The texts of Carlos G. Vallés
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Year 2014
I tell you

I have to correct the pope in his Christmas sermon. He mentioned the Jesuits’ motto, IHS, which he interpreted as Iesus Hominum Salvator (“Jesus Saviour of Men” in Latin) as most people say. But that is not so. Originally they are the first three letters of the name of Jesus in Greek capitals. IESUS. What happens is that in Greek there are two “e”s, one short, epsilon, and one long, eta. And capital eta is written as an H. Hence the confusion. The Random House dictionary gives the right interpretation. I hope this does not affect papal infallibility.

I like Beethoven, and I’m going to tell you a few things about him, as all helps to enjoy his music better. As a young man I spent a whole summer studying piano, and the first thing I did every day, as instructed by the teacher, was to repeat all the pieces I had learned to that day. As the first was the Moonlight Sonata, I played it first thing in the morning during three months. I never got tired or bored. It is not easy to play, but it is a new and unique experience every time it is played. Liszt called its second movement “a flower between two chasms” between the storming first and third. But one thing is to play his sonatas by heart, and quite another to read the anecdotes of his life. They make sense together, and all belong to a genius.

His father was a heavy drinker. When he died, some said in posthumous humour that his death was a loss for the nation’s economy as he had contributed heavily to its wealth paying taxes for alcoholic drinks. His mother resented her husband’s behaviour, and family life was not happy. This brought out a shy child, sceptical of marriage and unable to relate to women. As a young man he was unkempt and lazy, but he knew by then that something special was burgeoning within him, and when he was chided for his slovenliness, he would reply, ‘When I become a genius, nobody will pay attention to that’.

Haydn taught him, and he would despair because Ludwig could not learn the rules of harmony, counterpoint, and fugue. When he complained to his pupil that he was not showing any interest in learning the rules, the future genius answered him: ‘Rules are only good to break them.’ Genial. That fact is, Beethoven did not compose a decent fugue in his life. There is, of course, the last movement of his Hammerklavier Sonata, but that is more of a tornado than a fugue.

When he was 17 he met Mozart who was 31 by then. Mozart asked the young man to play something on the piano, but did not pay much attention to it as he thought Beethoven, as child prodigies are wont to do, had come with an ‘improvisation’ well prepared and learned by heart. Beethoven noticed it and asked him to give him any theme to develop on the spot. He began with the undoubted improvisation, and Mozart was dumbfounded. He encouraged the lad, but they never met again.

At the beginning he was not very successful with his music. He had to put advertisements in the papers to sell his compositions. He did not have much money. To pay the house rent one day he had no money and the payment urged, he locked himself in his room, wrote in a hurry a theme with variations, and gave it to a friend to sell it for some money. His friend, instead of selling it, gave the paper to the landlord who first refused it but finally accepted it. The next day he came to tell Beethoven he could pay him with those little papers. To avoid payment and to run away from neighbours’ complaints, he was constantly changing house in Vienna – always carrying with him all his furniture and three pianos. He changed Vienna for Heiligenstat where he did persevere for some time in the same house. The house was near a church, and it was then that Beethoven realised that he was hearing less and less the sound of the church bells. He was getting deaf.

He kept a diary of housekeeping diary with full details. Some excerpts:

January 31: Housekeeper dismissed.

February 15: Cook joins.

March 8: Cook leaves.

March 22: Housekeeper joins.

April 17: Cook joins.

May 16: Cook dismissed.

July 1: Cook joins.

July 28: Cook runs away at night.

September 6: Maid joins.

October 22: Maid leaves.

December 12: Cook joins.

December 18: Cook dismissed.

The problems with the cook were not only culinary. When he was composing his Solemn Mass and had already finished the Kyrie, he wanted to correct it again as he always did, but could not find the papers with the score anywhere. He was in despair thinking he had lost them and could not write the music again, when he found them in the kitchen where they had been used to wrap the cheese. Dressing-down for the cook. But some of the papers were still missing. They were found wrapping butter and lining the shelves. Out went the cook.

He did not brook any interruptions at table, and so the servant had to bring all the dishes from the beginning and leave them on the table. Now, whether Beethoven was eating alone or with friends, he would concentrate on his own thoughts or on the conversation going on, and the dishes got cold. Then he got angry with the servant because the dishes were cold. So the servant could not bring the dishes one after the other because he could not be interrupted, and could not bring them together because they got cold. Daily problem.

Saturday was the day for the girl servant to go to the market and buy provisions for the week. But, again, Beethoven could not be interrupted at his work. The girl dressed up, stood complete with bonnet and basket before Beethoven while he was composing, and waited there without saying anything. At long last, Beethoven looked up, noticed her, realised what her presence meant, but still protested and said:

Do you really have to go?
Yes, sir. I have to go.
Is it that today is Saturday?
Yes sir, it is Saturday.
How do you know?
The girl had a calendar ready and pointed at the date. Beethoven then searched in his purse, gave her the money, and the girl went to the market. Beethoven’s favourite dish was fish, together with macaroni and bread soup. And eggs. He would carefully examine each egg, and if any one looked suspicious, he just would smash it against the wall. The fish he ate was river fish and was contaminated by the lead coming from factories on the riverside. A recent analysis of a lock of his hair has showed that it was poisoning with that lead that eventually killed Beethoven. He paid dearly for his fish. And we missed the tenth symphony.

God made Beethoven deaf, Demosthenes a stammerer, and Homer blind. Lesson to conquer obstacles.

(cf. Fernando Argenta, ‘Los clásicos también pecan’, Plaza y Janés, Barcelona 2010.)

You tell me

Question: I live in India, where you lived for many years, and here all my Hindu friends believe in reincarnation. I also get some times what they call “dejà vu”, that is when you come to a place where you never have been and yet you get the impression that you know it quite well, which would go to prove that you’d been in it in your previous incarnation. How can that be?

Answer: I too get that “dejà vu” sometimes, so that I do know about it and I can answer you. When I arrived in Madras (Chennai) for the first time in my life, as I was entering into the dining room at St Xavier’s College where I was going to study, I experienced a very strong feeling that I’d been there before. But it turned out that the dining room had been built only 20 years before while I was 25 at the time, so that I certainly could not have been there in my supposed previous incarnation. The true explanation of the “dejà vu” is that we find ourselves in a situation in which several striking details coincide with some previous experience of ours, while we are quite clear that we’ve never been there before, and so it gives the impression that it must have been in a previous incarnation that we were there. But this is only an impression and nothing more. I give an example. When the Dalai Lama dies they first search for a child born about that time (though they wait for a year to make the test and they do choose a good family and a healthy child, just in case) and they put before him two equal sticks, one was the one used by the Dalai Lama, and the other an imitation. If the child chooses the right one, that is the proof he is the one. This has been actually told, with a touch of humour, by the same Dalai Lama, and he added that this convinced all the people who “discovered” him when he was a child. He shows himself skeptical about it all.

Our theology professor in the Pune seminary in India, the Austrian Jesuit Hans Staffner, used to tell un in class that about half of humankind believes in reincarnation while the other half does not, and so it was for us to defend our position while we respected the opposite one. Fifty-fifty. The newspapers in India used to publish cases of children who for some reason were supposed to be a reincarnation of some deceased person. Parmananda Kunvarji Kapadia, great friend of mine and well-known in Bombay (Mumbai), took the trouble to take note of all such news during one year, visiting the place where there were supposed to have taken place, examining the situation, and examining the situation. Then he published his findings in the press where he stated that he had not found a single case that would justify the claim or being a reincarnation.


Psalm 12

How long…, how long…, how long?”

The one cry of my thirsting soul. How long still to go, how long to wait, how long to strive? How long till I learn how to pray, how long till I master my temper, how long till I achieve peace, maturity and grace? I have been so many years at it, Lord, so many efforts, so many retreats, so many resolutions, so many timetables along the way to better myself, to become a genuine help to others, to be one with you…, so many dates have passed and so many occasions have gone by that you will understand if I grow impatient and wonder and question, how long still for me to go?

And then I hear your answer: Why to ask, how long? Don’t you realize that I am already with you, that tomorrow is today, that the future is now, that your life is already working and my grace is active in you, that the world is redeemed and the Kingdom has come? Grace is the present, and victory is here. Don’t dream of future days, enjoy the present morning. Appreciate what you possess and work with what you have. You are already free; show it to yourself and to the world, and you will have made your contribution today to the freedom of humankind. Learn the secret: to achieve liberation is to know that you are free. My Son has died for your freedom, and I have accepted his death raising him from the dead; if you believe in his death and resurrection, you believe in your own liberation; proclaim your faith by making it show in your life.

Yes, I believe. I have already received the Holy Spirit, and his gifts are with me. I see now that I have to combine in my heart the two living movements of longing and accepting, of thanking the Spirit for his presence and praying daily “Come, Holy Spirit”, of prizing what I have and hoping for more, of living the present and welcoming the future, of rejoicing in the fullness I have and foreseeing the new fullness I am to receive, of earth and heaven, of promise and fulfillment, of time and eternity.

You understand my double mood, Lord, my longing and my resting, my satisfaction and my desire, my contentment and my impatience. Indeed, you cause them both, as you want me to ask and to thank, to feel happy with what I have, and to expect even more from you. You will have both my prayers, Lord, as I leave both my moods to play on me.

That is the living lesson I learn in a Psalm that begins by crying,“How long?” and ends by reporting, “My heart shall rejoice for you have set me free. I will sing to the Lord who has granted all my desire.” So will I too, Lord, with all my heart.


Too late!
The arrow has left the bow!An arresting image. I see the disciple ready to shoot with his arch vertical and its string well tensed. I see his master who has tried to make a last correction at the last moment. I see the arrow fly towards the faraway aim. And I hear the exclamation which is at the same time reproach and regret for the occasion missed. Too late! The arrow has left the arch!

A reaction has to be instantaneous for it to be efficient. One second delay, and the arrow has left. One single doubt, and the argument is lost. A single postponement and the chance has passed. The arrow does not wait. The opportunity has to be grasped. All the neurons in our brain and all the muscles in our body have to be ready to jump in an instant and answer the challenge. Delay is death.

Why are we so slow? Why do we miss so many of our chances? Why do we think of the clever answer only when the conversation is over? Why do we see the solution only when the crisis is over? If we see it now so clearly, why did we not see it then? If we are able to think of it now, why did we not think of it when we should have said it? Why is spontaneity so difficult when it is so effective? Why does the arrow escape?

Because we are blocked inside. We all have the capacity to see and feel and answer and rise up to the occasion; but we are blocked in our inside with a thousand walls that hinder our reaction and delay the result. Shyness and fear and anxiety and the need to do well and doubts about ourselves and complexes before others and the need (and curse) of perfectionism. And we polish and rethink and change and strive… and the arrow flies before we can take proper aim. And the master sentences: The arrow has left the arch!

We are all tied up in knots within ourselves. Desire to do good, to give satisfaction, to please all, to rise to the occasion. All those are knots within us. And so long as those knots are there we won’t be able to be fully ourselves. If we go on untying those knot we’ll suddenly wake up, we’ll be free, we’ll be ready, we’ll say what we have to say and do what we have to do, and feel the satisfaction of having done so.

Les us keep at the task. It is worthwhile. Spontaneity is the salt of life. Let the arrow do not escape again!

I tell you

I’ve been to Málaga to present my latest book in Spanish on psycholinguistics, that is “The way I speak denotes the way I am”, and these are a few of the things I said at the function.

“We are humble hostages to our language” said Ortega. We can know ourselves better by paying attention to the way we speak, and from that we can go on to improve our character and our behaviour day by day. Quite a task.

I daily used three languages all along my life in India, Gujarati with my students, English with my colleagues, and Spanish with my community. I am familiar with the three, but I also know that there are no strict synonyms in them even if dictionaries may try to make us believe there are. Gentleman = caballero = gruhasta in the corresponding dictionaries, but “no hay caballero sin caballo” in Spanish is not the same as “there is no gentleman without a horse” which means nothing in English, and even less “the man of the house” which is what gruhasta means in Gujarati.

As a result of the occupation of Japan by North American troops after the Second World War, there were marriages between American soldiers and Japanese women. It was found that the Japanese wives spoke with more respect to their husbands when they spoke in Japanese than when they spoke in English. Language carries its culture with it.

The professor of Canon Law in the Pune seminary in India, Fr Rayana Putota, spoke a very fine English, but he was a slave to a verbal tag he constantly repeated. He had the habit of saying “… what do you call it?… at every second word. “We take a… what do you call it?… a book, we open it at the… what do you call it?… the index…, we look up a… what do you call it… a chapter, and so on and on through the whole period. A mischievous student, Pay by name (Pay means “devil” in Tamil) set up a red bulb on the ceiling of the classroom behind the professor’s chair and out of his sight, and lit it up at every “what do you call it?” to the hidden smiles of the whole audience. At the end of the class and after the professor had left it, he would give us the score of the day. All of a sudden, one day the professor suppressed his tag and never pronounced it again. Someone had leaked him the information and he had a strong willpower and effectively checked his language. The scoring stopped. But then he had the last word too. On the last day of the whole course, at the end of the very last period he looked up at the whole audience, smiled slightly, and solemnly announced: “With this we have finished the course of… what do you call it?… canon law.” And he bowed his head. He got a thunderous clapping. Which is quite an achievement in a Canon Law class.

You tell me

Question: Our parish priest said the other day in his sermon that the Epistles to Timothy and Titus are not from St Paul. Is that true? I had always heard them in church being introduced as “A reading from the epistle of St Paul to Timothy, or Titus”. If it is not so, then who wrote them?

Answer: I’ll tell you my own experience with them. When I learned Greek I soon took up St Paul’s epistles to read them in the original. And I noticed a curious thing. When I passed on from Romans and Corinthians to Timothy and Titus, I felt as though I were passing from reading Shakespeare to reading Chesterton, that is, that they were two quite different styles from two different authors. It was just obvious. Not even just a difference in translation or in successive copies, but in concepts and vocabulary and style. In any case they are part of the Bible and inspired by the Holy Spirit, as they are also most interesting and instructive. I was lucky to have a great Jesuit, Fr Errandonea, as my last teacher in Spain before going to India, who told me in farewell: “You’ve had some very good teachers among your Jesuit professors here in Spain. I don’t know now what you’ll find in India, but whatever happens, take hold of St Paul!”

As a matter of fact I had excellent theology professors in India, (the Italian Uricchio, the Belgian Criem, the Austrian Staffner, the Indian Miranda), but then I also got hold of St Paul, read the best commentaries to his epistles, both Catholic and Protestant, annotated verse by verse every epistle in a number of notebooks I still keep with me, made them to this day into my favourite matter of prayer and meditation. The International Biblical Commentary, Fr Spic’s Commentary on Corinthians, and Lightfoot’s on Philippians are part of my intellectual and spiritual baggage for ever.


Psalm 13 – Here I am, O Lord!

“The Lord looks down from heaven on all humankind
To see if any act wisely, if any seek out God,.
But all are disloyal, all are rotten to the core:
Not one does anything good, no, not even one.”
This mage of you, Lord, looking down on the men and women you have created and finding no one who sincerely seeks you, touches me. I sense your disappointment and your sadness. You seem to be looking for someone you can trust, someone you can call, someone you can entrust your work to. As humankind goes its godless ways, you want to have at least some people you can send as messengers, as prophets, as agents of your grace, to remind your people of your love, to repeat your promises and to proclaim your law. You are looking all around, and you find no one.

Once you said aloud in Isaiah’s hearing, “Whom shell I send? Who will go for me?” He spontaneously answered, “Here I am; send me.” And you said there and then, “Go then and tell my people…”. I am not Isaiah, Lord, but I love you. I have zeal for your glory, and I have heard your words. I take them as a personal invitation to me. I am not worthy, I count for nothing, I can do little. But you are looking for volunteers, and I have stepped forward in confidence.

As you look down from heaven, I look up from earth, and our eyes have met. It is a blessed moment in my life. My mission has begun.


Feet on a snake

To put feet on a snake.
(Zen saying)That is what we all do. We feel pity on the snake and its lame walk of convulsive contortions on dusty ground, and we set ourselves to the humanitarian task of fitting little feet on to its body so that it may step on the floor as any well-behaved animal. See the poor little thing, how it squirms in the dust! Let us get it out of its misery with the generous gesture of the kind-hearted benefactor. You’ll see how grateful it feels when it tries the new displacement system. It will be a joy to see it tread nimbly on its feet in rhythmical pattern. A truly good deed. We can feel proud of it.

That is what we all do. Adding feet to the snake. Complicating what was simple in itself, putting questions when keeping quiet was the best understanding, searching for explanations when the facts spoke for themselves. Feet on the snake. Forced understanding, intricate methods, twisted logic. We try to be wiser than nature, and submit to logic what was matter for contemplation. Uniformity in all. Let all walk alike. Let all walk as we walk, which is, of course, the best way of walking. We pretend to bring everything under measure, reason, and number. Let everything adjust itself to our way of thinking; let all animals walk on feet. That will be the way for all to understand one another at last.

That will be the way for us never to understand one another. Poor snake! See the trouble it is getting into with its fashionable feet! It is not getting into step. For the snake it was so simple to slide effortlessly on the friendly ground, that now it does not know what to do with the awkward jumps of the stumping feet all about the place. The king cobra, which when left to itself could overtake even a strong man at a speed, gets now entangled and trips up in the newly implanted prostheses. Life, that was clear and simple in its direct experience of daily events, becomes now an impossible tangle, a riddle and a mess when we pretend to elucidate it with sophisticated premises from uneasy philosophies. Prayer becomes examination of conscience; religion becomes a syllabus; and God is the conclusion of a syllogism. The snake, at the end, cannot walk at all.

Not that reason is not to be used. Only that it has not to be abused. It is to be used to respect the nature of each being, the crawling of the snake, the intimacy of life, the mystery of God. It has not to be used to impose mathematical patterns on the flights of the spirit. Excessive reasoning drowns out feelings, puts out fervor, dries away devotion. The mind’s lucubrations can hinder the feet’s movements. The snake walks better on its sturdy scales, slippery and intertwined to tackle any ground, than on artificial feet it has no use for. Let us allow it to walk its own way.

Why is it we don’t walk properly? Why is it we do not advance in life, do not progress in the spirit, do not reach, in our well-meant efforts, the goals we had meant and were sure to reach? Because we have fixed feet on the snake. Because we have complicated what was plain, have darkened what was clear, have blurred what was distinct, and thus have removed beyond reach what of itself was always close at hand. We have lost the spontaneous innocence of our natural walk. And we are in a mess.

No feet for the snake.


I tell you

An Arab had a magnificent horse. He mounted it, rode it, mastered it, used it in all his journeys and boasted of it. A merchant wanted to buy it from him, and offered him one, two, three camels in exchange, but the owner of the horse refused to part with it at whatever price. The merchant plotted to get it in any way, he disguised himself as a beggar, sat down by the road as a lame man begging alms. Finally one day the Arab passed that way on his horse, and the merchant asked him to the city where he lived. The Arab had pity on him as he thought he was lame, placed him on his horse, and himself walked by the side holding the horse’s reins. The merchant then stood up, took hold of the reins, and got ready to gallop away saying farewell to the Arab. The Arab told him before he started: “Take the horse. It is yours. I gift it to you. But don’t tell anyone that you have stolen it disguising yourself as a beggar, because then people will not any more trust real poor people and will not give then any alms to them.” At that, the merchant stopped and gave back to the Arab his horse.

You tell me

Someone comes close once more, tells me his personal and family sufferings, and then lowers his voice and adds, “How can God permit this?” I often hear this complaint, and my first reaction is to respect suffering, not to dismiss it lightly, not to give set answers, not to say that we all have to suffer in this life, but simply to stay close to the one who suffers, to let his or her suffering touch me, to feel the burden we all wear in this life, not to try to give answers when answer there is none. “Life is hard, is bitter, is heavy” (Eduardo Galeano), and we all feel at times its hardness and bitterness. Life is a package, and we take it as it comes, pleasant and unpleasant, joy and sorrow, light and darkness to make up the whole. There can be no day without night, and no high tide without low tide. We learn to take the rough with the smooth, and to carry our burden with resignation when we cannot do it with joy. “Life with suffering is better than no life at all”, said St Thomas; and life, if it has to be truly alive and total and free, will always carry with itself the burden of suffering. God permits suffering because God loves life. The Christian answer to suffering is Christ. He suffered himself, and his cross is our symbol and our help.


Psalm 14

I want to live close to you, and yet I lose again and again the sense of your presence. I just forget you and can live for hours on end as though you did not exist at all. Times of prayer remind me of your existence, but in between I lose your most of the time. I want to regain your contact. I want to “lodge in your tent”, to “dwell on our holy mountain”. Tell me how I can achieve that.

I listen eagerly to your answer, and when you have finished the list of your conditions I realize that I already knew them all, and that they all are one, the one commandment of love and justice and fairness to my fellowmen. “He who never wrongs a friend, he who does what is right, he who leads a blameless life…” he can dwell on your mountain and enjoy the happiness of your presence.

Once a young man asked you. “What have I to do…?” And you answered him: “You know the commandments…”. Your answer to my question, “What have I to do?” is always, “You know it already.· “ Yes, I know and I know that I know. And I remember your reaction before another questioner who made the same admission: “Then go and do it; and you will have life.”

Let me go and do it,. Let me love my neighbor and do justice and speak the truth. Let me be fair and loving and kind. Let me serve your people in your name, with the faith and the motive behind it that by serving your children I will obtain you. By doing good on earth, I will gain admission to your tent and “dwell on your holy mountain.”


When a thorn can help

Walking on the fields in India I see once more what I have often seen. The recently discarded slough of a young snake which has got rid of it by hanging it on the thorn of a bush and pulling away itself free. I take it in my hands and think of the snake that got away to keep growing in life.

It is comfortable to have one’s suit made to order by nature itself in perfect fit of the latest cut. The snake can boast of it with justified pride. Perhaps it gets fond of the suit and thinks that with it there will be no more problems in tailoring for the rest of its life. But the body grows, and the suit gets too tight. The suit becomes uncomfortable. It cannot house any more the mature reptile. It has to be discarded.

Not an easy task. One feels lazy at the change. The folds hold on tight. They even warn us there is danger as the snake is exposed and defenceless during the change of clothes. But life beckons and the moment arrives. The snake scans the horizon, waits for safety, chooses a bush, hooks on the end of its sheath over a thorn, and begins to wriggle out, curve by curve, inch by inch, leaving behind the worn-out slough, and emerging bathed in the bright shine of the new suit. After repeated efforts it shakes itself free, and is back on its way with the new-found relief of the expanded body. The old covering would not do any more. To grow, one has to change one’s skin. Even if it hurts.

I go around looking for a thorn to help me in my own growth. I want to hang from it the slough that is choking me. It prevents me from growing. It served me well in its time, and the patterns on its texture were beautiful as fashions in snakes go. But I have grown up and do not fit any more in it. It is bursting at the seams. I was fond of it and was used to it. I feel sorry to have to let it go. It accompanied me a long time. My life for many years, my habits, my opinions, my ways of thinking and my ways of judging, my convictions and my devotions, my image and my history. It was all very comfortable, very pleasant, very worthy. But if I want to grow, I have to change. If I remain imprisoned for ever in my first skin, my members will not develop and my mind will not open up. I have to undergo the tribal ritual of deconditioning if I want to go ahead in the spring of the spirit. And the process is not once and for all. Next spring I’ll change my skin again to go on growing and to go on living. The skin of the soul has to be changed if the soul is to grow into the fullness to which it is destined. We have to find the thorn, hook on to it, and pull. It is painful, but necessary. The snake knows it.

I hold in my hands the discarded slough. I think of the snake, far from here by now, which has had the courage to leave it behind. Beautiful fabric of symmetrical scales. Beautiful but, by now, obsolete. The jungle experience encourages me to follow nature’s ways. I’m going to change my skin.

I tell you

I’ll give you here some quotations from the latest autobiography I’ve read. “Getting a grip” by Monica Seles, Penguin, London, 2009. All about tennis, naturally, but full of lessons for life.

p.5 For twenty-eight years, I was known as a tennis player. Now that I had to cease being a professional player, I was terrified at the thought of having to give up the security of that label.

19. I didn’t know how to keep score, which is quite a complicated affair in tennis, anyhow. I just hit away until I heard applause, then I’d look at my dad to make sure I’d won. It took me a long time to get the whole scoring thing down.

35. My peanut butter consumption went into overdrive when the two-handed forehand that my game had been built around for eight years was taken away.

45. I was born with an unshakable people-pleasing personality, and I never loved winning at someone else’s expense. The desire to wipe up the court with my opponent was never part of my game.

50. For winning the tournament, I received a check for $50.000. They presented it to me in a jumbo-size form for publicity photos. I’d never seen so many zeroes before and I thought that, because it was a lot of money, it had to be written on a really big check. I was convinced that I had to take it to the bank to cash it, so after the awards ceremony I kept walking around with it even though it was nearly as big as I was. The tournament director explained that they’d give me another check, one that I could put in my pocket, but I was so thrilled with my victory that I wanted to hold on to that big piece of cardboard for as long as I could.

62. On that trip to Barcelona I also ate my weight in seafood – it’s impossible not to.

71. Playing as number one, I had something to lose in every single match.

74. I’d gone from a child to an adult with my first Grand Slam win, and now I was searching for my lost adolescence.

88. Stabbed on the court in front of ten thousand people by a Steffi Graf deranged fan. The tournament was not suspended.

97. Darkness had descended into my head and it was going to stay awhile. At nineteen, I was facing the frightening prospect of a life without tennis (because of the stabbing). What if I couldn’t make a comeback? Tennis had consumed me from the time I was six years old, and I was scared that I didn’t have an identity without a racket in y hand. Who was I without tennis? – Bulimia set in. I eat and eat without limit.

110. I lost at Wimbledon to a player ranked fifty-nine. The newspapers had a field day and said that I looked like a sumo wrestler. I was fourteen kilos too heavy.

165. I played in Budapest, Berlin, Warsaw, Rome, Madrid, Paris, London, Prague… Unfortunately the tournament schedules are so tight that all I saw of these incredible cities was my hotel room and the tennis court.

232. I was taking baby steps to make my life more whole, reaching outside the confines of tennis. In Madrid I went to the Prado, one of the most impressive museums in the world. I am about as far from an artsy sort of person as you can get, but I stood completely transfixed in front of all the Velázquez masterpieces. Being around such beauty, created by a pair of hands and some paint nearly four hundred years ago, gave me a jolt like the one I had experienced when I saw the Great Wall. It made me realize that I’d been missing out on so much. For thirteen years I’d been lucky enough to travel through five continents and visit some of the must culturally and historically rich cities in the world. But I couldn’t remember a thing I’d done or seen that wasn’t coloured in some way by tennis. Walking around the grand rooms of the Prado, relishing every minute of the art and solitude, was like discovering a whole other layer of life. – Next we hit a tapas bar, where we ate no fewer than twenty-one tiny plates of delectable dishes. The cuisine was entirely new to me, so I didn’t recognize half the things put before me. But I did know two things: each plate was more delicious than the last, and my trainer would not have approved of any of them. We left the restaurant at one in the morning and I could barely keep my eyes open. The Plaza Mayor was majestically lit up and full of people eating and drinking at outdoor tables. Everyone looked so happy to be where they were in that moment. Yeah, I thought, me too.

237. Throughout the years my coach has given me the same advice: “Everything comes and goes in life. Nothing is permanent, so don’t get upset about things that don’t matter. Your only responsibility is to make sure you spend as much time as you can doing something that you love. If you do that, it will all work out in the end.”

You tell me

You are asking me: “Why do we suffer? Why does God make us suffer? Why is life so full of pain and suffering? Is he not good and all-powerful and doesn’t he love us? Then why so much suffering in our lives?”

I answer you with all the gentleness and tact I can: “Suffering is part of life. You cannot have peaks without valleys, and whatever brings joy can also bring sadness. There is no light without shadow, and no day without night. Don’t spend your energy in looking for explanations, which is only hurting you more and more. Take life as it is, live the present moment, make the best of each hour. We can die any moment, and many die quite early in life. Don’t try to solve the mystery. Live every moment in life to the full, accept reality, make the best of the present and don’t worry about the future.



I say to the Lord: “You are my God; my happiness lies in you alone. Those who choose other gods increase their sorrows: never will I take their name upon my lips.” I repeat those words, I tell you and tell people and tell myself that I am truly happy in your service, and that I feel sorry for those who follow “other gods”, those who make money or pleasure or fame or success their aim, those who care only for the goods of this world and want only to enjoy earthly pleasures and perishable gains. I will not worship their “gods”.

And yet, in moments of sincerity with myself, I know deep within me that I too secretly worship those gods. I also like pleasure and praise and success, and I even envy those who enjoy the “goods of this earth” that are forbidden me because of my vows. I renew my commitment to you, Lord, but I confess that together with it I still feel in my soul the attraction of material pleasures, the pull of the earth, the hidden regret not to be able to enjoy what others enjoy. I still share, darkly and shyly, in the idolatry of other gods, and worship unwittingly at their altars. I still try to find happiness sometimes outside you, however much I know that it can only be found in you.

And so my words today are not a boast, but a prayer; not a record of achievement, but an appeal for help. Make me truly find my happiness in you, make me be “content with my inheritance”, “happy with my portion”, “satisfied with my boundaries” as you have taught me to say. Make me value the place you have allotted me in your Holy Land, and fill my heart and my life with your love and your service. And then make me experience the truth of the words you put in my mouth as I end this Psalm: “In your presence is the fullness of joy, in your right hand pleasures for evermore.” So be it, Lord.


A young man went to a diamond master to learn the trade. The master placed a diamond in his hand, asked him to close his fist on it and keep it that way for a continuous year.

It was not easy for the young man to keep his fist closed for a whole year, but he was keen in becoming a master, and so in spite of many inconveniences he persevered in his intent. At the end of the year he went back to his master and asked him to begin his instruction as he had already obeyed the first command. The master took another diamond and placed it in the disciple’s hand, but he refused to close his hand and protested: “I’ve already wasted a whole year! I’m not going to go through another test!” But the master forced his hand to close, and then the disciple exclaimed: “Besides this is not a diamond!” At which the master said: “That’s enough. You’ve finished your training.”


I tell you

I’ll give here a few quotations from the “Testament” of Abbé Pierre, famous in France for his work with the “Emmaus rag-pickers” at the turn of the century: Abbé Pierre, Testamento, PPC Madrid 1994.

p.10 I was asked many questions, but I never heard at that time the question we now so often ask: the question about the meaning of life.

11. The good God has played his game, and I have played mine. Our favourite ejaculatory prayer before all new-comers is: “Come in, you’re welcome, we were waiting for you.”

47. The first duty of every human being is to verify that life has a meaning.

55. The joy of the believer, when lived out in fullness and without limit, becomes something contagious. That is the true apostolate, the best apostolate, the only apostolate.

88. St Anselm says, “the ransom has already been given to God the Father”, but in saying that he is reasoning in the mediaeval way which measured the gravity of an offence not by the insult itself but by the standing of the person insulted. That gave rise to the doctrine of “satisfaction”. What a horrible word! Asthough God the Father would claim blood and suffering to satisfy his own thirst for vengeance! Incredible!

94. Theologians have worked hard to invent the purely arithmetical word of the Trinity, when there is question of a joy like a volcano of unending energy.

99. I’ve always felt bad to begin the Eucharist with the mea culpa (through my fault). Who has had the bright idea to make us approach Him striking our breasts and saying: “I am the worst of the worst…”?
We should rather approach giving thanks in joy.

101. I don’t approve of the repeated formula in the Hail Mary: “Pray for us sinners…”.It is insulting and hurting. To call ourselves fifty times sinners, as we do in the rosary, causes us a great harm. .

101. Accompanying a friend in his last days I got used to say the Hail Mary saying, instead of “now and in the hour of our death”, “now and in the hour of our encounter”.
116. I’m impatiently waiting for the day when the mitre that pope and bishops wear should disappear. During the last synod we still saw in television the procession of bishops wearing their mitresthrough St Peter’s Square. There were some very short cardinals with huge mitres on their heads. The sight was so ridiculous that we all started laughing.

117. The Gospel has become Canon Law.

138. Albert Schweitzer wrote to me: “Do whatever you have to do, but in any case don’t organize anything.”

139. Fr Joseph Wresinski (of the Ragpickers of Emaus) convinced hairdressers in Paris to go to the slums and freely attend to poor women who could not afford to go to the hairdresser. They knew that, once properly combed, would behave differently, would become different persons, and indeed it was so.

165. Is there anything more sterile and useless than the immensity of the whole mass of the glaciers? And yet without their necessary activity life would have disappeared long ago from plains and valleys. When the air comes into contact with the glacial peaks it renews itself and comes down again to make life on earth possible.I was 18 when I heard all these considerations, which today we would call ecological, from the lips of the geologist Pierre Termier. The glacier is the sign of a continuous renovation. For all its mass it looks as though it were floating over the waters which come from inside it and then come out far away as fountains and torrents. I was lucky to spend several nights in nearby refuges and listening to the strange noise of the blocks of ice separating and coming together again in a continuous tension. I also was lucky to enjoy the silent peace of the monastery which hums with activity in spite of its absolute quietness. One afternoon, Fr Abbot invited me to address the Benedictines of Saint-Wandrille, and I told them all these reflections of Pierre Termier. The following days, as the monks would come across, they would smile as though they were saying: “The glacier greets you!”

179. The most important thing when meeting a beggar is to look at him in the face. One of those beggars told me once: “The worst is the way people look at me with a look that makes no difference between the human being who is begging and the cardboard with its petition against the wall.”

You tell me

An English friend has sent me some quotations from a catholic bishop which I believe are worth sharing. Here they are. (“Facing Power and Sex in the Catholic Church”, Dublin 2007)

117. Technology has brought with it a quite massive practical increase in the power of the pope. It has enabled a detailed control of every aspect of the church in every part of the world in a manner the popes of earlier centuries could not have dreamed of. The technology used to gain greater papal control over the church could have equally been used to listen to the views of the whole church, but it must be said that this has not happened.

121. There has been a process that a number of people have called ‘creeping infallibility’. Terms have been used that reflect this trend, e.g. teaching that is not infallible, but irreformable or definitive. ‘In necessary matters there must be unity, in doubtful matters there must be freedom, in all matters there must be love.’ I had always understood this ancient saying to mean that the necessary matters on which unity was essential should be kept to a minimum and that as much freedom as possible should be allowed. But I believe that ‘creeping infallibility’ has involved a tendency to move many matters from the realm of the doubtful or not strictly necessary, where freedom reigned, to the realm of the necessary, where unity was demanded.

124. The more a pope insists on authority rather than on the persuasive force of arguments, the less people will listen. The less people listen, the more a pope can feel the need to insist on authority.

125. In the twenty years I worked as an active bishop I can remember very few occasions when the pope consulted the body of bishops and none when the pope asked the bishops to vote on an issue. We were not asked to vote before the publication of the document on the ordination of women, not even when the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith [Ratzinger] spoke of this teaching as ‘infallible’, with the pope doing nothing to contradict him. (Following added in Note 36, p. 135: The presidents of the Bishops’ Conferences of the world were called to Rome. There they were presented with a completed document banning the ordination of women and were asked to endorse it in the name of all the bishops. The presidents replied that they could not speak in the name of all their members without first consulting them.) If bishops are not asked their opinion even when the word ‘infallible’ is in the air, the college of bishops would seem to have no practical importance in the church, and the statement of the Second Vatican Council that the college is a co-holder of supreme power would seem to have little meaning. No explanation was given as to why the bishops were not consulted, but one may surely ask whether the reason was that some people close to the pope were afraid that the bishops would not give this teaching the near-unanimous endorsement that alone would have given credence to the use of the word ‘infallible’ in speaking or it. I do not know what the result would have been if the bishops of the Catholic Church had been asked to express an opinion on whether women could be ordained to the priesthood. But I am certain that a majority would have been opposed to the idea of attaching the word ‘infallible’ to any teaching on the subject. / At the Synod for Oceania in 1998 I was told by the Cardinal Secretary of the Synod that the meeting worked by consensus, not majority, and that only a vote of 90% constituted a consensus. And yet the Vatican officials appointed to that synod made up more than 10% of the whole synod and so could block even a near unanimous vote of all the other bishops present. So why don’t the bishops rebel and speak out? I have yet to meet the bishop who has no criticisms of any kind of the way things are done in the Vatican, and there is widespread dissatisfaction with what happens at a synod, so why don’t the bishops use their collective power? This is not an easy question to answer. I can only say that it is a combination of loyalty, love, and fear. There are many degrees of unhappiness with ‘the Vatican’ or ‘Rome’, and there are many different causes and objects, so that a bishop who criticised could be left high and dry by his fellow bishops.

128. It is beyond doubt that the Curia has been a major force in using technology to control but not consult. The words of the great theologian Yves Congar are powerful. He speaks of being ‘crushed, destroyed, excommunicated by a pitiless system which can neither emend itself nor even recognise its errors, but which is run by men who are disarming in their goodness and piety.’ (The Tablet, 28th April 2001, p. 605.) The fundamental problem does not lie in the individual persons who make up the Curia, but in the system that they are bound to uphold. Papal power has gone too far and there are quite inadequate limits on its exercise. The authority of the college of bishops has been marginalised and the faith of the whole church has been rendered powerless.


Psalm 16

“Show me how marvellous your true love can be!”

All my prayers are contained in that single prayer. Show me your love, your true love, and make me see how marvelous it can be. You have told me your love page by page, almost line by line in the words of your Book, and there is nothing I like more in this world than to hear you tell me that you love me. I believe your declaration and treasure your words. Keep telling me, as I want to hear again and again that you love me.

But then, Lord, I have to apply human standards, which are the only ones I know, to our relationship, and so I humbly and reverently inform you that down here among men we usually say that true love is shown not so much in words as in deeds. So when I ask you to show me your love, I am asking you to do things for me. Do keep telling me that you love me…, and at the same time keep doing things for me that show that you love me. Surprise me with your grace and bless me with your help. Bring sudden gifts and unexpected presents. Bring your own presence, which is the greatest gift, and the mysterious ways you have to make it felt, which is the highest blessing. Love is infinitely resourceful, even among us, and knows always how to bring instant happiness with the spontaneous tenderness of a genuine gesture. I will say no more.

My faith once more. “I shall see your face, and be blest with your vision when I awake.”


Rejected prayer

The faithful devotee used to go every day to the temple to ask God to grant him a particular grace he much desired, which was always the same but which was never granted. Days went by, weeks, months, years, and the devoted follower faithfully repeated his prayer, but the answer never came.

One day, after he made his prayer, an angel appeared to him and told him: “I’m coming from God’s side to tell you that your prayer has been rejected.”

On hearing those words, the man came out of the temple, went to the main square in the village, gather together all the people in it and began telling them: “Come, come, and rejoice with me! God had granted me a great grace!” He told his story how he had prayed for something for many years and now had been told that the prayer was rejected. People were surprised and wondered how that was a matter for rejoicing. The man explained: “Yes, my prayer has not been granted; but I’ve given acknowledgement of receipt!”

I tell you

Here are two quotations from a book that has entertained me. EL SAFARI DE LA ESTRELLA NEGRA por Paul Theroux, (Dark Star Safari), Ediciones B.S.A. 2003, Barcelona.

p.46 In Cairo the taxi driver asked me fifty Egyptian pounds (about twelve dollars). I offered him thirty, as I thought he would bargain as all do, but he showed himself annoyed and remained totally silent without bargaining. At the station, full of cars and people, he was extremely attentive, bowed to me, insisted on carrying my bag, made room for me through the crowd, found the proper platform, the Aswan train, and even the place where the wagon-lit was going to stop. So that I handed him fifty pounds for the nice way he had behaved throughout. He searched carefully in his pouch, gave me twenty pounds back and thanked me somewhat ungracefully. I insisted on his keeping the change. He touched his heart and ignored the tip. His feelings had been wounded, and his honesty ignored.

Still, I had been so touched by the trouble he had taken and the efficiency he had shown, that I insisted, and the scene became a comedy while both of us wanted to keep appearances in a theatrical way. At the end I pronounced the right formula, Ashani ana (for my sake) and asked him to accept it. He took the money with a gestured that indicated it was he who was doing me a favour. Quite a lesson for me on Egyptian pride.

p.43 “Inshalá” means for a start “God willing”, which is its literal meaning, as also “soon”; then “in due time”, and “finally”; later “we hope so” and “would that it were so”, and at the end, “by no means”, “in no case”.

You tell me

A friend has sent me this quotation from the Anglican bishop John A. T. Robinson in his book “Honest to God”.

117. Technology has brought us a massive increment in the power of the pope. It has made possible a total and effective control of all aspects of the Church in all parts of the world in a way that popes of previous centuries could not even imagine. The technology that has been used to increase the central power over the Church could equally have been used to the opinions and wishes of the whole Church, but we have to admit that this has not happened.

121. There has been a process some have called “creeping infallibility”. Terms have been used for this tendency as a teaching that is not infallible, but it is unchangeable or definitive. “In necessary matters there should be unity, in doubtful matters liberty, and in all matters charity.” I always understood this old saying as keeping to a minimum the necessary matters in which unity is required, and for the rest there should be the greatest possible liberty. But I now think that this “creeping infallibility” has entailed a tendency from the realm of the doubtful or not strictly necessary, where there was freedom, to the realm of the necessary where unity is demanded.

124. The more a pope insists on authority rather than on the strength of his arguments, the less will the people listen to him. And the less they listen to him, the more will the pope believe that he has to insist on authority.


Psalm 17 – Sincerity with myself

Digo a mi Señor:

“Tú eres mi Dios,
mi felicidad está en ti.
Los que buscan a otros dioses no hacen más que aumentar sus penas;
jamás pronunciarán mis labios su nombre.”

Repito esas palabras, te digo a ti y a todo el mundo y a mí mismo que soy de veras feliz en tu servicio, que me dan pena los que siguen a “otros dioses”; los que hacen del dinero o del placer, de la fama o del éxito la meta de sus vidas; los que se afanan sólo por los bienes de este mundo y sólo piensan en disfrutar de gozos terrenos y ganancias perecederas. Yo no he de adorar a sus “dioses”.

Y, sin embargo, en momentos de sinceridad conmigo mismo caigo en la cuenta, con claridad irrefutable, que también yo adoro a esos dioses en secreto y me postro ante sus altares. También yo busco el placer y las alabanzas y el éxito, y aun llego a envidiar a aquellos que disfrutan los “bienes de este mundo” que a mí me prohíben mis convicciones o mis votos.

Sí que renuevo mi entrega a ti, Señor, pero confieso que sigo sintiendo en mi alma y en mi cuerpo la atracción de los placeres de la materia, la fuerza de gravedad de la tierra, la pena escondida de no poder disfrutar de lo que otros disfrutan. Aún tomo parte, al amparo de la oscuridad y el anónimo, en la idolatría de dioses falsos, y ofrezco irresponsablemente sacrificios en sus altares. Aún sigo buscando la felicidad fuera de ti, a pesar de saber perfectamente que sólo se encuentra en ti.

Por eso mis palabras hoy no son jactancia, sino plegaria; no son constancia de victoria, sino petición de ayuda. Hazme encontrar la verdadera felicidad en ti; hazme sentirme satisfecho con mi “heredad”, mi “lote” y mi “suerte”, como me has enseñado a decir.

“El Señor es el lote de mi heredad y mi copa,
mi suerte está en su mano;
me ha tocado un lote hermoso,
me encanta mi heredad.”

Enséñame a apreciar la propiedad que me has asignado en tu Tierra Santa, a disfrutar de veras con tu herencia, a deleitarme en tu palabra y descansar en tu amor. Y prepárame con eso a hacer mías en fe y en experiencia las palabras esperanzadoras que pones en mis labios al acabar este Salmo:

“Me enseñarás el sendero de la vida,
me saciarás de gozo en tu presencia,
de alegría perpetua a tu derecha.”

Hazlo así, Señor.


The heavens tell of the glory of God,
the vault of heaven reveals his handwork.
One day speaks to another,
night with night shares its knowledge.

(Psalm 18)Psalm 18 is the key to Christian thinking on ecology. And this for two beautiful reasons. The first is that here we have the overture onto creation. Everything comes from there. The fundamental truth for our existence and our understanding. Everything that exists is “his handiwork”. Everything is sacred, divine, transcendent. Everything bears the Creator’s royal seal and the Father’s loving touch. All that surrounds us in landscape and horizon, on earth and in the sky, in air and breeze, in fountain and ocean, in the flight of the bird and in the perfume of the flower… all that bears upon itself the living mark of the creative power that gave it its existence and maintains it in being, in a continued creation that makes God’s presence real in the majesty of his work. This is the abiding message that one day speaks to another, and night shares with night. God’s presence in his works. And, as a consequence, reverence, respect and adoration in our hearts towards all that we know he has made and put in our hands. We can use everything, but only as a sacrament of grace that reveals a presence. Everything is Body and Blood in a cosmic salvation mystery. Ecology is now not any more a matter of cultural awareness or economic convenience, but is deeply and intimately prayer of worship and liturgy of faith. Keeping distances and proportions, we can almost apply to the whole of creation an echo at least of the words that Jesus will one day feelingly tell us. “Whatever you do to the smallest of these, you do it to me.” There we learn how to deal tenderly with creation out of love for the Creator. This is the theological basis for the best ecology.

But there is more to it, and that is the second lesson the psalm teaches us, expounding it through that poetical device that is the very soul of Hebrew poetry: biblical parallelism. That is, two ideas, two descriptions or two images, which, when set side by side in rhythmical sequences, illumine and reinforce each other with their two proper meanings, at once similar and different.

This is why this psalm does with profound understanding and poetic beauty. It speaks first of the sun in the sky, of its exact orbit ad its life-giving heat, and then, in the same breath, without any explanation or logical transition or linguistic connection, it goes on to speak at once of God’s most holy will, manifested in the path it marks for us and the life it infuses in us with its unfailing warmth. In that way it is beautifully telling us that just as the sun never fails in its beneficent and vivifying task, so the divine law and God’s saving will never fail us either, in their necessary assistance to our life in the spirit. Nature is the image of grace. The sun is the reminder of God’s presence in his creation. Gentle prodding and loving hint that the contemplation of nature may lead us to the memory of God, and the observation of the regularity of the laws of the heavens may strengthen out trust in the power and protection of God’s will in our lives. Nature becomes an open prayer-book, and the fidelity of its laws and seasons reminds us daily of God’s tender and powerful providence for us. The psalm makes the delicate suggestion in its wonted parallel pedagogy:

High above, he pitched a tent for the sun, who comes out of his pavilion like a bridegroom, exulting like a hero to run his race. He has his rising on the edge of heaven, the end of his course is its furthest edge, and nothing can escape his heat.

The Law of the Lord is perfect, new life for the soul; the decree of the Lord is trustworthy, wisdom for the simple. The precepts of the Lord are upright, joy for the heart: the commandment of the Lord is clear, light for the eyes. The fear of the Lord is pure, lasting for ever: the judgments of the Lord are true, righteous, every one.

The decree of the Lord is trustworthy… as is the course of the sun in the sky. The daily visit of the sun on our horizon renews in us our trust in the God that sends it to us. The image of the religious poem revives our faith. Theology visits us in poetry.

Another psalm (88,32) speaks of the moon, and calls her, with no less poetical instinct, “faithful witness in the sky”. This does not mean that the moon from her vantage point may “watch” what takes place in the shadows of night on earth and in this way may be considered a material “witness” of what she has seen. The psalm’s insight is much deeper and far more beautiful. The moon is reliable witness to God’s fidelity to his promises, because she, in her regular path of unfailing astronomy, shows how God never misses what he once solemnly established. God promised Adam and Eve at the dawn of creation, and Noah and his family at the end of the deluge, that the sun and the moon would daily follow without fail their preordained course; that day would follow night, and night would follow day without ever a hitch; that the seasons would take their turns in the yearly cycle with guaranteed punctuality; and that the whole of nature would be true to its mission as home of humankind and gateway to eternity. God had pledged his word, and has kept his pledge.

The moon, with her astronomy riddles and her poetic fascination, has always been a close and essential part of that cosmic plot, and knows how to enhance her valuable witnessing . Her rising and setting, her phases and her eclipses, her coming closer and receding farther, the tides she creates and the faces she shows have always been what they should be at each moment according to the standard almanac at the prevailing time. She has never failed once. And this is her witness. That exemplary behavior earns for her the exalted biblical title of “faithful witness in the sky”. She seems to be telling us out of her own experience: “The God who has fulfilled his promise in me, will also do so in you. The Creator that is so faithful in keeping the orbits of celestial bodies in the sky, will be no less faithful in protecting the ways of men and women on earth with even greater care and providence. Look at me and let your faith in God increase. He will never fail you.”

This is the witness given by the whole of nature, and we read it with loving devotion and heartfelt joy. The heavens become a mirror, and the moon a faithful companion. Intimate link in a common destiny. Ecology is kinship.

The first Hebrew disciples read this same sense in the prayer Jesus taught us and we daily repeat with growing understanding. This is how a Jewish rabbi interpreted the third petition of the Our Father, “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. In his reading – legitimate and inspiring as are all studies that with true scholarship and right faith enrich the inexhaustible text in its compact meaning – the phrase does not mean that we men and women on earth should obey the will of God as the saints and the angels in heaven do, but “as the sun and the moon in the sky”. It is the same idea as in the psalms. As all celestial bodies in the skies faithfully follow the orbits traced for them by the finger of God, without ever swerving from the laws that regulate their paths across the heavens, so we, men and women on our earthly wanderings, have to obey and follow the laws that God has imprinted in our hearts for our own good and for the universal good of all beings, that in uncounted multitudes form his total creation. Such is the lovely petition that invites us daily to raise our eyes to heaven, to watch the sun and the moon and the stars to wonder at the artistic geometry of the patterns of their constellations and the immensity of their domains, to discover in their majesty and regularity the outlines of God’s presence behind them all, and to apply now to our lives, in the free choice of the observed lesson and our responsible reaction, the conscious election of the one right path that may mark our personal contribution to the cosmic dance of the whole creation with the docile step of our wholehearted cooperation. There is a galactic dimension to our human behavior at each moment.

In this way even the Our Father can become a daily reminder of our connection with nature, and can bring through our central prayer the awareness of our beneficent contact with heaven and earth in the simplest of our prayers and the clearest of its petitions: “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”.

The same psalm 18, that has taught us so much, ends up with the hope that this poetic and mystical consideration may please the Lord: and it calls him, again in common Hebraic metaphor and ecological prophecy, “my Rock”.

May the words of my mouth always find favour,
and the whispering of my heart, in your presence,
O Lord, my Rock, my Redeemer!


I tell you

I tell you here a nice story I’ve read.

The bride’s father had no money for his daughter’s dowry. But he was a painter, and he painted a picture and gave it to his daughter with the request that she should never sell it or pawn it for less than 1000 silver coins. The picture represented a mountain chain in a crescent moon night. The bridegroom’s party thought very poorly of such a dowry, but the wedding took place all the same. After a time the husband fell sick and they went to pawn the picture to buy medicines, but they were being offered 10 silver coins only. They then were ready to go to another pawnbroker, but the assistant in the shop told them to come again after fifteen days to the same shop. They came back after fifteen days with the picture… and the moon in it had grown to a full moon. It was a living picture and it changed with the times. The father was right.

I love the story. We never know the treasures we have.

You tell me

A fine couple whom I knew many years ago in India came to see me today in Madrid. They brought happy memories with them, and we enjoyed remembering them over a vegetarian lunch (they don’t eat meat, fish, or eggs, and they don’t even miss them). In those days we had a good experience together. They had quite a problem: they were not only of different castes, which at that time was almost an insurmountable obstacle for marriage, but of different religions. In India there are six main religions, Hindu, Muslim, Jain, Parsi, Christian, Aboriginal, not counting atheists and agnostics, and the girl was Jain while the boy was a Hindu Brahmin. Different communities, different beliefs, different rituals, different temples to worship in. In fact in India we are lucky as we celebrate a New Year Day for each religion, with its corresponding holiday at school, that is six holidays a year. And six occasions to wish a New Year to our friends… only making sure before what is their religion. This boy and this girl fell in love while they were studying in our St Xavier’s College, and came to me for advice and for help. It was not easy to convince their parents, but they did understand that their children’s happiness was before caste and creed.


Psalm 18 – Nature and grace

Nature is reliable. The rising of the sun and the coming of the seasons, the phases of the moon and the surging of the tides, the orbits of the planets and the stations of the stars. Cosmic clockwork of eternal precision. The heavens speak of order and guarantee, of the right to expect today the same timetable as yesterday, and this year the spring of every year. The imprint of God is upon his creation, and he is a God of order and reliability, a God who can be trusted in all he does as we trust that the sun will rise tomorrow.

God can be trusted also in his creation of grace. In his law and in his will and in his love. As the sun rises and the rain falls, as the moon waxes and the pole star keeps its post, so the will of God runs with unerring care the universe of grace in the hearts of men. “His law is perfect, his precepts are unfailing, his decrees are righteous, his commandments are firm.” It is one and the same divine will that runs the stars of heaven and the hearts of men. One creation mirrors the other so that when we see God working his beauty in the sky we may allow him to work it also into our own hearts.

One day speaks to another,
night with night shares its knowledge,
and this without speech or language or sound of any voice.
Their music goes out through all the earth,
their words reach to the end of the world.

That music, that message, that secret wisdom speaks to us too. God will never fail us. That is the secret of the stars. The hand that guides them eternally through their uncharted paths, guides us too through the impossible labyrinths of our earthly journey. Look at the heavens and take courage. God is behind his creation.

I listen now to that message, Lord, and take it to heart. Your Son taught us to pray that your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. I see all the heavenly bodies doing your will with ready perfection, and I want for me that readiness in following the paths of your grace. This is the prayer I pray daily as taught by your Son. I know I have the freedom, that the sun and the moon do not have, to choose my direction and stray from your path. So I ask you to handle me gently, to nudge me into position, nurse me along my orbit. Let me have faith in your holy will, let me feel sure that by following its promptings I am taking my place in the total universe you have created, contributing with my freedom to the beauty of the whole. Let me love your commandments and rejoice at your precepts. Let me worship your law, the one law which is your wisdom and your power in running with single harmony your heavens and your earth. Let me think of you as I salute the rising sun, and thank you as I greet the shadows of the night. Make me feel close to your creation, close to the working of nature, close to your law. Let me sing your glory in my life in living unison with the song of the heavens.

The heavens proclaim the glory of God, and the firmament shows forth the work of his hands.


Closed eyes, open eyes

Yashoda is Shri Krishna’s mother, and Krishna is the most popular, venerated and loved incarnation of God in India. She nursed Krishna as a child and looked after him as a young man underl her motherly care and religious devotion. Krishna grew up, and the moment arrived for him to leave his home, his family, his mother to take up his mission to preach, to help, to redeem his own people. At farewell his mother asked him for a grace: “Grant me that whenever I may close my eyes, I see you.” He answered: “I give you a better grace: that whenever you may open your eyes, you see me.”

To see God in everything. In all persons, in all things, in life all around us. To see God with our eyes fully open. Thus, walking becomes faith, and looking becomes contemplation. He is always there. Every sound carries the echo of his voice, every colour acknowledges the glimpse of his eyes. He is hiding there, or rather revealing himself there. Everything has been made by him, and he lives in all his creatures. All are footsteps for those who know the feet of the Beloved.

Open eyes. He made them so that we could see all things, and him in all things. Faces and gestures, meetings and happenings, nature and asphalt. There is no difference as to his presence, because he is in everything. If we just open our eyes, we see him. We have to look steadily, clearly, totally. We have to learn how to recognize eternal features in daily landscapes, to feel the divine presence in our shaking hands. We must get used to contemplate an eternal vision in our daily horizon. We have to learn how to look.

How is it that when we propose in a group to pray for a while, all always close their eyes?

I tell you

A few verses under the title THE GOSPEL IN THE PRESENT TENSE on the personal experience of God became famous in spiritual circles some years ago, and are worth knowing. The personal experience of God has somehow receded in Christian practice, which has become moral and ritual, and places more emphasis on faith and commandments. This is right, but we cannot forget that God has his own way of making himself present in our conscience and experience, and we all have felt at times a strong devotion and closeness with Jesus who makes himself present with firm certainty. The “Rules of Discernment of Spirits” of St Ignatius in his “Spiritual Exercises” expressly deal with such experiences and they take it for granted that such experiences are common in the spiritual life and should be duly priced. The personal, real, and sensible experience of God even in this life, as undeserved as it is true, never deserved but always granted by God at his pleasure, is an essential part of the Christian faith even if now it is not much spoken of and seldom proposed. A false humility and a lack of true faith as well as fear of a lasting commitment are responsible for such a loss. These are the verses:

Your learned sermons are no evidence.
Give me the gospel in the present tense.
What happened twenty centuries ago
May not have happened, how am I to know?

Don’t tell me stories that obscure the mind.
Give me the truth in fullness, strong and kind.
Shut up your chatter and just tell me how
The God you speak about is living now.

You tell me

One remark. In this section I include general anecdotes or commentaries you send me for publication here if I think it proper, as also private questions by way of consultation and a kind of spiritual direction at a distance, which I value and answer privately. These last I never mention to anyone in speech or in writing. Almost like the seal of confession. Some people ask me in my email whether I can give them absolution by internet, and I always answer them: “Not yet.” I do believe it will have to come some day if confession is to survive, but it may take quite long. Rome moves slowly.

You write: “I go to mass and communion almost every day, and usually I feel good and recollected in church, but sometimes I get absolutely distracted and forget all that is going on at the altar for quite some time, and I feel bad about it. So much so that I doubt whether I should not rather come less often so as not to make it into a routine that makes me feel so bad.”

I answer: “Very delicate conscience indeed, maybe even a little too much. Distractions are normal. St Teresa called our imagination “that little mad girl in our home”, and there is truth and humour in the saying. Do approach always Holy Communion with due humility, but never drop it for that false scruple.


Psalm 17 – The Lord’s Thunder

I welcome this Psalm, Lord, and what you tell me in it: in fact I needed the reminder, and I need it always as my very dealings with you bring familiarity, and closeness may overshadow reverence. I value that closeness and familiarity, but I realize the danger that I may slip into overfamiliarity and forget the respect I always owe your majesty. You are Father and friend, but you are also Lord and Master, and I want to keep your two faces before me always. This is why I accept in gratitude today the words that speak of you with majesty.

The Lord thundered from the heavens, and the voice of the Most High spoke out. He loosed his arrows, he sped them far and wide, he shot forth lightning shafts and sent them echoing. The channels of the sea-bed were revealed, the foundations of earth laid bare at the Lord’s rebuke, at the blast of the breath of his nostrils.

The earth heaved and quaked, the foundations of the mountains shook: they heaved, because he was angry. Smoke rose from his nostrils, devouring fire came out of his mouth, glowing coals and searing heat. He swept the skies aside as he descended; thick darkness lay under his feet. He rode on a cherub, he flew through the air; he swooped on the wings of the wind. He made darkness around him his hiding place, and dense vapour his canopy. Thick clouds came out of the radiance before him, hailstones and glowing coals.

I bow before you as I accept the unfamiliar image of the lightning and the fire. You sit by my side, and you ride on the clouds; you speak softly, and you thunder; you are loving companion, and you are King of kings. I want to learn reverence and distance to deserve and safeguard intimacy and closeness. I will not take advantage of the privilege you give me to be your friend, will never take you for granted, will not become rude or disrespectful. I worship you as I love you.

What I want is to fuse the two attitudes into one in my soul, and to approach you at the same time with intimacy and reverence, with tenderness and awe, with familiarity and with respect. Never in the closest moment forget that you are my God, and never in the stiffest dignity bypass the mutual informality of real friends. I want to be at home in your palace and in my hut, in your heavens and on my earth. I want to deal with you in dialogue and in silence, in commands and in laughter, in your court and on my playground. And, as more often we meet as lifelong friends, I am happy to meet you today as God and King.

And from today on, another lesson. Whenever the skies over me are visited by a storm, I will think of you. The clouds and the darkness and the thunder and the lightning will draw again your image for me, and I will be silent and bow and worship.

Welcome to the storms in my life.


The pond

Hasan Basari, Islam’s venerated saint, was one day walking with his disciples when he saw a man, apparently drunk, walking painfully along the way. There was a deep pond in the middle of the road, and the ground was slippery, so that the saint warned the hesitant wayfarer: “Be careful, brother. The ground is slippery and the water is deep. If you fall into it you may get drowned.” To which the on-comer answered: “You must take greater care, master. If I get drowned, I drown alone; but if you get drowned, many others will drown with you too.”

This is the responsibility of those who teach, those who direct, those who in some way represent God before men and women. Nobody goes to heaven alone, and nobody goes to hell alone. The disciples follow the master. One slip causes many slips, and one fall may cause many falls. One false step may lead to many false steps. The pool is deep and the ground is slippery. That is how it is on this earth.

And that is also our consolation. A step in the right direction can also lead to many steps in the right direction. If the master carefully avoids the trap, the disciples after him will avoid it also. He is the first to see the slippery ground, and he notices it. If he walks steadily, all his followers will step on steadily after him. We all help one another.

The man who apparently was drunk, was quite sober in fact. He was weak, yes, and he knew it. His own weakness led him to protect himself from the danger. Humility is our best defense in life.

The master heeded the lesson. Nobody fell into the pond.


I tell you

(We hear about children made into soldiers, a great sorrow for our times. Here is the direct witness of one such person… who lived to tell his experience.)

We only knew there was a war. The rebels and the government troops fought throughout the country and destroyed everything. The rebels destroyed our village and killed my family. I was desperate and just went around with other boys like myself. One evening we actually chased a little boy who was eating two boiled ears of corn by himself. He was about five years old and was enjoying the corn that he held in both hands, taking turns biting each ear. We didn’t say a word or even look at each other. Rather, we rushed on the boy at the same time, and before he knew what was happening, we had taken the corn from him. We shared it among the six of us and ate our little portion while the boy cried and ran to his parents. The boy’s parents didn’t confront us about the incident. I guess they knew that six boys would jump on their son for two ears of corn only if they were desperately hungry. Later in the evening, the boy’s mother gave each of us an ear of corn. I felt guilty about it for a few minutes, but in our position, there wasn’t much time for remorse.

For five days, I walked from dawn to dusk, never coming in contact with any human being. The only food that was available was coconut. I didn’t know how to climb a coconut tree. I had tried, but it was just impossible, until one day when I was very hungry and thirsty. I arrived at a village where there was nothing to eat except for the coconuts that sloppily hung from the trees, as if teasing me, daring me to pluck them. It is difficult to explain how it happened, but I mounted the coconut tree quite fast and unexpectedly. By the time I realised what I was doing and thought about my inexperience in this particular art, I was already at the top of the branches and plucking coconuts. I climbed down just as quickly and looked around for something to crack them with. Luckily, I found an old machete and got to work on the coconut shells. After I was done snacking, I found myself a hammock and rested for a while.

I got up well rested and thought, I think I have enough energy now to climb and pick more coconuts for the road. But it was impossible. I couldn’t even climb past the middle of the trunk. I tried again and again, but each attempt was more pitiful than the last. I hadn’t laughed for a long time, but this made me laugh uncontrollably. I could have written a science paper on the experience.

Saidu’s [one of the six companions, who dies later] family was unable to leave town during the attack. Along with his parents and three sisters, who were nineteen, seventeen, and fifteen, he hid under the bed during the night. In the morning the rebels broke into the house and found his parents and three sisters. Saidu had climbed to the attic to bring down the remaining rice for their journey, when the rebels stormed in. Saidu sat in the attic, holding his breath and listening to the wailing of his sisters as the rebels raped them. His father shouted at them to stop, and one of the rebels hit him with the butt of his gun. Saidu’s mother cried and apologised to her daughters for having brought them into this world to be victims of such madness. After the rebels had raped the sisters over and over, they bundled the family’s property and made the father and mother carry it. They took the three girls with them.

“To this day I carry the pain that my sisters and parents felt. When I climbed down after the rebels were gone, I couldn’t stand and my tears froze in my eyes. I felt like my veins were being harshly pulled out of my body. I still feel like that all the time, as I can’t stop thinking about that day. What did my sisters do to anyone?” Saidu said after he was done telling us the story one night in an abandoned village. My teeth become sour as I listened to his story. It was than that I understood why he was so quiet all the time.

The corporal gave us one minute to get the food and eat it. Whatever we hadn’t eaten was taken away at the end of sixty seconds. None of us was able to finish eating on the first day, but within a week we could eat any food in a minute. It was the only part of the training that we mastered. [Later, when rehabilitated, eats his meals in one minute… to everybody’s astonishment.]

The guns were taller than they were.

First shooting was something absolutely horrible for us. We could never see the end of it.

On our marches we walked for long hours and stopped only to eat sardines, sniff cocaine, “brown brown” [mixture of heroin and gunpowder], and take some capsules. The combination of these drugs gave us a lot of energy and made us fierce. The idea of death didn’t cross my mind at all, and killing had become as easy as drinking water. Whenever I looked at rebels during raids, I got angrier, because they looked like the rebels who played cards in the ruins of the village where I had lost my family. So when the lieutenant gave orders, I shot as many as I could, but I didn’t feel better. After every gunfight we would enter the rebel camp, killing those we had wounded.

Sometimes we were asked to leave for war in the middle of a movie. We would come back hours later after killing many people and continue the movie as if we had just returned from intermission. We were always either at the front lines, watching a war movie, or doing drugs. There was no time to be alone or to think. [Follows the gruesome description of five prisoners placed before five boy soldiers. Corporal gives signal with pistol shot. Each soldier with his bayonet has to slit the throat in one stroke, and the soldier whose victim that dies first gets the prize. He got it.] We celebrated that day’s achievement with more drugs and more war movies. I had a tent to myself, which I never slept in because sleep never came to me.

We had been fighting for over two years, and killing had become a daily activity. I felt no pity for anyone. My childhood had gone by without my knowing, and it seemed as if my heart had frozen. I was fifteen.

[They attack and hurt seriously one of their keepers, but he only answers: “It is not your fault that you did such a thing to me.” The nurses tell them the same, but they resent it.]

I lay in my bed night after night staring at the ceiling and thinking, Why have I survived the war? Why was I the last person in my immediate family to be alive? I didn’t know.

[He avoids getting friendly with anyone, boy or girl, for fear they’ll ask him about his past. Later he is chosen to go to New York to speak at the UN on boy soldiers.]

You tell me

You’ve repeatedly asked me my opinion about the present pope, and I always answer that to me Pope Francis is the best pope in the history of the Church… including St Peter. The reason is obvious. First, he is a Jesuit, and then he told me, when I met him as archbishop in Buenos Aires, that he had read my books, and there can be no better recommendation. I hope it’ll show. I only would had hoped that when he chose the name Francis, besides mentioning St Francis of Assisi, he would have mentioned also St Francis Xavier as a fellow-Jesuit. All in the family.


Psalm 18 – Nature and Grace

Nature is reliable. The rising of the sun and the coming of the seasons, the phases of the moon and the surging of the tides, the orbits of the planets and the stations of the stars. Cosmic clockwork of eternal precision. The heavens speak of order and guarantee, of the right to expect today the same timetable as yesterday, and this year the spring of every year. The imprint of God is upon his creation, and he is a God of order and reliability, a God who can be trusted in all he does as we trust that the sun will rise tomorrow.

God can be trusted also in his creation of grace. In his law and in his will and in his love. As the sun rises and the rain falls, as the moon waxes and the pole star keeps its post, so the will of God directs with unerring care the universe of grace in the hearts of men. “His law is perfect, his precepts are unfailing, his decrees are righteous, his commandments are firm.” It is one and the same divine will that runs the stars of heaven and the hearts of men. One creation mirrors the other so that when we see God working his beauty into the sky, we may allow him to work it also into our own hearts.

One day speaks to another, night with might shares its knowledge, and this without speech or language or sound of any voice. Their music goes out through all the earth, their words reach to the end of the world.

That music, that message, that secret wisdom speak to us too. God will never fail us. This is the secret of the stars. The hand that guides them eternally through their uncharted paths, guides us too through the impossible labyrinths of our earthly journey. Look at the heavens and take courage. God is behind his creation.

I listen now to that message, Lord, and take it to heart. Your Son taught us to pray that your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. I see all the heavenly bodies doing your will with ready perfection, and I want for me that readiness in following the paths of your grace. This is the prayer I pray daily as taught by you Son. I know I have the freedom that the sun and the moon do not have, freedom to choose my direction and stray from your path. So I ask you to handle me gently, to nudge me into position, to nurse me along my orbit. Let me have faith in your holy will, let me feel sure that by following its promptings I am taking my place in the total universe you have created, contributing with my freedom to the beauty of the whole. Let me love your commandments and rejoice at your precepts. Let me worship your law, the one law which is your wisdom and you power in running with single harmony your heavens and your earth. Let me think of you as I salute the rising sun, and thank you as I greet the shadows of the night. Make me feel close to your creation, close to the workings of nature, close to your law. Let me sing your glory in my life in living unison with the song of the heavens.

The heavens proclaim the glory of God,
and the firmament shows forth the work of this hands.


Receipt acknowledgement

A pious Muslim prayed to God every day asking him for a certain grace which was always the same. He would place himself daily in the same corner of the mosque, and so many years passed and so many times he repeated his prayer that they said the marks of his knees and his feet remained imprinted on the marble of the sacred grounds. But God did not seem to hear the prayer, not even to be aware that someone was praying.

Finally one day an angel of God did appear to the devout Muslim and told him: “God has decided not to grant what you are asking him.” When the good man heard the message, he began to shout for joy, to jump singing, and to tell all those that gathered around all that had happened to him. People were surprised and asked him: “How can you rejoice when God has refused your petition?” To which he answered with joy and sincerity in his accent: “It’s true that he has refused my petition, but at least I now know that my prayer has reached God. What more can I want?” And he went on sharing his joy with all.

Prayer is believing that my voice reached God. It is not the petition, the grace, the concession, the answer that count. All that is there, yes, but over and above all that the main point is that the message arrived, that my words reached divine hearing, that earth touched heaven. What really matters is not the “result” but the “contact”. I wrote the letter, and now I know that the letter reached destination, and the letter was read. That’s all that matters.

The good Muslim kept on going every day to the mosque, to the same corner, to give thanks to God because his prayer had reached him.

I tell you

A young man went to an experienced jeweler to learn the trade. The jeweler pressed a diamond into his hand, closed the hand into a fist, and told him to keep the diamond there without opening his hand for a full year. The young man did not find it easy to spend a whole year in that condition, which he felt stupid, but he was so keen in becoming a jeweler that he persevered the whole year, and at the end of it he went back to the jeweler to ask him to begin his teaching. The jeweler took another diamond, placed it in the disciple’s hand and went to close his fist over it when the disciple exclaimed: “I’ve already lost a full year, and am I going to lose another year now?” Still the master pressed his hand close over the diamond, and the disciple remonstrated: “Besides, this is not a diamond!” The master told him: “You have finished your training.”

This is the value of living in a family, of having good friends, of dealing with good people without any show but living and enjoying spontaneously love and friendship in their best form. Diamonds in life. And by treating with them daily we grow as persons and go on working out our lives in joy. Our daily blessings are those we appreciate less, and it is good for us to think of them at times and so to feel in depth the value of our life.

You tell me

“I don’t understand myself. I go daily for mass and communion, and some times I feel great devotion and real joy in the sacrament, while on other days I feel absolutely nothing and I feel distracted and even annoyed as though I were just wasting my time. This does not make sense to me, and I would like some more consistency in my feelings. Is that possible?”

“It is neither possible nor desirable. If we would feel always great in the church there would be no merit in going there. Not that it has to be a burden, but that we are simply human and so some days we feel one way and others the other. The best I could do would be to give you a copy of the Spiritual Exercises of my father St Ignatius with the “Rules for the Discernment of Spirits” in it. He there speaks masterfully of what he calls consolation and desolation, which means simply having a good time and a bad time in prayer, which are states of the soul which alternate within us and which we must learn to discern, understand, and bring under control if we are to live happy and content lives. We must live with the tides.


Psalm 19 – On chariots and horses

I do not underestimate chariots and horses, Lord. I know that he who wants to fight needs weapons, and he who wants to succeed needs means. I want to do something for you and for your kingdom, I want to spread your word and share out your grace, and for that too I need means, and I propose to use them to the best of my ability. I will harness the communication media, I will study techniques and learn methods, I will use the best of modern means to make you known and your message accepted. The best chariots and the best horses for your army, my Lord!

But while I appreciate human means and get ready to make the best of them, I also say clearly that my trust and my hope are not in them. I will seek efficiency, but efficiency by itself will accomplish nothing for your kingdom. This is the delicate balance I want to achieve in my soul: to be efficient for your sake, and then to admit that my efficiency counts for nothing. My horses and chariots will do nothing. It is not in them that I trust.

I trust in you, Lord. You want my efforts, and you will have them, with all my weakness and all my good will in them. But success comes from you, from your power, from your grace, and I want to make that clear before you and before my own soul.

“Some boast of chariots and some of horses, but our boast is in the name of the Lord our God.”


Sowing the seed

The student of agriculture, fresh from his degree in the university, bought a field and planned how to get the most out of it. He went to see an old man who had looked after fields his whole life in the village and asked his advice:

I’ve bought a field, and you know very well this region from all your life and experience. Can you tell me whether cotton grows well in these fields?
Sir, I’ve lived here for so many years and I’ve never seen cotton grow in these fields.
I understand. What about tobacco?
Never seen it grow here.
And barley?
Never seen barley grow here.
I see. But something or other we’ll have to sow. Then we’ll see what happens.
Wait a minute, sir, wait a minute. If you do sow something, that’s another matter! But nothing grows without sowing first.


I tell you

In the last issue of the theological magazine “Selecciones de teología” (April-June 2014, Nº 210, p.132) I read the following: “Pope Francis, speaking on the parable of the lost sheep and the ninety-nine that remain in the fold, says that the figures today have been inverted, that is, 99 roam wildly outside, while only one remains in the fold.” It seems to me a little exaggerated. Where do you and I find ourselves? That is sadly pessimistic, and the gospel is not pessimistic. The gospel is the source of true optimism, and optimism is the salt of life. St Juliana of Norwick expressed it better: “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” I would even venture to say that there are no bad people as such. The only bad thing is to do somebody harm, and we don’t usually do that of set purpose. It’s only to get some advantage that we deprive someone else of it, that is, we want to obtain something for ourselves, and in the process of getting it we inconvenience somebody else to some extent. This is only the give and take of life, and we must take the rough with the smooth. We are not bad even when we occasionally we do act badly. I may break a dish once as an accident, but that does not make me into a professional dish breaker.

I believe most people are good, and most people indeed are regarded as such in society, tough occasionally anybody can have a moment of temper or an unpleasant reaction. Few are “bad” by definition and prevarication, and a man must be a definitely perverse and wicked character to be referred to simply as a bad man in conversation.

The first time we meet

Yesterday I met a friend whom I hadn’t seen since years. We greeted one another effusively, and he said: “Do you remember the first time we met and came to know each other?” Then I reminded him of something both of us knew and had often remember between us, that is what Fritz Perls, the founder of Gestalt Therapy, told Barry Stevens when she once mentioned the first time they had met: “Every time we meet, Barry, is the first time.”

Blessed is he who can say that to his friend. Our great danger is to take our friends for granted. To memorize them, catalogue them, define them. Yes, I know him, I know what he’s going to tell me and what I’m going to answer him, I know where we’re going to go and what we’re going to do, because we’ve done it a thousand times and we’ll do it another thousand times, and life is repetition and friendship is routine, and this is just a wheel from which we never get out. Round and round the mulberry tree.

You tell me

I’m a young man not yet twenty and not particularly religious, and now I have a growing friendship with a girl and I’m beginning to think that I may marry her and probably that is what she is thinking too though we haven’t spoken about it yet. The thing is that she goes to mass every day, and I only on Sundays, and that even not all. I’m thinking of going more often, but that would be going to church for the sake of the girl, not for the sake of Jesus, and that worries me. What should I do?

Jesus understands. In fact not every mass-goer goes to mass for purely supernatural motives. There is much routine, habit, family custom, group obligation, social influence, scruple, even fear of eternal punishment for not going to mass on Sunday. It is good to be aware of one’s own motives, but there is no need for a perfect and absolutely pure motivation which does not exist. We are always a mixture. The important thing is reverence, appreciation and respect for religion and its practices. Growing always in spite of our limitations.


Psalm 20 – My heart’s desire

You have granted him his heart desire.These are words that bring me joy, O Lord. I know that such is your work, your name, your very essence: You are the one who fulfills the desires of the heart of man. You have made that heart, and you alone can satisfy it. What is now consoling for me is to know that that is precisely what you in fact do.

“You have granted him his heart’s desire.”

In granting it to him you are telling me that you are ready to grant me my heart’s desire too. What you do for the king of Israel you do for your people, and what you do for your people you do also for me. If you grant the kind of Israel the victory he desires, you will also grant me what my heart truly desires.

This sets me thinking in the earnestness of your presence: What, in truth, is my heart’s desire? Which are the victories I truly want? Now that I see you ready to grant my desires, I want to search my heart and let the core of my being appear before you, that you may see my genuine longing and grant it in your bounty.

And when I do that, I feel the shock of shame vibrate through my body. I look at my desires… and I find them so petty? How could I ask for them now in earnest before you? I want a cheap success, a cowardly escape, a personal gratification. I want security and comfort and respectability. Can I call that “my heart’s desire” and place it before you as you lift your hand in gracious bestowal? O no, I cannot do that. I keep my shame and delve deeper into my heart.

As I delve deeper into my heart I am in for another shock. I am formulating now “deeper” desires… and I realize that they are only formal, official, academic. I am asking for “your greater glory”, “the liberation of humankind”, “the coming of the Kingdom”. All this is true and beautiful and necessary…, but those words are not mine, those expressions are borrowed, those desires area certainly mine, but only so in as much as they are everybody else’s. I understand that for “my heart’s desire” you expect and mean something personal, concrete, intimate. Something from me to you, from my heart to your Heart, something in mutual love, sincerity and trust. I want to search deeper still.

And now for a moment I feel happy. I have suddenly told you with a show of humility and a sense of relief at having found the perfect answer: Lord, I leave it to you. You know what is best for me, you love me and want my happiness, and I trust in you and in your wisdom, and so what you want for me is what I want for myself. That is my heart’s desire. Grant it, and that will make my happy.

Nice words. But hollow. Neat escape. Plain shirking of my responsibility. You have asked me what I want, and I, in cowardly compliment, return the question to you and palace on you the burden of the choice. I am covering the shame of my indecision with the gesture of my surrender. Forgive me, Lord. I have not yet found my heart’s desire.

While I search, I will ask for a grace, as you are still waiting: Give me the grace to know what I really want. That is now my heart’s desire.


The key

The holy man was sent to jail on a false accusation. The holy man prayed to God for his liberation, and God gave him a key. With that the holy man could open the door and be free.

But the holy man took the key, brought it to his forehead, bowed down before it, and hung it from a nail above the door. He daily saluted it, bowed before it, prayed to it and then kept on asking to be liberated from jail. But he remained in jail.

Religion is the key of life. Not to worship it but to put it to use.

I tell you

The guru

A woman in New York goes to a travel agency and asks for a ticket to New Delhi. She is told there are no tickets available, but she insists saying, “I must see my guru, I must see my guru!”, and eventually she gets the ticket. Once in Delhi she asks for arrangements to go to the Himalayas where the guru has his ashram, and they all try to persuade her to desist as the journey is long and dangerous, and to go instead to Agra to see the Taj Mahal, but she insists “I must see my guru, I must see my guru!.” She reaches the ashram where she is told that the guru is in deep meditation, and she will be allowed only to approach and bow before him. She comes close, approaches his ear and says clearly: “Johnny, my son, leave all this nonsense and come home with me.” Johnny steps down and follows his mother.

All gurus have mothers.

You tell me

I believe I have a religious vocation, and I often think on what Jesus told the rich young man: “Sell all that you have, give the money to the poor and you’ll have a treasure in heaven; then come and follow me.” But can I apply those words to my case?

I think so. Jesus is generous and he is not going to give you less than he gives to another. Another thing is what that treasure is going to be, and whether once we are in heaven we’ll care much about being a little higher or a litter lower. Rather, we’ll all rejoice at the joy of all. It’s true we are exhorted to acquire merits to go higher, but I believe that God is God, and he will fill us all to the full without any jealousy or comparison. Any jealousy would ruin eternity. There will be no question of higher or lower. We’ll see it, in any case. I’m longing to see it.


Psalm 21 – When depression strikes

I am on my knees as I begin this psalm. It is your psalm, Lord. You said it on the cross, at the height of your agony, when the suffering of your soul climaxed the suffering of your body in utter dereliction.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”These are your words. How can I make them mine? How can I equate my sufferings to yours? How can I climb your cross and utter your cry, forever consecrated by the uniqueness of your passion? I feel that this psalm is yours, and to you it should be left as memorial of your passion, as wounded expression of your personal anguish, as piercing witness of your encounter with death in your body and in your soul. These words belong to Good Friday, to your passion, to you.

And yet, I feel that this psalm is also mine, that there are also moments in my life when I too have a right and a need to utter those words in humble echo to your own words. I also encounter death, once in my body at the end of my life, and many times in the desolation of my soul as I wander through the shadows of this world. I am not comparing myself to you, Lord, but I also know anguish and despair. I also feel loneliness and abandonment. I also have felt let down by the Father, and the words have formed in my parched lips: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

When depression strikes, it makes all men equal. Life loses its meaning, nothing makes sense, every taste is bitter, and ever colour back. There is no point in living. The eye sees no way, and the feet are heavy with inertia. Why to eat, why to breath, why to live? The bottom of the pit is the same for all men, and those who have reached it, know it. I know my depressions, and I know that they are death in a living body. Utter dereliction. Limit of endurance. Boundary of despair. Suffering makes all men equal, and suffering of the mind in its abjection is the worse suffering. I know its blackness.

Where are you then? Where are you when the black night descends upon my soul? “I cry in the day–time, but you do not answer: in the night I cry, but get no response.” Indeed, it is your absence that makes up my suffering. If you were by my side, I could bear any hardship, brave any storm. But you have abandoned me and that is my plight. The loneliness of the cross on Good Friday.

People speak to me then about you. They mean well, but they only sharpen my agony. If you are there, why do you not help me? If you have rescued my fathers in the past, why do you not rescue me now? “You are he whose praises Israel sings. In you our fathers put their trust; they trusted in you, and you rescued them. Unto you they cried and were delivered; in you they trusted and were not put to shame. But I…”.

I seem to count for nothing before you. “I am a worm, not a man”, or so I feel just now. “My strength drains away like water, and all my bones are loose. My heart has turned to wax and melts within me. My mouth is dry as a potsherd, and my tongue sticks in my jaw. I am laid low in the dust of death.”

I had to reach the end of my misery in order to realize that my salvation is only in you. My complaint to you was in itself a hidden act of faith in you. I complained to you that you had abandoned me precisely because I knew you were there. Show now yourself, Lord. Extend your arm and dispel the darkness that envelops me. Bring back hope to my soul and strength to my body. Put an end to my depression and let me be a man with joy and faith and zest for life. Let me be myself again and feel your presence and sing your praise. This is passing from death to life, and I want to bear witness to your power to raise my soul from despair as token of your power to raise man into eternal life. You have given me new life, Lord, and I will gladly proclaim your might before my brothers.

This shall be told of the Lord to future generations;
and they shall justify him,
declaring to a people yet unborn
that this was his doing.


The figs

Three boys went to get figs from trees all around the fields, and came back with a whole bag full of them. Now the question was how to distribute them equally, and for that they approached the eldest man in the village. He asked them: “Do you want me to distribute them as a man would do or as God himself would do?” They answered him: “As God himself would do.” The man then gave three fourths of the figs to one, one fourth to another, and nothing to the third. They all three protested violently at the flagrant injustice, but then the old man explained: “If you had asked me to do as a man would do, I would have made three equal parts and given one to each. But you’ve asked me to do as God does, and God gives much to one, little to another, and nothing to a third one. That is his way as everybody knows. Now you can go.”


I tell you

The Bernabeu Football Stadium in Madrid is close to where I live, and I every day walk by its side one way or another in my outings. But yesterday I could not do so and I had to take another way. Guess why. The Rolling Stones had announced their “last show” (one of the many “last shows” they have given and keep on giving) in that stadium, and so all the surrounding approaches were packed with crowds and fans and cars and buses, hours in advance of the supreme event. Of course, most of those people would not be able to get inside, but everything had been foreseen, and a huge screen had been set up outside in the open so that all could watch the show at their convenience. I hope they had their show, and both the singers and the public enjoyed it. I enjoyed my not watching it. Pace the Rolling Stones.

You tell me

Question: I do like going to mass, but it is not convenient for me to do so on Sunday. Could I not fulfill the precept by going any other day in the week?

Answer: Legally speaking no, as the Church commandment is specifically for Sunday, so that any other day would not fulfill the precept; and Sunday mass is also important for the meeting and greeting of the congregation, who are precisely our own Catholic neighbours, and the sermon. But on the other hand it is also evident that the important thing is going to mass, and the date is secondary. Actually Jesus himself said mass and established the Eucharist on Thursday. Honestly, be free.


Psalm 22 – Joyful and carefree

I have watched flocks of sheep on green mountain sides. They romp about, they graze at will, they loiter in the shade. No sense of hurry, no agitation, no worry. They don’t even look at their shepherd; they know he is there and he cares. And so they are free to enjoy the green pastures and the running spring. Happiness under the sky.

Joyful and carefree. The sheep don’t calculate. How much time left? Where shall we go tomorrow? Will the rains be enough to provide pastures for next year? The sheep don’t care, because there is someone else who cares for them. They live from day to day, from hour to hour. And that is happiness.

“The Lord is my shepherd.” If only I believe in that, my life will change. My anxiety will go, my complexes will dissolve, and peace will return to my troubled nerves. To live from day to day, from hour to hour, because he is there. The Lord of the birds in the sky and the lilies of the field. The shepherd of his sheep. If I truly believe in him, I am free to move and to breathe and to live. Free to enjoy life. Every moment is precious because it is unstained with the worry of the next one. The shepherd knows, and that is enough for me. Happiness under grace. The blessing of believing in Providence. The blessing of living under obedience. The blessing of following the promptings of the Spirit in the paths of life. “The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want.”


The two tigers

There were two tigers in the zoo, and one of them told his companion: “I’m getting bored here. I’m going to get out, I’ll roam and see what I can do, and if I don’t find my way there, I’ll come back here in any case.”

He went out, and only a few days later he came back or rather was brought back to the zoo escorted by armed guards. Once settled down he started to tell his story: “I run away from here, and at the beginning all went fine. I saw a big building with the name MINISTRY in big letters on it, I went in and walked along its corridors till I saw a door with the title MINISTER on it. I went in, saw a man, eat him up and nothing seemed to happen. On another door I saw the title SECRETARY, and again I went in and eat up the man inside and nothing happened. I kept on going along the corridors and I saw a man who was carrying a large tray with a number of cups and a teapot on it, and I eat him up too. But then there was quite a hue and cry, people came out and came after me, caught me, bound me up and brought me back here again. Who can the man of the teacups be?”

I tell you

Some verses (translated) from Eduardo Galeano which now apply to us all:

“Shall we all be conquered by today’s barbarians?
Millions upon millions talking English all?
Where are the nights noble and the glorious warriors?
Shall we now keep quiet to weep evermore?”
Not as bad as that, of course, but there is something I must quote here. Last weekend, here in Madrid, I had gone out with some friends, and we sat down in a bar for drinks. We were talking in Spanish, of course, and one of us asked the waiter: “Can you bring us some coffee?” The point was that he said it all in Spanish except for the word “coffee” which he said in English. And the waiter understood him perfectly well. Sometimes we speak English without realizing it. This has some advantages too. One is that the word STOP in any country and in any alphabet makes you stop before traffic. At that moment we are all speaking English.

But there are different English languages. Bertrand Russell said paradoxically: “England and the United States are two countries separated by the same language.” When I went for the first time to the United States I tried to change my British accent learned in India and to adopt American pronunciation. My New York friends stopped me at once: “Don’t you ever give up your British accent. Here in America we envy it.” I couldn’t help remembering the quotation in “My Fair Lady”: “Every time an Englishman opens his mouth he makes the other Englishman despise him.” With its refrain:

“Why can´t the English learn to speak?
The Greeks learn their Greek, and the Chinese learn Chinese with the speed of summer lightning.
The Hebrews write it backwards which is absolutely frightening.
¿Why can’t the English set a good example to people when their own English is painful to their ears?
Why can’t the English,
why can’t the English,
why can’t the English…
learn to speak?”

You tell me

Question: I pray every day, and some days the whole time of prayer passes in an instant with great devotion, while other days a few minutes look like an hour. I don’t understand myself.

Answer: St Ignatius Loyola wrote in his Spiritual Exercises what he calls “Rules for the Discernment of Spirits”. He calls these moods of the soul “consolation” and “desolation”, he takes for granted that they keep coming one after the other, and gives advice for each case. Some quotations:

“In time of desolation never make any change, but on the contrary, stand firm and determined in your resolutions and your determination as you were on the day before the desolation.”

“Given that we should make no change when in desolation, it is very profitable to charge and inveigh against such desolation, ever insisting on prayer, meditation, examination of conscience, and on some convenient ways of doing some penance.” There we have St Ignatius: “to charge and inveigh”.



“The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it,
The world and those who dwell therein.
Who may go up the mountain of the Lord?
Who may stand in his holy place?
Your majesty fills me with reverence, Lord, and when I think of it I sense my smallness and feel the burden of my unworthiness. Who am I to appear before you, to claim your attention, to engage your love? Let me keep my distance and know my place. Far from me your holy mountain, your sacred intimacy. Enough for me to contemplate from far the summit in the clouds, as your people in the desert contemplated Mount Sinai without daring to approach it.

But as I think of your people in the Old Testament I think also of your people in the New. The memory of Sinai brings to my mind the reality of Bethlehem. The people who feared to approach their God find that their God has come to them. No more fire and lightning. No more clouds round the summit. A cave in the fields and a crib and a baby. And a mother’s smile as she cradles him in her arms. God has come to his people.

You have come to me. The supreme gift of personal intimacy. You walk by my side, you hold my hand, you let me recline my head on your breast. The miracle of closeness, the thrill of friendship, the consecration of unity. I cannot let my unworthiness, my shyness, my laziness come between you and me. I want to learn the delicate and privileged art of living close to you.

This is why I need faith, courage, magnanimity. I need the admonition of your psalm: “Lift up your heads, you gates, lift yourselves up, you everlasting doors, that the king of glory may come in.” I want to open wide the doors of my heart so that you may come in with the fullness of your presence. No more false humility, no hidden fears, no polite delays. The prince of glory is standing at the gate. The king is asking for friendship. God himself is knocking at my door. For me this is a call to generosity, to confidence, to surrender. To open the gates of my soul and to receive the divine guest.

Teach me, Lord, how to deal with you. How to combine intimacy with reverence, friendship with worship and closeness with awe. Teach me how to lift my head and to open my heart, as I bend my knee and lower my eyes. Teach me never to lose sight of your majesty, and never to underestimate your companionship. Teach me your incarnation. God and man. Lord and friend. Prince and comrade.

Welcome to the King of glory.


A peasant called Freddy went every day to market to sell his vegetables. One Sunday in church he heard the parish priest’s sermon on the fundamental question in our lives: “Who am I?” And the good man began to ask all his friends and acquaintances, “Who am I?, and what should I do in consequence? Please help me to know myself and to act accordingly.” At length a true master told him: “You are Freddy, and you are supposed to go every day to the market to sell your vegetables.” That was true wisdom.

I tell you

Here is a good story I’ve just read. I hope you enjoy it.
One day, a girl in a red dress, with red slippers on her bare feet, came to my house asking for my father who was the Rabbi of the Jewish congregation.
“I came to ask the Rabbi…”
“Ask!” said my father.
“We were cooking a meat broth, and on the stove some milk boiled over and spilled into it.”
“How much was there? How much meat were you cooking?”
“Ten pounds of meat and two chickens.”
“All in one pot?”
“And how much milk spilled into it?”
“Half a quart.”
“Half a quart of milk spilled into the broth? How much milk were you boiling?”
“Six quarts.”
My father was constantly amazed by the size of the cooking pots used in Warsaw. The Jews of Warsaw were great eaters. They used, not ordinary pots, but veritable cauldrons. Again my father asked the girl for the particulars. According to the Law, in order for the broth to remain kosher, there had to be sixty times as much meat as milk. He questioned her over and over. It was no light matter to pronounce food unclean that had been bought with hard-earned money. After much hesitation and thought, my father declared: “It is unclean. The broth may not be eaten, nor may it be sold even to a non-Jew. It must be poured into the sewer.”
The girl laughed, “But we’ve already eaten the broth and the meat too!”
My father shuddered, “When? And why did you come to consult me now?”
“Just about the pot how it had to be cleansed.”
“But why did you eat without asking? You have eaten forbidden food!” Father shouted at her.
“Well, everybody was hungry. Mother was not home.., my sister was serving…”.
“Perhaps this is the beginning of the end.”

My father put his hand on her head: “Be a real Jew. Perhaps in your day the Messiah will come.”

You tell me

Question: “I go to mass every Sunday, and my father used to come also with me, but now he says that as a boy he was going to mass every day, and that counts for all the masses he has now to hear for the rest of his life. That he is “retired” from hearing mass. Is that correct?”

Answer: “You know that it is not, and that is why you are asking me. But then you must not judge anybody, least of all your father, and he may well just be honestly thinking that way. After all, when Jesus said, “Do this in memory of me” (Mathew 26, 18), the word “this” referred to what he was doing at that moment, which was the celebration of Easter as he himself had said before: “Find such and such a man and ask him where I must celebrate Easter with my disciples.” And Easter was celebrated just once a year. It was only the Church which later introduced the Sunday mass, and that was a very happy step to foster Christian life, but not so very happy in making it compulsory under pain of mortal sin, thus giving rise to innumerable such sins along the ages. This is a great sorrow. Nobody should (actually nobody can) be obliged to be good.” This is what I think.


Psalm 24 – “In you I trust, do not put me to shame.

Do you realize, Lord, what will happen to you if you let me down and put me to shame? Somehow I bear your name as a Christian and I represent you before your people, so that if my name suffers… your name also will suffer together with mine. We are linked together. My shame, rightly or wrongly, will reflect on you. For the sake of your name, Lord, do not let me down.

I have told others that you are the one who never lets down. What will they say if they see now that you do that to me? I have proclaimed with confidence: Jesus never fails! And are you now going to fail me? That will silence my tongue and cancel my witness. That will try my faith and hurt my friends. That will hinder your kingdom. Do not let that happen, Lord.

I know that my sins come in the way. That is why I pray: “Do not remember the sins and offences of my youth, but remember me in your unfailing love. For the honour of your name, O Lord, forgive my wickedness, great as it is.” Don’t look at my wrongdoings but at my trust in you. On that trust I base my whole life. On that trust I speak and I act and I live. The trust that you will never fail me. That is my faith and that is my boast. You never fail. You will not make me lose face. You will not let me down.

It is hard to say that at times when I am under a cloud and see no light and can expect no deliverance. I know that you work at long range, and my short patience demands an immediate release when you rather contemplate a long-term plan. We follow different timetables, and my shortsightedness does not easily fit into your eternity. I am ready to wait, ready to keep your time and to follow your step. But do not forget me in the end, Lord. Let my trust come through and my hope be redeemed. Give me signs of your favour that my faith may be strengthened and by boast be upheld. Show me in my life how you never let down those who trust in you, that I may continue to feel that confidence and to proclaim that joy. The Lord never lets down his people.

No man who hopes in you is put to shame.


This is a story of two Indian writers, Ved Mehta, who is blind and yet gives most accurate descriptions of events in his regular column in The New Yorker, and Vidhya Naipaul, as famous for his Nobel price as for his always serious and unsmiling countenance.

Someone in the audience during a talk by Ved Mehta wanted to verify that he was truly blind, and so he went up to him and started making all kind of gestures with his hands before the speaker’s face as the talk went on. The speaker kept on talking without being affected in any way by the hands in front of him. After the talk, the doubting listener went back to his friends and told them he now really believed that Ved Mehta was totally blind. They exclaimed: “But that was not Ved Mehta! The speaker had been changed, and that was Vidhya Naipaul!” The one of the serious countenance.


I tell you

This is about the strangest anecdote of my life, and I recall it now after many years. It happened in the times when I had come back from India to Spain in order to accompany my widowed mother when she became ninety, was living alone, and was just looking forward to a peaceful end. She called me, and I came from India. I thought that the fourth commandment held above all work commitments (I was a mathematics teacher at St Xavier’s College, Ahmedabad), and with my superior’s permission and my classes entrusted to a substitute, I flew to my mother’s side.

On Sunday mornings my mother and I used to go somewhere in the neighborhood with some relatives and friends to take a cup of coffee and chat leisurely about our lives and families. One such day, while we were just taking our coffee and chatting nonchalantly, I suddenly got up just like that and simply said: “I don’t know why, but I strongly feel I should go back home just now.” My brother looked at me as though I were just mad, and I could understand his look as I myself did not know why was I getting up. Still I got up and came back home.

The gate below and the door to our flat were all locked and in perfect order. I got in, walked through the rooms and reached my dormitory at the end. Then I saw it. The gate on to the balcony (which I had left closed but not locked) was open, and I saw a young man who was crawling flat on the floor, half in half out, with a knife in one hand. I walked silently towards him, and he didn’t see me till my feet were under his nose. He saw my shoes, looked up, saw me, stood up in the balcony and remained face to face before me with the gate in between. I just said quietly: “Go back the way you came in.” And then the comedy began. He started pleading: “I came up climbing that tree by the side. Please don’t make me climb down that blessed tree as it hardly has any branches to hold on to it. Please let me come in and I’ll go out through the door peacefully.” I said: “Give me your knife.” He did. It was an ordinary kitchen knife, no kind of professional weapon. He looked like a lost kid. I let him in. He stood by my side, and I put my hand on his shoulder. He started crying. When he calmed down he began talking in short sentences with pauses in between: “You must have guessed it. Drugs. I have ‘the monkey’ as we call it. The withdrawal symptom. I have no drugs now. And I cannot do without them. I just need them. I come from a good family. One of the houses here in front. At home they know nothing about it. I have no money. I came up here in the hope of finding some. I know where to buy drugs. I thought there was nobody in the house. Please let me go.” I came down with him and accompanied him till the street. I just told him as he left: “You’ll do well to tell your parents.” No more. Then I went back to my people and unburdened my own tension commenting on the experience with them.

The question remains. Why did I suddenly feel I had to go back to my house? I do have a very intimate relationship with my Guardian Angel, and he certainly has his ways to make me feel things and do things. He is smiling now his mischievous smile. He knows.

You tell me

Someone asks me: “How did you think of going to India? And how did you decide to come back? If you don’t mind I would like to know as I also have an opportunity for an appointment in India.”

I like the question. Actually I’m the first surprised when I think of it. I went to India just because a friend suggested it to me. On Thursdays we used to go all of us, Jesuit students at Loyola, for a compulsory three-hour walk in groups of three that were fixed for us on a board. But if it rained at the time, the groups were ignored and we just remained at home, talking or playing indoors with friends as we wanted. I looked for my best friend, Juan José Madariaga, who was also looking for me, and we just started going round and round the Roman cloister and talking of the coming events. He told me: “Carlos, you know that Father Provincial is coming next week to give us our appointments for life. About you they all say that the Provincial is going to send you to take a law degree at the university in order later to be a professor of Canon Law in our university at Bilbao. That’s fine, but it’s not what we have dreamed and we have planned together for the better service of Christ. We should rather ask to be sent to foreign missions. Actually the pope has asked our Fr General to send as many Jesuit missionaries as possible to Japan. He thinks that Japan having just been defeated in the war with the United States it will easily adopt American ways and customs, and the Christian religion with them, and so we must make the best of this opportunity. So that is where we must come in.”

I listened but was not convinced, and so the Thursday conversation ended. Nothing would have happened after that, but then next Thursday afternoon it rained again. So we two friends met, and again the conversation turned to the missions. “Tomorrow the Provincial comes, and we have to meet him. Let’s stick to our plan.” And this time I agreed with my friend. When I went to see the Provincial I told him my proposal, and he surprisingly answered me: “When planning my visit here I went through the list of all of you young people waiting for your appointments, and I quickly fixed all… except yours. They want you for Canon Law in Bilbao, but I somehow did no see you there. And now when you tell me this, I just feel that’s the thing for you. The missions. But not Japan but India. We have just been entrusted with a new mission there in the region of Gujarat, and I’m appointing you for its first missionary in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” And he made the sign of the cross over me. He did have a way of doing things solemnly.

Coming back was also unplanned but quite spontaneous. My mother was living alone, as my brother, who had delayed for years his marriage to stay with mother, realized that he had finally to get married, and so my mother remained alone. When she turned 90 she wrote to me asking me to come back. I thought, prayed, consulted friends and superiors, and decided that the fourth commandment was as valid as the religious vows, and came back to Spain. After all it was only for a few years, after which I would definitely go back to India for ever. But those few years lengthened happily to twelve, as my mother lived to be 102, and that changed things. In India I used to write a weekly article in the Sunday supplement of the main daily, Guyarat Samachar, and from Spain I started sending my article every week by air mail, as there was no email yet. That worked for a few weeks, but I soon realized that I could not do justice to myself and to my readers writing without any reference to the real context in the land. So I simply stopped. I let myself be led by life wherever it leads me.


Psalm 25 – “The psalm of the innocent.”

I would not have dared to pray this psalm, Lord, but I am grateful you offer it to me and invite me to make it my own. A psalm of innocence and sincerity; the prayer of an upright man and a blameless soul. This is not exactly me. I know my failings and regret my shortcomings: I hurt people, I court praise, I seek pleasure, I am not true to myself. There are black moments in my life and dark corners in my conscience. I am not innocent and pure. I cannot stand before you and claim righteousness.

And yet that is what you are inviting me to do, and I secretly rejoice, almost against myself, when I hear your invitation and get ready to answer it. I know I have done wrong things, but in my heart of hearts I worship truth and I wish all men well. I do not act out of malice, I do not wish to hurt, I do not mean to disobey. I am weak, yes, but not wicked. I love goodness and cherish honesty. I would like all to be happy and the whole world at peace. There is goodness in me, and that is the deepest layer of my being. I want to feel good, and so I welcome your invitation to say the prayer of the just man.

I have lived my life without reproach, and have put unfaltering trust in you, Lord. Test me, O Lord, and try me: put my heart and mind to the proof. For your constant love is before my eyes, and I live in your truth. I wash my hands in innocence to join in procession round your altar, O Lord. I live my life without reproach; redeem me, O Lord, and show me your favour.

This is me at my best. And I feel happy to appear before you, Lord, for once in that light. To stand up with the confidence you have won for me, to lift up my face, to smile in innocence and to speak in freedom. Yes, I am your son, and in asking your blessings I am asking for justice. You have given me the right to speak so, and I claim it with simplicity. I ask for justice. I am asking for your blessing and my inheritance. I am asking for peace and for joy. I want to feel that I am a faithful son to you and a good person to all. This I call justice, and this is what I expect from you.

Give me justice, O Lord, for I have lived my life without reproach.


Yashoda is Krishna’s mother, and Krishna is the incarnation of God most popular, venerated and cherished in India. She looked after him as a child, an adolescent, a young man with a mother’s love and a believer’s faith. Krishna grew up, and the moment came for him to leave his home and his village and his mother to go out to preach, help and redeem his people. As he was going, his mother asked him for a grace: “That whenever I close my eyes I may see you.” And Krishna answered her: “I grant you the grace that whenever you open your eyes you may see me.”

Seeing God in all things. In persons, in things, in happenings. Seeing God with open eyes. Walking becomes faith, and looking is contemplation. He is always there. He is all that. His voice is in every sound, and his look in every colour. He is hidden there, or rather he reveals himself in that. He has made all that is, and he lives in all that he has made. His footsteps are everywhere for those who recognize his steps.

With open eyes. He made them for us to see everything and Him in everything. Faces and movements, meetings and happenings, trees and asphalt. There is no difference in his presence because He is in everything. We open our eyes and see Him. We see him clearly, closely, totally. We learn to recognize eternal features in daily landscapes, to feel the divine presence in a handshake, to contemplate infinite vision in a far-away horizon. We learn to see.

Why is it that when we propose a few minutes of prayer, people always close their eyes?

I tell you

Some quotations from the last autobiography I’ve read:

“My first year at school my marks were so high in every paper that I was given the privilege to be the first to choose the end-of-the-year prize. The school requested the parents to send some gifts to be distributed among the best students on the occasion. When the day arrived, the prizes were displayed on the upper landing of the stately stairway that went from the entrance to the first floor. We, the prize winners, were placed each on one step according to the order of merit. I was the first, duly impressed by the solemn ritual. The Principal, looking towards the gifts, whispered in my ear: ‘The Parker pen.’ But I had already seen a couple of books that appealed more to me. I came forward and pointed to the books. The Principal, in surprise and anger, shouted to me openly: ‘The Parker pen!’ But I had made up my mind. I collected the books, to the evident disappointment of the Principal. I felt scared as I had rebelled against the powerful Mr Pedro whom we all feared, turned round, and came down the stairs caressing my first two books ever: one of Cervantes and one of Turgeniev.

I’m convinced that the love of books became imprinted on my life on that day. The search in the shelves, the physical contact with the pages, the talking about books, the rereading of old books are pleasures that have accompanied me along my public and political responsibilities.”

(Alfonso Guerra, Cuando el tiempo nos alcanza, Espasa Calpe, Madrid 2004, p. 52)

“In January the King had a fall while skiing in Switzerland and was taken back to Madrid. I phoned him to know about his health and he invited me to call on him in person. I could see how, in spite of obvious discomfort in his bed of pain, he was in very high spirits, and I told him I was surprised to see that. He answered me with great strength and a large smile on his lips: ‘I’ll be in high spirits till they hammer the last nail on my coffin!’”

(Dejando atrás los vientos, Espasa Calpe, Madrid 2007, p. 97)

“Henry Kissinger asked me for an interview when he came to Spain. I was explaining to him our plans for the Government when I realised the big man was looking sleepy, gently nodding his head while his eyes winked and closed. From time to time he would wake up, ask a question in confidential tones, and go back to sleep. That was not the only interview I had with Kissinger along my years in office, and I could verify that he always yielded to a semiconscious slumber. I couldn’t help thinking what state of consciousness he must have been in while he took his controversial decisions as Secretary of State.” (183)

“While visiting Peru I didn’t want to miss Machu Picchu. We went to Cuzco by plane, where a helicopter was waiting for us to take us straight to the famous ruins. The pilot took off for Machu Picchu, but he lost his way. After going round and round he confessed that he could not find the ruins. He saw a rivulet and decided to follow it very close to the ground with an extremely high stone wall by the side down which water flowed from place to place. He somehow managed to land between cables on a clearing in the forest. Immediately a number of naked children surrounded us and they very clearly showed the right direction to the pilot. We took off and soon reached the place.” (383)

He quotes the poet Machado:

“In my solitude
I saw things quite clearly
and they were not true.” (97)
It sets one thinking.

You tell me

You’re asking me again about the present pope, and I’ll tell you again that for me he is the best pope in history… ¡because he has read my books! He told me so when I met him in Buenos Aires before he was pope. I had gone there to give some talks, and as I was always mindful to do in my journeys abroad, I visited him first to ask his blessing for my work in his diocese. Then he told me he knew my name and my books, and gave me all facilities. The curious thing, which not all know, is that we Jesuits make a special vow never to become bishops… and much less popes, of course. When the pope insists in ordaining some Jesuit as bishop, he has to ask dispensation from the vow, which the pope, of course, gives at once. But the formula has to be gone through.


Psalm 26 – To see your face

This is the one longing of my life that sums up all my other longings: to see your face. Bold words which I would not presume to utter if you had not given them to me. Nobody could see your face in the old days and live. And now you remove the veil and uncover the presence. Once I know it, what else can I do but to seek that face and long for that presence? This is now my one desire, the aim of all my actions and the very meaning of my life.

“One thing I ask of the Lord, one thing I seek: that I may be constant in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. I will seek your face, O Lord, do not hide it from me.”

I know your word and I know your precepts. I know what wise and holy men say about you, what your saints have taught and your friends have revealed of their dealings with you. I have read many beautiful books and taken part in fruitful discussions about who you are and what you do and why and when and in which way. I have even passed examinations with you as a subject, though I sometimes wonder what marks you would have given me if you had been on the board of examiners. I know a good deal about you, and I even used to believe that that was enough, and all that could be expected of me in the darkness of this transitory existence.

But now I want more, because I know it is possible and you want it and are calling me to attain it. I want to see your face. I have knowledge, but I now want experience, I have your word, but I now want your face, I have secondhand references, and now I aspire to direct contact. It is your face, O Lord, that I seek. Nothing else will satisfy me.

You know your times and you know your ways. You have the power and you have the means. You are the Lord of the human heart, and you can enter it at will. Now you have my invitation and my petition. It is for me to wait with patience, with longing and with love. That I will do with all my heart.

Wait for the Lord, be strong, take courage…, and wait for the Lord.


With open eyes, with closed eyes

Yashoda is Krishna’s mother, and Krishna is the incarnation of God most popular, venerated and cherished in India. She looked after him as a child, an adolescent, a young man with a mother’s love and a believer’s faith. Krishna grew up, and the moment came for him to leave his home and his village and his mother to go out to preach, help and redeem his people. As he was going, his mother asked him for a grace: “That whenever I close my eyes I may see you.” And Krishna answered her: “I grant you the grace that whenever you open your eyes you may see me.”

Seeing God in all things. In persons, in things, in happenings. Seeing God with open eyes. Walking becomes faith, and looking is contemplation. He is always there. He is all that. His voice is in every sound, and his look in every colour. He is hidden there, or rather he reveals himself in that. He has made all that is, and he lives in all that he has made. His footsteps are everywhere for those who recognize his steps.

With open eyes. He made them for us to see everything and Him in everything. Faces and movements, meetings and happenings, trees and asphalt. There is no difference in his presence because He is in everything. We open our eyes and see Him. We see him clearly, closely, totally. We learn to recognize eternal features in daily landscapes, to feel the divine presence in a handshake, to contemplate infinite vision in a far-away horizon. We learn to see.

Why is it that when we propose a few minutes of prayer, people always close their eyes?


I tell you

I give you here an experience of God I’ve read just now in El Shaolin Occidental, Kailas, Barcelona 2008, p. 185.

“Why those things did not happen to me? I was perfectly open to the possibility of a mystical experience, was actively seeking it, praying for it to happen to me. One thing is hearing other people’s stories about it, and quite another to experience it yourself.

It happened two months after I began my training in the Shaolin technique at the very monastery in Shaolin. I had to repeat a kick turning 360 degrees. I had done it hundreds of times, as repetition is of the essence in Shaolin. As I was stepping on the mat I felt overwhelmed by a sensation of absolute peace. It was nothing I could see, hear or touch, but just a pure feeling. I felt as if all the background noise in my soul – the stress, the anxiety, the worries of my whole life – were suddenly silenced, as though the whole universe had stood still, and as if for a moment only God existed. I kept walking around without going anywhere in particular. I thought that would be as we feel in heaven. I suddenly understood why all mystics and monks used to renounce all worldly pleasures to start on their spiritual journey. Such a sensation was worthy any sacrifice. Time stood still. I lost all conscience of my own self. I had got the proof I wanted, I had lived the miracle I expected. Maybe I would not reach the Promised Land, but at least I had seen it. That made my decision to go to Shaolin the best decision in my whole life.

Another foreigner came then to Shaolin. His name was Carlos, and he was a Spaniard He was beyond thirty, was married and had children. He was a charming person, though, as he himself confessed again and again, he was a nightmare as a husband. I was fascinated as I saw him as a perfect reconciliation between Catholic guilt and Mediterranean libido. The last day of his stay his eyes went wet and tears run down his cheeks while we were taking breakfast. I thought he was sad at leaving Shaolin. I said:

– Don’t worry, Carlos, we’ll keep in touch.
– No, Mathew, you don’t understand. It has been incredible.
– What has been incredible?
– Jesus spoke to me last night.
– What happened?
– I was in bed, praying for my family, when I heard a voice and I knew it was Jesus. It was incredible.
– What did he tell you?
– I can’t remember the words. All happened so fast that his words run over me.

For the rest of breakfast we both remained silent.

You tell me

“I’m a young girl studying in a school run by religious sisters, and I’m feeling an inclination to join them, but my friends tell me that that is out of date. What should I do?”

The decision is yours, my dear. We call that a religious vocation, and young people, boys and girls, have felt it through the ages, have followed the call and have become happy and made many happy and continue to do so. This is never out of date. Don’t expect an angel to come and tell you. On the other hand don’t do it simply because some friends do it. Speak it out with your family and close friends, and go to see a priest too to talk at length about it. Since you have contacted me I can tell you that I joined the Jesuit novitiate when I was fifteen… and I’ve have been very happy since. May God bless you fully.


Psalm 27 – Rock of ages

You are my Rock. In a world where everything changes, where man is fickle and his moods like feathers in the wind: where nothing is stable, nothing permanent, nothing reliable: in a world of insecurity and instability… you are my Rock

You stand while everything falters. You are firm, steady, eternal. You alone offer security and safety. In you alone can I rest and take refuge and feel at peace. You are my Rock.

Round me there are deserts and marshes and slippery paths and shaky ground. I must be slow and cautious. I cannot run and jump and dance at will. I must mind every step and test every stone. There is painful progress and constant apprehension on the grounds of life. No one I can really trust, nothing I can safely rely upon. Always doubt and suspicion and fear. When everything is unsteady, the mind itself is restless, and peace flies from the soul.

That is my greatest trial, that I myself am not steady. I am a bundle of doubts. It is not only that I don’t trust anybody, but that I don’t trust myself. I waver and hesitate and stumble. I don’t know what I want, and am not sure where I want to go. Uncertainty is not only outside me, but inside me, very much inside me, in my decisions and my opinions and my beliefs. I take a hundred resolutions and fulfill none; I start on a hundred journeys and reach the end of none. I am a reed shaken by the wind. I lack firmness, and I need desperately someone I can lean on.

And that is you, Lord. You are my Rock. The firmness of your word, the uniqueness of your truth, the permanence of your eternity. The Rock jutting out in the midst of waves and sands and winds and storms. Just to look at you gives me repose.

The Lord is my strength and my shield, in him my heart trusts: so I am sustained, and my heart leaps for joy, and I praise him with my whole body. The lord is strength to his people, a safe refuge for his anointed king. The Lord is my Rock.


Hasan Basari, a great saint of Islam, was one day walking with his disciples when he saw a man who apparently was drunk and was faltering in his way. There was a deep pond in the middle and the ground was slippery, so the saint warned the man: “Be careful, brother, since the ground is slippery and the water is deep. If you fall in it you may get drowned.” The man answered him: “And you be careful even more, since if I drown, I drown alone; but if you drown, many more will drown with you.”

This is the responsibility of teachers and preachers. Nobody is saved or condemned alone. The disciples follow their master. A slip causes many slips. The pond is deep and the ground is slippery. That’s always the way in this world. But then there is also joy and consolation. A step in the right direction may lead many more in the right direction. The master avoids the trap, and the disciples after him will also avoid it. Everybody helps everybody else.

The apparently drunk man was not drunk. He only was week, and he knew it. His own weakness led him to seek protection from the danger. Humility is our best defense in life.

The master understood. Nobody fell into the pond.

I tell you

That ordinary people have real experiences of God is more frequent than you might think. I am going to quote one of them from “The Western Shaolin” by Matthew Polly, Kailas, Barcelona, p. 185.

Why didn’t these things happen to me? I was totally open to the possibility of a mystical experience, I actively sought it, I asked for it in my prayer, I hoped for it. It is one thing to hear that others have had such experiences, and quite another to have them oneself. That was what I was humbly and confidently asking for and hoping for.

It was during our training in Shaolin techniques that I finally had the experience I had long desired. We had practiced the series of 18 basic movements in Shaolin that ends with a 160 degree kick. It was a move I had repeated hundreds of times as is customary in Zen. As I stood once again on the edge of the mat to perform that same movement, I was overwhelmed by a sense of infinite peace. It was not something I could see, hear, or touch, but just pure emotion. It was a feeling like I had never had in my life. I felt as if all the background noise in my soul – tension, anxiety, worries – had suddenly shut down, and in that moment only God existed. I kept pacing around the room going nowhere. I thought this is how one would feel in heaven. Then I understood why mystics and saints give up all the pleasures of the world, for that feeling makes any sacrifice trivial. Time stood still. I lost all self-consciousness. I had the proof I needed. I had lived a miracle. I may not have reached the Promised Land yet, but I had already seen it. That made my decision to go to Shaolin the best of my life.

Another foreigner came to Shaolin at that time. He was a Spaniard, Carlos. He was in his thirties, married with children. He was a lovely person, but, as he himself confessed over and over again, he was a nightmare as a husband. I was fascinated to see and hear in him that perfect blend of Catholic guilt and Mediterranean libido.

On the last day of those six months there, Carlos showed up with tears in his eyes streaming down his cheeks as he ate breakfast. I thought he was sad to leave Shaolin, and I told him:

– This is nothing, Carlos, we will keep in touch.
– No, Mathew, you just don’t understand. It was something incredible.
– What was incredible?
– Jesus spoke to me last night.
– What was that like?
– I was in bed praying for my family when I heard a voice and I knew it was Jesus.
– What did he say to you?
– I don’t remember. It was all so fast that his words slipped over me. But the feeling didn’t leave me. It was wonderful. And it still is.

We were both silent. The excited one was now me.

You tell me

You write to me: “I am very low. I recite prayers but without feeling anything, and I don’t know if I should stop. At least I would be more sincere. What is the use of praying if you feel nothing?”

I answer you: my father St. Ignatius is a master on this subject of the states of the soul. He speaks of “consolation” and “desolation,” and gives rules for both cases. Concerning your case he says: “Let him who is in desolation labor to be in patience, which is contrary to the vexations that come to him, and let him think that he will soon be consoled.” Patience. We cannot always be at the top. It would be boring. Life with its ups and downs teaches us and trains us. May God feel free in dealing with you. He will always do what is best.


Psalm 28 – When the sky is darkened

The sky is dark, the storm rages, the forces of evil seem to have taken hold of heaven and earth. The storm is a symbol and reality of destruction and confusion, of danger and death. Man fears the storm and runs for protection when the lightning strikes. Man, from his personal and historical infancy, has always been afraid of the dark.

And yet you teach me now, Lord, that the storm is your throne. You are the Lord of storms. You are as much in the darkness as in the light, you reign in the clouds as you reign in the blue sky. The thunder is your voice, and the lightning is the gesture of your fingers. I want to see your presence in the storm as I see it in the serene sky. I worship your works as Lord of nature.

The God of glory thunders in the heavens, the voice of the Lord resounds over the waters. The voice of the Lord is power, the voice of the Lord is majesty, the voice of the Lord brings down the cedars of Lebanon. The voice of the Lord discharges fire.

As I recognize you, Lord, in the storms of nature, I learn to recognize you in the storms of my own soul, when my own sky is clouded and my horizons tremble and the storm of despair shakes the loneliness of my heart. If blessings come from you, trials come too. If you are sun, you are also thunder, and if you bring peace, you also bring the sword. You come in consolation as well as in temptation. Yours is the day and yours is the night, and I want to accept you also now as Lord of the night in my own life.

I still feel you closer, Lord, in the storm than in the calm. When all goes well and life goes on, I take you for granted, minimize your place in my life, and simply forget you. But when darkness comes and makes me feel my weakness, I think of you and look to you for my refuge. I feel closer to you in my darkest hours, and I bow before your majesty in the storm that roars across the landscapes of my soul.

The Lord is king of the storm, the Lord presides over the firmament, the Lord will give strength to his people, the Lord will bless his people with the blessing of peace.


Accepted Prayer

A devout Muslim prayed every day and asked God for a particular grace that he desired and hoped for. He always stood in the same corner of the mosque, and so many years went by that people said that you could see the mark of his knees on the floor tiles. But God did not seem to hear his prayer, or even notice it.

Finally one day the Angel of the Lord appeared to him in his prayer and said, “God has decided not to grant you what you have asked of Him, and He will never give it to you.” When the good man heard this, he stood up, shouted for joy, called everyone together, and told them what the Angel had said to him. The people were amazed, and asked him, “How is it that you rejoice when God refuses to give you what you ask of him?” He answered as he continued to dance for joy, “It is true that he has not heard my prayer, but at least he has given me a receipt for having received it. What more do I want?” And he continued to manifest his joy.

To pray is to know that my voice has reached God. Prayer is not the request, the answer, the granting of grace. Or yes, it is all that, but it is above all the faith and confidence that the message got through, that my words rang in God’s ears, that the earth touched heaven. What does the “result” matter when we have the contact? I wrote the letter and sent it, and now I know that it has reached its destination and has been read. That is all that matters to me.

The good Muslim continued to go to the mosque every day, knelt in the same corner, and thanked God that his prayer had reached his ears.

I tell you

This is an anecdote from my days in Ahmedabad. The members of the Chamber of Commerce in the city decided to put up a building to house all their offices, and they entrusted the project to the world famous French architect Le Corbusier. He accepted, presented his project, this was approved and the building was built. The astrologer chose an auspicious day for the inauguration according to Indian custom, and a large crowd gathered for the occasion.

The French architect had built a ramp as he used to do for all his projects since he said that was much healthier for the heart. But in this case the result was that the cows that roam about freely everywhere in India had come in the meantime and had eaten away all the curtains. Cows do not climb steps, but they can easily come up a ramp, and that was what they had been doing in search of a meal. The French architect had not thought of that.

You tell me

Question: What do you think about reincarnation? I must have heard about it in India, but here in the United States where I live I have friends who believe in it, and it does explain many things as sudden tastes, inclinations, friendships and enmities without reason or precedent.

Answer: Of course I heard about reincarnation in India. Almost everybody believes in it. I’ll tell you an amusing story. When the Dalai Lama dies in neighbouring Tibet, the monks go about looking for children born in those days to find out who of them may be the reincarnated Dalai Lama. The show them two similar walking sticks, the one actually used by the previous Dalai Lama and an imitation of it…, and the true child is supposed to choose the real one. Similar proofs are repeated till the monks feel satisfied, and then the boy is trained, educated, prepared and consecrated as the new Dalai Lama. I once saw a video of an interview in which the Dalai Lama himself told al this, and then added with a smile: “That was how the monks were convinced that I truly was the Dalai Lama.” Since the monks look only in good families, and then they bring up the boy with all care, the result is always excellent. Al the Dalai Lamas have been very good people.

My friends in India used to tell me that I must have been a very good person in mi previous incarnation, as in this one I was tall, clever and good looking. They almost made me believe in reincarnation.


Psalm 29 – Moods of the soul

I want to uncover the moods of my soul before myself and before you, Lord. I want to know how to deal with myself when I am high and when I a low, to handle my optimism and my pessimism, to learn how to react to spiritual joy and to human dejection: and, above all, how to ride the tides of feelings, the changes of mood, the sudden storm and the unexpected bliss, the darkness and the light, and the uncertainty that never allows me to know how long a mood will last and when the opposite mood will strike.

I am at the mercy of my moods. When I feel joyful, everything looks easy, virtue is obvious, love is spontaneous and a firm assurance grows on me that this is the way it will be with me from now on and for ever. Yes, I tell myself, I have finally arrived, I have matured in my spiritual life, I have myself well in hand, I have gone through ups and downs, and I know there will still be small changes and variations, but fundamentally I know now what to expect, I am well established and nothing will seriously shake me now. I am an old-timer in the ways of the spirit and I know perfectly well where I stand. Through God’s grace I am firm and steady.

You know me well, Lord, and you yourself put those words on my lips when you invite me to recite this psalm: “Carefree as I was, I had said: I can never be shaken.” That was my unwarranted confidence, my immature boast. I really thought I could never now be shaken.

And then your psalm continued as my life continues: “But, Lord, it was your will to shake my mountain refuge: you hid your face, and I was struck with dismay.” I was shaken again to my very foundations, and then my despair was as total and absolute as my boast had been before. I am good for nothing, I shall never learn, I am now after so many years right where I was at the beginning of my spiritual life, I don’t know how to pray, how to keep peace in my soul, how to deal with God: I don’t know, and I’ll never learn now; I can just as well give up and resign myself to a low and humdrum existence. The stars are not for me.

When I am down, I forget that I ever was up, and think I shall never be up again: and when I am up and high…, I persuade myself that that is the way it’ll always be, and there’s nothing to fear any more. My memory is short…, and so my suffering is long. I am the slave of my moods, the plaything of the breeze that blows on my soul. Hot when it is hot, and cold when it is cold. I lack the persevering steadfastness of the seasoned worker, the proven seeker. I waver and stumble and fall. I want a greater balance for my life, a larger perspective, a truer patience. I want for me the long-term view that experience in your ways gives to those who know and trust you.

For this I pray: that when I am in high spirits, I may remember that I was low before: and that when I am low, I may trust that the high spirits will come again. Then truly “I will confess you for ever, O Lord my God.”


An Indian story. There was a holy man who lived in sanctity and penance in the middle of the forest, he fed on the fruits of the trees and on roots in the ground, and he drank from the river near his hut. He wore just a loincloth, with another to change it, and he spent the whole day worshiping God’s majesty and praising his glory.

But there were mice in the forest, and while he was immersed in his prayers they nibbled at the other loincloth, thus spoiling it. Something had to be done.

Devout people from neighbouring villages who came to visit him and to ask for his blessing suggested the remedy. The presence of a cat would make the mice keep their distance. They brought him a cat, and the loincloth was safe.

But now the cat had to be fed. Cats like milk, and so the devotees gave him a cow. But then the cow had to eat also. So they gifted the holy man the adjoining fields for the cow to eat grass. He had only to mind the fields and keep them fertile for the grass to grow. And then, of course, he had to milk the cow for the cat to drink its milk and so to be able to drive the mice away and to protect the loincloth hanged up to dry. The monk did accordingly, yielding to the devotion and the care shown by his devotees.

Everything went on smoothly till the day in which he realized he was not praying any more. His time was spent in the fields and in the care of the cow and the cat. He had no time, and no inclination to do anything else. He had become a landowner. The devout people around ceased to visit him. They said his blessing had no effect any more.

Fundación González Vallés

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