Thursday, March 31, 2011

"Heart and Mind, Reason and Feeling, Body and Soul" (Balance, Integration, and Wholeness in Formation and the Priestly Life)

“A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand”. (Luke 11:17)

One of the things that has always perplexed me, both as a seminarian and later on as a priest working in seminary is how fragmented formation can sometimes be. Back when I was in seminary, every priest had his own “niche” which always seemed more important than the other “niches”. So the dean of men would constantly talk about the value of community and pastoral life, the dean of studies about academic work, the spiritual director about spirituality and prayer, and the seminary counselor about maturity and sexuality.

Now that’s quite understandable and, in a sense, inevitable. Everyone’s got an area of interest and expertise. But what I found disconcerting was how sometimes that value given to a specific “niche” or area of formation served to eclipse or downplay the importance of the rest—as if they were meant to be in competition and in conflict with each other.

There are three instances I will never forget. I was playing basketball once, when one of the philosophy professors passed by and saw us. “Wouldn’t you guys be better off spending your time in the library?” he asked. Back in Belgium, I remember poring through a pile of books on my desk once, when the pastoral director passed by. She sees me buried in the pile and says, “Too bad none of that Greek and Hebrew will matter once you get ordained”. And lastly, I remember almost having a fit when already a priest on formation staff in the seminary, one of the spiritual directors said to me: “I think we should only send seminarians to counseling when their issues can no longer be resolved in spiritual direction”.

Fortunately, I really haven’t seen that here at St. John Vianney. And that’s why I say you guys are lucky. Every single formator you have here is pretty much on the same page when it comes to seeing formation in terms of “balance”, ‘wholeness”, and “integration’. No one overemphasizes one aspect of formation while downplaying the value of another. I’ve worked in several seminaries, and I can tell you; that isn’t always the case.

You see, one area of our life isn’t more valuable than another; nor is another less important than the rest. As Pope John Paul II says in Pastores Dabo Vobis and as the bishops tell us in the Program for Priestly Formation, all areas of our life are of equal importance—every single one of them.

Never set one area of your formation in conflict with another; never highlight one area of your life as a priest by eclipsing another. You may not be able to live all the areas at the same time; but that doesn’t mean those you aren’t living are unimportant. This is true now in your lives as seminarians. It will be even more true later on when you’re ordained.

In his “Letter to Seminarians”, Pope Benedict reminds us: “It is important for the priest to have the right balance of heart and mind, reason and feeling, body and soul, and to be humanly integrated”.

“A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand”.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Forgiveness and the freedom it brings (Reflections on Peter's question on forgiveness, Mt. 18:21-35)

Why ‘seven’? Why, of all the numbers to choose from, did Peter choose seven when he asked Jesus the number of times he should forgive? Why not nine or ten or a hundred? Was there perhaps, a significance to it? And why did Jesus correct him and say ‘seventy-seven’? Some other translations of the bible say ‘seven times seven’. Why ‘seventy-seven’? Why not ‘eighty-eight’ or ‘ninety-nine’. So why ‘seven’?

We really owe Saint Peter a lot in the gospels. It’s often his quick tongue and bumbling wit that draws from Jesus some very sharp but important teachings. Remember how at one point he gets Jesus annoyed and Jesus calls him ‘Satan’ and tells him that a disciple must be willing to follow his master’s footsteps.

Well, today, Peter does it again, except this time, he wanted to be on the safe side. In his mind, ‘seven’ seemed more than enough.

You see, the Jewish rabbis before Jesus had always taught that one must be willing to forgive three times, but not a fourth. In fact they taught that God only forgave sins three times, but that after the third repeat, God punishes the offender. Forgiveness was limited to three times. The fourth offense brought sure punishment.

And so Peter thought he’d impress Jesus by going farther than what Jewish Law allowed. He takes the three times and multiplies it by two. But just to be sure, he adds one more. Three times two, plus one; that’s ‘seven’.

In his mind, Peter must’ve been congratulating himself and feeling extremely generous. Surely Jesus would commend him this time instead of calling him ‘Satan’ or some other name. Poor Peter. It didn’t happen. Instead he gets corrected again. “Not seven”, Jesus says, “but seventy seven times” must a Christian forgive.

What Jesus was saying was, “Go beyond what the Law requires. Don’t be satisfied with the bare minimum. Forgive again and again, because God has forgiven you, over and over again”. That was what the parable of the unforgiving servant was all about. His debt was so much greater that he should’ve been willing to forgive his fellow servant’s lesser debt.

But more than that, the truth is, forgiveness really does so much for us who forgive—at times, much more than for the one whom we forgive.

Forgiving frees us from the self-pity, the bitterness, anger and resentment that are often left in our hearts by the wrongs that other people do. Forgiving allows us to let go of bad memories that can poison our spirit and harm our ability to live our lives to the full.

Forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting either. We have to remember, so wrong things don’t happen again. But we remember, not to imprison ourselves in hate, but so we can let go, pick up the pieces and move on.

To forgive is never easy, especially if the hurts run deep. How do we forgive those who kill the innocent, like those on September 11, ten years ago? Awhile back, I received an email telling me one of my former students was killed by car thieves, shot in the face as he was about to get in his car. He was a very bright, devout and promising young man. How do we forgive God when we sometimes feel he’s abandoned us?

Without grace, forgiving can sometimes be impossible. And that’s why today’s gospel is one of the most difficult teachings of Jesus in the New Testament.

As in all his teachings though, Christ never asks us to do something hard without telling us why. And today, he asks us to forgive even if it’s tough, because in the end, it is we ourselves who will benefit from doing so.

As those of us who have experienced forgiving know, while it can be extremely hard at times, it can also be the most freeing and liberating experience in life. For whenever we do forgive someone who has wronged us, we allow God to rid our hearts and minds of the bitterness and resentment that harm us. And we experience a sense of relief and freedom.

Peter thought he had already hit the maximum in today’s gospel. Instead Jesus says, “Try harder”. And he asks us to do the same. “Forgive and forgive, over and over again”. It will free our hearts, it will free our minds, it will free our souls.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Footnotes (Reflections on the Feast of the Annuncation of the Lord)

“Mary’s life is a footnote to Jesus
her Son”.


A ‘footnote’ is that small print at the bottom of a text, that’s usually an explanation of the larger print, or tells you where the larger print comes from. It’s the ‘fine print’ usually found at the bottom of a page—something usually passed by, sometimes barely read, if noticed at all.

“Mary life is a footnote to Jesus her Son.”

The first time I heard these words, I felt so uneasy. Having a devotion to the Mother of God myself, I found it hard to accept that she was in fact, just that, a “footnote”.

When I was in grade school, I’d usually pass by the school chapel before the bus came when class was over in the afternoon. I’d kneel in front of the altar, say a prayer, and then go to a side altar with a relief of the Blessed Mother. If I remember correctly, it was a relief of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. I guess one of the Franciscan priests, Fr. Julian was noticing my visits, so one afternoon, before I headed out of the door of the chapel, he called me and said, “I noticed you’d pray before the big crucifix and then go to the side altar and say a prayer to the Blessed Mother. Why do you do that?”

I had no idea what the point was of his question, so I replied, “I don’t know. I’ve gotten used to doing that I guess”.

“Ok. Well, I guess what I wanted to know is whether you thought Jesus was more important and that’s why you’d talk to him first. Who do you think is more important anyway?”

I still had no idea what the point of the questioning was, so I said, “Well, I think they’re of equal importance”.

“Not really”, he said. “The mother is important because of her son. She is there because of Him. He is the one she is pointing to”

It was to be my first lesson in Christology and Mariology—in my 5th year in grade school. I will never forget that lesson for the rest of my life. Many years later, in seminary, I slowly understood the point of Fr. Julian’s question, and the very brief lesson he taught me about Jesus and the Blessed Mother. Jesus is really the point. She, like all of us, is but a pointer to him.

After much discussion concerning the place and role of the Mother of God in the life of the Church, the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council chose to connect discussion on the Blessed Virgin to the document on the Church, at the end of Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church.

Was that to make Mary simply a “footnote” to the Mystical Body of her son? Perhaps it would be good to understand what a footnote really is and what it is that it’s meant to do.

When I was a student at the University of Louvain in Belgium, one thing I learned from my scholarly professors was that one should never take footnotes for granted. The surprising thing is—my professors would always tell us to pay as much attention to the “fine print”. “Because the footnotes are just as important”, they would constantly remind us.

In fact, my very first exam question was on a footnote. The one and only chance I had of passing depended on one footnote number 72, on page 30 of the course notes that had hundreds of footnotes and hundreds more pages. I did remember what it was, so I passed. But that nightmare of an exam opened my eyes to something important.

We’ve all heard of the expression: “Read the fine print”. Notice car ads running in several newspapers. Prices always seem so cheap—that's the large print. Then there’s the small print down below, telling you about the more important conditions attached to the large print of the prices. “Read the fine print”. It’s very important. The footnote, the fine print tells you a whole lot about the larger text—just as much as Mary tells us a whole lot about Jesus her Son.

“A tree is known by its fruit”
The faithfulness and trust in the Father’s will that Jesus will show throughout his life could not but be (somehow) a fruit of the same faithfulness and trust that his mother showed when Gabriel uttered those eternal words, “You shall conceive and bear a son”.

The “Yes” that Mary gave to God’s invitation in the gospel reading today, is the perfect mirror image of the words Jesus will speak at Gethsemani, “Not mine, but your will be done”.

And it is in this that Mary’s greatness lies—a greatness that shines forth in her littleness, her faith, trust, and fidelity to God.

Fidelity is a path toward happiness, and yes, it is also a way toward greatness. Not the greatness and importance that the world knows, but the way of greatness that we see in Christ’s mother—the path of littleness, the path of humility, obedience to God’s will, and faithfulness to his words.

But this fidelity, this faithfulness, is never a one-time affair. Instead, it’s something we build up day by day, hour by hour, and it’s never finished; for we are constantly being called to live lives worthy of our calling as Christians.

In this season of Lent, we could perhaps pause and ask ourselves how much have we been faithful to God’s words being spoken to us day by day, in the countless men and women who need our help, in the many challenging situations we find ourselves in, in the numerous decisions which shape our lives as well as the lives of others?

As we enter deeper into Lent, and as we remember Mary’s faithfulness and trust in God, in whose hands she entrusted her life completely, may each one of us become a mirror of fidelity, trust, and obedience to the will of God for us. May we be constant reminders of his love and compassion for those who need us most, and may our greatness—like the Virgin Mother’s—lie in this alone.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

He said "yes", then never looked back. (Reflections on the Feast of Saint Joseph)

It seems rather curious to be celebrating the feast of Joseph, the husband of Mary, during the season of Lent. After all, by the time Jesus was well into his public ministry, and most especially by the time he was about to undergo his passion and death, tradition has it that Joseph had already died. Even the Gospel reading today seems a little out of place. It seems better read during the expectant days of Advent than in the more somber Lenten Season.

Joseph, whom the evangelist calls a “righteous man”, discovers that Mary, the woman betrothed to him, is with child. The problem is, they have not had any sexual relations with each other. Now in Jewish Law, a man already had legal rights to a woman to whom he was betrothed, even if they were not actually married yet. Hence, if found pregnant by another man, Mary could be put to death, as this was stipulated by the Mosaic Law. Joseph thus finds himself in a bind. Being a “righteous man”, he wishes to show loyalty and kindness to Mary, while at the same time satisfy the requirements of the Law not to approve adultery. So as the gospel reading tells us, Joseph decides that in order not “to put Mary to shame”, he would just divorce her quietly.

However, Joseph’s human calculations are cut short by a sudden divine intervention. He sees an angel in his dream who tells him not to fear to take Mary as his wife, for it is all part of God’s promised plan for the salvation for his people. And Joseph, just man that we was, did as the angel had told him.

The story of Joseph is our story as well. How many occasions have arisen in our lives as individuals, when in spite of our best efforts, we suddenly encounter seeming dead-ends, seemingly unresolvable dilemmas, insurmountable problems, sometimes even the absence of sense and meaning? And these occasions arise even if, most of the time, we are “doing our best”. Moreover, in our lives as Christians, and in the life of the Church as well, moments like these come up: when because of our convictions, we find ourselves holding the minority opinion, when because of our sincere efforts to live our faith, we find ourselves ridiculed and even silenced by a world bent on making itself heard.

It is at such moments when the message of the gospel reading, as well as the two other readings, for today’s solemnity becomes truly relevant, in Advent, in Lent, and in every single day of the year. In both the first and second readings, we hear of God’s promise of his continuing presence and concern for Abraham’s descendants and to David’s as well. It is this same promise that we see operating in the life of Joseph. Joseph, a just man, faced with a serious difficulty, held on to his faith, and believed that God’s plan, mysterious as this might be at times, always works out for the best, for those who trust in God’s promise. As Joseph believed, so must we. And it is this promise and the trust that Joseph put in it that we celebrate today.

This past week, new batch of former students of mine were ordained to the diaconate. I walked with these young men a number of years ago, journeyed with them in philosophy classes, talked with some of them, at times for hours, about life, faith, our vocation, and the direction God wanted for them in their lives. This past week, they took yet another very important step in following that path. On the one hand, they have been asked to give up a lot, and on the other hand, they will be asked to have even greater trust in God’s promise that He alone will be the single greatest source of joy and strength in their lives.


You know how Joseph is always shown in pictures as an old man together with a very young Mary and the baby Jesus. (I really don’t think it’s that accurate a portrait of Joseph. He may have been dead by the time Jesus was crucified, but he was most certainly alive during Jesus’ public ministry.) I’d rather believe that Joseph, when he was about to take Mary as his wife, was a relatively young man, not much older than some of my newly-ordained students perhaps. A young man, who wasn’t rich, but wasn’t poor either—carpentry was a lucrative business back then. He must have been a decent, presentable, young man with a lot of personality, good looks, and most likely, dreams for himself, Mary, and the family he wanted to create.

But God had other plans for him, for Mary, and for the son she was going to bear. It would not be easy—for he wouldn’t exactly be his son. But Joseph was willing to give himself to God’s plan nevertheless. And he gave himself completely. There can be no greater joy and fulfillment in life than to know that the gifts one has been given will be used in an enterprise larger than all of us—an enterprise that has been around long before we existed, and will continue, long after all of us are gone. For those of us in the ministry, and those seeking to follow closely in Christ’s footsteps, it is good to pause every once in a while and ask, What offering can I make? What more can I give?

Joseph offered his whole life. What have you got to give? Is it your talents, intelligence, enthusiasm for ministry? Is it your fine personality and the fact that people listen to you? Whatever it may be, know that it was given to you for one purpose—to use it to further God’s work of salvation. Give yourselves to the Lord, then. Do not hesitate; do not waver. Like Joseph, trust in God’s promise. Say ‘yes’ to his plan for. Say ‘yes’ to your calling. Go for it, and never look back.

Friday, March 18, 2011

There is an unbreakable bond between piety, devotion and spirituality on the one hand, and the love of justice and charity on the other.

To bear with patience wrongs done to oneself is a mark of perfection, but to bear with patience wrongs done to someone else is a mark of imperfection and even of sin”. (Saint Thomas Aquinas)

A point must be made about the love of justice in a believer on the way towards spiritual illumination. One of the infused moral virtues, justice is often overlooked by the devout. Spiritually oriented people often suffer a bit of injustice because of the envy of others. Since they themselves try to be fair and giving, they lose sight of the fact that we live in a wicked world. Frequently, they cannot cope with injustice so they do not see it; when they do see it, they remain silent. A tendency to silence is hardly an expression of the infused virtue of justice.

We have a sad example of this in the two members of the Sanhedrin, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, who had the courage to ask for Christ’s body but not to defend him against an unjust sentence. We must not condemn them; they would have accomplished little or nothing by protest. We must, however, find a warning to ourselves in their actions, since they had to live with their silence for the rest of their lives.

Sometimes silence is the best, or only, course, but sometimes it is not. A person interested in spiritual growth must overcome the tendency to remain aloof from things of material concern. He or she should nourish a constant, dedicated interest in those who suffer from injustice. The more one can directly associate with the victims of injustice, share their lot, plead their cause, and defend them, the more one will grow spiritually.

One of the revelations of the way of spiritual illumination is one’s own absolute poverty and dependence on God. A quiet, loving, respectful sharing of the lot of the poor and identification with them will bring that message home to us and at the same time control the tidal wave of sorrow that begins to well up in our being as the illuminative way draws to a close. The joy of God has a sharp counterpoint: the tragedy that we do not love Him. The realization that God is the greatest victim of injustice, that “Love is not loved,” begins to grow in the soul. We must, therefore, recognize the oppressed, the poor, the defrauded and trapped as our only hope of finding God in this world.

(From Benedict Groeschel, "Spiritual Passages")

Monday, March 14, 2011

"When Lord, did we see you hungry?" (A brief reflection on the sheep and the goats' failure to recognize Christ)

The biggest difference and the biggest similarity between the righteous and the unrighteous standing before the King on the Day of Judgment is, paradoxically enough, the same: both failed to recognize that it was the King that stood before them, needing their aid. Read the gospel carefully, and you'll see that both sheep and goats ask pretty much the same question:

"Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison?"

But whereas the righteous aided despite their failure of recognition, the unrighteous failed to aid precisely because of their failure to recognize. Whereas the former would have aided, even if it had not been Christ, the latter would only have helped, if it had in fact been Christ.

What makes us acceptable to God on that day when we shall see him face to face, is not how strongly we fastened ourselves to Him in this life, but how strongly we fastened ourselves to those in whom he often dwells hidden from our eyes.

The poor are the incognitos of Christ; they veil his presence with their pained and suffering humanity. Each time we wipe their tears, bind their wounds, and make life a little better for them, it is Christ’s tears we wipe, his wounds we bind, and it is his life we continue in the here and now.

We must love the poor, as Mother Teresa says, not because they remind us of Jesus, but because they are Jesus. It is Lent, and we always have a tendency to want to do dramatic things this season. There’s nothing wrong about that. In fact it’s commendable. But let us not forget the advice concealed in today’s gospel—Jesus is in our midst, not figuratively, but literally.

Perhaps you notice a friend or a loved one who’s been awfully quiet, looking as if he or she were in difficulty. Maybe you observe a co-worker seemingly having a rough time, or struggling with something. Maybe you know a classmate who is struggling in class. Perhaps you notice someone’s overall demeanor has changed, from happy and joyful to sullen and sad. Say a kind word, make a gesture of friendship, take the risk of being vulnerable. Perhaps you wish to follow the counsel of today's gospel and in quiet anonymity, feed someone who's hungry, share some of your blessings, or seek out someone who could really use some help.

These too are ways of observing Lent, they’re also ways of finding Christ in his hiddenness. They won’t be dramatic; no one might even observe what you’re doing—but that’s precisely the point.

Friday, March 11, 2011

God, the supreme and ultimate point of all human longing (From the "Confessions" of Saint Augustine)

What exactly do I love when I love? What is it that I seek? I asked the earth and it said, “It isn’t I”. I asked all that is in it, but they simply made the same confession. I asked the sea, the deep, the living creatures that creep, yet all of them responded:

“We are not what you love; look beyond us”.


I asked the breeze which blows the entire air with its inhabitants, and it too responded: “It isn’t I”. I asked the heavens, the sun, moon and stars, yet from them too came the reply: “We are not what you love; we are not what you seek”.

And I said to all those things around me: “Tell me then, what is it that I seek?” And they all replied with one voice: “It is the one who made us”. My question was the attention I paid them, and their response to me was their beauty, that which drew me towards them all.

Then I turned inwards, toward my very self, and I asked: “Who are you?” And the reply came back: “I am but a man, look beyond me, go to that which lies even deeper”.

All the beautiful things of the earth, and even that which is most intimate to me, they say but one thing: “It isn’t us that you seek, look deeper, look beyond”. And so I did, and found what it is that I truly love when I love the external things of the earth, and the innermost part of me; and as I inquired, I found the reply: “It isn’t I, but the one who made me”.

What do I love when I love? What is it that I seek? He who is higher than my highest, the one deeper than my deepest, the one more intimate to me than my most intimate thought, God who made me.

- From Augustine's "Confessions", X.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Squarely on the side of the human person (Pope John Paul II, in "Redemptor Hominis", 40)

The Church cannot abandon man, for his "destiny," that is to say his election, calling, birth and death, salvation or perdition, is so closely and unbreakably linked with Christ. We are speaking precisely of each man on this planet, this earth that the Creator gave to the first man, saying to the man and the woman: "subdue it and have dominion."

Each man in all the unrepeatable reality of what he is and what he does, of his intellect and will, of his conscience and heart. Man who in his reality has, because he is a "person," a history of his life that is his own and, most important, a history of his soul that is his own.

Man who, in keeping with the openness of his spirit within and also with the many diverse needs of his body and his existence in time, writes this personal history of his through numerous bonds, contacts, situations, and social structures linking him with other men, beginning to do so from the first moment of his existence on earth, from the moment of his conception and birth.

Man in the full truth of his existence, of his personal being and also of his community and social being—the sphere of his own family, in the sphere of society and very diverse contexts, in the sphere of his own nation or people (perhaps still only that of his clan or tribe), and in the sphere of the whole of mankind--this man is the primary route that the Church must travel in fulfilling her mission.

Man
is the primary and fundamental way for the Church, the way traced out by Christ himself, the way that leads invariably through the mystery of the Incarnation and the Redemption”.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Stillness


"There is this place of undisturbed quietness
where love is not deserted;

see how things pass away and give place to others;
fix your dwelling firmly there.

Put your trust, my soul, in whatever it is
you have received from Him.

Entrust to him whatever comes to you;
for you shall lose nothing.

Those parts of you that may have decayed,
they too will receive a new flowering,
and you shall find yourself healed.

All that you have seen ebbing away from you,
these shall be restored, given fresh form,
and renewed, bound ever more tightly to yourself.

Remain in the presence of God who alone stands fast and abides".

Augustine of Hippo, The Confessions, IV.

Monday, March 7, 2011

"We are the Church" (The Ecclesiology of the Second Vatican Council) Pope Benedict XVI

Whoever wants to attach himself solely to the literal interpretation of the Scriptures or to the forms of the Church of the Fathers imprisons Christ in "yesterday".

"The Church is awakening within souls". Romano Guardini's expression had been wisely formulated, since it finally recognized and experienced the Church as something within us—not as an institution outside us but something that lives within us.

If until that time we had thought of the Church primarily as a structure or organization, now at last we began to realize that we ourselves were the Church. The Church is much more than an organization: it is the organism of the Holy Spirit, something that is alive, that takes hold of our inmost being. This consciousness found verbal expression with the concept of the "Mystical Body of Christ", a phrase describing a new and liberating experience of the Church. At the very end of his life, in the same year the Constitution on the Church was published by the Council, Guardini wrote: the Church "is not an institution devised and built by men ... but a living reality.... It lives still throughout the course of time. Like all living realities it develops, it changes ... and yet in the very depths of its being it remains the same; its inmost nucleus is Christ.... To the extent that we look upon the Church as organization ... like an association ... we have not yet arrived at a proper understanding of it. Instead, it is a living reality and our relationship with it ought to be—life" (La Chiesa del Signore, [English translation: "The Church of the Lord"]; Morcelliana, Brescia 1967, p. 160).

Today, it is difficult to communicate the enthusiasm and joy this realization generated at the time. In the that preceded the First World War, the Catholic Church was looked upon as a fossilized organization, stubbornly opposed to all modern achievements. Theology had so concentrated on the question of the primacy as to make the Church appear to be essentially a centralized organization that one defended staunchly but which somehow one related to from the outside. Once again it became clear that the Church was more than this—she is something we all bring forward in faith in a living way, just as the Church brings us forward. It became clear that the Church has experienced organic growth over the centuries, and continues to grow even today. Through the Church the mystery of the Incarnation is alive today: Christ continues to move through time. If we were to ask ourselves what element present from the very beginning could still be found in Vatican II, our answer would be: the Christological definition of the Church.

J.A. MöhIer, a leader in the revival of Catholic theology after the devastation of the Enlightenment, once said: a certain erroneous theology could be caricatured with the short phrase: "In the beginning Christ created the hierarchy and had thus taken adequate care of the Church until the end of time". Opposed to this concept is the fact that the Church is the Mystical Body; Christ and His act of founding are never over but always new. In the Church Christ never belongs just to the past, He is always and above all the present and the future. The Church is the presence of Christ: He is contemporary with us and we are His contemporaries. The Church lives from this: from the fact that Christ is present in our hearts and it is there that Christ forms His Church. That is why the first word of the Church is Christ, and not herself. The Church is healthy to the extent that all her attention is focused on Him. The Second Vatican Council placed this concept masterfully at the pinacle of its deliberations; the fundamental text on the Church begins with the words: Lumen gentium cum sit Christus: "since Christ is the Light of the World ... the Church is a mirror of His glory; she reflects His splendour". If we want to understand the Second Vatican Council correctly, we must always go back to this opening statement.

Next, with this point of departure, we must establish both the feature of her interiority and of her communitarian nature. The Church grows from within and moves outwards, not vice-versa. Above all, she is the sign of the most intimate communion with Christ. She is formed primarily in a life of prayer, the sacraments and the fundamental attitudes of faith, hope and love. Thus if someone should ask what must I do to become Church and to grow like the Church, the reply must be: you must become a person who lives faith, hope, and charity. What builds the Church is prayer and the communion of the sacraments; in them the prayer of the Church comes to meet us.

The communitarian nature of the Church necessarily entails its character as "we". The Church is not somewhere apart from us, it is we who constitute the Church. No one person can say "I am the Church", but each one of us can and ought to say, "we are the Church". This "we" does not represent an isolated group, but rather a group that exists within the entire community of all Christ's members, living and dead. This is how a group can genuinely say: "we are the Church". Here is the Church, in this open "we" that breaches social and political boundaries, and the boundary between heaven and earth as well. We are the Church. This gives rise to a co-responsibility and also the possibility of collaborating personally. From this understanding there derives the right to criticize but our criticism must be above all self-criticism. Let us repeat: the Church is not "somewhere else"; nor is she "someone else". We ourselves build the Church. These ideas matured and led directly to the Council. Everything said about the common responsibility of the laity, and the legal forms that were established to facilitate the intelligent exercise of responsibility, are the result of this current of thought.

Finally, the concept of the development and therefore of the historical dynamic of the Church belongs to this theme. A body remains identical to itself over the course of its life due to the fact that in the life process it constantly renews itself. For the great English Cardinal, Newman, the idea of development was the true and proper bridge to his conversion to Catholicism. I believe that the idea of development belongs to those numerous fundamental concepts of Catholicism that are far from being adequately explored. Once again it is Vatican II to which we owe the first solemn formulation of this idea in a Magisterial document.

Whoever wants to attach himself solely to the literal interpretation of the Scriptures or to the forms of the Church of the Fathers imprisons Christ in "yesterday". The result is either a wholly sterile faith that has nothing to say to our times, or the arrogant assumption of the right to skip over 2,000 years of history, consign them to the dustbin of mistakes, and try to figure out what a Christianity would look like either according to Scripture or according to Jesus. The only possible result will be an artificial creation that we ourselves have made, devoid of any consistency. Genuine identity with the beginning in Christ can only exist where there is a living continuity that has developed the beginning and preserved the beginning precisely through this development.


"Let nothing
disturb thee,

nothing afflict thee;
all things
are passing;

God never changes.
Patient endurance,
attaineth to all things.
Who God possesses,
in nothing is wanting;
God alone suffices".

(Teresa of Avila)

"The Kingdom of Heaven is a condition of the heart." (Friedrich Nietzsche)