Friday, 23 February 2018

Teachers and guns: a nauseating combo

Recently Donald Trump, the US president strongly advocated arming the teachers to combat shootouts in schools!  At first I thought it was a joke!  But he was serious and sure about it producing better results: preventing any further shoot outs. His logic: any intruder will not dare step into a place where he knows he is going to be shot at.  However I realised I needed to put down my thoughts as to why this idea is not only bizarre, absurd but nauseating.  Apart from the evident political gain of upsetting the pro-gun lobby, why is this proposal wrong...

Education is meant to equip students with a sense of meaning and purpose for their life.  It is meant to help them form not just their heads but their hearts and hands as well.  If one overseeing such an endeavour is carrying a firearm what message does it carry for the students?? 

  • That violence is normal.  Rather than advocate and work towards peace, the teacher becomes a living symbol of violence and fear.  In an era when physical punishment is seen as detrimental to the growth of the child, how can carrying a gun be seen as helpful?  
  • Imagine the trauma of a child watch a teacher kill a student, a fellow classmate - however wrong the latter may be!  
  • A teacher is not a soldier.  He or she is not moulded to take lives but build lives. Those teachers who laid down their lives saving their students from bullets are hailed as heroes.  That's what teachers do - save and help grow.  Not shoot and kill! 
  • What if a disgruntled teacher decides to open fire in his or her classroom?  
  • How does having more guns prevent shootouts?  The only thing it would lead to is an increase in the possibility of a shootout.  
  • Rather than see how troubled children and youngsters can be helped to grow up healthy, the proposal suggests to eliminate them! 
While I sympathize with the parents, relatives and friends of those children and staff killed in the recent Florida school shootout, my heart also goes out to the youngster who carried out the brutal attack and his family.  The larger question that needs to be addressed is how does one ensure that young people do not end up so depressed that they have no other means than the gun to resort to? 

Being human before being religious

A couple of days ago I listened to a young man from the Royal army speak about his Christian faith and his career as an army nurse.  He attributed his present career to a volunteering trip he accepted, helping disabled people on a pilgrimage.  He said, that was what defined his future life.  While firm and convinced of his own call to be a Catholic, he was quite critical of many catholics who do not live up to their vocation.  He narrated that in his short life he had encountered many people, especially those without any beliefs but exceptionally great human beings.

One of things he spoke of was the two classes of people in any religion, especially Christianity: there those who live a good life and then there are those who want others see them live good lives.  In his experience, he said, for the first group of people, religion was an added incentive and help.  As for the second group, I guess, in their attempt to be seen as great religious, they actually end up being neither religious nor human! 

Don Bosco and the sacrament of reconciliation

In my reading in preparation for the talk on the Sacrament of Reconciliation, I came across this book by Gianni Asti (translated by Fr Ian Doulton) titled Don Bosco the Confessor of his boys.  It is an interesting book chronicling the dynamics that showed the bond of Don Bosco and his boys, especially around the confessional. 

As part of my reading also realised that of the three lives that Don Bosco wrote during his lifetime, that of Dominic Savio, Mickey Magone and Francis Besucco, one common feature in all those biographies was a chapter dedicated to Confession and the sacrament of Reconciliation. 

The most striking thing among all these narrations from the life of Don Bosco is the familiarity that the boys felt with Don Bosco.  For most of these boys there was no one in the world.  For some they were far away and most often not in good terms with. Just like those in our navajeevans, the home for street children.  Yet in Don Bosco, they found one whom they could trust.  They were at home with him.  That feeling of having someone in whom one can fully trust, can confide, be oneself, is truly empowering.  No wonder, Mother Teresa used to refer to loneliness as the worst disease.  

Feeling bad about doing good

This season of Lent so far has been a very nourishing time by way of reflection on my own relationship with God.  One of the most "haunting" thing that I've been meditating on these days is my own actions and their connection with my relationship with God. 

I grew up in a Catholic ambiance all through my life.  I was told by my parents, teachers, priests and religious that if I did 'this and this' it would show that I loved God.  All of these prescribed actions were good.  Going for Mass, doing penance doing Lent, being king and good to others, helping those in need, not being violent... Engaging in these activities meant that I loved God.  However, over the years I've discovered that merely doing all of these, while being beneficial, really did not help me know or come close to God!  I felt good about myself.  I was appreciated by others.  But within me it did not always help me develop my relationship with God.  Perhaps these activities had become an end in themselves. 

I slowly began to discover that if I inverse the equation: not, activities and therefore God but love God and from there flow activities, it was very liberating.  However, there is at times a sense of vacuum, a gap.  A time comes when you give up certain activities you have been doing all your life and are in the process of thinking what would flow from my personal relationship with God.  That gap period is a sort of uneasiness.  An uncomfortable phase.  You are no more doing the old activities that made you feel good. Neither do you want to do them because they really don't stem from your love for God but out of a habit, ending in itself.  Am I doing the right thing?? 

On the other hand, it is also a liberating feeling when you do things for love of God and not merely continue tradition to make oneself feel good - however good or noble they may be.  Perhaps that's the meaning of Lent being a season of spring, new life!

The Father knows!

Last night I was asked to give a talk to the Salesian Cooperators of Chertsey.  They were about 20 of them present.  I was asked to speak about Don Bosco and the Sacrament of reconciliation.  I shared of how my personal insight changed my understanding of Don Bosco's notion of confession. 

The sacrament of reconciliation was always a kind of obligation that I felt needed to be fulfilled, earlier as a baptised member of the Church and then much more later as a professed Salesian.  However, it was only a few years ago that I began to really appreciate the sacrament for its great value.  And it was mostly the person of the confessor that made a whole difference in this aspect.  Have seen ample confessors who were so strict and abiding by the rule that confession was a real act of pain and suffering.  After the confession it a sense of relief that a 'job' is done, rather than savouring the grace of being blessed! 

What changed for me was the simple insight that the "Father knows!" So it was not something new that I was speaking to him about. There was nothing that would surprise Him, given the fact that I'm living in His presence.  So what's the whole confession about if He already knows? It is basically an acknowledgement of my present state of life, coupled with a genuine desire to be better.  This realisation helped me change my attitude towards confession and I really began to cherish this sacrament. 

Don Bosco's own writings and goodnights are rife with hell, sin, death, and all that stuff usually related to the sacrament of reconciliation, as was the trend of his times.  However, from my reading of his teachings, he never advocated confession to his boys as a fulfilment of an ecclesial obligation. He always recommended it as a means of personal experience, for growth and progress.  Boys loved going to confession to him. He personally gained and learned much about this sacrament from his own confessor, Joseph Cafasso.  It was from all that reading and especially observing the following photo of Don Bosco (one of the earliest original photos of DB) that it struck me that the boys not only were convinced of the fact that the "Father knows", but also felt greatly reassured by the knowledge that even "Don Bosco knows!" So it was a double, "Father knows!"
Notice the faces of the boys.  They are so serene.
No one's distracted or curious about the photograph itself - given this is the earliest history of photography
(at least in the oratory)
Confession was not restricted to the confessional anymore.  It was a continued relationship. It is in this light that Don Bosco's quote made great sense to me:
Want to be saints?  Here's the secret: Confession is the lock; the confidence in the confessor is the key.  This is how you open heaven's gates. 
Confession is the lock.  Confidence in the confessor is the key!  My earliest experience of shame and fear and guilt were replaced by a sense of love and comfort.  Mostly thanks to some of my confessors, especially Fr Lens. With him, I was at home. I did not have to be different.  I did not have to sift and mince words.  There was no fear or shame.  He knew me well enough that there was no need of a confession at all; but me confessing was me taking responsibility for my growth and him assuring his - and God's - continued support! 

As I was putting down these thoughts for the talk, it then occurred to me why Don Rua felt greatly pained when in 1908, the Vatican forbid the Rector to be the regular confessor of inmates.  I always thought he should have felt happy that he could focus more on being with the boys rather than being confined to the confessional.  But like Don Bosco, he had grown so intimately with his boys that not being with them in the confessional was like cutting out one important portion of their lives.  I realized how difficult it would have been for his boys!  That is not recorded anywhere!  In my years in the formation commission, I had neatly collapsed the distinct roles of the rector, as best non-compatible.  But I also understood my predicament why there should be such a fuss about Rector also being the confessor (and final authority on voting).  If I've been open to him, in and out of the confessional, I should have nothing to fear.  And if it in confidence that I have opened up to him, then I am also convinced that what he says and does is for my own good - even if it meant him asking me to pack up and go home!  Of course, in all of this the person of the rector or confessor does make a huge difference!  

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

God saw their efforts

The reading from the book of Jonah wherein he preaches God's wrath to the people of Nineveh and they repent, ends with this particular phrase.
God saw their efforts and relented. He did not destroy the city as he had threatened. 
In our Christian teaching and preaching not much is said about efforts.  Most often, as in the competitive society, we focus on results.  Only a result which is a successful or profitable is considered good and worthy.  The efforts alone do not count for anything much.  But for one on a journey, the effort itself is valuable.  The experience and the learning from the journey is as important, if not more, than reaching the destination.

God certainly counts our genuine efforts, irrespective of the outcome.  Like in all matters of education and evangelisation, to do our best is what we are called to.  Whether someone does actually become a scholar or gets converted to the faith is the job of the Holy Spirit. 

Monday, 19 February 2018

He saw it all (song)

I received this particular video song a while ago.  Loved the calm, sure voice of the singer (Booth Brothers) and the lyrics too are quite engaging!  Based on the miracles of Jesus, the song is an invitation to do one's best and learn to trust, have faith in Jesus...
I was trying to catch the crippled man. 
Did he run this way?
He was rushing home to tell everyone 
what Jesus did today.
And the mute man was telling myself and the deaf girl
he's leaving to answer God's call. 
It's hard to believe.
But if you don't trust me, ask the blind man, he saw it all. 
Ask the blind man, he saw it all!

My friend if the troubles and burdens you carry 
are heavy and dragging you down
You tried everything you can possibly think of 
there's no relief to be found
the very same Jesus who altered the future 
of a blind man, the deaf and the lame
is still reaching out in your hour of trouble. 
One touch and you're never the same! 

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Among beasts and angels

Yet another proof of the way we need to see the whole world and not just bits of it and pass judgement about the whole.  The gospel of today speaks of the abridged version of the temptation of Jesus, from the gospel of Mark. In the short passage, there is one simple sentence which caught my attention this morning.
He was among the wild beasts and the angels were with him. 
My first thought was why have the wild beasts if they are unable to do any harm because the angels are protecting him.  Best would be to do away with the wild beasts and there would be no need of angels at all.  But then it struck me that Jesus would be all alone.  Nobody or nothing with him.  Taking away the beasts would mean taking away the angels too. 

Good cannot exist all by itself.  So does evil.  Taking away all evil would mean elimination of all goodness too.  That does not mean, evil ceases to be evil. We live our lives surrounded and intertwined with the goodness and evil.  What sometimes is good could actually be evil in the long run and what seems evil may turn out to be good.  At times what was seen as good would itself be seen as evil.  In all of this what's common is that one does not exist by itself.  

Friday, 16 February 2018

Salesian beginnings at Battersea, London

Last night Fr John delivered a talk at Battersea about the Salesian roots at Battersea.  Sacred Heart Parish at Battersea was the first Salesian presence in England, way back in 1877.

A few interesting points and insights from the talk...
  • Salesians were invited to England not really by a Bishop but by a Countess, Georgiana de Stacpoole.  She was a formidable woman who divided her time between France, London and Rome.  She had quite a few high connections given her title and active social role.  The Parish at Battersea was in fact her 'creation' - when she fell out with the parish authority of Our Lady of Mt Carmel, she decided to start another Catholic community in the neighbourhood.  
  • Right since the beginning of his historical origins, Battersea was an economically backward region.  The building of the railway line worsened the situation.  The railway line on one side and the Thames on the other, isolated the place and was considered the slum dwelling of London.  
  • Fr Francis Dalmazzo, the first Salesian to set foot on the English soil, who came to 'inspect' the place, following the directions of Don Bosco was first enamoured by the fact that there was a railway station (Clapham Junction) close at hand! (Honestly it never struck me before: the connection between early Salesians and railways - Italians had a thing for technology!  Only knew that our navajeevans were started and still continue close to the railway stations, for apparent reasons. But other than that was not aware of this particular early Salesian 'criteria'!) 
  • There were three Salesians who formed the first Salesian community on English soil: Fr Edward McKiernan, an Irishman and two Italians: Fr Giovanile Bounavier and Br Rossaro.  
  • Fr McKiernan died within a year, having contacted TB, and the climatic condition of Battersea speeding his death.  Fr Macey, who by then, had arrived from Italy along with Br Ribaldone, was made the Rector of the community.  (Fr John Dickson is firmly convinced that Fr Macey was not part of the first delegation that set foot in England).  Br Rossaro went back to Italy within a few months of his arrival, unable to cope with the climate.  
    The handwritten note by Don Bosco to Fr Macey dated 17 November 1887.
    This note was handed over to Fr Michael Hynes, the Parish priest at Chertsey. a few days ago by a relative of a fellow Salesian who worked with Fr Macey at Chertsey in the early 1900s.
    It is basing on this note that Fr John Dickson confirms that Fr Macey was in Italy, with Don Bosco,
    when the first batch of Salesians reached the English shore (on November 16, 1887). 
  • If my intuition is right, perhaps this was the first Salesian mission to be opened without the Italian slant.  Most other missions were primarily targeted - though not exclusively - to cater to the Italian immigrants. Fr John's reading of this is that Don Bosco - master strategist, that he was - reasoned that if he was to expand his work for young people far and beyond, needed personnel who could speak more than Italian.  Furthermore which was the most expansive empire in the late 20th century?  Having confreres who could speak English would give him access to all the colonies wherever the British were.  
  • Years later when the present Church of Sacred Heart was completed at Battersea, in 1893 Don Rua came for the blessing and inauguration.  He brought with him a vestment used by Don Bosco, a monstance decked with the jewels of the mother of late Augustus Czartoryski and a special chausible he wore for the day (all of which are still preserved at Battersea church).
    The vestment of Don Rua for the special occasion of the blessing and inauguration of the new Church at Battersea.
    The centrepiece is a representation from the book of Revelation, of the lamb on the book with the seven seals.

    A vestment used by Don Bosco (must have been one that was gifted to him on some special occasion)
    The brass monstrance decked with the ornaments which were passed on to the Salesians when the mother of late Augustus Czartoryski passed away.

    Fr John Dickson, after his talk at Battersea

Etiological challenges

To be born in a Catholic family and to grow up as a believer has its own 'conditions'.  Everyone who believes, or does not, has a particular historical origin, an etiology.  An etiological challenge is when one sees some aspect of the causal origins his or her belief as problematic. 

Different spheres have different names: in religious circles it may be called a 'faith crisis'.  However, these etiological challenges help one to cultivate intellectual humility.  A necessary ingredient to avoid fundamentalism.  To be able to see that the other holds beliefs (even contrary to yours) for exactly the same reasons you hold what you believe in.

Etiological challenges also help one to constantly revise ones beliefs.  The possibility of totally giving up of ones beliefs too is not to be ruled out.  However, when done with sincerity and openness, it helps one to render ones initial beliefs more meaningful and inclusive than total abandonment. 

Another advantage is that they help one to move a state of indoctrination to and through experience.  While self-reflection is of great value, social interaction is not to be discounted.  None can avoid an etiology; but to remain ignorant or worse, deny it, is no merit - neither to ourselves, nor to others, least to our belief system itself!  

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Who's pregnant?

As I glanced through the news just before I called it a day, I came across this particular news article which said
Tom Daley announces baby news with husband
The one line description below it read
The British Olympic diver and his husband Dustin Lance Black shared the news on social media.
I thought BBC had its grammar wrong. Then when I opened the link and started reading the news I realised it was a gay couple.  Fine.

I guess in today's world coming across gay couples is a fact of life.  So it could be that they are adopting a child.  But no.  The news article carried the photo of the two of them holding the picture of a baby scan and it spoke of 'pregnancy', 'expecting their first child...'. 

Am wondering who is pregnant?  Honestly it is a quite baffling! 

Directionless Growth?

Does growth involve direction?

If it does then come judgements, gradation, hierarchy, standards...
If not, then every change is growth. 

But the point in a spiritual journey is not where I should be but what path should I take. So when I realize that I am living a selfish narcissistic ego-centric life, I wish to grow out of it.  That does not mean that I will aim for a totally non-emotional impassionate existence.  Even if I do, and at some point of my life attain it, I will realize that this present state is also not really helpful.  The journey then begins again.  Most often we aim for the other extreme but find or strike a balance somewhere halfway.  Now at that moment of beginning the change, the 'growth', I do not have a definite idea of where that 'halfway' is.  All I have is an insight that the present state is not it! 

However, isn't that 'other extreme' a direction?  Perhaps in one sense but no different than reaching a place covered with thick fog, having a sort of momentary black out and then setting off in the 'opposite' direction.  Are you really sure that it is the opposite direction?

Perhaps in these moments it all boils down to what is it that is important for me.  

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Table manners

In comparison to our Indian culture, the English culture has very many table manners.  While official dinners are a rite in themselves, even everyday meals at home are bound by some etiquette.  Back in India, we do follow some basic manners, mostly out of reverence for the food that is prepared, but we're not as strict as the English.  So even without tables we do follow some table manners!

I distinctly remember the rule about folding the plate, either a banana leaf or woven with leaves, after a meal.  It was during one of the rare visits to Mangalore that we made and during one marriage (it was mostly for marriages that I visited Mangalore as a child) being told that after meal, the indicator of having had  enough is to fold one's plate.  However if one folded it towards oneself, it indicated that the meal was good and appreciated.  If one folded the plate away from oneself then it was a sign that the meal was not good.  Another lesson I learnt while I volunteered to serve at one such meal was not to scrape the serving bowl.  It indicated scarcity of cooked meal - that we were running short of food! 
Back then, as a child, I dreaded those visits to Mangalore because we had to meet and greet like a million people, all of whom would know us but we'd know no one!  It was all too much of a crowd for me.  However,  I guess the pendulum now has swung to the other extreme.  One hardly knows anyone else!  It's ten years since I last visited Mangalore.  

Mass without the Bishop

During supper I came to know that today was the funeral of one of the diocesan priests'.  The Bishop who was to preside over the funeral Mass, was caught up in traffic.  Know not how long they waited or how they decided but they began the Mass without him!  He eventually arrived just before sermon and he sat with the priests for the Mass. 

When I heard this I was really amazed. The first thing that came to my mind was how impossible this would have been if it were in India - at least most parts of the country!  They would have waited for hours long, for the Bishop to arrive and then he'd preside over the Mass, give a lengthy sermon, without as much as a profound and sincere apology for being late!  If by chance they'd start the Mass without him... (which in the first place, none would dare!)  Woe to the Priest who would preside. Woe to the Parish priest. Woe to all who concelebrate!  Gosh! What a huge hue and cry that would be, if at all such a thing would take place. 

Surely we've got to learn a lot from the clergy here with regard to humility and working with others, especially the baptized.  
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