Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Listening to God's message

This morning as I sat for Mass, remembering that it was the feast of the Holy Innocents, I wondered if God could have very well alerted this carnage, especially since it was of really the little and innocent ones. Could not God have altered or distracted the mind of Herod? Could He not have alerted all the parents of the babies ahead of time, just as He informed Joseph about it? Could not the wise men, done something to trick Herod, rather than save their skin and walk away with it? I know I do not have the answers, for I am neither God nor have I any message from Him. But I guess this:

Just like Joseph was 'informed' about the impending danger, God would certainly have tried His unique ways of getting Herod to try something less heinous. Or at the most, distracted Herod from carrying out his evil plans of the massacre. Then, what happened? The difference lay in the fact that Joseph 'listened' to God's message; Herod did not! Joseph could have very well brushed aside God's message as some fancy thinking or dream; but he chose otherwise. Herod could have 'listened' to God's message but he didn't... and that made all the difference in the lives (or death) of the little ones.

Moral of the story (not a logical one or a sensitive one, but all the same a reasonable one): Each one's got to do what one ought to do; lest someone pays the price, at times a heavy one at that!

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Interesting coke ad

Here is one nice ad of coke that I came across of TV of late. Interesting concept of using an old technique (shadow play), with a modern touch (a remix of an old hindi song), of course. Old is gold, yes but the latest polish also helps, now and then!

Christmas at Sabbavaram

For this year's Christmas celebrations, I joined our Navajeevan community at Sabbavaram. It was good that I went there. Besides meeting and interacting with the boys, I got some time to make somethings happen, which otherwise would have taken ages to commence and reach their logical conclusion. Comparatively the programmes they put up on Christmas day were much better than the ones they put up during the inauguration of the new building, especially the skits. The boys are really good at acting and preparing props and costumes!

However, the funny part of the nativity enactment was that Mary was already pregnant during the annunciation itself (there wasn't much time after the annunciation for her to do the make up, so ... she was 'ready' right from the beginning... that's what one of the lady staff who helped Siva with his costume told me). And St Joseph, (enacted by Sai) was with a pair of spectacles, that too borrowed at the last minute!

Fear of others or Love for solitude?

For the Christmas midnight Mass, I joined Fr Wilson to L'kota, the substation. I preferred that to the monotonous and l...o...n....g service (read as sermon) of Kondadaba! It was good... silent, smooth and I was left to myself without having to run around and see that things are in place or singing is ready and what not. I thus stayed put in my place till the end of the Mass. Spent time remembering and thanking all the people close to me and trying to recollect and pray for those clinging on the edge of my memory.

However, once the celebrations began after Mass, I slowly sneaked out. I felt much better outside than in the humdrum of all that jing-bang. I know not if I'm growing more and more introvert for fear of facing the 'others' or is it just that I find silence and solitude more meaningful than noisy celebrations. For now, I prefer to go by the latter!

Silent Night, yes! Holy night? I doubt!

Christmas has come and gone! Great... very silent, peaceful and truly relaxing at least personally. I surely must have put on 4 to 5 kgs in the past one week alone... I'm not blaming the cakes or the getting over of the jaundice diet, but the tranquility and peace of the place has been very very soothing. I just breathe easy, pray well, spend time doing what I like without any great pressure or tension and best of all, not disturbed by a hundred and one fellows barging in and out of my office for all and any matters.

Of course, the calamity has been Jesus... He has been totally forgotten!!

About Ginger

Here are a couple of photos of Ginger, our German Shepherd of which I mentioned earlier in one of the previous postings. These days it is having a ball of a time. With no one around the house, it claims to be its master as it roams every place at its will... that too only when Rinoy is around. If he is not around, the one and only place she is found is either outside his room (if he is inside) or at the gate (if he is out of the house). This evening as Fr Rinoy and myself were in the Mass in the sacristy, it solemnly came in there too! That was perhaps the last place it was yet to explore. It had so far never entered the chapel, for Rinoy had sternly told it not to enter in. So everytime we are reciting our prayers or meditating in the chapel facing the sanctuary, it would be waiting eagerly at the door, looking at the far end of the chapel, where we are seated!

Here it is with Lakshmi, our kitchen staff just waiting for her to drop her arms so that it can snatch the ball which she is holding it from her!

Friday, 24 December 2010

Interesting internet...

Here are a few interesting things people have done over the time using the net! What wonders people can do with just a little bit of creativity and a dose of passion!

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Fidelity as an act of worship

These days after the Brothers left for holidays, we three of us here spend most of our time together with Ginger, our German Shepherd. It is basically Rinoy who is the master and the dog knows it too well. There is nothing else in the world it wants than to be with Rinoy, anywhere, anytime, all the time. In very many aspects, it is like no other dog I've ever seen: it does not gloat (it does not even eat, properly), does not wander all over the town, is perfectly obedient and well behaved. However what strikes me most of Ginger is its total fidelity to Rinoy. Nothing else matters to it more than being with Rinoy.

I was wondering this morning, what makes it so faithful to Rinoy? What difference is there between its fidelity and our fidelity to God? After much thought, I feel it is the difference of a conscious choice we get to make and live by it. Ginger makes the choice without any conditions and will live by it. Ginger perhaps did not have a big choice to make than to accept Rinoy as its master, irrespective of Rinoy's character, personality or any other moral character. Even if Rinoy were to be the worst criminal of the world, its fidelity would have been total. However, our fidelity to Christ is only verbal, we have a choice to be faithful to Christ, and we claim we have made that choice (through baptism, profession, ordination...) but in fact we really haven't! In spite of having made a 'deliberate choice' our fidelity or commitment to Christ is found wanting.

Christmas, justice and dignity

Fr Wilson has asked me to share the homily for the midnight Mass tomorrow. I really do not want to, not for lack of reflections but for want of being a mere reflective participant. Furthermore, my sermon would not be any different from a talk that I will give/share with kids or any other group, depending on their interest level.

All the same, I ask myself, what exactly does Christmas mean? I 'know' that it is the bd'ay of Jesus and all that stuff. But what does it mean for me? As I reflect about this, I feel that Christmas is perhaps the greatest feast of justice and dignity (I still 'know' that it is a feast of love, but that I only 'know' still). Why is it about justice and dignity? Because God in his greatness could not think of any other greater means of reaching out to His beloved than by being one among them. That too not just anyone among them, but being the lowliest, the least, the weakest and the most vulnerable among them... a baby, a carpenter, an ordinary person.

In this sense, the Christmas banner of the ANS website, makes sense... it has an infant in the womb of the mother... the most vulnerable and dependent creature on the face of the earth, a baby!

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Jonah's life... through a small girl

One must watch this amazing rendition by a small girl about the life of Jonah... better than any lengthy sermon on repentance and God's love! Great!

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Setting priorities right: Study first!

This evening we had our community Christmas celebrations... was rather sober but involving and brief. We had a long Mass, the get together thereafter and the supper that followed. Things were quite smooth and somehow we all were happy that there was neither extravagance not excitement shooting through the roof. During the get together there was sufficient confusion to keep down the tone of excitement (perhaps I now need to tap individual talent, and give this idea of 'group activity' a little rest). I was also surprised to see that all the Brothers were in bed (except for a handful of them quietly packing) by 11 pm... as instructed, gently after supper. I was quite sure that none of them would sleep tonight. But I was wrong! Either they are getting into the serious mood of the seminary or they are acting quite well to please us, the staff! Either way, I'm happy there is noticeable change, for the better, taking place.

This morning, Fr Devadas' comment that the Brothers are complaining of losing their peace of mind, due to the numerable assignments that I am giving and the constant antiphons of Fr Wilson that study is prayer, were indeed very encouraging. Truly... the Brothers are feeling the heat of study. Having tried all possible means of wriggling out of this 'study-net' they are now trying the 'spiritual-net'. But they know very well, perhaps more than us Staff, that there are no shortcuts to sincere and dedicated study, at least for this year!

What more can I, as the Dean of studies in a Philosophate, ask for!! Perhaps this is the Lord's Christmas gift to me... THANK YOU, LORD! I'm yet to think and prepare one for Him, though!

The mask of religiousity...

My stay and teaching experience here in the Seminary has led me to see very many discrepancies or illogical facts of life. One of them has been the very subtle and foxy way of utilising 'spirituality'. Here quite often Brothers hide behind the mask of 'religiosity' and 'piety'. They shirk from a critical introspection of their faith, convinced that such an enterprise is pride, a vain-glorious attempt to boost our ego or is a rebellion against God. That we all have certain comfort zones which we would not want to let go for fear of having nothing to hold on to, is natural. But when a senior Priest or trusted person, especially the Spiritual Director or another clergyman does this, young people (in this case, the Brothers) find justification for their lethargy ... all in the name of God, faith, religion and humility.

That driving passion...

This morning as I sat for the recollection talk and let myself be distracted to the previous day's evening Christmas celebrations with the children in the same hall, a thought crossed my mind. It occurred to me that the Brothers in the Seminary too would at one point or the other be like the children who were present with us the previous evening, the same ones who come every evening for the tuition classes. While some of the children are quite lively and zealous about things, most of them are just dull and dead to things around them. Over the years there seems to be a lull in the curiosity to know, to learn, to try new things... beginning in childhood itself. So when we grow up, there is nothing new to be tried out. Life is just let loose like that... nothing passionate that drives one in one direction or the other... any direction with the most of comforts would do.

I have my doubts if children of the present day have that eagerness, that 'itch', that passion for something? Or is it just to laze around and do nothing challenging? If that sense and thrill of adventure of something 'new' isn't tasted right in the beginning, the apparent drudgery of life unconsciously leads one to settle down for a very mediocre life, all along!

Understanding those who do not understand

Correcting the dissertation, seminar and scientific papers of the Brothers for the past few days, I realise that quite a few of them spend time in the library or study hall, reading. Unfortunately what they read they do not understand. But that's not their real problem. Their real problem is that they 'think' - or are even convinced - that they understand! So when you ask them if they have read a particular article or class notes they all agree. You ask them if they have any clarifications or doubts, there will be none. But you go a step further and ask a couple of questions, just simple, straight and easy ones, you'll only draw a blank! Now to make a person who does not understand and knows that he has not understood is possible; but how does one help one understand something when he is convinced that he already and perfectly has!

Friday, 17 December 2010

Fear as a motivation to learning and wisdom

Today is the last day of class before the Seminary closes for Christmas holidays, but frankly speaking there is hardly anything in the air that will show that. The reason: all the students are busy catching up with their written assignments and submission of papers and all written requirements.

Looking back to the time we began the academic year, we on the staff, were all up in arms that the students are not studying. Now everyone is studying... of course it does not automatically imply that they are really learning, but atleast the effort is being made. One of the chief reasons for this transformation from a very lax attitude to study and academic work to a 'surprising' seriousness about intellectual work, has been a collective stand that the staff took: consistent focus on study! Practically all the four of us on the staff have not been compromising on that at all. We really demand and pull them up for what is expected of them. The fruits are evident for everyone to see. Another very impact-filled reason has been the failing of nearly 6 of the students in various semester exams - not just the preliminary exam but in the repetitions too ... two supplementary exams! They had somehow thought that their failing would not bring about any serious consequences. Now that their very continuation in the seminary is at stake due to this, they (all the students, not just the 6 failed candidates) are on high alert!! A healthy sign of this whole endeavour has been the sincere appreciation of most of the students of the study ambiance in the Seminary. That ensures our (staff) motivation and prevents our efforts from becoming tyrannical.

Fear of God is the beginning of wisdom...
and the fear of not making it to the next year is the beginning of learning!

Salesian assistance

This morning I had a very blunt one-to-one talk with one of the Brothers who has been consistently maintaining his record of being the last in the class for all academic and intellectual purposes. As I placed before him his last options of pulling himself by his bootstrings, he plainly told me that my 'reputation' - if one may say so - preceded me much before I set foot in Kondadaba... that I was a task master! He told me how he was warned of studying well my subjects and not to unnecessarily meddle with me. I was glad he was warned... but as they say, forewarned is not always forearmed! So our friend took it lightly, and now he is feeling the heat of the furnace!! Anyway he has now just two months (Jan and Feb.) to redeem himself and prove that he is serious about his vocation to Priesthood.

Amidst all that he shared and we discussed, I was surprised how he clearly remembers all my words which I stated in the first community meeting. And when at the end of our long chat he was the one who reminded me that all that I told him now was already told by me on that day, way back in June 2010. Then he heard them, today he feels the weight of them! Good for him, good for me too, to ensure that I'm after them consistently and for the right reasons.

No wonder Don Bosco used to insist so much on accompaniment... Salesian Assistance!

Lineage and history

The idea of ancestor worship and tracing back our lineage into history, has been an integral part of Asian religions and traditions. As I listened to the reading of this morning, about the genealogy of Jesus, it struck me that God too was concerned with 'rootedness' at least when associated with human beings. A reflective look into the past will help us realise that we are part of a history greater than ourselves. Why they are we part of it? If great things have been achieved, carried out, lived out, prior to my arrival, why am I on the scene? What's our significance here and now? Perhaps to ensure that tomorrow's history will be greater than today's or at least as great as today!

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Christmas story, digital narration... literally

Here's a lovely narration of the nativity story... digitally, literally!! Great!

Communicating Don Bosco

Sometime ago, I came across the minutes or news report of the recently concluded BOSCOM - now Don Bosco Communications - meeting held at Kolkata. One of their conclusions and firm one at that, was the production of a feature film on Don Bosco. Now that's quite an idea!! Frankly speaking I don't like it! I am not for it, even. My reasons are simple: What is the whole objective of this mega project, when we have neither competence nor skill nor the necessary resources (we are not going to gain any monetary benefit from it, for sure)? Even if the answer is a simple: 'to make known Don Bosco across the country', I have a problem. What after we have made known? I somehow feel we have a tendency to create a hype and once the hype is created we do not know what to do with it. Rather I prefer that we are recognised for the works we do - besides blowing our own trumpet! People must see us as men of God with a passion for youth... through our activities, animations, interventions, institutions and most importantly through our very lives.

On the other hand, this reaction of mine could be due to my 'fear and anxiety' about 'mega-projects'. I really feel best with some minor but incisive efforts which touch lives rather than effect a mere 'wow'!

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Debate and lessons from it

This morning we had the annual debate on the theme 'Technology and Religion are complementary'. It was a good exercise for the Brothers. Fr Wilson made an all out effort to ensure that the talks were prepared, practiced and delivered well. Really, he spared no effort! The Brothers too made a valiant effort, but as always got entangled in trivials than in the deeper issues at hand. Fr Puthussery, the moderator, too made a great effort at drawing their attention to the real issues... but with not much success.

However, a couple of lessons I learnt from today's experience:
  • The theme of the debate has to be a very precise and straight statement. Not a complex idea or comparative topic.
  • The talks need to be according to specific fields. This is important when the successive speakers are not very talented or capable of commenting or lashing out at the previous opponent prior to their own presentation. Moreover, this would help focus the area under consideration rather than let each one wander about wild.
  • The meaning and definition of terms being used need to be specified and clarified at the earliest.
  • The talks need to be sub-divided into the following pattern: Statement of the argument (in line with your stand), a brief explanation of the same and finally, if necessary make the point clear with an example. Bereft of this there will be many things said - many good things - but not very specific or arousing discussion.
  • The statement/argument of the opponent is to be attacked... not the person, or least of all the example!! (Our Brothers are masters of catching the wing-tip of the fly, sitting on the tip of the hair, of the tail of the bull... and certainly not the horns!).
  • The questions during the floor discussion should be very tricky and sharp. The opponent should be put in a fix: an 'yes' or a 'no' would either way land them in trouble. That's the sort of questions one has to equip oneself with.

Chris, on his b'day

Here are a couple of photos more of Chris... clicked on his first b'day (December 8, 2010)!! Poor fellow was made to wear a suit!

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Adieu dear Br PM Thomas!

I was quite shocked to read about the death of Br PM Thomas from Fr Ivo's blog. He died this morning (December 12, 2010 at 3 am) while at Andheri.

Br PM was truly a self-made man. He had his convictions clear and sure. I liked best his enthusiasm for his Salesian vocation. He simply loved Don Bosco and really 'enjoyed' being a Salesian. Though experienced and smart, he never let it get to his head and always was ready to get into any debate, fun or discussion. He surely was a great inspiration, certainly for me!

Thanks to God and Br PM for being part of my life.

Experiences at the Juvenile home

This afternoon I drove the Pratyasa team Brothers to the Juvenile home for an anticipated celebration of Christmas with the Children. More than anything about Christmas, it was an opportunity for the Brothers to interact with the children and bring a smile on their faces. I should say, a couple of them did well... Christu, Dileep, Devaraj, Naresh. Initially they were reluctant. I was too tired to get involved. Furthermore, I knew, that if I were to get active, they would only watch from the sidelines without getting involved.

At one point, I was wondering as to who was entertaining whom? The boys, having seen and being entertained by many a group along the time of their stay there, we not new to our 'animation'. So the Brothers were at a bit of loss as to what 'new' and entertaining to offer them. However, Christu did a commendable job, at least trying. But there seems to be some sort of a disease among the Brothers. When they see a group of people, they just stand in a huddle by themselves, watching the confusion... all the while knowing the fact that they are there as 'animators'. I guess it is basically due to a lack of knowledge of what is to be done and more so, how is it to be done.

Another surprising revelation was the knowledge that of the 95 boys therein, there are only a handful of those who are supposed to be there. The rest are absolutely out of place, in as much as they have either of their parents, a home, or have run away from home and were found loitering on the railway station platforms. I always thought that the Juvenile home was meant for those in need of care and protection and those at risk. This place is more like a boarding, where the child lands up because his parents feel that this is the best place for him!! How can they just shirk their responsibility?

At last, with the boys!

At last I took time out to spend at least half a day with the boys at Sabbavaram... this time it was not for some work to be done or some inauguration to be prepared. Just plain 'waste of time'! It was good! I just learnt a few more names of the boys, chatted with them for quite sometime, shared with them some news and information about the Salesian world, offered some tips for study and learning (all off hand and totally informal), watched their games and coaching sessions...

It was good!

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Mission day auction

We just concluded our Mission Sunday auction... though the middle name does not fit in for the day, it was held today, for constraints of time and mood earlier. I'm glad it went on well. The Brothers too were well behaved and responsive. No one played the fool or tried to act smart. All were sincere and open in their bidding. It was good.

However, I desisted from any bidding except twice. Somehow I did not have the heart to throw away money for something as cheap as a t-shirt or a Bible cover! I felt I had better means of reaching out and helping the missions. But I did bid twice more to encourage participation and raise the spirit of competition. Of course, the Brothers too were keen on dumping something on to me - they did it at the first opportunity! But on the whole, it was good.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Why link service and finances?

There are two ways of becoming rich: Getting more than what you have and being contented with what you already have. I would prefer the latter to the former anytime, everytime. Whenever there is this talk of money (or lack of it), I always wish there was never this whole money at all. The world surely would have been a much better place if there was not this whole field of economics (if understood in the limited sense of monetary transactions only) at all.

Every sphere of life, revolves around money and is ruled by its power. Religious life too is not spared by it. How often all our decisions and decision making processes are guided by finances. I know money is needed for survival and basic needs, but why more than that? Why should charity or service for that matter, be always associated with monetary links? Don't our families at home earn and live on what they have? Why then have we in the religious life be so perturbed by availability or lack of availability of finances? Why can't we just serve... reach out with what we have... even if it is little or nothing at all.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Inviting those on the periphery

Christmas is an inclusive festival. No wonder the first Christmas, the invitation was for all on the periphery: the shepherds, the pagan kings... But in our eagerness we celebrate Christmas with only the ones we know, only the Catholics. I tell the Brothers when they go out for their weekend ministry: Go, reach out to all, irrespective of which religion they belong to. You are being sent to the village and not to the Catholics alone of that village.

Nice to celebrate Christmas by including all those who are normally not invited, those forgotten. As for me, I'd like to send a note to all whom I've not been in touch with since I left Hyderabad - and that's a really long list!! One of them was Fr Tom and surprisingly he called me this morning!

Gleanings from the Formation meet-5

Perhaps the last of this series... (on a lighter side).
As we were concluding the meeting someone quoted the one who fumbled with words at a meeting and said: I thank you all from the heart of my bottom! Thathi added an experience of his while in Rome. For a special Mass, the Salesians from Africa led the entrance procession with a dance. Thathi and a friend of his (who happened to be missionary in Africa) could not but notice the heavy hip and butt movement. As the procession reached the altar, Thathi's friend leaned into Thathi and whispered: "That's where they find God!"

Gleanings from the Formation meet-4

One disturbing revelation of yesterday's meeting was the fact that while Don Bosco began his apostolate with a wandering oratory, along the way he made an explicit choice to settle down with the boarding school set up... a shift from an evolving and growing channel to a structured formula... from festive oratories to boarding schools.

I know that Don Bosco found no other means of helping the boys than through opening up institutions which would cater to their every need. But how then did he not sacrifice or atleast begin the process of compromising the strategies and ideals of the initial festive oratory? The 'curse of institutionalisation' was initiated by Don Bosco himself... or did he? Can one continue the spirit of Don Bosco without subscribing to his final 'boarding school' method?

From my little experience in the Salesian congregation I wonder if this sort of 'liberty' is still present and encouraged. Down the centuries we have built up this 'institutional' model of Don Bosco's apostolate with great fervour, commitment and zeal... but what if someone wants to adopt the festive oratory model? Does our formation process envisage and promote this possibility at all or is it nipped in the bud itself?

One such apostolate at a tangent was/is the Street children work. (It too has been very much institutionalised... but that's another issue). But anything more or different than that? For the rest, we are all stuck to Parishes, schools, colleges (barely), technical institutes and of course, boardings. To say that the spirit of the festive oratory (as it was) is vibrant and very much alive in all these would be a slight exaggeration.

Will someone with the initial mind of Don Bosco find a place in the Salesian congregation anymore? Will a Salesian atleast with such a mind, find space and support?

Gleanings from the Formation meet-3

Thathi's question when translated into the formation contest would be thus: what if a youngster does not really fit in our 'regular' formation plan? Will he go on to become a Salesian or will he be shown the door sooner or later? This has many implications. We first need to be sure what is our formation process meant for? Uniform, thinking alike, ready to use Salesians or men attuned to the voice of God and willing to do anything for young people? A similar question would be: Is our formation meant to churn out 'administrators' for our institutions or 'visionaries' for our apostolate? Whatever be our answer, one thing is certain: it ought to be in sync with our formative process.

I would certainly prefer the latter 'breed'. But I am still not sure how can a uniform, singular formation process help individual charisms to mushroom and bloom in varied contexts while remaining faithful to the 'Salesian charism'. How exactly to make it flexible enough to encourage and enthuse creativity while retain the identity so as to be still called SDBs? As Fr Maliekal asked, "How do we distinguish the picnicker from the seeker?" Where and how does one draw the line between a freak and a saint?

Gleanings from the formation meet-2

While presenting an article by Fr Jose Parapully, Fr Sebastian pointed out that our rigouristic and perfectionist model of religious life is largely due to the times in which the major congregations were founded... 1600-1950. These were the modern times characterised by dualism-mechanism (Descartes), Scientific and mathematical certainty (Newtonian physics). This era in history was challenged by the major developments in science and maths: theory of relativity, quantum theory, process philosophy, systems theory... This affected every branch of life and study. A shift was observed in every sphere:
theology (image of God): Immovable mover to Emoting being
psychology: instinctual theory to relational and inter-subjective theories
ethics: good and bad to situational ethics
economics: competition to collaboration
medicine: corporeal medicine to body-mind-spirit healing
sociology: hierarchy to networking
spirituality: mechanistic-dualistic to holistic-ecological

I was wondering what if there was a religious congregation founded today... in the so-called 'postmodern' times. Would it really have a 'footing' in the Church? I fear it might be scorned as some new heresy or some new age thinking. I also feel that such congregations will not spring up any more.

What next then? Those existing ought to change according to the times or perish with the times!

Gleanings from the Formation meet-1

The formation commission meeting of yesterday was quite something. Though not very intense or hectic, there were certainly some new insights which emerged in the course of our discussions. The discussions were primarily focussed on engineering a paradigm shift in the whole formation procedure not so much for a theoretical outcome but for a faithful and effective apostolate. However we were unable to come up with practical skills that would facilitate this shift. But that we need to start facilitating this transformation was strongly felt.

One of the interesting directions which the meeting took was after Fr Sebastian's intervention about our modality and rigid mentality in sticking to 'rubrics' at the cost of life and reality. Thathi too posed the question of Fr Fabio Attard concerning our youth apostolate: Are we trying to get our new generation of young Salesians to fit in the youth module that we have or have worked out? Are not they more atune to the stirrings of young people than the previous generation? Why then do we not let them have a say or let them formulate a new youth apostolate model, while being faithful to the basics?

The difficulty here was where to draw the line between what is and what should be. Furthermore, who decides what and how. Fr Maliekal pointed out a good signpost: a shift, when made, should be geared towards an integrated growth... not just in one or two aspects of our apostolate. If it is only partial then the whole system breaks down.

A lesson in friendship and fidelity

In the Gospel this morning, the paralytic man lowered from the roof by his friends was saved more because of the faith of his friends, than perhaps his own (When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven"). Jesus recognises this man's ability to have such friends... the courage to pick and choose those who would be with him in thick and thin... then live righteously enough to win the respect and love of those friends who would go to any extent to see him well.

Who are my friends? Whom do I associate most with? Will they, when I am unable to approach Jesus by myself or am moving away from Him, lead me to Him?

Friday, 3 December 2010

Information Warfare...

The whole debate and drama about the WikiLeaks (here is an interesting posting about the whole episode) is an interesting replay for me about a James Bond movie which I saw sometime ago (I forget the title now). The theme in both the instances is the same: information warfare. The movie was all about the villian trying to gain control over the media space all across the globe and thus control information and news. His theory was clear: master the communication network and you own the power. The ongoing cat-and-mouse game too is something similar. Hidden information is now out in the open. So what now?

Of labourers ... and labourers

The harvest is ready and plenty but the labourers are few... and those who really labour are fewer! We always mourn that there are not sufficient personnel to carry forward the great and noble deeds of visionaries and religious founders. There is no denying that fact but we cannot also overlook the other fact that not all those who volunteer to carry forward the work, are really interested. If only those really passionate about this service step forward, there would be miracles performed everywhere, all the time. The cycle of mediocrity continues as we get non-motivated 'labourers' who are 'inspired by' non-working 'labourers'.

The feast of St Francis Xavier is a good occasion to review the life and passion of this man who managed to evangelise the East in an age when there were neither transport nor communication facilities... all that he had was his indomitable zeal to reach out to the people and share with them the Treasure he had found. The existence or non-existence of the rest did not matter.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Of funerals and cemeteries

Funerals are strange occasions... the dead one does not know who is come or who has not. But all the same the living feel obliged to go and attend the final journey. I always avoid funerals. They make me sad... not the loss of the dead but the sorrow of the living, especially the dear ones of the departed. It is heart-rending to see them wail and mourn. I really cannot stand that sort of pain. I've not really reflected as to why am I so affected (perhaps more as a means of escapism than real ignorance).

After the funeral there is always the talk (can also read it as gossip): How many people were there? Frankly speaking a very idiotic and nonsensical question. The reason is cited above! Also because it is used as a measuring tool to chart the popularity rating of the one no more. But maybe true. Not all may feel like me. Hence they may choose to express their affection and love for the departed by joining him/her in the last lap of the moral race.

Anyway, I thought of this for I remembered a statement about the cemetery compound wall, something I used when in Yercaud:
The wall around a cemetery is useless as those inside cannot come out and those outside do not want to get in.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Planning the future...

The most exciting month of the year has commenced. With Christmas, holidays and all that associated with it, the month is anything but thrilling. However, in my goodnight to the Brothers I reminded them to be grounded and focused ... to be clear as to what they are doing and FOR WHAT.

As for me, after long today was a rather relaxed day. I managed to correct a whole large chunk of papers that have been occupying my desk since long. Now with only the Christmas celebrations (anticipated) to prepare for, I can focus on some things that I've been postponing.

One among this is to prepare a 'Bucket list'... just started watching the movie, The Bucket List. Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson... the latter being simply great!! More about that later. For now, just want to finish up some of the left overs of the Seminary day reports, videos and photos. Then plan to move on to some new project for myself ... shall be more out of the office, or shall keep off the computer during the day, to be precise... to begin with!!

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Seminary Day 2010

Finally it's over!! The seminary day and all the excitement (and confusion) about it is over. I did manage to keep it simple and dry. Luckily not very many guests turned up...! The Bishop arrived an hour and half late and so everything got delayed. But I have no complaints, since he spared us the sermon... he did not say a word, neither did anyone else! Thank God!!

Anyway, it went on well. I was happy for most of the Brothers did their role well. I was following up the second years in the hall and they did a swift job of putting things back in their respective places in just one hour... neatly!
That's the third course address to the Bishop...!
That's the archbishop of Visakhapatnam, Kagithapu Mariadas, whom we felicitated for his golden jubilee of Ordination.
After the Mass, the felicitation programme, we had the lunch
This was the special counter for the fruits salad and ice cream... the most sought after item in the menu.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Prepare and Prevent

Fr KT Jose has been reminding the Community ever since two days that it is better to prepare and prevent than repent and repair. I think that is a quite a good motto for advent. However, my advent begins only after December 19, the day the Brothers will be leaving for their Christmas holidays. By that time, I wish to complete all my corrections and also catch with Navajeevan. It's been long since I even stepped in there.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Intensity vs duration

This evening I put fire under the very .... of some of the Brothers. I was really cool about the preparation for the Seminary Day. I never pushed or yelled or even reminded emphatically about any programme in preparation for the mega annual day of the Seminary. But today I put my foot down and by gosh...!! what a performance! I just glanced at the second year students dance in the afternoon. It was anything but a dance. But after the 'firing' session, and by night, it was near perfect!

I very well know that I've been delaying this whole hullabaloo with the sole intention of getting the Brothers to focus on the most important aspect of this present state of formation: philosophical studies. Rather than have a month long preparation, I just started exactly a week-long preparation. The results are practically the same. And as Thathi said, this strategy of an intense preparation rather than a prolonged one is best for any activity with young people... except study and assimilation. Perfectly true!

'Singers' with a vengeance!

Amidst all the excitement and tension of the Seminary day, Fr Wilson's remark about the gift of music was very relaxing.
Even those not gifted with a good voice or a sense of music sing, if not for love of music at least for revenge at God for not having blessed them with that grace!

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Kids in the Church

As usual this morning's Mass in the Parish was a real act of penance! The only consolation was the small kids and their pranks. There was this small cute girl who was comfortable moving from person to person to receive its quota of affection and pats and kisses and whenever she found someone not looking up at her or ignoring her (most of them with their heads bent) would gently sit infront of them, bend and peep to see if they were sleeping! Gosh it was fun. Luckily before she reached the Brothers, she was distracted/attracted by another child holding a mobile phone. She royally went up to her and with a single sweep of the hand, the mobile had a new owner! The other child just did not know what happened!

Then there was another small fellow strolling up and down the aisle as though inspecting the guard of honour. He was least bothered about anyone trying to get him to stay still in one place. Nor was he concerned with the strange looks and glares of the elders. He was all by himself and enjoying every bit of it.

Looking at all these kids, I'm reminded of Chris and I'm sure he is doing similarly crazy and funny things.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Evaluation learnings

The Council that we sat for since the past three days was indeed a good experience. It was basically for evaluating the Brothers based on their performance in the Seminary thus far. On the whole, there was a sense of satisfaction that there is an ambiance of striving for excellence. But there was also this strong feeling that very many are too steeped or mired in their lethargy or basically lack the minimal of motivation to carry on.

Given all the discussion and opinions we shared, what I liked most was that we had the good of the Brothers in mind, always. At every juncture we kept reminding ourselves that they were the centre of our efforts and endeavours. Another strong fact that kept emerging often is that the Brothers are more frightened of their own companions than of the staff. There are very few who, first of all have a stand, and fewer still who are willing to stand by their own opinion rather than fall for the view of others, knowing very well that what others want them to accept and voice out is not true or beneficial. I kept asking myself: if today they cannot stand for what is right and just amidst their own companions what and when will they fight or stand on behalf of the poor and downtrodden?

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Learning what is not...

The Jainist metaphysics has in it the notion that reality is multifaceted and that it has several parts. And each object or reality has two distinct elements which help one recognise and distinguish one from the other. They are the positive elements (what it is) and the negative elements (what it is not). Naturally the list of what a thing is not is longer than what it is. But I was wondering which of these elements would be ideal for teaching, especially children. I have a feeling it is much more enriching (though need not be speedy) to teach children what things are by sharing with them what it is not than directly and plainly telling them what it is. Why so? In the process children pick up several other things and learn about new things and not just the one thing before them. Furthermore, distinguishing one from the other also is a game by itself.
The Indian philosophical method of neti-neti rings a bell here!

Perhaps this process of negating what a thing is not, is a very intuitive process. Of course, we can just say that a fan is not a tree, but to be able to say that it is not a helicopter is something more formative than the former. Or to say that it is not a living thing... by saying so we have negated all living beings. The search is now narrowed down and further intensified...

Crazy ideas after class!

It is interesting to note how the Brothers pick up their ideas and thoughts... all inverted and odd!! And it invariably happens when I think I have explained it best of all days. The next day I walk into class and revise and lo... I get new theories, absurd concepts, crazy ideas... anything and everything except what I shared and discussed in class the previous day. I wonder how can they think and come up with such 'different' notions with absolutely no link with what was discussed for an hour or more.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Defending God against His believers

In class today, I had a tough time convincing the Brothers (I still didn't manage) that God will not interfere with my freedom. That free will is something God does not meddle with... even though He may be the one who grants each one that free will. They are hell bent on their belief that God knows me through and through and therefore he also knows what I will do next. Telling them that God gives us freedom and lets us be, even to the extent of letting us utilise the same freedom as a tool against Him, was all in vain. Perhaps all this stems from their blind belief in God as a provider. Literally a programmed giver. We pray and He provides, provided we all 'behave'. God is, in another sense, blackmailed!

Listening to their arguments and Biblical quotations (literal meanings drawn from some quotes their know by rote!) I had pity on God... I had to really defend Him from His own 'staunch' believers. Some of the recollection talks and sermons they hear too add to their 'madness' that it is enough to have faith, blind faith and no act or effort or struggle on our part, for God to work in and through us. I do not deny that God is capable of that too, but that should not be an excuse for our lethargy and lacklustre life.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Passionless blues!

Fr Wilson has been very excited about his Sunday trip to the dockyard and the two ships into which he had a royal entry and round... thanks to his cousin who is the lieutenant on INS Jyothi. This night he was sharing the similarities about the life on ship and that in the Seminary. He stated that in both the places there is a hierarchy and a certain level of obedience at the basic organisational structure of the places. He also wanted to say that the difference between the two lay in the level of commitment and the passion alive in the respective places. But I'm not really sure if he stated that as a difference or a commonality.

As for me, I think that's a major difference: On a ship, a warship at that, one cannot survive without being passionate about sea and voyage. Anyone without that passion will be soon back at home looking for 'greener' pastures and certainly not be watching the vast 'blue pasture'! However, in the Seminary most carry on without the least of passion, neither for God nor His people!!!

Perfection or lack of it?

In class today while talking about the idea of the best of all possible worlds according to Leibniz and his arguments against/for evil, we stumbled into a discussion about 'perfection'. While clarifying their doubts and answering their questions, I asked them to give me an example of a perfect being, besides God. They couldn't come up with an answer without ending up contradicting themselves. Their next question was why cannot everything be perfect? Why should there be a gradation of perfection at all? If there weren't any gradation, then there wouldn't be evil automatically. Well, at least Leibniz considered this the best of everything that can ever be.

Then I just mentioned about the movie Bruce Almighty and asked them to come up with a list if each of them were 'God almighty'... with all the powers of God to run the world. Let's see what they come up with.

However, since the time I did my B.Ph. paper on the 'goodness' of evil, I have really been blessed with seeing things differently. What exactly makes the world great: perfection or lack of it? I believe it is imperfection. It is difficult and hard, but better than having everything perfect.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

With the children

Yesterday we had the Children's day at Navajeevan, Vizag. It was all the children gathered together at Beach Blossom's school, nearly 100 of them. We had invited the Circle Inspector of One Town Police to be the Chief guest of the occasion. I was surprised to see him. He appeared more like a school teacher than a police officer... very gentle and serene. Most importantly, no airs about being a police officer.

After the programme, I took up animating the children for some party games, as they were not really prepared to handle the whole group together. It was good occasion for me to interact with the children after long. I'm glad I was there and had that time. The whole afternoon (from 3 pm onwards) was once again spent in the office, resolving issues and settling matters!

However, as I spent the morning looking at myself, I was feeling a sense of insecurity! I am wondering what exactly am I doing? I very well know that I'm doing quite a few things, may be too may at the same time or setting into motion quite a few initiatives, both here in Kondadaba and in NJ, Vizag too. But what ultimately am I doing? I really am not sure. I need to get myself straightened about who and what for am I doing all of this, before I find myself lost, lonely and mad.

Friday, 12 November 2010

I'll wait for you

Here's a beautiful song/video that I came across of Joe Nichols, that's playing on my mind since a couple of days. The imagery, lyrics and the sentiments expressed are really very gripping. The singer, Joe Nichols has a very titillating voice. It's nice!

Websites for God

This morning Fr CJ Mathew celebrated Mass for the community. Well he is perhaps the longest serving confrere in the house... a total of 13 years in all portfolios, except that of a regent and a full circle of 6 years as Rector. In fact, when I came here in 2000 for my first year of practical training, he was the Rector. However, his sermon style has not changed much!

Today he called upon all of us to be 'websites for God'... 'places' where people can find information, knowledge and a first hand experience of God and His Divinity. Well that's a novel idea! Technologically speaking, a religious or a consecrated person is one who ought to be a man of God. So he or she should be a treasure trove of godliness and virtue. Well all this makes sense especially in the light of the numerous scandals and scams that go on in religious houses and within the Church.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Contagious enthusiasm

Now that the inauguration is done with, the next obvious thing would be to get in and occupy the place; make use of the new and better facilities. But no, not yet! The building is inaugurated but not yet ready. There isn't the power connection, the water connection is incomplete, the ventillators and a couple of doors are yet to be done, the sump yet to be built, and so are several minor things needed to call the building complete. So then what was the point of inaugurating an incomplete building? Well for one, that it was due long since and more specially, the main benefactor of the building was in town from Italy for the same. (However, I should add, that several things would never have been done, not in a lifetime, if not for this 'inauguration').

What I liked of this whole episode was the joy of being part of the enthusiasm of the boys. They very well knew that they were not going to move into the new building, yet they were all eager to do whatever it was necessary to make the occasion grand. Some of the smaller fellows may have had absolutely no idea of what was going on, apart from the fact that there was 'something' happening. Perhaps if we had taken the whole lot of them to some other unknown place and area to work and prepare, they would have, but only if they had instructions from us Salesians and the staff. Their attachment is to people not to things or buildings or structures.

Getting over with Nov. 7

It's over!! Here I am at the end of Nov. 7... the date of the Sabbavaram building inauguration. And I'm alive, fine and I think I did manage to do my best. There were 101 factors that were not in my favour - rather, in favour of the inauguration: the rain, the vehicles, the preparation, the whole set up, the confusion, my total ignorance of Navajeevan politics, ... but in the end they didn't matter. It's done! I had thought I'd never be able to make it in one piece. As I now sit to just put down my raw thoughts after the maddening month, that rushed past for this Navajeevan work, I receive this video song, The Impossible by Joe Nichols.
Unsinkable ships, sink. Unbreakable walls, break.
Sometimes the unimaginable things happen.
Unbendable steel, bends. If the fury of the winds is unstoppable.
I've learnt to never underestimate, the impossible.

But truly, thanks be to God and Mother Mary!!

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Another maddening day with a bright ending

I had a hectic day today. But am glad that I'm still on my feet... though my head does not really feel like it is there in its place! Anyway three more days to go...!

The worst agony of the day was having to waste six thousand rupees just because one of those who turned down our invitation for the inauguration of the building on Nov. 7 suddenly decided to make an appearance. So had to recast the inauguration slab within hours of getting the first one... six thousand rupees rotting in the garage without redemption (that's two months salary for most of our staff). That's the whole problem with these dignitaries. Their decisions change the world and the most affected are those who slog it out for a daily bread.

The conclusion of the day was good. I took some time to chat with the boys waiting for their turn to take bath at Sabbavaram. Boys, at last... if not the first!

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Boys back at home!

Last evening was a happy one, not for all the complaints and squabbles I had to listen to, but for the reunion of two children with their parents. Yesterday afternoon when I reached Navajeevan, I found two new boys, Akbar and Ahmed. They had run away from their Madarasa and were keen on going back to their parents in Kharagpur, West Bengal. In the afternoon I sent two staff members to the Madarasa where they boys said they ran away from. The staff couldn't locate any such hostel at the place mentioned by the boys. Then in the evening, I asked them to call up the home mobile number the boys gave, just to assure the parents that their children are safe with us. The moment they heard news about their children there were shouts of joy and tears at the other end of the phone. It also turned out that they were just living here in Visakhapatnam itself. Within half an hour the parents and the children's uncle were at Navajeevan. After speaking to the staff they came to meet me. They were so grateful and happy to have their children back. The father could not move from the auto as he had a broken leg and a crippled hand. He broke down when I went to meet him on the road and assured him that his children were fine and that they could take them home without any formality or payment!!

One joy to negate all the negativities of the whole day's work and disappointments!

Darker nights but brighter stars

I spent the whole day in bed today!! Call it luxury or misery or both, I just couldn't help it. My whole head was like a big crude piece of lead weighing a ton!! Added to that my nose and throat were sore like hell. So for once I did not hesitate to swallow a tablet this afternoon. I just cannot afford to be down again tomorrow. So I guess God has His own ways of making me take medicine and not take pride in avoiding it.

And in the mail that I received from Fr Koshy this evening, this is what I found at the end of it...

The darkest stars have the brightest stars.

Prayer as a wheel

Prayer is not a spare wheel that you pull out when you are in trouble. Use it as a steering wheel, that keeps you on the right path throughout your life.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Human will vs circumstances

It has been raining since Friday afternoon (that's four days continuous) and there is no sign of any let down either. Everywhere there is water. Yesterday afternoon, I had the Israelites-Red Sea experience... nearly five times I had to get off my bike and push it through knee deep waters flowing across the road. Thank God, there were always some children or young people to assist people like me all along. If not, there is every possibility that due to the force of the flowing waters both the person and the bike would be carried away!

However what amuses me is the grit of people. Left to me, I'd just sit back in my room and 'enjoy' the rain (if I didn't have the inauguration of Sabbavaram coming up this weekend) - 'all the days of my life'! People outside too did the same... till Sunday. On Monday morning when the rain did not show any signs of leaving, people were out of their house, back to work!! How fast we get around (and over) situations and do not let them hamper our life, when it is a matter of survival and sustenance!

Overseeing and investment

Overseeing the construction work at Sabbavaram, has put me in a dilemma. The work is slow, unsteady, all in patches and nothing synchronised. What pains me most is the time and resources spent on that ... they no where match the outcome!! To make that match, 'someone' has to be there... constantly pulling the masons and others up, giving them directions and definite orders, making sure that deadlines are met and the quality of the whole structure is not compromised. That there is the contractor and a supervisor appointed by him is as good as saying that there is a tree behind the building! Nor am I saying anything new here. 'Someone' ought to be there in person. But my dilemma is, who is this 'someone'?

I remember hearing a couple of years ago that the JMJ Sisters have (had?) a Sister who was incharge of all the constructions in the Province. She had her own team of masons, carpenters, welders, suppliers and all that jing-bang and she would be there to make sure that the building being put up (a JMJ institution, of course) is near perfect. Can we too follow suit? But on the other hand, did we become religious for this? If not one among us, who then will feel the work as 'our' work and get things done right?

However there is another dimension of this whole process that is nagging me. Why at all spend so much on cement and bricks and paint? Why not invest it in people? Make use of existing structures or adapt our expertise and services in such a way that most of our energies is not spent on putting up buildings, in the first place, and the rest, in maintaining those... but on empowering people.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Forgetting Don Rua!

Well the day began and it ended... well just before it did, I was wished: "Happy Feast!!" I immediately looked up at the calendar before me to see what feast was it today. Finding none I asked what were the wishes for? "Of course, for Don Rua", came the reply. I said, "Oh, wow!! So it was his feast today... Oct. 29."

For a moment I felt guilty of having totally and absolutely forgotten about it all. Though talks and mails and animation materials and pictures of Don Rua were surfacing everywhere, that his feast day was today, completely skipped my mind. But I know Don Rua will not feel the least bad that I did not remember and wish him (not because he is dead and gone) but because, true to his spirit I spent the day wearing my **** off!! In the morning cleared up quite a few things in the office (including the whole mystery and solution about cooking gas and all related stuff), then rushed to meet the Archbishop. Thank God Fr KT was with me, or else I'd have been throw out of the first floor the moment I had uttered "Don Bosco Navajeevan". I guess the Bishop has not forgotten some of his bitter experiences of the past. Anyhow, that went on well and then came the drama in the bank. I had to withdraw a huge amount and neither was I the account holder nor the signatory nor the beneficiary. So the bank personnel had to do some cross checking till they were convinced that I was no conman!!

Had lunch at 2.30 pm and reached back to Kondadaba just in time when the Brothers began their mission sunday game. Evening prayer, supper, movie, paper correction... and to top it all the report on the Mission congress and the whole discussion with Fr Sojan for the Sabbavaram inauguration.

Now I don't have the least of guilt of having forgotten Don Rua on this special day! Anyway, just like you, dear Don Rua, am proud to be a Salesian!! Hope to be at least half of what you were - which led Don Bosco to trust you so much! That would be a great achievement ... "If I had just a few more of him, I'd win the world!"

About Don Rua

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Values, before and after!!

Yesterday's programme at Beach Blossom's was good... just as I planned and hoped it would be. It was meant to target those people who do not send their children to school. I got the crowd on the main road, just as I envisaged it would. I also kept the programme crisp and to the point - message laced with entertainment and not entertainment overriding the message. So when Gopi wanted to put up another dance after the planned programme was up (in exactly 35 mins) I refused. Later I heard another staff member explaining this to a collegue. "Brother did not want to distract people from the message already delivered or send out mixed signals. Hence he did not permit the performance of a film song." That was great consolation. If a lay staff could grasp that and explain it to another without my telling it, it means progress! Not only were values spoken of and enacted on stage, they were passed on even off it!

Differentiating Care and Protection from Formation

Everytime I come to Vizag and have to get back to Kondadaba, I end up with a different opinion about both the places!! At times, I feel that this work here in Vizag, with the 'street children' is difficult... not my cup of tea. The task at Kondadaba is more cut out and merely formal. Other times, I feel this is more meaningful and sensible but with its own hazards, which I fear I will not be able to really do justice to. One of those dilemmas was out in the light this evening during the staff meeting. With all my 'disciplinarianship' felt that study of the boys needs more focus and attention. But then this isn't a boarding!! But wait!! When most (95% of them) are not street children why then treat them so. But the question that came up during the discussion, what when we get new children, straight off the street. Our rigid timetables and organised structures would scare the wind out of them. And I immediately responded, that this timetable does not apply for them, at least for two weeks or more, till they start feeling at home here. I got to keep that in mind with the three boys who are new now to the Navajeevan. One of them is quite happy and cheerful to be with other boys. One just landed up from Bihar this morning, and to his bad luck he speaks only hindi and none of the other boys speak hindi. I'll have to keep an eye on him especially. Another one who had come from Mumbai the other day vanished the second day. Hope this fellow does not repeat history!

Making sense of DBNJ, Vizag

This evening I had called for the staff meeting of the Home staff. It was good that I did. Of course, there were more fireworks than real discussion or sharing of resources. But at least the difference were out in the open and I now know of some more things. However, there was some insightful sharing as well: regarding study, discipline, games, collaboration and efficiency of our work. I was happy that somethings which I intended to share were already proposed by them directly. That way, I didn't have to 'create' the ambience or the theme for discussion.

However, one thing that I wanted to bring out strongly was the need to make sure that we get boys to the home - either to their own home or our Home. Children do not belong to the street but the home, amidst the love and care of their loved ones. It is surprising that out of the 26 children here only 3 are really of the street. The rest are from families and here with us for education or upbringing. Hope with this pep talk and drawing up of a couple of plans for the weeks ahead, something concrete and meaningful emerges.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Proof of Divinity in religion

The fact that the Catholic Church has survived so many years of scandal and such degrees of insult, is a living proof that Christianity is more a religion of God than of man! It is true that not all the Priests and those who are to be role models are 'scoundrels' but not everyone is a saint either.

I think, perhaps we can say that of every religion.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Empowering others

What an apt quote from Zig Ziglar, to sum up the experience of the youth day:
The greatest good we can do for others is not just to share our riches with them, but to reveal theirs.
Click here for a couple of more quotes from Zig Ziglar. I am happy I also got a chance to personally meet the youth of several places. I still do not know why Sudhakar and Anthaiah got their youth group to me after the whole thing was over, but I'm glad they did. It gave me an opportunity to share with them something that has been gnawing me from within, especially about their village: helping them make a shift from dependence to independence through empowerment rather than mere charity.

Youth Day

Wow! What a day!! I sincerely thank God for this day... the Youth Day at St John's Kondadaba. I had great amount of anxiety and fear as to what would be the outcome of this one day animation programme for nearly 200 youth of the neighbouring villages and Parishes. What I literally feared was that I had taken upon myself the animation of the day - to be done in Telugu. I feared words would fail me. I feared, I would make a fool of myself. I feared it would be an utter fiasco. However, thanks to the inspiration from Frs KT and Wilson, and certainly a great amount of help from God above... I surprised myself (leave alone the Brothers)! Words, sentences and what not just flowed from my mouth... in Telugu. I know not how much of what I really wanted to say, reached them, but this I know, I did not once feel restricted or held up for want of appropriate words or proper use of language.

The youngsters too were fantastic.... lively, involved and ready to join in for all the learning. Another great difficulty I faced was the choice of animation themes. I really could not zero in on what exactly I wanted to share about. However, things fell in place more or less by last night... that too at 1 am in the morning (after I returned from the launch of the Evangelisation programme).

Rather than speak all the while, I made use of some powerpoint presentations, a couple of video clippings and plenty of games... all as part of the theme and as tools for drawing out a message. It did work out very well.

One of my greatest joys was to see the Youth Alive group members fully active and 'alive'. They indeed did their best in making the day a very memorable one for the youngsters - and in turn for themselves. They planned well, interested in doing many things with great finesse ... and did not resent being pushed to do their best! Satish, was the most interested of all.

A surprise for me was that he quoted one of my goodnight thoughts for the young people... that of being men who can move others to a better life. Thanks to him and his acknowledgment of my impact on his life! All in all, a great day! A detailed report can me read here.

Thank you, Lord!

Friday, 22 October 2010

Preparing for the youth day

For the past two days I've been busy trying to put my thoughts together for an animation programme for the youth (nearly 250 of them) who would be with us for a day on this Sunday (October 24, 2010). I was - perhaps, still am - in a dilemma as to what to project, what to say, what game to conduct, which song to sing, what theme to discuss....! I found myself collecting things without having a clear ideas as to what I ultimately want to communicate. I found that very foolish... saying things without knowing what exactly is that I want to communicate. I think the Brothers methodology for their research papers is contagious!!

Anyway, I was able to pull myself up today (tonight, rather) and have some rhyme and rhythm in my animation. I now feel I've something worth and precise to communicate, rather than 'something'. I wish to basically get the young people to think and act with a passionate zeal to bring about a change, atleast/beginning in themselves. That young people are the light of the world.

Easy money and earned money

These days I've been dealing with a lot of money... mostly currency notes of 1000 and 500. However I realised that constantly dealing with huge sums makes one callous or not really grounded. To a lady needing to undergo a MRI scan, she has to think MUCH!! Not because she has to decide if she needs to undergo the scan or not, but whether she can afford to pay the Rs 7000 bill that will land up in her hand after the scan. On the other hand, I would not hesitate perhaps to spend that amount of money for a confrere who has to undergo some test... or even on myself. After all the amount is there to spend. But for that lady, Rs 7000 is the earnings of two full months of hard labour.

I have the money in hand, but am not in touch with economics. I have it and I spend it. When that what I have in hand is over, I'll ask for more and it's be given. The monthly wage earner does not have money in hand, but would calculate each and every pie that he or she has to part with. He or she knows that if all that is in hand is spent, there has to be another couple of months of hard labour to replace that amount... and in the meantime what about daily bread and the regular stack of bills?!!!

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Of determination and fight...

Speaking about determination and will power to keep on at something, even amidst trials, tribulations, doubts, discouragement, anxiety and fear, here is something that I came across:
It doesn't really matter about the size of the dog in the fight;
what really matters is the amount of fight in the dog.

Inspiration and motivation

Here is an inspirational video about one who did not believe in giving up, in spite of loss and pain. Nick Vujicic is one who inspires people ... without his hands and limbs.
Motivation gets you through the day, but inspiration lasts a lifetime.

Attraction and distraction

Last night I was at Navajeevan, Vizag and I spent sometime with the boys as they were in the study. Prior to that I had reviewed and signed their progress report cards. Some of them had done well while a couple of them had maintained their 'failed' track record. So when I was in the study with them, I looked out for those who had their progress cards marked red. There was one, Venkatesh by name, who was sitting right next to me. Every time I looked up to see them, I found him distracted - or rather 'attracted' by everything except the book before him. So when it was time for supper, he was still with the same page that he began with, an hour ago. The only reason pages were turned, was because of the breeze of the fan!

I thought to myself, most probably very many of our Brothers too would have been so in their early years of school and study. Hence now, even if they are to sit hours in the study hall or the library, lost in books, they are not really studying. Everything else is attractive, except the book in hand. Cannot call it a distraction too because, it can be so called only when one begins to study (in earnest) and then the attention is diverted. Herein, the attention was never on the study material before oneself!

Monday, 18 October 2010

Rephrased fourth Commandment

It has been one of those crazy days when you really do not know what is happening to you and what you are doing or what you will have to do next! Anyway, a good bath in the evening was refreshing.

Fr KT in his goodnight made a nice point when he rephrased the fourth commandment (Honour your father and mother): Love those who take care of you.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Vocation and Vocation Promotion

I put down here a very striking reflection shared by Fr Joe Mannath about vocation and vocation promotion. It is very much in line with the GC 26 documents which we were discussing during our PC7. ... and which we failed to understand (as is the case mostly)!
Just because someone joins the seminary or the novitiate, that does not mean that he/she is called to that form of life. Vocation (in contrast to the use a number of priests and religious make of the word) is something everyone has. My father and mother have a vocation - and a holy one at that - just as I have. Vocation promotion, if genuine, consists in helping a person to choose before God that path in life where he/she will do God's will best. Or, in simple words, that path is my vocation, where I will be more loving and happier, more true to the spirit and example of Jesus. For most people the right setting is marriage; it can help me to become a true disciple of Christ. What matters is to do God's will and live a holy life, not which group I belong to.

If I forget this, or if I am more interested in the size or the survival of my group (religious order or diocese) than in what a young person is called to, then I will try to keep people in the seminary or religious life, without bothering about whether he/she seems to be really suited to this walk of life. ... A higher number of candidates need not mean more vocations. People may be getting in (and staying in) for the wrong reasons - side by side with those who are joining and staying for very genuine reasons. We must not forget that there are many 'vocations' in the Church - not just priesthood or celibate religious life.

Priesthood: reality vs rhetoric

I read a paper by Fr Joe Mannath on Priesthood and formation (you can download it from the national Salesian website here). It was great! He clearly dissects reality from the rhetoric and pin points some of the grave drawbacks of our formative processes and whole idea of Priesthood itself. I list some of the most important (in fact while reading the printed text, I had a pencil in hand to underline the important aspects, but then I ended up underlining the whole paper - then it struck me that I was reading Fr Mannath!!)
  • For most of the young men coming into the seminary, the change of life style is towards affluence. Add to this fact, the undeniable truth that the seminaries are becoming refuge of the mediocre, of persons who cannot succeed in the tough, competitive world outside.
  • Just because someone joins the seminary does not mean he is called to be Priest. Vocation is something everyone has. Vocation is basically a path where I will be more loving and happier, more true to the spirit and example of Jesus. We must not forget that there are many 'vocations' in the Church - not just Priesthood or celibate religious life.
  • Perseverance in doing God's will is essential; this is not the same as staying in the seminary. There can be good and holy reasons for leaving, just as there are for staying.
  • People basically expect a Priest to be a 'man of God' (this does not mean he is only a liturgist). It is dimension which permeates all areas of one's life.
  • Formation depends 70 percent on the candidate, 20 percent on the staff and 10 percent on the programme. There is no way we can 'produce' good Priests or make sure that a candidate grows into a sincere, dedicated, God-centred, compassionate and effective apostle.
  • Most of the Priests, Bishops and Seminarians have a feudal mentality, where privilege and distance mark their style more than pastoral ministry.
  • To have studied abroad or specialisation in a particular field should not be the sole or even the main criterion of appointing persons as formators.
  • Spirituality and social commitment are not 'dangers' to each other. They support each other. No Priest can ever be totally detached from a social involvement, nor can he avoid being a person of prayer.
  • The family is first formation house. Most of our formation is over by the time we join the seminary!


Today's liturgical readings, call us to focus our attention on prayer. It is something all of us 'think' we know until we are really caught up with something and no word escapes our lips or our mind is too busy to think of anything but a prayer. Fr KT in his sermon, said a beautiful thing: one of the basic and primary requirement of prayer is the ability to listen in humility. This is followed by an adequate and appropriate response to that listening. With most of us the difficulty is basically the first part: to listen with humility. We'd prefer to do the talking and others - even God - to listen. Perhaps then what we say or do, (or do not say or do not do) is a 'blackmail' or a 'demand'... not a prayer.

So what's the purpose of a prayer? Not that God or the other changes, but that I have a better capacity to understand what is going on and have the courage to do it or fight it. Prayer then, is not for something merely I want, but for grace enough to do what is rightful and just. It is an occasion to acknowledge that I can always ask for help (irrespective of whether the help arrives or not, or in the way or time, I want it or not)... a reminder that there is someone other than me who is there and also willing to help.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Life towards transformation

A quote I heard somewhere just a couple of days ago... it speaks of life and the whole process one goes through to make it meaningful:
Life is a journey - more towards a transformation than a destination.

Thanks to all who helped!

This evening I saw off my parents at the railway station. It was a hectic time for the past three days. Though hectic and a bit tiring, I feel glad that they (especially Mummy) have no more any crazy ideas about my health and my well being. I know that this was not the perfect timing for a relaxed and peaceful time to be with one's family, but as I told the Beach Blossom and Trade Centre staff, 'if we await for the perfect time to take off, we may be never take off at all'! Anyway, I am happy that they were here. I wish to spend some time reflecting on the time I spent with them in the coming days.

And once again, thanks to the many who went out of their way to help and be of great assistance in every way possible, especially Fr KT and Fr Rinoy! They did have a pleasant time!

Chris and 'his' world

Yesterday evening we went out to Vizag (after a failed attempt to board a packed train to Araku in the morning) after lunch. We had a look at Kailasgiri from the jeep, as it was raining - that too after paying Rs 40 for the entrance! The submarine was something all of us liked and appreciated. The we spent sometime at the beach, where Mummy all the while was issuing warnings of not stepping in the water. All the same it was good. The best was once again, Chris! We were all keen on showing him the new, big, solemn and great things of Vizag and all he was interested in watching was the crow (on the mighty elephant statue), the ant on the mirror (while we were showing him the sea!), the thread by which the bell was hanging, rather than the bell and its noise... He was enjoying a world totally his own.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Castilino's at Kondadaba

It was good to spend the day with my people from home. I picked them up at the station this morning and it was a relaxed schedule. No big hurry to reach this place or catch that bus to see another place or anything of that sort. Just came home, ate b'fast, saw around the seminary, ate lunch, had a relaxed chat with them after lunch, visited the Parish after tea and then had a short evening prayer by ourselves before we went for supper and then another round of chit-chat. Of course, the centre of attention and discussion was Chris, my nephew! He really enlivens home. He has grown much and looks really cute. I was happy to see him most comfortable with Mummy. (Here he is in the kitchen, his favourite part of the house!)

I also have to appreciate Frs KT and Rinoy for their hospitality, even though today is Rinoy's b'day and KT has a hell of works to see to. They always had time to spare to take them around, talk to them, make them feel at home. Thanks to such loving and supportive confreres. The Brothers too did their best in making them feel at home.

I was only wondering if I was fully present in the 'now'. I know there are quite a few things which I have to see to. But by being anxious or tensed about them while being with my parents, helps nothing or no one. So, I guess I better concentrate on my people tomorrow and take on the rest of the matters later.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Priesthood vs Priest craft

Fr Maliekal's sermon this morning was quite challenging: to decide between priesthood and priest craft. Most often the priestly garb - and life, as a whole - is 'utilised' for a purpose, mostly for something as silly and mean as a special chair during festivities, rather than lived truly... like the Pharisees and lawyers of today's Gospel... (Luke 11: 42-46) who are 'hurt' at Jesus' words and then Jesus rubs salt on to their wounds. Our vocation to religious life and Priesthood is something that is carried on our sleeves rather than in our heart. It goes to our head (literally) but does not come out in our words and acts of charity.

I like this passage because I very well understand the position of Jesus and that of the Pharisees and lawyers too, who are at the receiving end of Jesus' wrath. How and why? Just come to Kondadaba and you'll see it practically being enacted every other day!!

Lessons on gratitude

Last night a thought crossed my mind. Two days ago, I had arranged for the distribution of the prizes for the first semester. Those who helped me pack the prizes were surprised at the quality and quantity of them. They said, 'this is too much!'. Yet, I did not cut back on the list. But what surprises me is that none - not even one among the 83 Brothers - who received the prizes came and said a word of thanks! Neither to the administrator who financed it, nor to me who facilitated it.

As I thought about this, I was wondering if I need to point it out to the Brothers... just as a help to grow in the art of gratitude and acknowledging the good being done (even if it comes from someone not appreciated!). But somehow I could not find sufficient rationale to point out this to them.

And today, here's a note from Fr Ivo's blog ... all about expecting gratitude. And I quote something that struck me from therein...
George Kollashany in a Goodnight long ago on the street boys ministry: Those for whom we have done least by way of material benefits are the most grateful. It seems that what they appreciate most is the fact that we have treated them as equals. Often we forget this when we bring these boys into our institutions.
The key to this dilemma then is not whether to expect gratitude or not, but to ask oneself with what attitude was that kind act done. If done for gratitude, then it loses its merit of being a 'kind act' and if done without expecting gratitude, then whether someone thanks or not makes no difference. I hope I'm right with that.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Circumstances or Convictions

There are different ways of living one's life. Some live according to circumstances and some by convictions. I was thinking as to which of this life style is the most appropriate. Sometimes I think we need a neat combination of both. But a life of conviction is surely the most difficult of all. That's for sure...!

Jesus, as the carpenter

One very amusing distraction just about when the recollection talk began this evening...
Was Jesus the best carpenter in Nazareth in his days??

I wonder....! Because I remember a while ago, someone sent me an email of a 'mysterious' person making a splendid stairway in a convent chapel (read more of it here). Though it said to have been done by St Joseph, but I guess, being 'his son' Jesus too would have learnt the trade.

A shallow talk

This evening's recollection talk was a real test of patience. I was reminded of another Priest whose sermons were a riot, literally a laughing riot, a couple of years ago. Well, at least today's preacher was serious about what he was saying. However, it surprises me as to how people, especially Priests after so many years of formation and learning, act so fickle and cheap.

The worst was when he was parading his ignorance and thanking the Lord for delivering him in the last minute in the exams! What an inspiration, that too when we on the staff here are driving the Brothers to sweat it out in the class and study hours. The Brothers, simple and gullible that they are, will be the first to fall for such dreamy ideas about prayer and spirituality!

Monday, 11 October 2010

Salesian Brotherhood and search for identity

This evening after supper, I had an interesting conversation with Fr Maliekal. It was concerning the Salesian Brothers at Karunapuram and their whole quest for identity. When Fr Maliekal began the conversation asking my opinion as to how to help them find this 'identity', I laughed out aloud and when he further said that he was feeling the pressure of 'creating this identity' for them, I couldn't stop laughing. I explained to him in just one sentence: identity is never formed in isolation but carved out from relationship. The Brothers at Karunapuram want to clarify what exactly is their 'brotherly identity' then they ought to mix and intermingle with the clerics. Never in isolation and separation will there be an identity created. The more we call for separation and division, the greater chasm we create between these two forms of living the one Salesian vocation.

As someone rightly said, had the superiors sent me to Karunapuram as coordinator of the Brothers, I would be thrown out of the place within a month and that too because of orders straight from Rome!! According to me, the whole idea of 'creating an identity' for Brothers in contrast to that of the clerics, is a 'Roman' idea, which is really very detrimental to the whole Salesian congregation ... now that's my personal opinion and conviction. Doing things separately, living separately and acting separately (as though always on the look out never to let anything match with that of the clerics) in no way gives anyone any identity. It is formed in the concrete living out of the vocation in a context... aided by convictions and principles.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Riding two boats at a time

It's been almost a week since I've been handling both Kondadaba's chair as Dean and that of Navajeevan in Vizag. I realise it is getting harder and harder by the day. Things here at Navajeevan do not seem as simple as they appear. I am yet to know the names of the boys here at home!! Caught up with the administration and the other 'idiotic' things, the real purpose of the whole work - the boys - are perhaps the last one's to be reached to. Anyway, I really do not know how best to do justice to this task... and of course, the other at Kondadaba too! I really feel like I'm trying to paddle two boats at the same time.

Formation vs Street kids apostolate

Working with street children and seminarians is almost the same, except for the difference that the young at risk, know that you have no other agenda with them besides their welfare, while the seminarians have only their future as the only goal. That you happend to be there is their only problem. The street kids know that you do not mean anything bad for them and even if they are 'angry' with you for a while, they soon come around. Not so, with the seminarians.
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