Sunday, 28 August 2011

Master of my choices: myself!

All the three readings of the day, I believe are the source of the following quotation of St Augustine:
God who created you without you, will not save you without you.
I really do not know in what context Augustine uses this statement but for me, it is a living testament of what God wants of me: my whole hearted cooperation and not just subservience or in other words, God lets me choose Him (with the inbuilt option of even rejecting Him).

The first reading begins thus:
You seduced me, O Lord, and I let myself be seduced.
Most often we get stuck to the first part of the quote. We say, "God you do what you want to do." It is never a willing conscious acceptance to work with God. It is a passive resignation to His will. It may do good, because God in His greatness can bring about wonders. But if only we add our two pence to it. If only we consciously make a choice and say, "God you do what you want to do with me because that is what I wish, that is what I'm happy to do." Then we see miracles being performed at every breath.

He floods me with a million options every moment of my life and in no way compels me to pick one of His choice - He only offers me advice and indicators. The choice is totally mine and mine alone. And the greatness of my God: He keeps offering me these choices no matter what. Even when I consciously do not opt for His suggestions, He is with me. That's why I love Him, adore Him and pray nothing but this: That I discern His will rightly and have the courage to follow it through, no matter what.

Goodness and Fidelity

Over the years I've most often heard past pupils of the Seminary rejoice and thank the community for having nurtured their talents and skills when they were pupils here. By 'talents and skills' what they mean is playing harmonium, singing, organising, playing basketball... I find myself facing this question: Is this the real thing that we taught them? Is there not anything further and deeper than this that we tried to imbibe in the students?

The sermon of Fr KT yesterday morning was quite refreshing in this light. He spoke of two necessary 'talents' in the stages of formation: goodness and fidelity. He questioned and challenged the Brothers to grow in these areas, develop these virtues: being able to discern what is good and strive for it; and once you're on the path, be faithful to it, come what may.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Sense of belonging & Commitment

The gospel of this morning (Mt 24: 42-51) which speaks of the faithful servant and the master and all that very well speaks of the need to be alert and prepared. However, something that it already implies directly prior to speaking about being prepared or alert is a sense of belonging. When the latter is present, one is always at home, ready and waiting. It is only when someone does not 'belong' to a place or group that one has to be ready for the 'real owner'. Fine, it is not necessary that I need to own a place or people to have a real sense of belonging. All that it requires is my decision to be part of it or not.

Consequentially, it goes without saying that to the extent I feel that I belong to a particular place or people, will be the degree of my commitment to the same.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Altar as the fort

Looking at some of the Brothers who take 'refuge' in 'spirituality' and 'piety' and desist and resist anything challenging, I realise that they treat Priesthood as some sort of safe heaven where they will be looked after. The altar is some sort of fort, which once they scale and get in they are protected. The cassock is some sort of a license which grants them easy access to things, places and people which otherwise will be impossible or out of their reach. Hence their whole focus is on 'prayer' - words alone. The living out of that prayer in day to day life, in communion with others is 'not prayer'. So someone being poor is promised prayers but not a tangible means of getting out of that poverty. Someone struggling with living a life of dignity and justice is sympathised with but not empowered. Now, the latter calls for an involvement, a commitment, a dedication beyond and more risky than mere goody-goody prayers or the Church premises/timings. It calls for an action, over and above the pulpit sermon and time.

Jesus did that all the time. He also got into trouble just because of this. If we claim to be His disciples how then can we not risk, if not our everything, at least something to see that our prayer does not merely remain 'on our lips'. That our hands, mind and heart too join in the prayer. That rather than use the altar, cassock and Priesthood/religious life as a fort, a shield or a castle for our personal safety, as a means of service.

Youth to the fore

Yesterday we had our annual Youth Day. This year we anticipated the date to coincide with the conclusion of the Year of Youth. We had 275 youngsters from nearly 30 villages and Parishes to which the Brothers extend a helping hand during their weekends. Frankly speaking the input sessions were quite serious and our youngsters were not ready for that. Hence they found it boring and a waste of time. The animators, not being used to a group which is not really zealous about the theme of human rights and justice, too were a bit caught off guard. I too felt that a lighter doze of the same could have made some deeper impact.

All said and done, I am truly happy for this event. It offered everyone of us involved, especially the Brothers, a peek into ourselves as to where we stand regarding our value system. While on the one hand, we merely ignore core issues of life that strip us of our dignity and due, we do nothing more than grumble about the same. On the other hand, there is an itch to do something. But without being clear what the real issue is, how on earth can we respond to it specifically.

I was happy to see some of the Brothers in the various groups, trying to get the youngsters to think critically, open their eyes and see what is it that their village or Parish that needs transformation. Most often they don't see anything wrong in all that is happening. However a little prodding and then begins the long list. The next step is however, interesting... proposing possible solutions to those listed problems. Herein the most often and easiest solution is to blame it on others: authorities, village elders, 'others' (meaning the other caste groups), ... in short, everyone but me! The knack was to get the youngsters put their heads together and see what is it that they 'as youngsters' could do.

I hope this provides the Brothers an edge in their ministries in order to atleast approach the young people in their villages and organise something with and for them... and slowly get them to stand for something.

Friday, 19 August 2011

To dream and dare

Quite for sometime now I know a 21 year old girl from one of the neighbouring villages who has come up in life, much due to her own determination and with a little help from the Seminary, much of it through the person of Fr K.T.Jose. Her name is Kamala (that's her brother in the photo with her). I spoke to her sometime ago and she narrated her life story since her school days onward. You can read more of it here. She was here this evening too to discuss with Fr K.T. about her plans to go abroad.

She is one who came up in life the hard way. Her dreams are big and she fearlessly makes an all out effort to realise them. It is rarely that one gets to see such sure and clear determination. However, I hope the others in the family and around draw inspiration from her and learn to dream and dare to live those dreams.

Attracting and battling mosquitoes

I'm always mauled by the mosquitoes. Every time I enter the farm I return with at least half a dozen mosquito bites. Now the bites themselves may seem harmless but the resulting itching and swelling that it causes, is a real irritation. In the evenings, after the work and game, if I'm still around in my games attire, I'll have to keep dancing to save myself from being attacked. I also observed that several Brothers are quite comfortable with the mosquitoes. The mosquitoes just don't bite them!! Oh boy, how I envy them!!

Only this evening, like most evenings as I danced around to save my skin - literally - a trained medical student observed my plight and straight away asked me if my blood group is O +ve. When I replied in the affirmative, she told me that mosquitoes have a special attraction for this particular blood group. She did not have the details but stated that it has been scientifically proved.

So I guess, I'll have to just live with it for the rest of my life!!

Clothes for Appa Rao or myself?

Looks like our Appa Rao, the dhobi, has decided to come only once in two weeks, rather than the weekly trip. Of late his complaint was that he is not getting enough clothes to wash and iron, subsequently less work and conclusively less money! Well I couldn't help that in any way. Now looks like if I rely solely on him, I'll have to buy some more clothes - thanks to the humid climate of Kondadaba. For my present stock will certainly not see me through two weeks of wait for a set of neat ironed clothes. Any how, another opportunity to start using the washing soap/powder more often!

Speaking in parables

To help the Brothers see through things and decide the most appropriate course of action or line of thought, I often leave them with open choices, of course with a few indicators as to which is better. However, most often what happens is that the indicators become the most important things and the Brothers follow just as 'said'. Perhaps if Jesus were to have proposed values to his disciples and others in straight terms, we would have had a long list of do's and dont's. But Jesus, by enveloping the message in a context and a meaning, asks us to interpret the spirit of his ideas, parables or teachings. So that we do not become a mere bunch of doers but sensitive interpreters of what is best basing on the guidelines proposed in the Gospels.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Br Michael and his workshop

This afternoon I visited the MSFS motor service station in the One Town area of Vizag. I was happy to meet Br Michael, the in-charge of the place. Satyam never gets tired of singing his praises. He literally adores him. Talking to Br Michael I came to know that the workshop was started by a Swedish Brother in 1891. Today it is known all over Vizag as "Brother's Shop". Br Michael has been in the same place for the past 57 years, since 1954 when he first landed there!!! Satyam tells me that every vehicle that comes to the garage for repairs or servicing will be personally checked by Br Michael before it leaves the place. The staff of the place too has 25 to 30 years of service record. All of them vouch for and admire the dedication and simplicity of Br Michael. Perhaps his presence is the reason for the name and fame of the workshop all over the town.

I'm glad I met Br Michael. Much to learn from him!

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Anna and the Casket

The whole nation has been swept by the Anna Hazare wave. It is interesting to see how different groups are taking in this whole event. There are those of us who are just sitting and watching... and I'm sure that's the largest group. Then there are those who are doing their very best to hijack the issue for their own personal interest. However there are also those who are genuinely interested in taking the movement to its logical end and ensure that this Gandhian protest to end corruption does not gets scuttled.

While all this is on, the Salesians are busy with the casket. I wonder if any Salesian is present anywhere in the country sitting out with the people in protest or in support of this movement. Let me confess, I'm not! So I'm wondering what would have Don Bosco done in such a context? Of course, he surely and sternly did not let his boys join the political rallies and movements, but what of such social causes? Would Don Bosco not have done anything or done his bit to support this 'people's movement'?

Contentment

In the parable of the vineyard owner who pays equal wages to all those who labour in his farm, those who work the whole day and those who labour for just the last hour... this is quite an amusing parable (Matthew 20:1-16a). I fear most of us who consider ourselves the 'chosen one's' or the privileged will find ourselves too in this line and worse still, be found grumbling that God has been unjust to us. And what would be our line of argument? The same as those who argued that God was being 'partial' (generous) to those who did 'less than us'. Isn't being chosen by God Himself, in itself not a privilege? Is not being in His vineyard a real blessing?

May peace and contentment reign in our lives.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Comprehending spirituality

Is it always necessary to explain spirituality using the soul? Can not spirituality be 'defined' elaborated by other characteristics than making it sound 'religious'? I've always found it sufficient to provide a rather comprehensive picture of spirituality using the triple dimension of ability to know, to choose and to love (or form friendships). Today in class, someone asked me this question: Is it all? Are there not other aspects which make the human being a spiritual being? I threw back the question to the whole class and no one had anything to say... so I left it at that.

Frankly speaking, if we look at spirituality from a very practical and realistic perspective, the above mentioned aspects suffice. It is only when we want to envelope it in a show of piety, that we need to add stuff to the list.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Resolution of the day

My resolution for this feast of Mother Mary: To go to bed by 10.30! It's the resolution of the feastday, but certainly not just for the day!

Sunday, 14 August 2011

The SDBs, the casket, the road ahead

Fr C.M.Paul again does what he normally does best: get people to re-think (perhaps not always in the most pleasant manner, but the task is done!). Here's the link of what I'm now referring to: Pot Shot at Salesians. This is a write-up by a journalist about the casket of Don Bosco doing the rounds in India, presently in Mumbai. He questions the whole exercise and challenges the Salesians to do something better and 'alive' than carry around the remains of a dead man.

The first line of his write-up was what found me agreeing to him; but when I started re-reading again, (since I did not find any connection between what he began with and what he continues) I found that I had misread it. Perhaps if Mr Allwyn, the author had begun challenging the Salesians to answer the question, 'Where and how are the Salesians making a direct impact on public issues, given the power and influence they wield?' I'd have truly found the content more appropriate and meaningful.

Personally speaking, I have no great enthusiasm for this 'casket movement'. Of course, my reasons have nothing to do with Don Bosco or my vocation as a Salesian Brother; but just that I'm not for fanfare, or blowing our own trumpet before we do something! Furthermore I hate crowds and mega events. I prefer calm, peaceful, serene moments, for that's when there's real inward change and progress. A hysterical 'change' most often does not last long.

That Salesians need to do something better than rally around the casket... well, I'd look at it as only the initiation of a rejuvenation. Not the end, not the beginning, just the end of a beginning... the journey is far from over! I look forward to something new emerging out of this visit of Don Bosco... from myself as well. Or else, I think we will just sit back after our initial steps in the race of time, only to find ourselves far behind the society and most dangerously, all by ourselves.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

The thrill in life...

Last night a thought struck me: what if all politicians were sincere and committed, what if all government employees stopped taking bribes and did their work in all ernest, what if all corporates were to be a bit more humanitarian, what if all NGOs were sincere in their promise of social welfare, what if all Priests and religious were truly holy and ambassadors of God...? What if....?

At first I thought it would be great! No more confusion, cheating, corruption, scandal, mistrust... News channels and papers would be the first to be shut down! It would be, heaven - or so I thought. Then on deeper reflection, it occurred to me, that such a situation would result in a dull and drab world that every sane person would wish to commit suicide. I guess life is exciting and adventurous because of such challenges and evils - though I also grant that it could at times be treacherous and dehumanising as well. The thrill of life is in facing challenges and growing in humanity. Such a thrill would be very much missed if everything was as perfect as the situation, dreamt of above.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Desisting from committing oneself

Dealing with some very powerful words and meanings in class, I realise how these words are more abused than used. Words like, freedom, love, friendship, person, soul, spirit, God,.... For most of us, these words are great, but only on paper and when uttered in a very high pitch from the pulpit through the mike. But when we encounter them in person, they hardly mean anything at all. Hence we gladly and generously speak about these at length but desist from committing ourselves to these values and principles. We prefer to keep these words and their meanings alive and active only for our sermons, conferences, talks and sessions. In real life we try for the easy way out or around these principles.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Actors or Disciples

There is a very thin line dividing the actors from the disciples in the Church - for that matter, in any setting. The acid test to distinguish one from the other is suffering or trials. An actor will wriggle out of it or disown the very organisation he or she belongs to. The actor will come out clean. The genuine disciple, on the other hand, will stand his or her ground and stick to the principles and values which he or she holds dear. Great is the disciple who is willing even to give up one's life for these.

The blood of martyrs is one living proof of their love and commitment to Christ and His Church. They lived and died for a reason... a reason other than themselves. They lived and loved their life but when they found something that for which their life was demanded in return, they did not hold back their life. They risked their life, for what they believed was greater than life... love for the person of Christ and passion for His people.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Need for integrity and consistency

I know not if I'm biting more than I can chew... I do speak a lot in my classes. I love to challenge the Brothers to something greater and higher. I also do confuse them and force them to think out of the box or differently. At times I wonder, if in my excitement, I tell them contradictory things over a period of time. In my enthusiasm to drive home a point, I do not wish to lose my own line of thought or have extremely baseless ideas myself. I really ought to ensure that there is no discrepancy between what I say, how I live and what I believe in.

Help me, Lord!

Monday, 8 August 2011

Falling in order to soar

On my way back home from Peddaboddepalli where we had a great time, I was trying to recollect when was the last time I tried something totally new. Something that I was never comfortable with or never gave a thought about. I realised that over the last couple of years, I've experimented a lot. I've really pushed my comfort zones over quite a few edges. The net result has been very enriching not to say, liberating!
Why is it that the thrill of soaring has to begin with fear of falling?
True indeed, every risk is an opportunity in disguise. One never knows what great lessons and treasures lay behind things we dread trying, just out of fear... fear of nothing! A bird taking its first flight has first to fall from the nest, only then will it learn to use its wings and enjoy the thrill of soaring.

Of choices and being choosen

Over a cup of tea at tea time this evening, in Narsipatnam, we (the Community of St John's Kondadaba) were treated to an amusing vocation story of the Parish Priest, Fr Varghese. He narrated to us how he came to be a Diocesan Priest today, something which he never even dreamt of in his earlier days. He joined the MSFS formation house, intending to be a Salesian of the MSFS congregation. It was then customary that the MSFS send two vocations from its batch to the Diocese of Visakhapatnam. It so happened that in the year Fr Varghese joined, there was no one willing to join the diocese. So the Rector announced that the ones who joined last would be for the diocese. So it was Fr Varghese and a certain VJ John. The latter found it difficult to cope up with studies and was detained for a year. Fr Varghese did his studies well and was promoted. The best was this: All those of his 'MSFS' batch left within the next three years... all 35 of them!!

We found this narration very amusing and strange. One was demoted and survived, the other promoted and became a diocesan while those 'on the track' never persevered! Hearing of the number 35, I was reminded of my vocation camp too. We were exactly 35 who joined the aspirantate after the vocation camp in 1993 at Gunadala. Of those, I'm the only one surviving!!

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Interacting with young people

This evening there were youngsters from the neighbouring village in the Seminary for a volleyball match with the Brothers. It was good to see them, since a couple of them were small boys when I was here earlier for my Practical training in the year 2000 and these were among the most mischevious who would often end up sitting on either side of my door for me to observe them all the while. They remember me well and still the same! However I thought there would be many more since I know well that the village has nearly 60 young boys - youngsters and not kids.

The game of volleyball was very much one-sided as they dominated the game from the beginning. Not that they were good but that they were certainly better than the Brothers. After the game, I spent quite a bit of time talking to them about various things. Among them, recalling the past times when they learnt volleyball here in the seminary, the mischief they used to play when they were small, the Brothers who passed out of this institute and were involved in their village for ministry or who taught them during the evening study... and I also challenged them to ask themselves what they do other than play cricket and volleyball. I could do this with ease and get them to listen and discuss with them. I wonder how many of our Brothers would have that basic skill of standing and talking to them. As far as I know, very many are as frightened as the boys themselves! However, on the outside, both the Brothers and boys want others to see them as brave and great!

Staying focussed on Him

The GC 26 and the documents that followed always stressed on this notion of 'Primacy of God'. I always found it a bit queer. While the rest of the Church was proclaiming a total act of surrender to God, we Salesians were only calling for 'primacy' of God - as though telling us, don't forget the rest too. The gospel of today, wherein Jesus saves the drowning Peter and whole episode of Peter trying to walk on the water, endorses the above mentioned Salesian idea - or rather, the former conforms to the Gospel message.

Human as we are, we cannot but be aware of the sea, wind, water, boat, companions aboard, the darkness and the anxiety of trying something new and unheard of. We ought to be aware of these. That's the beauty of human life. Amidst all of these is also the Lord who is present right before us. All that God expects of us, as I see it, is that we focus on Him. Not that we forget the rest of reality, but living amidst the world, we stay focussed on Him.

Furthermore, even if by chance we are so 'attracted' or distracted by all that surrounds us, we just have to call out to Him and He will extend His hand, just as He did to Peter in the Gospel.

The chances that we, religious, tend to get involved in far too many a thing than we can really handle. The Lord is only a 'part time remembrance'. I wish I could feel His presence more intensely as He truly is. Unlike Peter, I often love to get drowned and don't even feel the need to call out to Him.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Don Bosco as the bridge

Sitting for tea with Fr C. Thomas this evening, we were discussing things of the past... eminent Salesians whom I heard of and with whom Fr Thomas had the fortune of living with, years ago. Talking with him, I realised the wide generation gap between us. He would speak of some Salesian, someone who would be his companion or Assistant or Vocation promoter and I would only have merely heard of them (forget even seeing their picture!). About those whom I remembered and mentioned to him, they were all like small kids when he was in his best years. But amidst this canyon of time and space, the bridge that joined us: our Salesian vocation and our love for Don Bosco!

Friday, 5 August 2011

New Priests at Kondadaba

The New Priests' Day celebration today was grand and very touching... both for the community and for the 10 newly ordained who came here because they felt they owed a debt of gratitude to what this Seminary offered them in their journey towards Priesthood. They were all very appreciative of Fr KT and spoke highly of him. Though I know very well that he put some of them through some tough grinding. Not judging by the process, they are now happy with the end result. That's a real mature way of looking at things and carrying on with life. Moreover to hear glorious things of us Salesians, in comparison to the other non-Salesian formators (formation settings), was a real boost. They all unanimously agreed and proudly stated that their three years here were the best years of their formation. But for the Philosophical studies, they were willing to relive their life at Kondadaba for another three years. Besides the solemn Eucharistic celebration, felicitation, gifts, meals and the time they got to spend with their own diocesan Brothers, they appreciated the presence of the staff with them all through, even during the basketball game in the evening. They said, "You Salesians know how to get the best out of us. We in a way 'dread' your dynamic presence when with you; but will never ever forget the moments we spend with you all our life."

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Learning to play fair

This morning we had a fiery game of double flag. The tempers were soaring unusually high this time. But I'm glad that this was an occasion for Brothers to challenge one another on their authenticity. For me it was a good game. Brothers enjoyed it and at the same time, very many were openly challenging their own companions to play fair. This has a double effect, they themselves will ensure that others play fair and to this end, they too need to uphold the authenticity they are calling for or demanding from the others.

I know not if John Mary Vianney, the humble and silent Priest that he was, would approve of this sort of noisy game and that too vehement appeals and pleas to one another to be true to the rules of the game, but this I know: Brothers need to learn to take a stand and be true to it, come what may.

Of freedom, happiness and guilt

What if we were not blessed with freedom? Besides the many other important things we would miss out on, we would neither be happy nor guilty about anything in life. The very fact that we feel happy or guilty about our actions, post-action, is a proof in itself of the plethora of choices that we pick and choose from, even in circumstances when we 'feel' we are left choiceless.

I already see the second years getting uncomfortable about things that I'm slowly help them see and reflect about, especially in the light of the classes on freedom that I'm currently dealing with. I'm happy for that.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Claiming a master

In class this morning, while discussing about freedom and choices and the whole aspect of responsibility for our choices and the subsequent behavioural patterns, someone brought in the example of Ginger, our German Shepard. I was told that the days when I was away in Bangalore, it was totally silent. The moment I reached back, it has begun to bark and charge at everyone around. Well, I was surprised to hear that. Of course, I did notice that Ginger would get aggressive if I was around, but that it was so evident, I did not know.

I think it is basically the territorial instinct of the dog that makes it 'possessive' of whom it considers its master. Sitting whole night outside my room, it would bark at anyone who gets on to the stairs leading to the top floor. (It even charges at some of the Brothers... always the same guys!). While one the one hand, it feels good to be acknowledged by Ginger as its 'master', the other aspect of taking responsibility for it is quite a task... given the plethora of other things, I'm supposed to in charge of! Perhaps it is another one of God's plan to see me wake up in time - or rather, earlier than the Brothers - for our morning practices of piety. Well, if not for love of God, at least for the sake of the dog...!

Understanding 'creation'

Discussing with my third year students I am realising the different meanings of the word 'creation'. It was always a firm belief of mine that Evolution and Creation concepts (with regard to the world) are never at loggerheads with each other. They in fact complement each other. But now this new concept of creation that I'm grappling with throws fresh light on this 'taken-for-granted' idea.

Creation is seen more as a real dependence on God (in Philosophical terms, a total ontological dependence on God). This is seen not as a product of human hands which may or may not need its 'creator' to be around for its continued existence. It is more like the light that proceeds from a candle. The light illumines and does great things by itself, but is dependent on the candle for its existence. Besides this, the candle does not interfere with the good or bad that the light does. Creation too is like our human dependence on God. Without Him, we are in a sense, incomplete. But this does not imply that we are mere puppets in His hands. He does not interfere with our freedom.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Fr C. Thomas at Kondadaba

Fr Chinnappa Thomas has joined our community today onwards. It has been long since I met him. His walk is bit unsteady but otherwise he is still the same: simple, humble and with no pretensions about who he is and what he wants in life. His dream of opening and living in an ashram is still very strong. Coming from a very well to do family, his choice of lifestyle seems a total contradiction. Perhaps it is because of this that he is mostly appreciated and looked up to. This will be the first time that I will be living with him in the same community. Look forward to an enriching time... spiritually and community wise as well. He is here as Spiritual Director and Confessor. The APBC could not find one diocesan Priest who would come to the Seminary as its spiritual director... hence this 'temporary arrangement' of a Salesian Priest, for a year.
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