First off happy Mother's Day. According to my daughter, who has this day all planned out, my particular Mother's Day gift will give us approximately 12 hours of bonding time. I suspect the second season of the Tudors has hit store shelves and will soon hit my DVD collection. But since this is my day, we will actually enjoy 15 hours of bonding time, since I will force her to watch game five of the Redwings/Ducks Stanley Cup playoff series.
In the meantime, I have been reading a lot of the old articles from America Magazine. I mean old articles from the entire 100 year history of the magazine. It's been fascinating reading. I found one written by Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini that really struck me. He wrote this in 1998 as a commentary on the upcoming millennium, but it is hugely prophetic for today's Catholic world.
It's about his vision of how Holy Mother church could work, and how he put this vision in operation in the Archdiocese of Milan. The entire article can be read here, but the following is the part that really struck me. Let's just say that Cardinal Martini's view of the Church is not Bishop Martino's view of the church. In this case changing one letter in a name is a world of difference.
Praying in Milan
With the coming of salvation in Christ, a new world economy is possible, based, in cooperation with the Holy Spirit, not on competition but on concern for all human beings. It is essential at the eve of the new millennium that we live according to these prospects, conveying them to others for the good of all humanity. First, we need to address those who are searching for meaning in life and would like to be helped in the new millennium. We need to bring to them new openings for this meaning. Second, we need especially to help young people find distinctive points of reference for this new quest for meaning. Third, we need to aid the ordinary Christian in looking to the new millennium not with fear and anxiety but with joy and hope.
How can we be of assistance to others in a local community, a local church, a diocese? In Milan, to cite a city where I have tried to implement my vision of Christianity, I have tried to address the needs of Christians and nonbelievers alike. For the last few years, I have invited people belonging to every religion—or even to no religion at all—to gather in our cathedral for sessions we organize periodically throughout the year. My only request is that those who attend be willing to think. Normally between 1,000 and 2,000 participate at each session. I said at the outset, "Let us ask some nonbelievers to tell us why they do not believe and let us listen to them." And I provided what might be called a "chair for nonbelievers," so they could speak to us about their experiences, since I believe that there is inside each one of us, whatever our religion, both a believer and a nonbeliever. (Even a bishop, I must confess, feels at times the interior tugs of belief and non-belief.) Thus, I have asked myself, "Why not give an open voice to this inner struggle by listening also to people who are in search of meaning? Can't I be helped by them to understand what is happening within me?" (Isn't this exactly what real parents do, listen to their children's hopes and struggles, freely admitting we experience the same struggles?)
In due course, I invited a well-known Marxist philosopher to speak about the implications in his own personal life of not believing in God—and I can tell you, it was a moving experience. Very, very interesting. And after that I invited others—psychiatrists, artists, poets and others—to speak about the searching for a meaning in life, with all the doubts and anxieties that it entails. In inviting these speakers, I was not out to convince anyone of the Christian message, nor to give a sermon or an apologetic exhortation. I simply wanted to provide an environment where each person present could think and reflect on the meaning of his or her life.
At the conclusion to each session, I asked some questions that might have occurred to me: What have we heard this evening? What does it mean? What is the question I have to arrive at in order to think more deeply? How can what I have heard make me more self-sufficient? Has my heart learned something new? In order to vary the sessions, we have had different topics for reflection, such as the silence of God in Jewish history, especially during the Holocaust. I remember well an elderly woman who had been in a concentration camp as a young girl: "I entered the concentration camp," she said, "an atheist. I left it an agnostic, convinced that there was a mystery I could not name. But I felt that there was a mystery about human life." You see, life is a process, a search, an inquiry that helps us to think. (Good, bad, or boring, life is a process and a search. It is not a stagnant proposition.)
An important Italian psychologist once said to me, "I do not believe in God, but I pray twice a day." "Could you tell me what you pray about?" I asked him. "Why don't you pray just once a day?" I remember, too, a conversation with a Japanese Buddhist monk who prays, even though he does not believe in a personal God. To each, I would ask, "What is your prayer?" They all seemed to say, one way or another, that prayer is something deeper, more interior, than trying to achieve a thematic idea of God. Even though they say they do not believe in God, they pray. I found it very moving to listen to these different forms of witness.
The purpose of these sessions was always the same: to help people think and go into the depths of their consciousness. Because of the large attendance, we had to provide a huge screen so that all could participate to the maximum. I interpreted the numbers coming to each session, not as mass concern for things apocalyptic, but as a serious search for meaning common to many people of different religious denominations—and even to many who do not belong to any religion.
I have tried to vary my approach in allowing people to grow in my presence and in the presence of others. One time a group of young people asked me to explain to them how to pray with the Bible, which I did. Approximately 200 of us stayed up the better part of one evening—I remember we were outdoors on a delightful May night sitting on the grass. I explained something about prayer in the Bible. Some of them asked me to give an example of a practical biblical prayer. I did so. As we continued our sessions, we moved into the cathedral, since our numbers had grown to more than 500, then 1,000, then 2,000, 3,000, 4,000, until each month the cathedral was full.
My method was simple: We began with moments of silence, some singing and praying of psalms, followed by a reading from the New Testament and a short introduction to personal prayer. And then no music—just long periods of silence. It was amazing. This went on each month for five years. One year we prayed the psalms of repentance, focusing on the phrase from Psalm 51, "Lord have mercy on me." Word of what we were doing spread even to the prisons, and one young man who was incarcerated wrote me that after learning how to pray he wanted nothing to do with his former life of terrorism. When the cathedral proved too small for the thousands who attended, we spread out into many diocesan churches—some 70 in all. Even in the dead of winter, when unheated churches are like refrigerators, everyone sits quietly and prays. All are absorbed by listening to God's words.
Prayer Brings Love and Hope
At the end of this millennium, I have seen God's words make an opening in the hearts of young people. There is no secret in what we do; we provide a time and a place, as St. Ignatius of Loyola did for those who wished to make a retreat with him, for a person to pray the Bible in silence. Young people want to learn to pray, to have meaning in their lives. In a changing world, what lives inside a person will prove victorious. But it is not easy to reach everyone. As I have said, the end of one millennium and the beginning of a new one invite us not to yearn for predictions but to engage in courageous action.
As a bishop I have also realized that it is possible to give a retreat to many thousands of people by means of radio and television. Last year, in honor of the anniversary of the 16th centennial of the death of St. Ambrose, who was Bishop of Milan, I gave just such a retreat to half a million people. I received many letters of gratitude for this spiritual experience; these letters showed me that God is preparing great things for the millennium to come. Above all, I learned that it is possible to teach thousands and thousands to pray together at the same time. (This concept of group prayer can be extremely powerful when done correctly, as in getting everyone on the same page.)
Let me conclude by emphasizing that we have to prepare for the new millennium with courage and hope. Christ has come among us and remained with us; his presence, the strength of the Holy Spirit, is stronger than ever. During two millennia of the history of sanctity and faith, Jesus, our Lord, has shown that he is the lord of history and shall guide the new millennium with a new explosion of love and hope. Let us be with him as he is with us.
For some really fascinating reading on more of Cardinal Martini's thinking, check out this link. It will take you to a dialogue the Cardinal had with Ignazio Marino, an Italian doctor and member of the Italian parliament. It concerns life issues. It was conducted in 2006. It caused some angst amonst certain Vatican dicasteries, but Pope Benedict didn't offer an opinion.
Cardinal Martini is now retired and studying in Jerusalem.
The Italian magazine La Stampa cited an anonymous source from the 2005 Papal election that on the first ballot Cardinal Martini actually had more votes than Cardinal Ratzinger 40-30. Another anonymous source refutes that and says Martini only received 12 and then removed his name from consideration. I guess we'll never know the truth, just like we never really know what the vast majority of our hierarchy actually thinks until they retire. Which I guess shows you that the CDF still has a very strong grip on the official Catholic conversation---except when it came to Cardinal Martini. That, I find very interesting. Have a great mother's day.