Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Another initiative(s)

I created a new blog for the upcoming school... set it up just a while ago. That should do well till the official website of the institute is in place. Moreover gives me an 'opportunity' (can also be read as 'an added work'!) to keep track of the progress, more for the Chronicles. I guess I can ask someone else to do that, but who?? Anyway, shall do what I can!

The idea of the school had been floating around for quite sometime. Somehow the Provincial Chapter latched onto it and it came through (as Fr Balaswamy says, 'In 15 min.!'). As of now Fr TV Thomas is seeing to it but I know not how it will turn out to be in the future. With the new regime set to take charge, I wonder if the same spirit, ideals and motivating factor will continue to inspire and lead then. Whatever it be, for now... trust and hope!

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Called to trust, to believe!

The past two days are a real lesson in trust and hope. Not that I've learnt the lesson; far from it, it is only the beginning. But looking ahead from where I now stand, I only see chaos and riot. With these so distinct, it is difficult to trust and hope for anything good - leave alone anything better and greater.

Yet I'm called to trust that the future is going to be good, fine, OK...!

Monday, 28 December 2009

Excellence not success

Last night I watched my first hindi movie in a theatre after joining the Salesians... 3 Idiots. It was worth it! Beautiful movie, a good theme (similar to that of the previous movies of Rajkumar Hirani), first class acting and a good cinematography. The story is simple but gripping. The best part I liked of it was that it never dragged. The narration of it too, weaving between the past and present too is appreciated.

I realise that 3 Idiots, like Munnabai MBBS and Lage Raho Munnabai, is an attempt to change the system rather than get rid of a few individuals. This is a good shift in India cinema where there has to be a villian and then a hero who eliminates that villain. In this movie there are no villians, but the whole structure is faulty and therefore the movie is a form of 'satire' on the existing structure, especially that of education. Though not very practical in its realistic take, yet the movie drives home a point with conviction: strive for excellence and education not success and grades.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Martyrdom vs Suicide

The feast of St Stephen for me is a very strong reminder of the delicate balance between martyrdom and suicide. I have often asked myself this question: Is martyrdom about standing for truth or for God? Is it about an idea/concept or a person? Which is greater fidelity: to a principle or a person? I believe, adherence to a principle can always change. For example, a terrorist or a fanatic is convinced about the 'truth' he is willing to die (or kill) for. That is truth for him. On the other hand, placing one's trust in persons too is very deceptive. I know of several people who believed their mentors to be 'gods'. But when they see their 'gods' commit a grievous crime, all their world crumbles before their eyes. Where then, does one place his trust and confidence in? What can one vouch for, even to the extent of valuing it above one's own life? It is when one sees in another person the truth that cannot be denied. It is the willingness to die for that person AND the truth he or she embodies. That is martyrdom. In that sense perhaps even human right activists who suffer and are killed can be called martyrs. They see that human beings are embodiments of values and dignity. As long as they fight for a value and the dignity in a person and are willing to see them as one, life is worth living or giving up!

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Showcasing myself for a cause!

For long this battle between appearing in the limelight and staying away from it has been raging on in me. Today as I listened to Jose and Syamala narrate incidents where children, coolies and innocent tribals are being exploited beyond human imagination and to a point of insanity for any sensible person to merely listen to, made me see another perspective of how I can get involved in this struggle. I don't think I have in me, all that it takes to be an activist on par with these people or those whom I know... Fr Koshy, Fr Palli, Fr TD, Syamala, Jose, and so many others. But that zeal to do something is always there.

So I'm thinking to myself, why not make use of my knowledge and zeal for media to bring to light such incidents and bring the attention of the world to matters which otherwise get lost in the glamorous side of events. Of course, this would just be a drop in the ocean, but (as Mother Teresa said) the ocean would be less by one drop, if not for my contribution! For this to happen, I need to get networking, get people to see what and who I stand for. I need to build an edifice, not for myself but to highlight those for whom I have committed myself to, on behalf of God.

Monday, 21 December 2009

A Christmas experience...

Fr Noel, while inaugurating the Crib today, shared a small incident that happened during his recent visit to a family. The family had put up a crib in their home - complete with baby Jesus! On asking the family why they 'installed' baby Jesus before Christmas itself, he was told that every visitor who came to the house would be shown the crib, by the kid, and then led to the bedroom to show where baby Jesus was kept 'in waiting'! So to curb all and sundry being led to the bedroom, the family put the baby Jesus in the crib.

Drawing inspiration from this experience, Fr Noel made a comparative analysis of the place accorded by children and adults to of Jesus. For the kid, Jesus was an integral part of the crib (of life), while the adults had a 'timetable' for Jesus!

Nice lesson to introspect and see where we place Jesus, in our life ... or we have timetable, even for Jesus?

Professionalism vs Indecision

I had the opportunity to witness the presentation of a group of corporate representatives regarding the possibility of entering into a joint collaboration to upgrade and qualify our existing efforts in the educational field. These guys, I gathered, are thorough-bred professionals in their fields. Their lofty ideals and ideas were indeed very impressive and convincing. I am sure they gathered the weaknesses and strengths of our institutions and our strategies from their singular visit to Ramanthapur and the two-hour long interaction with us today. They were sharp in their observation of what we expressed and at the same time making sure that they conveyed their 'guarded views'.

Yet in and through all of this, I sat there observing and comparing ourselves with these two gentlemen. They were, in a sense, 'businessmen' - sure about who they were and what they were up to; we, on the other hand, neither sure of our charity nor professionalism. They clearly had financial profit and media fame on their mind (though they were careful not to harp on that!). We were groping for a way balancing our commitment to God (trust in Divine Providence?) and survival in a market-driven world. They had no one to account to and thereby arrive at decisions on their own; we, had to think, study (in groups, commissions, communities, councils...), discuss, get the approval of our superiors... (with no guarantee that by the time all of this is through, the confreres in the local community are sufficiently motivated to concretely carry forward this process). They were keen to kick start their plans right away; we go on as though we own time!

Final word: ... long way to go, dear confreres! Can't ride along complacent on past glory! Stand for something or we'll fall for anything!

Sunday, 20 December 2009

My 'Sunday escapede'

For the first time that I remember, I stage-managed my Sunday Mass attendance today! As usual I was in the Shrine for the first Mass but I realized that there was some adoration being started and to my fortune, I heard the Novice Mistress ask the Parish Priest when would the Mass commence - to which there was no answer given. I gauged the situation and made a deep bow and walked back home! I then joined Fr Tom and Fr Thanka to the Artillery centre for Mass.

At one moment, after I realised that there is going to be some indefinite Adoration prior to the Mass, I thought of staying and attending both. But then it struck me that I would be all the time waiting for the Mass to begin and neither really pray the adoration nor participate in the Mass. I also should admit, the final decision to attend Mass elsewhere had much to do with the main celebrant of the Mass!

Thus I had a first hand experience of what Willy and Daddy often used to narrate to me - their 'Sunday escapedes'!

Friday, 18 December 2009

Looking after myself ...?

Confusion abounded in today's organisation for the celebration of the 150th anniversary. Since Fr Noel was keen that things go on at least peacefully, I did what was basically necessary to ensure that there were no big hiccups. I am also happy that I did not take it all upon myself and do a 'redemption act' - well, in the process nobody took the real initiative and things were left undone. However Thathi did a good job with the prayer service and animation prior to the Mass and blessing of the foundation stone for the school.

Good exercise in keeping cool and saying 'no' when it is relevant!

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Pillars of strength!

For our triduum service this evening, in preparation for the 150th anniversary celebrations, I chose to animate on reflecting our own pillars of strength in Salesians life, especially in our early stages of formation. Beginning with the confession of Don Bosco himself, as a boy about his ardent love and admiration for Fr Colosso, we each of us in the community, shared our 'models' and 'inspirers'. It was a fitting occasion to thank the Lord and Don Bosco for the presence of these individuals in our life who in their own way touched us and moulded a major part of our lives.

I gladly and proudly remembered and prayed for Papa and Mummy - the one's to whom I attribute 90% of who and what I am. Last evening as I sat in the Chapel for prayer, I tried to imagine what and how I'd have been, if not for being a Castilino, son of John and Irien. It was impossible for me to figure that! Among the Salesians, I really admire Fr John Lens, Fr Joshtrom, Fr Stanislaus Swamikannu and Fr Ivo Coelho. Each one of them, have in a way left an indelible mark on my life and have really helped me see the deeper and wider meaning of my life in the context of the Salesian vocation that I am living.

Thank you Lord for these and many more who have chipped in with their life, words and deeds to make me a better person. May they continue to inspire and motivate others to discover and follow their dream!

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Kissing the face of God

I came across this painting of Morgan Weistling and found it very appealing. It is titled 'First pose Sienna'. The facial expression is beautifully captured... have a look at other paintings of his, all very artistically made!

What brought me to this site was the following painting, titled 'Kissing the face of God'.

Retracing our own Salesian beginnings

For our evening prayer we had a simple but good sharing about what attracted us to the Salesians and kept us going in our initial stages of formation. One common thing that we all realised was the personal touch of early Salesians who in someway caught our attention. It would have been as much as a simple postcard/a letter once a month, a gentle word, the calling of our name, the typical joy and enthusiasm in our institutions, a timely smile, a friendly visit to our home, an occasional overlooking of our mischief... It was such small things that really made a big difference in our younger life. It was passing things such as these that kept us going in spite of the many big hurdles or seemingly unsurmountable challenges that came our way. Riding on that optimism is what made us all, "choose to stay with Don Bosco", the same way as the small group of people gathered in Don Bosco's room on December 18, 1859. We all 'chose to be with Don Bosco' initially and primarily for very personal reasons, factors that were for others petty, insignificant, unimportant, unnecessary but important in our personal life - so important that we could recall them with such clarity even after so many years!

Fidelity and generosity

I liked the words of the Rector Major, commencing the 150th year celebrations, especially the last words:
Our mission requires a daily fidelity and a total generosity to God and man. The history of the Congregation in the past 150 years has been a history of fidelity, generosity, commitment and continues to be so. The Salesians pioneers and others after them have given us shining examples of absolute fidelity. We are called upon to emulate their example.
It reminds me of one of my favourite recollection themes: fidelity and generosity. That is one theme I remember speaking about to the novices and students of Philosophy, most often.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Taking offence

Another quote from the book of Fr Anthony de Mello:
Anytime you take offence find out how you helped the offender.
That was my point of meditation this morning. True indeed!

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Ideas and politics

A thought from the book of Fr Anthony de Mello, One minute nonsense:
In a war of ideas, it is people who are the casualties. People kill for money or for power. But the most ruthless murderers are those who kill for their ideas.
Very true... just take any political game and ploy by any one in Indian democracy and one will have examples in galore.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Climate issues, awareness and action!

Last night we managed to finally make it for 2012. It was worth it (minus the a/c which was on full blast and we three of us there we perhaps the only ones in the theatre with no warm clothing!). All the same the movie was good. Roland Emmerich, the director is really specialising in this genre! I enjoyed his other movie, The day after tomorrow too.

Coming in the time when the world leaders are discussing the climate change and related issues at Copenhagen, the movie has special significance. Though I would have loved that the movie make explicit the insensitivity of the human race in contributing to the destruction of the earth, (more than the heroism of one man to save his family), I appreciate the way it is envisaged. The ethical element of who would survive too is a very crucial and delicate issue touched upon. Adrien, the scientist makes a very powerful statement towards the end: The moment we stop fighting for each other, that's when we lose our humanity. We need to wake up to the serious threat of the ecological crisis we are contributing towards. Hope by the time we are aware, we still have time for action!

Vocation, priesthood, brotherhood...?

The other day there was an inspiring letter by a Salesian on the congregation's blog. The letter of this Salesian (who I understand is from a different background, perhaps the first from his section of society) is a very touching one. It is really difficult to understand how God works in and through all the intricacies of human and society life - his own creations! The more and more I reflect on this mystery of what we call a 'vocation', the more I feel convinced that being priests or brothers is not the real and total meaning of vocation. They certainly may be the most efficacious means, but there is something more grander and greater that the Lord calls us to, for which our priesthood or brotherhood is a means.

Reflecting further on this dimension a thought struck me this morning: Suppose I were to leave this Salesian congregation or were asked to leave, would I then join another congregation? I certainly won't!! Reason: I did not join the Salesians to be a Brother, but to live a life worthy of it and be useful to others, especially young people. If my sole intention were to be a Brother, it would then not matter to me which congregation I join. That is something very funny I feel. Transferring this thought to my counterparts, the Priests, I wonder if it is the same? Do young people joining the congregation as clerics, want to be just priests or something more than that? If it is the former, any congregation or diocese would do; if it is the latter then, nothing but a particular mode of living would satisfy.

Well, I'm still wondering...!

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Another Castilino arrives on the scene!

At last I had the first look at my first nephew... Here he is ...

He certainly has inherited Daddy's nose. The other features I can't really make out. But the nose is typically that of a Castilino!!
The little time that I was there this afternoon, and from what I hear from Willy and Roshni, he sleeps and sleeps well. That certainly is from both Willy and Roshni!

Surprisingly he always has his hands up! No amount of folding and tucking them in, keeps them wrapped up for long. They are sooner or later out of the 'wrapping' and above his head.

And what a birth date! December 8th!!
God bless him!

His parents still haven't thought of a name for him. Let's see what they come up with.

Counting my innumerable blessings

After communion this morning I was just counting the number of blessings that I am enjoying since the past two days... numerous!! I couldn't complete remembering even at the moment of the final blessing... !
  • Greatest of them all has been the news that Willy and Roshni have a child (baby boy).
  • the Salesiana course
  • the experience of convincingly talking to the participants of the salesiana course
  • Chinnappa's ordination
  • for Cheryl and Anbu (their b'days)
  • the safe journey up and down, B'lore
  • the numerous mails and congratulatory notes for various reasons
  • rest at DBRC, B'lore
  • interactions with Fr Joe Mannath and Fr PO Jose
and many many many more !!! Thank You Lord!!

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Personal sanctity or struggle?

I concluded my sessions on the Salesian Brotherhood with the group of 13 Salesians at DBRC, B'lore this morning. Wrapping up the discussions and my sharing I cautioned them all saying not to believe all that I said, just because I said it. Worse still to start admiring me for having shared my life with such conviction. Somehow I felt comfortable telling them that I am still far from perfect, even in aspects I described about Salesian life. Once someone told me, why do you appeal to the community to be regular about prayer and practices of piety when you yourself are irregular. My humble answer was that since I was struggling as an individual and therefore I looked up to the community for assistance; but if the community too fails me, where and how would I get assistance from?

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

The best news of the day: I'm an uncle!!

The best news of the day was saved for the last part of the day: Willy called up this evening to say that Roshni has been rushed into the delivery room in the hospital. An hour or so ago, Mummy called up to say that Roshni gave birth to a baby boy!!! Wow, welcome to the youngest Castilino in the family!! I wonder what name Willy and Roshni have in mind for him!!

Anyway, thanks be to God for being with us all, especially in the tense last moments of Roshni's labour. Thank you Lord... and bless the little one too!

Watched Rudy

This evening had the opportunity to watch the movie, Rudy (directed by David Anspaugh). Truly an inspirational sports movie. It speaks of determinism and perseverance. It is the story about a boy keen to play American football for the Notre Dame University. But all he has is a passion to play the game; no height, no athletic ability, no money to attend the university and most of all, no support from anyone other than his friend, Pete. Yet against all odds, he makes it to the team, with a little support from all his teammates.

A true story of what determination can help one achieve. When people are passionate about something in life, and they are after it with all they have, they get it. No matter what happens in life, no matter what people say, no matter how disappointingly negative life and comments can be, yet the final decision is yours and yours alone!

Salesiana course, DBRC, B'lore

Today's interactions in the session were very interesting. I was pleasantly surprised when those who began opposing me yesterday were the ones who did not hide their appreciation for what I said today, basing on what I began with yesterday. It is truly a great feeling to be appreciated by fellow confreres, that too those who are much much senior to you. When they say that what I shared makes sense and has helped them see things differently, it is nothing short of a compliment! Thank God!! When I began I was a bit frightened, for after all most of these confreres began their Salesian life even before I was born. And to such I was speaking about my idea of Salesian life and Brotherhood! But the experience has been good. Thanks to Fr Jose Mathew who facilitated this and for the opportunity too!!

Monday, 7 December 2009

Conserving the earth: Copenhagen summit

The Copenhagen Climate summit on climate change (stats) and policy decisions is the talk of the world scenario. I was glad to see The Hindu paper give a front page write up on this and joining in a media campaign requesting the world leaders to take seriously the issue at hand and endorse corrective measures. The other day, there was a small graphic description of how much fuel Obama is going to burn to attend this meet, which is basically a call to cut down fuel consumption and conserving energy resources.

I am hopeful, that if not major changes, the growing awareness itself will pressurise the governments to act sensibly. But I think the media can play a very decisive role in this noble campaign. I very well remember participating in the national campaign held last year in August (8.8.2008) for awareness on conserving energy. What's more, there was an international meeting of Sisters (85 of them) going on and when I sought their permission to help the whole house partake in this campaign by putting off all lights for 8 mins. ... they all readily agreed. Good willing is not lacking, but some decisive measures and steps are! Hope this summit will bridge the gap.

Salesian Brotherhood and historical facts

Am at last in DBRC, B'lore for the two day session on Salesian Brotherhood for the participants of the Salesiana studies. Call it Divine Providence or my sheer luck, the train reached four hours late. So had to miss out the whole morning session. In a way the participants too were very happy abou this. They are all running about trying to put their final paper in one piece. Tomorrow is the last day of submission of the same.

Anyway, coming to my own session which I began in the afternoon.... I managed to stir the hornest's nest!! Though that was not my intention, I sensed it before I got its full blow. I really could see some senior Salesians boiling at what I was saying. Luckily for me, there were an equal number of senior Salesians supporting my point of view. Now what was I saying? Just sharing my reading into the history of the Salesian Brother, since Don Bosco's time onwards... that the Congregation as a whole was biased against the Brothers!! It may not have been the intention of all, but unconsciously the fact remains and history speaks for itself. For Don Bosco all this did not matter, his sole concern was the boys, not squabbling and mongering and introverted helpers. Luckily times have changed, there is a greater openness towards the vocation of the Brothers. My only reason for stating this 'early history' was that unless we accept the past, we are not going to be any better in the future (some psychology, is it?).

Saturday, 5 December 2009

The Salesian Brother

Here's a video about the vocation of the Salesian Brother (originally posted on Salesian Ning)
Of course, not all in the video may still be Salesians!! But that's how life is!! All the same, the video is inspiring and lends an insight into the heart and mind of the Salesian Brother.

Rinaldi and commitment

Today is the feast of Don Rinaldi, someone whom I always admired for his commitment. He was one who resisted Don Bosco for 9 full years. Don Bosco, for one, did not let go of him. But once Rinaldi consented to be with Don Bosco, there was no looking back. He was totally for Don Bosco. Nothing else mattered. Now that's called commitment... total dedication and availability.

Some other facts about him...
He was the last Rector Major (third successor of Don Bosco) to have been trained by Don Bosco himself.
It was during his tenure as Rector Major that Don Bosco was canonized (in 1934).
He was a great encouraged the various groups which form part of the Salesian family.

Here's something more about him...

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Calling one another to responsibility

Calling one another to responsibility is one great act of charity we fear to undertake. This is one of greatest curse of religious community life. And I fear this is the greatest source of motivation for young people to join us - setting in motion a vicious circle. I remember challenging some good students of mine - good, but not courageous enough to stand up for what is right - with this prophecy: if you do not have the guts to stand up against your own companions, you will never ever even whisper a sigh against the injustice you face in the world outside in your apostolate; leave alone demand justice and responsibility.

Perspective as an active of charity

To look at any apostolate through the human right perspective is not to convert deed into service. This would mean that we do not multiply our services - however much they may be needed. What is to be really done is to hold the government/those in authority and those who are to provide the service, accountable. That would be a service, from a human right perspective. Being charitable does not mean doing charity all by ourselves.

The dilemma (fictional) that I posed to the students of Philosophy at Karunapuram proves why we fail to understand this: Driving home one day, one stormy night, I find huddled at a bus stop three people: an old lady (who may not survive the night in that climate), a good friend who once saved my life in a similar situation (therefore an opportunity to repay his debt) and a young lady, the dream girl of my life (I may not meet her again). Unfortunately I can give a lift to just one person. Whom do I help? Everyone had their answer (most of them choosing to help the old lady). Only one out of 200 answered thus: I will give my car keys to my friend and ask him to ride the old lady home; while I stay back with the girl of my dreams!!

The reason we don't think of this is primarily because for us, charity is to be done by 'me'!!! Time to widen our perspective, at least as an act of charity!

Trust in Divine Providence

Last evening the whole Chapter came alive... reason? The theme was finance and accounts. However, I observed that no one was adverse to the idea of contributing something for the Province solidarity; though they had their differences in the mode and amount of contribution. That was quite revealing, till it struck me that no one wanted to commit themselves to it. Furthermore given the procedure of doing this (amount will have to be sent from the local communities to the Province, even if the basic amount is sent from the Provincial house) I really have my doubts.

Another good reminder that Fr Balaswamy gave to the Chapter was the need to trust Divine Providence. However, there is the delicate line to be toed if one has to balance trust in Divine Providence and practical survival.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Black holes of meetings

Here are some of the black holes (points of no return / eternal drains of energies, time and resources) of meetings or group discussions: (I write this sitting in a hall attending a meeting and concretely experiencing this agony)
  1. Lack of capable coordination or moderation. The inability to really guide a discussion and elicit the best of the participants, is perhaps the worse thing that can happen to a meeting. It is doomed right from the word 'go'.
  2. Mediocre planning and preparation of study drafts: If the agenda and the study documents are not drafted well, leading the group to reflective thinking and sharing, then confusion abounds.
  3. Fixated ideas: Discussions do not lead anywhere if participants are so fixated that they do not even listen to others.
  4. Lack of an integral picture: Leaving out the bigger picture of what ultimately we sit for discussion, we get lost in petty issues. We end up correcting, editing, rewriting the given text (if that is badly done, that's the end!). Dealing with specific points, we fail to see the origin, the flow, the interconnection... the integral picture.
There may be more of these, but these are what I draw from my immediate experience!

Understanding 'vocation' beyond Salesian vocation

Our whole reading of the third theme of GC 26 (Vocation Ministry) is faulty (mine included). I thought it was all about vocations to Salesian life; but I admire the presentation of this idea in GC 26 documents. It does not restrict the meaning of 'Vocation Ministry' to 'Salesian vocation ministry'; it rather promotes a culture of vocations. Therefore through the four guidelines in that section (8 - 11), it builds up a Culture of Vocation to life, consecrated life and Salesian life. The last guideline, dwells with the two forms of living the one Salesian vocation: as Brothers and Priests.

When understood in this sense, the whole idea of vocations to Salesian life/consecrated life as the crown of our youth ministry will make sense. Otherwise, vocation promotion will be seen as another 'activity' among the many, and so will youth ministry!

The sin of unprepared meetings!

The last Chapter that I attended was quite a shock! My great hopes and expectations were all shattered on the senseless and petty issues we debated and talked about for most of the time. It is heart-rending to see that such a glorious opportunity to take stock and plan for the future of the Province, is 'vandalised' and squandered, without any qualms of conscience! If last time I was angry with people who could contribute - but didn't - to direct the flow of discussion and enrich the meeting, on the basis of their substantial expertise, this time round I find myself completing my backlog work sitting in the hall.

Another perspective of looking at the whole scenario: We basically feed on what is provided as fodder. Given the fact that not much thinking is done in public meetings, it is the bounden duty that basic texts are prepared with due thought prior to the meeting proper... lest we end up discussing some silly grammatical errors and miss out on core issues.

Final personal plea: Learn Castilino... learn!!

Monday, 30 November 2009

Don Bosco and 'Temperance'?

This morning when Fr Jose Mathew began his talk stating that he is basing himself on the GC26, I almost put myself off. However, knowing him to be a man of substance I was all ears. He basically elaborated the first theme: to know, love, make known and pray to Don Bosco. I was struck at two points during his sharing. The first was when he was talking about the aspect of 'Work and temperance' in the context of 'knowing' Don Bosco. What 'work' meant for Don Bosco and the Salesians, I was more or less sure. But I was quite startled when I realised for myself that I had absolutely no idea of what 'temperance' meant!! So much for our 'ignorant claim' of knowing Don Bosco!

The second thing that struck me was the aspect of praying to Don Bosco. Frankly speaking I myself have never prayed to Don Bosco. Fr Jose Mathew hit the nail on the head when he attributed this attitude of excluding Don Bosco from the list of saints we pray to, to our enthusiasm about Don Bosco. We get stuck there. It is all about love and loyalty; to move from there to devotion and reverence, is something we find it odd. Perhaps Don Bosco is more for us a friend than someone up above! Whatever be the case, it strikes me that this idea of praying to Don Bosco is not odd at all. I've heard this from Fr Louis before, and was quite amused he could come up with a thought like that.

Whatever be the case, it is a good beginning (at least personally) for a Chapter.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Doing charity vs being socially responsible

Recently there was this suggestion to raise funds through a unique scheme: collect just Re 1 from donors in a month, not more not less. Frankly speaking the first time I heard this, I said to myself, that is as good as begging! For what use will just a meagre collection of 1 Re coins be. But then it slowly dawned on me that there is a very big value in executing this idea ... much more than collecting huge amounts at one go.

I state this because the scheme is more about involving people, CONSISTENTLY rather than be happy with a one-time act of charity. It is aimed at helping people grow in social awareness and responsibility rather than doling out amounts once in a way and patting our back saying, 'we are doing charity'. This contribution of Re 1 every month ensures that I remember I have a share and duty for the cause I am contributing. That 'nagging feeling' that I have to do this every month (just Re 1 and not more!) is itself a good lesson than paying some Rs 100 at one go and forgetting about what we gave that money for the very next moment!

There's a huge difference being charitable and doing charity. But becoming socially responsible and involved citizens is a higher calling.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Communicating and having a good day!

I took time out this morning (just an extension yesterday's self-proclaimed holiday) to revamp my iGoogle homepage! It looks good now... added a few features here and there and then some crazy things too.

This morning I was wondering on the message of the Rector Major about the 100 ways of communicating and being 'in the new playground' where young people are more and more present these days: the ICT! In a way it was a sort of consolation for me, that I've not really been 'wasting my time' on the net! Am glad that I can at least navigate through the net world without getting lost absolutely. What more, I was pleasantly surprised when I overheard one of the Parish youngster telling another one that I'm good at computers and the internet! For once I did not want to correct the exaggeration!! Anyway, so far so good.

Surprisingly I am relaxed, knowing very well that an avalanche of work will soon be cascading on me. But fine, so far so good. I have kept things well sorted out and it should not be a problem at all. Have a good day, Castilino!!!

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Of quotes and life...

Here are some reflective quotes which have been pouring into my mobile since the past two weeks, of course, sent by friends and well-wishers:
For the world you may just be a person; but for someone you may be the world.

A bird that sits on a branch never fears that the branch might break, because it trusts not the branch but its wings. (Zen)

Living on earth is expensive, but it includes a free trip around the sun.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Straddling many boats and yet afloat!

Am back at home after a full week of being on the move and on my feet, literally!! First there was the Communication Meeting in Chennai, then the Youth animation course in Eluru and yesterday, I was in Gunadala for the seminar on Salesian Brotherhood. The previous week was another long trip to Kondadaba for teaching the second years Immanuel Kant. And all along, I was also keeping up with my office work, as Secretary (thanks to the laptop and internet connectivity!). It has been a whole round of activities I've been involved in and interested in: Philosophy, communication, youth animation, Brotherhood and my responsibility of now, Secretaryship too! It was all quite a bit of juggling to balance and prepare and do my best for each place, group and theme I was handling. At times had a thought if I needed to shed this multi-tasking mode and get settled and concentrate on one field only. But which one??? However, I'd prefer to keep things as now. I really cannot say that I'll be better off in one field without meddling in the other fields simultaneously primarily because each of them enriches and widens my horizon. Each field, in its own way, forces me to think and go beyond myself and keep myself 'useful to others and meaningful to oneself'!

Friday, 20 November 2009

Goal in life

The concluding session of the Youth Ministry course forced me to reflect on one serious point: What exactly is my final goal/motto in life? It surely cannot be 'becoming a Salesian Brother', because that I already am. What then could it be that would last my whole lifetime? What is it that would direct my every thought, word and deed till they put me in my grave?

Reflecting this from the perspective of the students, I wondered, because if Priesthood is the goal, then what after ordination? Then they'd start looking for another goal? It then dawned on me that the 'ultimate dream' or the final goal ought to be something larger than just one moment of my life. My Priesthood or being a Brother can be the most meaningful and relevant path to that goal, but not the goal itself.

I'm still wondering if it could be of my decision to be meaningful to myself and useful to others?

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

The two dimensions that make a 'Vocation'

Initiating a course on Youth Ministry for a group of students of Theology of a particular congregation, I spoke of the need to build the person of the animator. Somewhere during the second or third session, we were discussing about the theme of the 'Vocation'. It was at this moment that I felt the group not in sync with the ideas I was presenting. A little questioning and clarifying session made the lacuna clear: they all (including the 4 deacons present) considered vocation as merely God's call. Nothing more. Their idea was that God calls and that's how one becomes a priest! My inquiry about the role of human response to that call, drew blank responses! This is perhaps one of the basic reasons our ministry does not become meaningful: we leave the whole 'burden' to God, after all, it is He who called me!! I do not have a great responsibility because I really do not have an active role to play!

I believe, God's call and our response to it, collectively makes what we call a vocation. And what is it that makes a vocation deeper or meaningful to a particular context? It is my response, more than merely God's call (His Grace is always there). The more involved and committed response I give to God's call, the more meaningful and relevant will my vocation be. I think it is right that God too gets his due rest and we start taking responsibility for our choices.

Being serious about what you are upto!

Till this evening I only thought that these young theologians are only interested in this course and want to know more about it, basically for the heck of it. But before I concluded the sessions for the day, I had this bright idea to get their questions and queries, if any, in writing. I was really surprised that they were serious about this whole course, not just interested. What's more, when one of them came to me asking if I could help him formulate the 'constitutions' of his youth group which he intends to register!! I myself never got that idea at all. So when he asked me for help, I was totally dumbfounded. All the same, I frankly told him that I really did not have any experience in that line, but I surely would give it a thought and help him with what I could. This is turning out to be more that what I bargained for!! No wonder I'm beginning to ask myself if, mere qualities are sufficient without the support of qualifications?

Looking at the Salesian 'me'

I reached this morning to the theologate and philosophate of the Missionaries of Compassion, a break-away group of the Heralds of the Good News, in Eluru. I was invited by the dean of the theology faculty for a course in youth ministry for the 30 students of theology. At first I was a bit frightened if I could really live up to the job. I'd earlier dealt with children and may be an occasional talk to youngsters (may be for an hour or so, not more). But not for three full days and that too to students of theology. My biggest apprehension was how motivated were the students to attend this course. However, this morning as I entered the classroom I was very relieved to see the enthusiasm writ all over their faces. The first 15 mins. proved to me their keen interest in the topic as I presume this was not something so easily available to them. It then struck me that what I almost took for granted and in a sense become so part of me, is mainly because of me being and living a Salesian life. Therefore I just am cherishing the part of getting out of myself and looking at the Salesian 'me' basically from the eyes of these theology students. And believe me it is very amusing.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

When good is not enough…

I heard many a sermon conclude that the rich young man mentioned in the gospels, lived a very sad life. I have my own doubts. Somehow I have a feeling that he lived a happy life, may not be a very fulfilled one but surely not a sad one. The reason is simple: he asks the Lord for what more he could do, besides the charity he was already doing. This very request implies that he had the good will and the guts to reach out to others. But the fact that Jesus recognized in him the capacity to do more, and therefore the challenge to take a step further, does not discount the truth that he continued the good deeds he was already used to. This is a perfect example of the proverb: Good is the enemy of the best!

In a way I am glad that the Ratio clearly states that young men willing to join the Salesian Congregation ought to be more than just good. They need to show an abundance of positive characteristics in order to be promoted as novices and professed Salesians. Now that’s a very bright signpost we cannot afford to ignore, lest we end up living and sharing a challenging mission with mediocre confreres. I always tell the aspirants and younger Salesians, that being good is not enough. To be worthy sons of Don Bosco means to be the best of who and what I can be… nothing but the best!

Friday, 6 November 2009

In the Valley of ...

This evening I watched a very gripping movie In the Valley of Elah (directed by Paul Haggis). I thought it was a detective movie all along, till the last minute. Towards the end I realised it was a very powerful protest against war (especially the Iraq war). However, the last shot of the movie made me realise another very strong dimension of the message: parental pressure, something which does not permit children from being themselves.

The film tells the story of a war veteran Hank Deerfield (Tommy Lee Jones) and his search for his son Mike, a soldier who recently returned from Iraq but has mysteriously gone missing from his military base. Later his disemberred and charred body parts are found near the military base. The movie later reveals how war dehumanises. Half way down the movie, Hank narrates the story of David and Goliath to a small boy. Apparently, seems to convey a very different message then (need to overcome the first enemy: fear). But the movie concludes, with the same small boy asking his mother this simple question: "Why did the king let David fight Goliath? After all he was just a kid!"

A free trip...

Here's a lovely quote sent to me by sms (from an unknown no.):
Living on earth is expensive, but it includes a free trip around the sun.

Time, pressure and motivation

Much water has flown under the bridge since I last blogged - not more than the recent floods though! There was the Social Communication Meeting, with its own experiences, reflections and fond memories. The latest was the Preparatory Session for PC7 and the council which concluded last night. The best part of the prep session was the group discussion we had (mostly confreres from the Formation houses, except Fr Johny and myself). It struck me that due to paucity of personnel how we get stretched out far beyond our capacities, even without our awareness. Looking at myself, I still wonder how I survived the previous year (Secretary, DB DIGITS, Administration, classes... not to mention the other responsibilities that come along). While it is true that lost in all these things we cannot really concentrate on any one responsibility and do full justice to it; I also have a feeling that the best out of us is 'extracted' only when we are pushed to our limits by our own choice (or we set deadlines for ourselves). The other alternative is that we should be so motivated that time or place should make no big difference in giving of our best - but isn't that what we really profess when we join the congregation?

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Being passionate about somone!

This day's session during the Social Communication meeting concluded with me ending up more confused than with any clear ideas about the "Centres of Communication". As I still battle it out, I tried to find out what exactly was our focus on, in debating the whole issue about the identity and mission of the Communication Centres. Perhaps each centre has its own identity and mission; at times quite different from the one the Congregation expects such a centre to have. Whatever be the case, there is much good being done. If only we are a little more open and serious about the real purpose of communication, much more could be achieved.

The three days meeting (so far) has taught me one thing: people are different and they think differently. But even among those who are like-minded, concerns differ. There are those who have grand ideas but no practical knowledge of how to go about materialising those ideas. There are others who have all the money in the world but no brains to put it to the best use possible (neither the sense to invest it rightly)! Then there are some who have neither money nor ideas, but tons of enthusiasm and are willing to pour out every ounce of themselves for any opportunity to do good (These guys do not have a vision themselves but goodwill). Very few though have a vision, a foresight by which they pick and choose their individual deeds; so as to arrive at that final goal they envision all along. There are a few others who have a few ideas, no money, no big support but good will and the eagerness to do what they can, to the best of their ability; money or no money, they do what they can, in the best way possible to them.

Of the many things Fr Fili said in the past two days, I liked his insistence on setting our sight clearly on the poor young; being communicators does not grant us an exception to that. What, how, where we do, ought to be guided by the 'Why?' of our Profession/commitment - or is it 'WHO'? I would think it is the latter. The passion to do something will have a greater meaning and relevance when it is for someone (young people/Don Bosco/God...).

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Multiplication of 'holidays'

Jesus saw a great multitude and felt pity for them. When it became late, his disciples came to him and said: Lord, dismiss the people, it is already late and they have no time. Jesus said: Give them your own time. They said: We ourselves have no time, and the little we have, what is that for such an immense crowd? Jesus said: Let us see how much time you have. One said that he had an afternoon free, another could spare ten minutes, another looked in his diary and found 3 half hours unoccupied. Jesus said: Give all that time to me. And he looked up to heaven and thanked his Father and blessed all the time they had given him and told them to distribute all that time among the people. And they did so. And everybody received a portion of time, and the little they received was enough for everybody, and at the end they still had 12 days extra, enough for a nice holiday.
[This one is from Fr John Lens sdb, a senior Salesian from the Province of Hyderabad]

Monday, 26 October 2009

The yeast of Social Communication

I write this sitting in a hall where an intense debate rages on about the restructuring and animation of the Department of the Mission (Youth Ministry, Mission and Social Communication). At this moment we find ourselves talking about the need of a Youth Pastoral team/leader who would coordinate the activities of the various commissions. He would pool together the resources of independent, charismatic and dynamic individuals (who may not even be part of any commission) and carry them forward using his 'official clout'. Fr Julian kept asking where does the one in charge of Social Communications fit in, in this whole process. For me, 'he is there' with his team, at the service of all the commissions. He (Communication) is like the yeast mixed in the flour and baked. After the bread is ready, if one were to ask where did the yeast go, none would be able to singularly identify it. But if not for the yeast, the baked product would be anything but bread. The yeast is the Communication department and the bread is the mission. And for whom is the 'bread'? For the poor young!

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Energising a movement

Fr Anchukandam Thomas, the Salesian Provincial of Bangalore (INK) and the SPCSA representative, in his goodnight to the participants of the South Asia Communication Meeting, shed new light on the Strenna 2010 of the Rector Major (of making the Salesian Family a movement). He said that, in order to make this envisaged movement an efficient reality five essential features need to be strengthened: the centrality of the person, the intended/proposed programme, the effective and vibrant communication of them both, the consistency (between the person and the programme proposed) and the necessity of getting significant people, related to realizing this goal, on board.

I found this synthetic procedure quite precise and appealing may be because it primarily challenges each confrere to take responsibility for the movement.

Interchanging Bartemeus and Jesus

Even today, of all days, I was distracted during the Holy Mass - the reading of the Gospel, to be specific. The Gospel was about Bartemeus calling on Jesus to grant him his sight. While Fr KJ Louis beautifully shared that it was more about insight than mere sight, I had another "insight": Then, it was Bartemeus who was calling on the Lord - and the Lord heard him (in spite of all the noise around!). Then all that happened is recorded in the Gospel of Mark.

My distraction began the moment I playfully interchanged Jesus and Bartemeus... Imagine Jesus sitting down along the road and asking us, passing by, to reach out to him. What would Bartemeus do? Would he, in all his 'well being', hear the plea of Jesus, the 'lesser being'? Even if he did hear the cry, would Bartemeus reach out?

Today I think it is the Lord himself who is calling out, asking us to reach out to him - in the poor, the marginalised, the down-trodden and those stripped of their basic human dignity. Reminds me of Abraham Joshua Heschel and his idea of 'God in search of man'!

Friday, 23 October 2009

Thinking outside the box

I met Ms Mukti at her office, Healing fields, this afternoon. Fr Noel had cleverly passed on his offer to me to be part of a panel she was assembling for a study she intends to carry out. This is the first time that I got to be part of a networking team, outside the Salesian circles. Listening to the various people who were part of this team (seven of us from varying fields: one is an advocate, one lady is a senior professor in Osmania university, another an expert on health and nutrition...) was an experience in itself. In the beginning I thought I'd only have time to pick up words and get used to the jargon. But I am happy I was able to see things a bit differently perhaps since I was the only one not directly into the theme under discussion: health care and research study.

The day's experience was another confirmation of the need to think and see 'beyond the box'! The ideas and insights that emerge from different quarters are at times so refreshing that they change the whole line of thought and lead one to avenues otherwise thought to be non-existent.

The thrill of being a human

It has been long since that I'm trying to learn the art of bi-location; however am yet to master it. I guess till then I'll have to work it out 'alone'. There are times I envy the angels: no body, no time, no space, no boundaries... anytime, anywhere, anyhow! But there are times also when I pity them. I don't think they ever get to feel the thrill of chasing a train from the entrance of the railway station to the last platform or making it to an urgent meeting in the nick of time. The grace of getting stuck in traffic for four hours is exclusively of Hyderabadi people. I guess all this is possible precisely because we are human beings... mortal, limited, imperfect and finite.

I remember reading long ago in the book titled When bad things happen to good people (by Harold Kushner) the statement he makes referring to Homer's Odyssey: Calypso (the immortal sea nymph) envies Ulysses because he is a mortal. His life becomes meaningful, every decision significant, and life filled with real choices, precisely because his time is bound. So why rue over the fact that we are not capable and limited and small. It is precisely that we are so, that makes us special - that in spite of all these we do quite well. I guess it is a great and thrilling challenge to be a human; as angels I guess life will be quite boring with no worthy challenges at all!

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Straying into sense!

As I began correcting the 'Introduction to Philosophy' answer papers of our Brothers from Karunapuram, I had some good fun today. You never know how some of them come up with certain crazy ideas or interpret something as simple as plain names and places! I remembered what a lay person once told about correcting answer papers of seminarians: "I scrutinize the papers very minutely for you never know when the students stray into sense!"

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

The two ways of being a Salesian

Here's a reflection of Fr Lens on the two forms of Salesian life, to which I fully agree. Most often this is what I tell my fellow Salesians, especially those who are appointed for vocation camps and orientation:
If you meet boys, don't ask them: Do you want to be a priest? (If they do, refer them to the Seminary). Ask them: Are you willing to make your life fruitful in the service of poor boys - save their souls and their bodies? Does Don Bosco's mission appeal to you? Then come, and afterwards you will learn which way is yours in the marvellous Salesian society.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

A holiday from money and finances

Today I saw another dimension of the havoc money - excess of it or irresponsible accounting of it - creates in communities. Listening to the growing dissent among confreres and people and all involved when it comes to finances, I am convinced that half of our life and energies is spend on finance related matters. At times I feel, there should be some 'retreat' period declared by the Rector Major about money and funds. Just declare that for a month (atleast), there would be no discussion or debate or argument about money, funds and allocation and anything related to it - have nothing to do with finance! Just let us all take a holiday from counting money and dancing round it and go and be with the boys. No need of planning and constructing large mansions or putting up industries. Let's just live a simple life with those for whom we promised the last drop of our blood and breath of our life.

A holiday from money and finances

Today I saw another dimension of the havoc money - excess of it or irresponsible accounting of it - creates in communities. Listening to the growing dissent among confreres and people and all involved when it comes to finances, I am convinced that half of our life and energies is spend on finance related matters. At times I feel, there should be some 'retreat' period declared by the Rector Major about money and funds. Just declare that for a month (atleast), there would be no discussion or debate or argument about money, funds and allocation and anything related to it - have nothing to do with finance! Just let us all take a holiday from counting money and dancing round it and go and be with the boys. No need of planning and constructing large mansions or putting up industries. Let's just live a simple life with those for whom we promised the last drop of our blood and breath of our life.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Salesians without youth...

I came across this very interesting news bit titled Beggars banned from churches in Assisi, Italy. It begins thus: "BEGGARS have been banned within 500m of churches in Assisi, Italy. And it's now illegal to feed the pigeons in the town square. You wonder what Francis of Assisi would have thought of that..." It really sounds so jarring! After all that St Francis stood for, we hear of this right in his hometown. I suppose authorities have a valid reason for it; but is it good enough reason to 'ban'? Sometimes I fear this may get replicated in our Salesian houses too. Comments and instructions which sometime term our collaborators as "those people" and youngsters as "nuisance" are quite disparaging. That some places/times we do not make the first move to interact with the young is bad enough; worse is when young people run away from us (either because we always find fault with them or because we are too out of sync with their ideas, opinions and values).

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Who is my neighbour?

You write in Latin script
but numbers are Arabic
Democracy is Greek
You swear by German cars
but your stereo is Japanese
Pizza comes from Italy
and coffee comes from Brazil
Santa Claus was born in Turkey
We take our holidays in Spain
cannot afford to go to Costa Rica
The best cheese is from Holland
Your tools are made in England
We go to a Chinese restaurant
to enjoy Indian curry
with Cola, that’s American
Lord Jesus was a Jew
my carpet comes from Persia
… but my neighbour, who is he?
[Thanks to Fr Lens who sent me this.... he says he copied it from some magazine!]

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Vocations from within

Today I am at Ravulapalem (school, boarding, parish, social service centre...). Had an adventurous journey from DB, Sanathanagar last night... missed the train (thanks to the Hyderabad traffic) and then got a bus straight to Ravulapalem. During the school break I took a walk towards the school but never managed to reach it as so many boys and girls came forward to say 'hello'. I wondered how they knew me. Then they reminded me that I gave a good night last year. They remembered also my name and what I said then: 'That I'm a happy Salesian Brother!!' Wow that's quite a memory for these kids. But I sincerely hope and try that more of these boys (those in the boarding) join the seminary and become Salesians.

When we live and share our lives with these boys living with us, why hesitate to invite them to join us? That will be a challenge because we will then have to prove our life and mission worthy enough, at least of a try! And that's what I intend to advocate in the coming Chapter too: Vocations from each of our own setting.

A day at DB, Sanathanagar

Yesterday I was in Don Bosco School, Sanathanagar, my alma mater. Since I had the time I took a walk around the campus and every step I took flooded my mind with lovely memories of my school days. The dogs kennel with those ferocious dogs (now there are dogs, and ferocious ones too - but that's only a daschund!) Then there were the German Shepherds. To get past them to the Rabbits place was a great thrill!! Some of us would not get past the dogs kennel for fear they would pounce on us thorugh the grill!!! Then the rabbits place - now no more. There was down below the place, along the compound wall in the corner, Fr Lens' vegetable garden. Now there is the BIE building. Then the bus driver's quarters where my best friend Seby lived. Now it's all abandoned.

There still runs the canteen. But it's not the same with Paddu and his people in it. I also made it a point to show to Willy and Roshni the sapling that I planted with Fr James and our whole gang. Of course, it is now a huge tree, right at the entrance of the school on the playground edge.

Then watching the boys and girls run around playing games, I too was tempted to join them and kick the football and shoot some baskets... But was weary of spoiling my clothes as I had to travel in a couple of hours! What a pity!! I also met some of my teachers: Susamma, Mr Ravindran, Ms Grace, Jovita, Jennifer, Pushpa... it was good. Moreover to hear from them about the school was another experience.

Best was the walk I took down the road to say hello to Papa at home. I just spent a couple of minutes but it was great. To top it all was the serious discussion I had with Willy and Roshni in the school grounds just before I drafted the final report of the Visiatation.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

About being clean...

The Gospel passage I heard this morning, that of Jesus calling on the Pharisees to clean the interior as well as the exterior, reminded me of what Fr VV Paul (Shillong) once shared during class hours. Vendors walking in and out of trains selling all sorts of things ... and people purchasing these is a common phenomenon on Indian trains. Most often those who purchase groundnuts, keep dropping the empty shells on the train floor itself. Then there are those street boys, those who live on the railway platforms, who come around sweeping the compartments. Now these boys are always kept at a distance because they do the 'dirty job' of cleaning the compartments. Fr VV Paul's observation was an interesting one: Those who dirty the place claim to be clean and those who clean the place are branded dirty!

Monday, 12 October 2009

Interesting quotes...

Words and language...
He is frighteningly polite, and a genial sadist.
Pradeep Sebastian speaking about Christoph Waltz (who plays Colonel Hans Landa) in a review about Inglorious Basterds.

I do not want to be late going nowhere to do nothing! (Croc-comic strip)

Vital few and the trivial many

The Kolkata Knots issue of July-August 2009 has an interesting article by Br PO Jose...
It is about the Pareto Principle (named after Vilfred Pareto, an Italian economist) that speaks about the vital few and the trivial many. Paretos' rule states that a small number of causes are responsible for a large percentage of the effect, in a ration of about 20:80. expressed in a management context, 20% of a person's effort generates 80% of the person's results. For the effective use of one's resources, the leader's challenge is to distinguish the right 20% from the trivial many.
That's an interesting insight! Thanks Br Jose!

Sunday, 11 October 2009

History outside the archives (2)

Last night was 'enlightenment' night - only it was anything but good!! Talking to a friend late last night, helped me 'see' things in such a new and different light, that it changed my whole perspective of what is currently going on in the Province. There were several incidents and things that I was a witness to. All seemingly simple and innocent. I saw or heard them and never gave it a thought. But last night's conversation gave me one small insight and gosh! - I now see how all of it is connected and that too so intricately. Now to really 'record' that as history outside the archives is something I cannot do here. But I certainly will ... sometime, someday!

As I lay on bed saying my final prayer for the day, I could not but admire God for the miracle of religious life and sanctity. That in spite of such murky and sinister religious politics, religious life and the Church still do exist - That's a real miracle. But my last prayer was not for the misguided ones, I prayed rather for those who throw themselves in for God and His people, mindless of what the outcome is. Greater are those who continue doing the best they ever can, in spite of knowing all the scams that are going on around them - and knowing well that the ones they love and respect are also involved in this. Having done their best to show them the light - and failed - they continue doing the good they can do. To have that serenity and focus of strength and power is indeed a great gift.

God bless them all and may their tribe increase!

Saturday, 10 October 2009

History outside the archives

This morning I put down in black and white an idea which has been floating in my mind since long. I proposed this idea to the novices (through a letter) and I hope something will emerge out of it. It is all about gathering the bits and pieces of history that officially does not get recorded. These are seemingly insignificant events, circumstances, decisions or happenings of the past that often get lost in the sands of time - yet, somehow they do have a very important role to play in shaping history. These bits and pieces are known to all but not officially noted and hence with the passage of time, they are lost. Slowly History is 'made' - bereft of certain key elements/truths. Moreover, these are very interesting and enriching pieces of information, which are capable of shading recorded history in a totally new colour.

One such piece: It was Fr Muthalakhuzhiyil Sebastian who really started what is today known as PARA, in Ravulapalem. To have a social outreach programme was his brainchild and his initiative too. Of course, it took a formal and more reputed shape in years to come, but he did have this social bent then. This year PARA celebrates its '80 seasons of journeying with the Dalit bahujans of Konaseema' and this fact needs to be made known and Fr Sebastian's contribution duly acknowledged.

To my fortune, this evening there was a call from Fr Maliekal and while clarifying with him something I picked up a phrase which describes this sort of research perfectly: 'History outside the archives'.

Fr Lens' dictionary

Fr Lens has an Italian-English dictionary which he uses when he is unsure of the translation or for better options. It is a museum piece!! I think the white ants once had an overnight party on it... the rest is imaginable! The cover however is rock solid - I think it was re'covered' later. Anyhow, it was given to him by his theology professor Fr Zampetti while he did his Theological studies in Shillong (1950-1953). Fr Zampetti was also a member of the Roman Rota of Marriage, so says Fr Lens. I forgot to take a photo of that dictionary the last time I met him; but I'll get a snap of it soon.

Never give up!

I've been watching the little bird, from the nest outside my office, take off since yesterday morning. Unfortunately it hasn't been able to take off yet. It still keeps flapping its tiny wings and only manages to stay in the air for a few seconds only. As time goes by I find myself getting anxious to see it really fly away! So every time I hear a high-pitched twitter, I rush out of my office to see what is wrong. I can imagine the anxiety of its parents who keep flying up and down, in and out, all day long. They have been still feeding it but their attempts to get it to really fly along with them are really praiseworthy (though futile, till now). Last evening it kept calling out for its parents, but I did not see the parents for long. Then it was dark. I thought the parents had now given upon it. But I was wrong. This morning the parents are back and they are here with their little one.

Just a while ago as I tried to shoo the little one away from the verandah (I feared it might get trampled upon) into the garden, it suddenly flew onto my arm. Wow!! I luckily had the camera in hand, perhaps just for this.

Friday, 9 October 2009

First flight...

This morning when I saw the empty nest outside my office, I thought I missed the first flight of my three dear friends. Well, I almost did. But I got a glimpse of the last one to take off. It was indeed struggling and I could hear and see the parents all the while flying around it. They even tried to frighten me as I got close to click a couple of photos. I wish them all well.

Hope they come around again, every season. They are safe here!! There are a couple of more nests and I can hear the twitter...

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Praying and staying together: Parish Community

Yesterday evening, being the feast of the Holy Rosary, we prayed the Rosary together with the staff of the house. It reminded me of those old days when the Parish was smaller and our Chapel served as the Parish Church. There used to be lot of life then. Being a small community, interaction was at a deeper and friendly level. The month of May used to be special. Being fervent devotees of Mother Mary, the whole family used to come every evening to the Provincial house for the Rosary and Mass. As Brothers some of us used to take turns to animate the services. The summer camp then, though only for 10-15 children, was a full time work. And I am glad that those children, now young men and women, some of them even married and with their own children, do remember those days with great joy and pride. At times when they meet me they narrate of incidents which I hardly remember; but for them, they are as vivid as yesterday!

The most surprising and happiest of all "metamorphosis" is that of Franco. He was most uncouth and indisciplined of the lot. Today he is such a refined guy that I can hardly believe my eyes every time I meet him. I think his wife, Radhika has a big role in his change for the better. Whatever be the case, I truly am happy for all of them. The only guy who still seems to be searching for his identity is Laddu. Hope he settles down fast, especially to the satisfaction and consolation of his aging mother.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Not just charity

Yesterday's surprise was hard enough - the one regarding the Provincial house staff pooling in 30 kgs of rice for the flood victims. Today I learnt another fact about the same generosity: the rice that they are putting aside for the victims is the best they have. While they have decided to send this across to those who have nothing, they themselves are going to eat the cheap ration rice. For me that is something really humbling! Had they kept aside the ration rice, it would have been understandable for me; but no, they are giving the best they have, choosing to make a sacrifice to eat the cheaper quality rice themselves.

That's true generosity - giving while it hurts.

Nathan takes off...

The last but one for the year is flying off in a couple of hours. I'm dropping him off at the airport myself! Believe me, there is nothing more irritating and time consuming than getting the passport and visa and all that related stuff!! It's horrible! Anyway, with Nathan taking off, his episode too comes to an end. Poor guy had to wait three months for his passport and then another one month for the invitation letter and then another month for the visa!!! While his batch-mates are already in their respective communities in Rome - after having spent three full weeks learning Italian in one place - Nathan joins his community almost two months after their departure.

Luckily, he never nagged me. I know very well that he was very anxious and with neither me nor the travel agent assuring him of anything definite, it must have been very agonising for him. However, he never irritated me. For that I am really, really grateful to him. Hope and pray that he gets acclimatized well in Florence and also later for his theology.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Waiting and walking...

We spend our days waiting for the ideal path to appear in front of us. But what we forget is that paths are made by walking, not by waiting.
I think this quote is from Robin Sharma's book, Who will cry when you die?

Fr PE Abraham

Fr PE Abraham is with us for the past two days. Interacting with him, we are more and more convinced that he is quite deaf!! As Fr TV casually but rightly pointed out, he has run out on steam! Though it is very comical to listen to him answer something totally different from what is asked of him, at times I feel bad. To see what age can make of one so dynamic and vibrant... ! But he still has the same tenacity: he wouldn't let go off anything that he is interested in... come what may!

On the one hand, I totally disagree with all that he has to say about 'mission' and everything related to it. But on the other, I wonder how on earth did he make this sudden swing from being a grass-rooter to an 'evangeliser'. I have heard several people speak greatly of him as the Principal of Sacred Heart, Tirupattur. The fact that that college made a decisive turn for the poor and dalit people in the early 60s and 70s is all attributed to his intervention and action, especially as the Principal.

However as of now, it is more annoying than entertaining with him around. But I think for all that he has been, he deserves better, especially from me.

Misplaced priorities and floods

With practically the whole of Vijayawada under water, it is quite a tragedy. However amidst all this confusion, uncertainty and sorrow, there is also the sincere eagerness of people to help out. My thoughts of helping never went beyond posting news and keeping people informed about the latest happenings; but this morning, I was surprised to hear that our Provincial house staff members had already moved into action. Each of them has already kept ready 30 kgs of rice to be pooled together and sent to the flood-affected people. For me that was a real surprise.

On the other hand, as I called up confreres to see if things are all fine and how are they faring amidst this natural calamity, I sense a sort of laid-back attitude... something that arises from a feeling of plenty. In other words, 'thank God, I'm safe.' That's all. While I very well know that people all around are struggling, literally for their basic needs, some of our confreres talk only of the Rector Major's fund and relief fund... all about money!

God help us see...!!

Monday, 5 October 2009

Of mobiles and laptops

Last night some of us went for a movie in a theatre nearby (not worth mentioning anything more about the movie, though!). What caught my attention was the interval scene which unfolded all around me. Just when the lights came on for the interval, I found everyone around me, literally everyone, had their cell phones in hand! To my surprise, I found my hand too in my pocket reaching for the cell phone!! It took a while for me to desist the temptation and leave the cell phone in my pocket itself. After the movie was over, I found the same scene repeat itself. Everyone coming down the stairs and going out through the exit had their cell phones in hand. During the interval I did some introspection and found that besides the cell phone, my computer (laptop) is another gadget that I'm "addicted" to. If I'm not using either of it, I really feel uneasy. My laptop is on mostly all through the day - and night. But not that bad also as I've been making a serious effort at staying off my computer for as long as possible. Not very successful all the time, but the effort is a serious one!

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Life and living/dying

For the past two days I have been hearing a weak twitter while in my office. Yesterday I ventured out to investigate the source. I was so glad to see the nest just outside my office with three small ones!! This morning I tried to click a few pictures but did not want to disturb them or worse still, frighten the mother bird.

Now as I follow the devastation and confusion caused due to the tsunami, earthquake and floods in the Philippines, Samoa, ... and in my own state of Andhra Pradesh, I wonder what a strange game play of life and death. On the one hand, life in some places is cut short and elsewhere - and even may be in these very places too - life continues to emerge as though nothing is amiss. Perhaps a reminder for us that life carries on with its cycle; it is we who make it worth living (or dying) by how we view and utilise life.

God bless everyone... those who lost their lives, those battling for life, those mourning the loss of their beloveds (and life-earnings), those involved in the relief works... and even my new bird friends outside my office.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Don Bosco, Gandhiji and the Guardian Angels

Besides the fact that all these three figures play a prominent role in our lives, the one thing I admire them all for is this: they knew exactly what they were supposed to do. Each of us has his or her mission carved out, but great are those who strive to know what exactly is it and are willing to go to any extent to make it a reality. Don Bosco knew his life was for boys and their salvation; Gandhiji realised his life-mission in leading India to freedom and setting a precedent about "passive aggression"; and the Guardian angel, knows me through and through!

A family meal

Last night I took time out to go home for supper. This time it was special because it was supposed to be a family meal after the harvest season. During the prayers before meals we all remembered our "roots" back in Mangalore and their efforts in living their life amidst all their joys and struggles.

Moreover it was good to see Papa looking healthy and really cheerful. The new member to join the clan is another great added joy!

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Making life work for us...

Continuing yesterday's reflection on the life, works and attitude of St Jerome and the prophet Nehemiah, I realise most often people miss out much because they are all the while worried about the next thing they ought to have. Looking into my own life, I've really been content with what I possess. Some friends like Prathap would otherwise say that I'm stingy enough not to get things needed, but all said and done, I feel much can be wrought by utilising what we already have. In the process, as and when there is a felt need for greater, better, more things, they will eventually come along. But to wait for them all to begin work is just but an excuse for our laziness.

The happiest people don't necessarily have the best of things in life; perhaps they are good at making the best of everything that life brings along their way.

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Don Bosco: The Founder

Published another of Fr Lens' works on Lulu today.
Don Bosco: The Founder

Fr Lens' b'day is fast approaching (October 5) and he is excited and frightened too... why wouldn't he, after all it is his 89th b'day!!!

Long live Fr Lens! Long live Don Bosco!!

Passion and determination

The liturgical significance of the day is an interesting one. On the one hand today is the feast of St Jerome, the one who made the Bible available to a wider group and on the other hand, the first reading of the day we see Nehemiah asking his king to provide him with whatever necessary for him to rebuild the city of his ancestors. Just compare these two instances and you see that they both did what they felt was a great need of the times with the little they had. Jerome had his dark cave and candlelight... no electricity, computer, printer, internet, press and all that we today demand to get something ready! Nehemiah only had his desire and the good will of his king. And with that he set out to do what was closest to his heart.

Good lesson in making good use of what is at hand than craving and demanding for more... what is basically needed is the passion to get going and the determination to see it done!

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Deepening oneself and reaching out

The two days I spent in Kurnool with the candidates of the 7 congregations who gathered there for a two day animation programme were good. It was a good experience for me to get back some of my communication methodologies and techniques. It was also a good challenge for me to give them something. Only when I began that I remembered that it was the 'Joy of giving week' and it was good to get the 50 girls to commit themselves to help out someone for each day of the week, as a start. That was my contribution to commence my week!

Furthermore, for once I felt that maybe when you challenge people to go beyond themselves in order to reach out to others, we naturally deepen our own selves. I was so far convinced that only when we deepen ourselves can we reach out to others. Today I feel, perhaps, it is a simultaneous process - deepening oneself and reaching out.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Terms of life...

Lesson for today:
The happiest people are not those who live on their own terms, but are those who change their terms for the ones whom they love.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Sensitivity and openness in prayer

Yesterday evening on my way from Wyra back to the Provincial house I happened to notice that the young girl sitting in the front row of the bus would occasionally pull out a notebook and keep writing the name 'Sri Ram' over and over again. Apparently she was a Hindu and doing this exercise, for some special favour. I said to myself, if only she had better sense, she would have spent that time and energy doing some good rather than writing and rewriting the same word. I felt it so odd that she was doing the same act - which for all purposes was a useless one - over and over again, apparently for some selfish gain!

I forgot all about this till a while later when I began reciting my rosary. Just when I was half way through the second decade, my eyes fell on the girl's notebook and I was so struck I could not utter another word. Having said all that about the girl and her act, here I was doing a similar deed - repeating the 'Hail Mary' over and over again! How was my act different from hers? I was so ashamed of myself that I was not able to be sensitive to another persons' prayer; I hardly had enough peace of mind to complete my rosary!

So much for finding real meaning and being sensible enough to see the same in others words and deeds.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Living what we aspire for

A thought from Fr MC George's goodnight:
Live as though we already have that what we want most in life.
We really want vocations, we live and work as though we have lots of them.
We desperately need success in our endeavours, live as though we are already successful.
Want to be respected, give and live a respected life.
Need money badly, live as though you have it already.

Well, that's some thought... to live what we aspire for even before we have it!!

Monday, 21 September 2009

Sharing and enlarging the family

One of the main problems why we Salesians find it difficult to find collaborators for our efforts is perhaps our 'me-and-MY JOB' attitude. We hardly make known to others, especially and specifically to our beneficiaries, our works. We run a school but hardly do any of our children or their parents know that we also work for children on the street, the juveniles, the school drop-outs, ... Our Parishioners only get good and holy sermons about the 'Kingdom of heaven', not much about how it is already being unfolded in our boardings, youth centres, technical schools, street children homes, counselling centres... !

Conclusion, we slog today, tomorrow and here after - all by ourselves! Worse still, when students pass out of our institutions, they have little or no sense of social responsibility, even though we taught them, we paid their fees, we bought their uniforms, we provided them with the best of education!! But imagine if we were to involve all those whom we interact with in our daily mission, introduce them to OUR work (not merely my work)... Some ideas that cropped up in my mind today as I listened to Fr MC George I put down here:
  • take boys/parishioners to our other Salesian centres for a day of outing.
  • while preparing souvenirs, brochures and booklets, include a small note about the other works we do.
  • invite young people for a retreat or day of recollection in our formation houses (when the formees are there, not when they are gone for holidays!).
  • get our own friends to speak to our aspirants - anything!
  • get street children into our 'mainstream' schools.
  • involve high school children in organising camps for the less-privileged children.
I need to speak about my family - after all, the one working in the boarding or parish or street children centre, or the mission station is my brother, my confrere! And if my extended family starts working together (each one in their own way), ah... now that's going to be something grand! I won't have to carry Don Bosco or Christ alone!!

Sunday, 20 September 2009

"Return" to Don Bosco

I'm just back from a community where boys after their first semester of Salesiana were given a test/quiz. Here are some of their answers ...
  • Castelnuovo: Capital of Turin.
  • Dominic Savio's prayer: Strike me dead if I am about sin.
  • Dominic Savio: a good man
  • Oratory: place where they dives divides into sodalities.
  • Oratory: they used to change places from one place to another place.
  • Penance of Dominic Savio: by putting stones in his shoes under the bed.
  • When did Fr Alasonatti join Don Bosco? A year ago.
  • St Martin of Mills: Place requested by Don Bosco as cemetry for his boys.
  • Pinardi Shed: It was rented by the Philippi Brothers.
  • Rosimini House: It was a place of St Peter Chains.
  • Condition in the oratory: not so active or enthusiastic due to various reasons
  • Convitto Ecclesiastico: where Don Bosco did his secondary schooling.
With such answers, there sure is no return to Don Bosco!!!
However, boys will be boys!! I'm sure Don Bosco himself is laughing away!

Monday, 14 September 2009

Faith, Hope and Charity: Vehicle recovered!

Exactly 10 days ago, our four-wheeler was stolen. People kept asking me if there was any news about the vehicle ever since. I really had no hopes, whatsoever. I was only striving for the insurance money! Today evening the Police called me to say that they secured the vehicle. Of course, in their own shady style, no one was apprehended! But it was a good experience spending 7 hrs in the police station, listening to their vague description of how they traced the stolen vehicle - in fact they never told me anything worthwhile! Even otherwise it was worth an experience chatting with them, listening to their interrogation style, their sharp lookout for the DCP (who happened to arrive just as we reached for an inspection), their "respect" for the higher ups, their documentation procedures and of course, when there was no one else in the room, there were the mice running all along the walls of the narrow rooms. Goes without saying that I had to grease their palms too. In Maliekal's language it would be: They ask without asking! Well at the end of the day (now it is already morning), the vehicle is back in our garage: perfectly intact except for the number plates and the side stickers!

Ultimately today it was a triumph of Venkat's (our driver) faith, my hope that they would release the vehicle today and perfect "charity" for the policemen! Praise be to God!

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Being 'rich'

I've always felt embarrassed when known people approach me for money. Besides the facts that I do not feel at ease dealing with money - that too not mine - and that such 'charity' always mars one's relationship, I feel there is something more important to this act. People in need - of anything - will naturally approach those whom they feel will surely help them or are capable of helping them with what they cannot manage by themselves. So if I am in need of money, I will surely not approach someone who is more miserable than me. When I need some advice regarding a job or task at hand, I will contact someone in that line, not anyone! Keeping this in mind, it is good to sit back, reflect and see why and who approach me for help - and for what sort of help. Besides their trust in me, I also feel, they look at me as one who has/is that one who would help them. I got to be 'rich' in that field to give them what they ask for. May be this is the reason, why people approach us religious and Priests for monetary help, more often than for spiritual help... perhaps they see us 'rich' in finance than in spiritual wares.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

One for Benji!

Here's one small tribute to Fr Benji: A short photo-collage of his life and works on the YouTube. Truly, a zealous son of Don Bosco, he touched the lives of numerous people through his total commitment, dynamic leadership, profound knowledge, gentle words, noble gestures and great deeds.

"Personal" Communication

You never know whose life you touch, when, how and to what extent - merely by something you say or do or don't say or miss out on! I realised this when late last night, after having read of some unrest in Koraput district of Orissa, sent an sms to our confrere working there. This morning I got a call from him. He was emotionally touched by this simple gesture of mine, just inquiring if things were OK with him, amidst the tension and violence around the place. He told me that this is the first communication he received in months. I was surprised, and asked him if he didn't receive the Provincial circular and the other smses I sent around after Fr Benji's death and regarding his funeral. He replied, that he did receive them all. But none which made him still feel wanted or part of the family, especially by his own confreres!

God be praised, for you never know...

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Power and position

Here's something from Fr Joshtrom from his experience and stay in Europe:
A Salesian confrere telling the audience at the occasion of the installation of a Provincial who took charge a second time: "To be the Provincial the first time is tragic enough. But to be a Provincial the second time is sheer carelessness!"That's Fr Joshtrom (on the right) receiving the first copy of the Memoirs of the Oratory (an abridged version, in English, of the original autobiography of Don Bosco). The book is the handiwork of Fr John Lens.... one of the many!!

Work machine!

Working in the office is a very nagging job. Not that the work itself is boring or taxing but in the long run, people tend to take you for what you do - not what you are!! Today I felt quite hurt when one of my own confrere calls me up to ask for some help. Only then I realised that some call up only when they want me to do some work for them. Well that is understood - and acceptable too, but I also believe we can make things a bit more personal by sending a note after the help is rendered or calling up just to say 'Thank you!'.

Religious: Signs of exaggeration!

Post Vatican II, the idea that the religious life is a state of perfection (above that of lay state of life) gave way to a balanced notion of Christian life and living, especially through the Lumen Gentium. This morning's meditation talk by Fr Dominic Veliath was very insightful in this regard. Here's the summary of his reflection on religious life and its relevance:
As religious we are called to be 'SIGNS' ... signs of exaggeration, of commitment, of happiness. We are called to live life noticeably, that everyone sees in us the path to sanctity (holiness) to which all are called. If we too live our life in an ordinary way, (or worse still, giving scandal) then what is the point in being a religious? Here in comes the aspect of commitment. People see in our lifestyle a 'special breed' hell bent on LIVING the gospel and its values; not merely as an impressive once-in-a-way presentation but as a joyful and total choice. And an important sign to check our fulfillment in being signs of exaggeration and commitment is our 'happiness meter'!
Thanks Fr Dominic!
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