Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Water source and farming

Only today did it strike me that nowhere in the whole country of UK is there any submersible water pump, leave alone in individual houses or properties.  The primary reason for this is the abundance of rain that the country receives all year round.  Secondly there are natural rivers (Thames, being one of the biggest), tributaries and lakes scattered all across the country.  So the existing abundant water is merely purified and distributed. 

That explains why there is no cultivation done is most parts of the country, even in times when there is enough sunshine and warmth for one crop.  The place is not close to a water reservoir and getting water to that place is costlier than merely importing the required food from another part of the world.  Every time I see vast expanses of land with nothing but grass growing, I'm reminded of farmers back in India who struggle to cultivate bits of arid land.  Here the land is fertile, water in plenty and heavy machinery at hand.  Back in most parts of India, the farmer has no land, even if he or she has it is not always fertile, there is hardly any water is some other parts of the country, and it is all hard manual labour.  

Quality of life

Why is it that in religious life, living is made simple and without too many frills?  Our vows are basically aimed at reducing the 'clutter' in living.  At times when I see some of the students at the university and all that they have and carry around, it amazes me.  The same is true of some religious too.  They have so many things, half of which they themselves are not aware of.  And yet these things are carried round year after year and remain in one's room or in the house, gathering dust.  And most of these are not even essentials - well, at least not for me! 

However the whole point of simplification in religious life is that we focus on the bare essentials.  After a time in life there comes a point when we realise that there are very few things that are really really needed.  The rest are luxuries which can very well be dispensed with.  The point of religious life is to improve the quality of life, rather than the commodity of life.  But if the simplification does not aid in the improving the inner quality of life, then again, that 'de-cluttering' is another thing added to the existing clutter!

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Mary, Help of Christians (6)

In north-east of India, in Shillong, and specifically at Upper Shillong in the Salesian novitiate house chapel is the statue of Mary Help of Christians that was brought by one of the first Salesian missionaries who set foot in India in 1906 at Tanjore, Tamilnadu.  These missionaries from Italy carried with them the statue and it still is preserved with great care and venerated with great fervour. 

And Salesians everywhere have always proudly spoken of Mother Mary, under the title 'Mary help of Christians', wherever, whenever and however they've been able to.  Shrines to Our Lady help of Christians are just one of the direct means of spreading this devotion. 
Our Lady in our Salesian Chapel, Chertsey


Very many people, in the course of their lives, acquire or are given names very different from the ones they have been given at birth.  So often these names stick, much more than the original names. 

I remember very well one of my students while I was doing my first year practical training in Kondadaba.  My Telugu was not at all good then and the students English was not any better! So at times I used to explain concepts and lessons using some Telugu.  Often I'd get stuck but they'd help me out with words and we fared well together.  On one such occasion I was using the analogy of horses and carriages, but got stuck for want of knowing the Telugu word for 'blinders'.  I tried my best and showed the class using my open palms besides my eyes.  Mariadas, sitting right at the first desk, in his enthusiasm shouted, "kommulu" (horns, in Telugu)!  We all burst out laughing - horns on horses?!  Ever since he was called 'kommulu' Mariadas.  Today he is a priest in the archdiocese of Visakhapatnam and his companions still refer to him as 'kommulu' Mariadas!

Fr Michael was narrating of times when he was a boy and those entering the aspirantate would change their names to avoid confusion.  If a boy named James entered the aspirantate and there'd already be someone with that name, he'd be asked to choose a closest alternative. Say he'd choose 'George'.  And next year there'd join a boy named 'George' and the poor guy would have to change his name! 

Another boy at school was called 'Armpit'.  Of course, that was not his name.  But that's what he was called all his school time.  It so happened that on the first day at school when asked by the teacher for his name, he announced, 'Am Peter'.  However to others it sounded 'Am-pit' and that was it! 

Then there was this boy in another school who was called Archie by all at school.  Even his parents called him Archie. But that was not his name at all.  Neither did anyone, not even his parents, know why at all he was called Archie!  But that was how he was called by everyone all his life. 


What most of us experience or speak about when we talk about 'hunger' is only the text book definition of it: lack of food.  Real hunger is not merely lack of food, well assured of a meal in a known time ... something that we undergo or experience during some retreat or Lenten fasts or for medical purposes.  Real hunger is lack of food, and the knowledge that there is no assurance of and if there is going to be any meal at all!

A little good deed

On my walk this evening I came across three ladies - one of them an RSPCA officer - trying to coax a foal into a caravan.  The only trouble was that the foal was across the fence and the gate padlocked!  I noticed them from a distance and as I neared asked if they needed help.  One of them responded that they'd be happy if someone helped.  She stated that though it looked as if they were stealing the foal but it's just that the police officer would not let them cut the padlock without the owner being present.  The foal was just a day old and the mother had died.  The owner, no one knew anything about.  One of the ladies happened to notice this and informed the RSPCA.  I located a wedge in the fence, big enough to lead the foal rather than haul him over the gate! That was quick work.  This was the first time I saw and felt a horse, even though it was just a day old.  Even though it was not very steady on its feet and none of us were sure if it had milk at all since its birth, it was all muscle, heavy and big (in comparison to any baby animal I've come across!).

And came home, only to find the following video forwarded on one of my whatsapp group...

Saturday, 19 May 2018

Mary Help of Christians (5)

The painting was conceived by Don Bosco who spoke of it to the painter Lorenzone as a spectacle already seen.
The Most Holy Mary in high among the choruses of angels. Then the choruses of prophets, virgins and confessors. On the ground, the emblems of Mary's great victories and the peoples of the world raising their hands towards her asking for help. 
The painter made him see that painting such a picture would need a square and a church as large as Piazza Castello to house it. Don Bosco resigned himself to reducing the scale of his project. Lorenzone hired the highest hall in Palazzo Madama and started work. After three years, the great painting was hung in its place.

Don Bosco described it thus:
The Virgin standing out in a sea of light and majesty, surrounded by a horde of angels paying homage as if to their queen. With her right hand, she holds the sceptre, the symbol of her power, and with the left, the child with its arms open wide, offering its grace and mercy to those appealing to the majesty of his mother. Around and below them are the Apostles and the Evangelists in a state of sweet ecstasy, almost exclaiming: 'Regina Apostolorum, ora pro nobis', they contemplate the Holy Virgin in amazement. At the bottom of the picture, there is the city of Turin with the sanctuary of Valdocco in close up and with Superga in the background. The picture's greatest value is the religious ideal that makes a pious impression on whoever admires it. 

According to Don Bosco's description, the painting is an effective portrayal of the title: "Mary, Mother of the Church", and a great page in Marian catechesis.
(Source: Don Bosco Turin)

Friday, 18 May 2018

Opportunities for all

Yesterday at the British museum I noticed a group of differently-abled children in the 'Enlightenment gallery'.  They were about 8 of them.  All were physically and mentally challenged. Two of them were wheel chair bound.  I think each of them had a full time carer with them.  Some of them were really restless and noisy.  However, the carers took good care of them. 

What surprised me most was that they brought them to the museum.  Not only that they were explaining the various things of the museum to them, just as they would to a normal child!  Back in India, a child with any disability is considered a burden.  Taking them out in public is only adding to the social stigma they and their parents face.  Hence they are mostly house-bound.  I know not how much of what they saw of the museum did these understand and learn but I greatly admired the fact that they were offered this opportunity, this exposure.  Very brave and patient was the explanation of the teachers too.  

Mary Help of Christians (4)

Mary Mazzarello, the first founding superior of the Salesian Sisters (FMA) was also a great devotee of Mother Mary, especially under the title 'Mary Help of Christians'.  When Don Bosco christened the fledgling group of young girls as a religious congregation he gave them the name 'Daughters of Mary Help of Christians' (Figlie di Maria Ausiliatrice in Italian).  

Mary Mazzarello is said to have always referred to herself as the vicar of the congregation, citing Mother Mary as the real and first superior.  Moreover, every night after locking the house, the keys of the house would be placed strategically at the feet of Mother Mary, a sign that the house and all its inmates were under her protection.  
Our Lady at the Chertsey cemetery, looking after the deceased Salesian Sisters

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Chocolate drink

The idea and recipe of the Cadbury chocolate originated in the West Indies! A note at the British museum bears testimony to this.  It is said that the physician and founder of the British Museum, Sir Hans Sloane first tasted the West Indian drink made from cocoa plant during one of his visits to Jamaica.  A note explaining this historical event reads...
'Nauseous and hard of digestion' was Sloane's first reaction to the West Indian drink made from cocoa plant.  He boiled the beans with milk and sugar to make it more tasty and used it as a remedy for indigestion and consumption.  After his return from the West Indies, 'Sloane's milk chocolate' was sold all over London, the recipe eventually passing to the Cadbury brothers.  The botanist Carl Linnaeus called it theobroma cocao - 'drink of the gods'. 
It is said that chocolate was a delicacy for the king and queens - primarily because Sloane was their  physician and who would reject such a lovely medication! 
The bust of Sir Hans Sloane, in the British Museum

Good is not the word

Speaking of stating the truth without hurting or causing confusion and in a way acceptable to all, without in any way diluting the content of it, is an art. 

Many years ago a few Salesians doing a refresher course in the States were invited by a family for a meal to their home.  The household had put in great efforts to receive them, make them feel at home and lay out a grand meal.  However the food was not so great.  And when, at the end of the meal, the hostess asked the priests how was the meal, one of them prudently replied, "Good is not the word!" 

The Salesian conveyed what he wanted to convey, without in anyway offending the lady! 


At the end of the first reading of the day, Paul is patted on his shoulder for his daring witness in Jerusalem.  But if we actually see the preceding lines, all that Paul said was merely one line!
My brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of Pharisees; I am on trial for hope in the resurrection of the dead.
That's it!  Not a word more.  And the ensuing circumstances saw Paul being a prisoner, walk away a free man.

Perhaps only a smart and shrewd man like Paul could pull it off.  He knew well the composition of the Sanhedrin before whom he was called to testify.  All that he did was pitch one party against another (Pharisees vs the Sadducees).  The resulting confusion was too much for the presiding officer to handle and with no clarity of the charges against Paul, he was let off. 

It is not always best to speak the truth in the most blunt and honest manner.  Sometimes stating it in a smart way yields better results without being unfaithful.  However we need to bear in mind, what led him to being held a prisoner in the first place: His relentless proclamation of Jesus being risen from the dead and all the good that he did along with it. Moreover, once in Rome Paul tries a similar stunt, but does not succeed for long.  

Mary Help of Christians (3)

'Mary Help of Christians' was not the first invocation that Don Bosco chose for his apostolate.  In the initial stages of the oratory the invocation, 'Immaculate Help' was quite popular.  Perhaps it has much to do with the declaration of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception in 1854.  For some time Mother Mary was invoked under the title 'Immaculate Help of Christians'.  However, in the course of time, the title 'Mary Help of Christians' gained popularity and stuck. 
This is the Chertsey Salesian Gardens Our Lady!

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Political Shepherding!

Politics never fails to amaze! I thought it happened only in movies.  The political party herds all its members, the MPs, MLAs and all those 'elected to power' into a resort or hotel in crucial times when the allocation of tickets or in case of a hung assembly.  The idea is that no one is enticed by the rival political party to join their party and thereby tilt the number in their favour.  It actually happens in reality too!!  Wow... goes a long way in showing how trustworthy politicians are.  If their loyalty lies with the party and its leadership then they ought to stick together through thick or thin, but not be 'herded together'.  Full points to the leaders (for their trust in their own party members) and the ministers (for their loyalty to the team).

One can write a whole new and different Bible for politics, especially about 'shepherding'!
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