Just finished reading an excellent book on the Pope called ‘Pope Francis – Untying the Knots’ by Paul Vallely. Of all the books rushed out to capitalise on the widespread interest of a new pope – this seems to be the best so far in English. The title is well chosen because it refers to a painting of Our Lady – Untier of Knots that Bergoglio has a special devotion for, but also refers to the task that the author was facing looking at a complicated life of a Jesuit who has often found himself in leadership roles, often in very difficult circumstances, with a legacy that isn’t straightforward to tease out. I think the author seems to do a fairly good job. However what was fascinating for me – was the account of Bergoglio’s ‘intervention’ (speech) which made such a big impact amongst the other cardinals at the general congregation before the conclave started. Unlike many of the other speeches, which have been reported as being inward looking – this electrified the synod hall – because it was simple, spiritual, theological and most important from the heart.
The only purpose of the Church is to go and out and tell the world the good news about Jesus Christ. Evangelizing presupposes in the Church the “parresia” of coming out from itself. The Church is called to come out from itself and to go to the peripheries, not only geographical, but also existential: those of the mystery of sin, of suffering, of injustice, those of ignorance and of the absence of faith, those of thought, those of every form of misery.
When the Church does not come out from itself to evangelize it becomes self-referential and gets sick (one thinks of the woman hunched over upon herself in the Gospel). This self-referentiality, is a sort of theological narcissism. In Revelation, Jesus says that he is standing at the threshold and calling. We often assume that the text refers to the fact that he stands outside the door and knocks to enter. . . But at times I think that Jesus may be knocking from the inside, that we may let him out. The self-referential Church presumes to keep Jesus Christ within itself and not let him out.
The Church, when it is self-referential, without realizing it thinks that it has its own light; it stops being the “mysterium lunae”. The mystery of the moon is that it has no light but simply reflects the light of the sun. When the church thinks it gives out its own light it gives rise to a grave evil, that of spiritual worldliness (according to Henri De Lubac, the worst evil into which the Church can fall). To simplify, there are two images of the Church: the evangelizing Church that goes out from itself; or the worldly Church that lives in itself, of itself, for itself.
Thinking of the next Pope: a man who, through the contemplation of Jesus Christ and the adoration of Jesus Christ, may help the Church to go out from itself toward the existential peripheries, that may help it to be the fecund mother who lives “by the sweet and comforting joy of evangelizing.”
The speech delivered in Italian – was short – just over 3 minutes, but it made a big impact. Cardinal Schonborn turned to a neighbour and said – ‘That’s what we need’. Cardinal Ortega from Havana asked Bergoglio later if he could have a copy to distribute. It was only a few scribbled notes, but overnight Bergoglio transcribed from memory what he said and passed it on, giving permission for it to be put up on the website of the Archdiocesis of Havana in Cuba. My version (above) is a mixture of Vallely’s, Sandro Magisters and my own translation.
The second most exciting footstep (according to Neil Armstrong) – (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
A lot of travelling this weekend so I was able to immerse myself in news. Two of the big stories – Neil Armstrong’s death and Lance Armstrong’s fall from grace – touch two areas I am passionate about, cycling and space exploration. And what a contrast. Firstly Neil Armstrong – the quiet, modest, pilot and astronaut. Much has been said about his technical genius in landing on the moon with very little fuel left, his ability to calculate and improvise. Not much has been written about the spiritual impact it had on the astronauts. All highly trained technicians and scientists. When they gazed back at the earth in space it gave them a new sense of appreciation of how beautiful, wonderful and delicate the Planet Earth is. They were to return as changed men, men of stronger faith. Armstrong’s companion Buzz Aldrin shared communion with him discreetly after landing on the moon – click here. There is also the beautiful story of how Armstrong, when he returned, was taken on a tour of the old city of Jerusalem by Israeli archeologist Meir Ben-Dov. When they got to the Hulda Gate, which is at the top of the stairs leading to the Temple Mount, Armstrong asked Ben-Dov whether Jesus had stepped anywhere around there.“These are the steps that lead to the temple,” Ben-Dov told him, “so He must have walked here many times.” Armstrong then asked Ben-Dov if those were the original stairs and Ben-Dov confirmed that they were indeed. “So Jesus stepped right here,” Armstrong asked. “That’s right,” answered Ben-Dov. To which Armstrong replied, “I have to tell you, I am more excited stepping on these stones than when I was stepping on the moon.”
Cover via Amazon
In contrast. Lance Armstrong, who achieved an unthinkable 7 Tour de France titles, has had them stripped this weekend. Like many I was inspired by his comeback from cancer, his amazing book, ‘It’s not about the Bike’ and also his superb Live Strong foundation. Of course you are disappointed when the extent of the use of banned drugs becomes evident, it is simply cheating. But I would still have retained admiration for Armstrong. However what has come to light this weekend is the incredible control he exercised over a network of former team mates, assistants and reporters. His tacit admission of guilt has freed many witnesses and journalists to be able to speak without fear of retribution. The extent of the legal bullying that went on, the career destroying, the defamation of any whistle blowers, the pressure put on so many to collude in the cheating is incredible. This ruthlessness and the single-minded determination is not glorious it is shameful. And what a contrast to his quiet fellow countryman who had a lot more to shout about.
Arisaig – just to make you jealous ….
I am spending an unexpected week up in the West Highlands of Scotland in a beautiful place called Arisaig, helping out with a supply for the parish. I am relishing the beautiful blue seas, white / silver beaches and a welcome re-acquaintance with the sun ( I just saw on the news Edinburgh only had 1.6hrs of sun shine the first 10 days of July!). Another great part of being up in the ‘remote’ highlands is that there is very little light pollution up here – so the nights can be very dark – perfect if you are an enthusiastic stargazer like me. There is nothing like spending an hour – in a comfortable spot, wrapped up warmly to gaze at the immensity of the heavens, counting shooting stars, identifying constellations, working out asterisms within the constellations, squinting and trying to split binary stars with binoculars. Planet spotting is great fun too – especially with the new apps on smartphones that effectively give you a portable planetarium. Of course the planets do not generate light (unlike stars) but reflect the light from our star, the Sun, back to us. I learnt that the technical term for the amount of light a celestial body reflects is Albedo and it is low for the Earth, as we reflect only about 0.36 percent of the light that comes in. The Moon is a bit better though and this week we can get the chance to see ‘Earth-shine’ reflected on the moons surface.
Earth Shine and the Old Moon in the New Moons arms – coming soon to a sky near you!
This week, everywhere, a new Moon is rising giving us a chance to bathe in this Earthshine, the light from the Earth that illuminates the Moon. Right now is the perfect time to look for this enchanting phenomenon. So if you look at the photo to the left – you will see a new moon with about 10% positioned so the sunlight hits it and bounces down to Earth (the bright bit).The rest of the Moon, however, is positioned just right for the light from the sun to hit the Earth, bounce to the Moon, and come back down to the Earth again (the greyer 90%). That’s why we see, “The Old Moon in the New Moon’s arms.” The best time to see it is just around sunset when the reflected Earthshine is brightest.
Happy moon spotting!