By Mirko Testa
RIMINI, Italy, AUG. 31, 2009 (Zenit.org).- A new book by Alessandro Meluzzi illustrates how man encounters both God and himself in the dimensions of gift and sacrifice, which are incarnated in the cross.
This book, titled "Abbracciare la Croce: Dolore, libertà e tenerezza in Dio" [Embracing the Cross: Suffering, Freedom and Tenderness in God], was presented last week at the 30th Meeting for Friendship Among Peoples, sponsored by the Catholic lay Communion and Liberation movement.
At this weeklong meeting in Rimini, which ended Saturday, the author, a psychiatrist and psychotherapist, featured his book at a booth of Edizioni OCD, the publishing arm of the Discalced Carmelite provinces in Italy.
Meluzzi is the founder of the Agape Mother of Welcome [Madre dell'Accoglienza] social cooperative rehabilitation centers for youth and adults suffering from various mental disorders.
He is also an ordained subdeacon in the Melkite Catholic rite and the scientific director of the Scuola Superiore di Umanizzazione della Medicina [School of the Humanization of Medicine].
In the course of the presentation, the author observed that the experience of mourning, just like that of abandonment, loss, frustration and defeat, are constitutive and inevitable experiences of the human condition.
Nevertheless, he said, in suffering and in the moment of trial, there arise questions and answers that concern man's deepest meaning, and these move us to seek out the divine.
The psychiatrist proposed that this can be an invitation to look upon suffering as an occasion to rediscover ourselves and human life "as a joyous ascent to Calvary."
The cross, Meluzzi affirmed, is accompanied by consolation. He said, "We know that God completely shares in the human mystery, and with a free and loving act chooses to become man to share -- in everything but sin -- human nature, which is made up of death, suffering and crosses."
He explained that God, who yields to man and who is raised up on the cross, draws all of humanity to himself in a universal embrace of welcome in which there is also a discovery: the discovery of the divine dimension hidden in the depths of the human heart.
The cross becomes a "very powerful if also troubling source of meaning," the author added.
In the book's introduction, he stated identified another source of this sense of purpose: "Our life has meaning only when it becomes a gift."
In fact, he continued, if existence is understood solely as perfect possession of ourselves, then it is nothing; reality cannot be the result of a private introspective act that only concerns ourselves.
God, Meluzzi explained, "has entered upon a path of love in which suffering is inevitable," showing that "freedom of choice necessarily carries a quotient of suffering with it."
Indeed, he added, "perceptible suffering is in direct proportion to the level of freedom that one is seeking."
For this reason "the drug addict […] rejects the highest level of freedom, seeking an anesthetic, because only with it can he succeed in blocking off the possibility of being free and, thus, of suffering," the author affirmed.
He continued, "Therefore, he who seeks freedom […] takes into account not only the possibility, but above all the necessity, the needfulness of suffering."
"This freedom of man," Meluzzi wrote, "is reflected in the mysterious freedom of God -- God who permits the creature to be free to love him or not love him to the point of crucifying him; thus the cross is the price that God pays to ransom man's freedom, not only to redeem him, but to share completely in man's nature."
From man's vocation to openness to his neighbor it is evident that "beatitude is achieved if we compromise ourselves in the relationship of compassion, which means suffering with the other," he said.
The psychiatrist added, "So, the acceptance of the relationship with the other cannot separate itself from its ineluctable result, namely, suffering."
He affirmed: "We can only know ourselves through the act of relationship. In fact, if relation did not exist, neither thought, being nor identity would either. This relationship that has love and the gift as its outcome is the essence of the Christian mystery."
In the preface to Meluzzi's book, Father Roberto Fornara, superior of the Interprovincial Carmelite Center in Rome, explained the link between suffering, love and freedom found in Carmelite spirituality, for example, in the thought of St. John of the Cross.
The priest explained, "John of the Cross's experience, from tender childhood, channeled him toward the fruitfulness of trials, at a broader level, as a reference to the cross."
He continued: "For him the cross is […] the total manifestation of the God's agape. The cross is the place of obedience of the Son's love for the Father."
Father Fornara stated that four centuries later, these ideas were echoed by another great Discalced Carmelite, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross [Edith Stein], a Jew, "profoundly a daughter of her people," who realized that "whoever understands the value of the cross of Christ, must take it upon himself in the name of everyone."
The wisdom of the cross, nevertheless, is not only the prerogative of saints, mystics and theologians, he stated.
"It is man," he explained, "man as such who is called daily to confront the mystery of the cross, the mystery of iniquity, of violence, of innocent suffering, of war, of abuse of power, of incurable maladies, of the contradictoriness of reality."
In conclusion, Father Fornara wrote, Meluzzi's book is not so much "an invitation to voluntarily embrace the cross, as much as a letting oneself be embraced by the crucified God, expert in love, expert in humanity."
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