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My blog on blogger has been hacked. The Apple technician, with a tendinitis, cannot help me at the moment. So I will attempt to post here and see how it goes.

Paul and I are just back from six weeks in Manresa, Spain, where we were invited to go deeper into Ignatius’ autobiography and spiritual diaries, the sources of his Spiritual Exercises and how they developed over his lifetime; some of his letters; the origins and foundation of the Society of Jesus; its first Companions; its voluminous archives (Monumenta); its Constitutions; and, finally, Ignatian spirituality for today. Add to this daily morning prayers and evening masses, an eight-day silent retreat the second week, and a walking tour of Manresa where Ignatius lived nine months in 1522-23 (there he prayed, fasted, worked, meditated, had visions, and fell sick…), and trips to Montserrat, Loyola, Javier, and Barcelona.

We were thirty-five participants from fourteen different countries (with large contingents from India, the Philippines, Australia, and the U.S.). Our youngest member turned 32 during the Course and the older participant was 76. A majority of men and Jesuits, some religious sisters, a few laypeople and just one couple, Paul and me.

The Course was made of seven modules, the second one being the silent retreat, with one transition day in-between each. Those days were meant to help us process all that had been given to us (e.g. the medieval origins of the Autobiography, connecting the Spiritual Exercises with mysteries in our faith; the personalities of Ignatius’ first companions; the importance of Juan de Polanco in the creation of the Society of Jesus, his importance as well in the writing of the Constitutions and Ignatius’ very unique style of participative management. Finally, the new cosmic theology and new ways of looking at Jesus’ teachings (e.g. table fellowship, inclusiveness and openness to sinners and marginalized folks).

Our lecturers are all University teachers, whether at the University of Barcelona, Javier Melloni SJ (a scholar and writer of many books, involved in inter-denominational dialogues); Jose García de Castro, from Comillas University in Madrid, with an insatiable love for archives and books, able to pass on his passion for old papers and the first Jesuits; Carlos Coupeau, SJ, from both Boston U. and the Gregorian University in Rome, who helped us understand the composition and intent of the Constitutions; and finally George Pattery SJ, from Jnana-Deepa Vidyapeeth in Pune, India, who introduced us to a cosmic vision of the Spiritual Exercises, bringing together Ignatius’s cosmic experience on the banks of the river Cardoner with Teilhard de Chardin’s very own understanding.

This time out-of-time was made possible thanks to the support and care of Josep Sugranyes SJ, the Director of the Course, Joachi Salord SJ a wonderful patient and ever smiling shepherd to us all, and Asun Puche, the Course’s feminine smile and intelligent presence.

Dear to everyone of us, as well,  were the women in the kitchen who fixed three meals a day and two snacks, making sure we could sustain those brains of ours so heavily taxed at times. Teams of us worked along them, clearing and setting tables, and drying dishes. Our Spanish improved at their side; we even caught a couple of Catalan words.

I come back with my head filled with images of young noble men giving up their wealth and station in life to walk thousands of miles across Europe, begging on the way, their hearts filled with love for Godde and her creation. Finding Godde in all things…

I think of the many women who helped Ignatius all throughout his life, the very first persons who were guided by him through his Spiritual Exercises, those who cared for him when he was on death’s doorsteps, who paid for his studies and his many journeys, many of these women asking him to become a Jesuit themselves.

My heart is filled with the graces of many moments, looking out to the mountains of Montserrat, inspired with a Spirit of openness, adventure, and longing. I catch myself humming songs sung every day or for special moments. I remember holding Ignatius’ begging bowl…

We drove home with boxes of books to read and a list of more to buy, papers and lectures to process and digest, a longing for prayer, quiet times, long walks, and notes to write.

Many times in Manresa I wondered what I had done to deserve such a blessing and grace to be there in the very place where he had prayed, met Mary and Jesus or understood the Trinity. I hope to share some insights received here, because I cannot stand the idea of keeping all this to myself.

Blessings and joy.

Photo: Statue of in Loyola, Ignatius wounded in the Battle of Pamplona, 

30 May 1521.

 

Reclining at table with his disciples, Jesus was deeply troubled and testified,
“Amen, amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” …

… “Master, who is it?”
Jesus answered,
“It is the one to whom I hand the morsel after I have dipped it.”
So he dipped the morsel and took it and handed it to Judas…

… Peter said to him,
“Master, why can I not follow you now?
I will lay down my life for you.”
Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me?
Amen, amen, I say to you, the cock will not crow
before you deny me three times.”

John 13:21-23, 36-38

Today’s gospel led me to reflect on both Judas and Peter in me, because in the sixty-plus years of my life, I have been, and still am, both. One is inconsolable and kills himself; the other accepts Jesus’ forgiveness and follows in His master’s footsteps.

Dwelling on my sins, once again, is not really what this week is about, however. This week is not about me, but about Jesus and how he goes through his last days as Jesus. It is about his dignity and his being true to himself, and what he has preached and done in the last three years of his life. Jesus is love and love is crucified; true love is found unbearable by those striving for power, riches, and fame. Love has little in common with ‘Realpolitik’. 

Jesus was killed two thousand years ago and is still being killed today. We see him crucified, at every generation, in the women and men who strive for goodness and challenge the darkness of our world.

What truly mesmerizes me this week, more than anything else, is the width and length and depth and height of Jesus’ trust in Godde and his love for us. It shakes me out of my self-satisfaction; it draws my mind to a blank; it has me come to a standstill. It questions me; it kneads my heart, spirit and soul.

Nothing in Jesus blocks life. He does not elude fear, pain, nakedness and humiliation. He is utterly open to Godde’s will, willing to show each one of us, disciples of then and now, what it means to announce and belong to the reign of Godde. No pettiness there, no petulance, no shirking, no false pretenses…

Following Jesus this week is entering the Mystery of Divine Love, a Mystery that my small human mind can only admire and revere in silence and awe. What a grace it would be if but one bit of it could rub on me.

Yes, Jesus is crushed by the structures of evil of all times. But he only seems crushed, because he goes through death and introduces us to a new age, a new age that is still so very difficult to comprehend, to absorb, to replicate, unless, like him, we can love fearlessly.

The reality of Jesus’ Passion is poignant, because it never goes away; it is still happening today. Simultaneously, though, He is risen and calls me to go through the pain to transcend it with Him, as if he wanted me to go through the throes of a new birth into something else. Going from the safety zone of darkness to the challenge of light and love.

 

Art: Leonardo da Vinci, heads of Judas and Peter

 

 

Then Judas the Iscariot, one of his disciples, and the one who would betray him, said,
“Why was this oil not sold for three hundred days’ wages and given to the poor?”
He said this not because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief and held the money bag
and used to steal the contributions.

John 12:1-11

The last time I prayed this passage was during an eight-day retreat. Then, Mary had turned to me and had invited me to come forward and help her anoint Jesus’ feet. I still remember rubbing his feet, and then rubbing his hands as well. The color and texture of his skin, the feel of his bony feet and hands, our closeness and my reverence. Mary’s invitation had been such a gift! A day later, when time came to pray the Resurrection, my eyes fell again on the same hands and feet; this time they had a hole in them. I knew then that I was in presence of the Risen One.

This morning, I started reading the passage after having prayed for the grace of being filled with the wonder of Jesus’ presence. Imagine my surprise when going over Judas’ lines, I realized that they were meant for me. I could have made such an unpleasant remark. I would have had to feel jealous and envious, and irritated at being around someone who once again is so much better than I am… Yes, this is something which I could have said, the type of comment I have most certainly made several times over my lifetime.

This insight felt like a jug of freezing water thrown at my face. At the same time, what a relief to come upon this side of me, so naturally and so ‘un-judgmental-ly’ (if this is possible). While shocked by my own revealed pettiness, I felt grateful for the awareness. This was a grace received, a gift, a reflection from the mirror that the Gospel is meant to be. The Gospel is “a constant call to freedom,” writes Ilia Delio.

As I stand looking at the scene of Mary on her knees at Jesus’ feet, with the other disciples and friends around the table, Martha busying herself, and Judas’ nasty remark, Jesus’ eyes cross mine. I tear up. I tear up because I acknowledge the love in his eyes, the unconditional love which greets me; I recognize the gift of discovering a bit more of me; but more than anything else, I tear up for the connection between the scene and me, between Jesus and me.

For all this, O Godde, I feel infinitely grateful.

 

Art: Magdelene Anointing Jesus’ Feet, Frank Wesley (1923-2002) an Indian artist trained in India, Japan, and the U.S.  Best known for designing the urn for Mahatma Gandhi’s ashes. Found here.

 

 

 

The cross is not merely Christ’s passion, Volf writes, but it is God’s passion. It reveals the total self-giving love of God that reaches out to estranged humanity and embraces every stranger as the beloved. In the cross we are embraced by the Trinity of love, who loves us with the same love with which the persons of the Trinity love one another. The crucified Christ signifies a space in God’s self for the other and an invitation for the enemy to come in.
— Delia, Ilia. The Emergent Christ. Orbis Books. Kindle Edition. (1120-1124)

Note: Volf is Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation.

 

    The whole of Jesus’ life is an unfolding towards fullness of life. So even at this stage of his life, as he invites us to stay with him, he has something to reveal to us about life. 
    But to come to sense how this unfolding is taking place in Jesus, even at this stage as he goes though his passion and death, it is absolutely essential that we do not place ourselves on the road to Calvary as roadside watchers of a drama that is happening.
    We need to reach intimately into his heart, to sense what is happening in Jesus’ heart as he is going through all of this. For ultimately what makes a difference to life is not what happens to us, but how we respond to what happens to us. And this is only known from within the depth of one’s heart.
— Fr. Cecil Azzopardi, SJ, Ignatian Immersion Retreat, May 2013, Manresa

 

Here I am, ready (can I ever be ready enough?) to walk with Jesus this week all the way to the Golgotha, with his mother, his friends, and his enemies. I hope some day to love him so much that I will indeed be able ‘to reach intimately into his heart’, to understand how he did all of this. 

I imagine his love for and his trust in Godde stronger than the pressure of the society around him or the fear of his friends for him. 

He had to die, said Caiaphas, not only for the nation, “but also to gather into one the dispersed children of God.” And gather, Jesus did, or Christ rather, in a way Caiaphas could never have imagined.

Walking with Jesus this week will be a privilege. All I can do is stand by him as he goes through all that is awaiting him. I might enter the mystery of his death and then maybe not. Most of all, I feel I owe him to be with him, to be there for him, while giving him the best my heart and mind have to offer.

May the Spirit accompany each one of us on our journey to Jerusalem.

Photo: Cristo de la Sonrisa, Javier, Spain

 

 

My God, I give up my attachment to peace, the delight and sweetness of contemplation, of Your love and Your presence. I give myself to You to love Your will and Your presence. I give myself to You to love Your will and Your honor alone.

I know that, if You want me to renounce the manner of my desiring You, it is only in order that I may possess You surely and come to union with You.

I will try from now on, with Your grace, to make no more fuss about “being a contemplative,” about acquiring that perfection for myself. Instead I will seek only You, not contemplation and not perfection, but You alone.

Then maybe I will be able to do the simple things that You would have me do, and do them well, with a perfect and pure intention in all peace and silence and obscurity, concealed even from my own self, and safe from my poisonous self-esteem.

Thomas Merton, Dialogues with Silence, 39

 

While sorting books, I came upon this one and opened it at random. I fell upon this page which seemed to be the perfect message for that day, for this time, as I turn my heart and mine toward Holy Week, and the Holy One who will walk it and Whom I will follow.

A shower of blessings on your own climb to the Jerusalem in your heart.

 

Sometimes genuine discernment is wrongly seen as a mental decision about what is good followed by an act of will to carry out that good. I would say, rather, that discernment is the awareness of centered or not-centered energy in the organism… This awareness comes from an accumulated awareness of who we fully and genuinely are. It is knowing where our center — and hence our life — resides, as well as where it does not… As life builds up more and more sense of our total selves, more and more inclusion of body, mind and emotion in our self-experience, it becomes less and less possible for us to choose against ourselves… Discernment well made — that is, experience well known — makes choice natural, even easy. Choice is that decision either to retain boundaries of judgment manifested by blocked body energies or to risk letting in everything we are… In doing so we abandon predictions of how life will turn out, judgments of what is good or bad, assessment of what does or doesn’t fit. We simply live from our center.

Benedictine Suzanne Zuercher, quoted in An Ignatian Spirituality Reader (154)

 

I came across this quote a couple of days back in the book mentioned above. I saw this book in the hands of several participants in the Ignatian Immersion Course last year and started reading it.

The Ignatian Immersion Course is very much like a Camino or a Cursillo: it begins once it is over. I seem to be living an on-going immersion in Ignatian Spirituality, thirsting and hungering for more. I find it a beautiful place to be and feel infinitely grateful for what I received then and have kept receiving ever since.

 

Photo: Camino de Santiago, Cruz de Ferro, May 2005

 

“Teacher, this woman was caught
in the very act of committing adultery.
Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women.
So what do you say?”

John 8:1-11

I watch the Pharisees and the scribes dragging the woman to the temple where Jesus is teaching. They found her “in the very act”. Oh, their enraged righteousness, their raw desire for vengeance, their thirst for blood and death… Their legitimate anger. A woman belongs to a man, whether father, husband, or son. The unfaithful, adulterous wench. Kill her!

Here is the opportunity to kill two persons with one stone: Jesus and the woman.

To be the woman, on her knees, clothes torn, dusty, and bloody from the blows. Feeling hatred and contempt in the air. The murderous glares, the mouth-twisting insults. How ugly they look. How terrifying as well.

I can feel the dusty ground under my hands, my knees and my legs. The smell of my sweat, mixed with my fear. The morning sun blinds me. Smudgy tears run down my cheeks. I can see the sandaled feet of my accusers; I can overhear their snarls, their growls. How I would like to disappear! Oh, that it would be over, that I might die fast.

They wait for your answer, Holy man. Silence surrounds you, as if coming out of you and taking me in. You look at me the sinner; no judgment in your eyes, no blame in your eyes. Just this immense peace, this profound kindness. Who are you? Then, I hear you say,

“Let the one among you who is without sin
be the first to throw a stone at her.”

I wait for the first stone on my back or on my head. The fury, the insults have died down. My head down, from the corner of my eye, I notice people walking away, leaving me alone with you.

“Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”, you ask.

“No one, sir”, I reply.

Oh, your eyes, sir, just at the level of mine. And then you add, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”

Sin, teacher?, I think. It will take me the rest of my lifetime to find out all that sin is. But I promise, on my child’s head, that I will not sin again. Your eyes give me the strength I need. Why is it that you believe in me when no one else does? What do you see in me that makes me feel loved and precious, honorable even? How do you do it, rabbi?

How did you do it, Jesus? So few people can make others feel the way you could make people feel. Where are you to help us today? Your love gave women you knew the strength to stand up and walk tall. We need you to come back and be our advocate with today’s scribes and pharisees everywhere in the world.

Until then, O Risen One, until you sweep everyone of us upward, I will remember your love and your smile, your peace and your inclusiveness, and I the sinner will walk tall and sin no more.

 

 

 

Art: Woman Caught in Adultery, John Martin Borg, 2002

Found here.

 

claire46:

A beautiful reflection by Sr. Jeannine Gramick.
… How often do we feel like Martha? “God, if you had given me a good home background when I was growing up, I wouldn’t be in this stinking mess I’m in now.” “If I had better teachers, I would have gotten better grades.” “If you hadn’t made me gay, my life would be so much easier.” …
Praise Godde…

Originally posted on Bondings 2.0:

Periodically in Lent,  Bondings 2.0  will feature reflections by two New Ways Ministry staff members:  Matthew Myers, Associate Director, and Sister Jeannine Gramick, Co-Founder.  The liturgical readings for the Fifth Sunday of Lent are:  Ezekiel 37:12-14; Psalm 130; 1-8; Romans 8:8-11,; John 11:1-45.

Icon of Lazarus’ Rising from the Dead

A theme throughout the Scripture readings for the Fifth Sunday of Lent is that God can bring life out of what seems lifeless. The first reading from Ezekiel clearly teaches this lesson when it says, “I will open your graves and have you rise from them.” Paul too, in his Epistle to the Romans, says that, if the Spirit dwells in us, the Spirit will give life to our mortal bodies. The Gospel is the familiar story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead. All three readings tell us that God indeed can bring life out of what seems lifeless.

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Then Jesus said,
“I came into this world for judgment,
so that those who do not see might see,
and those who do see might become blind.”

Jn 9:1-41

 

The Goal of our life is to live with God forever.
God, who loves us, gave us life.
Our own response of love allows God’s life
to flow into us without limit.
David Fleming, SJ, Principle & Foundation

 

… This unfolding towards my fullness in God, takes place in, 

and through, the very realities that touch my life…

I can open myself to let this unfolding take place, and I can also block it.
… Every time I block life in me to unfold, 

I am blocking my movement towards God. 

(e.g. every time I give in to my fear I am blocking my movement to God).

Fr. Cecil Azzopardi, SJ, Retreat Notes, 2013

 

In this Sunday’s gospel John tells us the story of the blind man who saw and of all those around him who did not want to see. It brought back to my mind a recent moment of understanding.

In his Principle and Foundation, St Ignatius tells us that we come from Godde, belong to Godde, and are destined to Godde. All the while, there is a catch, however. I can choose to say yes or to say no to Godde in my life. If I say yes, David Fleming explains, I allow Godde’s life to flow into me without limit.

Why would I want to stop that flow into me? Well, through desires that do not fit with Godde’s desires for me. Any treasure which does not happen to be Godde may come in the way, whether my wish for power, money, or status. Or these unfreedoms which are scattered through my life: resentments, grudges, fears…

After having prayed David Fleming’s Principle & Foundation, I have come to want this unlimited flow of Godde into my life. I also realized that loving Godde is good (I assume), but allowing Godde to love me is much better. How do I let Godde love me? How do I open myself to Her love?

It is when I reread Cecil’s notes last week that an insight dawned on me: any time I act out of fear, i.e. any time I close myself to situations so that I will not be hurt again, or when I just do not quite forgive what happened in the past, I close myself to Godde’s life flow into me. And I have done this for most of my life.

Interestingly, fear which I saw as a way of protecting me has in fact prevented me to be open to life’s flow. What a pity.

I must have been four or five when I learned the Our Father, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us… Forgiveness has been an on-going struggle because I felt asked to be ‘nice’ to folks that had not been so with me. The minute, however, and this quite recently, that I understood that by not forgiving I was preventing Godde’s life to flow through me in an unlimited manner, any hesitation to forgive or desire to protect myself from pain was swept away.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

I saw. Godde’s grace helped me see what is obvious to me now. I laughed it suddenly looked so easy. If I want to experience Godde’s life and love, and I do, I have to let go of all that I have placed in my own life that prevents Godde from flowing through me.

I am not saying that I have found how to allow Godde to love me. I still instinctively want to love Godde, because I feel love for Godde. But I may well want to love Godde because then I feel in control of the times we meet. Or so I think. I do not invite Godde in my room at 5 pm for tea. I go in my room and make myself available for Godde, just in case…

This is a small step on my journey to Godde; but this small step brought quite a bit of joy and lightness in my life when I took it.

 

Art: Blind Spot, found here.

 

 

 

 

John Thavis’ book The Vatican Diaries was released ten days after Pope Benedict’s resignation in 2013. (Interestingly, the author suspected from the beginning of Pope Benedict’s papacy that he would resign.) It went straight to the NYT best-sellers’ list. John Thavis’ name became a Catholic household name (at least in my cyber-neighorhood) and I discovered his blog, which I enjoy and follow.

A year later, the paperback version has just come out and I have read it. The Vatican Diaries has to be a treat to those fascinated by the Vatican and the strange folks who inhabit a world somewhat out of time and space. For a Feminist like me, it leaves a bittersweet taste since women there shine by their absence (even though I saw a great number of religious sisters from all over the world everywhere in Vatican City when I was there). A few women are mentioned in the book: a Vatican employee, some journalists, and a religious sister lobbying for the canonization of Pius XII.

Putting my Feminist sentiments aside, I have enjoyed The Vatican Diaries greatly. My interest was awakened when I read in the Introduction

Over the years I’ve also met a number of Vatican employees whom I would place in the “faithful servant” category. Like most major bureaucracies, Vatican has its share of quiet heroes, people working silently against the odds to make the church more responsive and more transparent. (7)

I feel drawn to quiet heroes. We rarely hear about them in the media.

I did not expect to laugh along with the author. Still, I did on several occasions. For example:

In Azerbaijan, the government put us in a newly purchased, oversized motor coach that promptly had its roof ripped off at the first underpass outside the airport; the driver kept going at a full throttle, thinking it was a terrorist attack. (41)

In fact, the whole Chapter Two, “Up In The Air”, is hilarious. Entirely focused on the Volo Papale, i.e. those journalists lucky enough to accompany the Pope on his various trips abroad, it shows the many frustrations journalists have to deal with and how they manage to obtain the news they are there to follow and write about. I also found the story about John Allen, with NCR until recently, quite entertaining.

John Thavis weaves great tales about the Vatican and the Roman Curia. Having spent thirty years of his professional life in Rome (he went there as a student of archeology and stayed on), he knows the Vatican inside out, his people, the nice ones and the not-so-nice ones.

His first Chapter, “The Bells”, reveals the etiquette around the announcement of a new Pope and the unexpected hurdles laying in the way. It takes us on a walk around the Vatican, has us follow employees (with great Italian names and titles) to their work. We cross doors, we come upon Swiss guards…

In Chapter Four, “Bones”, the story of the underground parking must be a good example of the frustrations urban planners in Rome have to live with for any development in the ancient city and of what bureaucrats will do to get their way.

Chapter Six, “Latinist”, introduces us to an eccentric and iconoclastic American Carmelite who translates official documents into Latin in a barren office next door to the Pope’s apartments. His passion for Latin is contagious; his knowledge of the Latin and Roman worlds inexhaustible; his outbursts on the state of the Vatican both entertaining and refreshing.

Chapter Seven, “The Pope That Would Be Saint”, is about Pius XII and a certain Roman elite, all in their 70s (ten to twenty years ago) who want his canonization. By the end of the chapter, I nearly came to believe that indeed he deserves to be canonized.

Chapter Eight, “Hemlines And Banana Peels”, is about “style and class” the Vatican way. How to sit when visiting the Holy Father (don’t cross your legs); what to wear (no synthetics, please); how to address a Cardinal… But all this is written with the reader in mind. Once again, we are taken behind the scenes, we become Vaticanista flies on the wall. It feels so normal somehow for us to be there, unnoticed while noticing everything.

Chapter Ten, “The Real Benedict”, comes as a final description of someone we have followed throughout the book, Pope Benedict, as well as his predecessor Pope John Paul II. The juxtaposition of the two Popes and of their differing personalities is fascinating — to a point. To a point, because neither man knew nor liked “women” (except the Blessed Virgin, their own mother, — and Mother Theresa of Calcutta, and even then, who can be sure). But women are not talked about in this book anyway. What struck me in this last chapter is the acknowledgment that Joseph Ratzinger and Pope Benedict saw their respective jobs in a different light. Same man, different focus. From what I read, I wonder whether Pope Benedict ever liked being Pope, as he seemed to be a brilliant introvert who preferred his books and classical music.

You may notice that I have skipped three chapters. I found their topic difficult to handle:

◇ Chapter Three, “Nuestro Padre”, focuses on Father Marcial Maciel Degollado, the Legionaries of Christ, and the people supporting them within the Vatican. It is where I found out that

The Legion’s media tentacles spread in other ways, too. A Legionary priest was named in 2005 to head the Internet Office of the Holy See, a prime piece of Vatican turf. And the free online news agency Zenit, with half a million subscribers around the world, was secretly overseen by the Legion and its lay affiliates at Regnum Christi. (82)

Yikes. This chapter is the only one I did not finish. It got too much for me. The abuse of young seminarians, the chosen blindness of the hierarchy for years…

◇ Chapter Five, “Cat and Mouse”, is about the relationship, or lack thereof, between the Holy See and the Lefebvrists, with people within the Vatican wanting a reconciliation between the two. I am no fan of the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX). Like many European Catholics, I followed Pope Benedict’s minuet with SSPX with a touch of dread: these folks are still decidedly anti Vatican II. This chapter, while not one of my favorites, did reassure me, however. Pope Benedict was no dupe.

In this particular chapter, I found two interesting bits of trivia about the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, “a strange and beautiful place… the best preserved of Rome’s ancient basilicas, built in the fourth century…“

First, “The basilica honors the Virgin Mary and was constructed upon the site of a former pagan temple dedicated to the fertility goddess Cybele, whose male followers would ritually castrate themselves, dress in women’s garments and take on female identities” (164).

Second, Cardinal Law, “who had resigned in disgrace from the Archdiocese of Boston… was named the archpriest of Santa Maria Maggiore, a comfortable and prestigious position in Rome“ (166).

◇ Finally, Chapter Nine, “Sex”. When it says Sex, it means homosexuality within the Vatican, the Roman Curia, and the priesthood at large. This reminded me of a conversation I had with a lovely man, an ex-priest, who had left his Order having discovered that he was gay and in love with a young man. There are lots of homosexuals in Rome, he told me. But, because they cannot acknowledge their sexual orientation and live it out in the open, they become perverts.

This chapter is not entirely about perversion. It addresses of course the sexual abuse of children and teenagers by priests. It talks of the decision of preventing homosexuals from joining seminaries. It reveals sexual perversion in plush Vatican offices. It also shows how the hierarchy tried to deal with the problem (maybe as in “the enemy is us”).

I felt toward the topic as I did when handling my children’s dirty diapers — keeping it as far from my nose as I possibly could. John Thavis writes about it in a clinical and distant manner, avoiding self-righteous indignation and judgment. Just stories written matter-of-factly. But how twisted can one get when not taking into account one’s sexuality.

A fascinating section closes the paperback edition: “The Afterword”. There, I had my teary moment when it recalled how the newly elected Pope Francis had asked the people on St Peter’s square and everywhere in the world watching the event to pray for him.

I have very much enjoyed The Vatican Diaries. It reads fabulously well, with never a boring moment. We meet people seen in NCR and about whom we either rave or rant in our Catholic blogs. These folks are right there in front of you, in their natural beauty or well-tuned Machiavellianism…

Oh, the surprise and delight of coming upon Monsignor Georg Gänswein (Pope Benedict’s handsome secretary) in Chapter Two or Monsignor (now Cardinal) Pietro Parolin at the beginning of Chapter Seven…

Look at me dropping names… Shame on me!

 

Some time ago, I prepared a talk on Godde’s call in my life. As an entry point, I chose a passage from Matthew’s Gospel:

“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that she has and buys that field.” (13:44)

In the silence of my room, I read the passage several times. I look prayerfully at my life…  What is the treasure buried in the field? Where is it?

I remember growing up in a dysfunctional family, where there was love coming at us in a variety of toxic ways — I grew up feeling like an ugly duckling, with a great fear of being abandoned (our mother left all of us for several months when I was 9). I didn’t know then those lines in Isaiah:

Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you. (Is 49:14-15)

I spent my first forty-plus years unaware of Godde’s love for me. I lived my will, giving little thought to His. I tried to manage my need for security, love, and control… Which is exhausting really. Trying to control everything around me, to protect myself from being hurt… I developed egotistical ways — a need to bring back everything to myself — all those bits of unfreedom which I am still fighting to this day.

Unbeknownst to me, Godde has been walking with me all along, through my bright and dark times, when my mother left us and came back, when I met the man who was to become my husband. I only understood this years later, when I started connecting the dots. Still, as if undeserved gifts, I experienced moments of divine tenderness, like right after I learned that I had had a miscarriage….

Yes, Godde loves me, each one of us, unconditionally, totally, as I am, where I am…  It has taken me a long time to believe that Godde finds me lovable. Every so often I need to remind myself that my name is written on the palm of Her hand (Is 49:16). Or that, when the psalmist sings, I am wonderfully made (Ps 139:14), it applies to me too.

… But Godde found me — more than I found her. A walk in a Madras slum, a ride with a young Brahmin woman in a Jeep who had my heart burning as she talked of Jesus, a Cursillo, some Ignatian retreats, walking to Santiago, and I experienced Godde’s love, — a miracle really, since I find it so difficult to love myself.

The awesomeness of Godde’s love has brought me to a place where I want to love and serve God. I want to spend more time with Her, to follow Her ways.

How can I love Godde then?

First, by loving those whom Godde has placed around me, my family and friends, and learning to love those whom I find difficult to love…

By enjoying Her creation — taking a walk on the beach or in the woods…

By clearing my heart and my life, as much as possible, of all that the world tells me I need to be happy. Yes, a new purse may bring me some pleasure after I have first bought it, but it does not last.

I show Godde my love by having ‘dates’ with Her, in prayer at my computer, or staying with Her in silence, waiting for Her to unfold in me, to affect me, to touch me, to melt me…

Not long ago, Pope Francis said , “The world tells us to seek success, power and money. God tells us to seek humility, service, and love”.

Oh, what a challenge it is to be in the world, but not of the world. Again and again, Jesus invites me, Come and I will give you rest (Mt 11:28), or again, Do not worry about tomorrow, tomorrow will take care of itself (Mt 6:34). But the world has a grip on me which does not quite let me go.

Tiny bit by tiny bit, I learn to empty myself of much that I have accumulated over the years, material belongings of course, but also remorse, scruples, false beliefs (no, I cannot please everyone all the time) and grudges.

Grudges… Breast cancer, an important time in my life, has shown me the need for forgiveness and gratefulness. Still today the former does not come easily to me.

Godde’s love helps me look at my life and shows me all the reasons I have to be grateful. So many really. My greatest reason, though, is Godde’s love for me: THIS is the treasure in the field. Her love comes first, and everything else flows from it. I could be the richest person in the world, without Godde’s love, I would feel very poor indeed.

My prayer time comes to an end. I give Godde a couple more minutes before I close. Suddenly, I get the feeling that all Godde truly wants Is that I let Her happen to me,  let Godde be done unto me. I savor the closeness of the encounter …

Just give me your love and your grace, Lord, this is enough for me.

I close with

— a prayer to Virgin Mary, asking her that I may love her Son as He deserves to be loved.

— a prayer to Jesus, that he drop some crumbs of His love for the world at my table so that I may love the world as He does.

— and I beg Godde to help me love Her as She would like to be loved.

Finally, before going for a walk in the garden, I jot down a few words in my journal summing up my prayer time.

 

Art: Daniel Bonnell, Pearl of Great Price, Images on Christ Project, Private Collection

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