Wednesday, 8 April 2020

Admission and denial

During the last lap of Jesus' journey on earth there are two people, both among his closest group, who deny him.  There is Judas who innocently asks, "Surely, not I Lord?" during the Last Supper to Jesus' statement of one betraying him.  Then there is Peter who denies Jesus thrice - after vehemently affirming his loyalty to Jesus.  At least Peter did not deny Jesus on his face. 

However, both repent.  Judas feels sorry and approaching the Jews, returns the 30 pieces of silver, in exchange for Jesus.  Peter repents and weeps bitterly. Both realise that what they did was not in conformity to what Jesus would have wanted them to do.  Both try to make amends.  The only difference is that Peter felt strong enough to live with his mistakes, in the hope that he would be accepted by his fellow companions - and most importantly, by Jesus.  Jesus knew that he would betray, but did not condemn him.  On the other hand, Judas did not have anyone to turn to.  He felt he had let down everyone and none would now accept him - not even the Lord.  He dies alone, or rather he dies a very pathetically lonely death.  He decided for himself that no one would give him a second chance.  And the ones whom he approached (the Jews) only mocked him.  Jesus, his main victim,  was beyond his reach now.

In that sense, his agony was greater than that of Peter.  His was an agony of loneliness.  The same loneliness that led to Jesus sweating blood in the garden of Gethsemane.  The same loneliness that made Jesus cry out 'God, my God, why have you abandoned me?'  If only were Judas to admit his guilt to someone, we'd have another excellent model of human weakness overcome! 

Tuesday, 7 April 2020

Simon of Cyrene, the epitome of (most) religious

Simon of Cyrene, who is roped in to help Jesus carry his cross, presents a glimpse of a particular personality type.  Most of us live this personality or this trait very often in our life - especially religious.

Simon is there on the scene by chance.  Or could be there by choice.  But him getting dragged in to assist Jesus is pure chance!  No way did he volunteer for it (doesn't look so).  The soldiers may have asked for volunteers to come forward.  Simon may have thought of volunteering.  Maybe he did.  Nonetheless, the point is this: He knew for certain that the cross was not his.  He was safe!  He only had a guest appearance!  Of this he was sure.  From the citadel of that certainty it is not very difficult to help Jesus!  With my securities in place, I lose nothing. So lending a helping hand to someone is fine. 

All he had to do was play the role for that intermediary period, till Golgotha or till the soldiers decide to let go of him.  No smart moves!  He didn't protest the persecution and the torture.  He wouldn't.  He was not seen or heard before.  He is not seen or heard after this event.  This is exactly the mission mode most religious happily engage in: doing good (occasionally or very often), but from within the comfort zones one wouldn't risk leaving.  But we are called - and we profess, in response - to be more than mere part-time charity doers or organisers.  We are meant to be the radicals.  We are called to be His disciples, all the time, everywhere, for all.  Even if it entails not being with Jesus on his way to Calvary - like John the Baptist - because, we have already walked that way!  

Peter's proclamation and denial

In the Gospel of the day, we hear Jesus foretelling Peter denying him.  To which, Peter vehemently affirms his loyalty.  For us listeners who know the whole story, the passionate rebuttal of Peter to Jesus' prophecy seems like a joke.  We already know he is going to deny Jesus.  This present passion and loyalty are only fleeting. 

We may smirk at Peter's fierce loyalty, but we are no better off. We have our own convictions and principles, and if someone were to challenge them, we'd give them a good fight. But somewhere down the line (in three years, or three months or even three days!) we may give up those very convictions or principles for the slightest of trouble or risk to our more basics of life.  It does not take long for convictions to become opinions.  Jesus knew the depth of Peter's faith.  Peter thought he had seen it all and that there was nothing that could separate him from Jesus! 

Another dimension of this proclamation of loyalty and then the u-turn is basically because the primary proclamation is made solely on the strength of one's own power.  God does not feature in the future plans.  It's all about me battling it out, making it on my own accord.  None of us really know all that will unfold in our lives.  Not next year, not next month, not even the next minute.  So our reply need not change.  But our attitude to what will come can very well be that of trust - trust that we will not be alone. 

"Well then, at least give me the strength to make that denial temporary!" could have been Peter's reply, if he knew Jesus well. 

"I know that you are with me, help me too to be with you!" 

Monday, 6 April 2020

Lazarus, the collateral damage?

In the gospel today we hear how the Jews plotted against Jesus and it is amusing to note, that not only is Jesus their target, but Lazarus too!  And what did Lazarus do in order to get his name on the hit-list?  Well, he was raised from the dead by Jesus! 

That Jesus was being plotted against and planned to be bumped off, is quite understandable.  He was challenging the authority of the established system and leaders.  He was teaching all crazy stuff.  He barely respected any of the religious elders - going to the extent of calling them names.  He broke most of the 'sacred' laws.  He just was too much to handle.  So, 'better for one man to die than risk a whole nation'!  But Lazarus?  Why him?  He did not ask to be raised from the dead.  He was just summoned out of the tomb!  Nor did he go about following Jesus and preaching the Kingdom just like the apostles and the disciples.  He never wrote any epistles or memorandums to the Roman government.  I don't think he even ventured out of Bethany on any of the missionary expeditions of Jesus and his cohort. 

Why then target him?  He certainly was no collateral damage.  He was a target in himself.  Purely because his very existence was a living witness to what Jesus was and did.  The scene in today's gospel at the house of Lazarus, where Martha is dishing out a lavish meal and Mary is anointing Jesus' feet with the costliest of ointments, is of real festivity and life.  The same house, a couple of days earlier, was in deep mourning.  Now there is rejoicing.  In that sense Lazarus is a very fortunate man.  Without actually doing much, he merits the death schemers attention.  Blessed is the one whom the Lord favours.  And by that mere single favour, bears witness to the Lord. 

I am blessed with innumerable favours.  Am I then a target of those who hate Christ, for my very life  bears witness to Jesus?  Or am I treated by them as an insignificant threat, someone whom they think is not connected to Jesus at all?

Grandiosity

Aiming for the sky is always considered a challenging and motivating factor.  However, practically speaking, that long distance goal is only good in theory.  In real practical life, it is one step-at-a-time. 

Most often we Salesians fail, and miserably at that, because we think too big.  Well, dreaming of huge grand plans is nothing harmful.  The danger is embarking on it purely on the dream alone.  Not really testing it out in bits and learning from it, before going for the big kill.  We often are in a hurry to make it big!  We forget that it takes years of hard work and effort, including a humility to constantly evaluate ones own work and learn from it.  Humility also to accept the fact that we do not know-it-all.  Therefore the need to involve and learn from others who are experts in that field.  Once we have worked on a small task, involving people, gaining experience and wisdom, and have significantly proved it to be successful, then present it as a working model.  Then take up something bigger and gain from that experience... learn, evaluate, experiment, involve, reflect, plan.  By this time you have a network in place (of people, places, contacts, experiences, information).  Bigger tasks will naturally come your way or be entrusted to you. 

Mere grandiosity, solely on the basis of 'reaching out' is something we religious should be cautious about.  Don Bosco did not straight away build large houses and churches!  He first started meeting boys in the streets, in the prisons, in their work places.  He then gathered them on Sundays.  Again, not in a grand place of his own.  His initial boarders were living with him in his house, not a large well-furnished boarding house!  He built up his work bit by bit.  As the felt need presented itself, he undertook bigger houses and places.  He did not build (buildings) and then start working!!  

Sunday, 5 April 2020

Philosophy and wisdom

If philosophy is the love or study of wisdom, then by that logic philosophers should be the most wise people on earth.  Now that statement can be treated more as a joke than a reality!  Why the lacuna between study of wisdom and being wise? 

I think the chasm lies in the fact that most philosophers get embroiled with logic, arguments, reasoning and reading, it is purely at the intellectual level.  In life, these hardly make an impact.  When these do not percolate my convictions, principles, values and day-to-day decisions of life, how would it make impact others, leave along the society at large?  Wisdom comes from letting these ideas and theories being worked out in real life, with real people and relations. Not merely in the abstract world of ideas and thoughts.  In that sense, I still hold that my Mum is a more wise person than I, in spite of my years of study of philosophy!

I agree that reading and thinking and philosophising helps.  But wisdom comes from living life, not merely reading about life or thinking about life.  We become wise engaging with real life-situations and people - the more challenging and complex these are, the better the possibility of we growing wise.  Reading and thinking and engaging in an intellectual debate (however intense) are safe bets - not life-altering.  Real life situations and the challenges they throw up, demand radical decisions and careful consideration.  That's the route to wisdom. 

The Passion narrative and me

While reading the Palm Sunday gospel yesterday and today, I could not but notice the number of people involved in the event proper.  There are several characters who come in and leave in the life of Jesus, but in this episode alone, just the entry into Jerusalem and the events that unfold thereafter, there are a variety of people playing different roles.

There is the crowd itself that welcomes him today into Jerusalem.  Know not how many of them exactly knew what they were doing and saying as they praised and welcomed Jesus.  Just like another crowd that shouted 'Crucify him' before Pilate.  Most of them would certainly have heard of Jesus.  Although not all of them would know exactly what the praise or condemnation was for. 

Then, there are the apostles and the disciples around Jesus.  Peter stands out as the mascot or the representative of all those close to Jesus, but not close enough to stand up for him.  In the face of adversity, they crumble and retreat into their own securities.  Judas, on the other hand, feels he has no cover to hide under.  He seemed more plagued by guilt than Peter. 

Then there are the scribes, the elders, the Roman politicians - all seeking the 'common good'. They are all so caught up in the act of being leaders that they fail to question their real motives of framing Jesus.  Not all of them can be branded villains or evil.  They were only upholding the social order that they were taught all their life and what they truly felt called to protect.  Although some of them would have been schemers - not surprising, they were people in authority - the rest would have been honest men who felt responsible to maintain the existing order - social, political, religious. 

There is then Jesus himself.  Sometimes speaking, responding, challenging, but otherwise choosing to remain silent when he could have argued his way out.  He certainly knew how to use words and arguments to drive home his point.  I suppose, another Bible can be filled just with the thoughts running through his head from his intense meditative moments in Gethsemane until his last breath on the cross.  Oh, what would he have been thinking, especially at those moments he chooses to remain silent! 

Then there is me!  Re-imagining these scenes in my mind.  Sensing the pain of Jesus and in a way his resigned helplessness.  Reading or listening to this passage, knowing what the end is going to be, is not always easy.  Resurrection does not really come to mind and even if it does, offers little consolation - in the face of the ongoing agony and tension.  Then, suddenly there is a flash of light.  And my mind wanders trying to figure out, if that was caused by a car on the road or the one that turned into our cul-de-sac?  From there my mind goes on to remember that one of the car's battery is down and I need to tell the others to completely compress the clutch and the brake while turning on the ignition to get it started.  It takes a while to remind myself where I am and what I'm involved in. 

And the meditation continues. 

Friday, 3 April 2020

Philosophy lectures

Compiled list of philosophy lectures (videos) on various topics available online...

The accompanying sheets also contain lists of some lecture notes and online softwares.

Came across the list and details of its origin here. https://mymodernmet.com/philosophy-video-lectures/

Thursday, 2 April 2020

Not hearing God

Jesus said to the Jews and to the chief priests, "He who is of God hears the words of God; if you do not hear them, it is because you are not of God."

The fact that a mother is attuned to the cries of her child.  No matter where she is or whatever be the surrounding noise, her baby's cry gets her attention.  Young children blindfolded can recognize their mother by a mere touch!  When in sync with another person, words are not necessary, mere presence counts and speaks much!

By that logic, not hearing God's words can rightly mean only one thing: I am not in sync with God! While it is easy to shift the blame and say, it is God who is silent, owning up our lack of zeal to stay in touch with God is more mature. 

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Foundation

Daniel standing up to King Nebuchadnezzar defending his decision not to bow or worship before anyone or anything other than Yahweh is a classic example of someone who is convinced of his or her own principles and totally unyielding - come what may!

Unfortunately while this can be interpreted as faith and devotion and conviction, the same can also be read as fanaticism or stubbornness!  Same tenacity, same vigour, same passion!  Very difficult to decide, at least in the first encounter. 

Nonetheless, it is these very senseless, totally irrational and reckless convictions, decisions and actions that are qualified as faith. Every religion has these.  From a rational point of view, these are senseless and utterly nonsensical.  Yet for the one who sees with the eyes of faith, they are heroic. 

But I think it is important to note that Daniel did not have faith "if" God saved him!  He had faith!  That's it.  There was no test or condition for having faith!  Just like rationality relies on reason, faith relies on God.  Both have a foundation, a launching pad - something that cannot itself be brought to question, lest we never proceed.  

Patch work

When Naaman goes to Elisha and expects him to come and cure him of his leprosy, he imagines the prophet coming and applying a balm or something on the part which is affected by leprosy.  Rather, the prophet tells him to take a bath! 
Elisha refusing the gifts of Naaman, by Pieter de Grebber (Wikipedia)
The prescription of a bath, serves many purposes: it addresses his pride, his mindset, his body, his illness.  It is a whole package.  The prescription is an antidote not just for the physical part of the body that is affected but the whole body!  The whole person! 

In life, we often seek and are satisfied with piece-meal solutions to our imminent and grave problems.  However, we fail to see or rather, do not want to see the larger picture and address the root causes.  Saints and seers are those who see life large scale!  They see the bigger picture and thereby take steps accordingly.  The rest of us, merely do what appears to the eye, here and now.  

Friday, 13 March 2020

Truth-seekers

Believe those who seek the truth, doubt those who find it.
Andre Gide, Ainsi-soit-il (1952)

Tuesday, 10 March 2020

Eggs and colour

Only yesterday did I come to know that only the coloured hens in the UK lay brown eggs.  Always thought that the hens laying brown eggs are a special breed.  However, the brown coloured eggs  are laid by a special breed whose beaks are trimmed using infrared laser beams, when they are small, in order to prevent them from pecking one another as they grow up.  Being aggressive and competitive, they tend to peck on one another and hence the blunting of their beaks when they are small (Also learnt that, that procedure is painful).  In contrast, the meek white feathered ones lay white shelled eggs.  Apart from the colour of the shell, the eggs are the same.  The same nutritional value and the taste.  And the white egg market here in the UK is merely 0.5% of the total number of eggs sold.  Unlike in the US and India, where 90% of the eggs sold are white in colour. 

Moral of the story: I think the coloured hens in India don't know - yet - that they are to lay brown-shelled eggs! 

Monday, 9 March 2020

Lenten penance

Unlike years past, this Lent, I'm following a different strategy: doing something different everyday, rather than giving up something.  The past 10 days have been much of a success and a good enterprise.  Though, there have been a couple of days when I've totally forgotten, what I decided to do in the morning.  No matter how hard I tried to recollect my decision of the morning, I could not remember it at the end of the day - neither did I think/remember it during the day! 

Nonetheless, this procedure of constantly reminding myself of what to do for the day, is helping me do something concretely for others around me - my confreres and mostly my students.  Most of all, it is making me conscious of my own style of relationships and attitudes towards different aspects of life. 

Today's decision was to be kind to a couple of my students (names thought of in my mind) who are particularly getting on my nerves.  Succeeded with 2 of them, failed (quite badly) with a third one!  Well 2/3 is a good score!  At least I did make a conscious effort.  

Sunday, 8 March 2020

Kids and puddles

There's something about children and water, especially if it is in the form of a puddle!  Walking to school every morning and it has been raining practically every day, I almost tip-toe to school.  Carefully avoiding the water or even the soggy patches of fallen leaves.  But right beside and before me are students who are literally wading through water.  The only path they see is through the puddle - however dry the rest of the road is.  And if there is a stream of water or a large puddle, that's it!  There has to be a splash, and a wade through.  All this is even before they have reached school.  I wonder how they manage to sit through the lessons with their soaking shoes, socks and trousers! 

But that's children - that's childhood...


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