Javier Melloni (Barcelona, 1962) is considered the paradigm of the mystic of our era. Theologian, anthropologist, successful writer, meditator, loose verse. There are many labels that fit him, but he keeps “a project of being human and brother.” During the last weekend of January, Melloni participated in the VIII Spirituality Forum of the Popular University of Logroño. All entries sold and an audience of more than 1,200 people who listened in reverential silence their words about the contemplative dimension of the human being. As he speaks, his gaze rises to the red cavities of the Sierra de Cantabria that frame the landscape of this interview. with his hands as much as with his throat and his speech is intense, he sounds honest and brave, so much so that, at times, the interlocutor fears that his sincerity may put him in some trouble.Perssionate defender of interreligious dialogue, he does not dodge any controversial issue; to say that he almost meets him. The sexual dimension of the priests, the machismo in the Church, the crisis of the faithful or the new spirituality, everything seems pertinent Join this Jesuit who lives on the fringes of a questioned institution.
-Many define you as a mystic of the 21st century. What does this mean?
-Hopefully! My desire is to walk in that direction, although labels are very dangerous because they generate ego and idealization on the part of others. I believe that being mystical means living in a state of openness, understanding that everything is a sign of something else. Do not keep the first thing that appears, because everything is veiled transparency of something deeper that is manifesting.
-Is it harder to be mystical today with so many external stimuli?
-Every place and each era have their difficulties to live in truth. Undoubtedly, the great gift of the 21st century is freedom, the breadth of sight. A mystic of yesteryear had it much harder, was more constrained and guarded. Instead, the danger of our age is immediacy, distraction, excessive ease.
-You don’t have a mobile, for example.
-Effectively. I have decided not to expose myself to what would be a continuous source of dispersion that would prevent me from being present here and right now.
-Among the challenges of the Church always appears the machismo and the role of the nuns, which is relegated to a second or third level.
-In the Church there is an idealization of the displaced mother to the Virgin Mary and a clear submission and insignificance of the woman. It seems that loving the mother replaces the role of the partner. On the one hand, you become childish, because you become submissive, and on the other you become powerful.
– What if the woman is not a mother?
-Then it’s dangerous.
– Are the cases of pedophilia in the Church related to the denial of the sexual dimension in priests?
-I think it’s an almost inevitable result. As we do not know or attend to our affective-sexual dimension, we cannot identify or name or explain what happens there. It is a personal shadow, but, above all, institutional. The Church does not know how to address it. It is the guilt of ignorance, although, of course, ignorance does not relieve you of responsibility. The anger of civil society is understood, because the Church is a moral and spiritual instance that should have a deep knowledge of everything that is important for the human being. John Paul II, heir of Paul VI, said an expression that should further compromise us: “The Church must be an expert in Humanity.” I fear that we are far from it in many respects.
– Would it solve something that celibacy was optional?
-I don’t know if I would say so much. I do not think it is a cause-effect, but it would be important to unlock a natural dimension of the human being that we have amputated and obsessed with because of the same blockage.
-What is the historical explanation of this obscurantism, if any?
-The Dominion. The sexual instinct contains a potential for relationship and freedom that hierarchical and patriarchal societies fear and therefore control. In more matriarchal societies, sexuality is lived more naturally. As always the most sublime can become the most perverse, in the end one thing is denied and the other.
– Do you think you and I will see a nun say Mass or a married priest with children?
-The celebrations as we know them are running out. Sunday practice is declining and both priests and parishioners are aging. We must give way to new ways. In some places that is already beginning to be lived, as it was reported in the Synod of the Amazon, although the final document has not been able to reflect it. It seems that the Church is not yet mature to take that step.
-What would you say to someone agnostic or atheist who wants to have a spiritual life?
– First, it is essential to distinguish between the spiritual dimension and a religious confession. There is transcendence beyond religion. Everyone has to know how to nurture that dimension. There are people who are more sensitive to contact with nature, others will do so through art. I would say: listen to yourself, perceive what is most in tune with you and surrender to that, because that is the way to go beyond yourself through yourself.
-What component do you think is essential for happiness, if only you could keep one?
-Without doubt, thanks. It allows us to be full and empty at the same time. The grateful person needs very little and is full of everything.
-That’s how you land?
– Being aware that everything we live is given to us, not taken away. We must move from conquest to receptivity. We continuously receive from our environment much more than we could achieve with our achievements. Living from gratitude changes everything. We have built a very competitive society based on the continuous battle, the continuous defense of the self, etc. where gratitude is seen as a weakness, when it is the opposite. We live either distressed in a forward race because we do not realize what we already have, or falling behind, with regrets and guilt over what has happened. And what is in the center? Gratitude and strength of the present. We ourselves have weakened thinking that we are missing something.
-How do you get to be present in the present?
-I try to preserve three moments of meditation daily. If I don’t do them, I notice. If I don’t meditate one day, I feel more irritable, suspicious. And if it lasts for more days, they end up noticing everyone I live with. Silence gives space and listening capacity. The multiple transitions that we live throughout the day are also very important: to thank every thing we finish and to venerate every thing we start.
-What transformed you from your time in India?
-I was fascinated by many things. The clean look of the people; the Indians look you in the face, while in the West even a small child immediately looks away. There I went out to the street to be baptized by the eyes of the people, by that mutual recognition that was like celebrating the existence of the other. “Namaste” means that I bow to the divine presence in you. Would we be able to say the same? Not accepting the plurality of access to God or to fullness is mental scarcity, lack of generosity.
-How did your spiritual path begin?
– With an explosion of love at fourteen, after receiving the Eucharist. It was All Saints Day. Everything became love, in the incandescent presence of God. At that moment I gave him my life. I wanted to be fuel for such a fire. That experience has marked me forever. It was an anticipation of the end.
– Do you think it is someone uncomfortable for the Church?
-Well, probably for some and not for others. Many are grateful that he says things that they cannot express and that he does it with respect, moreover, with love; in favor of everyone and not against anyone.
-How do you explain that the Churches become empty if there is so much spiritual thirst?
-There is a rejection of religion, but, instead, there is an emergency of the spiritual search. It is a longing that comes from the human condition. We thirst for God as we thirst for water. We cannot thirst for something that does not exist. In a moment in which everything collapses and in which all the external referents have fallen, there is a need to return to the primary home: to move from the securities to the certainties.
-What references have fallen?
-The absolute guarantees that something outside will solve the challenge of being yourself, of responding in truth to what you, faithful and finally, are. Human groups have had references that have worked well for a while, but globalization is ending with a large part of them.
-When has the Church lost its pulse with its parish? What have you done wrong?
-It is rather a question of adequacy and processes. An embryo is for nine months in its mother’s womb and at that time it grows in the womb. When that period passes, if he does not leave the uterus, he suffocates and also kills his mother. I truly believe that millenary religions are matrices that have given what they had to give. They are no longer mothers, they are grandmothers. At a time when the West has turned outward, we need a complement that will take us inward and the Eastern religions provide just that. Religion is moving from proposing things to a blow of obligation and will to do it freely and with conscience. The change is happening alone; if it is organized too much, we would fall back on the same thing: the temptation of control.
-The bishops’ letter against the new forms of spirituality within the Church, such as Zen meditation, did not show integration precisely.
-It is made from fear, so it is incomplete.
-From the ignorance too?
-The fear comes from ignorance and references from people who have not done well with these proposals. But not all roads are for everyone. There has been a very serene response from Pablo D´Ors, Ana María Schlüter and Berta Meneses telling that their experience has been different, showing that silent meditation has not caused the alienation of God or any discomfort, but has helped to grow people.
-You have not answered. Have you not felt alluded to?
-A little yes, although they refer mainly to Zen and I do not practice it. I understand what the bishops want to warn and I agree that they point out certain dangers, such as self-centering or forgetting otherness, but I am sorry that only the conflicting part is mentioned. Many people have rediscovered Christianity thanks to immersing themselves in the East. He has returned to the Church, has rediscovered his faith, which was stuck, with a new flavor.
– Are Zen and Christianity compatible?
-Of course. It is true, however, that Zen is a meditation practice that contains a whole religious framework, Buddhism. This creates a conflict at a time along the way, but this conflict helps to grow. Wisdom and depth are expected from the hierarchy of the Church, not scolding and warnings that dwarf and childish us. The beauty of life is the challenges and nuances. If we truly believe that God encompasses and contains everything, why fear that we explore? The Church is not a club that needs members to contribute fees.
-What is meditation for you?
-In reality, meditation is making prayer silent. And what are you doing but meditate after receiving communion? That overlaps with prayer and contemplation, because there are times when you don’t know if you are praying, meditating or contemplating. They are words of the same constellation that flow towards each other, and above all, towards God, which is in the depth of silence.
– Do you think the Church has monopolized God?
-The Church, who is it? Church we are all.
-I mean the Vatican.
-Well, the Vatican emerged to sustain the civilization that fell with the Roman Empire and, in fact, the parishes and dioceses are territorial distributions of that empire. Therefore, the ambition of power was not so much the desire to give continuity to a civilization. It is true that the medieval and Renaissance popes were sovereign and accumulated wealth and now we do not know what to do with them. Hopefully one day we can leave the Vatican for Unesco, for the World Heritage Site or for anyone and the Pope will move to a simpler place as Francisco has tried. The prestige of the Church does not come from the Sistine Chapel but by truly living the gospel.
-I understand that it is favorable to Francisco.
-You have opened the doors, the windows, the fresh air has entered. We no longer look at ourselves so much. The call of the Church is outside itself, at the service of the world. An organization is necessary for this, no doubt, but when the Church is too aware of itself, it is a lethal sign of narcissism.
–… which is the disease of our day.
-Well, the Church has been very narcissistic, but, thank God, we now have a Pope who is not.
-And that creates tensions.
-Clear. When you put a narcissist in question, he becomes nervous. He cannot realize that you are actually releasing him, because narcissism is a terrible prison. But as we adapt to everything, in our same jail we are more comfortable than outdoors. When we cross that threshold, there is resurrection. In the Christian faith there is the dynamism of life itself: we are always dying to what we know in order to be born to what we do not know. In between, you have to let go. If you don’t, the resistance makes the process much more difficult.
-Who do you admire?
-Within the Christian tradition, Father Arrupe and Pedro Casaldáliga. At first because he had no nostalgia for the past, but for the future; and to the second, for his fidelity to the disinherited of Brazil, at the cost of risking his life. From other traditions, to Gandhi and the Dalai Lama, both for their radical commitment to nonviolence. In the ashram (community) of Gandhi watched over so that not even the smallest of thoughts could offend his adversaries and the Dalai Lama has never spoken ill of the Chinese, the invaders and destroyers of his country. Not an insult, not a vexation.