Monday, May 21, 2007

Reflection for the Novena for Pentecost

The days between the Feasts of the Ascension and of Pentecost have traditionally been days of prayer focused on receiving anew the gift of the Holy Spirit, to strengthen one’s relationship with Him. Despite our busy schedules, this is a good time to remember who the Holy Spirit is and what sort of disposition we need in order to receive Him more fully and be more docile to His inspirations.

In John, we hear Jesus call the Holy Spirit the Advocate and the Spirit of Truth. He is our Advocate because He intercedes for the faithful before God with inexpressible groanings. Being the Spirit of Truth, He reminds us of all that Jesus has told us, He enlightens us and illumines our consciences to sin so as to lead us to repentance, forgiveness and greater holiness. As Fr. Cantalamessa mentions, the Holy Spirit’s role as Advocate counters Satan, literally “the accuser,” who “accuses humanity before God and accuses God before humanity.” The lies of the accuser are countered by the Holy Spirit who makes the words of Jesus resound in our hearts. He also reminds us that we are children of God.

The more we are in union with the Holy Spirit, the more the Father and the Son take up their home in the our hearts. This happens through the Holy Spirit precisely because He is the gift of God Most High, and, where there is one person of the Trinity, the other two are also present. And if His gift of intimate union with God were not enough, the Holy Spirit also provides us with His gifts and forms in us His fruits to counter our weaknesses and vices. The Holy Spirit is, in effect, the salve of the Good Samaritan that heals our wounds and gives us what we need in our poverty and weakness.

How do we regard the reception of the Holy Spirit? Do we think the Holy Spirit is something we can gain by our prayers or our own virtue? Or do we recognize the Holy Spirit as a free gift from the Father we? Do we truly desire that Holy Spirit come into our lives with His action and presence, or do we fear that we will no longer be in control or that we will be asked to give up the sins and ingrained vices that we have become attached to and familiar with?

During this week, let us ask the Holy Spirit to come into our lives and renew us we may be more authentic witnesses to the Gospel.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Interview with the Doctor of John Paul II

Here is an interview with John Paul II's physician, Dr. Renato Buzzonetti, which I translated for the May edition of "Totus Tuus."

A Little Cyrenean in the Footsteps of the Great Cyrenean John Paul II

Dr. Renato Buzzonetti, Chief Pontifical Physician, Director of the Directory of Health and Hygiene of the Vatican City State for almost 40 years, personal physician of John Paul II, tells of his nearly 27 year professional and spiritual adventure, which began December 29, 1978, in this exclusive interview with “Totus Tuus”.

Dr. Buzzonetti, this past April 2nd, the diocesan phase of the Cause for Beatification and Canonization of the Servant of God John Paul II, to whom you were tied personally and professionally, was closed. As we await his beatification, what can you share about your personal experience of the holiness of Pope Wojtyła?

Leafing through the pages of the book of the life of John Paul II, in which I was allowed to participate, I consider those of his prayer to be the most important pages. Anyone who was near him learned first and foremost how to pray. He was a man of immense charity, had a versatile personality anchored by faith “of steel,” who lived out an intimate union with the Lord. He prayed even in the most unthinkable moments, like when he entered for the first time in the [General Assembly] Hall of the United Nations, holding a rosary in his hand: like me when I went for a few exams. He lived abandoning himself totally to the will of God. A truly heroic moment was the one following the tracheotomy in March 2005. Waking up from the anesthesia, John Paul II could no longer speak. He wrote in an unsteady hand and in Polish “What have you done to me! ... But totus tuus.”

In your opinion, which is the best “page” of the public testimony of John Paul II’s love for life?

The pilgrimage to Lourdes, August 14th and 15th, 2004. It was his last international voyage. He was suffering, severely impaired in his movements and in his gestures, constrained to interrupt the reading of his invocation to Mary in front of the grotto of Massabielle... but he did not withdraw; he did not back out of his duty as a Son and as a Pastor. Infirmed among the infirmed, he wanted to participate in the traditional acts of the great Marian pilgrimage. He did not hide his powerlessness in being ill, without conventional modesty, with the simplicity of a just man he declared his faithfulness to life, a gift from God, which was to be lived to the very end, without escapes and without compromises. He completed a grand catechesis that celebrated illness accepted in the footsteps of the Crucified, not as a humiliation and a condemnation, but as a gift of grace and a supreme hymn to human life, becoming a sign of contradiction and of hope.

Could you read us an unpublished page from the book of the life of Pope Wojtyła?

The first years of his pontificate, when he would receive a compliment in private, he would often respond, “I don’t deserve it.” It was something he heard a child from a Roman parish, to whom he had paid a complement, reply. I remember a funny incident in connection to this phrase. At the end of his apostolic voyage to Goa, where the glorious tomb of Saint Francis Xavier is, during dinner with the local bishops, the Patriarch gave a speech in praise of the Pope. To the series of compliments addressed to his person John Paul II responded with immediate naturalness “I don’t deserve it,” up until the point in which he heard a compliment addressed to him in as much as successor of Peter. Then he replied “I deserve it.”

On occasion in the papers or on television there was emphasis on the news of “quick escapes” from the Vatican...

During the first years of his Pontificate this meant trips that comprised of long treks or many hours of skiing. As the Holy Father got older, the walks on foot became shorter and the excursions, after a quick ride in the car, finished with a long rest in the shade of a tent erected in front of uplifting panoramas, at the foot of mountain peaks still covered with snow. A bagged lunch marked serene moments of conviviality with those who had accompanied us. Toward sunset and before taking the road for Rome, the Pope liked to hear songs from the mountains, sung by his small following, joined by the Vatican guards and the police escorts. The task of directing the improvised choir, with a delighted Pope looking on, fell to me.

Which of these “quick escapes” do you remember in particular?

A trip to the mountains near Arcinazzo in May of 2003. It was the time when John Paul II was having problems with his right knee. The Pope, after having asked me for some explanations on the state of his health, told me that I must “always” remain his physician. Obviously I have not forgotten that day.

Was there ever a time when managing the health of Pope Wojtyła was risky?

The day of the attempt on his life, Wednesday May 13, 1981. The greatest risk was run in deciding to bring him to [Polyclinic] Gemelli. Before getting in the ambulance, while in the foyer of the Directory of Health Services of the Vatican City State, I determined that the Pope could endure the twenty minutes needed to reach “Gemelli.” In fact, he was conscious and obeyed elementary commands. Furthermore, given the gunshot wound to the abdomen and knowing that, at that time, Santo Spirito Hospital, the one closest to the Vatican, was not sufficiently equipped, I gave the order to head for Polyclinic Gemelli, in agreement with the Secretary [of State].

Speaking of the attempt on his life, what was it that John Paul II said to you about it?

He spoke to me about it several times, almost smiling, saying, “That man wanted to know the third secret of Fatima by force,” alluding to Alì Agca.

After the Angelus of Sunday January 30, 2005, recited with difficulty by John Paul II, you had to make another important decision...

The precarious condition of the Holy Father’s health was being complicated by an acute laringotracheitis with the complication of laringospasm, which had dangerously reduced his respiratory space. The evening of February 1st the condition of the patient worsened in only a few hours. The hospitalization was inevitable. “Now or never,” I said, while the others beat round the bush. The Pope quickly grasped the crux of the problem and said “Yes, let’s go.”

Could you explain the significance of John Paul II’s “Let me go to the Lord...”?

These words are the immediate translation of the ones John Paul II pronounced in Polish with an almost imperceptible voice around 3:30 PM on Saturday, April 2nd. They were his “consummatum est” (Jn 19:30). They were not a passive surrender to the illness or an escape from the suffering; rather they expressed the awareness of a profound via crucis that was by now approaching its final goal: the encounter with the Lord. They were, then, words of expectation and hope, of renewed and definitive abandonment in the hands of the Father. At the same time we doctors had to admit that the illness was inexorably progressing toward the final phase of its course. Ours had been a battle waged with patience, humility, and prudence, extremely difficult because we were intimately convinced that it would conclude with a defeat, but it was oriented by the total and merciful respect for the man who was suffering. There was not the so-called use of excessive measures.

In the dedication of the book “Let Me Go,” of which you are the author of the chapter “The Days of Suffering and Hope,” you wrote, “My chapter also tells, in filigree, the story of a little Cyrenean following in the footsteps of a great Cyrenean...”

For the Christian doctor, often times an unknown, strained, and silent Cyrenean, the agony of a person is an icon of the agony of the Lord. Every person has his wounds, has his crown of thorns, stutters his last words, and abandons him or herself in he hands of someone who unknowingly renews the gesture of Mary, of the pious women, or of Joseph of Arimathea. The death of John Paul II was the death of a man by then stripped of everything, who had undergone the hours of battle and of glory and who had arrived in his interior nakedness at the encounter with his Lord, to Whom he was returning the keys of the Kingdom. In that moment of pain and of stupor, I had the sensation of finding myself on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias. All of history seemed to be at a standstill while Christ set about to call the new Peter. The [flat] isoelectric line of the electrocardiogram registered the end of the great earthly adventure of a man already considered a saint by the people of God, but it seemed to delineate a new horizon open to a future which had already begun...

Domitia Caramazza

photo courtesy of

The You God Wants

I like the way God works.

They say if you hear something come up three times in a very short amount of time, it could be God trying to tell you something.

I was recently thinking about humility as being accepting oneself as one is and looking for God to provide the growth, instead of trying so hard to change, but based on one's own pride. Humility would then mean thanking God for one's faults and defects and trusting that he will work through them and lead one to perfection.

Friday I went to one of the "Study Days" (Giorno di Studio) at my university, which normally is an occasion to do other work while some professor rattles on about some topic that I am not studying and which I can't follow since the discourses are normally in an Italian that perhaps Roberto Benini would use... i.e. quick and sometimes slurred. Anyway, this day was different as I had decided to try to pay attention.

What I heard was a reminder about how the life of virtue is not a means of winning God's love or gaining God's grace, but rather is a response to His love and grace. The professor said something like, one must learn to stop trying to construct a self based on one's own dream of the self and rather let God bring one to the self he has in mind. The life of virtue and asceticism would then consist in being open to God's grace and love (disponibile).

I came home that afternoon and wrote this reminder on the bulletin board on the inside of my door. "Stop trying to reach the dream of yourself - the you you think you should be. Ask God to help you to be the you He would like you to be and leave the rest in His hands."

I find that the me I think I should be is mostly based on assumptions of what I think others would want me to be, or it is based on my idea of what I think others are expecting of me so that I may win their favor and not be excluded. The me God thinks I should be starts with a simple premise: "I love you for who you are." This can be difficult to accept because most of the time we hear from other people... "I love you. Now change! Or I won't love you unless you change!" And even sometimes we are the one's assuming that others are saying "I love you. Now change," even if they are not.

With God it is "I love you as you are. My love for you will change you."

Sometimes I find myself saying, "No God, you ought to love a Br. Chris that is more humble or more patient or more polite or more affable," and this is a sin. I'm telling God what He can and can't do. Yet He comes around again with His patience and faithfulness and whispers once again: "I love you as you are. You are a treasure to me. I have made you for a life to be lived in my service. Instead of taking away your pain, I will give you compassion to be my messenger to those others who are in pain. Instead of taking away your faults, I will teach you patience with yourself so that you can be patient with others. Instead of taking away the storm that you see in your life, I will give you peace in the midst of the storm so that you may be my light for others. I love you as you are. Do not look for me to love you only if you are better or more perfect. You'll only miss my desire to love you for who you are and use you in building up my Kingdom. Let me love you as you are. For when I enter the heart of one who lets me in I establish my Kingdom within it because I begin to dwell there. So let me love you as you are so that I may start to spread my Kingdom in you."

A friend of mine just e-mailed me and told me a story that had to do with thanking God for creating her as she is. It reminded me of this same theme. That's number three! Thank you, my friend, for sharing, and thank You God for making us as we are.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Easter Greetings

Okay, so it's the fourth week of Easter, and I'm finally talking about Easter. Better late than never, right? So, Happy Easter to all!

Something I was thinking about during the Easter Vigil especially with the reading from Ezekiel about the new fleshy heart and a new spirit, which he promises us:

A bit of good news for those who find that their hearts are stoney: Jesus did not disdain to be born in the cave of Bethlehem, nor did he disdain to be placed in a cave after his death on the cross. It was from a cave that the Lord rose to new life, and in the Eucharist, he makes his dwelling stone and metal tabernacles. So be of good cheer if you find your heart to be stoney. Jesus can make it the place in which he is born, the place in which his body sacrificed for us makes it home. He can make it the place where he rises to new life (and us with him), and he can make it into a tabernacle to bring his presence to others!

So, if your heart is stoney, receive the infant child, the Word incarnate! Bring into your heart the dead Christ who gave his life for our redemption, if you find your heart to be a white washed tomb. Do not be afraid to let the Lord rise again in your heart, if it be made of stone, because he can still use it and make of it a tabernacle of his presence... and in so doing, transform that which was stoney and hard into a fleshy heart filled with his spirit. What matters is that we give him our hearts, even if they be stoney. He knows what to do with them.

Peace be with you. May we not be afraid to offer our Lord our hearts as they are, so that He may make them how he wills them to be... hearts in union with his.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Visit to Subiaco

I went to Subiaco on Sunday the 22nd of April and saw there an interesting fresco. A monk was arguing with the devil and in the next pannel was being punished by Saint Benedict.

Thinking about this, I wondered what it could mean, and the answer that came to me was that it was a reminder that the devil is much more intelligent than we are, so arguing with him would be a waste of time. Besides this, one would not be relying on God's help, but being lured into the trick of relying on one's own strength.

Later I picked up a book by William Ullathorne, OSB called Patience and Humilty (Sophia Institute Press, 1998) and was surprised to read in the first few pages something which illumines that fresco and makes clear the Benedictine wisdom common to the artist and the author. It was this reflection:

"It is the fostering of minor troubles until they swell to a flood of sadness and discouragement that gives the devil a turbid pool in which to cast his nets. If those minor troubles befall you, let them drop. Be not disturbed; turn your heart to God. Do not look at them; do not dispute with them; answer them not a word. Only turn your mind from them and let them drop."

I found this to be such a simple and wise insight. How often I do try to solve my minor problems or troubled thoughts instead of simply trusting God. How often I run about trying to find peace. Just the other day, too, this became so evident. I wanted very desparately to be at peace... I was anxious to calm down, running to stand still (to steal the title of the U2 song). And yet isn't that so silly. What I was doing was shooting myself in the foot. I had a good laugh over that.

Just like the fresco at Subiaco and the wisdom of Don Ullathorne were saying, one can not overcome one's troubles by becoming troubled over them, but rather by turning one's gaze to God, trusting that He is a Father Who loves and will give the grace needed for us to trust and wait in patience for His Peace.

That Threshold

There is a threshold in life...
A crossing from death and sadness
To life and joy.

Leaving behind trust in self
Entering into trust in God
Taking that leap of faith

The pride of life and sense of self
The lies, the illusion, the false treasures
Are left behind in the repeated "yes."

A "yes" to the True Treasure,
The True Desire of the heart
To the One Who is constant and sure.

As self-sufficiency dies
The soul is set free
It rejoices in the light of the One Who Loves.

A threshold, a passage, a journey,
a Pascha of faith and of trust
That liberates the soul to love...

The Threshold of Hope.