Chapter Excerpt

1. ON  GOD

SKORKA: It has been many years since we first met and a brotherly bond has been forged between us.  While studying the books of the Talmud, I found one that says that friendship means sharing meals and spending time together, but in  the  end it points out that the sign of a real friendship is the ability to reveal what is in one's heart to the other person. That is what happened over time with the two of us. I believe that undoubtedly the most important thing that brought us together was, and still is, G-d, who caused our paths to cross and allowed us to open our hearts to each other. Although we broached many topics during our regular conversations, we never spoke explicitly about G-d. Of course, it was always understood that He was present. It would be good to start this exchange, which we plan to leave as a testimony of our dialogue, by  discussing Him who is so important in our lives.

BERGOGLIO: What a great word: path!   In   my personal experience with God   I cannot do without the path. I would say that one encounters God walking, moving, seeking Him and allowing oneself to be sought by Him. They are two paths that meet. On one hand, there is our path that seeks Him, driven by that instinct that flows from the heart; and after, when we have encountered each other, we realize that He was the one who had been searching for us from the start. The initial religious experience is that of walking: walk to the land that I am going to give you.  It  is  a promise that God  makes to Abraham. In that promise, in this, in this walking, an alliance is established that consolidates over   time. Because of this I say that my experience with God takes place along the path, both in the search and in allowing myself to be sought, even if it may be by diverse paths-of pain, of joy, of light, or of darkness.

SKORKA: What you have said reminds me of a few biblical verses. For example, when G-d tells Abraham: "Walk in my presence and be blameless?' Or when the prophet Micah needed to explain to the Israelites what G-d wanted from them, and he tells them to "do  justice and to  love  goodness, and to walk humbly with your G-d?'

Without a doubt, experiencing G-d  is  dynamic,  to use a word that we  learn in  our mutual study of basic science. However, what do  you  think we  can say  to people nowadays when we  find  the idea of G-d  to be so  mangled, profaned and diminished in importance?

BERGOGLIO: What every person must be told is to look inside himself. Distraction is an interior fracture. It will never lead the person to encounter himself for it impedes him from looking into the mirror of his heart. Collecting oneself is the beginning. That is where the dialogue begins. At times, one believes He has the only answer, but that's not the case. I would tell  the people of today to seek the  experience of entering into the intimacy of their hearts, to know the experience, the face of God. That is why I love what Job says after his difficult experience and the dialogues that did  not help him in  any way: "By  hearsay I had heard of you,  but now my  eye has seen you?' What I tell people is not to know God  only by hearing. The Living God  is He  that you  may see with your eyes within your heart.

SKORKA: The Book of Job teaches us a great lesson because-in short-it says that we  can never know how G-d   reveals Himself in specific circumstances. Job,  a just, upright man, wanted to know why he had lost everything, even his health. His  friends told  him that G-d  had punished him for  his sins. He  responds by  saying that even if he had sinned, he had not been that bad. Job  is comforted only when G-d  appears  to him. His   questions are not answered, but the touch of G-d's presence stays with him. We can find several things in this story that shape my  personal perception of G-d. First, Job's friends show themselves to  be  arrogant and nonsensical by  espousing the theory that "You  have sinned, therefore G-d  has punished you," transforming G-d   into some  sort of  computer that calculates reward or  punishment. At  the end of  the story, G-d  tells Job-who  had railed so  much against the injustices of his Creator-that he should intercede and pray for   his friends, because they had spoken falsely about Him. Those who had cried out in suffering, demanding heavenly justice, were pleasing in G-d's eyes. Those who insisted on a simplistic view of G-d's nature were detested by  Him. As I  understand it,  G-d  reveals Himself to  us subtly. Our current suffering might be  an answer for   others in the future. Or,  perhaps we  ourselves are the response to  some­ thing from the past. In  Judaism, G-d  is honored by our compliance with the precepts that he revealed. As you  mentioned, each person and each generation must find the path on  which they can search for  and feel  His  presence.

BERGOGLIO: Exactly. We  receive creation in  our  hands as a gift. God  gives it to us,  but at the same time He gives us a task: that we subdue the Earth. This is the first form of non-culture: what man receives, the raw material that ought to  be  subdued to  make culture­ like  the log  that is  transformed into a table. But there is a moment in which man goes too far  in this task; he gets overly zealous and loses respect for  nature. Then ecological problems arise, like global warming, which are new forms of non-culture. The work of man before God  and before himself must maintain a constant bal­ ance between the  gift  and the task. When man keeps the gift  alone and does not do  the  work, he does not complete his   mission and remains primitive; when man becomes overly zealous with his work, he forgets about the gift,  creating a constructivist ethic: he thinks that everything is the fruit of his labor and that there is no gift. It is what I call  the Babel syndrome.

SKORKA: In  rabbinic literature, there is a question as to why G-d  did  not like the Tower of Babel. Why did he halt construction by making people speak different languages? In reading the text, the simplest explanation is that the attempt to build a tower reaching Heaven was part of a pagan religion. The act was an expression of arrogance toward g-d. The Midrash states that what really bothered g-d was that the  builders were more concerned about losing a single brick than with losing a  man who might fall  from such a  great height. The same thing happens now-there  is  a  tension between the  gift and the  work. There needs to be a perfect equilibrium because man needs to progress so that he  can become more human. Even though g-d is the  one who planted and created everything, man is the  focus of the  material world and the  greatest divine work. The way we  are living today, the  only thing that matters is  the  success of  our economic system, and what is least important is the  well-being of mankind.

BERGOGLIO: what you  have said is brilliant. The Babel syndrome is  not  only a  constructivist posture, but  there is also the  appearance of a confusion of languages. That is typical of situations in  which there is an exaggeration of the  mission, ignoring the  gift,  be- cause in  that case pure constructivism carries with it the  lack of dialogue that at  the  same time entails aggression, misinformation, and annoyance . . . when one reads Maimonides14 and Saint Thomas of Aquinas, two   nearly contemporary philosophers, we   see   that they always start by putting themselves in the  position of their adversary in  order to  understand them; they dialogue from the  standpoint of the  other.

SKORKA: according  to  the   Talmudic interpretation, nimrod was a  Babylonian dictator who held a tight grip on  everything, and that is  why the  people spoke only one language-his. This tyrant ordered the construction of a tower that would reach Heaven in order  to leave his  mark, and thus, presumed rather arrogantly to  be  physically closer to  g-d. The point of building was not  to benefit mankind. The betterment of people's lives held no  importance. By building only for themselves while using one despotic language and not   a  universal one, each person was punished by being made to speak a language that no one else  could understand. This is a very important story and it is always incredibly relevant.

Excerpted from On Heaven and Earth: Pope Francis on Faith, Family, and the Church in the Twenty-First Century by Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Abraham Skorka
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