2 February 2016:
Memorial of the Conversion of St. Camillus
Closure of the Year of Consecrated Life
The Goal of the ‘Maturity’ of the Province of India!
‘I have in mind the last young woman who came to us. We still do not know what she will decide: she discovered that she was weak, limited, and thus not of the level that she thought she had to be. I said to her ‘Look, the moment of truth is this – when you realise that compared to the very high picture of the nun that you dreamed of being, you are inadequate. Well, NOW SIT ON THE GROUND: sitting on the ground you now know what LOOKING for God means’.
Ignazia Angelini, Mentre vi guardo. La badessa del monastero di Viboldone racconta.
A picture of them on the evening of Easter Thursday made them immortal and famous: to the point of preserving their features amongst the folds of the Gospel, ready to challenge the rhythm of the world and the fashions of the moment so as not to give up the Beauty of the Master. Leonardo da Vinci dedicated to each one of them a flash of art and madness in The Last Supper, in the convent of St. Mark in Milan, and they seem to parade in front of the eyes of those who draw near to them: Simon, James son of Zebedee, John, Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James of Alpheus, Thaddeus, Simon the Canaan, and Judas Iscariot.
They are the first consecrated men of humanity, consecrated directly by Jesus, the Consecrated man to the utmost, who portrayed their trajectory, established their features, and transformed their existence. Unknown fishermen, bold tax collectors, anonymous existences seized by a ray of divine Beauty: men who are no longer men, men who have been transformed into consecrated men, the first of humanity.
Judas, the first of the bad religious. The first consecrated men of an innumerable family: for century after century. Amen! ‘Between the embankment and the wood’ – wrote Don Primo Mazzolari, the parish priest of Bozzolo – ‘a poor church and a small bell tower’. Simple coordinates to identify the biography of a consecrated man, that elderly man of God who still today – after millions of challenges accepted and battles engaged in – when the cock crows every early morning gets up and places himself in a silent way amongst still dark naves into order to converse with his God and plan together with Him his working day. A life that to most people seems to be solitary and unfashionable, old fashioned and retrograde, too difficult to be able to become happy: chastity, loneliness, and more often the hatred, the mockery and above all the indifference of a society that seems to no longer have a place for him. And yet he does not surrender: from the porter’s lodge to the infirmary, from teaching to viaticum for the dying, from his cell to the square, from buying bread for himself to holding a funeral service, from frailty that has to be comforted to a community/communion to be constructed, and from sacraments to be ministered to a daily life to be managed.
They should know about economics and eschatology, theology and botany, actions and contemplations: earth and heaven. They do not have daydreams about careers, following fears and joys, sadness and humiliation, bread, dreams and poems. With hearts that are too strong to give way to the martyrdom of those who deride them, those who would like them to be different only to then want them to be the opposite of what they are. For the last anonymous religious as well, Pope Francis began the Year of Consecrated Life. A whole year dedicated to consecrated people: a complex and indecipherable masterpiece that came from the hands of the Most High. Men and women who through their religious vows say the speak of the Mystery of the High, albeit pointing to the poverty of their Mystery from Below. A mystery of men and women who speak about God without forgetting about the earth. Or at least they try to do this every early morning.
Voltaire wrote ‘Religious life should not be envied for any reason at all’. There is a very well known saying: religious (monks) are people who are together without knowing each other, who live without loving each other, and who die without their loss being felt!
Naturally, the objective of our daily lives is to deny in a practical way the prejudices of Voltaire concerning religious life, restructuring with humility, determination and passion those cardinal points that define the basic polarity of religious life, within which stands or falls our very consecration: religious life is located under the primacy of the GOSPEL; religious life is located on the road of FOLLOWING; religious life is expressed in a life of COMMUNITY; religious life is MISSION, that is to say witness and presence in the world!
However, there is a frame that cannot be forgone: religious life is primarily ‘life’! That is to say movement, a journey, a road before anything else. This is not something that is taken for granted: the gospel is full of the ‘walking dead’, they are alive, perfect, but they are made ‘of plastic’, they have the odour neither of heaven nor of the earth: the Pharisee, the accusers of the sinful woman, Simon the Pharisee, the apostles themselves…that is to say religious people but ones who are not ‘ready to respond with the wisdom of the Gospel to the questions posed today by the anxieties and the urgent needs of the human heart’ (Consecrated Life, n. 81); at the most they offer again always the same old music, like gramophones! A museum-like faithfulness is of no use…Rules filled with neo-Platonism which have nothing to do with the incarnation of the Son of God are of no use…
The spiritual and historical event of the conversion of St. Camillus (2 February 1575) emphasises that God is encountered in history and provokes above all a feeling and not the end some reasoning. This happens to Jacob during the night when he is journeying to Carran, to Moses when he reaches Mount Horeb, to Elijah in the mouth of the cave to which he had fled because he was afraid. The places where they are, their journeys, and their lives change radically.
The .life of St. Camillus attests to the fact that sentiment is the perception that I have been ‘touched’ by the presence of another person. Resentment, on the other hand, arises when, rather than opening myself to the other (Other), I fold in on the sensation that he or she has in a certain sense ‘wounded’ me. There is no longer the ability to feel the other and as a consequence to vibrate. What survives is the wish to make the other person pay for the wound inflicted by the relationship, rather than looking with one’s eyes upwards at the person who has generated the wound. The greater the feeling of encounter, the more acrid the resentment can be. Encounter takes place through a ‘wound’ not because it is violent but because the encounter is always reciprocal openness!
The incandescent core of our consecrated lives is the movement of the heart which entrusts itself by throwing towards God every good that is savoured or threatened. Religious life is the expression of a relationship in which the human creature recognises and accepts to the utmost his own precariousness and understands it as a tie with God. I am a person who prays because where I experience the wound of my incompleteness I recognise the silent Presence of other people who turn to men. I welcome with a sort of tender gratitude the imperfection of the creative work which needs my freedom to be completed. If I cultivate an – albeit haloed – perception of this sense of my finitude and I recognise the approach to it specifically through knowledge of Jesus, prayers are offered up even if I do not manage to be present in every word that I utter, because this, as well, is a part of my precariousness, of my limitation. Nothing is opposed to my spiritual life: not weakness, not ignorance, not even sleep. Only incredulity as impiety.
Impiety is the claim to make oneself one’s own centre, the wish to be self-determining, being pleased with one’s own cursus honorum (titles, good deeds, tithes paid), possessing one’s own soul. Not fearing God, thinking of God not as that You who is always bending to be in a relationship with me, but as a competitive superpower who attracts me and annihilates me. To discover or reinvigorate the pathway of spiritual life – and thus of happiness – is a matter – according to the ancient teachers of the spirit – of rediscovering the golden vein of prayer which everyone carries within them, of removing the earth from the well of living water!
Isaac of Nineveh – a Syriac monk of the seventh century – said that to pray one has to go down into the depths, as pearl divers do. This image has always fascinated me. Is a pearl not perhaps a tear, a wound that has become a scar? But to find this pearl we have to go down into the sea. Go down into pain, into that death that aspires to life. Immersing ourselves in the Easter of Jesus. Every consecrated existence is – knowingly or unknowingly – an immersion in the Easter of the Lord!