The texts of Carlos G. Vallés
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Year 2013
I tell you

This comes from the now remote times when in school we knew Latin. We could see the Jesuit fathers, our teachers, saying their breviary while pacing up and down the corridors or, in fine weather, the outside grounds in their black cassocks and square birettas. While looking at them in their walk and their prayer we used to tell among us (without ever letting them know about it) the joke of the priest who would recite the alphabet, A to Z, and then add in Latin:

“Per hoc alphabetum notum / componitur breviarum totum.”

That is: “The whole breviary’s made up / by this alphabet compact.” That was all the priest prayed. But then he was received in heaven with the notice:

“In lacu atramento pleno / nunc habitabis in coelo.” That is: “In this lake quite full of ink / you will now forever sink.”

It took a good knowledge of Latin and a good sense of humour to laugh at such jokes.

Cicero wrote a treatise on rhetoric which he dedicated to his friend Brutus and gave it its name. The copy that came to my hands bore the title: “Cicero, Brutus”, which some eager student had skillfully altered to “Cicero, Brute!” to express his own evaluation of the work.

I also enjoyed in Latin from the first day as a new priest the reading of the breviary. In my enthusiasm I went rushing to my spiritual father, the Englishman Father Astbury, and poured out all kinds of praises and eulogies and blessings on the psalms and hymns and readings and the beauty and the feeling of each line and each word in the spiritual and literary feast in the privileged season of Advent that was mine with a pleasure that was almost sinful concupiscence. The good Englishman put up with my tirade with true British phlegm, let me finish without interrupting me, and at the end he looked at me from over his glasses and told me: “Just come here after six months and tell me about it.” I never forgave the Englishman that cruel blow on my youthful enthusiasm…, but he was right. Repetition is the end of devotion. He was a good spiritual director.

You tell me

This paragraph has been sent me by a friend, and I feel it may amuse you.

Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoantnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can still raed it wouthit porbelm. This is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Amzanig, huh?


Psalm 141 – I cry aloud

I have prayed in my mind and I have prayed in a group; I have prayed in silence and I have prayed in a soft voice. Today I pray aloud, I lift my voice, I shout in public. I want to try all ways of reaching you, Lord, as my moods lead me and the presence of my bothers inspires me. In any case I am using the words you put in my mouth, Lord.

I cry aloud to the Lord;
To the Lord I plead aloud for mercy.
My cry speaks my urgency even without the meaning of words. I need not specify my petitions or spell out my expectations. You know my needs and I don’t want to worry you with the details. I only want attention. I want you to listen to my cry in the presence of your people. I want to remind you of my existence. I want to break the silence of complacency with the shamelessness of my cry. Let people turn their heads and wonder. I am in pain and I shout it out before you. Let my pain reach you in my cry.

My pain is not for me, but for my brothers, my friends, the poor and the oppressed, all those who suffer and all those who toil under the pressure of injustice and the harshness of life. My cry is the cry of suffering mankind, all voices united in one, because suffering levels out high and low in the kinship of a common sorrow. For all of them I cry with the sharpness of my own agony and the echo of mankind’s sufferings in this valley of tears.

“I cry to you, O Lord.
Give me a hearing when I cry!”


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.

I tell you

I hope you enjoy and are inspired by these stories taken from “CuentosJasídicos”, Martin Buber, Paidos, Barcelona, Spain.

59. Once, after having recited the Eighteen Blessings, the rabbi of Berditchev addressed several persons present at the House of Prayer and greeted them saying repeatedly, “Peace be with you”, “Peace be with you”, and embracing them again and again as though they were coming from a long journey. When they looked surprised at him, he explained: “Why are you surprised? Were you not very far away” You in the market seeing what to buy, you on a ship loaded with precious cargo at your name, and you in your office thinking about the court cases you had to fight. When prayer was over and singing ceased, the three of you came back from those remote places, and that’s why I greeted you so effusively.”

63. Every night rabbi Berditchev used to examine his conscience on all he had done during the day, and he repented from every fault he had committed. He would say: “Levi Itzac will not do that again.” Then he reproached himself; “Levi Itzac said exactly the same yesterday!” And he then added: “”Levi Itzac is in the habit of sinning, and God is in the habit of forgiving.”

You tell me

A good friend writes to me from America: “I have had a religious experience that has left me amazed and grateful even though I don’t know exactly how to understand it. I was in church on Sunday, and suddenly I was filled with an enormous joy that made me happy in body and soul and lasted all morning in an unspeakable way but full of joy and happiness. I don’t know why he came or why he left, but he left me transformed. Is this normal?

I replied that yes, it is normal, and that in fact it happens quite frequently among faithful Christians, but in general we have been educated to distrust such “mystical” experiences and we do not give them importance and we keep quiet about them and forget about them, when on the contrary we should give thanks for them and you are always open to receive them. God likes to communicate and has in his hands many ways to do it, and we must not think that this is only for cloistered friars and nuns but for all of us. I have told him that I am very happy that he told me that and that these thanks should not be silenced but communicated to friends with sincerity and humility. This is how we help each other. “Deus semper mayor” as they say in Latin. God is always more than we imagine.


PSALM 142 – In the morning

“In the morning let me know your true love.
Teach me to do your will,
For you are my God.”
I wake up and my eyes lift to you. My first thought flies to your side at the beginning of a new day. I don’t know what awaits me, I haven’t yet planned my day nor fixed my work. Before any other thought comes I want to contact you for your blessing and your smile as life opens again on the world and on me. Good morning, Lord, and may this day keep me close to you.

The morning is the time of prayer and worship, the renewal of the promise of life with the first ray of light, the propitious time when you, Lord, come to the help of your people. In the morning I stand before you to receive anew the gift of life from you in continued creation. Your gift is your way to let me experience your true love as I face life again. I will need always your love, Lord.

The one prayer I make to lead my day is: “Teach me to do your will.” I know the day will bring choices and decisions, doubts and temptations, darkness and trials. My one concern in all this as I begin my daily journey is to know your will and to do it at each moment. My day will be truly mine when it is fully yours. My decisions will be correct when they carry out your will. My journey will be straight when you are its aim. Your will is the advance summary of my day, and to discover it step by step is my task and my joy.

Give me light, as the rays of the sun that begin to filter shyly through the curtains of my window. Give me joy as the birds that begin to sing to wake up all nature on time. Give me faith as the flowers that open their petals to the breeze with friendly trust. Give me strength, give me love, give me life.

“In the morning let me know your true love.”
I have put my trust in you.


Two haikus

Out in the desert
Dawn happens without warning.
Someone knows it.

(Borges)And because someone knows it, the dawn becomes prayer, the desert flowers in contemplation, and existence itself is a sacrament. The presence of man and woman in the barren desert gives meaning to its extension and life to its sands. The human being sanctifies creation by living it, and returns it thus in joyful fruition to the Creator who first gave it to him at the beginning of time. Dawn is beautiful because there is a manand a women to see it.

Dawn “happens”. The great events of life and history simply “happen”. Things “happen. Whatever is, “is”. The simplicityof existence enhances the majesty of the commonplace. “All that exists, exists just to be worshipped”, said Claudel. Ours is now to see happenings as providence, to recognize the painter in the painting, God in the dawn, and eternity in the desert. When we smell a rose, we enliven its existence. When we drink water, we sanctify its course. When we look at the heavens, we consecrate their splendor. We have been placed in the midst of creation so that by admiring it and accepting it and using it and enjoying it we may witness to its greatness and acknowledge the generosity of its gift. Our presence gives meaning to the universe.

And then, while we bow before nature and all its creatures, we elicit also their friendly reaction, and they become ready to help our toil and our suffering, with the manly understanding of the common struggle.

Another haiku from the same source:
“Trill of a lone bird.
The nightingale does not know
that he consoles you.

If the presence of man and woman had given nature its soul, nature now responds and rewards human presence with the best it has in light and colour and clouds and birds. The trill of the nightingale heals away sadness; the breeze in the afternoon relieves fatigue; the colour of the rose softens the eyes; the perfume of the fields widens the soul. And nature does all this with supreme disinterestedness. Without seeming to realize, to know, to value what it does, doing it simply because it does it, without giving it any importance, without keeping accounts, without asking for a receipt. The nightingale consoles us with its joyful trill, and the rain refreshes us with its gentle touch. The creatures give us back the thought of God we had given them. That is the sacred circle that justifies the universe. Let us learn how to contemplate the dawn. And let us allow ourselves to be consoled by the nightingale. The galaxies are watching. And God is in the midst of them.


I tell you

I’ve just read Julie Andrews autobiography, and I would like to share it with you, covering the first two sections I Tell You and You Tell Me. I begin by its most meaningful insight for me. Often in this Web itself I’ve told that when I write a book, upload the Web, or give a talk, what I desire is that whoever reads or listens to what I say may have a happy time with it. I don’t intend changing the world, improving society, converting anybody. I only want that they have a good time for the moment. Life is hard, routine is weary, the way is uphill, joys are few and far-between, suffering ambushes, and bigger and smaller hurts plague us. In between all this slow effort to live, what I do hope for and desire and try to achieve is that when I write anything, the person who reads is may rest for a while, may smile, may cheer up, may look kindly at life, and may get ready to go ahead with joy. Nothing more.And nothing less. You can now guess my surprise and my own smile when I saw that such a gentle and pleasant character as Julie Andrews, and writing from quite a different angle from mine, comes to say the same thing. The quote comes towards the end of the book:

“My friend Svetlana and I were in Harrods one afternoon, when she asked if I would like to come back to her flat for some tea. It was tempting. ‘Oh, that’s lovely of you, Svetlana’, I replied, ‘but I should probably just go home and have a rest and prepare myself for the show.’ ‘How stupid of me, Julie’, she gasped. ‘I forgot you had a show tonight… and of course you must go home and rest. You must.’ The implication in her words was that duty and public must always be given the first priority.

Maybe it was because the words were hers, or maybe they were simply spoken at the exact moment I was ready to hear them, but I suddenly became aware of a newer, deeper purpose to my craft and to what I was doing. I always appreciated that my singing voice was a special gift, to be acknowledged with gratitude, but now I felt that my whole being could be used to give something back – to share my appreciation for the gift more fully.

Most or my early life my work was – well, work. It was what I did. And in my youthfulness it never occurred to me that when I appeared onstage I could perhaps make a small difference to anyone’s life. I now began to develop a sense of fulfilment in the doing – in the attempt to convey joy and to bring pleasure to people; to help them transcend their everyday worries and problems for the few hours that they are a part of the theatre experience. I was finding reasons, motivations, a deeper core – and an answer as to why I was given the gift in the first place. Whatever the inspiration, the small exchange with Svetlana that day was life-altering.”

I wouldn’t say it better. “An attempt to convey joy and to bring pleasure to people.”Blessed vocation.Hers and mine.And everybody else’s.Now a touching incident.

“The night before we opened My Fair Lady in London, Tony and I exited the stage door at the end of the dress rehearsal well after midnight, and were surprised to see a long line of people going all the way round the theatre, with bedding and chairs on the pavement.

I asked, ‘What’s happening here?’
‘We’re queuing for the opening night gallery seats…’. ‘They go on sale in the morning!’. We have to queue now if we want a good seat’, they replied.
Tony and I stood and chatted with them for a while, and as we departed I called out that I hoped they would enjoy the show.
The following evening, April 30th, my dressing room was so full of flowers that I could barely move. There was an extraordinary bouquet from Charlie Tucker that was the most magnificent azalea plant I have ever seen, but the most endearing gift of all was a simple wooden Covent Garden flat tray, filled to the brim with bunches of dewy, fresh, sweet-smelling English violets – Eliza’s flowers. My lucky flowers. When I opened the card it simply said, ‘With love from the opening night gallery queue.’ They had apparently made a collection among themselves and purchased the bunches of violets from a Covent Garden vendor. That gesture meant more to me than I can possible say.”

Sudi, whom she mentions now, is no less than Mohammed MasudRaza Khan, fifth son of the thirteenth wife of a Pakistani maharaja, the husband of Swetlana whom she has just mentioned. He was a legendary character who said he couldn’t play cards, because the law required that if he lost, his opponent had to have his hands cut off. Here is a kinder deed of the prince:

“Sudi was shopping in Harrods one day. The store was crowded and, at the counter, a woman pushed in front of him. Sudi drew himself up to his full height and addressed her courteously. ‘Madame’, he said. ‘The good Lord has given you an advantage over me. He has made you a woman. But if that man at the counter, who has seen how you have unfairly jumped the queue ahead of me, serves you before he serves me, I shall personally hit him over the nose’.”

Something negative, too, as jealousy and rivalry and ill will also have their place in life.

“One matinée afternoon Paddie O’Neil – the big, brassy blonde from my early vaudeville days – suddenly showed up at our stage door during the performance. I had not seen her for years. Not wishing to be snooty, I suggested to the stage doorman that he send her to my dressing room. I had a very brief moment between scenes to make a quick costume change and to say hello to her. I could not fathom why she had come to see me.
She said she was just in the neighbourhood. As I changed and fixed my hair and make-up I said, ‘I’m sorry, Paddie, but I’m due onstage.’
Then she did something rather scary. As I moved to leave the room she deliberately tried to delay my exit. Leaning nonchalantly against the dressing table, she held me at the door with her questions.
I kept saying, ‘Paddie – I must go’, and she said, ‘But just let me add one thing’, or ‘Oh, one more question…’. There was a smile playing round her mouth, as if she hoped I would miss my entrance and she was enjoying herself.
Eventually, I just dashed for the stage. When I returned she had gone. I can only think that the envy or the sadness in her must have been all-consuming. Who knows what she was thinking or feeling that day.”

Helen Keller was deaf and blind, but she attended a complete show of “My Fair Lady”.

“Helen Keller attended a performance and came backstage. The entire company was bowled over by her. She was probably in her sixties by then. She could neither see nor hear the show, but her interpreter relayed the entire performance to her by signing on her hand. Helen conveyed to me in a halting voice that she identified with Eliza, because she had so manyproblems herself with language. It was deeply moving.”

Another trait of hers that finds an echo in me. To do everything the best way I know and can do it.

“I began to wonder in my youth what I would do when I got older. I didn’t really feel that I was good at anything, and I certainly didn’t recognize the value of my voice at that time. I made a resolve to myself that whatever I did in my life, I would do it to the best of my ability and make myself useful. If I was to be someone’s secretary, I’d be the best secretary in the world; if I was a florist I’d be the best florist in the world. I would apply myself, and work hard to become valuable and needed.”

She knew hardship in her home as a child during the Second World War.

“Everything was scarce. Peaches and bananas still feel like a luxury to me to this day. Once or twice a week, my brother Johnny and I would share a boiled egg for breakfast. I would have the yolk one day and he would have the white. The next day he would have the yolk and I the white. Why no one thought to make a scrambled egg I don’t know.”

She calls her book “Home”, and this is how she explains the title at the beginning of the book:

“I am told that the first comprehensible word I uttered as a child was ‘home’. My father was driving his second-hand Austin 7; my mother was in the passenger seat beside him holding me on her lap. As we approached our modest house, Dad braked the car to turn on to the pocket-handkerchief square of concrete by the gate and apparently I quietly, tentatively, said the word: ‘Home’.
My mother told me there was a slight upward inflection in my voice, not a question so much as a trying of the word on the tongue, with perhaps the delicious discovery of connection… the word to the place. My parents wanted to be sure they had heard me correctly, so Dad drove round the lanes once again and, as we returned, it seems I repeated the word.
My mother must have said it more than once upon arrival at our house – perhaps with satisfaction? Or relief?Or maybe to instil in her young daughter a sense of comfort and safety. The word has carried enormous resonance for me ever since.

(Julie Andrews, Home,Phoenix paperback, London, 2009)


Psalm 143 – What is man?

O Lord, what is man that you care for him?
What is humankind?
Why give a thought to them?
Man is no more than a puff of wind,
his days a passing shadow.
I am not saying this in a fit of depression. I am not voicing a complaint, much less disparaging myself. I only want to put my own life in its proper perspective, reduce things to size, and learn to take myself lightly. I understand this to be a healthy approach to a happy life, and I want you to help me in it, Lord. Yes, I am a puff of wind and a passing shadow. Such a thought reduces the volume of my problems, and takes away the ground from under the throne of my self-importance. What can be lighter and happier than a puff of wind and a passing shadow? I will enjoy things all the more when they don’t stick to me, and I will move more swiftly through life once its burden is made light. It is not for me to solve all the world’s problems and to right all the wrongs of modern society. I will move and I will pass on, doing my genuine best at each moment, but without the impossible seriousness of being the redeemer of all evils and the saviour of humankind. I am not that. I am a puff of wind and a passing shadow. Let me pass on and let mefly away, and let my fleeting presence bring a moment of relief to those it touches, a gesture of good will in a world heavy with sorrow.

Light and happy. I am a puff of wind, but that wind is he wind of your Spirit, Lord. I am a passing shadow, but that shadow is cast by the pillar of cloud that leads your People through the desert. I am your shadow, and I am your breeze. That is the happiest definition of my humble life. Thank you for it. Lord.

Happy are the people in such a case as ours;
happy the people who have the Lord for their God.


Two haikus

Out in the desert
Dawn happens without warning.
Someone knows it.

(Borges)And because someone knows it, the dawn becomes prayer, the desert flowers in contemplation, and existence itself is a sacrament. The presence of man and woman in the barren desert gives meaning to its extension and life to its sands. The human being sanctifies creation by living it, and returns it thus in joyful fruition to the Creator who first gave it to him at the beginning of time. Dawn is beautiful because there is a manand a women to see it.

Dawn “happens”. The great events of life and history simply “happen”. Things “happen. Whatever is, “is”. The simplicityof existence enhances the majesty of the commonplace. “All that exists, exists just to be worshipped”, said Claudel. Ours is now to see happenings as providence, to recognize the painter in the painting, God in the dawn, and eternity in the desert. When we smell a rose, we enliven its existence. When we drink water, we sanctify its course. When we look at the heavens, we consecrate their splendor. We have been placed in the midst of creation so that by admiring it and accepting it and using it and enjoying it we may witness to its greatness and acknowledge the generosity of its gift. Our presence gives meaning to the universe.

And then, while we bow before nature and all its creatures, we elicit also their friendly reaction, and they become ready to help our toil and our suffering, with the manly understanding of the common struggle.

Another haiku from the same source:
“Trill of a lone bird.
The nightingale does not know
that he consoles you.

If the presence of man and woman had given nature its soul, nature now responds and rewards human presence with the best it has in light and colour and clouds and birds. The trill of the nightingale heals away sadness; the breeze in the afternoon relieves fatigue; the colour of the rose softens the eyes; the perfume of the fields widens the soul. And nature does all this with supreme disinterestedness. Without seeming to realize, to know, to value what it does, doing it simply because it does it, without giving it any importance, without keeping accounts, without asking for a receipt. The nightingale consoles us with its joyful trill, and the rain refreshes us with its gentle touch. The creatures give us back the thought of God we had given them. That is the sacred circle that justifies the universe. Let us learn how to contemplate the dawn. And let us allow ourselves to be consoled by the nightingale. The galaxies are watching. And God is in the midst of them.

I tell you

II’d gone to the tourist office close to my house fora railway ticket. I knew the woman in charge from previous visits as she knew me, and we were on a first-name level without any further acquaintance. As we were at it, her mobile phone rung. She politely said “Excuse me”, and listened to it for a while. Her face fell. Then she spoke in answer and I couldn’t help hearing her speak. She said in a concerned voice: “Is it hurting much, my son?”

That brought out the whole situation before my eyes. She had a son who had remained at home with some ailment, while her mother went to her office as she had to do, and now that his mother had called him in midmorning, he had registered pain and his mother had worried: “Is it hurting too much?”

Duty can be hard. The mother is attending her desk at the office, but her heart is at home with her child. She is counting the minutes, is suffering as she works, she is just waiting to finish and run to the side of her sick child. And the child is waiting for her to have her by his side. I finished business as soon as possible and told her: “Kiss your son for me.”

You tell me

You’ve sent me quite a few emails on the pope and his leaving his office, and all of them reflect what we all feel, that is respect, appreciation and admiration for such a noble gesture. And a difficult gesture too. It is not easy to resign. I’ll tell you a case, although it is a bit different. Last century the pope named a Jesuit cardinal. We Jesuits take a vow not to be bishops, let alone cardinals, but the pope occasionally names one such and that has to be obeyed and accepted. That happened last year when the pope named the Italian Jesuit father Boetto a cardinal. He thus became a member of the Roman curia residing in the Vatican. Every year on his birthday, the Jesuit general and his curia went to greet cardinal Boetto. After a cordial interchange, the cardinal would say at the end: “Please, pray for me to the Lord that he may give me one more year of life so that I can finish all the works I have in hand.” They all promised to do so, and withdrew. And so year after year.

Finally one year, after the usual visit, when the cardinal said: “Please, pray for me to the Lord that he may give me one more year of life so that I can finish all the works I have in hand”, father general allowed himself a touch of humour and said with a smile: “If we ask the Lord for that and he hears our prayer, your holiness is going to be eternal.” All smiled and took their leave.

The next year they all gathered as usual and they all said the same things as usual. But the cardinal did not say the same. He simply kept quiet at the end. They all smiled and left. Roman liturgy. The cardinal did remember. And he didn’t die that year either. Taking leave is always difficult.


Psalm 144 – Generation to generation

I often think of thegeneration gap. But today, as I contemplate the history of your people, Lord, their traditions, their public prayer and their singing of psalms together, I think rather of the generation link. One generation instructs the other, they hand down their beliefs and their practices, they pray together uniting young and old voices in a concert of continuity through the sands of the desert of life.

One generation shall commend you works to another
and set forth your mighty deeds.

The subject of Israel’s prayer is its own history, and thus while praying, they preserve their heritage and learn it anew, shaping the mind of the young as they recite the common psalmody with the old. Chorus of unity in a world of discord.

That is why I love your psalms, Lord, above any other prayer. I thank you for them, I treasure them, and by using them day after day I want to enter deeper into my own history as a member of your people, and to learn to communicate it to the younger brothers who come after me.

Men shall declare your mighty acts with awe and tell of your great deeds. They shall recite the story of your abounding goodness and sing of your righteousness with joy.

Make the praying of your psalms a bond of unity in your people, Lord!


DattatreyaBalkrishna Kalelkar was a faithful follower of Gandhi and a deep and original thinker on his own. Once Gandhiji was answering his correspondence with the help of his dedicated secretary Mahadev, while Kalelkar was in the midst of a group that was assigning particular responsibilities to one and the other of them in the following days. Someone said, “What shall be entrust Kalelkar with?” Gandhi heard the question and intervened from his corner: “You can give Kalelkar anything… provided it is not easy.” And when Kalelkar told me that anecdote that shaped his life, I say his eyes go wet.

A good matter for our own meditation. Let our agenda not be an easy one. Give me something hard to do, and I’ll show you what I’m capable of. If you give me something easy to do, you are insulting me. I can do more. Trust me and test me. And don’t ever give me something ridiculously easy to do.


I tell you

I like Beethoven, and I’ve thought of telling you some things about his music. In my youth I once spent a whole summer playing every day at the piano, as the first exercise in the day, the Moonlight Sonata. I never got tired or it. It’s hard to play, particularly its last movement in the devilish C sharp minor key with all its scales up and down the black keys from one end of the keyboard to the other, and its octave trills which are physiologically impossible; but it is addictive in the extreme. Listz called this movement “a flower between to abysses”, and it is just that. But one thing is knowing all of Beethoven’s sonatas and symphonies by heart, and quite a different thing is knowing the man’s character and the anecdotes of his life. Some of them cheer us up while other sadden us. All together give us the genius’s typical profile.

His father drunk.Too much. When he died, people in commentary said as a posthumous joke that his death was a great loss not only to the nation and the music, but also to the country’s economy because of his generous contribution with the taxes he paid for his alcoholic drinks. Beethoven’s mother resented her husband’s behaviour, and family life was the worse for it. This gave us a shy child who mistrusted marriage and was unable to relate to women. As a young man he would go about unkempt and ever lazy, but he already knew himself as someone special, and when they scolded him, he would answer: “When I become a genius nobody will criticize my.”

Haydn was teaching him, and he would despair as Ludwig was unable to learn by heart the rules of harmony, counterpoint and fugue. When he complained that his pupil was not interested in learning the rules, the future genius would answer him: “Rules were made to be broken.” Genial. In fact, Beethoven did notcompose a single decent fugue, except the last movement of the Hammerklavier Sonata, but that is more a storm than a fugue.

As 17 he met Mozart who was then 31. Mozart asked the young man to play something at the piano, but he did not think much of him as he thought Beethoven, all child prodigies usually do, had come ready with an “improvisation” he had previously learnt by heart. Beethoven realised it and asked Mozart to give him some theme to improvise on it on the spot. He did so, and Mozart was left speechless. He encouraged the lad, but they never met again.

At the beginning Beethoven was not very successful with his music. He had to advertise in the papers to sell his compositions. He never had much money. Once, when he had nothing to pay the rent with, he locked himself in his room, wrote in a hurry a theme with variations and gave it to a friend to sell it at once. Instead of selling it, he gave it to the landlord who at the beginning did not want to accept it but in the end he did accept it. Next day he told Beethoven he could pay him each month with such papers. Toavoid payments and complains, Beethoven would constantly change house in Vienna – always carting around with him all his furniture and three pianos. Later he shifted to Heiligenstat where he stayed for some time in one fixed house. The house was near the church, and it was there that Beethoven realised he was hearing less and less the sound of the bells in the church tower. He was getting deaf.

He used to keep a diary of daily expenses in full detail. Some examples:

January 31: Maid dismissed.
February 15: Cook engaged.
March 8: Cook leaves.
March 22: Maid engaged.
April 17: Cook engaged.
May 16: Cook dismissed.
July 1: Cook engaged.
July 28: Cook leaves by night.
September 6: Maid engaged.
October 22: Maid leaves.
December 12: Cook engaged.
December: Cook dismissed.

The problem with the cook was not only the kitchen. When Beethoven was composing his MissaSolemnis and had already finished the Kyrie, he wanted tocorrect it again and again as was his habit, but he could not find the score anywhere. He was in despair thinking the music was lost, when he found the papers… carefully wrapping the cheese. He scolded the cook, but there were still other papers missing. They had been used as wrappings for the butter. Out went the cook.

He never tolerated interruptions at table, and so the servant had to bring all the dishes from the beginning and leave them on the table. But then Beethoven, whether he was eating alone or with guests, would mind only the ongoing conversation or his own thoughts, and the dishes got cold. Then he again scolded the servant. The dishes could not be brought together because they got cold, and theycould not be brought one after the other because he could not be interrupted. Quite a problem, repeated every day.

Saturday was the day for the servant to go to the market to buy provisions for the whole week. But Beethoven could not be disturbed to be asked for money. The servant, already dressed for the market with her cap and her basket, would stand before Beethoven while he was writing music, and waited without saying anything. At last Beethoven noticed her presence,realised its meaning, but even so he protested and told her:

Have you really to go?
Yes, sir, I have to go.
Is it that today is Saturday?
Yes, sir, it is Saturday.
How do you know it?
The servant had the calendar ready and pointed to the date. Beethoven then had to search for his wallet, give her money, andso the maid could go to the market. Beethoven’s favorite dish was fish, and then macaroni and bread soup. And above all, eggs. He examined the eggs carefully, one by one, and if any one showed any suspicious stain, he would smash it against the wall. The fish he took was river fish that were contaminated by the lead that came from several factories along the riverbed. A recent analysis of one of Beethoven’s hairs showed that what caused Beethoven’s death was poisoning by lead. He paid for his fish dearly. And we lost a tenth symphony.

One thought. God made Beethoven deaf, Demosthenes a stammerer, and Homer blind. Maybe to teach us the way to conquer obstacles.

You tell me

You write to me that you don’t see me as a mathematician. But I’m that, even though retired from work as I don’t teach maths anymore, but my formation and my work and my interest lie that way, and I still read articles and reviews on mathematics which come to my hands. In school I liked maths because once I understood the theorem I had not to mug it up. Geography and history had to be mugged up with lists of kings and battles, and that was a burden. You ask me what mathematics are for me, and I give you the best definition I know: “Mathematics is what mathematicians do to earn a living.” And Bertrand Russell’s definition: “Mathematics is the science in which we don’t know what we are talking about, and we don’t care whether what we say is true.” That shows that we mathematicians do have a sense of humour.


Psalm 145 – Put no faith in princes.

Timely admonition which I adapt to my life and to my circumstances: Do not depend on others. I am not thinking of the healthy cooperation in which man helps man as we all need one another to stand together in the common task of living.I am thinking of inner dependence, of needing the approval of others, of being swayed by public opinion, of becoming a plaything of the likes and dislikes of those around me, of courting the favour of “princes”. No princes in my life. No dependence on the whims of others. No subservience to man.

I am accountable only to you, Lord. It is your judgment that matters to me, and no one else’s. I don’t give to any man the right to judge me. I am my own judge, as my conscience reflects, in the capacity of my honesty, the sentence of your supreme court. I am no better because anybody praises me and no worse when somebody derides me. I refuse to feel low when I hear people speak ill of me, and I decline to feel elated when they extol me to the skies. I know my worth and I know my smallness. No human judge will judge me.

This is my freedom, this is my right to be myself, this is my happiness as a person. My life is on my conscience, and my conscience is in your hands. You alone are my King, Lord.

Happy the man whose helper is the God of Jacob,
whose hopes are in the Lord his God.


Plastic surgery

A very ugly man had already resigned himself more or less to live with his ugliness, when he began to hear reports of the advances made by plastic surgery, and saw the possibility of improving his facial appearance. By then he had also put by a considerable sum of money, and could also afford a long absence from his place, so that after completing the necessary formalities, he went to America, was admitted into a plastic surgery clinic and put himself in the hands of expert surgeons for all the time that would be needed to obtain a satisfying result.

The surgeons were fully successful in their task, and after many and involved operations, the man could exhibit a model face that looked like something straight out of a classical Greek sculpture workshop. The transformation filled him with satisfaction, and he felt eager to go back to his village and show his now beautiful face to all those who had known his ugliness.

There was only a problem, and that was that the trans formation had been so perfect that nobody recognized him, and so he was deprived of the joy of springing upon them the surprise of his newly acquired beauty.

Please, do not change so much that we may not recognize you on your way back from your spiritual retreat. Leave out some little shortcoming, that we may make you out.

I tell you


I had a great friend in India who was a good poet and who used toread to me his verses aloud before he published them. He was KarsandasManek. I’ve remembered him today as I noticed in my shelves a book of his poems he had signed for me. He told me that his most popular poem, which everybody knew by heart in Gujarat, was the one that began:

“I complain to you, Creator;
I don’t understand your deeds.
While stones float over your waters,
Flowers sink in your wide seas.”

This is the standing complaint of all people against God, that he lets bad people have a good time in this world while good people suffer without end. Flowers sink in the sea. I used to answer my friend that that was also the most common complaint among good Christians and pious people. How does God permit that? So-and-so is a perfect scoundrel and yet his business is the most successful in town, while I go for daily mass and say the rosary every evening with my whole family, and yet my business efforts are a failure and I can hardly make both ends meet.

I had an auntie who suffered a long and painful illness at the end of her life, and the parish priest used to visit her every day and bring her holy communion. He would tell her with real love and concern: “See, my dear lady, God loves you so much that he is sending you now these little trialsso that you endure them in patience and thus you’ll get a higher place in heaven.” My auntie would answer him: “Fine, father, but in heaven I’m perfectly satisfied with a little corner.” My auntie knew more theology than the parish priest.

The same friend I’ve quoted at the beginning was a Hindu, and he told me how as a child he had studied in a Christian school where the teacher would draw for them on the blackboard the picture of an elephant and challenge them ironically: “ Come and worship your god here.” (The god Ganesh in Hindu mythology.)He remembered the experience without bitterness. But he remembered it.

You tell me

Today at lunch with my Jesuit companions we remembered the popular missions that used to be held in former times from village to village in the open squares and which renewed the religious life of the whole village in a remarkable way. We used to go in them through the streets singing at full blast:

Sinner, confess all your sins.
Don’t go to bed unrepented.
Else the devil will hold you
and you’ll land in hell upended.

Someone remembered how, before such a preaching, a good parishioner remonstrated to the parish priest: “Look here, father, if we have to go to hell, we’ll go; but, please, don’t browbeat us here.” And another priest told how, as he was forcibly preaching on hell, a listener told him: “Be careful, father, lest you go to hell for having sent us all there.”


Psalm 146 – On stars and hearts

The Lord heals the broken heart
And binds up all the wounds.
He numbers the stars one by one
And calls each by name.
Your power, Lord, rules over the hearts of men and the stars in heaven. You are the Lord of humankind and the Lord of creation, and here I proclaim your power in your two kingdoms in a single song, and I embrace in one single gesture your immense domains. The beating of man’s heart and the orbits of the heavenly bodies, human behaviour and heavenly paths, conscience and space.All in your hand. My joy is in contemplating your deeds. When I sing of your power, Lord, I sing out my own joy.

If you know how to handle the stars, Lord, do you not know too how to handle my heart? Takecare of it, Lord, please. Its orbit is a bit crazy, it’s not easy to know today what it’s going to do tomorrow; it can fly at a tangent at any moment, just as it can stop and refuse to move in stubborn idleness. Lead it gently to its proper orbit, Lord, watch over its course and direct its ways with a firm hand and gentle providence.Let it be a star to gladden the night sky over the world of men.

I rest, Lord, in you wisdom and in your power. The sky is my home and I cheerfully walk through the whole of Creation under your loving presence. Call me by my name, Lord, as you call the stars in heaven and your children on earth. Call me by my name as the shepherd calls his sheep, as the astronomer identifies his stars. I like to know that you know my name. Use it freely, Lord, to call me to order when I err, and to intimacy when approach you in love. And one day, Lord, use it to call me to your side for ever.

“Our Lord is great and powerful,
There is no measure to his wisdom.”


The Egyptian dominoes

I find myself in the waiting room of Miami’s airport. I’m tense between two flights with my attention on loudspeakers and screens so as not to miss my connecting flight. I’m alone in a corner when two young women and a young man come close and ask mecourteously: “Do you mind if we play?” – “Do play at your ease.” – “Thank you.” And they sit down on the thick carpet.

They take out their dominoes and each takes their men. Suddenly I hear myself speak: “May I join you?” – “Yes, better four than three at dominoes.” I lower myself down to the carpet. They explain: “We play the Egyptian dominoes. It’s this way. The double six starts, then four sixes are placed at its four sides, which gives us four lines. Thenumber of points at the four ends are summed up, and if you get 5 or a multiple of 5 when you play your turn, you get points: 1 for a 5, 2 for 10, etc. Understood? – Yes, go ahead.

I’m losing at the beginning. I notice how they are calculating in their minds, but I don’t get the algebra for my 5. It gets interesting. I improve my performance. I even begin to think I’m going to win the game. Suddenly the girl who is keeping count tells me: “Hadn’t you said you were going to El Salvador? They’ve just announced the flight.” I hadn’t heard a thing. I jump up, take hold of my hand luggage and shake hands all round. They all smile. I run ahead.

I almost missed my flight. That would have been the first time in my life that such a thing happened. But I had never had such an entertaining waiting time. Thanks to the Egyptian dominoes.


I tell you

I hope you enjoy these stories from the book “Cuentos Jasídicos” by Martin Buber, Paidos, Barcelona.

p.59. Once, after having recited the Eighteen Blessings, Rabbi Berditchev addressed the several persons present in the Temple and greeted them telling them again and again, “Peace be with you, peace be with you” and embracing them repeatedly as though they were coming from a long journey. When they looked at him in astonishment, y explain to them: “Why are you surprised? Were you not very far away from here? You were in the market seeing what you would buy, you were in your ship watching the expensive goods you were importing from abroad, and you were in your office sorting out the court cases you had to decide. When prayer was over and singing stopped, you people came back from those far-away places, and that’s why I greeted you with such warmth.”

p.63. Every night Rabbi Berditchev examined his conscience over the whole day and repented for all the faults he had committed. He would say: “Levi Itzjac will not do that again.” But them he scolded himself and said: “Levi Itzac said exactly the same yesterday!” And so he concluded: “Levi Itjac has the habit of sinning, and God has the habit of forgiving.”

p.84. When Rabbi Shmelke and his brother visited the Magid at Mezritch, they questioned him about the following point: “Our sages say certain things that leave us uneasy as we do not know their meaning. According to them, we all should thank God for suffering as well as for wellbeing, and welcome both with the same joy. Can you tell us how we are to understand that?” The Magid answered: “Go to the House of Prayer. There you will find Rabbi Zusia smoking his pipe. He will explain everything to you.” They went to the House of Prayer, found Rabbi Zusia and asked him their question about suffering. He answered them: “You have really come to the wrong man to ask about suffering. I’ve never experienced any suffering in my whole ife.” But all knew that Rabbi Zusia’s life had been full of suffering, want and anguish, so they understood what the answer was: they were to accept all suffering with love.

You tell me

Question: How can you speak well of Hinduism, as you often do, when it is a polytheistic and idolatrous religion?

Answer: I do speak well of Hinduism as I know the good it has done to many in India where I lived for many years and made many good Hindu friends. By the way, I also made Muslim friends, and when we spoke of religion and prayed together, some of them would friendly object to Christian practices like worshiping Three Persons in the Holy Trinity, which they took as polytheism. And the Old Testament forbids making any image of God and venerating any image at all, while we, who do accept and follow the Old Testament as the word of God, do also make and venerate images of Jesus and of saints and we do it with full devotion and with full right. The truth is that the concept of God is so exalted that it is far beyond the limits of human expression, and so we do well in using the best terms we find to express what is beyond expression, however limited our understanding may be. Hindus are not polytheistic and we Christians are not three-theistic. We all worship the mystery.

I may allow myself here to indulge in a personal memory. In Mumbay I had a very good Hindu friend, the poet and “bhakta”KarsandasManek, who told me how as a boy he studied in a mission school run by Protestant missionaries. They would draw an elephant and a monkey on the blackboard as they challenged their students telling them: “Come, come and worship and venerate your gods here.” They were referring, of course, to Ganesh and Hanuman. My friend told me he never kept any bad feeling for that. Protestants also scold us Catholics for keeping so many images of saints in our churches. We know it, and still we go on keeping them. We must respect all religions, and all branches within any religion, while we fervently follow our own. This is true ecumenism.


Psalm 147

The Lord sends his command to the ends of the earth, and his word runs swiftly. He showers down snow, white as wool, and sprinkles hoar-frost thick as ashes; crystals of ice he scatters like bread-crumbs; he sends the cold, and the water stands frozen; he utters his word, and the iceis melted; he blows with his wind and the waters flow.The soft snow speaks silence on the winter scene. Whitegrace from heaven to cover the earth.The recess of winter to slow down the face of life.And the promise of water on thefrozen fieldswhen thesnow melts with the early warmth of spring.Thanks for the snow, Lord.

Your power is hidden, Lord, in the gentle flakes that land softly over trees and land. No sound, no pressure, no violence… and yet everything yields to the invisible hand of the master painter. Figure of your action, Lord, gentle and powerful over the heart of man.

Your power is universal, Lord. Nothing escapes your influence over the whole wide earth. The whole landscape is white. You reach the high mountains and the low valleys; your cover the closed cities and the open fields. You touch the heart of the wise and the simple; you love the saint and the sinner Your grace reaches all.

Your coming is unexpected, Lord. I wake up one morning, and see from my window the earth suddenly turned while during the unsuspectingnight. You know the time and the hour, you rule the seasons and the tides. You bring down at the right time the cooling blessing of your grace on the passions of my heart. Stop the fire, Lord, before I burn.

Lord of the sun and the stars, Lord of rain and storm, Lord of snow and ice, Lord of nature which is your creation and my home: I rejoice when I see your action on earth, and I welcome with joy the material messengers that visit me from heaven as reminders of your love and assurance of your help.

Lord of the four seasons! I worship you in the temple of nature.


The shower

One of the great pleasures of life has been devalued. A daily pleasure. And that has impoverished our life. The morning shower is imposed as an obligation since tender years, rains down cold water for character training, descends at a fixed time over the sleepy body, fresh from the caress of the bed-sheets, mixes with soap which irritates our eyes and then slips from our hands and it has to be searched for blindly throughout the wet floor, takes place in a hurry under the daily threat of being late for work, creates a guilt complex in us if we miss it for a single day out of laziness, and then it stops flowing by itself at the most critical moment…, that is if one does not slip and falls awkwardly on the hard tiles to make us confess later in shame before our friends as they kindly ask us about the telling bruises that we have fallen that morning in the shower. A veritable plot to deprive us of one of the most delicate and most refined pleasures in human history from the Mohenjodaro baths to Caracalla’s thermal springs. We have to preserve the pleasure.

This is the privileged moment in which, in the midst of our sophisticated civilization we enact the elemental pleasure, the innocent standing, the naked spontaneity, the conscious anatomy of the human body come to expression, and experience ourselves without shyness or shame in the open blessing of nature and life. Blessed moment that heals the day with the ancestral memory of the ages when humans were one with nature in body and soul.

I carefully measure the water temperature. Slightly cold to wake up my skin, but gentle in its descent not to take away my breath. It kissed me on my forehead, it slides down my face which I keep looking up to welcome its coming, I turn slightly to turn towards it the curves of my body, and I help it with my hands to embrace my skin and to penetrate my pores with its beneficent presence. My whole body is now wet and feels its own unity in its new birth at the beginning of the day.

I tell you

I’m translating a Gujarati book of mine, and I’m going to give you here its two first chapters.


A young man asked a jeweler to teach him his job with a view to take it up himself. The jeweler placed a diamond in his head, closed his fist on it, and told him to keep it like that for a full year. That was rather troublesome and besides it looked quite useless, but the young man was so eager to learn that h accepted the test and spent a whole year with the diamond in his hand. At the end he came back to the jeweler, who took away the diamond and placed another diamond in his hand with the order to keep it there for another year. The young man protested: “I’ve already lost a full year and I’m not ready to lose another.” And he added in a temper: “Besides, this is not a diamond.” The jeweler told him: “That’s all-right. Your training is over.”


The holy man kept asking God for a particular grace every day, but God never granted it. He insisted, pleaded, persevered, but to no avail. Finally one day, when he had again repeated his petition, an angel appeared to him and told him: “I’m being sent by God to let you know that he’s decided not to grant you the grace you are asking for.” The man started running, went to the main square in the village, and began to collect everybody there telling all with great joy: “Please come and rejoice with me, come all together and give thanks to God with me!” They gathered in their numbers and asked him:

– What should we thank God for with you?
– You see, I’ve been asking him for a grace for a long time…
– And he has granted it to you?
– No, quite the contrary. He’s let me know that he has decided not to grant it to me.
– That is, God has refused to grant you what you’ve asked him and you are telling us to rejoice over that?
– Of course! He hasn’t granted me what I was asking for, but he has sent me acknowledgement of receipt for my petition. Isn’t that great?

You tell me

Question: Jesus said “ask and you’ll receive”, but only too often we ask and we don’t receive. How to square that?

Answer: Petitionary prayer is a typical feature of the Christian religion, and it is also a difficulty, or rather a mystery, since as you well say we often ask and get no open results. The bible scholar William Barclay says that “every bed in a hospital and every tomb in a cemetery is a monument to an unanswered prayer”. And C.S. Lewis, easily the most influential spiritual writer in the past century, states that “Christianity would be an easier religion if it did not have petitionary prayer.” He wrote a first book, “The Problem of Pain” on the acceptance of suffering, but he later married and his wife died four years after the wedding, and then he wrote another book “A Grief Observed” in which he says: “Sooner or later we have to face the fundamental question. What reason do we have, except our own desperate wishes, to believe that God is good in any way? Does not all the evidence we have about him suggests the contrary? He makes us suffer… to give us a greater recompense in heaven. Is this not pure sadism? Once and again, when he appears more benevolent, he is just preparing the next torture.” And after a blank space he continues: “I wrote that last night. It was not a thought, it was a shout. Let me start again. Is it reasonable to believe in a wicked God? The Cosmic Sadist, the spiteful imbecile.” Hard wards to be sure, and all the more so in the lips of a believer.

St Augustine says that for a prayer to be heard it must have four conditions: humility, attention, trust, and perseverance, and since we easily fail in any of the four, this explains why our prayers are not heard. But it was St Augustine who said that, not Jesus. Jesus set no conditions. He just said: “Ask and you shall receive.” We do ask, and we often receive nothing.

To make matters worse (or better as the case may be) Jesus also prayed and asked graces from his Father, and at least three times the Father did not grant them to him. He asked for Peter, and Peter denied him; he prayer “that all may be one”, and today there are Catholics and Protestants and Orthodox and several other quite different of Christian denominations. He asked in Gethsemane “May this chalice pass from me”, and he had to drink it.

I simply believe that petitionary prayer is just meant to make us remember God. If we didn’t have to ask him for our needs, we wouldn’t thing often of him. Petitionary prayer puts us in contact with him as children with their father, and this is eminently worthwhile. The Our Father itself which Jesus taught us is just petitions. And we fervently pray it every day.


Psalm 148

Praise the Lord out of heaven; praise him in the heights. Praise him, all his angels; praise his, all his host. Praise him, sun and moon; praise him all you shining stars; praise him, heave of heavens, and you waters above the heavens. Let them all praise the name of the Lord.Praise is the language of heaven. Let us learn it on earth to practice for eternity.

Praise is the prayer of acceptance. We praise the Lord for things as they are without presuming to improve them.

Praise is the prayer that makes contact. We do not escape into petition or complaining, but assume reality into prayer.

Praise is the prayer of the present moment. No pardon for the past nor protection for the future.

Praise is the prayer of the group. The choir of many voices before God’s holy altar.

Praise is the prayer of joy. I cannot say “Praise the Lord!” with a gloomy face.

Praise is the prayer of love. Sincere praise rejoices because it loves the person it praises.

Praise is obedience. My status as creature put into music and song.

Praise is power. The walls of Jericho fall at the sound of the trumpets in the liturgy of the priests.

Prayer is worship. Praise is dealing with God as God in the majesty ofhis glory.

Praise the Lord from the earth, you water spouts and ocean depths; fire and hail, snow and ice, gales and wind obeying his voice; all mountains and hills; all fruit trees and all cedars; wild beasts and cattle, creeping things andwinged birds; kings and all earthly rulers, princes and judges over the whole earth; young men and maidens, old men and young together. Let all praise the name of the Lord.


The newspaper

Reading the daily paper is no pleasure, it is an obligation. The custom is so spread and universal that we seem to be missing something if we don’t read the paper in the morning. One has to shave – or to apply makeup – as one has to take breakfast and to read the paper. One has to be a modern person.

What matters is not reading the paper, what matters is passing pages. All of them without fail. Quickly, ostensibly, noisily. That is why they are so many and so large and so unwieldy. They have to be turned over one by one as witnesses before the world and before our own conscience that we have fulfilled our daily duty. Pure physical work.Aerobic exercise. Heavy, repeated, hated. But compulsory.Even those pages of which we understand nothing with their minute numerals and their market prices.Till the very last page. Then we fold down the noise and the session is over.

The headlines hurt our eyes as they flash before us. They are the instruments of the hidden manipulation to which we are submitted every morning. We have to see what someone else has decided we should see, to consider important what someone else has deemed important, to learn names of persons and places that someone has decreed we must learn.The good or bad mood in which we begin the day depends on the big letters on top of the large page. The size of the letters defines the importance of the event. We are slaves to typography.


I tell you

“At the beginning Faith moved mountains only when it was absolutely necessary, so that the landscape remained always equal to itself through all times.

But when Faith began to extend itself and people found amusing the idea of moving mountains, these where changing places constantly, and people could not find them in the morning in the same place in which they had left them the previous night. This created many complications in practice.

The good people then decided to give up Faith, and so all mountains remained it their places.

When now there is some landslide causing complications all around, it is because someone somewhere has had a little bit of Faith.”
(Augusto Monterroso, La fe y las montañas.)

“He had an obsession for everything to be straight, direct, square. He would constantly be setting pictures, carpets, doors right. He went everywhere putting order where there was no order, and liked to tell the story of the man who asked his dentist to take out the corresponding though healthy tooth on the left side of his mouth because he had removed a damaged tooth in the right side. When he laid dyinghe asked his relatives to place his bed in perfect parallel with walls and furniture. Only when he died, the gravedigger placed his coffin askew in the tomb.”
(Juan Ramón Jiménez, El hombre recto)

Atlas was standing firmly on his legs with the orb of the earth on his shoulders when Hiperion asked him:

I suppose, Atlas, that every time a meteor falls on the earth you feel your weight to increase.
Yes, but then every time a bird takes flight I feel relieved.

You tell me

Question: ¿Do you believe in hell? ¿Couldn’t the pope suppress hell as he has suppressed limbo?

Answer: Asking a Catholic whether he believes in hell is an idle question as it is a dogma of faith just as the Blessed Trinity or the Immaculate Conception. People then say, yes, there is a hell but it remains empty. Even Pascal said that, and so they can hold theexistence of hell on one side and the goodness of God on the other as he doesn’t send anybody there. They forget that there are some people already there. All the fallen angels. And, besides, it wouldn’t be nice eitherto frighten us with something only to tell us later that there is no such thing. The bogeyman. The pope has done well to suppress limbo, as it, although a longstanding belief, was not a dogma of faith. But hell is a dogma of faith, and that always stands. It is, of course, difficult to believe that God sends someone to hell to suffer in mind and body for eternity; though saying this is already a heresy. But I think many of us think this way. Maybe God also does.


Psalm 149

“Let Israel rejoice in his maker,
and the sons of Zion exult in their king.
Let them praise his name in the dance,
and sing him psalms with tambourine and harp.”
I want to dance, in my mind if not with my body, to express with the totality of my being the totality of my submission to God. I want to dance, as David danced before the Ark, as Israel danced before the Temple, as all people have danced in religious worship of the Lord of spirit and matter.

Dance is the body made prayer. A psalm of gestures.A liturgy of movements. The body speaks better than the mind, and one gracious bow is worth a thousand contemplations. If singing is “praying twice”, what will dancing be?

Dancing commits the dancer in the presence of the people. It is public and open and evident. A dance is a profession of faith. The dancer has a claim to a solemn promise: “If anyone acknowledges me before men, I will acknowledge him before my Father in heaven.”

Dancing brings art into prayer, and that noble adventure deserves gratitude from all men and women who love art and love prayer. Why should religious pictures be ugly? Why should religious books be dull? Why should prayer be boring? Why should faith be abstract? Dance changes all that with a swaying of the body and a clapping of the hands. Art and religion. Beauty and truth. I want to learn to make my prayer lively and my worship artistic for the joy of my heart and the glory of my God.

“Let his faithful servants exult in triumph;
let them shout for joy as they kneel before him.”


The early busThey had got up early. Those schoolgirls were going for a picnic and all had got up early to gather their things and come to the bus station to get an early bus. I happened to be there to take another bus by its side and could see them all. They were all coming with their mothers. They had obviously made an effort to get up early, but all the mothers knew the importance of the day and they didn’t want to fail their daughters. Their hurry had not given them time to makeup, and they would arrange things when they would go back home. But I was struck by one of them who was dressed in full detail and good taste. I was looking at that mother and her daughter and I noticed the daughter was having a look around all the mothers and the turned to her own mother and told her these words I hear: “Thank you, mummy, for having dressed up so well. I have the best mummy in the world.” To which she answered: “And I have the best daughter in the world.”

I tell you

(This time all is covered in one section)

I’ve been to Cordoba to give a talk on Mahatma Gandhi, and I want to sum up my thoughts here.

One day I was called to the parlour at St Xavier’s College, Ahmedabad. A lady introduced herself by the name of Ms. Kulkarni, and we she was sure no one was overhearing us explained that she was a direct niece of Mahatma Gandhi’s but did not use the surname in order not to draw attention. She told me she wanted to tell me some anecdotes about her famous grandfather for me to write and publish. I’m going to tell some of them here, together with a few others more generally known.

Gandhi was rather useless as a youth. I went to his native place, Porbandar, and visited the school he attended as a boy. There they showed me the records book with his marks in the papers of his last examination: Passed, failed, absent, absent, absent, absent. Not much to be expected from those beginnings.

Her people were well-to-do and proposed to send him to England to study. His comment: “That will be better, as here anyhow I’m not going to pass.” In London he studied, passed, and became a lawyer. He got his first case in court, prepared it well, wrote it out in full for reference. He stood out before the judges, could not speak out of shyness, could not even read his papers either, asked pardon, sat down, and gave back his fees to his client. He comments in his autobiography: “I felt like a new bride in her in-laws home.” These were the beginnings of Gandhi’s career.

But in the end, this shy and withdrawn man achieved the great feet of freeing the great colony that was India from the great power that was England. Churchill had said: “I have not been made prime minister lo lose the best jewel of our crown.” But the jewel detached itself and became a crown in its own right.

The question then comes. How, where, why, when did Gandhi change from a worthless youth to a world leader? The question has a concrete answer, and I, who knew the place and the cause of the change in Gandhi, made it a point to visit it. I had been invited by Indians in South Africa to give them talks, and I was in Cape Town where they asked me what other places would I like to be shown in that beautiful country. I immediately answered: “Pietermaritzburg.” That seemed rather strange to them, so I added: “Well, it’s enough if you take me to its railway station.” Then they knew. And there we went.

The change in Gandhi took place the night he spent in the platform of that railway station. He was travelling from Cape Town to Durban with a single stop in Pietermaritzburg. From Cape Town to Pietermaritzburg he had travelled alone in a first class compartment. In Pietermaritzbug another passenger climbed into the compartment… and that was a white man. He saw Gandhi, who, though not black, was to him “coloured”, and he asked the station master to throw him away. They station master asked Gandhi to cme out, but he showed his first class ticket and refused to move. The police were called, they took Gandhi out by force and they left him lying down on the platform with his luggage. He didn’t move from there the whole night. He kept thinking of the injustice meted out to Indians in Africa, and resolved to fight against it.

I also had a little experience in that railway station. My friends had taken me there, as I’ve said, and I asked them to leave me alone for a while to muse by myself in the platform. I walked up and down, I noticed there was only one bench on the platform and a metal label on it read: “Only for first class passengers”. First class meant, of course, whites. Just then two black people entered the platform and made for the bench. They must have come to board a train or to wait for somebody, and they sat on the bench quietly. That station master was watching them, saw them sit down on the bench, dashed forward and made them get up with wild gestures. The two blacks look at me with a sad smile as a witness to the scene, and stood up in peace. Prejudices last long. It is now many years from then, and I hope this does not happen again.

Gandhiji established himself in Cape Town and from there came to India to ask for Indian leaders’ help in his freedom campaign. In Mumbai he met the nation leader Gokhale who told him in answer to his requests: “How do you complain that justice is denied to the Indians in South Africa when it is denied to the Indians in India? Come here where the real fight is.” And Gandhi came back to India. He spent a whole year travelling through the length and breadth of the country to learn what the actual situation was. He had a way to reach the masses, but he found two groups in special need of attention: the women and the poor, and he adopted a special approach for them. He would collect the women in the cities and villages he went through, and ask them something that was truly and characteristically their own: their jewels. Their necklaces, their bangles, their feet ornaments were the women’s own capital, as everything else belonged to their husbands, and so Gandhi asked them for their jewels. He gave a signature for a bangle, and long queues were formed for the bargain. A small girl whose name has reached us, Kaumudi, approached Gandhi in the file and removed her bangle. Gandhi took it and signed his name. The girl had another bangle in her other arm and took it out also. Gandhi smiled and signed again his name. Then the girl removed the necklace she was wearing and gave it also to Gandhi. He was so pleased that he mentioned the incident in the article he wrote every day for the press, and he added that Kaumudi now would not wear any jewels all her life. When he saw the report in the next day’s newspaper y realised that the bit of not wearing jewels for ever had not been cleared out with the girl; and so he called her, and the girl agreed to it. Then Gandhi insisted that at marriage the bride is supposed to wear jewels, and what would she do then? Kaumudi answered: “I will choose a husband who will not claim jewels.” The anecdote and its message reached the whole of India the next day.

About the poor, Gandhi’s close disciple and later my priced friend, Kalelkar, told me how Gandhi exhorted them to give whatever they could give, and Kalelkar himself passed round collecting in his hands the coins the villagers brought out from their meager savings. As the coins were old and had been kept for long times in pockets or purses they were rusty and they left Kalelkar’s hands dyed a deep green from their rust.

The most genial episode in Gandhiji’s fight for independence was “The Salt March”. Sal is valuable as a condiment, as a preservative for food, and in the East also as a seal on hospitality so that the expression “I have eaten your salt” is a pledge of friendship and an manifestation of gratitude. The Dharasana Salt Works were famous in the western coast, and the English held their monopoly. That gave Gandhi his ideal plan. He announced beforehand that he was going to lead a popular march from his city of Ahmedabad to the coast where he would take a handful directly from the beach, thus violating the British monopoly. And that was what he did. There were 17 days on the way, and as he passed through towns and villages more and more voluntaries joined him till a huge crowd reached the seashore. Gandhi took salt in his own hands and was arrested on the spot. He had foreseen everything, and the well-known poetess Sarogini Naidu took up the leadership.

The British closed the gate of the Salt Works, but a large crowd gathered in front and quietly advanced towards the gate. A British sergeant stood in front of it surrounded by soldiers, and he violently struck the first volunteer on the head so that he fell down, but slowly got up again, nurses bandaged his head, and he started advancing towards the gate again. All held their breath as the British sergeant lifted his iron-capped stick in a menacing gesture before the volunteer, but as the volunteer stood in front of him the sergeant slowly brought down his stick, place it under his arm, saluted the volunteer with a military salute, turned back and went away. There was no television in those days, but the news and the image went round the world as the best witness of the country that with that attitude was beginning to obtain its independence.

With this short sketch I want to give an idea of the genius that was Mahatma Gandhi.


I tell you

The cellphone
I’m at the bus-stand waiting for the bus. I’ve just made a call on my cellphone and I put it in my pocket. Two young people are standing by my side and they are saying something while looking at me. Finally one of them approaches me and tells me: “Please, sir, could you do us a favour? We’ve to make an urgent call but our cellphone has run out of battery. Could you lend us your phone for a moment?”

I hesitate. It could be a neat manoeuvre to run away with my phone. I know such cases. I give them my phone, they run for their life, they make as many phone-calls to as many places as they want before I can inform the phone company to disconnect it, and then they throw it away.I have to pay for their calls and then go and buy a new one for me. But then I must be very naïve. I just put my cellphone in their hands. They took it, looked at each other and smiled. Then they explained to me: “It was just a bet. You see, I have bet my friend that there are still good people in the world who would lend us their cellphone for a moment if we asked them, while he said nobody would do that now. Well, I’ve won the bet.”

We all three laughed. And I’m still one of the few good people that remain.

You tell me

You tell me: “I have a very low opinion of myself. I see myself lag behind my companions, not only in studies but also in society and in manners. So I avoid groups and I have no friends. Why am I that way? Is there any remedy for me?

I tell you: “I’m going to tell you a MullaNaserudin story, of those which amuse and teach at the same time. Naserudin had a donkey and went to the market to sell it. He announced the sale loudly: “Here is my donkey for sale to the best bidder. I warn the buyer that it is very old, works little and eats much, and it kicks back at any moment creating danger all around.” People told him: “How do you want to sell the donkey if you keep on saying how useless it is?” He answered: “The fact is I’m much attached to it and I don’t want to sell it.”

The moral of the story is that a low self-esteem helps us to overlook our own failures and our laziness, because “that’s the way I am” and I can do no better, and so I’m not bound to improve and to change. Speaking ill of our donkey helps us not to sell it… even if we go to the market to sell it.


Psalm 150

Praise the Lord with fanfares on the trumpet,
praise him upon lute and harp;
praise him with tambourines and dancing,
praise him with flute and strings;
praise him with the clash of cymbals,
praise him with triumphant cymbals;
let everything that has breath praise the Lord!
Every time I listen to music, I think of you, Lord. Music is man’s purest creation, and in it he comes closest to you in the expression of hissoul and the sublimity of his art. Pure sound, workless harmony, air made beauty and space filled with joy. I wonder, while I listen to Humankind’s masterpieces, what divine touch of unearthly inspiration can have produced the thrill of sheer perfection that lifts the mind to regions not quite of this world.You are present to me, Lord, in the strings of a quartet or the chords of a symphony with a reality that touches sacramental grace in the uplifting consecration of my whole being. Than you, Lord, for the fire of music in my life.

Praise the Lord with violins and violas, with cellos and double basses, with flutes and piccolos; praise him with pianos and harps, with harmoniums and organs, with mandolins and guitars; praise him with oboes an clarinets, with bassoons and tubas, with horns and trumpets: praise him with trombones and xylophones, with drums and kettledrums; with triangles and gongs.

“Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.”


At the supermarket
I propose to go through the whole supermarket without buying a thing. This is one of the greatest pleasures in a consumers’ society. To walk through the whole buying centre without any buying.To see everything and to buy nothing. To enter Nebuchadnezar’s burning furnace without being burnt. Don’t tell me that is not amusing. David’s challenge to Goliath. To walk through the whole consumer´s paradise of showcases and exhibitions and sales and opportunities with one’s credit card in one’s pocket and not to bring it out at all. To challenge man’s (and woman’s!) strongest temptations in our times: I buy, therefore I exist.

We have to see everything, by all means. We have to see, find out, compare prices, inquire, think. We have to know everything so that when the need arises we can take the right decision. But without buying anything now. With an even sight, an easy step, a measured gesture. Buying upsets the balance, hastens decisions, breaks the promenade. When we go to buy something we become blind to all other things, and the restful walk becomes a selfish errand. That’s not the way. We have to see everything without buying anything. It’s not easy. But its price is its pleasure.

The whole body feels the alert of the imminent danger. A touch of risk is the greatest pleasure in the world, and there is no greater risk than walking through a large mall with money in one’s pocket. The risk of mountain climbing, of skirting a precipice, of parachuting, of investing in the stock market is nothing compared with the risk of watching all kind of goods on their shelves, taking them in one’s hands, caressing them, reading their prices, longing for their possession… and standing unmoved in the midst of plenty with haughty indifference. Few mortals come out of the trial with an unhurt pocket. But feeling the danger, courting the temptation, come to the brink, is the highest of intimate secret pleasure at heart. Shopping malls were made to supply the rare pleasure. Happy is the costumer who enjoys the occasion.

Risk increases towards the end of the visit. We’ve gone through the expensive items and the extreme bargains, but a book, a cassette, a CD… who can escape without buying it while checking out at the last moment? Let us not yield. We must resist to the end. Not even a packet of chewing gum at the exit. We have passed the test and we breathe relieve and satisfaction. And down deep there we hide the zealously guarded secret of our master walk: the coming sell next season.

I tell you

Some stories from the book “Un Maestro Zen Llamado Cuervo” by Robert Aiken, Siruela, Madrid 2004, shortened.

Disciple: What is the Middle Way?
Master: That’s a good question.
Disciple: You’ve not answered my question.
Master: You’ve not heard my answer.

Disciple: Is there any special way to practice Zen?
Master: Many.
Disciple: How many?
Master: As many as there are beings you come across in your daily life, since all have something to tell you.

Disciple: Why do disciples seek many masters?
Master: And why do masters seek many disciples?

Disciple: Is it important to have a Master?
Master: It is indispensable.
Disciple: Cannot that create problems?
Master: They are also indispensable.

Disciple: I only want a reasonable happiness. Can’t I be happy?
Master: Yes, if you stop asking for it.

Disciple: What can I do if I feel no compassion for my neighbour?
Master: You may act as if you were feeling it.
Disciple: That doesn’t look honest.
Master: But it can be the way to become honest.

First Master: Existence is the vacuum of the universe.
Second Master: What do you mean by that?
First Master: What do you mean by “what do you mean”?
Second Master: What do you mean by “what do you mean by ‘what do you mean”’?
First Master: What do you mean by “…’ … ‘…”?

Disciple: I get too nervous when I recite the Scriptures in public and I make mistakes.
Master: The mistakes are part of the recitation.

You tell me

Question: What is the meaning of the saying “Outside the Church there is no salvation”?

Answer: It has meant different things down the centuries. It began by meaning that non-baptized persons could not go to heaven even if they had no grievous sin on them, and hence came the belief in limbo, where those non-baptized who have died without grievous sin enjoyed a “natural happiness” without the “beatific vision” in heaven.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church in 1992 states: “This statement (outside the Church there is no salvation) does not refer to those who, without their responsibility do not know the Gospel of Jesus and the Church, but they seek with a true heart and they strive in their life, with the help of grace, to do God’s will as they know it in their conscience, can obtain eternal salvation.” (847)

My comment: There are many in the whole world who do know about Jesus’ Gospel and his Church, and they even have Christian friends from whom they know about their beliefs and practices, and yet they do not ask for baptism. Such people, according to the declaration in the Catechism, could not be saved. This declaration of the Catechism does not seem acceptable to me.


Psalm 1 – Prayer of a lucky man

I am lucky, Lord, and I know it. I am lucky I know you, I know your ways, I know your will. I know your law. Things make sense to me because I know you, because I know there is a purpose behind this difficult world, a loving hand behind my life, a gentle touch in all I do and a constant presence within me day and night. I know my way, because I know you, and you are the Way. And when I think of it, I realize the happiness that is mine for knowing you and living with you.

There I so much confusion all around me, Lord, so much darkness and doubt and sheer bewilderment with life in people I know and in writings I read, that I myself suffer with that suffering and go blind in that darkness. People speak their aimlessness, their lack of purpose, of direction, of certainty, their sense of drifting from nowhere to nowhere, their emptiness, their shadows, their void. All touches me, and I too feel it in myself, brother to my brothers and sisters, and member of my race.

Many people are like “straws driven by the wind”, painfully hanging on the whims of the breeze, on the demands of a competitive world and the sudden storms of their own desires. Unable to steer their own course and define their own lives. That is the disease of modern man, and I learn from your Word that it was also the disease of ancient men when the first Psalm was written. I also know your remedy for it, which is your word, your will, your law. Faith in you gives direction and purpose and firmness and strength. Only you can steady the heart of man, only you can enlighten his mind and direct his course. Only you can give stability in a changing world.

It is you who give me roots for strength and for life. You make me feel like “a tree planted by the side of a stream”; I feel the current of your grace running through my soul and my very body, keeping ever green my power to think and my power to love and turning my desires to fruit when the season comes and the sun of your presence blesses the crops in the fields you yourself have sown.

I need security in an insecure world, Lord, and your law, which is your will and your love and your presence, is my security. I thank you, Lord, as the three thanks the water and the earth.


How to make a woman happy

Today I’ve made a woman happy. No, no, it’s much simpler. No complications. It was this way. I was walking alone through a street in Ahmedabad when I met an acquaintance. There were years since we had last met, he has reminded me that he actually lived quite close by, has invited me to his house with a truly friendly gesture, and I’ve accepted.

After a little while his wife has discreetly come out and has asked the question that is asked in India since the beginning of time: “Tea or coffee?” The correct answer, also since the beginning of time is “Tea”. With that she disappears to carry out the millenary ritual. Soon she appears again with a tray in her hands and on it two cups of smoking tea. She gives one to me and the other to her husband, and sits down in front of us as we sip our tea. We drink slowly and in silence to enhance the ceremony, I then give her the empty cup, the husband returns his, and before she returns to the kitchen I directly address her. She stops, turns towards me, and listens in expectation to what I’m telling her. “When one has spent some time abroad from country to country, as I have been doing just now, and comes back to India, as I’ve come back a couple of days ago, one realizes how good our tea here is and how well you prepare it. You don’t appreciate it because you drink it every day at home, but I tell you that I’ve just drank the best cup or tea in my whole life. It was delightful.”

The woman’s face flourished in joy. Her lips couldn’t contain her smile. She almost dropped the try. She couldn’t say anything. She had prepared so many cups of tea in her life for so many guests in so many visits, all equal, all drank without a Word being said about them, without a compliment, without even thanks as they are taken for granted, that she was shaken when, for once, she was told how good her drink was and how perfect her art. All the cups of tea she had prepared throughout her life were present now to celebrate together the timely compliment. We all in the room felt the magic of that instant.

She went back with her tray, and she took some time to appear again. I suspect she must have gone to tell her neighbours and to celebrate the occasion with them. She came back and we took our leave. I left her house with the feeling to have done a good deed that day. I had made a woman happy. It’s so simple after all…


I tell you

A friend from old days in India came to see me today and we went through happy memories of those years together. We remembered common friends, some of whom are no more. The memory of one of them, particularly, has come out vivid in my mind. He studied chemistry while I did mathematics, but all the science students had a common subject, Preliminary English, which was compulsory and had to be passed at the beginning to make sure that the student knew English before he started learning mathematics in English. Quite a sensible rule. My friend and I sat together in class. We had a Hindu professor, Brahmin by caste, who came to class in a well-ironed white dress, a huge turban, and his Brahminical ponytail. We were more than a hundred in the classroom, and I was the only white-skinned person among the gently brown Indian faces. The professor, accordingly, took me for an Englishman, as all foreigners there are taken as Englishmen, and when he himself would doubt about the pronunciation of some English word, he would ask me to tell him the right pronunciation… which I was quite far from knowing as I was fresh from Spain. There was no way of disclaiming knowledge.

All the students were Brahmins, some with their traditional ponytail, and others already without it. The professor asked with good humour to tease the students: “Please, count for me how many ponytail I have before me, so that I can measure out how our culture is doing.” There was nervous giggling all round. The generation gap was beginning to show. Now nobody sports a pigtail.

This friend of mine, a Jesuit as myself, later became bishop of Madurai and archbishop of Madras, from where he invited me to go and spend a fortnight with him to remember memories and to plan dreams. Before I could go he met a sudden death, which caused me grief. Being an archbishop is not good for one’s health. Casimir Gnanadikam.

You tell me

You keep asking me about the new pope, and I keep answering you that all the popes (of our times) are fine with me, and the present one particularly so as he is a Jesuit, and besides he has read my books, so that it could not be better. I know he has read my books because when quite a few years ago I travelled through South America and I gave some talks in his diocese, I phone him to ask for his permission, or as I more politely put it for his blessing, and he told me he already knew me from my books and had read several of them. I hope that will show.


Psalm 2 – I am your son

These are the words I most like to hear from your lips, Lord. “You are my son.” It takes faith to proclaim them before my own misery and before a skeptic crowd, but I know they are true, and they are the root of my life and the core of my being. Daily I call you Father, and I call you Father because you have called me son. That is the dearest secret of my life, my most intimate joy and my deepest claim to happiness. The initiative of your love, the thrill of creation, the intimacy of fatherhood. The loving accent with which I hear you say the words, at once sacred and tender, “You are my son.”

And I love just as much your next word: “Today.” “You are my son; today I have become your Father.” I know that for you every moment is today, and every instant is eternity. That is the fullness of your being, the timelessness of your eternal rest .And I want to reflect in my fragmented existence the never fading freshness of your permanent “now”. I want to feel that I am your son today, that you are giving me life at every instant, that with you every moment is new and every instant alive, that life begins anew whenever I think of you again because at that moment you again become my Father.

Keep breathing into me, Father, the newness of the birth you give me day by day, that I may never get tired of loving, may never get bored with life, may never get stuck in the dullness of earthly existence. That is a recurring temptation with me, and, I sadly guess, with many people around me too. Life is so repetitive, so monotonous, so grey, that each day looks similar to the previous one, all run to the same timetable, and the routine of a necessary job takes away the joy of living from a day which consists only in getting ready for the office, going to work, slogging or idling there for hours, getting back home and wearily waiting the time out to go there again the next day. Even my prayers look alike, and, forgive me, but even my encounters with you I contemplation and sacrament are marred on my side by the shadow of previous ones and the formalism of repeated procedures. Teach me you “today” to make every moment of my life come alive again.

Since you are my Father you give me “the ends of the earth” for my inheritance. I now know that all is mine because all is yours and you are my Father. Make me feel at home in every situation and in every circumstance, because you are its Master and I am your son. Make me enjoy the earth, explore its riches and brave its dangers. Make me feel stranger to no one and out of place nowhere. Make me “rule” the earth, not in power and might, but in the joy of life and peace of heart that come from your presence and attract all your children and make for friendship and nearness and trust among men. Make me rule by serving others and loving all in your name. This is how I want to embrace the ends of the earth that you give me for my own.

Yes, I hear the cries and the protests and the turmoil. “The kings of the earth stand ready, and the rulers conspire together.” People will not keep quiet when someone declares himself a son of God. There is the irony, the scorn, the veiled contempt and the open threats. There is a strange resentment all around when someone finds peace and proclaims joy. The hostile world against the free spirit, the group against the person, the storm against the flower. They vow destruction and plot my ruin. Can I withstand the onslaught?

But then I hear another voice – your very own. Voice of thunder and power over the tides of men. Voice which for me is strength and reassurance because it carries the heavy tone of your seriousness and your anger against the thoughtless mortal who dares to touch him on whom you have set your hand. I hear your laughter peel through the heavens, with your blessing in it. I am safe in your protection, and your blessing riding on it. I am safe by your side, and happy in your keeping. Let the world rage: I am your son. I live now in Zion, your “holy mountain”, and clouds and storms cannot shake it and cannot shake me. I keep proclaiming your words, and I keep cherishing your dignity as a son. I stand in the shadow of your hands.

“Happy are all who find refuge in him.”


The phone

The phone rings. A Zen master advises that, even if our phone is by our side, we should let it ring thrice before we take it. This is to foster in us a peaceful attitude when we feel the urge to hurry even before we know who is calling us. Calming down before talking. Slowing down gestures, keeping our voice low, sitting down in peace. A whole posture and attitude to be conveyed by the first word we utter. Gentle and kind.

Our first concern is realizing the difference between a conversation by phone and a conversation face to face. Sentences are shorter on the phone, silences also are shorter as we have to reassure each other that we are still there at the other end, gestures and face expression are spontaneously minimized as they don’t carry through, there is the hidden consciousness of the running time and the increasing bill, the looking for moments to stop, the timely end.

Voice is the essence of transactions by phone. To recognize a friendly voice from miles away, across seas and continents and time zones, and to feel with it the presence and the warmth of friendship is one of the greatest joys of human existence. The voice tells everything. News are not important, nothing much is actually said, we even may think at the end that the charge is heavy, that a letter in fact would have done as well…, but it was all worthwhile, we’re sure it was the best to have done, we have both of us enjoyed the experience, and the cherish voice keeps sounding in our ears long after we’ve placed the receiver back. I remain looking at the phone after the conversation. Friendly companion at the intimate moment. Discreet witness. Electronic miracle. It reproduces the voice so well that we identify at once the caller at the other end. Instant contact.

I would like to protect the kind instrument from the misuse, the number of calls, the being taken for granted, the market dealings that lower its dignity and shift the instrument from the office table to the shirt pocket, and foster its use in the middle of the street, in a train or in a bus with shrill exclamations and wild gestures in the middle of amused witnesses, the overall cheapening of the cellphone and the never-ending multiplicity of its reincarnations. Technique has got the best of culture, practicality has defeated dignity, popularity has replaced nobility. The phone feels vulgar in the street.

This is our next task. We have to learn how to use our cellphone.

I tell you


I’m allowing myself to tell two anecdotes of close-by friends, both anecdotes true and meaningful, about a matter of which we hardly speak.

L.S. was a same-year companion of mine all through school, novitiate, and all the long years of a Jesuit training till I went to India. He was an exemplary Jesuit priest, but a few years later, when I was already in India and had lost contact with him, I learned he had left the Society of Jesus and had married with due permission from Rome. Ai about that time I came for a lecture tour to Spain, and I took the occasion to look for him and meet him. We had a long talk together, and I told him: “You were a good Jesuit for many years, and now I see you are a good family man with your wife and children. You are now in a position impartially to evaluate and compare religious life and marriage. What can you tell me about that?” He lifted both hands to heaven and shouted his answer: “That neither of the two works!”

I’d rather say, humbly and sincerely, that both work, each of them in its own way.

Another dear companion, F.G., who went with me to India, began to realize that his exuberant youth could not control his sex instinct, and so he went back to Spain, asked to be dispensed of his religious vows, and duly married in church. I also went to see him on that occasion and we spoke of our lives. He told me: “You know that I came back and married because I could not keep sex in check. So I did it. But, well, now I can tell you it wasn’t really worthwhile. You can take it from me.”

These stories would come under what we used to call in Latin “Praesidia castitatis” (Chastity defences), and I tell them here with full reverence to both marriage and religious life, and the cherished memory of the friends that told them to me. Also with a touch of humour, which is the best way always to deal with sex.

You tell me

Question: I go to confession every week, and I mention there that I masturbate at times, but the confessor tells me I shouldn’t mention that again. So I finally asked him: But is it not a sin? – He answered: Well, yes, it is a sin. – A mortal sin? – Yes, it would be a mortal sin. – So that if I die with it on my conscience I go to hell? – God will not permit that… – Please, leave out what God will permit or not, which you don’t know, and tell me whether I go to hell or not. – Well, if you put it that way, yes, you go. – Thank you for telling me not to worry.

Answer: What your confessor answered you is what every confessor has to answer. Masturbation is “officially” a grave sin. This is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church, number 2352, says: “The Magisterium of the Church, according to a constant tradition, as well as the moral sense of the faithful, have always upheld without any doubt that masturbation is an intrinsically and grievously inordinate act.” It cannot be said more clearly. But then it goes on to add: “In order to give the right judgment about the responsibility of the subjects and to direct pastoral action, we have to take into account the factors of emotional immaturity, the strength of acquired habits, the state of anguish and other psychical or social factors that reduce or even annul moral culpability. In other words, it is a sin, but it is not a sin. “Without any doubt”, of course. If there is no sufficient “emotional immaturity”, “acquired habits” or “a state of anguish”, there are always other “psychical or social factors” which can be broadly understood, and the matter is solved.

The English Catholic weekly “The Tablet” published a letter of someone who exposed his situation, similar to the one I’ve described here, and asked at the end: “Whom shall I obey, the pope or my confessor?” The Church would gain much for the good of all it she would have greater transparency, clarity, and understanding in this matter.


Psalm 3 – Rhythms of life

“I lie down and sleep…, and I wake again.”

That is my day, Lord, that is my life. The rhythm of my body in tune with the rhythm of your creation, with the stars at night and the splendour of your light during the day. I am yours when I work, and yours when I sleep: yours when I stand erect in the posture that makes me a man, ready to go and to move and to fight and to look up to heaven, and yours when I lie down in the weariness of my body and the confidence of my soul, close to the earth you have created to hold me in my life and to cradle me in my death, giving shelter to my body as you nurture my soul.

Teach me, Lord, the rhythms of your creation, the friendliness with nature, the intimacy with the earth that holds my step, and with the air that fills my lungs. Teach me the wisdom of the seasons, the movements of the stars, the ultimate lesson you always teach me and I always miss, that in nature as in grace there is rise and fall, there is day and night, there is high tide and low tide, there is joy and there is despondency, there is enthusiasm and there is doubt, there is darkness and there is light.

It takes courage to stand up, and it takes courage to lie down. And, more than that, it takes courage to accept that the whole of life is a succession of getting up and lying down, that the trajectory of living is a wavy line, that I must be ready for the ups and for the downs as they come my way, and I go through them with the sun and the moon and the heavens and the winds. Let me breathe at one with your creation, Lord, to fill my body with its life.

“May your blessing rest upon your people.


The flight was horrible. God gave me long legs, while the airlines keep the distance between rows narrow, and I simply do not fit in. The flight lasted about two hours, from Madrid to the Canary Islands, and it gave me a full chance to try all postures and all kinds of balance, but I could not fit in. If I sat up straight with my legs together and my knees at an angle, I collided with the passenger in front of me and pressured his back with my knees. A few trials discouraged me from further attempts, and I braced myself for a troublesome journey.

I had asked for an aisle seat on purpose, hoping to get more comfort, but if I turned out y clashed against the service cart the stewardess pushed up and down. And if I turned in I invaded the space of my fellow traveler on the left, which was worse. I couldn’t enjoy my meal, though that was not much of a loss given what inflight meals are, and of course I could not sleep for a moment however much I needed some rest before the work that awaited me on landing. The flying time was two hours, but they seemed four hours to me.

At last we arrived. As soon as the plane stopped and we freed ourselves from the safety belts, I stood up to revive my legs and stretch out my body. The airhostess who has tripped on my feet a number of times in her comings and goings throughout the flight looked at me as I stood in all my height, and said winningly: “You have to put up with some inconvenience, sir, to keep yourself so tall and handsome.”

That spontaneous compliment made up for me for all the inconveniences of the crowded flight. The trip remained in my mind as one of the more pleasant flights in all my life. It is so easy to dispense charm.


I tell you


The late Karsandas Manek, poet and mystic, honoured me with his friendship, and we often gave talks together on religious topics, he being a Hindu and I a Catholic. We always got on very well, and our listeners too understood us well, belonging as they were to several religions, as there were among them Hindus, Muslims, Jains, Parsis, Sikhs, Protestants, Catholics, plus a few atheists and agnostics. That was practical ecumenism. I’ll quote one of his stanzas which stuck in my memory in its Gujarati original, and which I translate here:

“I don’t follow you, Creator.
Your whims are beyond my ken.
In your ocean stones are floating
While flowers sink to its depths.”

This is the standing human complaint that evil people do well in this life while good people suffer and toil. We’re complaining of that ever since old Job´s times. My great-aunt, Juliet, had to suffer a painful sickness the last days of her life, and her parish priest went to console her and told her: “God loves you specially, Juliet, and so he now sends you these last trials so that he can give you a higher place in heaven.” To which my great-aunt answered: “But, father, God knows that in heaven I’m quite satisfied with the smallest corner.” I was very small then, but the words stuck in my mind without my understanding them. Later I came to understand them. My great-aunt Juliet knew a good deal of theology.

You tell me

How can God permit that? This is the question I’m most often asked in conversation and in email. A family problem, a sickness, a death, a failure of any kind, a painful situation in the life of a good Christian person elicit such a complaint, which is usually accompanied by a comparison with other persons who don’t go to church and still seem to enjoy a happy life at home and at work. How can God permit that? It’s the stones and the flowers all over again. Some years back I wrote a book which I titled “Let God be God”, and I think the title says it all. At the end of the book I quoted a poem by the same Karsandas Manek which makes me happy on remembrance:

“Priest of God’s temple…, whoever you are,
Keep open all the windows of your temple,
So that the winds of grace may flow through them,
So that the breeze of the spirit may enter,
So that God may come in.
Place on the altar of your temple
The image you prefer,
Recite you favourite prayers,
Follow your traditional ritual.
But keep open the windows of your soul
So that God may come in.”

Do keep all your ideas and preferences and costums and habits…, but keep always you window open.


Psalm 4 – Night Prayer   

My day comes to an end, a day of labour and joy, of moments of love and moments of anxiety, of impatience and of satisfaction. I am going to be myself again for the night, and the last prayer comes to my lips before I close my eyes.

I lie down with a quiet heart…,
And sleep will come to me.

That is my prayer, because that is the wish of my whole being after a day of toil. Sleep is your blessing for the night, as peace is your blessing during the day, and sleep comes where there is peace. You have given me peace amidst the thousand pressures of the day, among the envy of people, the burden of work and the perplexity of decisions… You have put happiness in my heart, greater that the happiness of food and wine, and the care you have taken of me during the day has lovingly prepared me for the rest in the night.

I know the fears of the man in the desert when he laid himself to sleep, the men who made these Psalms out of their life and their experience. The fear of the wild beast that may attack at night, of the personal foe who may seek vengeance in the dark, of the enemy tribe that may spring a surprise attack while all the men sleep. And I know my own fears too. The fear of a new day, the fear of meeting life again, of facing myself in the uncertain light of a new dawn. The fear of competition, the fear of failure, the fear of not being able to stand the strain to be what I daily have to be, to meet expectations, to play roles, or, harder still, the fear not to be able to ignore those expectations and reject those roles as I know I want to do and don’t have the strength to do.

I am afraid of falling asleep thinking that I shall never get up again, and I am afraid of waking up and having to take up again the dreary business of existence. This is the visceral fear that weighs down my life. And its remedy is in you. You watch my sleep and you protect my steps. Your presence is my sanctuary, your company is my strength. And because I know that, I can now rest with confidence and joy.

“I will lie down in peace, and sleep,
for you alone, Lord, make me live unafraid.”



The stars were celebrating their general assembly, and they told by turn what they had done for men and women on earth. The pole star showed how it was helping them to find the north in their ways and in their maps; the sun described the heat, the light, the life it communicated to men and women on earth; a little-known star revealed it was the one that confirmed Einstein’s relativity theory when it passed, in the nick of time, behind the sun during an eclipse, and with that it did a great service to science, and others mentioned the names of sages whom they had made famous and the discoveries they had led to. Each one had something to say, and they rivaled in splendor and in fame.

There was only one little star, rather remote and hidden, who remained silent in the heavenly assembly. It could not think of anything to say. When it was its turn and it had to say something, it confessed that it had done nothing for the cosmos or for the human gender, and that men and women on earth didn’t even know about it as it had not yet been discovered. The other stars laughed at it and called it useless, lazy, and unworthy to have a place in the sky. Stars are made so enliven the skies, and what is the use of a star whose existence is not even known?

The little star listened to all those reproaches, and then something occurred to it while they all talked, and it said it at the end: “Who knows?” it said, shining softly, “maybe I too am contributing in my own way to the welfare and progress of men and women on earth. It is true that they don’t know me, but they are no fools, and their calculations tell them that in order to explain the orbits of other stars and celestial bodies there must be some other star that with its attraction by gravity may explain the deviations in the ways of the others. That’s why the keep studying and observing and searching, and so their science advances and their interest remains kindled.”

The other stars had kept quiet while the little one spoke, and it was encouraged by their silence and at the end it added something that made all the others think: “Y don’t want to come forward, and all of you have a great merit for what you’ve done for men and women on earth, but I think I’m also rendering them a signal service, and that is reminding them that there are still things for them to discover.”

I tell you

When John died he found himself in a beautiful place, in the midst of all comforts and beauty beyond anything he had ever dreamed or imagined. A person in a black dress approached him and told him:

– You have the right to enjoy whatever you want.

John was delighted and proceeded to enjoy himself in every possible way. After a very long time he went in search of the man in black and told him he had tasted everything, was fed up with it, and would now like some kind of work to do to feel busy and useful. The man answered:

– That is the only think I cannot provide you with.
– What do you mean? Am I going to spend the whole eternity in such a boring way? I would prefer a thousand times to be in hell.
– And where to you think you are now?

(Paulo Coelho)

I have quite a few Jain friends, and Jainism is an atheistic religion (however strange that may seem), it does not believe in God though it does have precepts and prayers and rites and temples. I quote to them Pascal’s saying that in any case believing in God is better than not believing because if God does not exist you lose nothing, while if God does exist you stand to win for having believed in him. Though some people think otherwise. If God does not exist and still you’ve believed in him and have acted accordingly, you’ve missed the chance to make the best of the Seven Capital Sins and other forbidden pleasures which can be quite amusing and entertaining. Though some again argue against this and say: If God is so unjust as to send to hell those who don’t believe in it, even if they do so in full honesty and conviction, he could just as well send people to hell even if they had been good in their lives. And again, believing in God only in order to avoid hell is sheer opportunism deserving no reward. It is always better to believe in God, and to feel someone is leading us by the hand in our lives.
Jain people believe in reincarnation (just as Hindus and Buddhists and Confucians and Parsis do), but all agree that a good or bad birth in the next existence depends on our behavior in this one, so that we always have a strong motivation for good behavior wherever we are.

You tell me

You’ve asked me again: Why did you go to India? And you ask this time: And why did you come back? I’ll answer again as I like to revive my own history. I went to India because it rained on two consecutive Thursdays in Oña where I was doing my philosophy course as part of my formation as a Jesuit. Just a matter of meteorology. On Thursdays we used to go out for long walks, three by three in fixed batches, but if it rained, the walk was suppressed and we just went round and round the large covered enclave in the old monastery while it rained outside, not in threes but just with anyone we would like to go with. I had a good friend, Juanjo, and we quickly sought each other and started our rounds in the covered cloister.

Father Provincial was going to come in a few days to give us our appointments for our future life as teachers or preachers in our institutions. I was supposed to be sent to study for a degree with a view to teach later in one of our colleges. But my friend charged with all his might to convince me that we should ask for the missions, which in those days meant to leave Spain and family for good and to go far away with a new language we would never master, so that it was a great sacrifice of much merit before God, and that was the way we then understood it. But he didn’t convince me. Nothing would have happened if the next Thursday would not have rained again. But it did heavily, and I sought Juanjo again, and together we went round the old cloister again and again. He charged again, and this time he convinced me. Father Provincial arrived and I asked for the missions. He kept looking at me with an amusing expression on his face, till he told me: “This is funny. I was planning the appointments for all of you, and I had already fixed all except yours. I couldn’t see clearly where to send you, and so I was waiting to speak with you. And you come up now with the missions. Precisely from Rome they have just now entrusted to us with a new mission in India in the province of Gujarat that is being separated from Mumbai, though nobody knows this yet. From this moment you’re appointed to it as its first missionary. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” And he gave me his blessing. Amen.

Coming back to Spain was even more interesting. When I arrived in India I asked permission from our wise and holy spiritual father, the Alsatian Fr. Froehly, to take a vow never to leave India. I had seen many missionaries going and coming back, and I didn’t like that. Fr. Froehly refused his permission, and there never was a refusal put to a better use. When my widowed mother reached 90 she wrote to me that she wouldn’t now live long and she wanted my company in her last years. I agreed at once, thinking I would soon be back in India. But she lived to be 102, and in those twelve years I lost contact with India and remained in Spain. I was known in India for the article I wrote every Sunday in the main daily of Ahmedabad, “Gujarat Samachar”. There was no television in those days, and the main entertainment for the whole family on Sunday morning was the reading of the paper’s Sunday supplement… with my article on it. But the article had to reflect the whole of the previous week with its news and its atmosphere and its gossip and its commentaries, and I could not know from Spain all the Indian context. That brought in the change, and it did so in the most natural and normal way. I let myself be led by life wherever it takes me. It has taken me around quite a bit.


Psalm 5: Morning Prayer

“I set out my morning sacrifice,
and watch for you O Lord.
I bow down toward your holy temple
in reverence of you.”
I begin my day facing your temple, facing the sacrament of your presence, the shadow of your throne. I want the first breath of my day to be a feeling of wonder and awe, an act of worship and acknowledgement of your majesty that fills all things and gives life to all beings.

Your temple sanctifies the earth, and the earth, on which you walked one day, sanctifies the entire cosmos of which it is a minimal and privileged part. That is why I want to face in its direction in the morning to set my bearings and fix my balance.

I know that during the day I am going to be engulfed in a tide of word and stress and suspicion and jealousy. I can trust no man and believe no word. Many want my downfall, and a single false step may cause my ruin. “People talk smoothly, but their mouth is an open grave.” I am no match for their wiles, I am lost in the double-talk people use today; I want to trust all and believe what they say, but I have suffered too much in the past to be able to be naïve again. Make people straight with me, Lord. Make me carry with me the shadow of your temple, the sign of your presence, so that people may speak the truth with me, be honest in their dealings and direct in their speech. This is the blessing I ask for at the dawn of a new day: May all see you in me, that they may deal gently with me.

“In the morning,
when I say my prayers,
you will hear me.”


A whole colony of frogs lived in a large deep well. They led their life, kept their customs, found their food and croaked their throats away, filling with movement and sound the shadowed depths of the hospitable well. Their own isolation from the outside world protected them, and they lived in peace, alert only to avoid the fall of the bucket someone occasionally threw from the top to draw water from the well. As soon as they heard the pulley screech they raised the alarm, ducked under water or clung to the wall, and waited there holding their breath till the bucket full of water was hauled up again and the danger passed.

A young frog, after diving for cover in one such bucket alarm, began to think that the bucket, instead of a danger, could be an opportunity. Up there on top he could see a bright opening as if a wide skylight, whose aspect changed with the day and the night, and on which showed shadows and profiles and shapes and colours that suggested there was something worth knowing that side of the well. And, above all, there was the lovely face of the young maiden with two golden plaits who for a brief moment each day bent over the curb of the well to throw the bucket and pull it back in the feared and expected appearance. All that had to be explored.

The young frog spoke, and all the others came down heavily on him. That has never been done, it will be the ruin of our race. Heaven will punish us, you will be lost for ever. We have been made to live here, and here is where we can do well and be happy. Outside the well there is only desolation and destruction. Let no one dare to flout the laws of our ancestors. How can a young frog pretend to know better that they!

The young frog waited patiently for the bucket to be lowered again. He crouched on the right spot, jumped on to the pail at the exact moment it was been lifted up, and raised with it among the wonder and horror of the amphibian community. The council of elders excommunicated the runaway frog and forbade any talk about him. The dignity of the well had to be upheld.

Months passed without anybody mentioning him or anybody forgetting him, when one good day a familiar croak was heard over the curb of the well. All the curious frogs gathered below, and they saw silhouetted against the sky the remembered profile of the enterprising frog. Another frog appeared then by his side, and seven baby frogs gathered round them.

They were all looking without daring to say anything when the frog spoke from the top: “Up here there is a wonderful world waiting for us. There is water that runs, not like the one down there, and there are soft green blades that sprout from the ground, and it is a joy to move among them, and there are plenty of little beetles and tasty insects everywhere, and one can eat different things every day. And then there are many frogs of many types, and they are very cultured and very fine, and I have married one of them and we are very happy and have the seven children you see here with us. There is plenty of space for all of you here, because the fields are immense and one never sees the end of them.”

Down below the official authorities threatened the frog that if he would come down he would be executed for high treason; and he said that he did not intend coming down, and he wished all of them a happy time, and went away with his companion and the seven little frogs.

There was a great uproar in the depths of the well, and some broadminded frogs wanted to have a debate on the proposal, but the authorities croaked them down, forbade any mention of the disturbing incident, and life went back to normal within the steep walls of the dark well.

The next morning, when the girl of the golden plaits pulled up the bucket from the well, she was astonished to see that it was full of frogs.

There is a compound word in Sanskrit to denote a narrow-minded person who is satisfied with hearing what he has always heard and doing what he has always done, which is what everybody does and what, so it seems, has to be done in order to have a safe and quiet live. The word is kup-manduk (“the frog in the well”), and it has passed on from Sanskrit to the modern Indian languages with the same sense. It is considered a rather derogatory term.

Even so, the world is full of wells, and wells are full of frogs. And girls with golden plaits still get startled from time to time when they go to draw water in the morning.

I tell you

The meaning of life

At the beginning of times there was a gentle spark of light in an infinite space. This spark was the spirit of the sun, by name Tawa. He created the first world: a huge, dark cavern in which only insects dwelled. Tawa observed them for a while, shook his head, and realised that all that crawling population was rather silly. He then sent to them Grandmother Spider who told the insects:

– Tawa, the Spirit of the Sun who created you, is displeased with you because you don’t understand at all the meaning of life. Thus he has ordered me to take you to the second world, which is above this cavern of yours.

The insects started crawling towards the second world. The climb was so hard and so long that before reaching the second world they had been transformed in four legged animals. Tawa saw them and said:

– These new beings don’t look less stupid than those of the first world. They don’t seem to understand the meaning of life either.

The he asked Grandmother Spider to take them to the third world. In the course of that journey the animals were transformed into men and women. Grandmother Spider taught them the art of pottery and of weaving. She instructed them fully, and a faint glimpse began to shine in their minds, a vague idea of the meaning of life.

Still things went not that well as the wicked witches then came. They were only at ease in the darkness, so that they put out that faint glimpse of light in the minds of men. Children wept, men fought and hurt each other. They forgot they were looking for the meaning of life.

Grandmother Spider came then back to them and told them:

– I must tell you that Tawa, the Spirit of the Sun, has seen you and feels disappointed. You have not made use of the light that had shone in your minds. So you have to go up to the fourth world. But this time you’ll have to find your way by yourselves.

No one had any idea how to get to the fourth world. They remained a long while in silence, looking at each other without saying anything, till an old man said:

– I think I’ve heard some steps in heaven.

The rest agreed. They had heard someone walking up there. They deliberated among themselves a few minutes and the chose the wise bird to explore the fourth world. The wise bird squeezed through a hole into heaven and reached the fourth world where he discovered a world like the Arizona desert. He flew over the country and saw far away a stone hut. As he drew near he saw a man sitting against a wall. He seemed asleep. Only when the bird alighted by his side did the man wake up. At that very instant, when he looked into his eyes and saw a terrifying flash, the wise bird knew who was there in from of him. It was Death itself.

– Are you not afraid of me? – Death asked him.
– No –answered the bird–. I’ve been sent by the men and women who inhabit the world below this. I want to find the meaning of life.
– Then let them come to me. They will only find the meaning of life if they know how to live with me, with Death. Death opens for them the door to see what is there for them after Death, and that is what gives life its meaning.

Men and women reached the fourth world, listened to the stories Death told them, weaved with them the legends of their own world and of all the other worlds, put them in writing, and they expressed and declared for ever the meaning of life. Since them there is no need for men and women to travel to another world.

(“Cuentos Amerindios”, Omar Kurdi and Pedro Palao Pons, Colección Sabiduría Ancestral, Ediciones Karma, Madrid 2010, p. 64, 153.)

You tell me

I’ve been told that the Father Provincial of Wiconsin Province in the US has left the Society of Jesus and the exercise of priesthood, and has justified his decision in this way: “I’m doing this as a protest against the social injustices and the intolerable and sinful exclusion which a patriarchal Church perpetuates by refusing to consider the ordination of women to the priesthood and the marriage of people of the same sex. I’m convinced that the Catholic Church will not abandon her privilege unless we, priests and bishops, do not come down from our stand. As a consequence, I’m putting down the cassock in order to serve God with a greater fidelity, truth, and universality. I reached this conclusion when I came to know that the Society of Jesus recently refused to have a third branch of lay people associated to it as it had been proposed.”

Homosexuals have to be respected and accepted, but not a union that would allow them to adopt children who then would not have a daddy and a mummy but daddy and daddy or mummy and mummy. This would made it difficult for them leading a normal life among children who would not fail to notice and proclaim the difference, thus creating an unavoidable tension for them. This is not acceptable.

About the ordination of women I do feel – with due respect to the actual legislation – that it could and should be accepted. Jesus did not ordain women because he respected the masculine culture of his days and the tradition of the High Priest Melchizedek, but I do believe he would like to see now, in a society that has achieved the due balance between the sexes, the priesthood extended to women. But I’m afraid that will not happen.


Psalm 6 – A psalm for the night

I can’t sleep tonight. “I am wearied with my moaning; all night long my pillow is wet with tears, I drench my bed with weeping.” I’m not crying out of fear of anyone or of compassion for myself. I’m suffering at night without sleep because I know I’ve not behaved properly in your presence, Lord, and that thought saddens my soul and puts off my sleep. Please, accept my tears, Lord.

I couldn’t imagine, at that unfortunate time when my conscience blacked out and the sad deed was done in the shade, that its memory would stand so firm before my eyes to spoil my day and rob me of my sleep. And I can’t imagine either how could I forget you in that fateful moment and act as though you didn’t exist, as you were not present suffering the harm I had done you when ill-treating my brother. I did it coolly, as we all do when we oppose someone in the cruel competition of a lawless world. I did it, and I thought it all would end with that.

But it didn’t end. The night came, and its loneliness and darkness brought down the weak shield of hypocrisy that protected me, and I remained alone with my conscience and my deed and my tears on my bed. I’m overcome with grief, and this is no feigned feeling of official repentance, but it rather is the sad realization that if I have failed you today with irresponsible ease, I can do the same any day at any time, and that thought worries me and humbles me. How can I trust myself again? How can I say I love my brother if I let him down so easily? And if I don’t love my brother, ¿how can I say that I love you? And if I don’t love you how can I sleep, how can I live?

My vigil today is no penance but love; no prayer for pardon but a call to wake up my soul; or rather, yes, it is a prayer for pardon which may at the same time be healing and remedy, to ask for mercy, and with it for the final grace not to do it again.

“Have mercy, Lord, as I fail; heal my bones and save my very soul.
Turn to me, Lord, save me in your mercy.
The Lord has heard my prayer; the Lord has listened to my cry; the Lord has saved me in my need.”


“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? Consider how the lilies grow in the field, 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!”(The Sermon on the Mount)

Jesus lives close to nature, and as he speaks he takes form it his inspiration and his images. He preaches in the open and he days what he sees, and draws lessons from what he watches. The birds in the sky and the lilies in the field, the sower and the seed, the leaven and the mustard seed, the fig tree and the vine. Everything turns to teaching in his hands, because in everything he sees the presence of the Father who gives life to each being and sense to every situation. The gospel was born on the open fields of Galilee.

He himself tells us what we still need to reach such a vision and to acquire such confidence. He calls us “men of little faith”, thus pointing out our weakness and our poverty. We are shortsighted and superficial. We don’t see far, we don’t see inside, we don’t reach the mystery. We don’t see divine providence in a flower, we don’t see a man in the branches of a vine. We lack imagination, we lack depth, we lack faith. We are still to realize the extent of the incarnation by which God becomes man, he breathes the air we breathe and he walks on the earth on which we walk. His were the eyes of a man with the vision of God, and so he sees mysteries in the crops on the fields and prophecies in the clouds in the sky. With that he opens for us the eyes to see marvels in ordinary life and miracles all around us. Landscapes of living faith.

After the beginnings in creation comes the presence in the incarnation. Human nature, which was already holy as coming from the hands of God, becomes holier as it is taken up by God himself. The greatest union between matter and spirit, between man and God. Living contact between heaven and earth. Everything becomes sacred because God has been here.

“The sower went out…”. And from that moment nobody has been able to see a field without seen in it the seed, the word, the grace, the bushes that suffocate and the hundred per dent harvest. Jesus came…, and the whole world became a parable. It is up to us to understand it.


I tell you

Father General speaks

This I’ve read in the Jesuit magazine JEEVAN (life) from India:

In his homily before 2000 young pilgrims in the JMJ in Brazil, the Father General of the Jesuits, Adolfo Nicolás, told them the story of a bishop in Cambodia who placed a giraffe in the middle of his coat of arms. The explanation was as follows. The giraffe has a very large and strong heart, as it has to pump blood all the way up to its brain. Because it is so tall, it has a very high point of view in a 360º field. A big heart and a high viewpoint is what we all should have in life. I add that giraffes have on their head a couple of little antennae to catch vibrations all around. And they also have large and articulate ears. Quite a communications center. Image and example of what a good bishop has to be in his diocese.

A poet as a friend

I was once invited to go to Mumbai (Bombay) in India to give a talk to the Gujarati community in the city on any theme of my choice. I proposed to speak of a great Bombay poet, Karsandas Manek, and his collection of poems “Your lamp, O Rama” which for many years was my own prayer book in my own devotions. I give here just a small token on the eternal complaint that in this world bad people thrive while good people suffer ill luck:

“Hear my complaint Creator;
I don’t understand your whims.
Stones float all over your oceans,
While flowers in water sink.”

He and I were once giving a public talk together where he referred to me as “a true Vishnuite”, and said of me: “Father is a good Christian, and being a good Christian he is also a good Hindu, because there is only one God.” I treasured the compliment.

You tell me

Question: I hear and I’m convinced that to have a time of mental prayer every day is a very good practice, and I have the time for it and want to do it, but I don’t know how to go about it. Can you help me?

Answer: To have such a desire is already a very good beginning. The trouble with the “hour of meditation” we have associated with religious life is that it has become something very solemn which requires that we “take points” the previous night from some classical book, three exact points if possible, and then at a fixed in the early morning at the ringing of the bell we stand in the presence of God with the prescribed posture and follow the exact procedure in full detail. Quite a ceremony. So, please, just simplify. Think of Jesus and talk to him. Open the gospel and take up any passage. And listen to what Jesus tells you. It’s easy that way.


Psalm 7

I call you “my refuge” and “my shield”, and so you are, and I want to understand the ways in which you protect me and shield me. When I call you my refuge, I don’t imagine you as a hidden cave in a high mountain range where I run to hide myself from my enemies so that nobody can find me and I feel safe and secure; or again I don’t think that when I invoke your help you come to me and put your shield all around me so that nobody can hurt me and I escape unharmed.

You don’t protect me from the outside, but from inside me. You don’t run to my help, you are in me. You don’t shield me by wrapping me up, but by being me. You are not an astronaut’s suit to guarantee my subsistence in an unfriendly atmosphere, you are my very skin. You protect my body by giving me a healthy organism, and my soul by strengthening it in your grace. You protect me by being one with me, and that is my strength.

When I meet a difficulty in life and I think of you, that is not to ask you to remove the difficulty, but to give me the strength to face it, not to commit you to bring about a particular outcome, but to empower me to accept it whatever it may be; not to impose on you my solution but to make me take yours as mine. That is why you are my strength, because you are my being.

You understand me, and my cry to you in a sudden crisis may take any spontaneous shape. I may claim deliverance, I may protest, I may rebel. I may even sound at times exacting and insolent. But you know me well now, and you know how to translate into coherent language the elementary groanings of my troubled spirit under the weight of pain. What I want in every case is you and your presence and your comforting touch on my wounded soul.

You will even hear me at times, perhaps too often in these Psalms, refer to other men as my “enemies”. Here again I hope you understand my language and adapt my meaning. I live in a world ruled by competition, where the success of others is a threat to my advancement, where the very existence of millions around me crowds me out of the centre of living. Every man in a queue ahead of me is an “enemy”, every driver who by a split second steals the parking place from me is an “enemy”, every one of the candidates interviewed for the same job I badly want and sorely need is an “enemy”. Of course they are all my brothers, and I embrace them and love them before you, and I am ready to help them if the need arises. I do not wish ill to anybody, and will never hurt anybody knowingly. Even if I use the language of war, I am at peace with all men and accept them all in you.

My only fear is that the competition I suffer may turn unfair, that bribes and tricks and malpractices may rob me of the job or the prize or the advantage I justly deserved, and that context is where the word “enemy” arises and gets into my prayers. And so when I ask for your protection it is precisely protection against the unfair means others may use to put me down, so that I may not fall a victim to them, and may not feel the temptation to hate anybody. Protect me in my life, so that the word “enemy” may never come to my lips. Do justice to me, that I may believe in man. Shelter me from jealousy thatI may feel kindly towards all.


Ecology and ecumenism

“God told Noah: ‘I will never again curse the earth because of man. So long as the earth lasts, sowing and reaping, heat and cold, summer and winter, day and night will not cease. I set my arc in the clouds, and this will be the sign of the alliance between me and the earth’.”

Noah is the great patriarch of ecology. He received from God the promise that he would never flood the earth again, of the seasons in their regularity and of the divine favour over al creation. And as a seal of the alliance came the image of the multicoloured arc over grey clouds in the rain. Man’s reconciliation with its surroundings. Friendship with nature. Ecological peace. The link with lost ages in the past, and the hoped for prosperity in the future. Privileged witness of the once threatened and now rescued history of humankind.

In its deepest dimension ecology is ecumenism because it unites men and women from all countries and creeds in our common relationship with nature and all that it represents in you and in fear, in usage and abuse, in respect to the forces of creation and the glimpse of the majesty hidden in them. We do well to rescue the religious dimension of ecology in order to unify and revitalize its potential for human redemption. We are vivified by that which unites. We are equal before the storm.

The recurring theme of the deluge is a warning before the abuse that exploits and impoverishes nature, and it is also a hope as humankind always comes out strengthened for a new beginning. It we heed the warning in time, we can avoid the trial. Let us keep listening.

I tell you

Once a Gujarati writer who was a good friend of mine asked my help to translate the poems of St John of the Cross from Spanish into Gujarati. I know both languages, and I know the poems of St John of the Cross and I always keep a copy of them on my desk for renewed reading which for me is direct prayer; still I found the translation an almost impossible task and unsatisfactory in any case. Translation is always difficult, poetry translation is even harder, and mystical poems are beyond the best effort.

St John Berchmans is quoted as saying that we have as many souls as languages we speak. Apart from Spanish and English, I treasure my memories of speaking chaste Latin at school, not only in the classroom but also in walks and games in the youthful enthusiasm of my school days as it was happily compulsory in the strict discipline in those times. Some, of course, practiced keeping quiet in Latin all the while.

The saying is “traductores, traditores”, where translators are taken as traitors, but languages bring us closer to new friends and cultures, and broaden our minds. Just a linguistic anecdote here. In Chennai I lived with some Jesuit friends of different nationalities and languages, one of them a perfect British gentleman, Fr Leigh, and another, a no less typical German Fr Basenach, both very strong and marked personalities. One day, Basenach said in a certain context: “This is unbelievable, and Leigh agreed, “Yes, it’s incredible”; and then Basenach again, “This is quite unlikely”, with Leigh chiming in, “Yes, it is quite improbable.” At that Basenach told Leigh: “Father, you are just putting into Latin what I’m saying in English.” Nobody had realized it in spite of the fact that all knew that “improbable” in Latin is “unlikely” in English, and “incredibile” is “unbelievable”.

Leigh was the person in charge of giving a monthly talk to the community, and Basenach never attended it. He would tell us with feigned concern: “I don’t know how I’ll manage in heaven, because heaven for Leigh consists in giving us all a community talk each month, while for me it’ll consist in not attending it. I’ll have to hide in a cloud.” Germans can have a sense of humour.

You tell me

You write: I’m a novice in a religious congregation of women, and I’ve just finished the Long Retreat of a whole month with great fruit. I really enjoyed the experience. But now they tell us that this is only a passing mood, however genuine and devout, and I can’t imagine what I’ll do if this disappears.

I answer: You make me laugh, M.A. This intense fervour will pass away, or course, and sooner than you think. Life is long, and its value precisely lies in passing through all these states of the soul, joy and sadness, enthusiasm and boredom, hope and despair, and getting ahead through them all taking life as it comes and going ahead steadily with faith. We cannot always be on the top of the mountain. Remember what Peter told Jesus after the glorious experience of his vision on Mount Tabor. Cheer up and go ahead with your noviciate and your whole life.


Psalm 8

“How great is your name, O Lord,
Through all the earth!”
I am in love with nature. I love the heavens and the earth, the rivers and the trees, the mountains and the clouds. I can sit outside time by the side of the sea and watch without end the play of the waters and the shore, eternal game of chess between white in the crest of the waves and black in the shadows of the rocks on the limitless board of creation itself. I can contemplate the flow of a river and the dancing of the waters and the singing of the stones and the joy of the current as my own joy in the race to the sea. I can sit under a tree and feel its life as my own in the surging sap from hidden roots to waving leaves. I can wander with a cloud, fly with a bird, and just sit with a flower as it sits out its life contented in fragrance and colour in the unknown corner of the virgin forest where it grows and it dies.

I feel one with nature… because nature is You.

Nature is fresh with your touch, alive with your breath, trembling with the majesty of your presence, and serene with the blessing of your peace. I enjoy a sunrise because it is exclusively yours, and a sunset because no man can set his hand on it. It is your work alone, and its unspoiled freshness brings ever to me the message of your presence. And when your sun goes down and a friendly darkness, which to me is sign and invitation to closeness and intimacy, spreads over your creation, you imprint on the parchment of your heavens the signature of your stars. Do you realize now why I like to look up to the heavens in the night and decipher in love the code of your exclusive handwriting?

“I see the heavens, the work of your hands, the moon and the stars which you arranged”, and I sing to myself with joyful pride: “How great is your name, O Lord our God, through all the earth.”

And in the centre of that wonder I see myself. What is man that you care for him?” Spot of dust in a cosmos of light. But in that spot that is me there is another creation more wonderful than the sky and the stars. The marvel of my body, the secret of my cells, the lightning of my nerves, the palace of my heart. And the quickening of my soul, the spark of my understanding, the thrill of my feeling and the pillar of my faith. The wonder inside me, and your signature on it too. I smile in recognition when I see you have made me the king of creation, inferior only to yourself. I know my smallness and my greatness, my dignity and my nothingness. And knowing both I accept in simplicity the crown of king of creation, the one outside me and the one inside me, and I want to enjoy both fully, the rivers and the mountains as well as the feelings and the wit, the conversation of men and the silence of the forest, the home and the sky, the friends and the trees, the books and the stars…, to enjoy everything as I know you want me to enjoy it to the happiness of my heart and the glory of your name.

“How great is your name, O Lord, through all the earth!”


“God told Noah: ‘Never again will I curse the earth because of man. As long as earth lasts, sowing and reaping, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night shall cease no more. I set my bow in the clouds and it shall be a sign of the Covenant between me and the earth’.”
(Genesis)Noah is the great patriarch of ecology. It was to him that God made the promise that he would never again flood the earth, that the seasons would keep for ever their regular cycle, and the divine favour would rest on all his creation. And as a royal seal on that promise Noah received from God the coloured range of the joyful bow over the heavy clouds of the total rain. Man and woman are reconciled with their environment. Friendship with nature. Trust in struggle. Ecological peace. The eternal treatise is signed in seven colours over the wet horizon. The history of humankind has been threatened, and is rescued in glory with eternity assured. Day of hope for ever.

The tradition of the deluge is found in all ancient cultures, from the epic of Gilgamesh in Babylon till the Popol-Vuh narrative in Quiché land. All peoples in all ages and all cultures have in one way or another recorded the water ordeal in which humankind disappeared as a punishment for its generalized wrongdoings, and only few couples were saved, out of which, after the radical purification, the human race sprang again in renewed progeny. Here is, among thousand, the charming narrative preserved by the Quecha tradition (Peru) in Napo:

In the days of the ordeal by water two Barisa men were saved on a “huito” tree, eating its fruit. The tree itself kept growing as the level of the water rose. After two months, the surging tide stopped. They waited for a month, and dropped a “huiyo” which is the fruit of the “huito”. It fell down and made a noise “tipi”, because it had still fallen in the waters. After a month they dropped another huayo. It sounded “tiuh”, because it fell on slime. One month more, and they dropped another. It made a sound “tiah”, as there was still some mud. The waters were receding. A month later they dropped another huayo, and it stuck in the mud, half in and half out. “The ground is showing”, they said. Next month they did the same, and this time the seed “han!… tar, tar!”, fell on hard ground and rolled on. Then the Barisa men came down. When they found themselves alone, they said: “Where can we find some countrymen?” Because they were two only, and were bored. There was no jungle, only a vast steppe covered with an ash-coloured mud. There they roamed about at will. They were walking when they heard a sound far away: “Te, te, te!” Someone was cutting wood. They ran with joy toward the sound. The saw a Luntsiri man cutting wood. He turned round and was surprised to find people of his own race. They told him: “So you too are alive!” He said: “Yes, because God has helped me.” They were moved and wept. The Luntsiri took them to his home where he had two unmarried daughters. He married them to the Barisa men. Their descendants live still today, and they are the Barisa and the Luntsiri.”

(Jaime Regan, Hacia la tierra sin mal, p.135)

It is remarkable that all cultures record in their own way the common tradition of the universal flood. This is a confirmation of the biblical narrative, and a happy ecumenical opening towards the echoes of that same experience in other peoples and other religious contexts. In its deeper dimension ecology is ecumenism, because it unites us with men and women in all countries and of all creeds in our common relationship with nature and all that it represents in joy and fear, in help and obstacle, in reverence before the powers of creation, and in the awed glimpse of the majesty at work behind them. We want to find new bonds with the whole human race in the true search of a better future in equality and justice, in mutual respect and deeper understanding, in the expected renewal of insights and values to live with meaning and die with dignity. In that praiseworthy and necessary search we’ll do well to rescue and reappraise the religious dimension of the ecological awareness, in order to unify and revitalize its vital potential for human redemption. Whatever brings union, brings life. We are all equal before the storm.

The flood theme is a warning against the abuses that go to despise and exploit a sacred and necessary heritage; and it is also a glimpse of hope, because after the trial, the human race comes out always strengthened for a new beginning. If we heed the warning, we can avoid the trial. Let us listen to nature.


I tell you

A quotation from a book I’ve just read, “Lo que mueve mi vida” by Jay Alison, Plataforma Editorial, Barcelona 2007.

P. 164. “I believe in the theory of the fifty per cent. Half of the time things go better than one could normally expect, while the other half they go worse. Life is a pendulum. At least in the long range. It takes time to get the full perspective, but once discovered it prepares us for the surprises the future brings with itself. Something is due to me, and I relish it in the good times. This gives me strength for the times of trial and reassures me for the future. The half-per-theory helps me to get out of unpleasant crises, as I know that if something unpleasant has come, it is only a sign that something very pleasant is coming soon.”

I say the same thing using mathematical terminology: life is a cero-sum game. That is, along the whole of life good and bad things even out. I know you’ll tell me that is not true and will bring a thousand examples to prove it. But I won’t believe you. I’ll continue to believe that the two sides of the balance keep on shifting up and down, and the sum of the respective times evens out in the end. This is at least a help in the less pleasant moments.

I’m such an optimist that when something unpleasant happens, I rejoice over it, thinking that something very pleasant will soon come round to restore the balance. I have no proof of this, but I’m totally convinced it is true. This is my belief in the equilibrium of creation. My interpretation of God’s will. My experience in my own life and in what I know of other people’s lives. My own trick to convert every unpleasant moment into a pleasant one in instant transition. It’s just cheating fate to enjoy unenjoyable things, being convinced that the worse the present situation is, the better it will very soon become. I assure you it works.

You tell me

Many of you ask me about pope Francis. He is the first Jesuit pope. We Jesuits are known for our vow not to accept bishoprics, and, of course, even less the papacy. But if one is appointed, he has to accept, of course, as there is also a vow of obedience. I say that for me this pope has the best recommendation in the world, that is that he has read my books. He told me that himself in Buenos Aires. I hope it’ll show.


Psalm 9 – Prayer for the oppressed

“May the Lord be a tower of strength for the oppressed,
a tower of strength in time of need,
that those who acknowledge your name may trust in you;
for you, Lord, do not forsake those who seek you.”
I feel comforted when I read those words and I realize that the concern for the oppressed was already alive in the heart of those who first make and prayed the Psalms. “The cry of the poor” and “the hope of the destitute” ring in your ears ever since the verses of this Psalm first sounded in Israel. The prayer “do not forget the poor, O God…, the poor commits himself to you” is the first prayer of your people, and your answer too is recorded in the same Psalm with prompt gratitude:

“You have heard the lament of the humble, O Lord,
and are attentive to their heart’s desire,
bringing justice to the orphan and the downtrodden,
that fear may never drive men from their homes again.”

And at the same time, Lord, I feel sad when I realize with unavoidable evidence that the situation that gave rise to that prayer obtains still today, that the oppression of man by man has not yet disappeared from the face of the earth, that there is still injustice and inequality and even slavery among the men you have created to be free. These are old words that are unfortunately all of them new:

“The wicked man in his pride hunts down the poor.
The wicked man is obsessed with his own desires,
and his greed gives wickedness its blessing;
arrogant as he is, he scorns the Lord
and leaves no place for God in all his schemes.
His mouth is full of lies and violence,
mischief and trouble lurk under his tongue.
He lies in ambush in the villages
and murders innocent men by stealth.”

Men are still murdered today, men are still driven from their homes, men still live in fear and in need. Your world is still marred by injustice, and your children suffer destitution. And thoughtful humankind rises again with pain in its heart at the cry of the poor.

The urgency of the cry today is that “the wicked man” is no more an isolated individual. Oppression does not come from a single person whom authority could easily restrain. Oppression comes often from authority itself, from the group, from the system, from the vested and complex interests that greed and pride and power have woven into society today to the material advantage of a few and the abject dereliction of millions of your children. My prayer is deeper today as my anguish is wider, and I put a new heart into the words that you yourself inspired.

“Arise, Lord, set your hand to the task;
do not forget the poor.
The poor victim commits himself to you;
fatherless, he fins in you his helper.
Break the power of wickedness and wrong;
hunt out all wickedness until you can find no more.”

Then I think deeper still, and I discover in myself the roots of that same wickedness. I too cause pain and suffering, I sense in myself the hapless brotherhood with the so called “wicked men”, and I recognize deep within myself the same deviations that when let loose bring about the misery the world deplores. I feel the tide of passions and greed and jealousy and lust, and I know I cause harm at times to people close to me. So when I pray for liberation I pray tor myself too. Free me from the slavery of my impulses and the unfairness of my judgments. Remove from me the desire to dominate, to impose myself on others, to manipulate and to rule. Still in me the craving for power, the instinct of ambition. Free me truly from all that harms others, that I may help them to be free. Remove the evil in me, and then through me in all those that come my way and I can influence in your name, so that we all may give you thanks and praise together.

“Have pity on me, O Lord, look upon my affliction,
you who have lifted me up
and caught me back from the gates of death;
that I may repeat all your praise and exult at my deliverance
in the gates of Zion’s city.”


Mount Fuji

“When I open my window every morning,
I see Mount Fuji.”
We are glad to know it. Perhaps we even feel gently jealous of the Japanese sage who, just on opening the window 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 pregnant with tradition and feeling, symbol of a nation and a people, of a faith and an 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 one 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 fat away from Mount Fuji; indeed he lived in another one of Japan’s many islands from where no 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 his 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 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 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 he 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. This is the best definition of faith.

I tell you

Do you know what “prayer by breathing” is? You must have heard about it if you have made the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius in a full month, but they are often omitted in shorter versions. It is a very useful method of prayer which originated in the East, though it is not very much known in the West. St Ignatius, who somehow came to know about it, calls it “prayer by keeping beat”, and describes it as follows:

“The third method of prayer is that with each breathing one has to pray mentally saying a word of the Our Father or any other prayer so that only one word is said between one breath and another, and while the time from one breath and the next lasts, one must pay attention to the meaning the word said, or to the person to whom he prays, or to one’s own lowliness, or to the difference between such a highness in God and such a lowliness in oneself; and he must proceed in the same way through the other words of the Our Father and the other prayers, that is, the Hail Mary, Anima Christi, the Creed, Salve Regina, following the same method in all.”

This method of prayer is much older than St Ignatius, and it is much practiced in India as part of the Hindu tradition. On an early morning in winter I was walking on the road to say Mass for some nuns in their convent. This was in Mount Abu, and it was very cold. I walked well wrapped in my sweater and muffler, with a fast step to keep warm in my way. Along the way in front of me a saw a peasant woman who was carrying on her head a huge burden of tree branches to sell them as firewood in the early market on the main square of the village. I felt pity on seeing her. I had no burden and was walking fast, so I overtook her, and as I was stepping along her I noticed she was reciting a prayer in a low voice by herself. She was saying at each step, which was also at each breathing though she certainly didn’t observe that: “Oh, my God, oh my Lord; oh my God, oh my Lord!” without ceasing. Soon I would be warm and comfortable in the convent, and after holy mass the good sisters would give me a steaming breakfast in their cheerful company. Meanwhile the good woman went on with her heavy load. “Oh, my God, oh, my Lord!” This was quite a meditation for me. Somehow, I didn’t quite enjoy my breakfast.

You tell me

Question: Why is the Holy Spirit called “The Forgotten One”?

Answer: Because we quite forget him. Simply. We often pray to Jesus, we sometimes remember the Father, chiefly as we recite the Our Father, but we don’t often think of the Holy Spirit, except at the end of the “Glory be”, and when we cross ourselves if we pronounce the words at all. Outside the feast of Pentecost, which being on a Sunday is not much of a feast, it hardly shows in our cult and in our devotion. St Theresa called him “my little dove”, and she drew from him the inspiration for her writings. On the other hand, the Holy Spirit is a characteristic feature of the Christian religion, other religions too consider God as Father, and Hinduism has also the incarnation of God in Krishna (whose name, besides, reminds us of the name of Christ, as do the virgin birth and the killing of the innocent at his coming). All religions have some points of contact, and we honour them all.


Psalm 10 – The courage to live

Today I feel again that black mood that steals its way sometimes into my heart under cover of night. The desire to run away from it all, to give up on life, to resign from my job as a man in which I have been such a signal failure. I am just tired, Lord, tired in the inside of my bones, and my only desire is to lie down and let things be. I am tired of fighting, of dreaming, of hoping, of living. Allow me to sit in a corner, and let the world go its way, once I am free for ever from my responsibility to do anything about it. Your own Psalm says it: “When foundations are undermined, what can the good man do?”

I don’t even feel like praying, like saying anything, like thinking anything at all. Neither do I want today to argue with you, to protest, to get answers to my questions. I simply have no questions, or no heart to ask them or even to think what they are. I only know that my dreams have not worked, that the world has not changed, and that I myself have not changed into the kind of man I wanted to be. Nothing has worked, and why should I care any more? I want to quit. I want to give up. I want to step aside and let things pass as they want to pass, and not a word from me.

And yet as I speak to you I know that my words mean exactly the opposite of what they say. I am speaking my despair because I want to hope, I am tendering my resignation because I want to keep working, I know I want to stay, and I know I want to fight. My words now are only the blowing up of the cover of my disappointment that had grown thick with overdrawn patience, and had to burst once for all to give way to cleaner feelings and kinder moods. I will not run away. My existence may or may not make any difference to the world, but my place is here and I mean to keep it and defend it and honour it. I will never run away. It is not in my nature, not in my ways, and if I have allowed that foul mood to come over me, and I have allowed myself to express it, that is precisely because I wanted to come out of it, and I knew that the best way to defeat it was to expose it. It takes courage to live, but that courage comes readily when I think of you and look at you by my side.

The Psalm begins with the cowardly advice, “Fly away to the mountains?” And it ends with the word of faith: “The face of the Lord is turned towards the upright man.” I will not fly away.


Out in the desert
dawn happens without warning.
And someone knows it.

(Borges)And because someone knows it, the dawn becomes prayer, the desert flowers in contemplation, and existence itself is a sacrament. The presence of man and woman in the barren desert gives meaning to its extension and life to its sands. The human being sanctifies creation by living it, and returns it thus in joyful fruition to the Creator who first gave it to him at the beginning of time. Dawn is beautiful because there is a man and a woman to see it.

Dawn “happens”. The great events of life and history simply happen. Things happen. Whatever is, “is”. The simplicity of existence enhances the majesty of the commonplace. “All that exists is adorable”, said Claudel. Our role is to see happenings as providence, to recognize the painter in the painting, God in the dawn and eternity in the desert. When we smell a rose, we enliven its existence. When we drink water, we sanctify its course. When we look at the heavens, we consecrate their splendor. We have been placed in the midst of creation that by admiring it and accepting it and using it and enjoying it we may witness to its greatness and acknowledge the generosity of its gift. Our presence gives meaning to the universe.

And then, while we bow before nature and all its creatures, we elicit also their friendly reaction, and they become ready to help our toil and our suffering with the family understanding of the common struggle. Another haiku from the same source:

“Trill of a lonely bird.
The nightingale does not know
that he consoles you.”
If the presence of man and woman had given nature its soul, nature now responds and rewards human presence with the best it has in light and colour and clouds and birds. The trill of the nightingale heals away sadness, the breeze in the afternoon relieves fatigue; the colour of the rose softens the eyes; the perfume of the fields widens the soul. And nature does all this with supreme disinterestedness, without seeming to realize, to know, to value what it does, doing it simply because it does it, without giving it any importance, without keeping accounts, without asking for a receipt. The nightingale consoles us with its joyful trill, and the rain refreshes us with its gentle touch. The creatures give us back the thought of God we had given them. That is the sacred circle that justifies the universe. Let us learn how to contemplate the dawn. And let us allow ourselves to be consoled by the nightingale. The galaxies are watching. And God is in the midst of them.


I tell you

First of all a Happy Christmas to all of you with much joy and cheer. May these days of Advent still left, and then Christmas and New Year, renew our soul, lengthen our smile, and fill up our heart with the memories of gone-by Christmases and the hope of future ones.

Here I now tell you something about another religion, Sikhism, not much known outside India.

Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, went to visit the holy Kaaba in Mecca. He reached the city by the evening, but his fame had already reached before him, so people were waiting for him. They received him, welcomed him, but he was very tired. So he said, “I would like to go to seep, I have been walking miles and miles.” So they prepared a bed under a tree, but he turned the bed. Mohammedans don’t sleep with their feet towards Kaaba, but he turned the bed so that his feet were towards Kaaba, and his head was on the opposite direction.

When the head priest of Kaaba heard about it, he came running. He said, “We thought you were a great mystic, but you don’t even seem to be religious. You don’t understand that you are hurting our feelings. You are keeping your feet towards the most divine and the most holy land! You should turn your feet.”

Nanak laughed. He said, “As far as I am concerned, wherever I turn my feet I find they are towards the holy land, because to me the whole existence is holy. Now if you think there is some place which is unholy, please turn my legs towards it. I am willing!” There was a silence. The priest could not say that there was some place that was unholy. But this could not be tolerated either, that this man continued to keep his feet towards Kaaba. Finally the priest decided to turn his head towards Kaaba. But they were utterly disappointed and surprised. They could not believe their eyes. Wherever they moved Nanak’s legs, Kaaba moved! Then Guru Nanak explained: Our feet must, at least in our imagination, be always turned towards the Kaaba to signify that our whole life is a pilgrimage towards God in heaven.

(Osho, I Celebrate Mayself, p.57)

May our life-long Christmases take us step by step to the final Christmas in heaven.

You tell me

Once more I’ve received the complaint or lament or grievance or protest quite often repeated, “How can God permit this…?” There are many things which we, if we were God, would not allow to happen, and being omnipotent we could effectively block them. But apparently God thinks otherwise and lets them be, although he may not like them either. The freedom he has given us is more important. Just think that if we had no freedom, our good works would have no merit either, so that the price of our good actions is precisely the possibility of our committing bad ones.


Psalm 11 – Word of God and word of man

I live in a universe of words, and I feel the tedium and the disgust of listening the whole day to words that mean nothing or mean the opposite of what they say, to words that flatter and to words that threaten, to words that entice and to words that cheat. The compliment, the excuse, the simulation and the plain lie. I never know whether I can trust what I hear or believe what I read. I feel always uneasy before the boast of deceitful men that your own Psalm has recorded:

“Our tongue can win the day:
words are our ally;
who can master us?”

And then I turn to your Word. Your Word is one and firm and eternal and creative. In the pages of your Book, in the silence of my heart, in the songs of your liturgy and in the incarnation of your Son your Word is one and true and alive In the contemplation of your Word I rest and refresh myself from the weariness of cowing down under the words of men.

“The words of the Lord are pure words:
Silver refined in a crucible,
Gold seven times purified.”
Thanks for the gold, Lord.


What the thief could not stea

<“The thief forgot the moon at the window.”
(Ryokan)The thief took away everything he could lay his hands on. There was not much in the monk’s austere cell, but he always could find some clothing, some devote statue, a clean bowl or a good stick, and all that the sly thief took away under the clouded night. The monk, half alert in his sleep, heard the noise of the retreating thief and understood he had been robbed. He counted the losses, but then he looked through the window, watched the full moon in the starry night, and smiled as he saw that his most precious possession was intact. The white moon kept shining in the midst of the darkness. The monk turned in his bed and went back to sleep. His treasure was safe.

Who can take the moon away from me? Who can take away the sun and the stars and the clouds and the winds and the mountains and the fields? The markets in the world will go up and down and will drag along with them the value of money and the price of my labour. Thieves in the night will spy on my earnings and will empty my coffers. Whatever can be earned, can be lost, and the anxiety of the constant danger spoils the joy of the uneasy gain. There is no quiet sleep under the ceiling of ambition.

But there certainly is such a sleep by moonlight. Joyful detachment in the midst of mad consumerism. Simplicity as a way of life and as true elegance in style. Setting always our first pleasure in nature so that all other pleasures come down and lose rank, and so they do not hinder the happy course of our life with their compulsive need for instant pleasure always. We have to learn how to appreciate the beauty of a moonlit night so that we do not any more need to go searching for it in artificial shows of empty sophistication.

Whoever carries within himself the richness of his own life needs not trouble himself to find external riches which will never satisfy him and always threaten to betray him. And carrying one’s riches with oneself means knowing how to appreciate and to enjoy the simple joys of life, the day and the night, the water and the breeze, pause and thought, friendship and company, the laughing of a child and the trill of a bird, sunrise and sunset, food and sleep, prayer and silence. All that is represented by the moon and the night in their friendly presence, the gentle light, their unearthly figure. All that which nobody can take away from us.

Before sleeping again, the poet monk immortalised in a brief verse his mischievous smile.
“The thief forgot
The moon at the window.”

Fundación González Vallés

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