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Spiritual leader for questioning Catholics

Gerald O'Collins |  04 September 2012

Cardinal Carlo Martini

When Carlo Martini, the former archbishop of Milan, died on Friday, the Catholic Church lost a great and inspiring leader. A tall, aristocratic man, he spoke with gentle and measured authority. He never hid behind the regalia of a cardinal or succumbed to other pretensions of clericalism.

From the mid-1970s, I came to know and esteem him when he was successively rector of two flagship institutions in Rome, the Biblical Institute and the Gregorian University.

He reached out constantly to the young, to intellectuals, to all manner of alienated Catholics, to immigrants and refugees, and to Jews, Muslims, and followers of other religions. His deep faith in Jesus opened him to the whole world.

‘More people today have the gift of freedom than ever before in history,’ he told Jesuit students in Rome in 1993, ‘and my task is to evangelise this freedom.’

In conversations with an Austrian Jesuit, Martini was highly appreciative of the papacy of Paul VI, but explicit that the Pope’s encyclical Humanae Vitae reaffirming the ban on contraception had done ‘great damage’. The encyclical was one reason why young people would hardly ever turn to church representatives on questions to do with family planning and sexuality.

Martini cultivated connections with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, which eventually conferred on him an honorary doctorate. Archbishop George Carey invited him to preach in Canterbury Cathedral. Work together towards producing The Greek New Testament, the most scientific edition ever produced of the New Testament in its original Greek, endeared Martini for life to Gordon Fee, a Pentecostal who became one the world’s leading interpreters of St Paul’s letters.

The Italian press cherished him, not least the Milan daily, Corriere della Sera. That paper carried a remarkable exchange of letters between Martini and Umberto Eco on the ecological, political, social, and religious challenges facing the church and the whole world. (In 2000 this exchange was published as Belief or Unbelief.) They began with the future of our race and our planet. Eco listed some ecological and other threats, and even entertained the thought of humanity’s ‘necessary suicide’. Without minimizing the terrifying portents listed by Eco, Martini insisted that no human or satanic power can destroy the hope of believers.

A deeply biblical person, he seemed a latterday Abraham, Moses or Paul. He made some of those figures the focus of spiritual exercises that he preached around the world. Many of these retreats were published: for instance, four volumes on the spiritual exercises in the light of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The volume on Mark served me well in 1980, when I visited Japan and puzzled over the material to use when leading a retreat in Kyoto.

Martini set his whole life under the word of God. He opened business meetings by slowly reading some scripture and inviting the other participants to spend a few moments mulling  over the passage they had just heard. Each month in the Milan cathedral, he met for reflection on the scriptures with massed congregations, largely of young people. ‘Let the text ask you questions,’ he would tell them. He made hearing the scriptures in the context of worship, prayer and meditative silence a path to modern spirituality.

When John Paul I tragically died after barely a month as pope, Martini preached a remarkable homily, taking as his text what the Fourth Gospel has Jesus say about John the Baptist: ‘He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a time in his light’  (John 5:35). Martini challenged his audience: ‘Is that all you are willing to do—merely rejoice for a time in the shining lamp that “the smiling Pope” was?’

During the Lent of 1997, Martini was among the cardinals invited to preach at Westminster Cathedral, London, for the centenary of its foundation. In its spiritual and biblical brilliance, his sermon stood out. Those who heard him preach on that occasion knew that the Catholic Church had lost a pope who would have ranked right at the top of papal preachers—with Leo the Great and Gregory the Great.

Martini lived and breathed the teaching and spirit of the Second Vatican Council. Along with other professors at the Biblical Institute, before, during and after the council, he helped to inspire and then implement the council’s work.

When Cardinal Martini died last week, the editor of the Corriere della Sera said that the cardinal would be missed as a theologian, ‘but especially as a teacher and spiritual guide for all of us, also for those who do not have the gift of faith’.

Binoy KampmarkGerald O'Collins SJ teaches at the Jesuit Theological College in Melbourne, after teaching for many years at the Gregorian University in Rome.


Gerald O'Collins


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Submitted comments

I'm intrigued by the the highlighting of one line from Cardinal Martini's last interview which has been opined about in all articles on him except this one, "the Church is 200 years out of date." The absence of that line in Fr O'Collin's reflection on a good Catholic thinker of the twentieth century gives me hope that how and what Martini wrote can still be heard for its depth of personal faith despite some wishing to canonise him for their own cause of divisiveness and even rebellion in the Church. What needs to be taken into consideration when reflecting on the state of the Church in the here and now and its good thinkers from past decades is not the legacy they have left as ones willing to foster "an alternative Church" but how their supporters interiorised the wisdom for a response to all the matters that have beset the world - the European and Global financial crisis, the east-west divide with Islam, the environmental challenges etc. Some who would have taken Martini's words to do battle with the Church, would have contributed more to the world if they had applied them to their personal lives.

Fr Mick Mac Andrew 06 September 2012

Vale, dear man. Maybe we didn't deserve you.

patricia taylor 06 September 2012

Hours after his death the Italian daily Corriere della Sera printed Martini's final interview in which he described the Church as "200 years out of date." "Our culture has aged, our churches are big and empty and the church bureaucracy rises up. The Church must admit its mistakes and begin a radical change, starting from the Pope and the bishops. The pedophilia scandals oblige us to take a journey of transformation."

QUOTE OF THE DAY 06 September 2012

Recalling that Cardinal Martini was regarded as a possible choice for pope at the last conclave one can but speculate as to the difference in direction from Rome that would have followed ocompared to our experience of Pope Benedict. Given Martini's enthusiasm for the possibilities presented by Vatican 2 and Benedict's evident desire to turn those back I feel that the widespread disappointment amoung Catholics today would not have come to pass.

Mike Foale 06 September 2012

Mike- the journey of transformation has begun.Thanks be to God !!!!! “The victims of sexual abuse are our first priority. Helping victims and ensuring that they are heard, believed, and treated with compassion and respect, is our first priority.” -Sexual Abuse the response of the Archdiocese of Sydney. http://www.sydneycatholic.org/im/home/ARC_Sexual_Abuse-%20Response_Website_3.pdf

Monica 06 September 2012

Monica in total charity I say what you think you are doing for people abused is simply a sad tale. Martini would have been great for the dying Church of Rome. It is 2000 years behind the times and rotting fast away. Trying to prop up the rot by giving us ultra Conservative Bishops is just a waste of space by pig headed very old men. I loved my church and i got my faith from it. However I don't miss one minute of the false, corrupt, un-Christ like daily facade of false hope. It's gone. I worked for 60years in building a crumbling decaying Rome controlled lie. I'm happy to be out on the edges in Exile. Vale what could have been.Pope Martini. Hope is always to learn from his life. Sadly we bury it with him.

francis douglas 06 September 2012

One major reason why young people never turn to church representatives on matters of sexuality is because a huge number of dissenting churchmen like Martini spent much of their lives post-1968 running interference concerning Catholic sexual teaching with such confusing lines as: "The Pope taught X, but then you have to follow your conscience".

Martini posed the overturning of Humanae Vitae as a solution. In fact his (and his allies') outspoken expression of his opposition to HV was a part of the problem.

On the subject of great popes that never were, my No. 1 pin up for the end of last century is Giuseppe Cardinal Siri.

HH 06 September 2012

And many people questioned what Cardinal Martini said - but their questions did not seem to matter.

Skye 06 September 2012

200 years behind the times is a good start. 2000 years ago by Galilee or Golgotha, even better. Andrew Horsley

Andrew Horsley 06 September 2012

Francise- Thanks for giving a new depth of meaning to, Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead. Some people think Jesus Christ is a brick wall!!!!

Monica 06 September 2012

It seems that HH does not accept the church's own teaching on our obligation to follow a well-formed conscience. While it is much simpler to adopt an approach where we follow stated rules absolutely, this is exactly the kind of thinking which Jesus challenged in the parable of the Good Samaritan, and when the Pharisees challenged his disciples for 'harvesting' on the Sabbath to feed themselves. Jesus taught that the (despised) Samaritan who opted to become might become ritually unclean followed God's will. He taught that the Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath. A question for believers is this: taking account of all the circumstances, and all that is known about why the Church teaches, what do I sincerely believe I am called to do in this circumstance? Others are free to simply follow rules, but I can't accept that this approach is the way to live the spirit and truth of the Gospel.

Peter 06 September 2012

Francis I always feel a deep grief for those like yourself, 60 years of service is along time and sitting on the edges exile due to the decadence of your spiritual home.....
Don't worry, it's ones integrity that precedes us, formed by our conscience, usually at the knee of a faithful mother.
Even a bishopric can't change that.

L Newington 06 September 2012

Cardinal Martini's words must not be forgotten for he is the likes of the good honest grand Pope John XXIII. A new honest pope is in great need with Vatican III to bring correct need changes and that will enhance Vatican II which this current RCC administration is trying to fully void as they are the root cause of so many RCs to lose faith in their church by the silence of the truth of the sexual abuse crimes of children to protect the image of their pompous RCC. Just look at Ireland. Would Christ be pleased with the church today?

Cafeteria R.C. 06 September 2012

Cardinal Martini: 'More people today have the gift of freedom than ever before in history,’
This may be true of political freedom, but there are still restrictions, even if self-inflicted, and perhaps unconscious, in gaining access to religious Truth. Fr O'Collins goes on to refer to Cardinal Martini's "four volumes on the spiritual exercises in the light of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John", as if the Gospels were reliable sources of Christian revelation. It is becoming increasingly clear that the Gospels represent a radical departure from the beliefs and practices of the First Christians, and that they (the Gospels), found their final form at the hands of Greek-speaking Gentiles, who incorporated into them the Infancy Stories and the many miracles attributed to Jesus. While these facts are ignored there is little hope of Truth prevailing, and Agreement being found to reconcile all the conflicting views of what our Creator want of us before peace and good-will can assure us of a promising future for coming generations.

Robert Liddy 06 September 2012

Our personal Prayer Rooms are not empty. God is there within us. But we are too often in the world outside our selves. So said St Augustine 1600 years ago. We look for leaders in the spiritual life. Where are they?

Grahame Fallon 06 September 2012

Peter, you're posing a false dichotomy - and alas you're not the first. For a Catholic to form their conscience well is precisely to consult the Church as to what is binding on him or her in the areas of faith and morals. Let me put it to you this way. What if someone were to ask "Is it always wrong for an adult to deliberately have sex with a young child?" and the bishop or pastor were to answer "Well, the Church teaches that it is always gravely wrong for an adult to deliberately have sex with a young child...but, then, remember, you must always follow your conscience!"? Both parts of the answer are true taken as separate propositions. Utterly true in their own domains. But are you happy with the elision in this form of answer, so often given in response to questions regarding sexual ethics? I'm not. It implies that, as long you honestly judged that it would be OK to initiate sex with this child, it would in fact be OK, notwithstanding what the Church said. Let’s reduce this authority/private judgement false dichotomy to secular terms. If I suspected I might have cancer and went to the topmost oncologist in the country for a diagnosis and he/she said to me “Well, from my position, everything points to you having cancer, but you must make your own judgement as to whether you do or don’t, medically speaking, have cancer”. Huh? You’re the expert! I came to you in order to form a judgement as to whether or not I had cancer! … whatever.

HH 07 September 2012

"Vale what could have been.Pope Martini. Hope is always to learn from his life. Sadly we bury it with him." Francis Douglas, this sounds very like the attitude of the disciples on Good Friday. Let us not forget Easter Day. Perhaps, not as pope, but as one of God's saints, now closer to God than we are, Martini will pray constantly for the renewal that we hope for, ansd what miracle may happen then?

Anna Summerfield 07 September 2012

Oh HH! Ballarat bishop, Peter Connors would have replied, "we didn't understand things back then". .

L Newington 07 September 2012

It is of interest ,I think ,that Carlo
Cardinal Martini was a Jesuit .

Charles 07 September 2012

HH's repetition of the Church's teaching on forming a conscience and his/her comments re Cardinal Martini's opposition to elements of Humanae Vitae provide an example of the often bitter polemic one frequently reads in Eureka Street comments. Equally bitter comments are made by some claiming a more liberal view and so a respectful discussion does not even start between those who, together with Cardinal Martini, appreciate the freedoms we currently enjoy and those who prefer the prescriptive faith of our fathers of the pre-Vatican II church.

Attempting to start a respectful discussion, I ask HH how can we believe without challenging what our church teaches when our general education emphasises critical assessment of all that is taught. Our minds have been trained to hear, review and assess what we are taught in light of the overall worldview that has gradually developed over our 30, 50, or more years of learning.

Trying to reserve a separate uncritical category in our mind for what has been taught by the Church creates a dichotomy of separation between our faith and our everyday life - surely not a recipe for living the faith. My question is: Is it better to believe what the Church teaches without reservation or to honestly try to integrate our religious beliefs into our everyday way of thinking even though that leads to discarding some of what is taught because it does not stand up to reasoned argument?

Ian Fraser 08 September 2012

Well, HH, you present the same false dichotomies as the one you have criticised, but you have correctly demonstrated that all moral judgements are about contexts - and cannot be decided/judged empirically in the same was you would make an empirical decision about a physics experiment. Hence, the assertion that ultimately it is our conscience that makes the judgment.
There may be a case where it is moral for an adult to have sex with a child - where both are similar age, one is 15, one is 16 and therefore technically one is below the age of consent. But if the decision is consensual and they are committed.
Also, with your comparison to going to see a doctor - what if I sought the advice of a psychiatrist and I was told that my homosexuality was perfectly normal, but my mental disorder rests in the fact that I cannot accept my sexuality and therefore it causes a variety of other anxiety-related illnesses.

My conscience would tell me to listen to this psychiatrist, just as you would listen to the oncologist.

AURELIUS 08 September 2012

Ian F, a Catholic is someone who, critically examining the claims of the Catholic Church, finds them to be true. One of those claims is that when She pronounces solemnly on matters of faith or morals, it is with a divine guarantee of infallibility. "He who hears you, hears Me." Now, how can a Catholic believe on the one hand that the Church has spoken infallibly on issue X, but at the same time suspend judgement as to the truth of her pronouncement, in the name of "always being critical"? It doesn't make sense.

So my answer to you last question is: if it's a matter of faith or morals solemnly defined by the Church, the only rational response a Catholic can make is to unreservedly assent to the teaching. After Christ said "unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man" many "critical" disciples left Him, refusing to accept this "hard saying." But Peter said, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life". Peter's total submission was both an act of faith AND the height of reason. For, as mysterious as His teaching was, how could the Christ possibly err or lie, being the Holy One of God, as Peter believed?

HH 09 September 2012

Thank you HH for your reply stating that “a Catholic is someone who, critically examining the claims of the Catholic Church, finds them to be true.” This is the very problem to be confronted. Believing that the Church teaches infallibly when pronouncing solemnly on faith and morals is not critical examination. It is cyclic reasoning. It also denies the historical reality that the Church has changed its teaching over time. The Church deserves respect for changing its teaching from the earlier faith in the Aristotelian universe in recognition of post-Galileo astronomy, and for the relatively rapid acceptance of Darwinian evolution to replace earlier literal belief in the Genesis creation story. Why then be critical of Cardinal Martini because he recognised the need for further changes before the Vatican? Indeed many of the changes he hoped for were organisational rather than strictly in faith and morals. With particular reference to Humanae Vitae, the very fact that Paul VI chose not to invoke the full solemnity of papal infallibility surely allows discussion within the Church, including the voices of dissenting cardinals. Is it too much to expect in such discussion that the Church recognise the laity as adults with God-given intelligence and conscience to determine in their own minds where they stand when the cardinals do not agree?

Ian Fraser 11 September 2012

"This is the very problem to be confronted." Ah hah, as I suspected, our differences over conscience stem from something deeper, IF. I believe in the infallibility of the Catholic Church, and you, apparently, don't. If perchance my view is the correct one, my point about conscience logically follows.

HH 11 September 2012

Yes HH, a suitable time to close our discussion. In closing, I am pleased to see your wording, "If perchance my view is the correct one ..." Allowing the possibility of error indicates more openness than much of your prior comments in response to this celebratory eulogy.

Ian Fraser 12 September 2012

I have never read anywhere the definition of "a Catholic is someone who..." Catholic/Christian faith is determined by how we live it rather than how well we define it.

AURELIUS 12 September 2012

"The encyclical was one reason why young people would hardly ever turn to church representatives on questions to do with family planning and sexuality." What an absurd gratuitous statement; where is the raw data of his scientific global survey of young people [catholic,hindu etc? vis a vis family planning? Young people eg teenagers or prepubescent would not have family planning on their agenda. A global scientific survey would sharpen his terms of reference eg 'young people' and other global dependent and independent variables.

Father John Michael George 13 September 2012

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