ConAltriOcchi blog – 以不同的眼光看世界-博客

"C'è un solo modo di vedere le cose finché qualcuno non ci mostra come guardare con altri occhi" – "There is only one way to see things, until someone shows us how to look at them with different eyes" (Picasso) – "人观察事物的方式只有一种,除非有人让我们学会怎样以不同的眼光看世界" (毕加索)


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Poor Lazarus reaches out to us. Reflection on Pope Francis’s Message for Lent 2017

Yesterday, the  Holy Father’s message for Lent was  published.   Lent is a favourable season for prayer,which will lead us to the Easter Triduum, the heart of the liturgical year.On Ash Wednesday,  the start of Lent, the Church performs a simple gesture which reminds us of the frailty of human nature, of being creatures. However, the fact of being created,  in the Christian  vision,does not mean to be reduced to a negative note, or lesser than the human being,  his nature and his potentialities. To be creatures assumes the existence of a  God, a Creator, who has loved us  “from our Mother’s womb” and takes care of us. God, Creator, yes, but even before that a Father. In fact, the Creed, , the symbol of the Christian faith, recites: “I believe in one God,Father Almighty, the Makerr of Heaven and Earth”.  The word almighty describes the  “role” of God as Father. God is a father who can do everything for his children by virtue of his love which binds him to them.  In this human creature, desired, loved and looked after by God , lives the Spirit, “who is the Lord and gives life”. The Spirit – the love which binds the Father to the Son – will be with us like a comforter, remaining with us all our days  “until the end of the world”. An eternal gift. In this year’s message, Pope Francis invites us to look after these gifts, two in particular.

 The Word is a gift. Other people are a gift. Is the title of Francis’ text which reflects on the biblical parable of the rich man and poor Lazarus.  (see  Luke 16,19- 31).

“Lazarus teaches us that other persons are a gift. A right relationship with people consists in gratefully recognizing their value. Even the poor person at the door of the rich is not a nuisance, but a summons to conversion and to change. The parable first invites us to open the doors of our heart to others because each person is a gift, whether it be our neighbour or an anonymous pauper”( Message for Lent 2017)

 To live the Eucharist is to participate in the gift of mercy which becomes Bread and Wine, i.e. the food of lifein regard to a fullness of life for all men of good will. Lent can be an appropriate time to ask the Lord to give us the will to renew our relationships, to pronounce not the words which win, but those which touch people’s hearts and which take care of all those like poor Lazarus crouching in front of our doors.

The rich man’s real problem thus comes to the fore. At the root of all his ills was the failure to heed God’s word. As a result, he no longer loved God and grew to despise his neighbour. The word of God is alive and powerful, capable of converting hearts and leading them back to God. When we close our heart to the gift of God’s word, we end up closing our heart to the gift of our brothers and sisters.” ( Message for Lent 2017)

To understand properly what the Word of God says about the relationship between the Rich Men and the weak and the poor like Lazarus, it is essential to avoid living like the  «the complacent of Sion»  about whom the Prophet Amos talks and  create a system of justifications so that there could be tenthousand poor men like Lazarus in front of our doors and “the Richman” will not even know that they’re there. Our modern day glutton builds a house with gates, gives alms to the poor, makes a provision for the Third World, in order not to have the bother of Lazarus at his door.  

This papal message on Lent will be read in all the Catholic churches in the world  but tomorrow Lazarus will be like his today.  Nothing changes. And this because the Word and Pope Francis’ evangelical words risk becoming trapped in a system which wants to make them innocuous, without any efficacy on the level of reality. This is the abyss which some people wish to create.  Indeed, we can all see that the abyss between the poor men like Lazarus and the gluttons is becoming wider and wider. The gluttons decided centuries ago that they cannot allow promiscuity among those who are inside and those who are without.. Lazarus must stay outside the system, our cities.  The Bible uses the term Encampment.  Not only is Lazarus an outcast, he must also be convinced that this is normal, that it is just. Exclusion touches him within, in his conscience.

However, our society wishes to aspire to the great principles of Christianity and Enlightenment but finds itself making an impossible squaring of the circle. It pretends to include in its midst Lazarus, the outcast but doesn’t succeed because  it would be in contrast with its fundamental principles. The system excludes those who threaten its integrity.  Migrants are the Lazarus of the twenty-first century.

God however prefers Lazarus. In fact, God is Lazarus in this world. Jesus went out among the unclean to teach them to stop calling themselves unclean, to look at the encampment and discover that the encampment is unclean.. This is the revolution, the upheaval. The Beatitudes are made up of those like Lazarus. Jesus came to awaken  the consciences of the outcasts so that they stop considering themselves legitimately outcast, so that they know the future is in their hands. “The parable is unsparing in its description of the contradictions associated with the rich man (cf. v. 19). Unlike poor Lazarus, he does not have a name; he is simply called “a rich man”. His opulence was seen in his extravagant and expensive robes. Purple cloth was even more precious than silver and gold, and was thus reserved to divinities (cf. Jer 10:9) and kings (cf. Jg 8:26), while fine linen gave one an almost sacred character. The man was clearly ostentatious about his wealth, and in the habit of displaying it daily: “He feasted sumptuously every day” (v. 19). In him we can catch a dramatic glimpse of the corruption of sin, which progresses in three successive stages: love of money, vanity and pride (cf. Homily, 20 September 2013).”( Message for Lent 2017)

Many have tried to enroll Jesus as the guardian of the Encampment and have done everything they can to insert him in their own contexts, to make him an accommodating prophet, but Jesus did not accept. He never went into the Praetorium or the  Sanhedrin as a welcome guest, he represented a threat for these two structures, that of the political-religious power and the economic power. For this he was crucified like an unclean person.  «You hung him on the Cross like a criminal» said Peter, in his first sermon after Pentecost.   The future of the world is with those like Lazarus; they will inherit the earth as the Beatitudes say;  the poor will come towards us, not to destroy us  but to tell us the words of salvation.

Then let us live this period of Lent with hope, in reflection, meditation and prayer, remembering that we are frail creatures but above all loved and protected by God the Father. This will help us to live this journey not as a penitence for its own sake, both timorous and sterile, but as a reconciliation with God the Father and a conversion towards the poor like Lazarus whom we meet on our path. Return to the Lord with all your hearts, the Prophet Joel will say to us.  This means undertaking the path not to a  superficial or transitory conversion but rather a spiritual itinerary  involving the most intimate place in our person. The heart, in fact. It is the home of our feelings, the centre in which we develop our choices, our attitudes.  That  ‘come back to me with all your hearts’ does not only involve individuals but extends to the whole community.  It is a summons to everyone:“Get the people together, make the mass of the people holy, send for the old men, get together the children and babies at the breast : let the newly married man come out of his room and the bride from her tent.”(Joel 2,16)

 

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One died for all: the Ecumenical Path and the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

This year marks 500 years since the Lutheran Reformation. At the end of October, Pope Francis went to Lund in Sweden to commemorate this important anniversary together with the World Lutheran Federation. In an interview with the Swedish Jesuit, Ulf Johnsson, published in the journal “CiviltàCattolica”, Pope Francis highlights the positive aspects of the Reformation, underlining in particular two words. “Scripture”,because Luther was the first to translate the Bible into the vernacular language and, said the Pope “ took a great step by putting the Word of God into the hands of the people”.  The other word is “reform”:“At the beginning, Luther’s was a gesture of reform at a difficult time for the Church”, added the Pope.  The Bishop of Rome underlined that Ecumenism must be a continuous “moving ahead, walking together! We must not stay closed in a rigid perspective because there is no possibility for reform in this”.

The Lutheran-Catholic Commission on Unity has done excellent work during these years in order to reach this commemoration together. Its report, “ From Conflict to Communion”  states that “both the traditions approach this anniversary in an ecumenical age, with the achievements of fifty years of active dialogue behind them and a renewed understanding of their history and theology”.Separating the controversial aspects, from the theological progress of the Reform, the Catholics gather the stimuli of Luther for the Church of today, recognizing him as a “witness of the Gospel” (From Conflict to Communion n. 29). For this reason, after many centuries of – even bloody – conflict, today, in 2017 for the first time in their history,  Lutheran and Catholic Christians will commemorate the inception of the Reform together.

Even with our Orthodox brothers, the path towards unity is living an historical Spring. In this new climate and with such concrete steps we are living the theme of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity chosen for this year: “The love of Christ compels us towards reconciliation” (see 2 Corinthians 5, 14-20). This verse summarizes the text of the Second Letter to the Corinthians, the reference chosen for Common Prayer. The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the  Commission on Faith and Order of the World Council of Churches have reflected and prayed together on these verses in order to get ready for these days – in particular – and the entire year of common prayer. The traditional days for living the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity are customarily from the 18th to the 25th January, the week  chosen and desired, since 1980, by Reverend Paul Watson because it included the Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter the Apostle and that of the Conversion of Saint Paul. No-one missed the symbolic force of this reference to the Apostles.  Peter was the first to profess his faith and Paul spread faith to the boundaries of the world.

We entrust this important week and the entire Ecumenical Path to Peter;  hewas a weak man who betrayed the Lord at the most important time, but it was because of the sincerity, the depth, the complete selflessness of his love thatthe Risen Christentrusted him to confirm his brothers and sisters in the faith.

Let us entrust ourselves also to Paul; in the past he had been a violent persecutor of Christians but he experienced the power of Christ’s tendernessand felt himself to be loved by Him right from his mother’s breast.

To love and to feel loved is the fundamental ecumenical choice which overcomes any weakness and relativizes all historical wounds, in a path towards complete unity which surely has more future than past.

Eight days

The text of 2 Corinthians 5, 14-20, scans the Eight Days of Prayer, where some of the theological themes of the individual verses are developed, as follows:

First

Day:

  Onedied for all
Second

Day:

  No longer live for oneself
Third

Day:

  No longer evaluate anyone with the criteria of this world
Fourth

Day:

  Old things  have passed
Fifth

Day:

  Everything is new
Sixth

Day:

  God has reconciled the world with him
Seventh

Day:

  Annunciation of the reconciliation
Eighth

Day:

  Reconcile yourself with God

 

 


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A blessed crisis

We are pleased to publish the afterword of the recent book by the Vatican journalist of Rai 1 Italian television channel Aldo Maria Valli, titled “C’era una volta la confessione” (Once was Confession), published by Ancora. It is a reflection on the Sacrament of Confession at the time of Pope Francis and has also been published in the March 10 edition of L’Osservatore Romano, at page 7 .  This is our translation from the  original in Italian Language. We remain at disposal for promptly removing this post if it is not appreciated by the right owners.

Fr. Francesco Pesce

I belong to a generation that was educated to fear God, rather than to love him; during seminary, a new sense of duty was required, in the face of which it proved hard to remain free and joyful. I can still see this fear and twisted sense of duty today in many people who approach the Sacrament of Confession. Fear of God, fear of themselves, fear of others and their judgement. Confession as an obligation, not as a desired meeting with our Father, who is always willing to forgive us. I must confess that I was surprised to hear Pope Francis, in preparation for the Jubilee, speak of the «missionaries of mercy». I asked myself: but aren’t priests by definition missionaries of mercy? Isn’t forgiveness a very hallmark, so to speak, of the priest? Then I remembered that I had seen with my own eyes, in some confessionals, the Book of Canon Law, ready for use, like in a law court, and I also remembered the accounts of several penitents, injured by some priests who had been very harsh. And this helped me understand Francis’ idea. My experience as a confessor, in fact, has taught me that the advent of Pope Francis has blown away the old sense of fear and duty, and replaced it with the desire to meet a merciful Father. Not only have confessions increased exponentially, but the quality has improved too. Nowadays, many people enter the confessional holding a copy of the Gospels, having adopted his suggestion to read at least one passage every day. And so they confess themselves based on what they read. This fills me with a great joy. It is a true miracle worked by this man, Francis, sent to us by God. I can see that, thanks to God, people do not feel more sinful (I think that there are already too many people oppressed and humiliated by their sins), they now feel that their Father is more merciful. I wish to add that I see rather clearly, if I may say so, that when a person feels welcomed, respected, encouraged, then he or she can better understand his or her sins and ask for forgiveness. Indeed, he or she can understand that his or her sin, in a certain sense, has already been forgiven, that he or she is inside the confessional to accept the forgiveness that has already been granted, because God is love, in the brief, yet sublime, words of John the Evangelist. This is also why I believe that to speak of a crisis of the sacrament of confession is a contradiction in terms; it is the way in which the priestly ministry is practised, if anything, that is undergoing a crisis. Because this priesthood is confined to the sacristies, rather than lived out in the streets, it is a priesthood that prefers the smell of incense, and money, rather than that of the flock of sheep. Therefore, I see it as a “blessing crisis”. My experience has taught me that men and women come to confession in equal numbers. But two things do strike me, although I find them hardly surprising. The first is that the confessions of those who appear closest to the Church, who ways attend, are more predictable, matter-of-fact, and soulless; sometimes they even expect a good punishment rather than forgiveness. They are also those who don’t very much like Pope Francis, precisely because, they say, he’s «a communist, a pauperist, too predictable», plus other nonsense disseminated by the 21st century crusaders and by some very godless and hardly devout atheists.

I would like to give you an example: I have been a priest for sixteen years and I still have to struggle enormously to explain to catechists (who are otherwise saintly persons) that teaching children «Dear God, I repent and regret my sins, because by sinning I have deserved your punishment» is not the best thing. This should at least be better explained and replaced with other biblical acts of contrition. I also wish to mention those who find it absolutely necessary to confess themselves on a given day, otherwise they feel they have broken their devotional service and have to start all over again? Is this not an obsession rather than devotion?

The other thing that strikes me are the confessions of the members of certain ecclesial movements, and of one in particular, which is also quite widespread. These confessions all seem to be the same, as if part of a stock repertoire, totally lacking the sense of thanksgiving for the good there is out there. To these I always say: «Excuse me, but something nice and good must have happened to you since you last confessed, or is everything just sin?».

I would like to conclude by saying that I find it disheartening to see confession hours put up in churches. As much as I understand the need for planning and organisation, but the church is not a post office. My experience has taught me (I work as a parish priest in the centre of Rome) that priests should be available primarily at lunchtime and in the evenings, after the evening Mass, to meet the needs of working people. Of course, this can only be done if we keep our church doors wide open, like God’s heart, who we call upon as «Our Father, who is in heaven», not «Our Judge and Master, who lives in the confessionals».