My friend Don Giacomo
“During the ceremony of confirmations in Saint Laurence Outside the Walls we prayed for his health... and he expressed his gratitude with a gesture that was of hope of healing and, at the same time, of trust”. Cardinal Bergoglio remembers Giacomo Tantardini, priest
by Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio
Cardinal Bergoglio with Don Giacomo Tantardini in a photo from 2009 [© Paolo Galosi]
“Remember your leaders who spoke the word of God to you; Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith” (Heb 13, 7). Thus, the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews exhorts us to bear in mind those who announced the Gospel to us and who have already departed. He asks us to remember them, but not in that formal and, at times pitiable way, that leads us to say “how good he was!”, a phrase often heard in the courtyard of cemeteries. That type of memory is a simple reminder of social formalities. This asks us, rather, to remember them beginning from the fruitfulness of their sowing in our midst. It asks us to remember them with the memory of the heart, that Deuteronomic memory that builds on rock, that moulds lives and marks hearts. Yes, our heart is built on the memory of those men and women who have brought us closer to sources of life and hope that can also be drawn upon by those who follow us. It is the memory of the inheritance we have received and that we must, in turn, transmit to our children.
So, it is with this memory that we remember Don Giacomo, and we ask ourselves: what did he leave us? What signs of him do we find on the journey of our life? I dare simply say that he left the impression of a man-child who never finished being surprised. Don Giacomo, the man of wonder; the man who let himself be surprised by God and was able to open up the path so that this wonder be born in others.
Don Giacomo, a man surprised that, as he watched the Lord who called him, always wondered within himself, was hardly able to believe it, as Caravaggio’s Matthew: I, Lord? A man overwhelmed with wonder before this indescribable “superabundance” of grace that wins over the mean abundance of sin, that sin that diminishes us, always; a man amazed that he felt himself sought, wanted and loved by God long before he himself had sought him, wanted him and loved him; a man in wonderment who, like those of Lake Tiberias, did not dare ask Him who He was because he knew He was the Lord.
And this man in wonder, allowed himself, more than once, to be queried: “Do you love me?”, to reply with the ardent simplicity of love: “Lord, you know that I love you”. And it was so because this man-child nurtured his love with the simple but wise readiness of the contemplation of all that Grace that surpassed him.
Don Giacomo was so. He had not lost the ability to be surprised; he reflected beginning with the wonder that he received and nourished in prayer. Sometimes, he gave the impression that this sensibility stressed him, made him tired or restless, and this is not unusual in a man with a strong human temperament, on which Grace did not cease to work in his conversion to meekness.
The last image I have of him moves me: during the ceremony of confirmations in Saint Laurence Outside the Walls, with hands clasped, his eyes open and in wonder, smiling and serious at the same time. There, we prayed for his health... and he expressed his gratitude with a gesture that was of hope of healing and, at the same time, of trust. Thus, by grace, one can persevere on the path until the end: the man-child abandons himself to the arms of Jesus while he asks that this chalice may pass, and is picked up and carried in the arms, his hands clasped and eyes open. Allowing himself to be surprised once again, for the greatest gift.
I thank God our Lord for having known him. That “consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith” of the Epistle to the Hebrews is also directed to me.
Buenos Aires, 6 May 2012