Human beings only create by drawing on their poverty. I am well placed to assert that today: it is exactly thirty years ago that I discovered Taize.
When I was young, at a time when Europe was torn apart by so many conflicts, I kept on asking myself: Why all these confrontations? Why do so many people, even Christians, condemn one another out of hand? And I wondered: is there, on this earth, a way of reaching complete understanding of others? Then came a day – I can still remember the date, and I could describe the place: the subdued light of a late summer evening, darkness settling over the countryside — a day when I made a decision. I said to myself, if this way does exist, begin with yourself and resolve to understand every person fully. That day, I was certain the vow I had made was for life. It involved nothing less than returning again and again, my whole life long, to this irrevocable decision: seek to understand all, rather than to be understood.
This day, Patriarch Athenagoras enters the life of eternity. With him we lose a man of the same prophetic vein as John XXIII. He had no lack of trials in his final years… Nevertheless, he was always optimistic. “In the evening, when I retire to my room,” he told me once, “I close the door on all my cares, and I say: Tomorrow!”
One day St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross met for a meal. Grapes were brought in. “I’m not going to eat any,” said John of the Cross. “Too many people have none.” Teresa answered, “I, on the contrary, am going to eat them, to praise God for these grapes.” Their conversation mirrors one of the tensions of the contemporary Church.
Lent: forty days granted us in which we marvel at a love too great for words.
In the Gospel, to be oneself means searching deeply until the irreplaceable gift given to each one of us is revealed. Through that special gift, unlike anyone else’s, each person is brought to fulfillment in God.
A brother brings into my room a reproduction of one of the most ancient pictures in the catacombs: a man praying with both hands raised. This gesture comes down to us from the dawn of time, from humankind’s first beginnings. A symbol of expectant waiting. Looking at it, I tell myself: like every Christian, you are first and foremost a man who waits expectantly, and prayer is one of the clearest symbols of this.
I admit that I am guilty, and vile, and worthy of contempt for failing to carry out Christ’s teaching. At the same time, not to justify myself, but simply to explain my lack of consistency, I say: “Look at my life now and compare it to my former life. You will see that I am trying to live out the truth I proclaim. True, I have not fulfilled a fraction of Christ’s will, and I am ashamed of this, but I have failed to fulfill his Word not because I do not wish to, but because I have been unable to. Teach me how to escape from the net of temptations that surrounds me, help me, and I will fulfill Christ’s teachings. Even without help I wish and hope to fulfill them. Attack me, I do this myself, but attach me rather than the path I follow, which I point out to anyone who asks me where I think it lies. If I know the way home and am walking along it drunkenly, is it any less the right way simply because I am staggering side to side?
“If it is not the right way, then show me another way. But if I stagger and lose the way, you must help me and keep me on the true path, just as I am ready to support you. Do not mislead me, do not be glad that I have gotten lost, do not gleefully shout, ‘Look at him! He said he was going home, but there he is crawling into a bog!’ No, do not gloat, but give me your help and support. For you are not devils in the swamp, but people like me who are seeking the way home. For I am alone and it cannot be that I wish to go into the swamp. Help me, my heart is breaking in despair that we have all lost our way.”
So this is my attitude to Christ’s teaching. I try to fulfill it with all I’ve got. I not only repent for each failure, but also beg for help in fulfilling it. And I joyfully welcome anyone who, like me, is looking for the path; and I listen to him.
In all things peace of heart, joy, simplicity, and mercy.
Very often a man or a woman who dared to pray alone in a church has been, by their perseverance, a living appeal to others. It only takes one for many to be drawn along in the end.