew through pictures and poems as a remote name, a symbol, a fantasy. Whence, then his proud claim to see Mount Fuji from his window? Was it presumption? Was it wishful thinking? Was it poetic license? Was it a dream?

It was something simpler and deeper at the same time. The sage had learned to value ordinary life in its true worth, to take every passing incident as a manifestation of the life itself, to discover nobility in the commonplace and beauty in homeliness. To know that every word is a message and every face a revelation, to see the whole of creation in a blade of grass, and Mount Fuji in a mud wall. He had found the sacred meaning of existence, the soul of the universe, the unity of the Cosmos. He had no need to live on a sacred mountain or in a solitary cave. No need of images or recitations. No need of scriptures or rites. He had gone through all that with due reverence and devotion, and that had brought him in due time of effort and grace to the direct contemplation of all in all, of heaven down on earth of the divine in the human, of Mount Fuji in the wall across the street. That is how he saw it every morning, and blessed his day with the far and close memory of sublime spirit in humble matter. The eyes of faith see redemption in every event, and grace in every gesture. That was the secret of the remote worshipper of sacred Mount Fuji.

And this is the secret of the ennobling of the soul in the midst of daily routine. The contemplation of Mount Fuji every day on opening the window…, wherever that window may be. The cult of the ordinary.The novelty of repetition.The surprise of boredom.The inner and true reconciliation with things as they are and with life as it is. Joy in the present without waiting for success in the future. Greetings to the wall in front without envying the neighbours of Mount Fuji. To open the morning with that attitude in one’s soul is the best way to set the day on its course of joy.

I even suspect that the neighbours of Mount Fuji who see it directly from their homes every day at any time, little by little get used to it, ignore it, and cease to see it. The distant sage is better off: he keeps on guessing the beauty of the mountain because he has never seen it. That is the best definition of faith.

 

15th
I tell you

Pandit Nehru was the first prime minister in independent India. He came from a Kashimiri Brahmin family, lived and studied in England, and was more of an Englishman than an Indian in mentality and culture, but he was much respected and loved in India for his own character and personality. The father of Indian independence was, of course, Mahatma Gandhi, but he then did not want to hold and political office, and he proposed Nehru as prime minister to everybody’s acceptance. This was a great honour and a great responsibility for Nehru. At the same time it was a great challenge since he hardly knew his own country. He quickly read, studied, questioned, learned the history and the reality of India, and what he learned he wrote in a book he properly titled “The Discovery of India”, which is a classic in modern Indian literature.

As a part of his new formation he also visited learned and holy people in India for information and advice. One of these was the Maharashtrian saint VinobaBhave, leader of the popular movement “Land for the Tiller” and author of a rightly famous commentary on the Bhagavat Gita.

Nehru asked Vinoba many questions,and their meeting was long and before a few common friends. At the end Nehru asked Vinoba for a parting advice to sum up all he had told him in the long conversation, and Vinoba answered him: “Play the flute one hour every day.” They all smiled at the advice, and so did Nehru. His heavy work, the responsibility of the whole country on his shoulders, international meetings, visits, commissions, correspondence, speeches filled up his day, and its twenty-four hours where not enough for the busy prime minister. And now he was being asked for leisure for an hour. And let everybody know about it. Let everybody know that the prime minister spends an hour each day playing the flute, so that they too may be encouraged to do the same. The flute is the rest in the work, the pause in life, the remedy against hurry, the medicine against anxiety. The whole day, then, will profit from its melody, and all activity will improve with its scales. Peace, equanimity, balance, focus, art and skill, music and poetry. Solution of problems, drawing of planes, evaluation of behavior, examination of attitudes; everything becomes clear, everything fits, everything makes sense, everything is simplified in its variety and evaluated in its richness. All by playing the flute.

Life is over speed, and it has to be quieted down. We never stop to think, to reflect, to enjoy. We work under timetables and appointments and meetings and constrains. Against the clock. We watch the landscape from the train and the clouds from the plane. That is, we don’t see them. We don’t contemplate. And our life suffers from lack of reflection. We have to come back to serenity, to the vision, to pause, to contemplate.

The advice is for all of us, of course. There is no question of buying the instrument and taking music lessons. There is question of our attitude, of culture, of spirituality. To rest, to interrupt, to divert our attention, to enjoy ourselves. We are hemmed in by our complexes, encompassed by our vices, weighed down by our routine. And above all we are hindered by the monotonous repetition of each day equal to the previous one and pattern for the next one. We have to interrupt the current of uniformity with the redeeming melody. We have to play the flute. One hour every day. C D E F G A B C.

You tell me

[This question has come on time with the flute. We keep playing.]

Question: I’ve visited India and I’ve been struck by the repeated images of their main god, Krishna, who is always playing the flute in a very charming posture. Is really the Hindu religion such a cheerful one?

Answer: Yes, it is. Shri Krishna’s flute is the best known symbol of Hinduism, and its melody brings peace, devotion and joy to people and leads them to prayer and to God. Its secret is that it is empty, it is just a long hole for Krishna to blow through it, just as the secret of spiritual life is to empty ourselves from ourselves and to let God to live and act in us. That is as beautiful a conception as it is deep. A companion of mine in theological studies wrote his final thesis on the theme “The Cross and the Flute” as symbols of Christianity and Hinduism respectively. It is true that the fundamental fact of Christianity is Christ’s resurrection, but what happens is that death on the cross is much easier and more appealing for popular representation than coming out of the tomb, and that is how the cross has become our symbol. We do have some representations of Jesus coming out of the sepulcher with a banner in his hand and an angel wheeling out the stone, but they are less attractive and they have never become popular. The cross remains in the centre.

Psalm

Psalm 140 –The evening sacrifice

Let my prayer be like incense
Duly set before you,
And my raised hands
Like the evening sacrifice.
It is evening, Lord. The day has passed with its flurry of activity, meetings, work and people, listening and talking, papers and letters, decisions and doubts. I don’t even quite know what I have done and what I have said, but the day is over and I want to offer it to you, Lord, as it has been, before I close the account and pass the page.

Take this day as an incense stick that has burned before you hour by hour while it left in the ashes of the past the fragrance of its present. Take it as my raised hands, symbol and instrument of my actions to live my life and establish your Kingdom. Take it as an evening sacrifice that enacts on the altar of time the liturgy of eternity. Take it as my prayer, Lord, which is my faith, my commitment, my life. Accept at the end of the day the homage of my earthly existence.

I don’t justify my actions, I don’t defend my decisions, I don’t excuse my failings. I just place my day before you as it has been, as I have lived it, as you have seen it. Take it in your gaze and file it away in the folds of your mercy. Its memory is safe with you, and I can now let go of it with easy confidence. Relieve me of the burden of this day, that it may not haunt my memory or wound my thoughts. Wipe its regrets clean from my mind that no mental residue may hurt me, no remainder weigh on my conscience. Like the streak of incense, it has burn itself out, and now it dissolves into perfume, slowly vanishing into nothingness, filling the space around with the delusive touch of its invisible presence, while leaving no trace of guilt, worry, expectation or attachment on my open soul.

Accept my evening sacrifice, Lord. Heal my memories and close my past, that I may live in fullness the blessing of the present.

Meditation

And the butterfly said: “I told you.”
(Chamalú)How long is it since you last saw a butterfly in flight? Is it days, months, years perhaps? When was the last time you were surprised by the beating rainbow of weightless wings in their silent path of colour and light? When did you last watch a butterfly alight on a flower, and notice its straight antennae, its pigeonhole eyes, the tender spiral of its sucking tongue skillfully unwinding towards the hidden nectar in the flower’s heart?

When I was a child I saw butterflies daily, not just in the fields, but in the midst of the city that was less asphalt and more garden than it is now. Only in winter I would miss them, and I eagerly expected the appearance of the first butterfly as a living certificate of the arrival of spring. I would even catch them tenderly between my fingers to watch closely the bursting geometry of the designs on its wings, the life of their colours and the suppleness of their sails, to let them take flight again after a while, keeping only between my fingers the printed memory of the magic power from their fairy wings. That was when I was innocent and the air was clean. Now I don’t see any butterflies. Where can they be?

The tell us that a good index yo measure the ecological health of a region is the number of butterflies that are seen flying freely in it. It that is so, we are in poor health. The butterflies withdraw because the air is defiled, the grass withers, the flowers depart. And as they leave us, they take away the consolation we had in enjoying their cheerful presence and in gratefully acknowledging their precious witness on our live environment. Now they are no more here, and their absence emphasizes the saddened poverty of the air we breathe and the earth we walk on. We have lost our character certificate. Retribution will not be long in coming.

What is there in the loss of a butterfly? Losing a butterfly is losing a part of nature, losing an heirloom, losing creation. God generously created a multiplicity of living beings for the company, service, and joy of man and woman, to show them, after he had made them in his own image, his practical love and his all-embracing providence. The paternal heritage that furnished and embellished the house in which the children are to live. To preserve the family homestead in good keep is a sacred duty for each generation. That is why ecology is a virtue, and the care of our environment is worship of God. And loss of our inheritance is an offence to the Father who bequeathed it to us.

The loss continues. Plant by plant, butterfly by butterfly, species by species. The list increases daily. We lose greenery; we lose melody; we lose colour; we lose life. And the loss is irretrievable. The butterfly that once leaves, never comes back. That is why it wants to warn us before it leaves. It wants to wake us up before it is too late.

The butterfly warns us with its steady withdrawal. Every wing missing in our gardens is a danger for our near future. Let us wake up in time and act upon the message. Or else, the day will come when the butterfly will not be there any more to warn us.

Fundación González Vallés

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