Full text of Cardinal Martini’s interview shortly before he died.
Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini died in Varese, northern Italy, on Aug. 31 at the age of 85. Two weeks earlier, on Aug. 8, Martini gave a final interview to his fellow Jesuit Fr. George Sporschill, with whom Martini had collaborated on a book titled Nocturnal Conversations in Jerusalem, and an Italian friend named Federica Radice Fossati Confalonieri. Radice has told Italian media outlets that Martini read and approved the text of the interview, intending it as a sort of “spiritual testament” to be published after his death.
The following is an NCR translation of the interview published in Italian by the newspaper Corriere della Sera.
How do you see the situation of the church?
The church is tired, in the Europe of well-being and in America. Our culture has become old, our churches and our religious houses are big and empty, the bureaucratic apparatus of the church grows, our rites and our dress are pompous. Do these things, however, express what we are today? … Well-being weighs on us. We find ourselves like the rich young man who went away sad when Jesus called him to be his disciple. I know that we can’t let everything go easily. At least, however, we can seek people who are free and closest to their neighbor, like Archbishop Romero and the Jesuit martyrs of El Salvador. Where are the heroes among us who can inspire us? By no means do we have to limit them by the boundaries of the institution.
Who can help the church today?
Father Karl Rahner often used the image of the embers hidden under the ash. I see in the church today so much ash under the embers that often I’m hit with a sense of impotence. How can we liberate the embers from the ash, to reinvigorate the fires of love? For the first thing, we have to seek out these embers. Where are the individuals full of generosity, like the Good Samaritan? Who have faith like the Roman centurion? Who are enthusiastic like John the Baptist? Who dare the new, like Paul? Who are faithful like Mary Magdalene? I advise the Pope and the bishops to seek out twelve people outside the lines for administrative positions, people who are close to the poorest, who are surrounded by young people, and who try new things. We need to be with people who burn in such a way that the Spirit can spread itself everywhere.
What tools do you recommend against the exhaustion of the church?
I recommend three very strong ones. The first is conversion: the church must recognize its errors and follow a radical path of change, beginning with the pope and the bishops. The pedophilia scandals compel us to take up a path of conversion. Questions about sexuality, and all the themes involving the body, are an example. These are important to everyone, sometimes perhaps too important. We have to ask ourselves if people still listen to the advice of the church on sexual matters. Is the church still an authoritative reference in this field, or simply a caricature in the media?
The second is the Word of God. Vatican II gave the Bible back to Catholics. Only those who perceive this Word in their heart can be part of those who will help achieve renewal of the church, and who will know how to respond to personal questions with the right choice. The Word of God is simple, and seeks out as its companion a heart that listens. … Neither the clergy nor ecclesiastical law can substitute for the inner life of the human person. All the external rules, the laws, the dogmas, are there to clarify this internal voice and for the discernment of spirits.
Who are the sacraments for? These are the third tool of healing. The sacraments are not an instrument of discipline, but a help for people in their journey and in the weaknesses of their life. Are we carrying the sacraments to the people who need new strength? I think of all the divorced and remarried couples, to extended families. They need special protection. The church upholds the indissolubility of matrimony. It’s a grace when a marriage and a family succeed …
The attitude we hold towards extended families determines the ability of the church to be close to their children. A woman, for instance, is abandoned by her husband and finds a new companion, who takes care of her and her three children. This second love succeeds. If this family is discriminated against, not only is the mother cut out [from the church] but also her children. If the parents feel like they’re outside the church, and don’t feel its support, the church will lose the future generation.
Before communion, we pray: “Lord, I am not worthy …’ We know we’re not worthy … Love is a grace. Love is a gift. The question of whether the divorced can receive communion ought to be turned around. How can the church reach people who have complicated family situations, bringing them help with the power of the sacraments?
What do you do personally?
The church is 200 years behind the times. Why doesn’t it stir? Are we afraid? Is it fear rather than courage? In any event, the faith is the foundation of the church. Faith, trust, courage. I’m old and sick, and I depend on the help of others. Good people around me make me feel their love. This love is stronger than the sentiment of distrust that I feel every now and then with regard to the church in Europe. Only love defeats exhaustion. God is love. Now I have a question for you: What can you do for the church?
A dwelling is a place we leave on our many journeys and it is where we return for rest, relaxation, security and recreation. It is where we are able to create our own personal space, somewhere where our identity is recognisable in the artefacts of our day-to-day existence. The rooms and their furnishing, the family pictures and the ornaments, all contribute to making our dwelling a personal, lived-in, space. That such a space should be accorded the description ‘sacred’ may, to some people, be a misnomer but if it is in our dwelling that the sacred nature of the mystery of our life is encouraged to mature, then our homes are indeed Sacred Dwellings. And our church is such a dwelling. It is a home that we value, that when we journey out, is there awaiting our return, it is familiar and it is family. Not that everything is smooth all the time. There are many disagreements, frustrations and problems amongst the numerous joys and blessings. But it is our home. We are living in one of those turbulent times and in these days, we mourn the passing of Cardinal Carlo Martini, one who recognised more than most the stresses and strains of the age, yet remained faithful to his family. May he rest in the peace of the Lord. Those of us who have still to complete that journey could not do better than to follow his example of Christian Witness. To question according to conscience for the good of the church the circumstances that we experience, to raise such voices in charity and understanding and to move forward together as pilgrims seeking the Lord is part of our personal story. Leaving our home, whatever problems we may experience, whatever issues may arise, is not, in the end, a solution. Thomas Merton in a letter to Czeslaw Milosz, the Polish poet and Nobel prize winner, wrote this in 1968. ‘You can say absolutely nothing about the Church that will shock me. If I stay with the Church it is out of a disillusioned love, and with a realization that I myself could not be happy outside, though I have no guarantee of being happy inside either. In effect, my ‘happiness’ does not depend on any institution or any establishment. As for you, you are part of my ‘Church’ of friends who are in many ways more important to me than the institution…’ A powerful statement indeed, but the words of a man, honest in his appraisal of his home and willing to keep going whatever the difficulties. It was at the end of that year that his own journey came to an unexpected end with his death in Asia , but his writings and his faith remain with us. We should indeed be grateful for those whose example is there to help us in our own earthly pilgrimage.
“Good people around me make me feel their love.” What a blessing! I am so glad that Cardinal Martini was aware of this love before he left this earth. As I read this “Spiritual Testament” I thought of the marked contrast between his understanding of human fraility and fallibility, his compassion towards those in “complicated family situations” and that of other bishops whose complete lack of empathy or understanding of the nature of paedophilia beggars belief yet again. Ostriches with their heads in the sand or men whose hearts resemble that “healing” stone of granite? Perhaps men who really haven’t engaged with ordinary everyday people’s lives, who are more like automatons than men who can allow themselves to feel what others feel?
His gentle criticism of how hard it is to let go of the “pompous” dress and the huge bureaucratic apparatus of the church shows a level of charity which is Christ-like. This man who could have been pope also understands that the question of the church’s attitude to sexuality must be confronted. If the church is indeed a caricature in the media why can this not be discussed? Change and radical change is needed.
He is right in pointing out that we need role models like John the Baptist, Mary Magdalene, Paul, the Good Samaritan, the Roman Centurian whose hearts burned within, who “can burn in such a way that the Spirit can spread itself everywhere.”
The Word of God seeks out “a heart that listens.” He ends by challenging each of us to start living by what we say we believe.
I think Cardinal Martini is also a fine role model and perhaps many of us will pay heed to the legacy of his wisdom.
Thank you. Just now we need such encouragement, a timely reminder that the spirit if Vatican 2is still alive under the ash and that each of us in a small and personal way can help to reignite the embers.