Cardinal Martini and the Timeless Church
When Cardinal Carlo Martini, the former Archbishop of Milan, died on August 31, many must have wondered what kind of leader the Church had just lost. “Progressive Catholic Icon . . . Dies After Saying Church ‘200 years’ Behind,” headlined CBS news on September 3. The following day, the Catholic News Service reported Pope Benedict’s tribute: “The late Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini was a ‘generous and faithful pastor of the church,’ who not only studied the Bible ‘but loved it intensely and made it the light of his life.’”
Could the secular press and Benedict, be speaking about the same man? Yes, and their reactions to Martini’s passing reflected his multifaceted and sometimes controversial life.
There are two dimensions to Cardinal Martini’s legacy, and it would be a mistake to downplay either one.
The first derived from his expertise on the Bible. Cardinal Martini was a renowned Jesuit Scripture scholar, and was at his best when exploring its teachings, leading figures, and showing how they related to contemporary life. Whether he was recounting the sufferings of Job, the conversion of St. Paul, or the trust and surrender of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Martini had a unique ability to highlight the Gospel’s power and immediacy. As much as anyone, he helped revive the ancient practice of lectio divina—the spiritual reading of Scripture—and the Church is far better off because of it.
At the heart of Cardinal Martini’s spirituality was an intense devotion to Christ. Understanding the Lord, drawing closer to him, and becoming his faithful servant, was what directed Martini’s exegesis. Of course, he knew that in order to be a disciple of Christ, one first had to accept the Incarnation, and truth of the Gospels, which is often a struggle for those contending with modernity. It is a trial Martini experienced himself. [more]