Sunday, March 30, 2008

Grace, and other adventures

The girl in all these pictures is my oldest daughter, Sophie, soon to be fifteen. She dances at a school in suburban Pittsburgh, and this weekend the school performed the ballet, "Beauty and the Beast." Sophie was in the corps and danced several technically difficult parts.

Ballet seems to be filled with contradictions: the delicacy of each gesture and the raw athleticism required to pull it off; the absolute precision and the tremendous abandon that infuses each movement with life; the unity of the dancers who seem to breathe as one and the sense of fierce backstage competition that threatens to destroy any chance at harmony.

I still remember how astonished I was, the day Sophie was born, to recognize that my body had done something so elemental and miraculous. Now, looking at my children, I am awestruck when I think of their bodies, and how they began in my body.
When I first started taking my children to ballet lessons, I had no idea that all four of them would fall in love with some form of dance. The idea was to give them a little exercise and exposure to the arts. We tried many other things, as well, but nothing else has piqued their enthusiasm the way that dance does.
Sometimes it seems so frustrating to have to go about in a body, trapped in time. The older I get, the less sense I can make of the Incarnation. Why, when Christ could have remained forever in unspoiled eternity, would he consent to the confining restrictions of time and physicality? Watching my daughters dance, I can think about their developing mastery in two different ways -- it is both a glimpse, a tiny taste, of the freedom of eternity, and it is a sign of the gift that living in a body can be.

Ballet, like every other discipline, inspires a dancer to strive for improvement. For this reason, it is a parable of the religious life, in which we are all pilgrims. It also contains spiritual and emotional pitfalls, temptations, and pain. Sooner or later, every ballerina has to ask herself the question, "Why do I dance?" Finding an adequate reason to continue to endure exhausting rehearsals, humiliating mistakes, injured feet, and uncooperative dance partners becomes a most pressing need. What is fascinating to me is that most of the motives for dancing are not, at least consciously, centered on totality and one's relationship to all of reality. Many young dancers, including the very talented ones, press on out of vanity, or jealousy, or inertia. Many persevere for the pleasure that dancing gives them.

Something happens to all the dance students when they work with particular teachers, though. They come alive, they seem impelled to leap higher, hold their hands with more grace. These particular instructors are present, giving their whole attention to their pupils. They work cheerfully, giving extra time to small details -- sewing costumes until late at night, opening the studio for extra practices, so that the dancers can shine, painting backdrops, giving up weekends to watch their students perform. This behavior resembles the sacrifice that Christianity calls us to, but these teachers are not necessarily Christians, and their crabby counterparts are not necessarily not Christians.

How can it be that some persons, without following Christ in any conscious way, live with more intensity and attention than others, who are up to their ears in devotions and other religious practices? When I ask them why they are so dedicated to their students, they answer with assurance: "Love." And it is clear from the evidence, that they do indeed love their students. Where does this love come from and how do they keep its flame alive?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The role of the bishop

The vestments in the above picture were worn by one of my favorite bishops and patrons, St. Charles Borromeo. Here are some links to more information about him: Catholic Information Network, New Advent, Catholic online, and Wikipedia.

Who is the bishop, and why does he matter?

From The Bishop: Servant of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the Hope of the World, 2001:

Jesus’ discourse on the vine and the branches points to the dynamic work of the Trinity in communion and mission. The Father is the vine dresser; Christ is the true vine; the interior sap of communion and fruitfulness is the Holy Spirit who gives life to the branches united to the vine which is destined to give abundant and lasting fruit. At the center of this parable is found the fundamental teaching that the disciples of Jesus are called to remain in vital communion with him and with his word and commandments and to grow, through God’s pruning, and bear fruit in abundance (cf. Jn 15:1-10).

This leads to the need of communion with Christ and, in him, with the Father and the Spirit in the mystical vine, symbolic of the Church.

“Without me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5). In keeping with the meaning of the parable of the vine, Jesus tells his disciples that communion with him is remaining faithful to the divine friendship: “You are my friend, if you do what I command you” (Jn 15:14). Through friendship with Christ, they come to a knowledge of the secrets of the Father and receive the gift of a life “even unto death” and a mutual communion in love. Continuing his mandate from the Father, Jesus, for his part, chooses his disciples and sends them out in mission: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide” (Jn 15:16). For their part, the disciples are called to be faithful to the Word and mission.

60.As Christ’s friend, disciple and apostle, the Bishop is a living branch grafted on the vine which is Christ and bears in himself the personal and ministerial call to communion and mission.

The Bishop’s identity in the Church is grounded in the dynamic action of apostolic succession understood as not only the giving of authority but the extension of Trinitarian communion and mission. Since the Bishop is chosen by the Lord, called to a constant communion with him and sent forth into the world, he is identified with the Person of Jesus in the transmission of divine life, in the communion of love and in the sacrifice of his life.

The above passage explains something that I have been trying hard to find words for lately. I think that we modern American Catholics tend to view our bishops the same way we view other civil authority figures. In our culture, it is considered virtuous to critique our leaders, to disagree with them, and even to oust them if they don't live up to certain standards. We sometimes approach our bishops and pastors with the same attitudes. Of course, there are also still some whose values hearken back to another generation (or who have a military view of authority: if we don't follow our superiors' orders, people could get hurt), when questioning the authority of any leader was culturally unacceptable. I think both attitudes miss the point, though. The bishop isn't an authority figure in the same way that a doctor is (go and get a second opinion/trust your doctor without question), or an elected official (write him outraged letters, vote for his opponent in the next election/make a donation to his campaign, drive your fellow party members to the polls), or a university professor (drop his class, give him a bad evaluation/ask him for recommendations, invite him to direct your thesis), or a police officer (avoid him at all costs/call him every time you have a dispute with your neighbor).

It seems more useful to understand the bishop as a vital part of one's own body. Parts of a single body may sometimes be in disagreement, but they cannot separate from one another and would never desire separation. And the bishop is not one single part of the body while we are another; for example, the bishop cannot be the "mind" while we are the rest of the body -- we cannot absolve ourselves from thinking and reasoning -- but his mind is joined with ours, his heart is joined with ours, his nervous system is joined with ours, so that to tear away even part way would leave us maimed and diminished. I believe that the only way to understand who the bishop is for us is to contemplate the parable of the true vine, given to us by Jesus himself. The bishop is our vital link to the whole vine. Without him, we can hardly call ourselves Christians -- certainly not Catholic Christians -- and thus, we can hardly say that we are alive.

I got the following excellent information from an article by Mary McCarthy, writing in The Catholic Herald:

This lineage of the Apostles and the passing of blessings from the Holy Spirit are still celebrated in the ordination of bishops. At the pinnacle of the sacrament, all the ordained bishops present place their hands, one by one over the head of the bishop being ordained. Through this gesture, they are passing on the mission that has been inherited from God to Jesus, to the Apostles, and to the first appointed bishops. Then, all the bishops present pray together to the Holy Spirit, "Pour out upon this chosen one that power which is from you — the governing Spirit whom you gave to your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, the Spirit given by Him to the holy apostles, who founded the church in every place" (Encyclopedia of Catholic Doctrine).

The bishop is a special conduit for this power, the Holy Spirit, who animates our lives and brings light and savor to all we do. He is like an artery for the sap that passes through the whole vine, including to our own branches. Without him, we cannot hope to bear fruit. Without him, we have no connection to our roots, and we will eventually wither.
St. Charles Borromeo, Archbishop of Milan, ministering to the Milanese people during the plague of 1576 ("At the same time he thought of the people. He prepared himself for death, made his will (9 September, 1576), and then gave himself up entirely to his people. Personal visits were paid by him to the plague-stricken houses. In the hospital of St. Gregory were the worst cases; to this he went, and his presence comforted the sufferers. Though he worked so arduously himself, it was only after many trials that the secular clergy of the town were induced to assist him, but his persuasive words at last won them so that they afterwards aided him in every way." From an article in the Catholic Encyclopedia).

More on the role of the bishop

• Vatican Council II, Constitutio dogmatica Lumen gentium, 21 Nov 1964, AAS 57 (1965) 5-71.5

26. Moreover, every legitimate celebration of the Eucharist is regulated by the bishop, to whom is confided the duty of presenting to the divine majesty the cult of the Christian religion and of ordering it in accordance with the Lord’s injunctions and the Church’s regulations, as further defined for the diocese by his particular decision.
• In reality, the ministerial and hierarchical priesthood, the priesthood of the bishops and the priests, and, at their side, the ministry of the deacons -- ministries which normally begin with the proclamation of the Gospel -- are in the closest relationship with the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the principal and central raison d'etre of the sacrament of the priesthood, which effectively came into being at the moment of the institution of the Eucharist, and together with it.[2] JPII letter to bishops (Dominicae Cenae, On the Mystery and Worship of the Eucharist, His Holiness Pope John Paul II, Promulgated on February 24, 1980, To All the Bishops of the Church.)
• The Bishop is the high priest of his flock. "In a certain sense it is from him that the faithful who are under his care derive and maintain their life in Christ" (SC 41).
• The diocesan Bishop is the first steward of the mysteries of God in the particular Church or diocese entrusted to him. He is the moderator, the promoter, and the guardian of the liturgical life of the Church in his diocese. It is he who offers the Eucharistic Sacrifice, or causes it to be offered, so that the Church continually lives and grows (see CD 15; SC 41; CIC can. 387; RS 19).
• Vatican Council II, Decretum Christus Dominus, 28 Oct 1965, AAS 58 (1966) 673-701.6

15. It is therefore bishops who are the principle dispensers of the mysteries of God, and it is their function to control, promote and protect the entire liturgical life of the Church entrusted to them.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

"It is the Lord!"

Painting by Bertrand Bahuet
Peter and the Miraculous Catch of Fish, fresco (detail)

John is the first to recognize that the Risen Christ is there, on the shore, cooking breakfast for them. Other painters dwell on the drama of Peter's immediate jump into the water, but something even more dramatic is happening in this amazing moment.

The more dramatic event, that the painter of this mural, Bertrand Bahuet seems to grasp, is that John didn't jump into the water.

It is astonishing when you think about it. Even after Peter jumped in, John stayed in the boat. What amazing restraint. And then, remembering these events, perhaps decades later, he doesn't explain why Peter jumped and why he didn't.

Painting by Bertrand Bahuet
Peter and the Miraculous Catch of Fish, fresco (detail)

Peter and John. What different paths these two men took to arrive on that boat that morning! Peter had denied Jesus three times -- not only that, but he did it after he'd been warned that he would do it! Then, when his Lord, whom he had already recognized as the Son of the living God, was killed, Peter hid. Meanwhile, John was the only one of the twelve who stayed with Jesus throughout his passion, remaining at the foot of the cross through Jesus' agony and death.

Can we imagine ourselves in John's place? Might not some of us grow a little superior, a little entitled? Might not some of us think, 'Heck, who stuck with him through it all? Don't I deserve to be the first to embrace him now? Haven't I established that I ought to be first among the disciples? I mean, Jesus even entrusted his Mother to my care!'

But not John. He remembered that Jesus said that Peter was the rock on which he would build his Church, and so John deferred to Peter. John recognized Jesus first, but he acknowledged Peter as leader and let him go ahead of him. Perhaps he also understood that Peter's need was greater than his own -- precisely because he knew that Peter had denied Jesus. He knew that Peter carried this terrible wound. Out of charity, he sent Peter to the Lord, knowing that only Christ could heal him.
This episode echoes an earlier one -- when Peter and John ran to Jesus' tomb after they learned that it was empty. John, being younger, arrived first, but he did not enter first.

How he must have loved Peter! I have thought so many times about this restraint he showed and his reverence before Jesus' choice of Peter. Would I have been capable of waiting and allowing anyone to enter first? Would I have been able to keep dry when my beloved Jesus was only a few strokes away? John would have had the best of excuses if he had gone first: impetuous youth, the confusion and emotion of the moment, his sense of special brotherhood with Christ after Jesus had entrusted his Mother to his care. But instead, John waited.

Monday, March 24, 2008

To teach as Jesus did

Fra Angelico

From "To Teach as Jesus Did," A pastoral message on Christian education, 1972 (U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops):

6. Proclaiming the Gospel is a perennial task and joy for the Church of Jesus Christ. Rarely if ever has it been more pressing a need, more urgent a duty, and more ennobling a vocation than in these times when mankind stands poised between unprecedented fulfillment and equally unprecedented calamity.

13. Education is one of the most important ways by which the Church fulfills its commitment to the dignity of the person and the building of community. Community is central to educational ministry both as a necessary condition and an ardently desired goal. The educational efforts of the Church must therefore be directed to forming persons-in-community; for the education of the individual Christian is important not only to his solitary destiny but also to the destinies of the many communities in which he lives.

14. The educational mission of the Church is an integrated ministry embracing three interlocking dimensions: the message revealed by God (didache) which the Church proclaims; fellowship in the life of the Holy Spirit (koinonia); service to the Christian community and the entire human community (diakonia). While these three essential elements can be separated for the sake of analysis, they are joined in the one educational ministry. Each educational program or institution under Church sponsorship is obliged to contribute in it own way to the realization of the threefold purpose within the total educational ministry...


16. Revelation is the act by which God unfolds to mankind the mystery of Himself and His plan for salvation. In Jesus, the Son of God, the message of the Old Law was fulfilled and the fullness of God's message was communicated. At the time of the Apostles the message of salvation was completed, and we therefore "await no further new public revelation before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Dei Verbum, 4). It is this message, this doctrine, which the Church is called to proclaim authentically and fully.


22. As God's plan unfolds in the life of an individual Christian, he grows in awareness that, as a child of God, he does not live in isolation from others. From the moment of Baptism he becomes a member of a new and larger family, the Christian community. Reborn in Baptism, he is joined to others in common faith, hope, and love. This community is based not on force or accident of geographic location or even on deeper ties of ethnic origin, but on the life of the Spirit which unites its members in a unique fellowship so intimate that Paul likens it to a body of which each individual is a part and Jesus Himself is the Head...


28. The experience of Christian community leads naturally to service. Christ gives His people different gifts not only for themselves but for others. Each must serve the other for the good of all. The Church is a servant community in which those who hunger are to be filled; the ignorant are to be taught; the homeless to receive shelter; the sick cared for; the distressed consoled; the oppressed set free -- all so that men may more fully realize their human potential and more readilty enjoy life with God now and eternally.

29. But the Christian community should not be concerned only for itself. Christ did not intend it to live walled off from the world any more than He intended each person to work out his destiny in isolation from others. Fidelity to the will of Christ joins His community with the total human community...

31. Beyond question the vision of the threefold educational ministry presented here is an ambitious one. Were it of human origin, one might well despair of its attainment. But since it represents God's plan, it must be energetically pursued...

Looking at this document, two things strike me -- the emphasis (which I have highlighted) on the Plan of God ("In all wisdom and insight, he has made known to us the mystery 5 of his will in accord with his favor that he set forth in him as a plan for the fullness of times, to sum up all things in Christ, in heaven and on earth" -- Ephesians 1:8c-10) and the central importance placed on community (which the document defines as: "fellowship in the life of the Holy Spirit"). To teach as Jesus did, then, is not a question of imparting information but of orienting hearts and minds and souls to the communital dimension of life and the plan of God for cosmic communion in Christ ("to sum up all things in Christ...").

These should be the measures we use to decide whether a catechetical method is "working" or is even worthy of being called "Catholic": How does it build, sustain, and encourage koinonia? How does it educate us to the Plan of God?


Van Gogh

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Way of the Cross Steubenville 2008 (photos)

Our bishop, Daniel Conlon

Our bishop, Daniel Conlon

These photos were all taken by Angela Bonilla. The Way of the Cross took place on the campus of Franciscan University this year.

Catechesis for Holy Saturday

The final Triduum presentation I do each year is a catechetical lesson on the Liturgy of Light, offered on Holy Saturday morning to all the children of the parish. First we read the greeting that the priest offers to all those assembled at the Easter Vigil:

Dear Friends in Christ, on this most holy night, when our Lord Jesus Christ passed from death to life, the Church invites her children throughout the world to come together in vigil and prayer.
This is the Passover of the Lord: if we honor the memory of his death and resurrection by hearing his word and celebrating his mysteries, then we may be confident that we shall share his victory over death and live with him for ever in God.
Then we read the prayer for blessing the Paschal candle, using our simple model of the candle to meditate more deeply on the words. I invite the children to come forward to trace their thumbs on the candle and repeat the words of the prayer:
Christ yesterday and today,
The beginning and the end...

And Omega.
All time belongs to him,
And all the ages,
To him be glory and power
through every age for ever. Amen.

Then I light our model Paschal candle and tell the children about the prayer that the priest will say as he lights the candle during the Easter Vigil:

May the light of Christ, rising in glory, dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds.

Then we all sing: "Christ is Light, in him there is no darkness, come to him, and he will give you Light."

Then we form a line and process through the church, stopping three times to sing, just as they will at the Easter Vigil:
Christ our Light. Thanks be to God.

When we arrive in the place where we will celebrate together, I read them one of the Gospel accounts of the Resurrection (my favorite is when Mary Magdalene meets the Risen Christ but mistakes him for the gardener and doesn't recognize him until she hears him say her name), and I read one stanza of the Exsultet, explaining that during the Easter Vigil the whole, beautiful prayer will be sung:

Rejoice heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels!
Exult, all creation around God's throne!
Jesus Christ, our King, is risen!
Sound the trumpet of salvation!

Together, we sing, "Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice...!"

Then I explain that Christ's Light, the Light of the Resurrection, is not something he keeps to himself. He wants to share it with all of us! Each one of us received his light at our baptisms. After this announcement, I call the first child forward to receive a candle.

Each child receives a candle, lit from the model Paschal candle. After each one has had a chance to savor the light for as long as he or she wants, I place it near the model Paschal candle.

Receive the Light of Christ.

After all the children have been called by name and each has received a candle, we spend time in silence, just enjoying the beauty of all those candles. Then we sing every light song we know. After singing, I read the final stanza of the Exsultet:
May the Morning Star which never sets find this flame still burning:
Christ, that Morning Star, who came back from the dead,
and shed his peaceful light on all mankind,
your Son who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.

We finish up by singing, "Bright Morning Star Arising" and then every Alleluia we know.

From a Catechesis of the Good Shepherd presentation developed by Sofia Cavalletti and her collaborators at her catechetical center in Rome.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Catechesis for Good Friday

On Good Friday each year, the catechesis I offer to children (and their parents) of the parish concerns biblical geography. What does biblical geography have to do with Good Friday? I'm glad you asked...

We begin by looking at a small globe. First we locate where we are on the globe (in this case, Ohio), and then I turn the globe to show them a small red speck I have painted on the other side -- the land of Israel, that tiny country in which the greatest gift of God to us was first given. I ask them what that gift could be? "Jesus!" they all answer. Then I show them the relief map of Israel, giving as much or as little detail as the particular group seems able to absorb: the Mediterranean Sea on the left side of the map, how hilly this country is, the Jordan River that runs down the center and where Jesus was baptized, the Sea of Galilee at the upper end of the Jordan, the Dead Sea at the bottom...and then we discuss the three great cities: first Nazareth in the north, where the Angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would have a most special and amazing child (there is a hole in which we place a marker with a dove of the Holy Spirit, to remind us of how Mary came to be pregnant there); then in the south, the town of Bethlehem, where Jesus was born ("Today is born in this city a Savior, who is Christ the Lord"), and we place a marker with the star of Bethlehem to remind us of the sign in the sky that the Magi followed to find the new King; and finally, most precious of all the cities in the world, just a little to the north of Bethlehem...and I bring out the marker for Jerusalem, a golden cross, and hold it up for all the children to see before I ask, "What happened in Jerusalem that makes it the most holy, precious city of all?" The children see the cross and know, "Jesus died and rose from the dead there."
Then I show them this map, a model of the city of Jerusalem in the time of Jesus. The base is made of wood, with a little bit of paper mache relief added to indicate the upper and lower cities, and the superior height of the Temple Mount. All the other parts of the city are made of wood and removable, and all are waiting on a cardboard mute map behind the model. Together, we slowly think about each element and then place it where it belongs on the city: first the walls (why would a city need walls? How precious this city is, how important to protect it!); the two pools (of Siloam, in the south, where Jesus sent the man born blind to wash the mud from his eyes, and of Bethsaida, near the temple, where the paralyzed man was waiting for an angel to disturb the surface of the water and Jesus healed him without even putting him in the water); the temple mount (so precious to Jesus, where his parents took him when he was a baby and Simeon held him and prayed to God, who keeps his promises...where he came as a boy to teach the elders...the place he called "My Father's house); and then the small cenacle, where we recall yesterday's lesson...

The cenacle is the small bi-level house in the center of this picture. We remember together those precious words of Jesus that he said at his Last Supper. Then I trace my finger through the city, and out through the gate, to the Mount of Olives, where Jesus walked to pray that night. We speak together about how Jesus was arrested there. Then I trace my finger back to the house of Caiphas (that fortress-like building to the northeast of the cenacle), and we speak together about how Jesus was questioned by the High Priest. Again I trace my finger through the city, where Jesus walked to be questioned by Pilate, in the Tower of Antonia, just north of the Temple. Next I place Herod's palace and show how Jesus walked from Pilate to Herod (where we dwell on the wickedness of Herod's desire to see Jesus work a magic trick) and back again to the Tower of Antonia, where Jesus received his death sentence. The material includes a small wooden cross, and now I use it to trace the route from the Tower of Antonia to Golgotha, outside the city in the far northwest corner of the model.There are two holes in the top of the model of the mount where Jesus was killed. The cross is erected in one, and we speak, with deep sadness, of Jesus' death there. Then I show them a small hole in the side of the mount, to indicate Jesus' tomb. We roll the huge stone over the opening. Then I ask, "But what happened on the third day?" The children are so happy and relieved to announce, "He rose from the dead!" I roll the stone away from the hole and tell of how the three women came with spices for Jesus' body, but when they arrived, they saw the stone had been rolled away and the tomb was empty, and young man, dressed all in white, was sitting on the stone. He asked them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? Jesus is risen!" Then we sing, "Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again." I place a candle in the second hole, and light it.

Then we recall those precious, new words that Jesus spoke in the cenacle, at the Last Supper and remember that those words are still repeated today, at Mass...Jesus is with us still. He promised never to leave us, and he has kept his promise! Finally, we sing many songs together, and then I invite the children to say something to Jesus about all we have thought about together today. "Sorry;" "Thank you;" "I wish I could love like you;" "You're better than the best!" Then we sing some more.

From Catechesis of the Good Shepherd presentations developed by Sofia Cavalletti and her collaborators at her catechetical center in Rome.

Catechesis for Holy Thursday

Since 1997, I have belonged to five parishes, but no matter where I am during the Triduum, each year I have offered a series of three catechetical lessons, open to any children and their parents. In almost every case, these parishes have welcomed these presentations into the church proper (one year we had to retire to the church basement), and I have done them for the children at the foot of the altar. The first presentation is called "The Cenacle/Celebration of the Last Supper." To introduce this scripture, I begin by discussing the meaning of the Passover: an annual meal and great prayer that the Jews observe to celebrate that God sent Moses to free them from slavery. We dwell together on the amazing fact that the Passover Jesus celebrated at his Last Supper was the same one that had been celebrated for thousands of years, except that this time Jesus spoke some new words, great and loving and precious words that had never been said during a Passover before. Then I use the model, pictured above, and read from the Gospel (from the "real" Bible) account of the Last Supper. First the figures of St. Peter and St. John are sent to the city to prepare the room, then Jesus and the Twelve file into the model cenacle. The scripture ends with Jesus and the apostles singing a hymn and then going off to the Mount of Olives. The table, with its plate of bread and its cup and unlit candles are left alone in the room. We sing a hymn ourselves. Then I ask the children if they know what happened to Jesus as he was praying on the Mount of Olives that night. Once we establish that Jesus was arrested and died on the cross, I place a small standing crucifix on the little table. "But what happened on the third day?" All the children are bursting to share the news: "He rose from the dead!" So then I light the candles. The model cenacle now looks like this:

Then I ask the children, "What were those new, surprising, and loving words that Jesus said during the Last Supper that had never been said before at a Passover celebration?" The children, even the three year-olds, are so eager to tell me: "This is my body, take and eat...This is my blood...drink it in memory of me." We revel in the moment and then I ask them, "Where do we hear these same words today? Who says them?" Someone knows: it is the priest. I ask, "But whose words are they?" They all seem to understand that these words don't really belong to the priest, that he is repeating the words of Jesus. "He promised that he would always be with us, and he is! Jesus is with us still!" We sing some more, and then I invite the children to say something to Jesus for this amazing gift of himself that he gives to us. "Thank you;" "I love you;" "Thank you for feeding the sheep" (from a child who is familiar with St. John's parable of the good shepherd); "I want to be worthy of this;" "You're the greatest!"

When this presentation is over, we spread a large white sheet on the ground, I place a plate with a matzoh cracker on it and a chalice filled with grape juice on the sheet, and we each choose an apostle to be at the Last Supper. Each year I use a different method for deciding who will get to be Jesus (youngest child there, oldest child there, guessing numbers, etc.). After I begin reading the Gospel again, it is that child's job to repeat the words of Jesus after I read them and to break the matzoh into enough pieces that everyone can have one. We pass the plate and the cup (with a napkin to wipe the lip). We sing another hymn when it is time for Jesus and his followers to go to the Mount of Olives. Then we remember his death and Resurrection again (placing a large standing crucifix on our "table" and two full-sized candles and lighting them). We recall again the new, loving words Jesus spoke that night and try to imagine what it was like to be there, hearing them for the first time. We sing and pray some more, and then we all process to the church vestibule for more matzoh and grape juice until everyone's had their fill and is ready to go home.

From Catechesis of the Good Shepherd presentations developed by Sofia Cavalletti and her collaborators in her catechetical center in Rome.

Favelados Movement of São Paulo & Communion and Liberation

This post originally appeared on Cahiers Péguy.

Cathedral of São Paulo, Brazil

Almost a week ago, here on Cahiers Péguy, Fred asked some questions with regard to the news that Cleusa and Marcos Zerbini (leaders of a movement to provide homes and educational assistance to favelados* in São Paulo, Movimento em Defesa do Favelado da Região Episcopal Belém, or Favelados Movement of São Paulo) had handed over their movement to Fr. Julian Carron and Communion and Liberation:
Why is this a breakthrough? How does the witness of this event change us? Is it a breakthrough for us, and why?
A movement in a distant country, made up of 120,000 people, who all decide, along with their leaders, to consign themselves to another movement, one I happen to belong to -- why is this a breakthrough? I have written a little here and here about how and why this news has changed me, personally. But these reflections don't really answer the question of how this event changes us and why it's a breakthrough for us. I always tremble when asked to speak more generally and globally -- it isn't my mother tongue -- but I am going to give it a try, because these questions represent an invitation, and I do my best always to accept invitations.

It is a breakthrough, first of all for Communion and Liberation because Brazil is the first place that received missionaries sent by Father Giussani. Here is an excerpt of a letter he sent to the first four who went there:
  1. Be deeply rooted in love for the Kingdom of God, which happens not because of what you do, but through the offering of sacrifice. It is only the Cross that saves he world.
  2. May this make you calm and joyful in whatever task you are assigned. ...So, even if your work doesn't go as you had dreamed, accept it happily; feel the kingdom of God, Brazil and the destiny of GS much more in never being discouraged, in adapting yourselves to everything, than in any other ability.
  3. Just as you have to be faithful to our community and to the values and the directives given for your spiritual life and for educating your persons, so for the activity and behaviour with others and the environment the rule is a deep adaptation: Do not have any pretensions and don't pass a negative judgement on anything.
Be in love with the Lord who has chosen you to begin something that could be very fruitful for his Kingdom: and don't worry about anything except being there, obedient and willing.
Gratiam agimus propter magnam gloriam tuam (We give you thanks for your great glory).
And you, too, are a hem of that glory, not what you manage to do, but you yourselves, your offering.
- from
Fr Giussani's letters to the first four students of Gioventù Studentesca (Young Student) who left for Brazil. It was 1962.

The year was 1962. Now it is 2008, and Father Carron, as the representative of this same movement, founded by Father Giussani, can say to the crowd assembled in the Cathedral of São Paulo and addressing Cleusa and Marcos Zerbini in particular:
E Carron, di fronte ad almeno 8.000 persone, dentro la Cattedrale di San Paolo, di fronte a questa disarmante consegna, ha a sua volta aperto il cuore. “Provo la stessa commozione e allegria di quando Giussani mi ha chiamato con se alla guida di CL.
And Carron, in front of at least 8,000 people inside the Cathedral of São Paulo, in the face of this disarming delivery, in turn, opened his heart. "I feel the same emotion and joy as when Giussani called me to guide CL."

Ma non abbiamo paura, siamo certi che chi ha iniziato in noi questa opera la porterà a compimento”.
"But I have no fear, we are sure that he who began this work in us will bring it to fruition."
(full text here)
The same emotion he had when Fr. Giussani asked him to lead CL! And he referred to the same scripture passage to express his confidence in the positive value of a great and beautiful offering of self. He did not express the triumphant opinion that here, in front of him, was the "fruit" of the seeds first planted in 1962. And why not? Is it not a triumph of Fr. Giussani's charism? Is it not a fruit that we can taste?

As Christians, we are pilgrims on a journey, always beginning again. There is only one fruit that tastes sweet to us: the fruit of the tree we will venerate tomorrow, on Good Friday. Christ, the Bread of Life. We are continually seeking him, so that we can taste and see him again. This is because we are creatures who live in time; it is the mystery of our existence in time. But also, it seems clear that this step, taken by the Favelados Movement of São Paulo, is not the final step of a journey; it is rather a next step and even a new beginning. I am reminded of something T.S. Eliot wrote, in Four Quartets:
We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.
T. S. Eliot
Arrivals and departures are always occasions of insight and discovery.

We must also consider the fact that the charism of Father Giussani that animates Communion and Liberation has a strong missionary character: Go out to all the nations... Even if we remain in the same town our whole lives, we are called to live the way Enzo and Rosetta live the charism in Brazil. Addressing Fr. Carron, Marcos Zerbini thanked these two ciellini and credited his friendship with them as the source of his decision, now brought to maturity, to turn his movement over to CL. If we do not go out to another nation, let's go into the homes and living rooms of our neighbors, to offer ourselves and to invite them to meet the One who has sent us and whom we serve.

Finally, and most importantly, this event took place, "accidentally," in the Cathedral of São Paulo, in front of the bishop of that city, Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer, who expressed surprise at the large number of young people who participated in the meeting, and he opened his heart, the Cathedral, and the Church herself to the members of the Favelados Movement who had assembled in the rainy Plaza da Fe. That he was able to recognize that something astonishing was taking place that day, something so attractive that he wanted to usher it in, is perhaps the greatest sign and provocation for us. The two ways the Church is made present, methodologically, are, "Unity expressed visibly ... [and] the link to authority, that is, to the bishop" (The Journey to Truth is an Experience, Luigi Giussani, pp. 88 & 89). And wherever the Church is present, Christ is there. Let's always seek his face!

* A "favela" is an illegal occupation of a terrain in large cities, where dwellers often have to live without any basic infrastructure, such as water, sewage, electricity, garbage collection, mail, etc. In Rio de Janeiro, these favelas are home to about half its population and are normally located in the hills, as this land is difficult to access and tend to be neglected by contractors. The residents are known as Favelados.

A favela home in São Paulo

Thursday, March 20, 2008


The favela "Morumbi" in Sao Paulo

From "Favelas" on:

FAVELA is the name given to spontaneous settlements in Brazil. They are prevalent in all the major cities, even the recently built new capital of Brazilia. The residents are known as favelados.

Defined on another site as:

A "favela" is an illegal occupation of a terrain in large cities, where dwellers often have to live without any basic infrastructure, such as water, sewage, electricity, garbage collection, mail, etc. In Rio de Janeiro, these favelas are home to about half its population and are normally located in the hills, as this land is difficult to access and tend to be neglected by contractors.

The Rio de Janeiro Master Plan, ratified in 1992 defines a favela as:

" area, predominantly of housing, characterised by the occupation of land by low-income populations, precarious infrastructure and public services, narrow and irregular layout of access ways, irregular shaped and sized plots and unregistered constructions, breaking with legal standards."

They develop on steep slopes and other unwanted land, which is also mentioned by some sources as being the origin of their name. There seems to be no hard and fast reason as to why they are called favelas, but possible origins include:

1. Named after the flowers which blanket the steep slopes

2. Military encampment called Favela, named for a local cactus, that was razed in the war of 1897 between the rebels and soldiers of the new Brazilian republic. The survivors were made homeless and moved south to add to the great immigration to the cities. Favela lent its name to the shantytowns which sprang up around the great cities of Brazil (10 of which are millionaire cities (which doesn't mean, as some of my students thought, that every person living there is a millionaire)

3. Named after a honeycomb, because they are a warren of small dwellings all linked together which grows organically over a period of time. The Brazilian name for honeycomb is very similar to favela.

Favela is an exclusive term. There are a lot of NGO: non-governmental organisations working to improve the conditions of the favelas [AVSI is one] . Some communities like Rocinha have become legalised neighbourhoods.

In terms of area, they are likely to be similar to the bustees of India which are defined as:

"a collection of huts standing on a plot of land at least one sixth of an acre"

High percentages of people in cities like Sao Paulo live in Favelas. People move to favelas to escape the sertão: the poverty-stricken interior of the country, or the drought ridden caatinga in the NE of Brazil where unreliable rains and Government policies have left many struggling to cope on marginal land. People tend to move into the areas before services have been built, or the houses.

A favela home in São Paulo

Dumbstruck by the Mystery

...our temptation is always to impose our prejudices or our measure on reality -- except when we are faced with a fact that leaves us dumbstruck, and instead of dominating the fact ourselves, we are dominated, overcome by it. If there were no moments of this kind, the Mystery could do anything, but in the end, we would reduce everything to the usual explanation. But not even a Nobel Prize winner can stop himself from being dumbstruck before an absolutely gratuitous gesture. If there were not these moments, we would find answers, explanations, and interpretations to avoid being struck by anything. It is good that some things happen that we cannot dominate, then we have to take them seriously, and this is the great question of philosophy. If the conditions for the possibility of knowledge (see Kant) impose themselves on reality or if there is something that is so powerfully disproportionate that it does not let itself be "grasped" by the conditions of possibility, then the horizon opens. If this were not the case, then we could dominate everything and be in peace, or at least without drama. Instead, not even the intelligence of a Nobel Prize winner could prevent him from coming face-to-face with a fact that made him dumbstruck -- instead of dominating, it was he who was dominated. Here begins the drama, because I am called to answer. It is the drama that unfolds between us and the Mystery, through certain facts, certain moments, in which the Mystery imposes itself with this evidence. These are facts that we cannot put in our pocket, which we cannot reduce to antecedent factors.
-- Julian Carron in "Friends, that is, Witnesses."