La Repubblica, 18/12/2009
“The Pope has conveyed the seriousness of things regarding the evil in the Church and its deep causes, things which I cannot write about. He has spoken of an open ulcer. The remedy has to be extraordinary, because the illness is disproportionate.” Fr. Ricardo Lombardi, leaves his meeting with Pope Paul VI in a stupor. There is something about the pale and tense face of the Jesuit that brought together multitudes in the plazas of the aftermath of the first world war, and the anguish on the face of the Pope of modernity. The dimensions of the catastrophe that hits the Church become clear.
Pope Montini suffers from insomnia, at the same time, Lombardi on his knees in the chapel, cries to God, with the yearning groan of impotence, with no salvation in sight. Lombardi is but a mere shadow of the aggressive “Microphone of God”, who tore the cross from the sheath, symbol of God’s impotence, to manifest the political strength of the Church. It’s been months now, that he has been suffering from a depression, his medications sustaining him. “I awaken from an artificial sleep, provoked by medications—he confesses in his diary- and anguish takes over. As with the prophets, blind and groaning, I write with temptations, almost desperation, with doubts about faith, in darkness… This horrible darkness, this personal agony that makes me share in the darkness and agony of the Church.”
At that time, there was a great effort being carried out regarding the reforms brought about by the Council, a lacerating review of the customary ways of thinking, of the actions, the institutional apparatus. Pope Montini told Yves Congar, the French theologian: “We need to overcomea sclerotic theology. We need to begin again, as in the first centuries”. To Lombardi, however, the Pope seems so lucid in his diagnosis, as he is equally cautious in the therapies. His need to rush him towards a “prophetic” guide for Peter’s boat, are to no avail. Pope Paul knows too well that the puppets of the heretic Marcel Lefebvre, who has threatened with a schism, are hidden behind the curtains of the Vatican Congregations… “you are a prophet –he tells the Jesuit—but we have to rise above the surface of the earth”.
However, times come when the truth shatters the diplomacy of half lies, in which the great battle with the adversaries of the reform of Vatican II, becomes the mouse in the pantry while the Titanic sinks.
The eleventh hour comes on April 5th, during the Holy Week of 1971, when the two church men, speak face to face, and lay the catastrophe of the system on the table, and both are totally overcome with grief in its wake. With the ferocity of the sharply honed blade of the torment of a mystic, the chrysalis of a strong, mundane, triumphant vision of Christianity that he had defended at other times, are torn apart one by one.
This anxiety to update the instruments for penetration in the modern world, to make culture a plausible cause, and a certain social acceptability in modernity, are contrasted as well with the question of how to reflect the radical poverty of a nude Christ on the Cross, victimized and subjected to blasphemy? Wasn’t it with these types of undertakings that the Church could be strengthened? “The change in the church and in the world, stun me, scare me, I feel lost”, Lombardi said that afternoon. “All that I was able to see from a human point of view regarding hope, is now covered by anguish. I see everything upturned. Maybe the way of God is to use communism to purify the Church with pain, humiliation, and even death.”
Suddenly an answer appears: “there is no salvation if not in Jesus, that Jesus that is among the brothers (and sisters), in humble dialogue, and absolutely lost on the cross. If I get better, I think I will be intensely different. I will change my way of speaking. I will invite to speak with caring and life sharing, eventually, in a modest dialogue in a climate of prayer. Maybe God will make me rise because I ask for the radical return to the naked Gospel. The Church is shaken with the general crisis of humanity. The past seems to not have any value. Anguish is leading me towards the mortal being, maybe even the suicidal temptation. It is not a crisis that can be assuaged with medication. “It is the Dark Night”, I have told my confessor.”
This all has existential hues, there are clear signals of an interior mourning, an identity catastrophe: Thirty-five years of his life were spent leaning on the hypothesis of the centrality of the Church as the exclusive and universal mediator of the salvation of the whole human race. The Council first, and later the earthquake of ’68, and some trips to Asia, trashed away with the ecclesiocentric paradigms. The Copernican Revolution occurring in his own life, has two essential aspects: “The church must accept the total humiliation of its potency in the divine impotence, in the definite weakness of being aware that God, dies on the cross.” There are barely footsteps of the ancient Crusades of an intransigent Catholicism;of its historical manifestations that were evidenced during the first years, with the world renown “Microphone of God”.
Pius XII,Fr. Lombardi himself, and the ItalianCatholics, offered a first opportunity for the liberation of the Jesuit figure of some of the restrictive stereotypes that were shaped during the first years of the cold war. That stage, that has been recounted conventionally as the most intrusive fanatical and political practice of clerical fundamentalism under Pius XII, was undone with John XXIII. His private files and diaries, as well as testimonies collected by independent scholars, began to reveal since that time, the complexity of the personage, the hues of his relationships with the Popes, his tensions with the more traditional circles of the roman curia… Andrea Riccardi, has written his dream so… “it was the idea of a new world, the idea of changing the world”. For this reason, Lombardi clamored for an awakening of the Church from the “lethargy” in which it lay and didn’t see any possibility for the Church to take on the transformation of the world, unless it went through a profound process of transformation.
The image of Lombardi, as the anti-communist and fanatical “Crusader” was a fixed image together with the microphone in his hand, as though there were nothing else in his mind and in him. As though the purification of the institution so self-assured of Christendom had not come with the price of blood, and a terrible change of perspective had not taken hold of him, in his last years, regarding a totally different idea of the function of faith and the role of the church.
It is a true lesson in the global stage, that seems to overcome the Christian message, which still remains mummified in the Greco-Roman culture. Father Lombardi demonstrates how it is possible to pick up the continuity of tradition, not only with respect to the magisterium of the Vatican II, but also with the ability to open up historically to a more open and deep way of truth, with regard to the truth already revealed, in such a way as to make it more comprehensible to contemporary times and persons.
He is convinced that more attention must be given to conscience, that to the external and massive observances. “The church only has a provisional function as ‘seed and beginning of the Reign of God for all humanity’.” On October 8, 1975, he writes to Paul VI: “The idea of the Reign of God is materializing more and more in me, so much so, that it is changing my life. In the Reign of God, the church is a nucleus wanted by God, but this nucleus is extended much farther than the church itself, towards the sanctuary of consciences.” In Manila, in February of 1976, he is scorned for his denouncing the scandalous contrast between the luxury of the Nunciature and the misery of the slums. The Church has to be as Christ”, he writes in his diary. “It must reduce itself to bread, to be food for the people, to share it with humanity. But, how with these western-style cathedrals, these comfortable convents, these catholic schools for the rich, the diplomatic luncheons? How with this clerical mentality, according to which privilege is owned? I am upset, I feel ashamed from the bottom of my heart. If God’s plan is the universal Reign, the Church is only a privileged instrument to serve it. We need to see the consequences.
A Church that gives itself up to the extreme, that forgets about herself, so that each and every person can be helped to grow in good and wellbeing, that is already within; that is the condition so that Christianity can be inculturated in these countries. He asks himself: “What would have happened historically if Peter and Paul, would have come here to Indonesia or India or Peking instead of going to Rome? What couldn’t be accomplished then, has to be accomplished today by us.” However, in his book The Church and the Reign of God(Morcelliana) 1976, -the apex of his reflection and his legacy- he receives seven harsh “observations” from the Vatican Secretariat of State. “Your thesis implies such a radical reform that it would require another convocation to a new Ecumenical council, for a broader ecumenism with all of the inhabitants of the planet.” He is convinced that not only the non-Christian religions have elements that are values for salvation, but that above all “the spirit acts at all times and all places wherever a human being sincerely seeks justice for his brothers and sisters, wherever there is a peacemaker, wherever there is something of truth and of good”. “The divine plan to save the human genre, is offered to everyone”, he writes.
There is also a way to reach a joyful eternity, there where the church cannot reach with the sacraments. The Reign of God is built by all men and women that accept the actions of the Holy Spirit within their hearts. Listening to their conscience, they are on their way to salvation. As far as the Church is concerned, being an institution but above all a mystery, she will dissolve as community to the degree in which the Reign of God is fulfilled for eternity. Not the Church, but the Reign of God is the object of Creation. The universal function of the Church is to serve in the dissemination of the Reign of God in the hearts of men, of each man (and woman), sincerely, in good faith, even if they do not participate in the Christian creed.