John Paul II and the Femininity of Holiness

by David Meconi SJ

– FAITH Magazine July-August 2005

 

Introduction

For all his ground-breaking insights, among the bolder statements of John Paul the Great was his insistence that woman

  • is the representative and archetype of the whole human race: she represents the humanity which belongs to all human beings, both men and women[1]and, again,
  • all human beings–both women and men–are called through the Church to be the ‘Bride of Christ.’”[2]

Reading the first few pages of scripture gave this philosopher-pope a theological anthropologyunmatched in the history of Christian thought. Of the many contributions of this past pontificate, perhaps it was John Paul’s opening up and developing the Second Vatican Council’s understanding of the person as ‘gift’which will have the most lasting influence. In particular, it may be his insights into woman’s special role in defining this anthropology which will prove to be the most radical of his reflections on the human person.

This essay accordingly lays out how and why John Paul II concluded that woman best signifies creaturely completion and holiness. It will become clear how he identified three essential tasks in Eve’s very being, or as he wrote, “the dignity and role of woman is… the guarantee of what ‘feminine’ humanly symbolizes: acceptance, care of man, generation of life.”[3]

  • First, she inaugurates not only a profound understanding of the human but an entirely new way of being human. She signifies a personal orientation, a necessary turning toward and acceptance of the other.
  • Secondly, Eve receives and is thus called to care for another in a way unavailable to Adam. Her receptivity allows man to understand himself in a way his solitude could never have allowed.
  • Thirdly, humanity has been entrusted to the woman because only she is able to embody the other, a maternity, the Pope made clear, not relegated simply to pregnancy but to that “feminine genius” which characterizes every woman’s way of being.

Before we turn to his writings in order to understand these three aspects of femininity more deeply, let us first address how John Paul II brought such truths to light. In his many writings, the full meaning of the human soul’s embodiment as well as the beauty of human sexual expression have finally become a matter of serious theological reflection. He began his pontificate by bringing all of us back to the Book of Genesis, to “the beginning”, because he realized that millennia of sin and stereotype have only distorted the truest meaning of man and woman.[4] He returned to Eden where the sexes enjoy their truest splendour, to a place where domination and manipulation have not yet marred who we are and how we treat one another. In doing so, he was able to argue that “each person bears within him the mystery of his beginning”, and all people carry deep inside them the truths of this primal story.[5] So, let us now turn to John Paul’s study of Genesis anddiscover the role of the feminine in God’s good creation.


Oriented Toward the Other

In Adam’s solitude, nothing satisfies. Though sinless, Adam fails to find any affinity. Composed of both the earthy ground and the divine breath, this angelic animal finds no friendship in the merely material creatures and he likewise finds no incarnate companionship in the heavenly Trinity. John Paul writes:

Right from the first moment of his existence, created man finds himself before God as if in search of his own identity. It could be said he is in search of the definition of himself. 

The fact that man is alone in the midst of the visible world and, in particular, among living beings, has a negative significance in this search since it expresses what he is not. 

Nevertheless, the fact of not being able to identify himself essentially with the visible world or other living beings (animalia) has, at the same time, a positive aspect for this primary search.[6]

In Adam’s search, neither animal nor angel will do. He is in search of another self: one who is both identical yet different. In the moment of Eve’s appearance, then, human recognition and receptivity begin.

Unlike Adam who is placed in the Garden in a moment of supreme solitude, Eve arises only in relation to the other. From the beginning, human acceptance is thus emblazoned with a feminine stamp. With her genesis, comes human inter-relationality, mutual reciprocity, and personal communion. Woman’s very presence proclaims the sterility of the self-in-isolation.

The self-in-communion, in contrast, is characterized by orientation toward another, for it is only with Eve that Adam can finally exclaim, “This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Gen 2:23). Eve mirrors Adam’s enfleshment and teaches him that his life’s beatitude will lie in neither mere sensation nor in a false spiritualism, but only in the act of incarnate love. She acts as a trustworthy reflection of his own embodied personhood. She helps to complete Adam’s search, thus proving to be a mirror of man’s dual nature, an image of his divine dignity.

Eve thus signifies how humanity is complete in two unalterable genders. She reminds us that there are two ways of being distinctly human: male and female he created them. Here John Paul made good use of a Hebraic word shift lost on most of us.

At Genesis 1:27 we read, “God created man (Adam) in His image, in the divine image He created him, man (is) and woman (issah) He created them.” Notice how at Genesis 1:27a, Adam is alone and is simply “human”, not yet distinguished as male. Only with the appearance of Eve at Gen 1:27b, does Adam realize that he is a man: is and issah He created them. The person of Eve simultaneously defines and complements Adam and in so doing, offers him a new self-awareness into both the longing of humanity and the meaning of gender.[7]

Eve is the icon of Adam: the reflective other whose presence shows him at once who he is and who he is not. An image both unites and differentiates.

Made in the divine image, the human person will find no completion apart from communion with God,but such participation in the divine nature consummates, never corrupts, his humanity. It is in this way that Eve’s turn toward Adam shows him who he is.

  • As Adam sees in Eve another self, he also sees one who is irreducibly different;
  • As divine images, men and women see in God the one like whom and for whom they have been created but also see the one who is and who remains wholly other.

Sexual differentiation thus becomes a propaedeutic for learning about human and divine communion. In Eve’s embodiment, humanitycatches a glimpse of its worth as the closest creature to God on earth:

“The body which expresses femininity manifests the reciprocity and communion of persons. It expresses by means of the gift as the fundamental characteristic of personal existence. This is the body, a witness to creation as a fundamental gift, and so a witness to Love as the source from which this same giving springs.” [8]

John Paul sensed deeply how such truths needed to be proclaimed at the turn of the twenty-first century. As artificial birth control and abortion define the other as something to be destroyed or defended against, or as in-vitro fertilization and cloning treat the person as a commodity which can be manufactured and marketed, the body of woman reminds man that our eternal dignity is realized precisely in our embodiment and not despite it.

Eve’s incarnation teaches the solitary Adam how the human body is not some autonomous vehicle but precisely how the infinite life and dignity of each person is made manifest.


Receiving the Other

Woman is created to receive the other. She accepts Adam never to possess him but to stand before him to welcome him. Although it took the sensitivity of John Paul II to draw out the role of woman here more explicitly, this is nonetheless the key anthropological insight of the Second Vatican Council: the human person has been created so as to become a gift of self. In a line that John Paul never tired in quoting, we read that there is

certain similarity between the union of the divine persons and union of God’s children in truth and love. And this similarity indicates that the human, the only creature on earth whom God willed for its own sake, can attain its full identity only in sincere self-giving.” [9]

John Paul’s entire theological anthropology can be summed up by the two central truths contained here.

First, the human person is the only being on earth whose existence is not subordinated to another creature. Lower beings exist for the sake of the higher, grass for cows, cows for hungry humans, however, men and women exist for no other reason than God’s own delight. God rejoices in His images on earth and has ordered them to nothing except His own goodness.

Secondly, made in the divine image, men and women must actively reflect the Trinity in order to become fully human and this means they must give themselves away in a constant communion of love. Self-gift fulfills personhood: true for us because it is first true for God. That is, we reflect the triune love of God because as the Father gives Himself wholly over to the Son, the Son receives and gives Himself completely back over to the Father, and the love who is the Spirit unites and distinguishes the two, we have been made to find our truest self in a communion of persons as well. This how John Paul consistently maintained that through her gift of self, Eve teaches Adam how humanity is to find its fullest realization.

This isalso why Holiness has a uniquely feminine character. In the creation of woman John Paul saw the primal human vocation of receiving the other. Eve accepts and responds to Adam and in so doing, shows all of humanity its essential task: to welcome and take on the other. Eve opens herself in an unmatched act of transparency and trust. Standing before each other, the nakedness of Adam and Eve represents this reality:

Interior innocence in the exchange of the gift consists in reciprocal acceptance of the other, such as to correspond to the essence of the gift. In this way, mutual donation creates the communion of persons. 

It is a question of receiving the other human being and accepting him or her. This is because in this mutual relationship, which Genesis 2:23-25 speaks of, the man and the woman become a gift for each other, through the whole truth and evidence of their own body in its masculinity and femininity. 

It is a question, then, or an acceptance or welcome that expresses and sustains, in mutual nakedness, the meaning of the gift. Therefore, it deepens the mutual dignity of it. This dignity corresponds profoundly to the fact that the Creator willed (and continually wills) the human person, male and female, for his or her own sake.[10]

Eve teaches Adam how to go out of himself and thus find himself: how to become a loving gift of self. Their mutual nakedness honours their co-subjectivity; sinless, neither is willing to reduce the other to an object. Whereas lust reduces the other to a mere extension of one’s own desires, an apparatus to fulfil one’s own fallen cravings, true love sees the other as she or he is–a unique and irreducible other.

Eve shows Adam what it means to be given to another, to receive another without any pretence or demands. That is why from the beginning God entrusts woman to man,

to his eyes, to his consciousness, to his sensitivity, to his heart… [and] he must in a way, ensure the same process of the exchange of the gift, the mutual interpenetration of giving and receiving as a gift. Precisely through its reciprocity,it creates a real communion of persons.”[11]

John Paul saw that through her orientation toward Adam, Eve initiates human receptivity. She is creation’s first act of donationand in the giving of herself, allows Adam to make of himself a gift as well. Without Eve, humanity would never discover that to be a person is to enter into loving communion.

Hers must therefore be the way

  • of tenderness,
  • of embracing the other, and
  • of allowing oneself to become vulnerable.

Like the Creator, she lives for the other and thereby risks her own woundedness. Nowhere is this more evident than in the punishment meted out after the Fall, that place where the nakedness which once bespoke trust and mutual self-gift now becomes an object of shame and concealment. Whereas Adam’s object of punishment is a project, Eve’s is again a person.

Adam’s punishment distances himself from his body as he uses it merely as a tool to conquer the unyielding hardness of the earth.

Eve, on the other hand, must internalize the consequence of her actions in the painful bringing forth of human relations. This brings us to the third aspect of what the feminine brings creation and to our understanding of Christian holiness: the incarnation of human life.


Embodying the Other

In her unique role, woman is the only being able to give en-fleshed life to another. Because Eve has been made toward and receptive of the other, John Paul saw in her a sensitivity to life unmatched by other creatures.

He located such sensitivity in the way of being a woman and in a spiritual maternity which is not reducible to the biological. That is, John Paul never limited motherhood to the physicalbut rather defined it as a woman’s

readiness to be poured out for the sake of those who come within [her] range of activity. In marriage, this readiness, even though open to all, consists mainly in the love that parents give to their children. In virginity this readiness is open to all people, who are embraced by the love of Christ the Spouse.[12]

In this pouring out of self, men and women complement each other but woman enjoys a certain priority or pre-eminence due to the inescapable fact that God entrusts her with the life and care of the other in a way that a man cannot experience.

This unique contact with the new human being developing within her gives rise to an attitude toward human beings: not only toward her own child, but every human being, which profoundly marks the personality of the woman. It is commonly thought that women are more capable than men of paying attention to another person, and that motherhood develops this predisposition even more. The man, even with all his sharing in parenthood, always remains outside the pregnancy and the birth of the baby; in many ways he has to learn his own fatherhood from the mother.[13]

John Paul claimed that women are more perspicacious, more attentive to others than men generally prove. This is not based on some outdated caricature but on what Genesis reveals about the nature and inter-personality of the first human couple. Simply, life has been entrusted to Eve. Her makeup bespeaks God’s trust in co-creating alongside Him in the intimate generation of new life. Because God has entrusted the human person primarily to the woman, her sensitivity toward life enables Adam to understand his fatherhood as well.

There is much more than just biological reproduction at play here. The psychosomatic make up of woman is marked by a certain maternity: physical and spiritual. Why so? Eve is created so as to be oriented toward another because in her alterity, the other is defined and never dominated. That is, while the possibility of possessing the other exists for both Adam and Eve, from her very beginning Eve has learned to allow the other simply to be. WhereasAdam is created alongside an external call to dominate and subdue the earth (Gen 2:15 ), Eve is created with a silent gaze toward the human person. This is why each man must “learn his fatherhood through the mother.” The baby beholds the face of the other, the face of the mother, and slowly learns the identity of self and the uniqueness of the other.

In the beginning there is no external pressure, no projects to complete, but simply the enjoyment of being. Woman’s singular strength arises from her awareness that God entrusts other eternal subjects to her and even where modernity has resulted in a “gradual loss of sensitivity for man, that is for what is essentially human”, maternal love must “ensure sensitivity for human beings in every circumstance: because they are human!”.[14]

In this way, woman became the basis of John Paul’s “personalism”—where love is the only proper response to another human person, or as he says in his letter on women: “Only a person can love and only a person can be loved… Love is an ontological and ethical requirement of the person. The person must be loved, since love alone corresponds to what the person is.”[15]

Eve’s sensitive receptivity to and embodiment of the other teaches us all that a person may never be reduced to efficiency or pleasure but must always and everywhere by loved.

Such openness is no doubt oftentimes painful, physically and emotionally, but the feminine pours itself out in order to receive another, to open the human heart so wide that its fissure becomes fertile. Because of such a life-giving vulnerability in loving the other, John Paul has rather beautifully argued that woman, has a genius all her own, which is vitally essential to both society and the Church… she is endowed with a particular capacity for the human being in his concrete form.

Even this singular feature which prepares her for motherhood, not only

physically but also emotionally and spiritually, is inherent in the plan of God who entrusted the human being to woman in an altogether special way.[16]

The maternal face consequently becomes the material manifestation of the infinite longing for each human person, the visible reminder of each human person’s being wanted and desired, of each person’s infinite value and worth regardless of output or production.


The Femininity of Holiness.

Holiness is essentially “feminine” for John Paul II. As Eve stood before and was oriented toward Adam from the very first moment of her life, the human person must likewise come before and enter into communion with the divine.

From the start we must make clear, however, that supernaturally women have absolutely no natural or inherent advantage over men in the spiritual life. Nonetheless, as this essay has argued, a key component in understanding John Paul’s anthropology is seeing how Holiness manifests a feminine structure to which all human persons are called.

Again, this is not to say that women have special graces simply because of their femininity, in Christ there is neither male nor female (cf. Gal 3:28), but that very femininity can be offered to God in order to allow woman to enter into divine communion with such attentive receptivity that it becomes the image upon which John Paul patterned all created Holiness.

The three characteristics of Eve become consecrated and permanent in Maryand are thus offered to all her children, both man and woman. Attentiveness to the other, humble reception of the other, as well as a loving generativity are all signs of Christ’s life in each of the baptized.

Every creature has been made so as to turn toward, receive, and incarnate the divine life. On the natural level, woman best embodies this call to Holiness. Mary’s “let it be done unto me” ought to reverberate through the “yes”of millennia of created souls. These three marks of holiness are “feminine” characteristics not because they are limited to women but because they became possible only with the presence of Eve before Adam and because they now become eternally significant wholly sanctified in the Second Eve.

This is precisely what the Incarnate Son brings about in His own humanity: He confirms the femininity of Holiness by using the natural and finite to point us to the infinite and eternally worthy. In His person, Christ recapitulates all that created femininity forfeited in the Fall. In Christ alone does the feminine structure of Holiness become real:

  • He literally pours his blood out for the sake of another,
  • He literally lays His life down to bring forth the life of another,
  • He literally opens up the table of His own body to feed and calm another.

John Paul saw how women can continue Christ’s selfless Love in a way that teaches the world the meaning of Holiness and true human happiness. Yet while his pontificate has come to an end in a moment of universal catechesis, his understanding of the uniqueness of the femininity of Holiness will be, thankfully, continued and developed.

For example, when Pope Benedict XVI was Head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he penned the recent On the Collaboration of Men and Women, concluding that feminine values are

above all human values: the human condition of man and woman created in the image of God is one and indivisible. It is only because women are more immediately attuned to these values that they are the reminder and the privileged sign of such values…‘femininity’is more than simply an attribute of the female sex. The word designatesindeed the fundamental human capacity to live for the other and because of the other.” [17]

While there are passing reports on how John Paul II devalued women, his teaching provides a truth the media are simply unwilling to understand. He discerned in Holiness a feminine structure because he saw in woman how all are

  • called to turn toward God,
  • receive the divine, and thereby
  • give birth to the life of Christ.

The natural makeup of femininity teaches us

  • what it means to be both spouse and mother of God,
  • what it means to be a Christian, what it means to be human, and, ultimately,
  • what it means to be Holy.

 

[1] On the Dignity and Vocation of Woman §4.
[2] On the Dignity and Vocation of Woman §25.
[3] On the Dignity and Vocation of Woman §25
[4] Biblical Account of Creation Analysed, Sep. 12 1979
[5] On the Dignity and Vocation of Woman §25.
[6] Original Unity of Man and Woman, Oct. 10, 1979 ; TOB, 36-37.
[7] Cf. General Audience, Sep 19, 1979; TOB, 29-32.
[8] General Audience, Jan 9, 1980; TOB, 61-62.
[9] Gaudium et Spes §24; trans., Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils II, ed., Norman Tanner (London: Sheed and Ward, 1990), 1083-84.
[10] Original Unity of Man and Woman, Feb. 6, 1980; TOB, 70.
[11] On the Dignity and Vocation of Woman, §6.
[12] On the Dignity and Vocation of Woman, §21.
[13] On the Dignity and Vocation of Woman, §18.
[14] On the Dignity and Vocation of Woman, §30.
[15] On the Dignity and Vocation of Woman, §29.
[16] Angelus, July 23, 1995.
[17] On the Collaboration of Men and Women, May 31, 2004 , §14.


Scandal impacts priestly ambition

Deliver us from evil. This should be our prayer as the Church endures the ongoing scandal resulting from clerical sex abuse. I never grew up in the Church not effected by the clerical sex abuse scandal. As I began discerning priesthood several years ago, I became the target of jokes, whispers and disapproval. I never thought, however, that in the years of my priestly formation the scandal could grow to what it is today. Revelations of clerical sex abuse have now reached the highest echelons of the Church. Even seminarians, young men discerning God’s will for their lives, were victims of abuse by the very men they trusted with their futures. Who could I trust?

One afternoon, after reading article after article about the extensive abuse, I asked myself why I was still studying to be a priest. The clerical collar, the badge of the Catholic priesthood, no longer looked noble but dirty. The parish no longer sounded like an oasis of prayer but a crime scene. I began to ask myself why I wanted to become a priest. What was my intention? Did I want the benefits of a priestly life? Did I want to escape the world that was seemingly falling apart around me? Did I have something to hide? Then in an illuminating moment, all of my fears and anxiety faded away.

I was reminded why I wanted to become a priest; I wanted to serve Jesus Christ and his Church. I wanted to be a medic on the battlefield of life, binding the wounds left by sin, carrying my brothers and sisters into the safety of the Father’s arms. This was my vocation, and no sin of any priest or bishop could stop me from pursuing that purpose that God had created me for. Today I look at this crisis and I see the pain and suffering, but I recognize it as a call to arms. As a man studying for priesthood I must “put on the whole armor of God” (Ephesians 6:11) because as an earthy ambassador of Jesus Christ “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).

The priesthood may be disfigured by sinful men who have hidden in its ranks, but the Catholic priesthood is still the love of the heart of Jesus, a self-emptying sacrificial love. Jesus tells us throughout the Gospels not to be afraid. Perhaps for a long time we didn’t know what that meant, but in this time of great struggle he asks us to trust in him. We may be tempted to fall into despair but we must look at ourselves and see what lies in our hearts. We cannot undo the serious crimes that have been perpetrated by corrupted clergy, but we can change the future of the Church by looking into our own hearts to see what we find there. Is there lust, envy and hatred that has clung in the deepest caverns of our hearts? Have we turned our hearts into vaults, locking God out of the places in our lives where we need him most?

As a young man studying for priesthood, I have been forced many times to examine my weaknesses, faults and sins. Like a block of marble in an art studio, priestly formation chips away at our hearts. This sometimes painful process seeks to reveal that beautiful and absolutely unique piece of art that lies within that block of stone. This crisis has helped me to understand why I must root sin out of my life. I must not only do it for myself, but for God and his people. Over the past few weeks we have seen how much harm sin can cause. We may feel like we can do nothing, but we can transform the Church my starting to transform ourselves.

In the past few years I have met many priests and religious. Some are only recently ordained while others have dedicated decades to ministering to God’s people. I encounter them at Mass, in the confessional, the breakfast table and the classroom. These men and women have been lanterns illuminating the way along my path of discernment, and I cannot imagine getting this far without them. God has sent these priests and religious into my life in order to pick me up when I lose strength and encourage me when I have lost all courage.

We need priests, but most of all, we need holy priests. While today may be perceived as the worse time to become a priest, I see it as the most important time to study for priesthood in recent memory. I am honored to study and pray beside the men that I meet in formation today. Many of my friends have already entered seminary, and their love for Christ and his Church are hope for me and hope for the future. As a storm buffets the Church, Jesus is asking you step out of the boat and reach out to him. The waves are crashing, but keep your eyes on Jesus and be not afraid.


Christians give Hope - Algeria

Algeria is a ticking time bomb, with a surge in migration, an uncertain political climate, and an economic crisis facing its 43 million inhabitants, two-thirds of whom are aged under 30, with one-third of its young people unemployed. And the Islamists are waiting for their moment.

Such a situation needs hope, hope in the future of the country. Father Paul-Elie has this Hope. He knows his own country, he knows his own people, and he has an insight in to what people are thinking – and not just the Christians. As a young man he was a Muslim, in those days he was called Ali. He lived through the dark years of Algeria’s civil war in the 1990s.

Over 200,000 people died, in a pitiless battle between Islamist extremists and the army. That was when he lost Hope, no longer believing in anything, focusing only on his studies towards his diploma in information theory. One day he went with a cousin to a hidden chapel run by an Evangelical Christian community. ‘There I heard Jesus’, he recalls. ‘He spoke to me by my name and told me He was protecting me and had always done so. I felt loved as never before. I was deeply moved, and for ten minutes I could only weep.’ 

He was baptised, but he still hungered for the Truth. Years later a Catholic missionary revealed the fullness of Truth and he converted. But Islamists learned that he had converted, and hunted him, threatening his family. He left for Europe, still restless at heart. In Belgium he joined a religious community, then moved on to France and at the age of 34 began to study Theology. Six years later, in 2016, he was ordained to the priesthood.

Now he is home again, a priest of the Missionary Fraternity of John Paul II. In the name of the Fraternity, or rather ‘in Jesus’ name’, he has returned to Algeria. ‘I am needed here’, he says. ‘My heart is at peace, even if the storms should rage around me.’ He recalls the words of Saint Teresa of Avila who once complained to the Lord, saying Where were you, my beloved Jesus? Where were you during this terrible storm?’ 

Our Lord responded, I was in the innermost depths of your heart.’ That’s how Father Paul-Elie feels as well, and it is this inner peace from God that he wants to bring to his people. According to the Protestant Church of Algeria there are over 200,000 converts from Islam, most of them are Protestants, but the number of Catholics is also growing.

Precise figures are hard to come by. Most live in the Kabylie region of northern Algeria where Father Paul-Elie comes from. Many of them live widely scattered among the mountain villages.

He wants to bring them the Lord in the Eucharist. He wants to lead a ‘dialogue of coexistence’ between Catholics and other faiths in the villages so that they can all experience the love of Christ.

But for this work he needs a robust vehicle, and he has asked us to help him. We have promised to help him bring Hope, invincible Hope in the Risen One.


This article can be found in Mirror 0318.


Hope in an imperfect World - Pope Benedict XVI

We need the greater and lesser hopes that keep us going day by day. But these are not enough without the great Hope, which must surpass everything else. This great Hope can only be God, who encompasses the whole of reality and who can bestow upon us what we, by ourselves, cannot attain. The fact that it comes to us as a gift is actually part of Hope.

God is the foundation of Hope: not any god, but the God who has a human face and who has loved us to the end, each one of us and humanity in its entirety.

His Kingdom is not an imaginary hereafter, situated in a future that will never arrive; His Kingdom is present wherever He is loved and wherever His love reaches us.

His love alone gives us the possibility of soberly persevering day by day, without ceasing to be spurred on by Hope, in a world which by its very nature is imperfect.

His love is at the same time our guarantee of the existence of what we only vaguely sense and which nevertheless, in our deepest self, we await: a life that is ‘truly’ life.

 

Edited and Adapted from Spe Salvi No. 31.


This article can be found in Mirror 0318.


God is the Great Hope - Pope Benedict XVI

In this sense it is true that anyone who does not know God, even though he may entertain all kinds of hopes, is ultimately without Hope, without the great Hope that sustains the whole of life (cf. Eph 2:12).

Man’s great, true Hope which holds firm in spite of all disappointments can only be God — God who has loved us and who continues to love us ‘to the end,’ until all ‘is accomplished’ (cf. Jn 13:1 and 19:30).

Whoever is moved by Love begins to perceive what ‘life’ really is. He begins to perceive the meaning of the word of hope that we encountered in the Baptismal Rite: from faith I await ‘eternal life’—the true life which, whole and unthreatened, in all its fullness, is simply life.

Jesus, who said that He had come so that we might have life and have it in its fullness, in abundance (cf. Jn 10:10), has also explained to us what ‘life’ means: ‘this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent’ (Jn 17:3).

Life in its true sense is not something we have exclusively in or from ourselves: it is a relationship. And life in its totality is a relationship with Him who is the source of life.

If we are in relation with Him who does not die, who is Life itself and Love itself, then we are in life. Then we ‘live’.

 

Edited and Adapted from Spe Salvi No. 27.


This article can be found in Mirror 0318.


Hope for the least of God’s Children - India

It was in Bihar State that Mahatma Gandhi first launched his nonviolent civil disobedience campaign, which ultimately led to Indian independence.

But today that is little more than history for those living in Bihar, the poorest state on the Indian subcontinent.

When Catholics here pray the words ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ they do so in earnest, as many of them do not even have the bread they need.

And when they pray, ‘Forgive us our trespasses’, many have in mind the burden of financial debt that they can never shake off, on account of sinful rates of interest.

This particularly affects Christians, who almost all belonging to the Dalits, the lowest caste in India.

  • They are not allowed to drink from public wells;
  • They are forced to live in hovels on the edges of towns and villages and frequently
  • They cannot even send their children to the state schools.

This is why a disproportionately high number of them are illiterate. But the diocese has set up Small Christian Communities (SCCs), which are helping small groups learn to read and write. Most of those in these groups are women. They are also learning basic life skills like cooking and needlework.

In SCCs also they pray together and learn more about their faith and about Jesus; that every one has equal dignity in the sight of God; and that the family can be a place of selfless love – so they can bring the message of Christ’s joy into their poor homes and hovels, and into the hearts of their families. In the diocese of Buxar 300 women are involved in one of these programmes.

They are also learning that they are not outcasts, that their faith unites them and that they can mutually support one another. We are supporting these communities.

The poorest of the poor among the Dalits are the Musahars. They are being ministered to by the Claretian Fathers, who have asked our help to build a multipurpose hall where Musahar children can learn to read and write, to pray and grow together and be ministered to in their spiritual needs.

The Fathers explain that such a building ‘would be a blessing for these people and would give them a sense of self-confidence and an awareness of their own dignity’. We are being called to help the Claretian Fathers bring the hope and joy to these long suffering souls.


This article can be found in Mirror 0318.


Witnesses of Hope - Pope Benedict XVI

Certainly, in our many different sufferings and trials we always need the lesser and greater hopes too — a kind visit, the healing of internal and external wounds, a favourable resolution of a crisis, and so on.

In our lesser trials these kinds of hope may even be sufficient. But in truly great trials, where I must make a definitive decision to place the truth before my own welfare, career and possessions, I need the certitude of that true, great Hope.

For this we need witnesses — martyrs — who have given themselves totally, so as to show us the way — day after day. We need them if we are to prefer goodness to comfort, even in the little choices we face each day — knowing that this is how we live life to the full.

The capacity to suffer for the sake of the Truth is the measure of humanity.

Yet this capacity to suffer depends on the type and extent of the Hope that we bear within us and build upon.

The saints were able to make the great journey of human existence in the way that Christ had done before them, because they were brimming with great Hope.

 

Edited and Adapted from Spe Salvi No. 39.


God alone can inspire people - Cuba

Thanks to your help and generosity, we were able to support the Servants of Mary, Help of the Sick in Cuba. Sister Brunilda writes to say that ‘thanks to your help’ she and her three fellow sisters are living their lives to ‘the heartbeat of divine providence’.

For God alone ‘can inspire people to help’ for projects such as these, where ‘the sick are suffering in inhuman conditions, without the right medication and often in houses that have been destroyed by the storms’. The sisters are the ‘feet and hands’ of Jesus, she writes.

‘But you are the heart and the nervous system that is keeping alive the body of Christ in Cuba.’

Without the help of our benefactors the sisters could not ‘keep God’s Hand open to heal, to comfort and bestow His Mercy, freely and without expecting any reward’.


This article can be found in Mirror 0318.


Faith and Truth - Pope Francis

Faith without truth does not save, it does not provide a sure footing. It remains a beautiful story, the projection of our deep yearning for happiness, something capable of satisfying us to the extent that we are willing to deceive ourselves.

Either that, or it is reduced to a lofty sentiment which brings consolation and cheer, yet remains prey to the vagaries of our spirit and the changing seasons, incapable of sustaining a steady journey through life. But precisely because of its intrinsic link to truth, faith is instead able to offer a new light, for it sees further into the distance and takes into account the hand of God, who remains faithful to His covenant and His promises.

Today more than ever, we need to be reminded of this bond between faith and truth, given the crisis of truth in our age. In contemporary culture, we often tend to consider the only real truth to be that of technology: truth is what we succeed in building and measuring by our scientific know-how, truth is what works and what makes life easier and more comfortable. Nowadays this appears as the only truth that is certain, the only truth that can be shared, the only truth that can serve as a basis for discussion or for common undertakings.

Yet at the other end of the scale we are willing to allow for subjective truths of the individual, which consist in fidelity to his or her deepest convictions, yet these are truths valid only for that individual and not capable of being proposed to others in an effort to serve the common good.

But Truth itself, the truth which would comprehensively explain our life as individuals and in society, is regarded with suspicion. Surely this kind of truth is what was claimed by the great totalitarian movements of the last century, a truth that imposed its own world view in order to crush the actual lives of individuals. In the end, what we are left with is Relativism, in which the question of universal truth — and ultimately this means the question of God — is no longer relevant.

It would be logical, from this point of view, to attempt to sever the bond between Religion and Truth, because it seems to lie at the root of fanaticism, which proves oppressive for anyone who does not share the same beliefs. In this regard, though, we can speak of a massive amnesia in our contemporary world.

The question of truth is really a question of memory, deep memory, for it deals with something prior to ourselves and can succeed in uniting us in a way that transcends our petty and limited individual consciousness.

It is a question about the origin of all that is, in whose light we can glimpse the goal and thus the meaning of our common path.

 

Adapted from Pope Francis’ Encyclical Letter Lumen Fidei, 29 June 2013 Paragraphs 24 and 25.


This article can be found in Mirror 0218.


Conscience and the Common Good

The theme of conscience is fundamental for a free and just society.

The great achievements of the modern age – the recognition and guarantee of freedom of conscience, of human rights, of the freedom of science and hence of a free society – should be confirmed and developed while keeping reason and freedom open to their transcendent foundation, so as to ensure that these achievements are not undone.

The quality of social and civil life and the quality of democracy depend in large measure on this ‘critical’ point – conscience, on the way it is understood and the way it is informed.

If, in keeping with the prevailing modern idea, conscience is reduced to the subjective field to which religion and morality have been banished, then the crisis of the West has no remedy and Europe is destined to collapse in on itself.

If, on the other hand, conscience is rediscovered as the place in which to listen to truth and good, the place of responsibility before God and before fellow human beings – in other words, the bulwark against all forms of tyranny – then there is hope for the future.

This brings us back to conscience as the keystone on which to base a culture and build up the common good.

It is by forming consciences that the Church makes her most specific and valuable contribution to society.

It is a contribution that begins in the family and is strongly reinforced in the parish, where infants, children and young people learn to deepen their knowledge of the sacred Scriptures, the ‘great codex’ of European culture; at the same time they learn what it means for a community to be built upon gift, not upon economic interests or ideology, but upon love, ‘the principal driving force behind the authentic development of every person and of all humanity’ (Caritas in Veritate, 1).

This logic of gratuitousness, learnt in infancy and adolescence, is then lived out in every area of life, in games, in sport, in interpersonal relations, in art, in voluntary service to the poor and the suffering, and once it has been assimilated it can be applied to the most complex areas of political and economic life so as to build up a polis that is welcoming and hospitable, but at the same time not empty, not falsely neutral, but rich in humanity, with a strongly ethical dimension.

It is here that the lay faithful are called to give generously of the formation they have received, guided by the principles of the Church’s Social Doctrine, for the sake of authentic secularism, social justice, the defence of life and of the family, freedom of religion and education.

 

National Croatian Theatre – Zagreb. Saturday, 4 June 2011.


This article can be found in Mirror 0218.