Fanning the Embers

Article excerpt

Surveying a number of negative stories in recent NCRs, letter writer Gregory McQueary laments that he finds it "hard to find even a small spark among the ashes of what once was Vatican II renewal. I want to see a blaze ignited in our church again" (see Page 23). Knowingly or not. McQueary has picked up an image invoked by the late Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini.

Martini, a Jesuit and an archbishop of Milan from 1980-2002, was considered for decades the informal leader of "liberals" inside the church. In early August, he gave an interview, a sort of "spiritual testament" to be published after his death. He died Aug. 31.

Asked, "Who can help the church today?", Martini responded: "Fr. Karl Miner often used the image of the embers hidden under the ash. I see in the church today so much ash covering 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 fa 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?" (Read the full interview online at

So, Mr. McQueary, if I may use you as a rhetoric foil, I ask: Who are the faithful? Do you doubt that this age lacks our Mary Magdalenes, our John the Baptists, our centurions and our Samaritans? Let me assure you: We do not lack for servant leaders; a look at the special section on Volunteers inside this issue tells us this. I received this week a letter from a reader who said she had just retired from 40 years of parish ministry. There are thousands like her, the unnamed and underappreciated who keep our church running day in and day out. There are the embers.

Another person who has invoked Martini's embers metaphor is Swiss Abbot Martin Werlen of Einsiedeln. Since we told you about his appeal for church reform (NCR, Dec. 21-Jan. 3), quite a few readers have asked us for a copy of Werlen's 39-page pamphlet titled "Discovering the Embers Under the Ashes." Christa Pongratz-Lippitt has obtained the pamphlet in German for us, but we have yet to find an English translation. …