Translated by Charles Connolly
Mariano Fazio Fernandez was born in Buenos Aires in 1960 and is currently a priest and Auxiliary Vicar of Opus Dei. A few weeks ago at the Madrid campus of the University of Navarra he launched his book: Libertad para amar a través de los clásicos (Freedom to love through the classics), a review of which was published in issue 714 of Omnes. In this work, the latest of almost thirty books, the author draws on examples in classic works of literature from many eras, especially from “the classic of classics, the Bible”, in order to show how human freedom is oriented to love: to the love of God and to love of one another, especially to love as seen in the lives of the members of the Church.
In fact, “to be in the Church is to love Christ and, through Christ, to love others,” says Mariano Fazio. In this interview, he shares with us his thoughts on secularization, on the role played by today’s culture, on the task of families in the work of evangelization and on the continuity to be found of the magisterium of recent Popes.
Talking about freedom and love in these times, when a large part of society seems to have lost its way, isn’t easy. Have we really lost our way when it comes to speaking about freedom or love?
I believe that where we’ve lost our way in is separating freedom from love.
On the one hand, human beings have been created free for a reason. Every reality has a purpose. In some areas of contemporary culture, much is made of freedom of choice, the possibility of choosing where unimportant things are at issue. So we’ve developed a very impoverished vision of freedom.
On the other hand, if we realize that this freedom has a direction, and that direction – according to Christian anthropology – is the love of God and of others, we would have an infinitely richer vision of freedom.
Today there’s endless talk about freedom, and yet it seems to me that there’s a great lack of freedom, because unfortunately we’re all subject to all kinds of addictions. The main addiction is egocentrism: focusing on our own comfort, our own personal project, and so on. Alongside this, we can see more specific addictions present in many other areas in society, such as drugs, pornography, or greed for material possessions.
We’re in an upside-down society, for we proclaim freedom as one of the highest human values, but we live as slaves to our dependencies. We’ve reduced freedom to choosing one thing or another, and we’ve lost the vision that it is a love-oriented vision.
Nevertheless, society often sells this freedom, basing it on the multiplicity of short-time choices, that is, trying out everything. Right?
You can’t find happiness in simply choosing. To choose you need criteria, a guide that gives a direction to freedom. Kierkegaard affirms that when a person has all the possibilities open in front of him, it’s as if he were faved by nothingness, because that person has no reason to choose one thing rather than another.
To be happy, we have to direct each of our choices so that it’s consistent with the ultimate goal of love. This isn’t just a theological or philosophical teaching: everyone experiences the desire for happiness in his heart. Aristotle affirmed this; however, it isn’t true just because Aristotle says so, but because we experience it in all the circumstances of our lives.
We often make mistakes about where happiness can be found. The three classic pits we fall into are pleasure, material possessions, and our own self: power, the desire to be admired. And it is not like this.
Happiness is found in love, and this means self-giving. We don’t find it in simply choosing. The universal human experience shows that we find happiness when we choose to forget ourselves and give ourselves to God and to others, out of love.
In Freedom to Love through the Classics, you turn not only to these great works of literature, but also frequently to the Bible. Some people consider the Bible to be a dogmatic book that has little to say about freedom.
I use these great classics because they’re books that still speak to us today, even though they were written centuries ago. The classics present the great values of the human person: truth, goodness, beauty, love. In addition to all of them, we have a classic that can be called the ‘classic of classics’: the Bible.
It’s impressive to see how all the great classics of world literature, at least the modern and contemporary ones, drink from a biblical source. They do so either explicitly or unknowingly, because the authors are immersed in our cultural tradition – a tradition we must preserve, or we run the risk of losing it.
God himself chose a narrative form to present us with his plan for human happiness. The narrative form is the least dogmatic one there can be: we’re offered a historical narrative. When Jesus Christ opens to us the ways of Life, he does so through parables; he doesn’t present a list of dogmatic principles, but tells us a story: “A father had two sons…”; “On the road that leads from Jerusalem to Jericho…”. Even the form itself is merely a proposal; everyone can decide whether to follow or not.
Evidently, throughout the history of the Church, it has become necessary to formulate the Christian truths that are contained in the Bible in a systematic way but it’s never an imposition; it will always be simply a proposal. We can’t deny the fact that, at times, Christians have wanted to impose these truths in ways that aren’t very ‘edifying’, but certainly by doing so we’ve betrayed the spirit of the Gospel, which is to propose the faith, not impose it.
You’ve written almost thirty books, including biographical sketches, like those on Pope Francis, St John XXIII and St Josemaría Escrivá; but also books on modern culture and society. Why do you focus so much on cultural and literary themes?
I am convinced that the crisis of contemporary culture is so great that we’ve lost our points of reference: not only of the meaning of Christian life, but even of what or who the human person is.
Men and women are made for truth, goodness and beauty. The great classics of world literature propose this vision for the human person. They aren’t ‘goody-goody’ or naïve books; far from it. They deal with all the key issues of the drama of existence: sin, death, violence, sex, love ….
By reading great works such as Les Miserables, The Betrothed or Don Quixote, you realize that a person is fulfilled by what is good and not by evil, that it’s better to tell the truth than to lie, that the soul is ennobled by contemplating beauty. In a word, the classics give us the means to come to grips with great values, ones that are human and Christian. Today, very often, it’s more difficult to go directly to the catechism. On the other hand, the narrative style of the classical authors – which we have seen is the same style that God chose to transmit his truths to us – can be a preparation for the Gospel.
We live in a very secularized society, in which we have to prepare the ground to plant the seeds of the Gospel. And so all my works on cultural themes have this apostolic, evangelizing zeal about them.
You point out that we’re created free so as to love. In this sense, can we say that we’re in the Church to love?
We’re in the Church and in the world to love: this is our Christian and human vocation, an existential experience.
The people who are truly free, with a fully free existence, are the ones who know how to love.
We could point to many examples in history and in literature, where the great characters, the most attractive ones, are those who’re always thinking of others. We’re in the Church to love God and neighbor, with the measure of love that Christ has given us.
Evidently, love also means fulfilling a series of obligations, not as a simple matter of duty, but rather because we realize that, through these demands, we’re actually practicing a way of loving.
One of the key points in this relationship of love, even within the Church, is that of feeling or knowing that our love is reciprocated. How can we love others and the Church, if we don’t experience this reciprocation?
It’s important to remember – and this is a thought of St Josemaría Escrivá’s – that the Church is, above all, Jesus Christ. We are the mystical body of Christ.
It may be that, subjectively, there are people who don’t feel truly at home within the Church at one time or another because, while there are many different viewpoints, they consider that theirs is not accepted, or because they’re scandalized by some unedifying happenings to be found in the Church of today and of all times. But we aren’t part of the Church because it’s a community of saints or of the pure; we’re part of it because we’re following Jesus Christ, who is absolute holiness. To be in the Church is to love Christ and, through Christ, to love others.
And in the matter of freedom, how can we avoid falling into the error of trying to eliminate essential aspects of the Church in the name of a false freedom?
In this respect, what the then-Cardinal Ratzinger said about the interpretation of the Second Vatican Council can give us a lot of light. I think that what he said is useful, not only in this specific context, but also because the Church is continually renewing herself by being faithful to tradition.
The two wrong extremes are, on the one hand, those who want total immobility within the Church – perhaps for fear of losing what is essential; and, on the other hand, those who want everything to change, at the risk of forgetting or even discarding what’s essential.
What is paramount is our relationship with Christ, the love of God, etc., etc. The truths that God has revealed to us will remain the same, because public revelation ended with the death of St John the Apostle.
It is Revelation that we have to make credible in the different stages of history. Now that we’re dealing with contemporary culture, it’s logical that there should be a renewal – for example, in catechetical methods.
The Christian must value tradition, but he can’t be a traditionalist. He must be open to renewal without falling into reckless progressivism.
Cardinal Ratzinger pointed to opinions that are often used to establish ‘separate and distinct groups’ within the Church: progressives and conservatives or traditionalists. Is there really such a division?
A Catholic has to be one hundred percent Catholic. This means embracing the totality of the faith and Christian living in all its dimensions, and not simply choosing one option over another: for example, the defense of life from the moment of conception until death over the preferential option for the poor and seeing to it that everyone has access to a house, food, clothing…, etc.
In 2007, I took part in the General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean in Aparecida. There, different viewpoints came together in an atmosphere of great ecclesial communion. In that context, one of the Synod Fathers said: “Here I hear how many people are defending the family, life, etc… Others have a great social sensitivity. We have to reach a synthesis. We have to defend life from the moment of conception to natural death and, at the same time, and throughout a person’s lifetime, make it possible for people to have the right and access to all these goods.”
In this sense, it seems to me that Popes Benedict XVI and Francis are perfectly complementary. Each one emphasizes certain themes, but this doesn’t mean that Francis hasn’t spoken about defending life, or that Benedict XVI hasn’t spoken about economic and ecological matters within the framework of Church’s social teaching and which Francis has continued.
Today’s the right time to build bridges, not to have a one-sided vision, to love each other and respect all right-minded opinions.
Speaking of the danger of harboring an exclusively human vision or outlook in the Church, have we lost the sense of eternity?
I don’t think so, because the Church is Jesus Christ. The Church as an institution hasn’t lost sight of him.
In this regard, I remember a story told me by Joaquín Navarro Valls, who was St John Paul II’s spokesman for more than twenty years. On one occasion, he had arranged for the Pope to be interviewed by the BBC. During that interview, the journalist asked John Paul II to define the Church in three words and the Pope replied: “That’s two too many; I only need one. The Church is Salvation.” Yes, the Church is an instrument for eternal salvation.
Of course Catholics can run the risk of becoming worldly. Pope Francis has often highlighted this danger: worldliness, among both the hierarchy and the faithful; the danger of giving an absolute value to the things of this earth, when they only have a relative value.
The family, the vocation to marriage, is an absolutely fundamental value for the Church, even more so in a year like this one, which is dedicated to the family. But isn’t there still a perception – on the part of both Church and family – that the family is just a make-weight evangelizer?
I have the impression that we haven’t yet drawn all the consequences of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council. In that Council, St Paul VI emphasized the fundamental message: the universal call to holiness – universal, that is, for everyone. And, in particular, the role of the laity in the Church and in work of evangelization.
Specifically, I believe we need to throw further light on our baptismal vocation. By Baptism we’re called to holiness, and holiness implies apostolic zeal. Holiness without that zeal isn’t holiness. So the natural thing is that the laity, who are in the world and involved in all the social, political, economic institutions, should be the leaven that changes the ‘dough’ of our world. And within this field, in a very particular way, the family, the domestic Church.
All our recent Popes, St John Paul II, Benedict XVI and now Francis, have called themselves ‘anti-clerical’ – meaning by this term that they want to underline this fundamental role of the laity. The hierarchy plays an indispensable role, naturally, because the Church is a hierarchical institution, but we’re all called to be apostles in our own milieu.
Right now the family is in crisis; but if we bring about a profound experience of faith in families, if we make it possible for them not to be self-referential and inward-looking, as the Pope says, but to be open to other families who see in them a witness of forgiveness, generosity, service… this witness will make other families want to be like these Christian families. I believe that this is a great way forward for evangelization in today’s world.
A few weeks ago, the Apostolic Constitution Prædicate Evangelium was published. Personal prelatures now depend not on the Congregation for Bishops, but on the Congregation for the Clergy. What does this mean for the prelature of Opus Dei?
On the same day the Apostolic Constitution was published, the Prelate of Opus Dei – who is our most authoritative voice – said that it doesn’t change anything substantially.
For us the important thing is to preserve the spirit of Opus Dei; to preserve and be inspired by its foundational charism, so that we can respond with flexibility to the challenges of the contemporary world.
In an interview Bishop Arrieta, the Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, repeated these words of the Prelate and showed that, throughout history, changes have been made in the way institutions depend on the Holy See and how they have continued to preserve their essential features. The prelature of Opus Dei remains what it has always been, over and beyond this change.