Sunday, May 20, 2018

Soft Power and Pentecost

An official blog post by the U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, H.E. Mrs. Callista L. Gingrich, explaining the origins of the resident embassy of the U.S. in the Eternal City, kind of got me reflecting again on the topic of Vatican Diplomacy. Ambassador Gingrich would have us understand the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See to be a brainchild of President Ronald Reagan, who by this institutional means was eager to join forces with Pope St. John Paul II in the fight for justice in the international arena. The motivation she attributes to President Reagan is a strategic one and one seemingly which has remained a constant in U.S. foreign policy, and that for furthering the cause of justice the Holy See is a valuable ally for the U.S. She states that the Holy See can be classed a "superpower" when it comes to soft power, soft power being synonymous with moral authority. 

As I say, Ambassador Gingrich got me thinking. The term "soft power" is not an unfamiliar one. In diplomatic circles, you regularly hear talk of "hard" and "soft" diplomacy. The "hard" is usually associated with commerce and trade and the "soft" with cultural exchanges. In that sense, Ambassador Gingrich may be stretching it a bit in terms of the why and wherefore of diplomacy as we know it. It would seem she intends something more principled and born of truth, something worthy of Pope St. John Paul II and certainly right up the great President Reagan's alley. Here we see the Church standing forth and witnessing to Christ, using diplomacy for something quite different and exalted than the run of the mill; in the very spirit of the Ambassador's words, we see her country inspired by noble values, seeking an alliance with such a "power" as the Holy See and for the good of all. 

In her blog post, Ambassador Gingrich is making a huge compliment to the diplomacy or agenda of the Holy See in the international arena. I wonder, however, if she is not mixing metaphors or going beyond what is possible with the vehicle at hand. In season or out of season, it seems to me that diplomacy, no matter who is wielding it, cannot be a primary means to further the cause of the Gospel, or any kind of moral agenda for that matter. Leaving aside the slur normally tacked on to us, that truth has never been a diplomat's strong suit, diplomacy has always been a rather pragmatic means for defending one's interests and better understanding neighbors. It does indeed serve the cause of peace and mutual understanding and diplomacy certainly has an ancillary role to play in the cause of justice and truth. The question is: Where does Vatican diplomacy fit into the equation of a system made for promoting other things like trade and language studies or tango lessons, which it tends toward especially in the world of bilateral relations? What is its proper role?

As dean of the diplomatic corps in Bern, I try my best to make all the various embassy receptions, for national days. Often in the course of a given evening the ambassador offers a few words of circumstance about how things have gone in the homeland in the past year and how relations with Switzerland are progressing. Balance of trade and educational cooperation top one, the "hard" list and, the other, the "soft" list in these annual reports, and rightly so. Such an occasion lends itself only with difficulty to a Holy See "soft" list of the Gingrich art. What to do? 

Diplomacy by its very nature is not a pulpit or watchtower exercise. The prophetic role is better played by the local Church within a given country, when we are talking bilateral. I think in most cases we have to play the role of the "friend of the Bridegroom" and point with rejoicing to the one who has the Bride. While living in the truth, we can never forget that whoever attached the terms "extraordinary and plenipotentiary" to the title of ambassador had something very different in mind than Merriam-Webster's Dictionary. The word "power", soft or no, almost seems antipathetic to what your average ambassador or nuncio is about.

Speaking the truth in love, hardly seems an exercise in power, no matter how much it may bother the consciences of some. It really is a work of witnessing more than an attempt to win others over. I guess that really is Gospel, leaving all to Christ. St. Paul spoke of his mission not being focused primarily on counting the numbers baptized by his own hand as a result of his preaching:

“For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with the wisdom of human eloquence, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its meaning. The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the learning of the learned I will set aside." Where is the wise one? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made the wisdom of the world foolish? For since in the wisdom of God the world did not come to know God through wisdom, it was the will of God through the foolishness of the proclamation to save those who have faith. For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” (I Cor. 1: 17-25)

The outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost was accompanied by tongues of fire and signs of power like the great wind blowing. People were disarmed and turned to the faith as a result of Peter's preaching that day. Everything took place in God's good time and the Apostles emerged from the Upper Room with boldness, not of their own accord but compelled by the grace of God and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Secular diplomacy does not yoke well with this beautiful scene from the Acts of the Apostles. 

I take consolation here from figures like St. Rita of Cascia, a great intercessor whose feast comes up this week, or from St. Faustina and the mission to propagate the message of Divine Mercy, which she took on despite her inadequacy. God's wisdom and power shown forth brightly from these two women, but in God's own good time. We need but watch and pray, pouring ourselves out to make room for the King of Glory.

Let me rejoice in hearing the Bridegroom's Voice and pointing to Him when He should come no matter the day or the hour.


Sunday, May 13, 2018

For a Prosperous Church and the Spread of the Gospel

The lovely and very familiar Second Reading from the Office for Saturday of the 6th Week of Easter, taken from St Augustine's homilies on St John's gospel and entitled "The two lives", got me thinking about the topics of vocational discernment and integral Catholic living:

"There are two ways of life that God has commended to the Church. One is through faith, the other is through vision. One is in pilgrimage through a foreign land, the other is in our eternal home; one in labour, the other in repose; one in a journey to our homeland, the other in that land itself; one in action, the other in the fruits of contemplation.
  The first life, the life of action, is personified by the Apostle Peter; the contemplative life, by John. The first life is passed here on earth until the end of time, when it reaches its completion; the second is not fulfilled until the end of the world, but in the world to come it lasts for ever. For this reason Peter is told “Follow me”, but Jesus adds, “If I want John to stay behind till I come, what does it matter to you? You are to follow me”.
  You are to follow me by imitating me in enduring suffering; he is to remain till I come to restore the blessings that last for ever. To put it more clearly: let action, which is complete in itself, follow me and follow the example of my passion; but let contemplation, which has only begun, remain until I come, wait until the moment of its completion.
  It is the fullness of patience to follow Christ loyally even to death; the fullness of knowledge lies in wait until Christ comes again, when it will be revealed and made manifest. The ills of this world are endured in the land of the dying; the good gifts of God will be revealed in the land of the living.
  We should not understand “I want him to stay behind until I come” as meaning to remain permanently but rather to wait: what is signified by John will not be fulfilled now, but it will be fulfilled, when Christ comes. On the other hand, what is signified by Peter, to whom Jesus says “follow me”, must be realised now or it will never be fulfilled.
  But we should not separate these great apostles. They were both part of the present life symbolized by Peter and they were both part of the future life symbolized by John. Considered as symbols, Peter followed Christ and John remained; but in their living faith both endured the evils of the present life and both looked forward to the future blessings of the coming life of joy.
  It is not they alone that do this but the whole of the holy Church, the bride of Christ, who needs to be rescued from the trials of the present and to be brought to safety in the joys of the future. Individually, Peter and John represent these two lives, the present and the future; but both journeyed in faith through this temporal life and both will enjoy the second life by vision, eternally.
  All the faithful form an integral part of the body of Christ, and therefore, so that they may be steered through the perilous seas of this present life, Peter, first among the Apostles, has received the keys of the kingdom of heaven, to bind and loose from sin. And also for the sake of the faithful, so that they may keep the still and secret heart of his mode of life, John the evangelist rested on Christ’s breast.
  It is not Peter alone who binds and looses sins, but the whole Church. It is not John alone who has drunk at the fountain of the Lord’s breast and pours forth what he had drunk in his teaching of the Word being God in the beginning, God with God, of the Trinity and Unity of God — of all those things which we shall see face to face in his kingdom but now, before the Lord comes, we see only in images and reflections — not John alone, for the Lord himself spreads John’s gospel throughout the world, giving everyone to drink as much as he is capable of absorbing."

Whether you are Peter or you are John, your attachment to the Lord Jesus has to be ineluctable. It just kind of dawned on me the other day that many pious young Catholics seem to think they have permission to be standoffish or choosy. Although protracted adolescence may be a social component, it is not really the central problem, nor does it excuse one from responding with a wholehearted "Here am I, Lord, send me". The problem is spiritual blindness rooted in pride. We have so few vocations and so few young people at Mass every Sunday because they have the false impression that they do not need to pray in church, yes, they do not need to be there before the Heavenly Throne. Part of the problem is the Church's halfhearted presentation of itself, especially in divine worship, the Church as the Body of Christ, sent into the world to reconcile us with the Father. Part of the problem is a false irenicism or denominational indifferentism, which sees the Church's calling as something less than sublime and utterly essential for the life of the world unto eternity.

I have come to understand that my own analysis of the problem and its solution to date was at best partial. I thought that the key was good and holy hierarchy. For too long I was distracted by the leadership component in my analysis of this problem and ended up offering an apology to young people straddling the fence of commitment, simply put off by ambiguous or lukewarm bishops and their sad presbyterates. What I have to say about a vocation to celibate priesthood goes as well for the vocation to holy matrimony. Although you cannot expect a young man to throw himself into the fray where everything in his home diocese works against regular Catholic life (no regular offering of auricular Confession anywhere, difficulty in finding a proper celebration of Sunday Mass anyplace, ...), this does not excuse him from giving seminary a try or presenting himself to a bishop, just because he has the impression that the priests in a given diocese or region he encounters are less than perfect, slack, unhappy, less than on fire with the Holy Spirit. 

My fundamental mistake in analyzing the vocations crisis was that for too long I have been keying the thing to the importance of good bishops. As right as it is to say that Saint Charles Borromeo made the Tridentine Reform possible in the Archdiocese of Milan and throughout his ecclesiastical province, not having a Saint Charles today excuses no one from embracing the call. Granted, God's calling of the prophet Hosea to take a prostitute as his wife is not the ordinary route to a happy and successful marriage, even so, not every diocese is so terribly messed up as to excuse a young man from coming knocking on his bishop's door for help in discerning what may be a call to Holy Orders.

At the risk of taking St. Paul out of context:
"For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. Consider your own calling, brothers. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God." (I Cor. 1: 25-29) 

Perhaps then there is a certain justification or excuse for my impatience with some of those who hesitate to jump into the fray? I don't know. At any rate, I have been looking back at my own youth where I cannot see the process so conflicted because of the faults or shortcomings of others. I am sure that as a youth I saw the shortcomings of some of the members of the presbyterate I was called by my bishop to join. I think I persevered despite my own frailty because I learned to love and respect my brother priests for who they were in their own struggle to serve and because I recognized my calling no less than theirs as coming from Christ Himself through His Church. 

Bishops must be standard bearers leading the forces forth into battle against Satan. There may be hiccups along the way, but the whole enterprise is anything but earthbound. We are terribly right to pray for vocations and as adults, as those who have gone before, to clean up our act as best possible. My latest insight, then, would be to place a double portion for the vocations crisis where it belongs, namely on the shoulders of those called. The Lord will not leave His flock untended. We are not far from wrong in being sad, as was Jesus Himself, when the rich young man turned and walked away.

"The young man said to him, "All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?" Jesus said to him, "If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to (the) poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions." (Matt. 19: 20-22)


Sunday, May 6, 2018

Reverential Fear

The Exodus account of Moses' encounter with the Living God in the Burning Bush is a classic for expressing what we mean by the fear of the Lord, by the reverential fear to be expected of God's chosen ones, from those to whom the Almighty chooses to draw close. In times past, the concept may have been more accessible to the comprehension of people generally than for the mainstream of Western society in our day. Even though Jesus would not in His own day, nor in ours, transport us back to the base of Mount Sinai, spewing smoke and fire, the casual which marks so much of today seems no less an exaggeration in the opposite direction. So many of the First Communion pictures I see posted on Facebook might show the communicant all dressed up, especially the girls in the white dresses. When a family picture records the event, it is not unlikely that the proud daddy might be standing there behind his daughter in a knit shirt and shorts, with sandals or sport shoes. The incongruity of the scene tends to jump out at you.

What we sometimes peg as casual is symptomatic for whatever it is in us, which seems to have banished the slightest comprehension of what is meant by reverential fear from the registers or keys in which we can sing of life and love. We see it in church going; we see it in family life and in interpersonal relationships. Married couples and families have lost fear as a category in describing their mutual respect. Talk of fear of the Lord, as well, does not rate much more than a hunch or a shrug of the shoulders. It would seem that thoughtless familiarity has banned from relations with both God and neighbor that respectful distance which should animate and enrich our relationships.

I remember from my own adolescence (mid 1960's!) two conversations with my father in which he professed to me, by way of witness and teaching to his son, his faithful and undying love for my mother. Dad did so speaking in terms of respect, maybe better of reverence, and of a reverence definitely shot through with fear. The one time I remember his anguished look after she walked out of the house and went to my aunt's when he raised his voice to her. Dad's reverential fear for my mother, his bride, inspired the remorse written all over his face, as he confessed to his oldest son, still a boy, his being in the wrong and his panic over how he would ever be able to make things right again. Of course he did, because the reverential fear was mutual and demanded as much from my mother as well.

Apart however from the existential, from our relations with family, friends and acquaintances, I am more concerned in sharing a thought or two about the reverential fear we owe to the Almighty, that is about the Fear of the Lord, that virtue listed among the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord.

Lots of serious people of every age in the Church today are on the search for a recovery of reverence in our relationship with God Almighty. Not two months ago I was asked to address the Irish Confraternity of Catholic Clergy. They asked me to address them on priestly spirituality and reverence in the liturgy. The other day, I saw a video interview with a young man speaking to the issue of the preparations for the youth synod to be held next fall in Rome. He was saying that in his circle of friends, when it comes to liturgy, true reverence and a reverential atmosphere is something his generation strives to practice and seeks above all when it comes to searching out a Sunday Mass to attend. I still remember years back my sister telling me how impressed she and my brother-in-law were when their eighteen year old son expressed a preference for the quiet 8 a.m. Mass on Sunday morning over the youth liturgy on Sunday evening with guitars, percussion and what not. The young man had his ideas about where God was to be found and worshiped.

Where do you find reverent worship these days? I hope my readers will bear with me and refrain from shock and other theatricals, when I state that there is something ingenuous in the aspiration to be able to do one's duty to God and His Church by achieving a constantly reverent celebration of the Novus Ordo (NO) Mass. Just how do you go about doing that? Is it enough to clean up liturgical abuse, to sticking faithfully to the script (rubrics and approved liturgical texts), to order our priorities by going Ad Orientem or Ad Dominum, by forswearing the discursive tone and the running commentary in the order of Mass, by beautifying churches and choosing noble appointments for worship (sacred vessels and vestments)? All of this and more is what is meant by the reform of the reformed liturgy (starting with a purge of so much of what passes as liturgical music). It is all well and good, but more is required of us.

You might say that I am going overboard in taking a more absolute stance in favor of the Vetus Ordo (VO) than do the most vocal of the prelates (bishops, archbishops and cardinals) who speak to the topic of the mutual enrichment of the two forms of the one Roman Rite. Why? Simply by reason of how I understand the notion of reverential fear and how it should animate our worship and our acting! I will limit myself to giving you two indicators: optional modes of expression and the preparation of the chalice.

What is wrong with the rubric: in these or similar words? In one sense nothing and in another, everything. Discretion in the context of programmed choices (options) may not be disrespectful but it is neither awe inspired or awe inspiring. It is not conducive either to soliciting or to confirming reverential fear. Good! Well then just get rid of the options and establish one constant order of service. The question, of course, is whether (with the exception of Scripture reading) it is even possible knowing how most good priests go about celebrating Mass. How do you break priests of the habit of paraphrasing? Reverential fear demands no less.

Generally, in Novus Ordo (NO) celebrations in public we bishops have someone else, either a deacon or a priest concelebrant, prepare the chalice for us at the Offertory. Reverential fear would call for due diligence on their part in the addition of those few drops of water to the wine in the chalice... Sorry, but my usual distraction at that moment in the preparation of the gifts might be attributed to the careless or exuberant "glug, glug" of the water and the splashed up interior of the cup which is then handed me without remedy. Reverential fear? I think not. Is this behavior capable of reform, how and at what cost to all involved?

The premise is wrong for the needed reform of the NO, that is, for a recovery always and everywhere of the kind of reverence in public worship sought by people young and old. Tell me why therefore I should not conclude that the NO would seem to be incapable of reform. The alternative to cultivating the casual would be a contrite and convinced return to cultivating the sublime, and yes to do so out of a genuine fear. Love knows no less, if we are to be faithful, if we are to enter fully into His presence. 

There's no turning back, you say. Such a proposal of a radical reset to the pre-conciliar form of worship would be to deny over a half century of experimentation and practice. I cannot help but ask myself whether it might not be that which the Bridegroom awaits. Is that not what genuine love shot through with fear, reverential fear, demands of me? "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding."


Sunday, April 29, 2018

The Logic of Necessity

Duty: Altar Boys as an Interpretive Key

Some time back, in the midst of somebody's Facebook/Twitter banter, I picked up on a smack-down between two people I cannot say that I particularly know. No doubt it happened not on my timeline but on a page I had liked at some point and was following. Person A (a priest) published a profile picture of himself at an altar in the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome, commenting about it being his first EF celebration in that great church. Person B expressed surprise that he would be celebrating the Holy Sacrifice without the assistance of a server... The mental note I registered has provoked some thoughts I would like to share.

Once upon a time, when I was a boy, we used to serve Mass both on Sundays and on Weekdays right through our years in high school. Naturally, because the Catholic High School campus was on the edge of town, the older boys were generally assigned for the Sunday Masses and the grade school boys had the privilege of weekdays. I remember as an 8th grader being weekday sacristan, which involved setting up for both Masses at the High Altar in the Cathedral and in between serving the daily private Mass of the director of Catholic Charities at Mary's Altar. I have shared memories with men my age and older of our walks or bike rides before dawn to be there to fulfill our duty. None of us doubted that we had our role, an important part, an integral part to play in the daily offering of the Holy Sacrifice. The logic of necessity explains the duty imposed upon us to freely choose to play a key role in enabling the Holy Sacrifice. At age 10 or 18 the Altar boy, I am the actor and my parents, yes, must respect my choice, not only to actively participate but through my service in the vesture of a cleric to sustain the priest who brings Christ down to our Altars. 

Today in many places around the world, you get the impression that it is a work of persuasion, not unlike pulling teeth, to get enough Mass servers to show up for Sunday and, well, lots of priests are constrained to celebrate daily Mass without assistance. To blame parents for this failure of their children to commit is to get the cart before the horse. A better approach starts again with the logic of necessity: the Holy Sacrifice, the Source and Summit of Christian Existence, should not take place without my collaboration as an Altar boy, deputed to fill out the number of clerics needed to give God His due, each and every day, but especially on Sunday. Decades ago, most Catholics understood the logic of it and were proud to have a son who wanted to serve Mass, who memorized all the prayers in Latin, who drilled and practiced, who made muster. This has nothing to do with the positive benefits of sports in the life of the child, here we are talking about an actual contribution a child or young man can make to the work of God.

My guess is that serving Mass today probably ranks somewhere below scouting, among the formative experiences which should be part of growing up. It cannot even compete with soccer, indoor ice hockey or swim team. My guess would be that no one, perhaps not even the priest, attributes to the service of the Altar a sense of its being something needed and hence to be taken on, after training, as a sacred duty. Having ruminated on this thing for some months, I see the "altar boy crisis" as a component or key which helps explain falling numbers of regular Mass attendance. People do not seem to be able to comprehend the idea that Sunday Mass is a sine qua non. Without Sunday Mass I cannot live as a Catholic. 

When Jesus proclaimed Himself the Bread of Life, He scandalized certain people who turned their backs on Him. Confronting His closest disciples on this point, He elicited Peter's response of: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life." 

I am sure that it escapes no one that the logic of necessity requires much more than a reverent celebration of Mass on Sunday. It requires recovering or building up anew the Catholic way of life. No boy, who hasn't been taught his basic prayers at home from infancy, who hasn't been properly catechized and who doesn't understand his Sunday obligation and the call to holiness of life which should draw him to the Sacrament of Penance as well, is going to recognize the sublimity of service at the Altar.

Where do you begin? Where else but with a true restoration of the Divine Liturgy, which draws with it the necessary catechesis and life context?


Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Before the Lord in Company with Mary

„Pro Ecclesia“
Einkehrtag am Samstag in der Osterzeit
Heilige Messe, Einsiedeln, 21. April 2018

Apostelgeschichte 9:31-42
Jh 6:60-69

Gelobt sei Jesus Christus!

Es ist wirklich schön, dass wir unseren Einkehrtag hier der Mutter Gottes von Einsiedeln anvertrauen dürfen. In der Osterzeit ist die erste Lesung jeweils aus der Apostelgeschichte. Die Apostelgeschichte bietet uns eine Betrachtung der Macht Gottes, des Vaters, welche ausgeübt wird im Leben der Kirche durch das Wirken des auferstandenen Sohnes im Heiligen Geist. Eine Volksbewegung wie „Pro Ecclesia“ muss sich inspirieren und formen lassen vom Wirken dieser Heiligen Kirche, die wir vor unseren Augen sehen. Es ist heute wie in der Apostelgeschichte dieselbe Kirche der Anfangszeit.

Das Evangelium bietet uns in besonderer Weise die Gelegenheit, über die zentrale Bedeutung Christi und die Ausgiessung des Heiligen Geistes für unser Heil nachzudenken. Wir können die Botschaft des eben gehörten Evangeliums in diesen knappen Worten zusammenfassen: Für das Heil der Welt gibt es nichts besseres und nichts anderes als Jesus Christus.

„Da fragte Jesus die Zwölf: Wollt auch ihr weggehen? Simon Petrus antwortete ihm: Herr, zu wem sollen wir gehen? Du hast Worte des ewigen Lebens. Wir sind zum Glauben gekommen und haben erkannt: Du bist der Heilige Gottes.“

Was bedeutet es, Jesus als den „Heiligen Gottes“ zu bekennen? Es bedeutet, dass wir in und aus seiner Kraft leben und nicht auf unsere eigene Vertrauen. Es bedeutet, dass ich mich darum bemühe, seinen Willen zu erkennen und mich dann diesem Willen zu unterwerfen. Es bedeutet, Christus, den König in allen und allem herrschen zu lassen.

Und was ändert sich bei einer solchen Lebenseinstellung? Was ändert sich, wenn Jesus in unserer Welt herrscht, das heisst in meiner persönlichen Welt, in meinem Herzen? Sehr viel! Vielleicht sogar alles! Ich hoffe, dass ich jetzt niemanden verletze, wenn ich sage, dass es ausserhalb der kontemplativen Männer- und Frauenklöstern und neben den Heiligen schwer ist, in der Kirche eine so radikal auf die Person Jesu konzentrierte Lebenseinstellung zu begegnen. Es sieht ganz so aus, als ob die heute im aktiven Leben tätigen Katholiken, Päpste, Kardinäle, Bischöfe, Äbte, Priester, Diakone, Ordensleute und in der Kirche engagierte Laien nicht mehr bereit sind, wie damals Petrus und die andern Apostel dem Herrn den ersten Platz einzuräumen auf allen Ebenen des kirchlichen Lebens.

„Die Kirche in ganz Judäa, Galiläa und Samarien hatte nun Frieden; sie wurde gefestigt und lebte in der Furcht vor dem Herrn. Und sie wuchs durch die Hilfe des Heiligen Geistes.“

Diese Worte und ihre Bedeutung für unser Leben in Christus werden von uns oft zu wenig beachtet: Die Kirche zu Zeiten der Apostelgeschichte hatte Frieden; sie wurde gefestigt und lebte in der Furcht vor dem Herrn. Die Kirche wuchs durch die Hilfe des Heiligen Geistes. Dieser Friede und das Wachstum im Heiligen Geist wurden sichtbar in den von den Aposteln gewirkten Zeichen.

Von zwei dieser Zeichen, die dem Heiligen Petrus zugeschrieben wurden, haben wir eben gehört. Schauen wir noch einmal, was uns die wenigen Verse der Apostelgeschichte aus der ersten Lesung von heute sagen:

„Petrus sagte zu ihm: Äneas, Jesus Christus heilt dich. Steh auf und richte dir dein Bett! Sogleich stand er auf.“

Der Text ist ganz eindeutig und klar: Der Hl. Petrus kündigt im Gehorsam zu Christus die Heilung des Äneas an, „…der seit acht Jahren lahm und bettlägerig war.“

Noch eindrücklicher ist die Beschreibung der Art und Weise, wie Petrus Tabita unter die Lebenden zurückruft: „Petrus aber schickte alle hinaus, kniete nieder und betete. Dann wandte er sich zu dem Leichnam und sagte: Tabita, steh auf! Da öffnete sie ihre Augen, sah Petrus an und setzte sich auf. Er gab ihr die Hand und ließ sie aufstehen; dann rief er die Heiligen und die Witwen und zeigte ihnen, dass sie wieder lebte.“

Was müsste die Frucht eines Einkehrtages wie der unsrige heute sein für das Leben von jedem von uns und im Leben der Volksbewegung „Pro Ecclesia“? Wir werden es nie erfahren, wenn wir es nicht so machen wie Petrus. Wie der Hl. Petrus müssen wir die an uns gerichteten Bitten der andern, das heisst, die Bitten von Gläubigen und vertrauensvollen Menschen, aufnehmen und sie vor den Herrn tragen, wie es Petrus gemacht hat: „Petrus aber schickte alle hinaus, kniete nieder und betete.“

Wie lässt es sich erklären, dass wir heute den Eindruck haben, die Kirche lebe nicht in Frieden, sondern sei vielmehr in einer Krise. Vielleicht ist es nur eine Frage unserer Wahrnehmung oder unseres mangelnden Vertrauens in Jesus. Es reicht schon, wenn wir schauen, in welchem Zusammenhang dieses Wort vom Frieden steht. Vor und nach dieser Stelle im 9. Kapitel berichtet die Apostelgeschichte ununterbrochen von Verfolgung und Martyrium der ersten Jünger genau an dem Ort, wo Jesus gelebt hat.

„Die Kirche in ganz Judäa, Galiläa und Samarien hatte nun Frieden; sie wurde gefestigt und lebte in der Furcht vor dem Herrn. Und sie wuchs durch die Hilfe des Heiligen Geistes.“

Menschlich gesprochen sagt man von gewissen Ländern, dass sich die Einheit und den Zusammenhalt des Landes dadurch sichern, dass sie alles unternehmen, um sich dauernd im Belagerungszustand zu befinden. Sie definieren sich als Volk oder Nation durch die Beziehung zu einem oder mehreren äusseren Feinden, welche das Überleben des Volkes bedrohen. Auch wenn wir uns stets vor dem Teufel in Acht nehmen müssen, so will Gott nicht, dass wir in seiner Kirche in einem solchen Belagerungszustand leben müssen. Es scheint vielmehr so, dass wir uns sehen können als vom himmlischen Vater durch seinen einzigen Sohn, den Menschgewordenen, angenommene Söhne und Töchter. Wir müssen den Akzent nicht auf die äussere Bedrohung legen, sondern auf Gott schauen, der uns aus Liebe geschaffen und erlöst hat. Wir dürfen und müssen ganz auf Gott vertrauen, der alles zu seiner Zeit zur Vollendung führen wird.

Vor kurzem sprach ich mit einer Gruppe Priestern, die hier in der Schweiz als Missionare für fremdsprachige Katholiken tätig sind, über ihre Sorgen und die Leiden ihrer Gläubigen. Sie fühlen sich von der Kirche in diesem Land nicht angenommen als vollwertige Söhne und Töchter. So erzählten sie mir z.B., dass ihnen bei mit Schweizern gemeinsam organisierten Prozessionen verboten wurde, die von ihnen geliebte Marienstatue mitzuführen. Wir müssen dabei beachten, dass der Vorrang Jesu, das totale sich anvertrauen an den Sohn Gottes nur dann lebendig bleibt, wenn es verbunden bleibt mit dem Bekenntnis dass dieser Christus auch der Sohn des Menschen ist, also der Sohn Marias, der Mutter Gottes. Die Vertrautheit mit dem Herrn in Gebet, war für Petrus die Quelle der Macht, die Äneas heilte und Tabita im Namen des Allmächtigen von den Toten erweckte. Und diese Macht des Petrus gründet in der Erfahrung, die Petrus zusammen mit Maria, der Mutter Gottes, beim Gebet im Obergemach in Jerusalem gemacht hat.

So lasst uns heute etwas Wunderbares machen: Stellen wir uns hier vor die Mutter Gottes in Einsiedeln. Als Katholiken können wir nichts Besseres machen, als selbst diese intime Vertrautheit mit Christus zu leben, welche Christus mit seiner Mutter Maria verbindet. Übergeben wir unsere Herzen Maria, der Mutter Gottes, im vollen Vertrauen, dass sie sie sicher zum Sohn Gottes führen wird. Maria möge uns lehren, wie wir leben können „Pro Ecclesia“ für die Kirche.

 „Da fragte Jesus die Zwölf: Wollt auch ihr weggehen? Simon Petrus antwortete ihm: Herr, zu wem sollen wir gehen? Du hast Worte des ewigen Lebens. Wir sind zum Glauben gekommen und haben erkannt: Du bist der Heilige Gottes.“

Gelobt sei Jesus Christus!   



Saturday, April 7, 2018

The Faith to Conquer in Christ

Santa Marta a Carona, 8 aprile 2018

Ap. I, 5, 4-10
Giovanni 20, 19-31

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

“Chi è che vince il mondo se non chi crede che Gesù è Figlio di Dio?”

Chi parla così direttamente nella Chiesa oggi del suo attaccamento a Cristo, della sua dipendenza assoluta dalla Seconda Persona della Santissima Trinità, fatto Uomo per la nostra salvezza? Certo, sarebbe bello poter vivere nel mondo degli Atti degli Apostoli, il mondo di San Luca! “Chi è che vince il mondo se non chi crede che Gesù è Figlio di Dio?”

Abbiamo oggi compiuto il nostro ottavo di celebrazioni del giorno della Pasqua. L’Ottavo è un solo grande giorno di una settimana intera di festività per la solennità della vittoria di Cristo sul peccato e sulla morte. Festeggiamo la Sua Risurrezione in gloria! Tutto nell’Ottavo che sperimentiamo è contrassegnato dal potere di Cristo Dio! Gli Atti degli Apostoli in particolare ci insegnano che chi crede nel Risorto vince il mondo. Se confessiamo Gesù Figlio di Dio, noi possiamo godere nella nostra vita i frutti della Sua vittoria per la salvezza del mondo.

“Chi è che vince il mondo se non chi crede che Gesù è Figlio di Dio?” Grazie, San Luca!

*  *  *

Per dire il vero, mi sembra che per la vita della maggioranza dei Cristiani le presupposte di fede che incontriamo oggigiorno sono troppo modeste. Non si prega abbastanza, a volte non si rispetta nemmeno i Dieci Comandamenti e non si prende sufficientemente sul serio gli obblighi della vita Cristiana. Forse anche compresi noi, qui presenti, siamo più secolarizzati a volte che crediamo. Voglio dire che, anche nei migliori dei casi e tra i più bravi, ci sentiamo inermi, indifesi o sprovveduti, come gli Apostoli che si nascondevano dopo la Crocefissione di Gesù. Come il mio patrono San Tommaso Apostolo, non vogliamo credere nelle voci che riportano le apparizioni di Gesù risorto dai morti. Siamo come San Tommaso, che ha reagito con la sua professione di fede solo quando è stato confrontato dal Risorto stesso nella carne. “Rispose Tommaso: Mio Signore, e mio Dio. E Gesù: Perché hai veduto, o Tommaso, hai creduto: beati coloro che credono senza vedere.”

Per San Tommaso dobbiamo avere una certa simpatia nel senso che capiamo quanto egli era personalmente rattristato, cioè distrutto dall’incubo della passione del nostro Signore. Dall’altra parte, non è che Cristo Dio, insegnando nel corso dei Suoi tre anni di ministero pubblico, aveva lasciato i suoi Discepoli impreparati per la prova della Sua Ora.

“Ma (Tommaso): Se non vedo nelle sue mani la fessura dei chiodi, e non metto il mio dito nella fessura, e non metto la mia mano nel suo costato, non credo.”

Che significa credere? Che significa non credere? Che significa di non vivere come persona rinata nelle acque del Battesimo? Che significa non trovarsi, non solo rallegrato davanti al sepolcro vuoto ma preso totalmente dall’incontro con il Signore Vivente?

“Chiunque è nato da Dio vince il mondo: e ciò che ha vinto il mondo è la nostra fede. Chi è che vince il mondo se non chi crede che Gesù è Figlio di Dio?”

Purtroppo, se non siamo tiepidi nella nostra fede, siamo spesso troppo timidi nel professare Gesù Figlio di Dio. Questa spiega in parte la nostra impotenza davanti ai soprusi di questo mondo che passa. Per mancanza di fede, manchiamo il coraggio, forse sì, ma soprattutto non viviamo la grazia del nostro battesimo e pertanto non siamo vincitori!

In questi giorni ho avuto occasione di pensare che forse non sia stata una buona decisione, ai tempi del Papa San Giovanni Paolo II, di ridurre il numero dei miracoli richiesti per la canonizzazione di un santo a uno solo. Dimostra forse una certa mancanza di fede nell’onnipotenza di Dio, che sperimentiamo anche per l’intercessione dei santi. Anni fa, dopo una visita a Xanten in Germania alla tomba del giovane martire il Beato Karl Leisner, ho chiesto a due preti tedeschi, anziani, buoni e pii, se si contava presto con la canonizzazione di questo giovane martire, ordinato prete nella clandestinità del campo di concentramento nazista. Questi, quasi rattristati, mi hanno risposto che si poteva solo sperare per un miracolo verificato altrove nel mondo, perché i tedeschi non ci credevano più nei miracoli.

Forse si trattava di una battuta, sì, un po’ cinica o crudele, ma ripeto, troppo spesso per tutti noi, si verifica la mancanza di fede vissuta e professata, specialmente di fede nella divinità di Cristo. I santi sono proprio quelli che ci credono e vivono pertanto nella potenza del Figlio di Dio; i santi sono i vincitori del mondo. Noi invece mettiamo la nostra fiducia in questo mondo e nei suoi agenti. Ci lasciamo trascinare dalle notizie sparse dai padroni e non-padroni di questo mondo, dal loro vanto di cose mondane se non cattive. Peggio di San Tommaso, rimaniamo ostinati nella nostra, sì, incredulità e pertanto impotenza davanti alle forze d’iniquità.

“Se ammettiamo la testimonianza degli uomini, la testimonianza di Dio è maggiore. Ora, è Dio stesso che ha reso testimonianza a suo Figlio. Chi crede nel Figlio di Dio, ha in sé la testimonianza di Dio.”

Che cosa ci vuole a parte di un incontro visibile e tangibile con il Risorto, come ha avuto San Tommaso, per farci credere e così vincere il mondo? “E Gesù: Perché hai veduto, o Tommaso, hai creduto: beati coloro che credono senza vedere.”

In questo senso, mi pare una buona decisione del Papa a suo tempo di dichiarare questa domenica in Albis la domenica della Divina Misericordia. Dio in Cristo ha mostrato una grande misericordia verso l’incredulo Tommaso e perciò ci rassicura nella nostra debolezza di fede e ci sfide nella nostra incredulità. Per la nostra mancanza di fede nella Risurrezione di Cristo, abbiamo tanto bisogno della misericordia divina. Bisogna dire onestamente che non abbiamo nessuno svantaggio nei confronti dei primi discepoli. Il nostro tempo nella Chiesa Cattolica è un tempo, non limitato a tre anni del ministero pubblico come fu il caso per i discepoli di Gesù. No, il nostro è un tempo che dura una vita più o meno lunga, un tempo proficuo in cui godiamo l’insegnamento di Gesù attraverso il Suo Corpo Mistico, la Chiesa. In famiglia e attraverso i successori degli apostoli, si tratta della testimonianza alle parole del Gesù terrestre, di Gesù dopo la Sua Morte salvifica in Croce, cioè tale quale come San Tommaso della testimonianza del Risorto e non solo del Cristo pre-pasquale.

Possiamo gioire nella buona novella della Risurrezione, e davanti alla nostra mancanza di fede, supplicare Dio per la Sua misericordia.

“Chi è che vince il mondo se non chi crede che Gesù è Figlio di Dio?”

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!


Sunday, March 18, 2018

To be with Jesus in His Pasch

5ª Domenica di Quaresima – Anno B
55° Giubileo Sr. Cecilia
Cham, 18 marzo 2018
Ger 31:31-34
Ebr 5:7-9
Gv 12:20-33

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

In questa quinta domenica di Quaresima (Nota p.f. già domenica prossima abbiamo le Palme e l’inizio della Settimana Santa!), ci uniamo a Suor Cecilia e alle sue consorelle per dire grazie a Dio Padre, Figlio e Spirito Santo per questa testimonianza sua di una lunga vita qui sulla terra, consacrata al servizio del Signore e della Sua Santa Chiesa. Il sentimento che predomina è quello della gratitudine (l’unica vera felicità in questo mondo). La nostra gratitudine e quella di Suor Cecilia merita una breve meditazione alla luce delle letture per questa domenica che ci porta più vicino alla Solennità della Risurrezione del Signore e al ritorno dell’Alleluia al nostro canto.

"Signore, vogliamo vedere Gesù".

In fin dei conti per noi battezzati, non v’è desiderio o aspirazione più fondamentale, più profonda che la voglia di vedere Gesù, di conoscere il Salvatore del mondo e metterci sotto il suo giogo dolce e leggero. In questo senso, la secolarizzazione (la contraria alla vita devota e credente) non è altro che il dimenticare Gesù, l’indifferenza verso di Lui, la trascuratezza della nostra vita di comunione di pensiero e sentimenti con Lui, con Maria Sua Madre, con i nostri angeli custodi e santi patroni.

Qualsiasi persona normale e sana ha i suoi sogni, le sue attese nella vita. C’è chi sogna il benessere materiale, c’è chi sogna una certa fama o prestigio nella vita (cioè di godere la stima del grande pubblico). Ci sono le personalità che sognano una vita più privata, una vita in disparte, tranquilla, quasi anonima. È più che normale sognarsi un buon matrimonio con bravi figli, pregando Iddio di conservare tutti quelli che amiamo nella gioia di vita e nella salute, preservandoli soprattutto dal peccato. È una buona cosa per un ragazzo o per un uomo giovane di sognare a diventare sacerdote e, dato che ci stiamo oggi con Suor Cecilia, è veramente una bella cosa di sognare di poter affidarsi totalmente a Cristo come suora, come anima consacrata, come sposa/consorte dell’Agnello immolato in Croce per la nostra salvezza.

"Signore, vogliamo vedere Gesù".

Da bambino o bambina non possiamo sapere esattamente le conseguenze di un tale sogno. Anche se passano 40, 50, o 60 anni di vita consacrata a Dio, restiamo sempre in attesa della possibilità di una nuova profondità, di nuove scoperte nel corso della vocazione vissuta giorno per giorno. Chi sa anche da adulto che cosa potrà significare una tale scelta nella vita, non erogata a se stesso ma individuata nella persona da chi di autorità e cioè confermata dalla Chiesa? Obbedienza alla parola di Dio e alla Sua volontà descrive meglio quello che vogliamo intendere parlando di una vocazione. Si parla così perché non è la persona sola che sceglie ma la Chiesa stessa che chiama al servizio del Signore. L’iniziativa non è la nostra, ma la risposta, la disponibilità, sì! È l’amore di Dio, Dio che ci conosce meglio che noi possiamo conoscere noi stessi, che ci chiama attraverso la Sua Chiesa alla realizzazione più perfetta di noi stessi. Si tratta sì di una scelta libera, fondamentale e definitiva per la durata della vita. Come scelta di unirsi alla Croce di Gesù non può essere un continuo divertimento, come pure nel caso della vocazione a matrimonio e famiglia. Qualsiasi vocazione cristiana implica una misura più o meno grande di sofferenza, ma che non toglie mai la nostra gratitudine e pertanto la gioia, la felicità fondamentale di essere in compagnia con lo Sposo, con Gesù.

Come hanno fatto i discepoli per i Greci nel Vangelo, dobbiamo rispettare questo desiderio, questo sogno anche dei più piccoli e fare tutto per aiutarli a realizzarlo: "Signore, vogliamo vedere Gesù".

Nella seconda lettura oggi agli Ebrei abbiamo letto:
“Proprio per questo nei giorni della sua vita terrena egli offrì preghiere e suppliche con forti grida e lacrime a colui che poteva liberarlo da morte e fu esaudito per la sua pietà; pur essendo Figlio, imparò tuttavia l'obbedienza dalle cose che patì e, reso perfetto, divenne causa di salvezza eterna per tutti coloro che gli obbediscono…”

Può darsi che noi altri qui presenti che hanno già superato 65 anni di età hanno ricordi di una Quaresima diciamo sofferta ma felice. Come bambini non eravamo obbligati al digiuno come gli adulti, ma abbiamo astenuto dalla carne ogni venerdì e per mercoledì delle ceneri, facendo tutti i nostri piccoli sacrifici, rinunciando a caramelle, cioccolatini e dolciumi con spirito eroico e per il bene dell’anima. La penitenza quaresimale fu ed è tutt’ora una scuola non tanto di sacrificio ma di buona volontà e di desiderio di associarsi con Gesù nelle Sue sofferenze.

“…pur essendo Figlio, imparò tuttavia l'obbedienza dalle cose che patì e, reso perfetto, divenne causa di salvezza eterna per tutti coloro che gli obbediscono…”

Hanno merito le nostre sofferenze e sacrifici? In unione con Gesù, senz’altro! Una maggior fonte di tristezza nel nostro mondo oggi è il rifiuto dell’associarsi con Gesù nei Suoi patimenti. Sto leggendo in questi giorni un libro di consigli, specialmente per suore di clausura, della vita contemplativa, scritto nel ‘700. Il titolo del libro parla dell’abbandono alla Divina Provvidenza, presentando il concetto come quello chiave o fondamentale alla vita devota. Anche per la vita attiva dell’apostolato come per quella in famiglia, questo abbandono, questo fidarsi di Dio e della Sua volontà per ciascuno di noi personalmente dovrebbe occuparci più dei nostri piani e progetti.

Per tornare all’immagine dei sogni: le nostre aspirazioni o sogni sorgono dall’intimo di cuore dove incontriamo Dio che è spirito e vita. Possiamo illuderci senz’altro con sogni illusori e egoisti. Con l’aiuto della Chiesa e con docilità verso le persone che ci vogliono veramente bene, però, i nostri sogni possono vivere e prendere sostanza nella nostra vita. Non so se Suor Cecilia ha ricordi dei suoi sogni da ragazzina, ma la realizzazione in una vita consacrata a Dio li supera da lontano. Per i giovani, sarebbe sciocco per me di incoraggiarvi di correre dietro i sogni dell’infanzia o della gioventù. L’oggetto dell’esercizio sia di aprirsi alla volontà divina, di lasciarci condurre dal Dio che ci conosce e che ci invita alla partecipazione al Suo piano per la salvezza del mondo.

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!