Wednesday, 23 February 2011

At Karunapuram

I returned this morning from Karunapuram... gratefully on time for the defence of the Brothers here. The defence of the Brothers there went on well. Even before I reached back to Kondadaba this morning, the news that I 'butchered' a couple of them there preceded me! Anyway, good for everyone.

It was nice being at Karunapuram this time. I had a very relaxed time. Unlike previous visits, this one was a 'green one' - optimistic and literally too (gardens and vegetables, are plenty). The atmosphere in the community too was very charged, I don't know why. Perhaps being the fag end of the exams, the Brothers were all excited and happy. Anyway, it was good.

I also got a chance to address the Salesian Brothers, eight of them, on Monday evening. I shared with them the same opinions and views I shared with the Salesians at DBRC, Bangalore two years ago. Half of them were quite open to my sharing and I could see that it meant something for them. The other half, as far as I could read from their faces, did not understand anything of what I was saying. They seemed to be already bored of conferences, by every Tom, Dick and Harry passing through Karunapuram.

I also had a relaxed chat with all the staff there, Frs KS, CJ, TV and even Br Lawrence. From all this sharing and exchange of ideas, I realise the situation (that of formation process) is no better there than it is here.

Evaluating myself

For the past few days I've been wondering about something... especially in the light of the conclusion of the year that was. It's more about myself and the style with which I went about in the Seminary. An introspection is always helpful.

The Brothers always see no fault of theirs... their fingers are eternally pointed out to the staff (not even to their own companions). How different am I in this respect? In my zeal to emphasize the good or ideal am I always putting down the Brothers and establishing myself as the only upright figure? Am I always harping on their faults while turning a blind eye to my own mistakes?

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

On friendship

My goodnight today was on the theme of friendship. I used the healing of the paralytic in Luke 5 as the backdrop for my reflection. Whom do we normally have as friends? Those amidst whom we feel comfortable, those good to us, those who will stand by us and the like... But do we really have friends who will help us grow... Challenge and bring out the best in us?

Will those whom I count on as friends stand by me for what I believe and have to offer them rather than out of pity or cheap solace? Will they have the courage to lead me to Jesus when I by myself am unable or am going astray?

Above all, am I that kind of friend to others?

Exam comedy

Today I sat for the Modern Western Philosophy exam for the second course. On the whole, it was better than I expected. Good to see that they put much effort. Surely when their end is on fire, the smoke has to emanate!! However, some of them, present ideas as though they are reading the newspaper headlines... just bits and pieces, with no connection, either in spoken word nor in thought!

However, here is the best answer of the day:
What were the major events that helped the Renaissance in heralding a new age?
The invention of the monitor!
What monitor?
No, sorry Brother, that one... (after a while of thought) the typewriter!
(It is supposed to be the printing press)!

Monday, 14 February 2011

Price of a Miracle

Tess was eight years old when she heard her Mom and Dad talking about her little brother, Andrew. All she knew was that he was very sick and they were completely out of money. They were moving to an apartment complex next month because Daddy didn't have the money for both the doctor bills and for the house payment.

Only a very costly surgery could save her brother now and it was looking like there was no one to loan them the money. She heard her Dad say to her Mom, "Only a miracle can save him now."

Tess went to her bedroom and pulled a glass jelly jar from its hiding place in the closet. She poured all the change out on the floor and counted it carefully. She counted it three times. The total had to be exactly perfect. No chance here for mistakes. Carefully placing the coins back in the jar and twisting on the cap, she slipped out the back door and made her way 6 blocks to Rexall's Drug Store with the big red Indian Chief sign above the door.

Tess waited patiently for the pharmacist to give her some attention but he was too intently talking to another man to be bothered by an eight year old at this moment. She twisted her feet to make a scuffing noise.


She cleared her throat with the most disgusting sound she could muster. No good. Finally she took a quarter from her jar and banged it on the glass counter. That did it!

"And what do you want?" the pharmacist asked in an annoyed tone of voice. "I'm talking to my brother from Chicago whom I haven't seen in ages," he said without waiting for a reply to his question.

"Well, I want to talk to you about my brother," Tess answered back in the same annoyed tone. "He's really, really sick, and I want to buy a miracle."

"I beg your pardon?" said the pharmacist.

"His name is Andrew and he has something bad growing inside his head and my Daddy says only a miracle can save him now. So, how much does a miracle cost?"

"We don't sell miracles here, little girl. I'm sorry but I can't help you," the pharmacist said, softening a little.

"Listen, I have the money to pay for it. If it isn't enough, I will get the rest. Just tell me how much it costs."

The pharmacist's brother stooped down and asked the little girl, "What kind of a miracle does you brother need?"

"I don't know," Tess replied with her eyes welling up. "I just know he's really sick and Mommy says he needs an operation, but my Daddy can't pay for it, so I want to use my money.

"How much do you have?" asked the pharmacist's brother.

"One dollar and eleven cents," Tess answered barely audible. "And it's all the money I have, but I can get some more if I need to."

"Well, what a coincidence," smiled the man. "A dollar and eleven cents...the exact price of a miracle for little brothers." Then he said "Take me to where you live. I want to see your brother and meet your parents. Let's see if I have the kind of miracle you need."

The pharmacist's brother was Dr. Carlton Armstrong, a surgeon from Chicago who specialized in neuro-surgery. The operation was completed without charge and it wasn't long until Andrew was home again and doing well. Later, mom and dad were talking about the chain of events that had led them to this.

Her mom said, "That surgery was a real miracle. I wonder how much it would have cost?" Tess smiled. She knew exactly how much a miracle dollar and eleven cents.

Exam bloomers 2

Here's the best one of the day:
Q: What are the 7 deadly sins?
A: (the right answer)
Q: How many of these should a Priest have?
A: (after a while of careful thought) At least one.
Q: Which one?
A: Lust!

Exam bloomers

Here's a fresh one from Fr KT's Scripture oral exam this day:
Q: What is the Passover?
A: The passing over.
Q: Of what?
A: Of the Jews over unleavened bread.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Seasoning love with firmness

We have reached the fag end of the academic year and I know very well that quite a few of the Brothers have a lot of grudge against me for being 'cruel' and 'strict' with them. However, none can accuse me of being partial or having favoured some above the rest. So in that sense, most of them feel I have been quite hard on them. And indeed I have been!

This evening as I spent the adoration thanking the Lord for all that He has done for me, I asked him how did He manage the vast majority of people whom He encountered during his life time here on earth? Especially those who detested the very sight of him? I 'know' that He loved them too. But surely He did not expect to change everyone with his 'love' knowing too well that He would not be around for eternity, waiting for love to change the hearts of people. He just had three years of public life ... and yet He loved!

Perhaps His primary force was love but expressed in different forms: a stern look at Peter in Gethsamene, a smile to a mob victim, silent presence with a sinner, the crack of a whip in the 'market' temple, an extended hand to a paralytic, a gentle touch to the leper... So I ask myself, have I really loved the Brothers or have I only been a task master, exacting from them their best just for the sake of it, duty for duty sake?

Generosity as a virtue

The other day when the gospel was about the multiplication of bread and fish, Fr Wilson had preached a very appropriate sermon on generosity as the foundation of such miracles and God's intervention points. Citing the example of one who had the seven loaves of bread, Fr Wilson said that he did not hesitate in making these available to the Lord. He surely did not know that the Lord was up to. Neither did he calculate and see how these 7 loaves would suffice the thousands, nor how much he would get out of it... he just gave it all. Fr Wilson was very right in saying that one of the essential characteristics of a consecrated is to be generous to others. It does not matter how much you give but with what attitude and how much of joy and willingness you give.

However, something was troubling me about this whole idea since yesterday. I felt something was missing in this whole understanding when contextualised to our situation here. This evening I realised what it was when the third course leader approached me to 'inform' me about their 'decision' to sponsor icecream and some statue(s) to the community as an act of appreciation and thanksgiving. To an outsider (or even the community members here) it may sound as a genuine act of generosity... but not to me. For me it is an insult and a sin. Their generosity was not theirs! They are offering to the community what is not theirs to offer. How can I offer to others what is not mine and claim to be generous? I know very well that most of them have hardly enough money to sustain their own personal expenses. In such a situation to pool together and spend huge amounts is in no way justified... even if it has been donated to them by some senior Priests or well wishers.

Being generous is indeed a virtue when it is joyful, whole-hearted and sincerely your own to offer. The joy in offering something to someone comes not just because the other is helped but because it is out of your sweat and blood that you are making a sacrifice for that person.

Bygone days

Fr Babu Rao was here from Nellore (Sulurpet) with us since yesterday evening. He joined us for the wedding of Laxmi and was quite at home here. He belonged to one of the first batches of this Seminary. It was during his second year that the Salesians took over the management of the Seminary from the Diocesans.

I had met him earlier in Sulurpet when I joined the Provincial council on its visit to inspect a place in an SEZ. It was a request to take charge of a school in that special zone. Fr Babu Rao had hosted us for lunch one afternoon. He came across to me as a very sincere and jovial person. Today too he was very down to earth, no airs or big demands. He went about chatting and talking to all with a simple smile and a kind word. Nice to have met him again.

During our journey from Vizag last night, he was narrating some of the incidents that took place during his student days at Kondadaba. The best was the one when Brothers, in those days, sneaked out in the afternoon to the theatre after the petrol bunk in Kothavalasa. On one such afternoon, an old parishoners, a devout Catholic woman, met the Brothers just outside the theatre. The Brothers having purchased the ticket were about to enter the hall when she recognised them and there and then she knelt before them seeking their blessings! The Brothers did not know which way to look!

God as rubber

One of the many bloomers in the papers that I am correcting these days:
Human Being without God is like a ship without a RUBBER (supposed to be 'rudder').
But I suppose God will understand!

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Laxmi's marriage

I am just back after the wedding of Laxmi, our kitchen staff. The hindu marriage rite was interesting: the ceremonies, rites, rituals, giving, taking, going around, use of rice, cloth, clothes, bananas, water, turmeric, colour powder, and not to be left out, confetti and spray too! Tradition going hi-tech! Laxmi too was very happy to see us present for the occasion. Moreover, there was hardly anyone from her village. Just Kasi, Edulamma, an elderly couple and a youngster. Not even her nearest of kin were present for the solemn occasion. So I am happy I went ... just for her to feel that there are someone for her too.

The climax of the marriage was the interesting fight that almost erupted and imagine who was in the thick of it? The pujari (priest) conducting the marriage himself!! Oh boy, it was a sight to see him boiling with anger and flexing his muscles at a comment someone made. Luckily they drew away the 'other contender'. Anyway, the marriage ceremony went on well. Hope her life too will sail smooth and happy for her.

Feeding of the four thousand

The gospel of this morning, the feeding of the four thousand, caused some new insights to spring up in me. After the gospel was read out, I said to myself, if only this miracle were to have been worked here around Kondadaba, there surely would have been a big difference: there would never have been any leftovers!

Friday, 11 February 2011

SJRS, Kondadaba 2010-2011

So at last, before we conclude the year, we had ourselves clicked as one community. Hopefully no one is missing! Well so here we are all 87 of us (83 students and 4 staff members). All of us with the kurtas look elegant and stand out wherever we go. In that way, it really helps as an identity for the Brothers, especially when they go to the Parish or for ministry to the other Parishes or neighbouring villages.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

To pay or pray?

The children and young people who are helped by the educational support by Fr Zuffetti and the Seminary here, are in thousands. Though the help offered is only for a few, the same amount is generously distributed to hundreds facilitating their education. However this year Fr KT has been asking the parents too to take an active role in the education of their children... at least by way of meeting him with their children when collecting the sponsorship amount or the books. That he is asking for accountability and responsibility from their part is indeed a great step ahead. Rather than just dole out what we have, making them (parents and children) put in their enthusiasm and spirit too is equally (if not more) essential.

However, the Parish Priest has long since been making a very vehement protest. That Catholics who receive the help are the first ones to turn back and spit on the Church. Most of them hardly come to Church and what's more, take up activities against the Church, all this while claiming to be 'Catholics'. Now whether these Catholics need to abide by their faith in order to avail of this sponsorship is the question.

According to me those who are serious about education and are willing to 'pay it forward' should be helped. The rest need to be prayed for, not paid for! As for the question of Catholics (or lapsed Catholics), the same principle applies. And as far as I see, one who is serious about education, in these areas, where education is provided chiefly by Catholic institutions, one will not turn his/her back on the Church.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Karl Marx in the Parish

Today was the last class of the academic year. I had the last hour with the second years and was to complete the philosophy of Karl Marx. Yesterday itself, Manikyam had volunteered to read out his short biography (just about 200 words only) . So I let him read out aloud the handout about his life and works. It was a massacre of words, language and Marx himself. Here is only an except of his explanation of what he read for the class:
Karl Marx while going to the Parish (supposed to be Paris) with his wife, met Fredreich Angel (Engels) and then together they decided to write the Communist Manifesto.
God save Philosophy, the Church and of course, Marx... from the likes of Manikyam!

Lead kindly light

Reflecting about my own life, my personal inner self, I ask myself what is it that I am really made up of? What is it that I am serious about in life? Perhaps I can with certain pride as well as humility claim INTEGRITY as something that I prize most. And for something that I'd like to grow in: discerning and aligning my own will to that of God's will.

I loved to choose and see my path,
but now, lead Thou me on.
[Lead kindly light...]

Being clean from the inside

Fr Wilson was passionate in his exhortation/appeal this morning during the sermon to be clean from the inside rather than be perfectly contented with a neat external mask. He challenged the Brothers to focus on the essential aspects of life than be carried away by mere externals and peripherals. I know that he had long been 'itching' with this idea since many of the Brothers have this concept that a good Priest is merely one who can preach a fantastic sermon for one hour... and if possible, sing the Mass too. In life, he may be a scoundrel or a bigger fraud than all the Indian politicians put together... but that is all fine! He may be a womaniser... no problem. As long as he can preach, he is an excellent Priest.

Words, deeds and attitudes may run parallel but the grandeur of the 'show' makes up for everything and anything missing.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Thanks, Laxmi

This afternoon we had a short felicitation gathering for Lakshmi, one of our cooks, as today was her last working day. She is getting married this weekend on February 12, 2011. The Brothers had collected some money which was handed to her by the course leaders and on behalf of them all, Naveen spoke a few words. I always thought there would be none worse than me for a Telugu speech... but after hearing Naveen, I feel proud! Anyway, Fr Devadas too appreciated her six year long service to the community and wished her well on our behalf. Asked to speak, I thought Lakshmi wouldn't, but she did stand up. After a couple of moments of silence, she blurted, "All are looking at me!!" Everyone burst out laughing. She then spoke just two sentences, and we were all in tears.
I do not have parents. All I know is Fr (pointing at Fr KT Jose, the Rector) as my father and Annapoornamma (another senior cook) as my mother. These two friends (pointing and Kasi and Yedulamma) of mine looked after me as their own younger sister. You all (referring to the Brothers) are my brothers. I am eternally indebted to you all!
She could not continue any more. Neither did we want to embarrass her further. We concluded with a prayer.

For an orphan, uneducated and typically rural girl to stand up before a group of 90 young men and speak with such meaning and depth, there has to be a driving force. It was surely her sincere commitment to her job and her confidence that this was her family.

God bless her!

Running around for a bike

Since two days I've been trying to track and get the guy who sold us the bike to complete the registration process of the same, with no much progress. Yesterday afternoon though I managed to catch him in his own showroom and got an important document related to the registration process. It was just one form with a couple of details to be filled in... just that! For that he made us run about for more than a month. And he promised (like always) that this morning he would complete the process. When I reached there this morning with Satyam and Laxmi, he was not there. And the best part: the showroom, from today, has been handed over to another person! To try to go by ourselves and get it done would mean another process altogether. Anyway, I just don't understand why some have to nag and delay people for no reason. If any serious reason, he could very well state it and excuse himself. This is sheer lethargy and negligence. I wonder how such people managed to run a business.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Searching for faith

As I sat for meditation this morning, half sleeping, half meditating, I asked myself why do crowds come for a feast. Well, the answer is to partake in the feast, obviously. But there is hardly any piety or devotion anywhere or at anytime during the feast! I think most come because they want to keep up a tradition, some come convinced that they can get all that they want, if only they pay a visit to the pilgrim centre that day, others pour in for business, some combine the pilgrimage with an outing, and quite a few come because others are coming!

To sieve faith and devotion amidst all this confusion is really an act of faith. It may be true that it is faith that leads them here, but there is hardly anything that strengthens faith on the day... besides the thousands and thousands of people. (It may be the strengthening of the community dimension of faith but isn't it also a show of number?)

Nevertheless, I suppose God and Mother Mary have their way of seeing things!

Feast of Our... Sorrows!

The day before yesterday's night was a big drama! I had almost decided to go to bed as I knew Brothers would not sleep the night and stay on guard. But then when I saw that they were not really able to handle the crowd I stayed up. Then just before mid-night when the hooliganism of the drunk youngsters did not diminish a bit, I took things up in my hand and literally threw out three youngsters on to the main road. I was furious and some of the Brothers with me that night too were frightened. The next phase of the drama began at two in the morning when some more drunkards wanted to enter in. To add to their drunken pleas was a woman who wanted to get her children who were inside (we had closed the gates by 11 pm). Together they wanted the gates to be opened and they let in. And they created quite a bit of ruckus. Anyhow, we managed that too. Then at 4 am some more wanted to come in and have a bath and wash and what not. I did not permit for the place was already full and overflowing. I let them wait and only when those who were up early and finished their wash and bath began to leave, did I let them come in, that too in limited numbers. Whew! What a night!

It was supposed to be the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, by the way!

Saturday, 5 February 2011

The Parish Feast

The Parish feast is on. The Brothers are on patrol all over the place and quite a few of the people are giving them a hard time. Well, it is all part of the learning. What they do when we, the staff, are around, they are getting it hard and tight from others. But they are good guys, they'll do well. Going around the house, which is now filled with more than one thousand people, one gets to see all sorts of 'species'. Youngsters are the most strangest lot: some with their lips pierced, others with all sorts of hair dye, quite a few of them with their pants hanging on the last curve of their hip... A while ago I took a walk till the Shrine, just to see how things are. Along the many shops, stalls and tents, everyone has some place or the other. And of course, the highest number of people (men) are near the liquor shop. Most of the men folk have certainly had a packet or a bottle. Just a walk amidst them while suffice to feel the 'spirit'.

Egypt's great patience

The political drama unfolding in Egypt is a great spectacle indeed. I just cannot imagine how come millions of people can hold a peaceful demonstration of protest. For everyone knows, that when such a large group gathers it only takes one fanatic or one idiotic statement or some inconsequential action to trigger an avalanche. Moreover such a large population cannot be moving in a particular direction for a particular reason with such unity without there being guiding forces behind the 'mob'. Whatever it be, I certainly appreciate the nerve of the people of Egypt for expressing their dissent in such a peaceful manner. It only shows that people can be disciplined and focussed on their goal even when angry and distressed.

Here is a nice image of the camp that toppled the President!

Kondadaba feast... preparations

The excitement and chaos (two words which can be very well summarised into the one word 'festivity') is slowly setting in. The feast of the Parish Shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows is tomorrow and today already the grand procession has been flagged off at Gnanapuram. By evening the whole place will be crowded and one will get to see every and all kinds of people. But it is also a great inspiration for growing in faith and trust. People with their simple but fervent faith put to shame us, religious and consecrated. Anyway, I just detest crowds and prefer to be in some peaceful quiet place... but this time, no escape!

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Early state of indigenous Churches

Another hard-hitting fact, about indigenous Churches and their origin, from the book The Gospel Among the Nations: A Documentary History of Inculturation:
A sense of their own superiority, rising educational standards in their home countries, an increasing emphasis on doctrinal purity and fear of syncretism, and even the prospect of losing their own sense of purpose led most missions and missionaries to keep indigenous churches in a state of dependence. Missions within colonial empires had become colonial missions within ecclesial empires.

[Hunt, Robert A. The Gospel Among the Nations: A Documentary History of Inculturation (New York: Orbis Books, 2010) 22.]

Imperialism and piracy

Another daring accusation the book levels against the early missionary tactics is that of partaking, if not directly but certainly, in the imperialism and piracy of colonialism.
Initially unable to participate directly in the looting of South and Central America, and controlling lands in North America with no obvious treasure hordes, the English and Dutch engage in piracy, which is the logical complement of imperialism in that it consists of simply looting another person's goods for the sake of wealth, power, and prestige. Similar patterns occured in Africa, India, Southeast Asia, and Asia. Where Europeans were able they conquered territory and removed whatever was of value for use in Europe. When they couldn't they stole from one another.

Missionaries were not unaware of the moral and practical implications of being so closely related to the colonial enterprise, ... but believed that the benefits of reaching non-Christians with the gospel outweighed the risks. ... Many missionaries, like the pioneer David Livingstone, embraced colonialism believing that "Christianity, Commerce, and Civilization" constituted a package that would "lift up" lives trapped in supposed darkness. ... they accepted the proposition that Western civilization and Christian faith represented what humankind needed. They rarely questioned whether the civilization they brought was a fitting expression of Christ's message, or colonialism a fit means of enacting it.
[Hunt, Robert A. The Gospel Among the Nations: A Documentary History of Inculturation (New York: Orbis Books, 2010) 21-22.]

Birth of administration

Yesterday I started reading a book on the roots of inculturation in the Church and was very surprised to see the book, chronicle the mission history of the Church in all its aspects, positive as well as negative. The Gospel Among the Nations: A Documentary History of Inculturation by Robert A. Hunt is virtually an encyclopedia of Church documents on mission and inculturation. But what I liked most of the book is its frank presentation of facts, quite a few of which are not so moral - or even Christian - but that's only retrospectively how we look at it. Those involved in the proclamation of the Gospel in its early days, went ahead thinking that what they did was the best.

I always kept wondering what could have been the root of this whole administration bit of it in the Church. This book offers a possible and quite convincing answer: When Europeans, convinced of sharing their personal faith through an individual witness, landed on the Asian soil, they found that personal faith made no sense to the people here. In most cultures, the European-style individualism simply did not exist. Hence early missionaries were pioneers in education, agriculture, development and creating small industries because these were both necessary to create an environment in which converts could survive, and because they helped fund the mission. This created tension as missionaries found themselves distracted from what they regarded as their primary evangelistic task in order to care for infrastructure development.

I guess that's how this whole process of 'administration' is today in indispensable element of religious life.

Man of principles

Fr Clive De Hurley, of happy memory, once wrote out a certificate for an ex-Seminarian. It ran thus:
This young man is a man of principles...
Then after a while added,
...crooked and well-rooted.

Seminary or Prison

One of the most coveted activities of the Brothers which they would not give up come what may, is their weekly shopping time: every Wednesday from 3.30 to 5.30 pm. Though some of us do not understand what they have to shop for, for two hours every week given that they have everything, literally everything they need already provided. Well, I was thinking to myself, that it is basically their desire to be out of the house 'into the world'. Left to themselves, they would like to spend as much time as possible outside the Seminary... but not leave the Seminary altogether. Perhaps they would not like to give up the security of the Seminary.

So I ask myself: What is the point of keeping the Brothers 'locked up' or 'safe and secure' within the confines of the Seminary, when their whole mind and heart is outside? So I would not mind having the Seminary too like a school. One stays at one's own place and comes to the Seminary everyday to pick up the skills and the necessary requirements of a consecrated vocation. This way only those really ... really keen on living a consecrated life would come forward. Now we have young people who want to straddle two boats at the same time.

Presentation of the Lord

Here's a nice poetic depiction of the feast of the day ... Presentation of the Lord in the temple:
Hail to the Lord who comes,
Comes to his temple gate,
Not with angel hosts,
Not in his kingly state;

But borne upon the throne
Of Mary's gentle breast;
Thus to his Father's house
He comes, a humble guest.
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