Tuesday, February 24, 2009

I will carry this in my heart during Lent and beyond

I've written before about The Wisdom of the Poor One of Assisi, by Eloi Leclerc, but this great book deserves even more praise! Here is a passage that will surely be at the heart of my Lent this year:

[Francis and Brother Leo are walking through the woods, on their way to visit a family, which Francis had already visited once. The baby of the family was very sick, and the first time that Francis visited, he found the mother was crushed with pain and sorrow over her child's illness. The two are returning to offer comfort to the family...]

Soon [Francis and Leo] were running down the slopes of a ravine toward a torrent which roared at the bottom. The place was remote with a savage and pristine beauty. The water, flung against the rocks, bounded back all white and exultant with brief bursts of azure. Its spray brought great freshness which penetrated the adjacent underbrush. A few junipers which had grown up here and there between the rocks were overhanging the bubbling water.

"Our sister water!" exclaimed Francis as he drew near the raging current. "Your purity sings of the innocence of God."

Leaping from one rock to another, Leo soon crossed the torrent. Francis followed but more slowly. Leo waited for him, standing on the far bank and watching the limpid water run rapidly over the golden sand between the gray masses of rock. When Francis caught up with him, Leo stood there in a contemplative mood. He seemed unable to detach himself from this scene and as Francis studied him he saw something of sadness in his expression.

"You are pensive," Francis commented simply.

"Of, if we only had some of this purity," responded Leo, "Then we, too, would know the mad, overflowing joy of our sister water and her irresistible enthusiasm."

Leo instilled into these words a deep melancholy. His wistful gaze was fixed on the swiftly moving stream which continued to flow in all its elusive purity.

"Come," Francis said to him, taking him by the arm.

And the two resumed their walk. After a moment of silence, Francis asked Leo, "Brother, do you know what purity of heart is?"

"It is to have no fault with which to reproach oneself," answered Leo without hesitation.

"Then I understand your sadness," said Francis, "because one always has something to regret."

"Yes," said Leo, "and that is precisely why I despair of ever achieving purity of heart."

"Oh, Brother Leo, believe me, you should not be so preoccupied with the purity of your soul," Francis replied. "Turn your gaze toward God. Marvel over God. Rejoice that God, at least, is all holy. Be grateful to God because of the Lord. That, little Brother, is the meaning of a pure heart.

"When you are thus focused on God, do not glance back at yourself. Do not ask yourself where you stand with God. Can't you see that the sadness of not being perfect and of discovering yourself a sinner is still a human sentiment -- much too human?

"You must lift your gaze higher, ever so much higher. There is God, the immensity of God and the Lord's unutterable splendor. The pure heart never ceases to adore the true and living God. It take a profound interest in the existence of God and, even in the midst of misery, is able to vibrate to the eternal innocence and joy of God. Such a heart is, at the same time, naked and gratified. For such a heart it is enough that God is God and in that it finds all its peace, all its pleasure. The Lord God becomes its holiness."

"However, God demands our effort and our faithfulness," observed Leo.

"Yes, without doubt," answered Francis, "but sanctity is not developing oneself to the utmost, nor is it an achievement of one's own doing. It is at first a void which one discovers in oneself and accepts and which God then comes to fill in proportion to how much one makes oneself receptive to God's bounty.

"Our nothingness, you see, if it is accepted, becomes a free space where God can create again. The Lord does not permit God's glory to be snatched by anyone. God is the Lord, the Only One, the Holy One. God takes the poor by the hand, pulling them from the mud, making them sit among the royalty of God's people so that at last they may see God's glory. God then becomes the azure atmosphere of the soul of the poor.

"To contemplate the glory of God, Brother Leo, is to discover that God is God, eternally God beyond all we are or could ever be, to rejoice fully in what God is, to become ecstatic before God's eternal youth and to render God thanks because of God's being, because of God's inexhaustible mercy -- that, Brother Leo, is the deepest obligation of this love which the spirit of God never ceases to infuse into our hearts. That is what it means to have a pure heart.

"This purity is not achieved by brute force or by becoming tense about it."

"Then how is it achieved?" demanded Leo.

"We must simply lose ourselves completely, sweep away everything, even the sharp perception of our distress. We must make room for God. We must accept poverty. We must renounce all that weighs us down, even the weight of our own faults. We must see nothing but the glory of God and bask in it. God is. That suffices. The heart then becomes buoyant. it no longer feels its own weight, but is like the lark, inebriated by space and sky. Then a person has abandoned all care, all worry. One's desire for perfection has changed into a simple and pure will for God."

Monday, February 23, 2009

Sharing my work

Here is my summary of pages 28-40 of the 2008 Spiritual Exercises of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation ("This is the Victory that Conquers the World, Our Faith"). These pages will be the focus of the Fraternity Lent retreat this year.

1. Those who believe have eternal life:

  • We first receive this life, which derives from faith, at Baptism: "The only thing that makes faith reasonable is its promise to bring us life. This is why God intervened in history, to bring us this life, and this life reaches us in Baptism" (p. 28).
  • "Baptism is the sacrament of faith, which, however needs the community of believers" -- "Baptism encorporates us into the community of believers through the fact of becoming one person in Christ" (29).
  • But if we're not careful, we can reduce our companionship to its external appearance: "If there's not a personal 'I' that says 'You' to Christ, as you say it to a man who is present, Christ is 'bleached or faded away from the beautiful and glad appearance of the companionship of faces that should have been a sign pointed to Him!' but we stop there; we stay there with the sign.
  • "It's as if one of us had received a stupendous bouquet of flowers, and never tired of talking about the bouquet of flowers, but felt no urgency to say the name, to speak about the person who had given the flowers."
  • Two temptations to avoid: "first, conceiving a Christ without Church, that is, excluding Christ from reality, to a far-away supernatural world, and reducing Him to our interpretation or our measure, or, second, having a Church without Christ, where the Church is perceived not as the body of Christ, that makes Him present, but as the substitution of Christ.
  • "Jesus Christ isn't a presence isolated in far-off history, so as to seem the fruit of imagination. He is a Presence ten years after His death, a thousand years after His death, two thousand years after His death, up to today, through this different humanity of the saints, a human presence impossible to think up" (33).
  • "Anything but Christ in the abstract! He is something so real that through His historical presence in the Church and His witnesses, He becomes a reality that can't be reduced by any attempt of ours, challenging man's heart, reason, freedom, and affection. Anything but abstract!"
  • "Our companionship isn't here to spare us the drama of freedom, but to continually provoke our responsibility.... 'Our companionship means not to let time pass without our life asking, seeking, wanting the relationship with God present and without our life wanting or accepting that companionship, without which not even the image of His presence would be true'" (34).
  • "Christ reaches us through our communion to introduce us to a relationship with Him, so the Mystery may become familiar" (34).
  • "The test of faith, of the true relationship, not virtual, not with someone abstract, is satisfaction. Only if we experience faith as satisfaction, the greatest satisfaction one can imagine, because of the hope that He has brought forth in me, do we have an experience so powerful that it sustains all of life, because life consists in the affection that sustains us most, not outside reality, that sustains in satisfaction, in the unique correspondence that Christ is for life" (36).
2. New Knowledge and affection:
  • "The new knowledge is born of the adhesion to an event, born of the affectus for an event to which one is attached, to which one says yes. [ You have to say yes. Faith is a free gesture: you need to say yes to this event, so that this newness can begin to happen.]" (37).
  • "To think, starting from an event, means first of all accepting that I don't define that event, but rather, that I'm defined by it" (37).
  • "the new judgment is possible only in a continual relationship with reality, in other words, with the human companionship that prolongs in time the initial Event: it proposes the authentic Christian point of view. The Christian Event persists in history, and with it persists the origin of the new judgment" (38).
  • "Remaining in the position of origin in which the Event brings forth the new knowledge is the only chance for relating to reality without preconceptions" (38).
  • "In order to acquire this, a work is necessary. 'For the mentality to be truly new, it's necessary that out of its consciousness of "belonging," it continually engage in comparison with present events. Since this new mentality is born of a present place, it judges the present. Otherwise it doesn't exist: if it doesn't enter into the experience of the present, the new knowledge doesn't exist, is only an abstraction. In this sense, not to make judgments on events is to mortify faith'" (39).
  • "Faith grows in this way, risking it in reality and challenging everything with Him in our eyes. This is why it's not a matter of learning a discourse by heart and repeating it, but learning a gaze, says Fr. Giussani" (39).
  • "How can we learn this gaze? 'It's a matter of staying before the event encountered': it's the precedence given to the event, to what happens, to what He does" (39).
3. Witness, the task of life:
  • "Mission can be nothing other than a more acute awareness of what Christ means for life, because only to the degree that we live this newness will we feel the urgency of mission" (40).

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Fourth Anniversary of Fr. Giussani's death

I might not have time to do my own post in Fr. Giussani's honor today, so below I am copying what my friend Sharon posted on her blog, Clairity Daily. Make sure to check out the short video in Fr. Giussani's honor.

UPDATE: Check out Deacon Scott Dodge's tribute, too: Don Giussani, pray for us

Fr. Giussani's Ongoing Friendship

Today is the fourth anniversary of Msgr. Luigi Giussani death, founder of the Catholic movement I belong to, Communion and Liberation . See a brief video on his life here.

I never met Fr. Giussani personally, but his charism and the community he founded has defined my life, particularly over the last decade. The exercise of charity, which is first forgiveness, with the rigor of that good and narrow way, of continual prayer and offering and recognition, holds all the circumstances together in a way that defies all pessimism.

And I am grateful for a particular grace granted for our family. I think of those ten lepers who were healed by Jesus, and only one came back to give thanks. It's hard to sympathize at first, but then they were human like us. Many of our sufferings are secret, or we would prefer them to be so. Those ten, shunned by family and society, must have been too glad to be suddenly delivered and given their lives back. They would naturally have preferred to get on with their business and would not readily return to the scene of their shame to offer humble gratitude. At least most did not, though one of them did.

The summer after Fr. Giussani's death, my husband and I and two friends went to Italy and had the privilege to visit his grave. We had a particular and urgent request, and we four prayed for that intention. Even if that ongoing need requires more knocking and begging, a significant intervention occurred that may well have saved the life of a dear one.

The friendship of the saints is a reason for joy and comfort.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Fr. Aldo Trento on Eluana's death

Missionary Rejects Award in Protest of Italy's Euthanasia Ruling

ASUNCIÓN, Paraguay, FEB. 16, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Father Aldo Trento has been caring for patients like Eluana Englaro for years, so when Italy refused to protect her life, he protested by returning one of Italy's highest honors.

Since 1989 Father Trento has been one of the best-known missionaries of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Charles Borromeo in Paraguay. He is 62 years old and is the head of a clinic for the terminally ill in Asunción.

On June 2, the Italian president, Giorgio Napolitano, conferred the title "Knight of the Order of the Star of Solidarity" on Father Trento.

Last Wednesday, the priest returned the honor to Napolitano in the wake of the latter's refusal to sign the special decree that would have saved the life of Eluana Englaro, who had been in a coma since 1992, and whose father had succeeded in a legal bid to have her feeding tube removed.

The priest asserted, "How can I, an Italian citizen, receive such an honor from you, who, with your action, permitted the death of Eluana in the name of the Italian Republic?"

"I have more than one case like Eluana Englaro," Father Trento told the Italian newspaper Il Foglio.

He continued: "I think of little Victor, a child in a coma, who clenches his fists. All we do is feed him through a tube. Faced with these situations, how can I react to the case of Eluana?

"Yesterday they brought me a girl who was naked, a prostitute, in a coma, who had been dumped in front of a hospital. Her name is Patricia and she is 19. We washed her. Yesterday she started to move her eyes.

"Celeste is 11; she suffers from a very grave form of leukemia; she was never taken care of and they brought her to me just to bury. Today she is walking. And she laughs."

The missionary said: "I have taken more than 600 of these sick people to the cemetery. How can we accept something like what happened to Eluana?

"Cristina is a little girl who was left in a garbage dump, she is blind, deaf, she trembles when I kiss her, she lives with a feeding tube like Eluana. She does not respond except for the trembling but little by little she will regain her faculties.

"I am the godfather for many of these sick people. I'm not bothered by their decaying bodies. If you could see with what humility my doctors care for them."

Father Trento says that he feels "immense sorrow" for Englaro: "It is as if you were to say to me: 'We're going to take away your sick children now.'"

For the missionary, "man cannot be reduced to chemicals."

He added: "How can the president of the republic offer me a Star of Solidarity? I took it and returned it to the Italian embassy in Paraguay."

Friday, February 20, 2009

Chris Bacich on EWTN

Chris Bacich and Fr. Julian Carron at the National Diakonia in New York 2009

Be patient with the first part of the show -- he comes on during the second part. I couldn't upload the video, but here is a link:

Chris Bacich on ETWN

and here is a talk he gave:

Chris Bacich, and Regional Assembly

Classic Father Vincent

Fr. Vincent Nagel in Attleboro, MA Aug 2nd

Witness of a missionary priest working in the Middle East

(It's long, so make yourself comfortable -- but you won't regret listening...

Thursday, February 12, 2009

What we need is a caress, and not any old caress

Here is the entire text of the judgment concerning the death of a young woman in Italy that was given to us from Communion and Liberation:


How needed is a caress from the Nazarene!

“Existence is a space that has been given to us and that we have to fill with meaning, always and in every situation” (Enzo Jannacci, Corriere della Sera, February 6, 2009).
But how can a life like Eluana’s be filled with meaning? Does it still have any meaning?
The death of Eluana hasn’t closed the door on this question at all. It’s not all over, a failure of hope for those who wanted her to continue living, or liberation for those who held that the situation was no longer bearable. Precisely now, the challenge becomes more radical for everyone.
The death of Eluana goads us to ask ourselves how we collaborated to fill her life with meaning. What contribution did we give to those who were more directly struck by her illness, beginning with her father?

When reality has us up against the ropes, our measure can no longer offer the meaning we so need for going on. Above all, before painful and unjust circumstances that don’t seem destined to change or be resolved, we begin to wonder what meaning there can be. Is life just a rip-off?
The sense of emptiness advances if we remain prisoners to our reason reduced to measure, incapable of withstanding the impact of contradiction. We find ourselves bewildered and alone with our powerlessness, with the suspicion that deep down, everything is nothingness. Can we “fill with meaning” a life when we find ourselves before a person like Eluana? Can we bear suffering when it exceeds our measure? Alone, we can’t make it. We need to run up against the presence of someone who experiences as full of meaning a life that we ourselves instead experience as a devastating void.

Not even Christ was spared
the shock of pain and evil, to the point of death. What made the difference in Him? That He was more perfect? That He had more moral energy than us? No, so much so that in the most terrible moment of His trials, He asked to be spared the cross. In Christ, the suspicion that life is ultimately a failure was defeated: His bond with the Father won.
Benedict XVI reminded us that to hope, “The human being needs unconditional love. He needs the certainty which makes him say: “neither death, nor life … will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:38- 39). If this absolute love exists, with its absolute certainty, then—only then—is man “redeemed”, whatever should happen to him in his particular circumstances.” (Spe salvi 26).

The presence of Christ is the only fact
that can give meaning to pain and to injustice. Acknowledging the positivity that overcomes all solitude and violence is possible only through the encounter with people who testify that life is worth more than illness and death. For Eluana, these witnesses were the nuns who cared for her for so many years, because, as Jannacci said, today as well, “How needed is a caress from the Nazarene; how badly we need a caress of His,” of that man who two thousand years ago said to the widow of Nain, “Woman, do not cry!”

February 10, 2009
Communion and Liberation

*[Eluana Englaro, in a coma for 17 years since a car accident when she was 21, died this week 72 hours after she was deprived of water and food, in the midst of a government emergency session to overturn the decision of the Court of Cassation in Rome, the highest appeals court of Italy, allowing her father to order her death. The nuns and staff at the nursing home where Eluana had been cared for had refused to obey the court order to stop her water and nutrition, even entreated her father to leave her with them, and let her live, but last week he transferred her to a clinic willing to participate in her death. Finding such a clinic was quite difficult, as the Italian Minister of Health and Welfare had issued guidance saying that under Italian law, withdrawal of food and hydration from helpless disabled persons in the care of public health facilities is "illegal." In January 2009, an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg was rejected because the pro-life coalition presenting it did not have a legal link with Eluana. Considered the “Terri Schiavo” case of Italy, this event has been the subject of searing political debate, even causing a breach between Premier Berlusconi and President Napolitano, the former who pressed for the emergency legislation to save her, the latter who refused to sign it into effect.]

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Test everything, hold fast to what is good!

I had decided not to make any remarks about the trouble that the Legionaries of Christ/Regnum Christi have been facing, but now it seems to me that perhaps a comment may be in order.

I cannot believe that a charism should have to depend upon the moral consistency of the one who receives it. If this were so, we would all be doomed! A charism is a gift from the Holy Spirit (who is anything but tame!) for the Church, for us. Who knows why the Holy Spirit chose to use this particularly fallible priest in order to bestow a charism?

That last question isn't meant to be purely rhetorical. Fr. Maciel was indeed chosen for a reason, one that is for the good of the whole Church. Rather than ditching him, or dissolving their Movement, those who follow his charism ought to ask this question of themselves -- they should ask what this means for them, for their lives. I have no doubt that this charism is a legitimate work of the Holy Spirit.

Those who would suggest that the Legionaries ought to be dissolved, or who would demand that they distance themselves from their founder are (I'm really going to say this!) faithless, utterly faithless. These people should pray for God to increase their faith.

If instead, the Legionaries were to look unflinchingly and with intelligence at all the events of their history and recognize to what extent they have been complicit in the sinfulness of their founder (I am not alluding only to those who might have aided him in sin, nor only to those who covered it up and misled others concerning the truth, but to all those in the Movement who have allowed arrogance, dishonesty, and disobedience to the local authority overtake their judgment), then something truly beautiful will surely blossom from their current suffering.

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you (Philippians 4:8-9).

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Wisdom of the Poor One of Assisi

This novel, by Eloi Leclerc, is so far (only about half-way through) a truly beautiful book! Here is an excerpt -- a fictional conversation that takes place between Brother Rufino and St. Francis:

"This experience through which I have just lived has taught me how easy it is to be deluded about oneself," said Rufino. "How easy it is to mistake an impulse of nature for an inspiration of the Lord -- and without shame!"

"Yes, self-delusion is all too easy," said Francis. "That is why it is so common. Nevertheless, there is a sign which permits us to identify it with assurance."

"What is that?" inquired Rufino.

"It is the turmoil of the soul," answered Francis. "When water becomes turbid, it is evident that it is not pure. The same holds for people. Individuals who are suffused by anxiety show that the source of inspiration for their actions is not pure; it is contaminated. Such persons are deeply moved by things other than the spirit of the Lord...It is so easy for them to raise their vices to the height of virtues and to delude themselves under the guise of noble and selfless goals. And all the while, totally unaware! However, when occasions arise and those who have deceived themselves are contradicted or opposed, their masks fall off. They are flustered and irritated. Behind the 'spiritual' facade appears their 'carnal' nature still very much alive, with claws bared for self-defense. This turmoil and this aggressiveness reveal that such persons are guided by deep motives other than those of the Lord."

The hermitage bell tolled; it was time to say the Office. Francis and Rufino arose and made their way toward the oratory. They went tranquilly, as do free people.

Suddenly Francis seized Rufino's arm and stopped him. "listen, Brother; I must tell you something."

He paused an instant, gazing down at the ground. He seemed to hesitate. Then looking Rufino directly in the eye, he said to him gravely, "With the aid of the Lord, you have overcome your desire for power and prestige. But you will have to do it not just once, but ten, twenty, a hundred times."

"You frighten me, Father," said Rufino. "I am not cut out to withstand such a struggle."

"It is not in struggling you succeed," replied Francis gently, "But in adoring. The person who adores God knows that there is only one All-Powerful One. Such a person acknowledges it and accepts it deeply, heartily, and rejoices that God is God. God is. That is enough and that makes a person free. Do you understand? ... If we knew how to adore, then nothing could truly disturb our peace. We would travel through the world with the tranquility of the great rivers" (pp. 71-72)

This passage calls to mind, or vibrates with Father Giussani's discussion of discontinuity in Is It Possible to Live This Way? Volume 2 Hope:

The enemies of this faithfulness in belonging, the most notable enemies, are first, discontinuity -- in psychology, this neurosis is called cyclothymia: one day up, one day down, in the evening up, in the morning down... discontinuity is more a variation in mood; one time he has his nose in the air and the next time he laughs immoderately; and you don't know how to take him; you see that he laughs and you laugh too, but then ... so the discontinuity. And then, the toil and the pain (page 35) ...

Discontinuity is one time in the dust, one time on the altar; like a cyclothymic, one time he laughs and two minutes after he cries. It is the non-linearity in maintaining the right frame of mind (page 68) ...

Discontinuity is an error, it's a weakness of character (page 69) ...

Patience [...] is a humble certainty of the strength of Another. "I have the strength for everything through Him who empowers me," said St. Paul. This sentence removes whatever pretext we can have against the path and it removes whatever pretext of desolation or of discouragement in front of whatever error. Therefore it saves the path and saves one from errors.

All of our effort is to bring ourselves to perceive the original simplicity of the relationship between God and man. When Christ looked at Magdalene with a furtive glance on the street, it was a simple thing: it was a call to her with simplicity and a simplicty in which purity dominated and re-dominated; contrary to her history, but not contrary to her present possibility (page 84).

The last two paragraphs contain what I can identify as the answer to the problem of discontinuity. I think they represent a restatement of what St. Francis told Rufino in The Wisdom of the Poor One of Assisi by Eloi Leclerc. What is needed is first to allow oneself to be penetrated by this furtive glance. The next step is to adore. God is. This suffices.

"It re-creates you, makes you a human being once again."

This story The Language of the Soul's Night is from Eloi Leclerc's The Canticle of the Creatures:

(Don't stop in the middle, but read all the way to the end)

The Language of the Soul's Night

What can such a song mean in circumstances like these? The men who sang were hardly more than ghosts themselves, surrounded by the dead! What was going on in 'this railroad car? ...

April 7, evening: Night has fallen, the train rolls on. In what direction? We do not know. One thing is certain: we are on our way -- ninety to a hundred men in each car, crouching, crushed against one another, a fellow prisoner between one's legs, like skeletons packed one upon another. The horrible nightmare is beginning. (Could we possibly have thought at that moment that it would last, not three, four, or even five days, but twenty-one days and twenty-one nights?)

No room to stretch out a leg. And we are so exhausted! And so full of despair, too! This very morning, we were still in Buchenwald, waiting for a liberation that seemed very near. We had waited all through the winter, amid hunger and cold, hard work, and death. Many had died. At last, we had survived all that. Then, suddenly, liberation was at hand. It had lifted its head only a few miles away, as real and as powerful as the spring sun that had defeated the long winter. From the hilltop at Buchenwald we could see the flames from the mouths of the American guns. It was only a matter of days now, perhaps even of hours. The cannon were thundering, and hope was leaping in our hearts.

But the SS decided to evacuate a section of the camp. Several columns of prisoners had already set out, under heavy guard on the preceding days. Today it was our turn. With death in our hearts, we walked the few miles from the heights of Buchenwald to the station at Weimar. We were tuming our back on hope, this long column of four to five thousand condemned men. Really, we were no longer among the living. Some comrades, their strength drained away, fell during the march, and the SS put a bullet through their heads. In some spots, the path was spattered with blood and brains.

At Weimar station, they put us on board.

Now we are rolling onward into the unknown. Two SS guards to each car. Some cars are covered; others, like ours, still black from coal dust, are open to the sky. A few comrades were able to bring a blanket; luck for them, since the nights are still cold in Germany at this time of the year when winter is barely over. A deathly silence reigns among us. Rocked by the swaying of the train, we sink into a boundless sadness.

Next morning, Sunday, April 8: We stop at a small station. The train stands there all day, then all night. We are forbidden to stand up, even to restore circulation to our legs. We are forced to remain crouching, day after day. For food, a few potatoes and a bit of bread; nothing hot, of course. Meanwhile, a very cold fog descends.

There are people from all over Europe among the hundreds or so packed into our car. From all social classes, too. Most are between twenty and thirty years old, but all look like very old men. Some know why they were arrested and deported: they were part of a resistance movement. Others are there simply because they were caught in a random sweep in Paris or Warsaw or some other city. But we speak as little as possible of such matters. In extreme wretchedness such as this, what is there to know about a man except the suffering that now fills his being? Here the suffering is limitless and everyone shares it. All differences fade away in the face of the common destiny. Lost in this mass of men, there are five of us who are sons of St. Francis.

Monday, April 9: The train starts moving again shortly before noon. While we are under way, the SS relax their vigilance. We take advantage of this to stand for a moment and take a look at the countryside through which we are passing. During the afternoon the train stops in the extensive suburbs of Leipzig, and the SS have those who have died during the journey brought out of the cars. These are quickly and unceremoniously buried beside the track. During the night and throughout Tuesday morning, we continue on eastward. We travel along the Elbe for a while and are only about thirty miles from Dresden. But now the train turns southward.

At this time the SS were probably intending to take us to the concentration camp at Flossenburg in the Oberpfalzer Wald on the Czechoslovakian frontier. For reasons unknown to us they had to drop this idea.

Wednesday morning, April 10: We are at Pilsen in Czechoslovakia. Groups of Czechs immediately gather along the tracks. They are deeply moved at the sight of our striped garments and skeletal figures. They begin to throw bread to us. The SS men fire a few shots at them. The train rolls on slowly and passes under a bridge in the city. Some people who have gathered on the bridge drop food into the cars. We knock each other over trying to get a morsel of bread. More than ever, we are forbidden to stand up, but our hunger is too strong to resist. The train stops at a little station in the countryside, not far from Pilsen. There we are shunted to a siding.

In the evening, they give us a little food: one ration-loaf of bread for ten men. The day ends with the departure of the dead whose number increases each day. The corpses are no long buried beside the track. The corpses are hardly more than skeletons now; they are seized by the arms and legs, shoved upwards, and tipped over into the car.

Next morning, Thursday, April 11: The train stands all day in this little station. In the evening, the dead are removed; nothing else happens all day long. The same thing the next day; we spend all day without food, and in the evening they remove the dead. Life is tragically simplified for us now. We have only one occupation to fill our time: watching others die, while we ourselves wait for death. On the average, two men died each day in each car; that means about a hundred deaths a day for the whole train.

These days spent motionless seem endless to us. But the nights bring a further torment. Alongside the dying, who are at their last gasp, some of the living fight for a bit of space in which to sleep; others go mad and pound their heads against the sides of the car in order to finish their nightmare. Over us, an SS man rains down blows with a club in order to restore quiet. But even all this is not the worst. The terrible, awful thing is to find oneself watching for a neighbor to die and telling oneself that tomorrow there will be more room to stretch out in.

During the night between Friday and Saturday, attempts are made to escape from several cars. This act of despair will cost all of us dear. In the morning, a SS officer climbs into our cars and fires into the mass of prisoners. Two of our comrades are hit; they will spend a long time dying.

Only on Monday, April 16, does the train set out again. We have the impression the SS do not know what to do with us and will be forced to kill us all. But the weather is marvelous. Everything is a call to life: over our heads, a wide blue sky; the larks tumble about up there, drunk on the freedom of space; in the fields men and women are working at the harvest; yonder a few small churches lift up their steeples. The train stops again at evening, on a plateau. Once again we wait, face to face with death. There we are, completely cut off from everything that is going on in the world. Where are the Allies? What is happening in France just now? These big questions seem irrelevant to us now. For many of us, it is already too late.

During the night between Tuesday and Wednesday, the train starts up again. It travels toward the southeast. Now we are entering the mountains of Bohemia. The scene is full of grandeur. From the floor of our car we can watch the forests on the upper slopes. The new light-green foliage of the birches stands out against the dark green of the giant firs. Here and there the gold of flowering bloom catches the eye. Spring is bursting out. Nature, ignorant of what men are doing to each other, continues to produce greenery and flowers once again. From the moist warm earth the sun draws the good smells of a forest in the spring.

In some places the slopes narrow into a rocky, precipitous ravine. Our train with its five thousand condemned men moves slowly through these wild ravines. The idea comes to us that we have been brought there for some barbaric celebration. Then suddenly, fear. Above our heads, over the side of the car appears "the killer," an SS officer. We have called him that because he has already killed several among us. He stares at us the way a bird of prey stares at a nestful of creatures he is going to kill. His rifle is pointed at us; the monster fires into the heap of men. Two comrades are now dying. One has been shot in the mouth. We are all spattered with blood. A terrible anxiety grips body and soul. There can be no doubt now, we feel our hearts jumping wildly, like a bird that has been mortally wounded and flutters around in its own blood, unwilling to die.

We have been traveling all day. This evening the train has halted in a little station at the edge of the Bohmerwald. The railroad bridge across the Danube at Passau has just been cut. We are forced to stay there on a siding several days, six to be exact. Long, terrible days. To crown our wretchedness, the good weather is followed by rain. It falls, cold and steady, for three days and three nights. We are paralyzed by the cold. There is nothing hot for us to eat. Some of us, coming back from removing the dead, have managed to pick up some pieces of wood and a few bricks along the track. On the bricks we light a fire in the car. It's really more of a ghost of a fire. We crowd around it to get dry and warm, but the flame is too weak. Besides, skeletons can't get warm. Most of these days pass without any food at all being given to us, and we must be satisfied with a few dandelions hastily picked beside the track as we return from fatigue duty with the dead.

The dead! There are more and more of them. Many of our comrades die of dysentery; many of exhaustion. Others have contracted erysipelas and are the most horrible spectacle of all. Within a night or a day, these men become unrecognizable; their swollen fiery faces are completely distorted. Delirious with fever, these unfortunates fill the night with their yelling; they scream for water, but in vain. In the morning, their bodies lie stiff in death. Sometimes the corpses remain in the car throughout the day, washed by the pools of water that have formed here and there on the flooring.

These extremities of suffering plunge us into acute anxiety. It is no longer simply the anxiety that grips any living thing as death approaches. Amid our terrible distress there arises in us a strange feeling that eats away at those inmost certainties which till now had sustained us. We have a growing impression that we have been handed over to some blind, savage power. There we are, thousands of men abandoned to hunger, cold, vermin, and death. The human being is completely crushed. Man, whom we had till now believed was made in God's image, now seems laughable: worthless, helpless, hopeless; a being caught up in a whirlwind of forces that play with him, or rather, pay absolutely no attention to him. Among the corpses that lie in the water of the car, eyes turned back, is a companion or a friend. Everything we can see, every experience we must undergo, tells us we are in the grip of an iron law, handed over to the play of blind forces and that this, and this alone, is reality.

Reality where the Father has no place! Experience that once in your life, and you will never again speak lightly of the "death of God." It is an atrocious experience. When the Father is absent, the Son is in agony. The Son's agony is always due to the Father's silence, the Father's absence. And where can the least sign of the Father be found in this hell? Now we understand the words, "My soul is sorrowful enough to die."

Black night fills our souls. And yet, on the morning of April 26 when one of us is in his last moments and the light has almost left his eyes, what rises from our hearts to our lips is not a cry of despair or rebellion, but a song, a song of praise: Francis of Assisi's Canticle of Brother Sun! Nor do we have to force ourselves to sing it. It rises spontaneously out of our darkness and nakedness, as though it were the only language fit for such a moment.

What brings us in such circumstances to praise God for and through the great cosmic brotherhood? Theories have no place in our utter confusion of spirit; they offer no shelter against the storm. The only thing that remains and is priceless in our eyes is the patience and friendship this or that comrade shows you. Such an act by someone who, like yourself, is immersed in suffering and anxiety, is a ray of light that falls miraculously into the wretched darkness that envelops us. It re-creates you, makes you a human being once again. Suddenly we learn all over again that we are men. And when such an act of friendly help has been done to you, you in turn are able to do it for another and thus respond to the reign of brute force with a freedom and love that bear witness to another kind of reality...

At such a moment, astounding though it seems, we experience wonder before the world; we experience the sacred in the world. Such an experience is possible only in extreme deprivation of soul and body. Only in utter distress and need can we fully appreciate a mouthful of bread, a sip of water, a ray of sunlight, and now and then, like a visitor from another world, the warm greeting of a passerby. The tiny drops of rain that tremble on the telephone wires in the evening light after a storm are filled, to the selfless eye, with boundless innocence. And the broad rain-washed heaven shows us -- how luminous, how pure it is! All these lowly things that we can contemplate from the floor of our car are not the result of passing chance. They speak sweetly to the soul.

Where do they come from, this purity and innocence that suddenly lay hold of us through these humble realities? Whence the limpid radiance that bathes the world but is perceptible only amid extreme poverty? How innocent things are. Do you smile? Yet this experience can be matched by no other. Nietzsche said: "One must ... have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star." We certainly have not been spared chaos. Devastation is everywhere, around us and within us. History has swept like a cyclone across our lives. And yet, over this heap of ruins, there now shines "the great evening star of poverty."

Because this vision was given to us, we were able, on an April morning somewhere in Germany, to gather round our dying brother and sing of the sun and the stars, the wind and the water, the fire and the earth, and also of "those who grant pardon for love of you." "When he died, so light as to be nameless," there was no flight of larks overhead, but a supernatural peace had filled our hearts. That evening we carried his body away, accompanied by blows from the SS who felt we were not moving quickly enough. His was the last death in our car.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

My favorite of all the bus slogans I've seen

In London, atheists started an ad campaign, plastering the sides of buses with silly nonsense. In response, several people have played around with this Bus slogan generator. I've seen several very witty ripostes, but this one wins my vote as the best:
It was posted on The Blue Boar, written by Sean P. Daily.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

A blank page...

You Are a Whiteboard

You are a dreamer, a visionary, and a straight up idea person. You are very creative.

Even if the things you think up are a bit wacky, they often are brilliant.

You are an adept problem solver. You are always tossing around dozens of ideas.

You would make a good artist, designer, or architect. You do best when work feels like play.

h/t to the Ironic Catholic

Thursday, February 5, 2009

It is not enough to have the right doctrines

Christ and the Magdalen, by Arthur Hacker

Diakonia According to Me (3):

We need an experience of faith in order to be able to face every question that arises.

How many times do I have to remind myself that faith is not rehearsing beautiful ideas but rather experiencing, in my life, the same exact thing that John and Andrew experienced when John the Baptist introduced them to Christ?

Look, over there...it's Him!

Hey! Where do you live?

Come and see...

If you have never been in the company of a strange man who points and says, "Look, over there...it's Him!" or if you've never been minding your own business (drawing water from a well, for instance) and then suddenly met a man who could tell you everything you'd done or if you've never been an outcast and despised and then found a person who looked at you as if you were human and valuable beyond all reckoning...

If you haven't had such an experience, then you're not Christian.

If, when this strange event happened to you, you didn't go where that strange man was pointing or if you weren't changed by the unusual man at the well in such a way that you couldn't stop speaking about him to everyone you knew or if you didn't stay near and true to the person who had looked at you in such a way that you knew you were loved by the love that moves the stars...

If you didn't have this sort of response, then you're not Christian.

Christianity is simply this: you are called by name and you follow.

Monday, February 2, 2009

For booklady:

Father Julian Carron, President of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation (and friend to my dear friend), on the encyclical Deus Caritas Est:

In the first lines of his encyclical, the Pope reminds us that “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a Person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” The Pope stresses that Christ takes hold of the whole of human nature–soul and body–and brings it to fulfillment; in doing so, he demonstrates the humanity of the faith, because of which it is reasonable to be Christian. The encyclical speaks of God who lets Himself be so moved by man’s situation that He becomes in Christ “body and blood,” in such a way that “we enter into the very dynamic of his self-giving.” The love of Christ, still today, also makes itself visible “in the men and women who reflect his presence.” Those who let themselves be taken up in this initiative of Christ’s can become witnesses to charity as a moved giving of self, that is, as a sharing in our fellow man’s deepest desire for happiness, and as the attempt to create signs and works of new humanity in the circumstances of life. In these times of confusion, we thank Benedict XVI for reminding everyone of the nature of Christianity, and Christians of the continual need to change, so that faith not be reduced to ideas or to ethics.
Julián Carrón, Milan, January 27, 2006

Clarifying points concerning the encounter with Christ

Not this:

Purple broccoli

Someone very dear to me said something interesting this weekend: Christ is not some purple broccoli floating in the air that we can point to and say, "Oh, I see it, look how amazing! How beautiful!" When Christ walked on earth, he actually did sh*t. If we talk about how beautiful our school or nature or a piece of music is, that's not describing the encounter with Christ.

  1. The encounter needs to have a face in order to be an encounter with Christ.
  2. Something needs to happen for it to be an encounter -- something that is impossible to explain in human terms.

The Samaritan woman encounters Christ at the well, from the Catacombs at Via Latina in Rome

This is the moment in which reality challenges our whole journey

The Thinker, Auguste Rodin

Diakonia According to Me (2):

Reality. What is it? Why did God make it? Why does God keep it in motion, give it shape and substance? Why did he give us these five senses, to perceive it on so many levels and yet in such a limited way?

I used to think of the world as God's work of art, and that I could perceive something about him from studying it to the same extent that I could perceive something about an artist by studying his paintings.

But this analogy is not really right. Because Rodin (for example) did not sculpt for me. When I stand in front of The Thinker or The Kiss, I may learn something indirect about Rodin, but I learn nothing of his relationship with me -- because we don't have any relationship! Rodin and I are tragically cut off from one another by both space and time. If I were silly and fanciful (as I was, once), I might go so far as to imagine, while standing in front of a favorite sculpture, that Rodin might have been thinking of someone, one day, staring at his work and "getting" it the way I do. In my inner world, my imaginary Rodin can have meaningful human contact with his imaginary me.

But this is not what happens between me and God when I stand in front of His work of art, that is, reality. This reality that surrounds and envelops me, in which I live and move and have my being, is made for me. God does have me in mind -- all the hairs on my head are counted -- and he had me in mind from the beginning of Creation. So, this work of art that I contemplate is also the way He comes to meet me and communicate with me. He doesn't place us within reality to distract or confuse us. He gives us this particular reality in order to communicate himself to us, to reveal his love to us, to seduce us, to solicit our tenderness.

This is true even of temptations, trials, sufferings, betrayals, mistakes, and misunderstandings! All these things are given to us so that we may become holier -- they are tailored to our particular needs. A temptation or a trial or a particular suffering are given to me because God knows exactly what I need to see and experience in order to move toward him.

When we move or act within reality, it changes in response to us. Reality shows us that we exist. So, the analogy is more like this: I am standing in front of a sculpture, and the artist is there, too. When I touch his work, he alters it, according to what he knows about me, in order to respond to my deepest needs. When I speak, the sculptor alters his work to reflect the sound of my voice and the content of what I said, but in such a way as to give me the perfect response -- one that will again (and again, and again, for as long as I stay in front of his work) respond to the deepest need of my heart.

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."