Friday, 25 April 2014

104: Suffering

Q- I am reading a book. One of the interesting ideas he has got me thinking about is this 'alienation of affection' between Jesus and Mary. As I understand it, it seems to talk about the spiritual development that Mary went through by way of the seven sorrows. I was wondering if you had insights on this.

A- First we need to understand that Mary's spiritual development is quite different from ours, even if in recent decades (from Vat II) her human journey was strongly underlined, showing that she too is well journeyed in her Faith.

There is a huge difference between underlining her “merits”, i.e. her human effort, by the grace of God, to correspond to the will of God, and saying that she is strictly like us. Of course she is not. She is born immaculate, by the merits of Jesus on the Cross. This doesn't at all cancel out her participation, her efforts, her merits, but it places her on a different level. The Grâce of God in her (the Holy Spirit) never found an obstacle in her for his action. So the “spiritual development” in her existed, but the starting point is already very high. She is already pure, transformed, incandescent and united to God when she starts. She doesn't need purification, but can still grow, because God is infinite and therefore one can still grow and grow spiritually.

Speaking about an “alienation” might be understood as a purification, or as a necessary action, or step, to be taken or undergone. It would mean that she wasn't pure, detached. She had human feelings, nothing wrong with that, but they were in good order in the sense that they gave the first place always to God. She wasn't attached egoistically to her Son.. She knew he is God, he is the Saviour, and that he had a mission.

Does this go without suffering? Well suffering existed but, in order to be more faithful to the spirit of the Fathers of the Church, I would say that the Saviour would have never made her suffer directly. Never. He is not the cause of suffering. All the suffering comes from the ugliness and darkness of sin, our sin, our sins.

Q- Did Mary have to suffer? - What was the purpose of Mary's suffering? - How did this relate to Our Lord?

A- What is the cause of suffering? Our sins. Suffering is an alteration/change in our body (the senses) and/or the soul (feelings, emotions). The cause of suffering for a pure person is sin, darkness, lies, hatred,... the mystery of Evil in all its forms and its consequences in us.

Per se she didn't have to suffer, but since she accepted to be involved in the life and mission of the Saviour, she gets her share of it. Salvation puts - out of Love - The Pure face to face with the darkness and ugliness of the sinner.

Q- What does this mean for us? Do we need to suffer to develop interiorly?

A- The causes of suffering for us are different. We suffer because that ugliness that became ingrained in us has to go, we need to be detached from it. Sin made our spirit have the shape of the Creatures. (When you “love” something, you spiritually acquire the shape of what you love, and this is a deformation of the “Likeness” of God in our spirit. Our baser, fallen nature, which becomes deformed when no heed is taken of our spiritual/conscience side, that which ennobles us.) Mary is a "creature" like us, but with ordered affections. (She is not a fallen human being, so her body obeys to her emotions her emotions obey to her soul and her soul to her spirit and her spirit is united to God and moved by Him.) Purification, sanctification, makes us progress, transforms us into Jesus. As a consequence, by the action of the Holy Spirit our spirit leaves that shape/form (resemblance with creatures), and takes, the form and shape of God himself: finding again the likeness with God that we lost. This process is painful. Painful not because it has to be painful. Pain is not a goal in itself. Trans-formation is the goal. Suffering is just a consequence.

This journey of transformation is necessary. We need courage in order not to focus on pain but on the real transformation that is occurring in us by the action of the Holy Spirit. Otherwise it is unfair and breaks the momentum of our transformation. Again: we need to focus our attention totally on the core of what is happening. Even if the pain is strong and perceived it is not the main event.

Being with God (in the process of transformation) or not (not corresponding to the action of the Holy Spirit), we do suffer as well because of the ugliness of sin and its consequences in daily life. This is not caused by God, but by us humans. We harm each other. Ignorance, sins, cause suffering. The person far from God will suffer more. The person with Jesus has the opportunity to unite his/her suffering to His Cross and therefore “use” the suffering as a powerful trampoline to push us ahead miles and miles... to accelerate. Suffering in itself is nothing, but when suffering occurs, if united to the Lord on the Cross, it becomes a very powerful tool of sanctification and transformation. This is why, sometimes when we read stories of saints we get the impression they loved suffering, or advised it. Their experience of uniting the suffering that occurred to them with Jesus' Power of Redemption on the Cross is so powerful that they seem to give us the advice that we need to suffer and we need to seek it,...

So again: everybody suffers: live on earth is not perfect and there are plenty or causes for suffering. If suffering is united with Jesus, it is different. Even if people differ on how all kinds of suffering that we see in the world could be united to Jesus' redemptive suffering on the Cross. Suffering far from Jesus, not knowing Him and therefore not uniting our suffering with him on the Cross could be tougher and bring less results (sanctification wise).

This is why Jesus during the Passion turned to the women and said: “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For the days are surely coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us’; and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”” (Luke 23:28-31)

Here He alludes to himself: the suffering inflicted on the “green” the spiritual, God. The dry, is the person disconnected from him, and is still suffering. Much tougher.

Friday, 18 April 2014

103: Through the intercessions of the Mother of God

There are moments in history where repeating to Mary “pray for us sinners” has a different weight. After 3 pm, when Jesus dies, we might think that we enter in a “waiting” state, and that Resurrection will happen anyway, so: no worries. Or we might think that it is all finished, let us rest now and wait for the early hours of Sunday.
While in fact events of apocalyptic dimensions will occur during these hours, that go from 3pm on Friday - Good Friday, the only Friday - till the early hours of Sunday, the Third Day, when God realises the last steps of Salvation, by making his Son rise from the dead.

I admire the deep shrewdness of John Paul II when he added a new set of mysteries to the Rosary (the Luminous ones). We shouldn't hesitate to enter in the mystery of his choice, and develop it more (without of course falling into extravagant things). I wouldn't have the slightest hesitation to suggest a set of mysteries just for these hours (from Friday 3pm to Sunday 4am). Mysteries that will go around the New Eve and the work that the Holy Spirit is realising in her and through her.

We need to be very united to her during these hours because this is the only Tunnel that will lead to the Light of the Resurrection. How many wise virgins are waiting with their oil and lamps for the Groom when He will rise? Only one: Mary.

We can contemplate her when she receives Jesus' body when they detach him from the Cross. Her Son is dead, full of wounds, she can finally touch him, and see even from closer what happened to his Holy Body.
We can feel her pain and contemplate how she forgives to everybody, starting with the highest act of forgiveness: the forgiveness to Judas. But as well to Peter. Not forgetting all the Jews who were against Jesus and didn't believe in him. Finally forgiving all of us who in a way or in another wounded her Son and Saviour.

We can contemplate her embracing the Lord's Body, covering His wounded Holy Body with kisses, love, gratitude for the Salvation he brought her and us. She is the first saved person and the mother of all the saved. We can, with her, perform the same acts.
We can contemplate her suffering during the burial, when they deposit the Lord's body in the coldness of the stones and earth. The total frightening silence. Jesus can't speak anymore. At this very moment when Jesus is deposited into the Earth, to the Tomb, Mary's faith in the Resurrection, her Hope, her embracing-of-the-Fire-of-the-Promise-of-Jesus ("I will rise the third day") here appear in all its power and nakedness.

We can contemplate her back home, alone, fighting against the lack of faith of all the persons who surround her, we can contemplate her fighting against Satan in person who comes to tempt her into not believing and waiting for the Groom. Wise Virgin she fights with all her being, moved by the Powerful intercessory action of the Holy Spirit in her. The Holy Spirit makes Her carry all of us in her womb. She is that big Sign in the book of the Revelation, that huge Sign, that Woman who is carrying in her whom all humanity, all Jesus' Body.
She believes for us, she hopes for us, she holds tight (to love) the Fire of Jesus' Promise (I will rise again).

"Through the intercessions of the Mother of God, O Saviour Save us." (Three times)
The Holy Spirit doesn't find any obstacle in Mary, because she is pure and is transformed in Him (Dante calls her : “Crowned Fire”), therefore all the Intercessorial power of the Holy Spirit is deployed in all its might. Saint Paul says that in our weakness we don't know how to pray, that the Holy Spirit in our spirit (or heart) prays and intercedes in us. Isn't that happening in a mysterious fullness in the New Eve? Let us join her, let us “enter in her womb/bosom”, like passing on an amazing bridge over the abyss. Through her, in her, like the Amazing Tunnel that leads to the Light of the Risen Groom.
The power of the Holy Spirit makes of her the real mother that carries of the children of Jesus, and brings them from the darkness to the Light.

So when we say: “Pray for us sinner, now and in the hour of our death” we are saying: outside of your womb we are in the darkness. We need to enter in you, so you can carry us to the Light: the power of the Lever of your Intercession is all based on the Action of the Holy Spirit in you, not finding any obstacle in you. The fulcrum on whom the leaver leans is the Corner Stone, the Saviour Himself, and the only Power of His Salvation. Amen.

Note: These tragic hours could be lived each week of our life: from Friday 3pm to the dawn of Sunday. That same Mystery of the Holy Saturday continues till the end of times.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

102: Lectio divina in daily life 3: The greatest love

(continuation of "Spirituality 94")

b) The greatest love

Our growing responsibility

The more we advance in lectio, the more we are transformed into God and the more we realize that lectio’s aim is not to tell us what to do nor to answer precise questions. In a certain way, it has the function of revealing divine love to us and telling us how much Jesus loves us and thirsts for us. The question then arises: What should we do? And the answer is simple: Offer ourselves to him each day, by doing what we do with love and in search of the absolute. The most important thing is to love Jesus.
We all go through the process of discerning God’s will and trying to understand what we are to make of our lives. But, once again, we do not do lectio in the same way as someone would consult an oracle to find hopeful indicators for the future. We need to understand that our heart has its home in heaven whilst we are still dealing with human instruments. And it is right for us to seek His will; he loves us for doing so. However, he wants us to act and to make decisions freely. The Almighty draws on all men to spread his love, but he leaves each person free to act according to his/her capacity and decisions. He is calling us to Glory! We are responsible for our actions. If we want to serve him, let us do so by taking stock of our capacities and using them wisely.
How much energy are we prepared to spend in fighting for what we want? Would we go to the ends of the earth to obtain it? Does the Lord not inspire us with thoughts, dreams and desires? And what do we do with them? We have been baptized in Him and this new life gives us the right to believe that our thoughts and desires are immersed in Him. We often blame ourselves for our desires. But the more we desire, the more we will receive1.
Childhood is past. We must now act like adults, by doing what we can and by doing it well. This means having self-confidence, using our capacities and will, giving assent and love. May our “yes” be “yes” and our “no” truly “no”. God will not make our decisions for us!
Let us see how the saints lived this kind of relationship with God; they will help us to understand what we may henceforth expect from lectio.
In a well-known passage from the Way of Perfection St. Teresa of Jesus reveals a surprising aspect of God to us: “He begins to make such a friend of the soul that not only does He restore its will to it but He gives it His own also. For, now that He is making a friend of it, He is glad to allow it to rule with Him, as we say, turn and turn about. So He does what the soul asks of Him, just as the soul does what He commands” (The Way of Perfection 32, 12).
In the writings of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus we read these words: “‘whatsoever you shall ask of my Father in my name, he will give it to you!’ I am therefore certain that you will fulfil my desires, I am certain of this, O my God! The more you want to give, the more you stimulate desire” (Prayers 6:2). Elsewhere she says: “He has always given me what I have desired, or rather he made me desire what he wanted to give me” (Manuscript C 31b). We find this same kind of dynamic in the writings of St. John of the Cross: “The more a soul hopes for, the more it obtains” (Ascent II 7:2) and “the more He wants to give, the more he makes us desire” (Letter 15, 8 July 1589).
We are justified in asking whether, having reached an advanced stage in communion with God, we might not well find ourselves in a blind alley. That is to say: at the beginning we have the impression that lectio will give us precise indications for our lives; yet, the more we advance, the more we come to realize that we are left with the responsibility of making our own choices! So we seem to be in the dark, or at least this is what we think. And our thinking is both right and wrong. Our sense of responsibility grows, as we have said, and our experience is that God has made us his friends. Now, He says everything to His friends, who are henceforth the extension of his Body on earth, and who, as such, must chose and make the necessary decisions. He is no longer next to them to tell them what to do; but he is living and working in them, in such an imperceptible way that leaves one with the impression of being abandoned without any outside help coming from the Word of God in the form of indications as to what should be done. The Lord’s friend knows this, and he or she must henceforth act in his own name without being afraid to do so. He knows his friend, he was formed in his school; now the disciple is like his Master, and it is time for him to set out and walk on the water.
What is lectio’s contribution at this stage? Above all, it reminds us that Salvation depends on us. The Salvation obtained and accomplished on the cross is waiting for our collaboration so that it may be transmitted to others. Lectio always shows the piercing manner in which we were saved by Jesus’ human will and that this was decisive: “You gave me a body, and I said: Here I am, Lord, I am coming to do your will”. In the same way the disciple who receives the Word each day perceives that he is integrated into Christ’s humanity and has the duty of continuing his action for Salvation. Then lectio, without being an oracle of what should be done, continues to instruct the disciple, to enlighten him, confirming him along the way and above all reveals what is essential: the flame of Love and the Gift of self. Lectio is not a barrier that keeps the disciple from making mistakes, but it encourages him to make an offering of his life and to live in humility. The Gift of self and total offering: this is the fundamental aim. Lectio calls us to do this each and every day. It does not however promise infallibility; it always leads us back to humility and the recognition of the relativity of the human condition. It constantly refers to trust and abandonment. Total love then integrates itself in this flow of trust and abandonment, which permit the disciple to continually advance by way of new beginnings.

“No greater Love”

Love unequivocally leads the disciple to the summit of sharing in the Passion. The Word awakens him every morning, just as it does all the saints, serving to remind him of the heights of charity.

Toward the end of her life, St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus said that the Lord had revealed to her a totally new way of living in charity. Does this mean that she never practised it? No, of course not; but there are degrees and she tells us about her personal experience while always putting it in the light of the Word of God.

The science of charity, or of mankind’s salvation, is of a profound order into which the disciple is introduced. Since from this point on, he is oriented by Christ’s humanity, he is called to do what Christ did. Of, course, he remains a creature, and still differs greatly from the incarnate Word, however there is nevertheless a mystery into which the disciple is introduced. In the footsteps of his Master, and like him, and like St. Paul, he apportions the things lacking in the Passion of Christ in his flesh.

Lectio opens up new and unexpected depths in the Word of God. Let us take an example from the Gospel of John. This gospel draws us into a much deeper reading, in that of the first person, the Son of Man. Now, the reader, instead of meditating on the signs accomplished by Jesus to manifest his divinity, enters into the role of one to whom the mission is entrusted and who is called to follow his example. The depth is extraordinary, as is the responsibility in the face of the salvation of others.

Lectio, like the Holy Spirit, sends the one who listens to others, just as Jesus was sent for their salvation. “No man has greater love than this, to lay down his soul for those he loves2” (Jn 15:13).
1 This is an idea dear to St. John of the Cross and St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus; we will develop this further later on.

2 Here “lay down” implies total gift, a mysterious receptiveness of the soul under the influence of the Holy Spirit in view of a saving action. There is another very similar expression: “to be given over into the hands of sinners” (Mk 14:41). One may gloss: “into the hands of sin”, since it is “his soul” that is being layed down and because sin primarily affects the soul! Likewise, the Spirit gives the Apostle to others like bread: “someone else will gird you, and take you where you do not want to go” (Jn 21:18).

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

101: Prophetical Theology 2

Forming Disciples at the School of Mary

After having read the previous post, one might wonder: in what consists Prophetical Theology? Here, in a summarised way, we offer an idea of how it could be done. We will see first "The Spirit of the Formation" in "Prophetical Theology", which will be followed by "The method of Formation", and finally by the "Contents of the Formation" (i.e. the topics).

The spirit of the Formation

1- “Disciples” means that the accent in the formation is put on the student himself, his/her capacity to digest and live the teaching and not on the accumulation of knowledge/theology.
The way of teaching theology is totally revolutionised in the School of Mary. The centre of gravity is put on the inner spiritual life, the experience of the Risen Lord, and all proceeds from there. The students becomes a “Witness” of Jesus, allowing Jesus to grow in him, and learning how to be led by the Holy Spirit.
So growth and mentoring that growth is essential and the absolute priority.
The centre of gravity of the study is on forming the Disciple (his/her spiritual life, the interior line), his capacity to handle the contents of Theology, understand them by experience and not only in an intellectual/abstract/historical way.
Having the centre of gravity on the inner line of formation (see diagram below) doesn’t imply to neglect the exterior line, with all what it bears of objective teaching as it is today (Bible, Dogma, Liturgy/Sacraments, Moral Theology, Pastoral Theology). On the contrary it implies seeing clearly the bridges on each horizontal level between the inner topic and the exterior expression of it.
Theology according the Greek Fathers meant: Contemplation, and the higest levels of contemplation, being in the Trinity. Contemplation is central in this education.
2- “Mary”: Mary is not only the Archetype of the Theologian (his/her best realisation) but as well his/her Mould. She guides him/her in his growth, she forms him/her, silently, but efficiently, until her/she reaches completion and can be a real solid witness to Christ. She is the one who makes this way of making theology integral; by the attention she brings into the formation of the theologian, she makes theology complete. I would find it difficult to go astray from Mary.
We should be able to hear the Lord saying to Our Lady: “Blessed are you Woman, Mother of my Disciples, you offered the “Key of knowledge”; you did enter yourself and you introduced those who were entering.” (See Luke 11:52)

3- Key of knowledge: This way of forming disciples puts the interest in the spiritual growth of the Disciple. In doing so we point out the fact that what matters in “learning theology” is the transformation (divinisation, sanctification) of the Disciple, his/her deep knowledge of God, his/her experience of the Risen Lord and of the Power of the Holy Spirit. It helps the future disciple to avoid falling in the pitfall of an abstract knowledge of the history of theology that remains conceptual and hardly ever experienced, internalised, assimilated. He/she is enabled, step by step, to become more and more resemblant to Christ, and therefore being able to contemplate Him as He is (see 1 John 3:2). He becomes more and more true Witness to the Risen Lord, capable of Evangelising and bearing fruits. In this way we understand how Our Lady is really the Mother of Evangelisation.

This way for forming the future Disciple opens in him and through him the “communication line” between the “Experience of God” and the “Persons to Evangelise”. (Please see the green lines in the second diagram below.)
The method of Formation at the School of Mary

Approach: In order to have a solid Spiritual Life one needs to learn deep prayer and establish new spiritual habits. Any solid formation requires 3 years to implement the new habits, like Jesus did. This length of time, and the faithfulness of the student during this length of time to the practises of prayer, helps root them in him/her.
By establishing the deep spiritual life and its main tools (contemplation), one then can address the other theological issues (Bible, Dogma, Liturgy-Sacraments, Moral Theology, Pastoral Theology), and “see” in a contemplative way all the links and connections.
The two lines of Formation (the inner line and the outer line) come as follow:

Formation in the School of Mary has the following classes:

1- Theory of the Practice: The Courses in Spiritual Life (and normal Theology).
2- Verifying the understanding of the Theory of Spiritual Life, questions and answers: Workshops. Seeing the applications.
3- Practising a minimum of 1 hour Lectio Divina and 1 hour of Prayer of the heart as classes time. + 1 extra hour of Prayer of the heart in the evening, at home.
4- "One to one" tuition/check up of the practises (Lectio Divina and Prayer of the heart).
5- The Students are invited to have regular Spiritual Direction.

Monitoring the spiritual growth comes in three different levels:
1- The workshops
2- The One to one tuition/check up.
3- Spiritual Direction

The "tools" are in fact the daily practise of Lectio Divina and the Prayer of the heart; they are ways to digest the Food taken at Mass: Jesus' Word and Jesus' Body and Blood.

If the person is faithful to that Program during the 3 years, then, in the end you have a very good solid Disciple of Jesus, capable of being useful to the Church and its Mission.

Topics for an Integral Formation
Forming Disciples at the “School of Mary”

Introductory Course: Theology of the Call for Holiness.

Inner line of formation

Outer line of formation

Theology of listening
Lectio divina
Biblical Inspiration” and “Spiritual Life”
Christian Contemplation
Spiritual exegesis
Canon, Inspiration
Biblical Theology
Experience of the Trinity
Experience of Christ
Experience of the Holy Spirit
Experience of Mary
The spiritual experience of the Church
Trinity in Spiritual Life
Christ in Spiritual Life
The Holy Spirit in Spiritual life
Mary in Spiritual Life
Church and Spiritual Life
Spirituality of Priestly Gift of the Faithful
Lectio Divina
Prayer of the heart – Lift up the heart
Digesting the Sacraments
Fruitful Participation” to the liturgy.
Liturgy and Spiritual Life
Spirituality of Baptism
Spirituality of the Eucharist
Spirituality of Marriage
Theological Acts (Faith – Hope – Love)
Ups and downs in SL
Synergy with the Action of the Holy Spirit – Presence of God
Moral Theology and Spiritual Theology
Confession and Spiritual Direction
Perception of sin in the examination of conscience
Moral Theology
Discernment – Counsel – Government
Spiritual Direction
Spiritual Pastoral
Being fruitful
The Holiness of the Priest/minister in his ministry
Pastoral techniques under the light of Spiritual Life.
Pastoral orientations in the light of the Spiritual Journey.
Pastoral Theology

(To be continued...)

Monday, 14 April 2014

100: Prophetical Theology 1

What is theology? Today we would define “Theology” this way: it is how we understand and explain our faith. Theology is important for us, even if we don't study it. Why? Because it shapes our understanding of our faith, our practice and the pastoral mission of the Church at each period in history. In fact, without being a real person (like the Pope), theology bears a great responsibility in the Church.
The Magisterium of the Church (the teaching of the Pope and the Bishops united with him) is in its turn shaped by theology, by a certain historical way of “doing theology”. Of course the Magisterium has the authority to change, modify, improve the way we do theology, but at the same time the Magisterium is the fruit of a certain period in history, a certain place, a certain school or way of doing Theology. So it is as well very influenced by it. That two ways relationship (influencing and being influenced) between the Magisterium and Theology is important and should be noted.

In each period of history, the Church practises theology in a different way, but if you ask people and theologians, and even the Magisterium at that time: “are you aware that you could do things differently?”, they would be very surprised and shocked, because each generation thinks that hers is the only way to do things. But of course, it goes without saying that scholars would never question that fact because it is obvious.

Space and Time
Culture is bound by time and space. Culture is like the soil on which the Seed of the Gospel falls. It determines the outcome even if the Seed is the same. Our way of doing theology is specific to a certain time in history. For instance, we do not do theology as we did 200 years ago, or during medieval times, or during the first six centuries. Space as well shapes theology: the Western way of doing theology (Latin Fathers' tradition) is different from the Eastern way of doing it (Greek Fathers' tradition). Within the West and the East we have more differences as well. Some would be surprised by this diversity, but it is important to see it not like a threat but rather as an important source of richness. John Paul II's call to breathe with both lungs (western and eastern traditions) still resonates in our ears as a duty for the theologian, or better said an improvement to his or her methodology and tools.

Prophetical Theology
In the history of the Church, there is another distinction as well in the way of doing theology, which is: Priestly and Prophetical Theology. These words come from the actual two branches of the Church: the Priestly Branch (the Parish, the Diocese) and the Prophetical Branch (the monasteries, religious life,...) and their way of understanding and practising theology. Prophetical Theology is not that of a common expression, in fact we are more used to another one: Monastic Theology.
Today, “monastic theology” is sort of non-existent. It has been swallowed by “Priestly Theology”, to the point that we only have the latter one. If you ask any theologian: what about “monastic theology”?, or better still “prophetical theology”, he/she will take a long time, remaining silent, wondering: “what does he exactly mean by that expression?”
Lead by, or Leading?
As you can see, all these types/ways of doing theology are mainly influenced by the soil, the human side of the Seed-Soil interaction/alchemy; but it is often happening unconsciously. Only few theologians - often saints - would act and influence positively the way we do theology. We end up ninety-nine per cent of the time by being passively lead by the actual way of doing theology, not questioning it, rather than trying to question it and improve it. The branch of theology that is in charge of that one per cent of work is called “Fundamental Theology”.

Today's Needs
What about today's soil and its needs (the human being)? If you analyse the psychology of the human being before the second world war and after the second world war, including the explosion of the sixties and the seventies, you'll notice that people and their needs are different. Let me take an example to get myself across. Before, people would be won by the argument of authority, which means that people would believe or do something that is morally good not firstly because they are convinced of it but firstly because God said so, or the Church said so. On the other hand, today, people would first want to understand in order to get the gist of it and become convinced of it, and then would need to try it and see, by experience, if it is good or not.
I am not addressing right now the characteristics of the actual youth, but just taking an older comparison that people of an older age would relate to. Today we have other problems and other needs. By the way, the above-mentioned “sixties way” (let us call it like this) is not totally new, it is just that a greater stress is put on it. The dialogue between Jesus and the Samaritan lady in John 4 is very close to this experiential way of doing things.

Coming back to the changes of recent decades and the “new” needs that appear to have priority, these are showing greater depths and therefore requirements in the modern mind. I can compare it with the normal growth of the human being: before adolescence, and during adolescence. Adolescence is a crisis, but a crisis of growth, therefore it is a positive crisis. What happens in the growth/development of the human being? The body develops and with it new dimensions in the faculties of the soul, the mind, the will. The adolescent is set to start to explore the world, his needs are growing. You can't treat a fifteen-year-old as you treated him when he was ten years old. You need to meet the need of the new development of his faculties, of this new depth that is appearing in him. The development in the West that occurred after World War II generated a similar “crisis of growth”. People's mind, culture, way of doing things before WWII and after it, especially after the 60s-70s crisis of growth are different. Phislosophy and Theology (the way of doing them) are consequently influenced by that cultural change. The Soil changes, the outcome changes.

If you have to explain faith to a ten-year-old, you'd do it one way, but to a twenty-one-year-old, you'll need different arguments, ways, content. Has the theology you are using changed? No, it has not, however it just has to be more detailed, appealing to a wider mind and culture, new challenges, new threats. For instance, the introduction of Psychology, modern Philosophies for instance has been a serious challenge for Philosophy and Theology in the past decades. Many questions rose. Let us just take an emblematic one: “what about Christ's consciousness: was He, in his human nature, aware that he was God? Did his perception/consciousness grow along with his age?” This is one of the most challenging questions theology has to face. If you look deep in it you'll find that his question has repercussions on many other questions, like for instance: once we get closer to the union with God, how does it feel? Well this question and many others appeared just recently (60s-70s), because of the changes, the needs, the developments of new sciences,... Again, the “adolescent” mind is not like the “ten-year-old”.

Asymmetrical education
We need as well to notice the asymmetrical development today in the Christian adult: he or she usually has had some higher level education, he or she has read many books, and is constantly bombarded by tens of new thoughts every day, coming from the multiple media we have. It is true as well that the actual “culture” (I put it in quotations on purpose) is as well, in many ways rather superficial, favouring more the rapid, summarised, saleable information than the deep, transformative, time/energy consuming formation. Today, this of course is narrowing the windows of any serious/deep input in Christian Adult Formation. In this sense we are going (lead by our culture) through the creation of a very dangerous gap that could prevent us from having any connection with the rich past. We are getting more and more isolated from the past. And there is no Christianity without a past, without relating to the Living Stream of the Spiritual Tradition. We are not meant to redefine or reinvent Christianity at each generation, but rather we are invited to receive a living Gift, develop it and hand it to the following generation. Breaking the momentum as we have been doing in these last decades is too dangerous, because it will cost us 50 to 100 years to rebuild, rediscover, and reconnect with the Living Stream.

Urgent Need for a Prophetical Theology
Prophetical Theology, or formerly “Monastic Theology” is a theology that has specific characteristics: it is focused on the experience of the Risen Lord in the Holy Spirit, driven by the “call for holiness” (or so called “second conversion”). It offers the traditional and proven tools/means that help us grow in the experience of Jesus, in order to reach the fullness of Love. It is the “theology of the saints”, the “theology of holiness”. Of course it is rather a contemplative theology, where experience, science and discernment are not dislocated but work together, harmoniously. This theology is an introduction to the Mystery of God, and not only a distant reflection on it. It is a theology that is touched by God, by the Holy Spirit and is therefore humbled and guided by Him.
It is not the basic theology (that would be the Priestly Theology, which is the common one we have in the west) but is rather a more developed one, focused on Jesus' personal call to each one of us, at a certain point in our life. This theology is urgently needed.

Contemplative Theology
Prophetical Theology is Contemplative Theology, in the sense that it forms the student, and introduces him/her into a contemplative state where Theology is not just a mere intellectual object/concept but a living Being (God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit) with whom one enters in a personal relationship, a Being that becomes an experience and an experience that has stages, development, until it reaches its fullness.
For the Fathers of the Church in the early centuries, “Theology” meant: to be in the Son, Contemplating the Father and Loving Him through the Holy Spirit. It was the full experience of God, and not a discourse on God, or an intellectual knowledge. The office of the Theologian was to contemplate God, Loving Him. The office of Theology was to teach how to reach that contemplation of God, how to have this experience of the Risen Lord.
St John The Theologian
Very few were named “Theologians”, actually only one initially: St John. Not that St Paul wasn't a Theologian, but St John the Evangelist embodied the Theologian. In his Gospel one could see the height of his contemplation of Jesus. One could say that St John's Gospel was considered the archetype of the book of any Theologian. His School taught us what is to be a Theologian and how to become one.
(to be continued...)

Friday, 4 April 2014

99: Reading the Scriptures "in the Spirit"

The following text (see below) is a commentary of the Parable of the Good Samaritan made by one of the Fathers of the Church, Severus of Antioch. I chose it because it exemplifies how we are supposed to read the Bible, how we can read it and understand it "in the Holy Spirit". The Holy Spirit is the Main Author of the Bible - this doesn't cancel the human authors but it gives a different quality to each word in the Bible. The central work of the Fathers of the Church was to comment the Scriptures "in the Holy Spirit". The majority of their works are Commentaries of different books of the Bible, and Homilies made during the Mass.

During the first 6 centuries of Christianity God gave us these great Masters that we call "the Fathers of the Church" in order to show us how to read the Bible "in the Holy Spirit". Their way of reading of the Bible respected the literal sense of the text: they always tried to be sure that they had a good translation of the Bible, and often tried to know the exact meaning of what they were reading. But as well - like Jesus shows it in Luke 24 and St Paul in 1 Co 10:6 - God's Spirit opened their minds so they became able to see what the naked eye of a plain reading and analysis of the text wouldn't see. What the Holy Spirit made them "see" is essentially Jesus present in the Holy Scriptures, Old and New Testament. We all need to go at the school of the Fathers of the Church and learn from them how to read the Bible. The Bible is the Bread of our Soul, and the Fathers of the Church opened wide for us the Bread-box of God.

Once our personal relationship with Jesus starts, we start to grow and the Bible - like Jesus - walks at our side and grows with us, giving us, day after day, a more substantial food. This is why, at a certain point, when Jesus opens our Soul in order to purify it, He deepens in the same time our understanding of the Bible, and He starts to feed us with the deeper meanings He enclosed and hid in it.

The journey of purification in us is a journey from the senses to the spirit, through the soul. It is like crossing the sea of Galilee. Jesus opens in us a way, that will lead us to the inner room where he - the Groom - dwells. A journey from the outer world to the inner world, in the centre of our heart. In this journey we need food, a spiritual food, for our soul and spirit; the Fathers of the Church and the Mystics show us how to grow in the reading of the Bible in the Spirit, and show us many new levels of richness hidden in the Bible. This is a unique experience. While we read the Father of the Church we are involved in a unique Experience of the Holy Spirit, where He opens our mind and heart to show us these new depths in the Bible, nourishing us with amazing new types of food. Like Moses, the Fathers of the Church hit our heart of Stone, so Jesus opens it, the the Waters of the Holy Spirit flow from it giving us a New Life in Jesus. Blessed are the ones who go at the School of the Fathers of the Church and the Christians Mystics!

It would be good first to read the Good Samaritan, at Luke 10: 30-37, then read this beautiful spiritual reading of it. Just remember that since the Bible is the Word of God, there is no one interpretation, we could have many. Though they always have to respect the literal sense of the text and the Truths of our Faith.
Please do not hesitate after that to dive in the reading of the Fathers of the Church. You can start with something easy to read like:

The Good Samaritan Commented by Severus of Antioch[1]

"A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho." Christ used the denomination of gender correctly: he did not say: “someone was going down”, but “a man was going down”. Indeed this passage concerns humanity as a whole. After the prevarication of Adam, humanity left its elevated and calm environment, where there was no suffering and the marvels of paradise, rightly named Jerusalem – which means peace of God – and went down to Jericho, a hollow and lowly place, where the heat is stifling. Jericho is the feverish life of this world, the life separated from God, which drags us down and brings on suffocation and exhaustion through the flames of the most shameful pleasures.
So, once humanity had turned away from the good route and toward this life, it was dragged downhill from above and carried away on the slope; a savage troop of demons came and attacked it, like a band of thieves. They stripped it of the clothing of perfection, leaving its soul deprived of all strength, of purity, of justice, of prudence, of anything that characterised the divine Image; but by striking it in this way, with the repeated blows of various sins, they struck it down and finally left it half-dead.
The law given by Moses went by; it looked at humanity lying there in agony. The priest and the Levite of the parable in fact symbolise the Law, since it introduced the levite priesthood. But, although the Law looked at humanity, it had no power: it was not able to procure the complete healing of humanity, it did not raise up the one who was prostrate. Because it lacked energy, it finally had to go away after a vain attempt. For the Law made sacrifices and offerings, as Paul said, “which are not able, in regard to conscience, to make perfect him who is serving“, because “it is impossible for blood of bulls and goats to take away sins”.
Finally a Samaritan came by … Christ gives himself on purpose the name Samaritan. For speaking to the doctor of Law, who made lovely discourse on the Law, he show by his words that neither the priest nor the Levite nor, in short, any of those expected to conduct themselves in accordance with the Law of Moses, did so, but that he himself came accomplishing the Law and showing by his acts themselves “who is our neighbour” and how to “love him as we do ourselves”, him whom the Jews, to outrage him, had said: “You are a Samaritan and you are a demon”.
The travelling Samaritan, who was Christ himself - because he really did travel - saw the man lying on the roadside. He did not pass him by precisely because the aim of his voyage was to “visit us”, he came to earth for us and dwelled among us. For not only did he appear, but he also conversed with men in truth.
He poured wine on his wounds, the wine of the Word; and because the seriousness of the wounds did not support this, he mixed oil with it, and so attracted, by his meekness and his “philanthropy” the criticism of the Pharisees, to whom he had to answer: Go and learn what this means: Mercy I will, and not sacrifice”.
Then he placed the wounded man on a beast of burden, - which means that he lifts us up above the beastly passions, he who also carried us himself, making us into “the members of his body”.
Then he brought the man to an inn – he calls the Church inn, which has become the dwelling-place and the receptacle for all people. Indeed, we do not hear him say, in a restricted sense, with a legalistic shadow and with a figurative worshiping way: “The Ammonite and the Moabite shall enter into the Church of God”, but rather: “Go and teach all the nations”. And once they had arrived at the inn, the Samaritan asked that even greater kindness be shown to the one he had saved: indeed, when the Church had been formed by the reunion of the peoples who had died to polytheism (or: who were dying in polytheism), Christ was in her giving every grace. And to the innkeeper - a figure of the Apostles and the pastors and doctors who came after them - he gave - when he ascended into Heaven - two denaries, so that he might take great care of the sick man. We see in these two denaries the two Testaments, the Old and the New, that of the Law and the Prophets, and the one given to us by the Gospels and the Constitutions of the Apostles.[2] Both are from the same God and bear the image of the one God on high, by the means of the holy words, since one and the same Spirit pronounced them. Let Manes therefore take flight, as well as Marcion, that very impious man who attributed these two Testaments to two different gods! These are the two denaries of one king, Christ gave simultaneously and in the same way to the innkeeper. Now, according to the pastors of the holy Churches who received these two denaries and who increased them through their teaching, with work and labour, after also having payed for their own needs - for the spiritual money, when one spends it, does not diminish but augments, since it is the word of doctrine -, each one of them will say to the Master at his return on the last day: “Lord, you gave me two denaries; while spending them for myself, I earned two more”, with which I augmented the flock. And the Lord will answer, saying: “Well done, good and faithful servant, you have been faithful in little things, I will set you over many. Enter into the joy of your Lord”.

[1] Homily 89. Quoted in Henri de Lubac, Catholicisme (Paris: 19474), pp. 377-379.
[2] Saint Augustine explains that these two denaries are the two commandments of the love of God and the love of our neighbour. His interpretation is close to Severus’, for the two commandments sum up the Law and the Prophets as well as the Gospel.