The saying of a desert father is famous: “The time will come when men will go crazy. And in seeing someone who is not mad they will pounce on him saying, ‘You’re crazy!’, because of his dissimilarity from them.” Paul has been through this experience: “The Jews ask for miracles and the Greeks for a higher knowledge, while we proclaim a crucified Messiah. For the Jews, what a real scandal. And for the Greeks, what nonsense!” (1 Cor 1:22-23). Where is true wisdom? The logic of the cross is not that of the world. Man is born and grows to assimilate that of the world. When the “folly of the cross” was announced to him as normal and the outcome even healthy, he is seized with doubts and misgivings and he sits down to reflect on the choice to make.
We search for life, not death. We want to avoid what makes us suffer and the cross, unfortunately, does not evoke the idea of salvation. Certain forms of mortification, penance, and ascetic practices have not made a good service to the understanding of the call made by Jesus to take the cross.
The Christian does not aspire to pain (even Jesus did not seek it), but love. However, when love is “lived up to the end” (Jn 13:1) it comes to the gift of life.
That’s why the cross, from a sign of death, becomes a symbol of life.
Until the end of the 3rd century, the Christian symbols were the anchor, the fisherman, the fish but never the cross. It will only be from the 4th century, with the famous discovery of the instrument of execution of Jesus by St. Helena, that the cross will become the symbol of victory, not on the enemies of Constantine at the Milvio Bridge but on death and all those that cause death. To choose the cross is to choose life. But it is not easy to understand.
To internalize the message, we repeat: “Give us, O God, the wisdom of heart”.
We are in a country villa of the upper class of a big city of the Third World, one of those cities where poverty is accompanied by the more brazen waste.
At the end of the party for the twentieth birthday of the daughter—a brilliant university student—the parents order the two servants to fix the room.
Here’s the surprise: the table was full of great quantity of leftover meat, rice, chips, cakes, and pastries.
What do we do with all this stuff?—the embarrassed husband asks. His wife is carrying a tray full of glasses to the kitchen to wash. Surprised, she stops for a moment then, as if she lately realized the mistake done, adds: “We have invited the wrong people: people who were not hungry.”
We are afraid to be approached by hungry people fearing they will impoverish us. Yet the party of our lives could end in disappointment: we could end up with the goods that the Lord had given us so that with them we could “feed” his poor.
“Happy are those invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb!”—says the angel of Revelation (Rev 19:9). But at that party, only one who deprived himself of everything to give to the hungry may attend.
To internalize the message, we repeat: “The poor man knocks on my door to offer me an opportunity to experience the joy of God.”
“Enlarge the space for your tent, stretch out your hangings, lengthen your ropes and strengthen your stakes, for you will spread out to the right and to the left” (Is 54:2-3). This is the prophet’s invitation to Jerusalem enclosed within a gripping circle of walls. The time of narrow nationalism is over; new, limitless horizons are wide open. The city must prepare to welcome all people who will come to her because all, not just Israel, are heirs of the blessings promised to Abraham.
The image used by the prophet is delightful; it makes us almost visibly contemplate the whole humanity on the way to the hill on which Jerusalem is located. There the Lord has prepared “a feast of rich food and choice wines, fine wine strained” (Is 25:6).
With another image of the city, the author of Revelation describes, in the last pages of his book, the happy conclusion of the troubled history of humankind. Jerusalem is “surrounded by a large, high wall with twelve gates. Three gates face the east; three gates face the north; three gates face the south and three face the west” (Rev 21:12-13). The picture is different, but the message is the same: wherever they arrive, every man will see the gates wide open ready to receive him.
But the path to the banquet of the kingdom of God is not an easy walk. The road that leads there is narrow and the door—Jesus says—is constricted and hard to find. This statement does not contradict the optimistic and joyful message of the prophets who proclaim the universal salvation. He warns against the illusion of being on the right track when one is instead getting lost along the paths that move away from the goal. Yes, all will arrive but it would be better not to get there at the end of the banquet.
To internalize the message, we repeat: “All the peoples of the earth will praise you, Lord.”
The ease and speed with which skepticism, mockery or disrepute manage to cool the enthusiasm, to put out the ideals, to render harmless the most noble teaching is surprising.
We met young people who, moved by a sincere passion, had pledged to build a new world and a more evangelical church. In the short span of a few years they have lowered the flags and given up dreams. They have adapted to the prevailing conformism, to what they previously considered trivial, ephemeral, banal. For convenience, for opportunism? Some maybe yes, but others have given up with deep regret the high aspirations and youth projects… because they had been taken first by discouragement and then resignation. They had not taken into account the opposition, resistance, conflicts, difficulties and they did not resist.
The one who engages in community expects approval, praise, support for the initiatives that he carries forward, for the time and energy he dedicates. It is an illusion! He will soon have to deal with the adverse criticism, envy, jealousy. So far we are still within the sphere of normal misunderstandings and disagreements. The contrast becomes more serious when there are decisive ecclesial choices, adherence to the new prospects opened up by the Council, the evangelical proposals incompatible with the logic of this world. Then hostility is openly manifested and assumes all the nuances that go from insult, slander, marginalization and moral lynching.
The one who feels thwarted in this way is tempted to get discouraged and to question the choices he has made. The temptation to adapt to the prevailing mentality, to the principles and values commonly accepted becomes almost irresistible.
Jesus warned his disciples against this danger: “If the world hates you, remember that the world hated me before you. This would not be so if you belonged to the world, because the world loves its own” (Jn 15:18). He calmed their perplexed and vacillating spirits recalling that a dramatic destiny puts together, for always, all the just ones. “Remember, that is how the ancestors of this people treated the prophets. Alas for you when people speak well of you, for that is how the ancestors of these people treated the false prophets” (Lk 6:23,26).
To internalize the message, we repeat: “Lord, let the truth of your prophets be recognized.”