These days I’m enjoying the pleasure of rereading a book I knew from long ago. The past memory joins with the present exercise, and forgotten pages revive with untold strength. My lips widen in broad smiles again and again. Life is growth, but it is also memory, and our present stands on our past while it looks ahead at the future. And then there is another secret in this pleasure today, which is that this book I am reading is a book I myself wrote long ago. That is even better. Writer, and then reader of my own writings… while I allow myself to smile at the reading. I am sure a writer’s is the best profession on earth. It has also another advantage, that a writer never retires. He can go on writing so long as he pleases. I am also a priest, which is not a profession but a vocation, and a priest does not retire either. I thank God for my good luck.
Some people (not many fortunately) tell me that they feel bored at times with work and with life, and that makes them uneasy. Then I am always reminded of something my own father told me when I was very young: “Only fools get bored.” Blessed memory. Both extremes have to be avoided: it is bad to be overworked, and it is bad to be idle. Something at hand, and never any hurry. Age is not an excuse for idleness. There is always something to do, reading or writing, or going for a walk or meeting friends, or even (God forbid) watching television.
Psalm 63 – Arrows
Arrows in the air are messengers of death. Silent, sharpened, poisoned. It was the weapon Israel’s soldiers feared. Neither heard not seen. They come from far, straight and speedy, with death on their wings, and they find with mortal aim the human victim in the shadows of the night. Sword can be met with sword, and dagger with dagger, but the arrow comes alone and silent from an anonymous hand at a safe distance in enemy’s land. Its mortal flight hits human flesh without pity, and its iron point releases in an instant the flow of blood that takes life away. Arrows are winged death riding on winds of hatred.
The word of man is that ruthless arrow. It also flies and kills. It carries poison, destruction and death. A short word can put an end to a young life. A mere insult can create enmity between two families. Words have started wars and have created enmity between families, generation after generation. Words hit man in his noblest feelings, his honour and his hopes; they hurt the peace of his soul and the value of his name. Words are threats in a world of blind envy and deadly competition, and then I pray in hope:“Hear, O Lord, the voice of my heart, protect my life from the enemy, hide me from the plots of the wicked, free me from treason and death. Evil men sharpen their tongues and shoot out their words as poisoned arrows to hit the innocent by surprise and treachery. I ask for protection against the word of man. And the protection I am given is the Word of God. Against men’s arrows the arrow of God himself:
“God has shot an arrow, my enemies have been hurt, they have fallen because of their tongue, and all those who see them shake their heads.”
One arrow against a hundred. The Word of God against the words of men. The Word of God in Scripture, en prayer, in the Incarnation and in the Eucharist. God’s presence, God’s strength, God’s Word. It clears my mind and strengthens my heart. It gives me strength to live in a world of words without fearing their wounds. The Word of God gives me peace and joy for ever.
“The just rejoices in the Lord, takes refuge in him, and all praise the righteous at heart.”
Jawaharlal Nehru was the first prime minister of independent India, and at his appointment he went to visit the sage Vinoba Bhave in Poone to ask him for advice in his new responsibility. The saint just told him: “Play the flute for one hour every day.” The story was published, and everybody understood it in India.
There was no question of buying a flute and taking lessons how to play it. There was only question of not burying himself in his work, to take rest, not to take life and his job too seriously, just to relax. Quite simple. And quite difficult. Nehru himself told the story in his autobiography which carries the significant title: “The Discovery of India”. He, an Indian, had to discover India before ruling it. A very wise advice.
I was walking this morning along a street in Madrid when a man approached me asking for alms. The strange thing was that he was quite well dressed, and he looked and spoke in every way as a gentleman. Now, in Madrid it is forbidden to give alms in public, and large notices remind us of the prohibition. On the other hand begging for alms does not seem to be forbidden, and rightly so as a beggar cannot be expected to have money to pay for a fine. I obeyed the law and did not give anything, worried that if a policeman saw me he could fine me. But still I kept musing. It must have been a painful situation that led a gentleman to beg in the street. We all speak of the present crisis, but not all are equally affected by it. The poor are the greatest sufferers. And we, religious, take a vow of poverty… but in fact we never experience its effects. Let us at least be simple and modest in our living.
Question: am a married woman in a seventeen years marriage and we have no children. My husband and myself have been slowly drifting apart and now we are thinking of separating, but I would like to be free to marry again. Is this possible?
Answer: No. “What God has united let no man set asunder.” (Mark 10.9) Divorce is forbidden, and nothing more to say. Only, I am reminded here of a slightly surprising experience I once had. A friend who had invited me for a series of lectures somewhere in America and was once driving me in his car together with his wife and two children told me rather surprisingly while driving: “I too am a priest.” And after watching my reaction he continued: “I was ordained and I practiced several years as a priest, but then I realized that such a life was not for me, and I asked the Vatican for permission to marry. After all inquiries that took quite some time, I was finally allowed and I am now happily married… but at the same time I am a priest forever. I console myself thinking that if some time by chance I find myself in the presence of a man in danger of death and asking for confession I know I am then allowed to absolve him and I would do it.”
Psalm 64 – The rainy season
It is raining outside. A furious rain like an Oriental monsoon. The water sheet, the sudden Niagara, the Street converted into a river, the dark sky, the violent coming down of heaven upon earth with the waters of destruction over the whole horizon where heaven and earth touch in the cosmic unity of all beings. The dance of the rain, the dance of the children in the rain that seals the eternal covenant of between man and nature and renews it year by year to bless the land and multiply its crops. The liturgy of rain in the temple where humanity prays.
I enjoy the rain that fertilizes the fields, that makes the earth green and the air transparent. It frees the perfume hidden in the dry earth and it fills up with its charms the spaces in which life is renewed. It brings down the heat, hides the sun, refreshes the air and shapes for the fruits of the earth for the joy of man. God keeps his proise year by year and sends down his rain as a proof of his love and expression of his providence. The rain is God’s blessing over the world he created, and his contact with it reminds us of his presence and his care for all of us. The rain comes from on high and reaches to the roots of the earth. God’s finger touches the earth with the original gesture of the first creation.
“You care for the earth, you water it and enrich it beyond measure: the stream flows in strength, and the fields soften down to prepare the crop that gives life to man.”I love the rain, the dense, constant, extended rain, as the figure and sign it is for that other rain that also will come down one day from on high.
This can happen only in India. But in India it does happen and once it happened to me and I want to tell about, hasrd as it may ve to understand it outside India.
I was traveling in a train from Ahmedabad to Baroda. The train was absolutely full, it was already time, but no sign of starting. My impatience kept growing. A quarter of an hour, half an hour, even a whole hour and no sign of starting. Finally the train started. There were two Hindu monks sitting by my side, and one of them asked to nobody in particular: “Where is this train going?” There we had a good man without worries. I was worried about arriving while he did not care where he was going. Baroda or Bombay were the same for him, and today and tomorrow made no difference. No hurry and no worry. Life is leisure, and starting is arriving.
I feel jealous of that monk. I have dates, timetables, visits, programs without end in my life. My programme today is in Baroda, not in Bombay, and at 7 p.m., not at 8. In the society in which I lie one has to be punctual, and that is now an obsession with me. Day, time, smile, dress, notes, smile. This is the limit. That is why I want to become a monk, at least for a while, I want to take any train in any station, and when it starts I want to ask in the air without looking at anybody in particular: “Where is this train going?” Then I will truly be a free man for the first time in my life.
Advent is one of the happiest liturgical times of the year. Waiting for the coming of the Lord. Watching, yearning, longing. It gives its full importance to the coming Christmas, it prepares our hearts, it enhances the coming of the Lord. The image of Our Lady since the announcement of the angel, her feelings, her hopes, her joy…, and her problem with how Joseph would come to know and how would he react. Everything went on smoothly and lovingly as we now know, but she didn’t know all that then. It was all faith and hope for her. Advent enhances Christmas, lengthens a day into a month, teaches us the importance of waiting, the value of hope. A precious time indeed.
Question: Please excuse my curiosity, but I would like to know, if you don’t mind, why did you go to India and why then you came back.
Answer: I had never thought of going to the missions, but when I was already in the Jesuit novitiate the Pope asked the Jesuits to send urgently as many missionaries as possible to Japan, the reason being that Japan had just been defeated in the World War, and the Pope thought that now Japan would open up in consequence to Western influence in general, and so it would embrace Christianity. A papal prediction that, by the way, did not turn out true. In any case I offered myself to go to Japan, and the superior answered me immediately: “Not Japan but India. Father General has just now divided the mission of Bombay into two missions: Bombay and Ahmedabad, and has entrusted Ahmedabad to our province in Spain. So you are from this moment the first Jesuit destined to Ahmedabad.” It only remains for me now to record my mother’s reaction when I told her that the provincial was sending me to India. She said: “It just shows he comes from Corella.” Corella is a small town without consequence. When reaching India I asked my spiritual father there, the Alsatian Father Froely, to give me permission to take a vow never to leave India. I had seen that many Jesuit missionaries went back to their countries after long service in India, and I wanted to protect myself against that eventuality with a formal vow. He refused my petition. My mother, a widow by then, reached ninety years and wrote to me that she would not live long, and asked me to come to accompany her in her last years. I did so. And then my mother lived for… twelve years more! That at least gives me good genes to live on, and the satisfaction to have fulfilled at least the fourth commandment. My heartfelt thanks to Father Froely.
Psalm 65 – Come and see
“Come and see the works of God.”Come and see. The invitation to experience. The chance to be present. The challenge to be a witness. Come and see. These three words are the essence of faith, the heart of mysticism, the basis of religion. Come. Don’t be sitting down waiting for things to happen. Get up and move on and search. Open your eyes and look around. You’ve spent your life reading and studying and discussing and proving things. All that is fine, but it I only secondhand. You must now search for evidence. Come and see. Search and find. Get in and enjoy. The Lord has called you to his court.
And now I take those sacred words as you tell them to me, Lord. Come and see. You are inviting me to be by your side and see your face. Your words are clear and your call is definitive. And yet I feel shy, I hold back, I find excuses. I have been taught to repeat “I am not worthy” and so I now prefer silence and withdrawal. I am afraid, I don’t want trouble, I feel I am well where I am. The heights were not made for me. I feel that if go ahead I’ll have to change and my present satisfaction with myself will come to an end. I’m afraid of your presence and just as the People of Israel delegated to Moses the responsibility of meeting you and deal with you. I’m afraid that if I really meet you my life will have to change, and my present self- satisfaction will come to an end.
I now want to come and see your works, to see you doing them, to worship your presence. I want to see you, Lord in the light of faith and in the joy of prayer. I want the direct experience, the personal encounter, the clear vision. Servants of yours in all religions have spoken of the experience that changed their lives, the vision that that fulfills their aspirations, the illumination that gives sense to their whole existence. In my humility I also ask to see your face, to see you, to contemplate you as the only reality that gives light to the whole of creation and to my own life in it. This is my desire and this is my hope.
“Come and see.”
I’m coming, Lord. Give me the grace to see.
Question: Why the many churches that the Jesuits built in the Paraguay missions in the XVII century were all later destroyed while those built by the Franciscans are still standing?
Answer: Because the churches of the Jesuits were built with stones, while those of the Franciscans were built with mud bricks.
Explanation: When the Jesuits missionaries who had built those churches left the place, the people of the place destroyed the churches and took the stones to build houses for themselves. But they were not going to take the mud bricks, and so the Franciscan churches remained where they were. Franciscan humility lasted longer that Jesuit efficiency.
The Franciscans gave local names to their new villages. I visited Yaguaron and prayed in its church. The Jesuits on the other hand gave names of saints (Jesuit saints of course) to those villages. Near Yaguaron I visited San Ignacio, or rather the place where San Ignacio was, which today is only an antiquities museum. Many Jesuits were killed by the natives, while no Franciscans were killed. We do honour those who died for their faith… and we also honour those who adapted themselves so well to the new places and circumstances that they did not need any martyrs.