Sunday, 29 January 2012

Substance over form

After many days I spent some quality time reading the newspaper. Luckily it was Sunday and there was something more worthwhile than the political nonsense that usually fills the pages. I came across the following article dealing with education, titled Wake up and smell the coffee (The Hindu January 29, 2012). The author rightly pointed out the plague of our Indian educational system. As a corrective measure, the following points were suggested:
  1. To emphasise substance over form
  2. Having quality educators ...
I firmly agree that most often teaching becomes just another profession. It isn't! It is a noble task, for it enriching both the teacher as well as the student. Furthermore a teacher, if truly committed and competent, can work wonders in the life of the student. I do believe that helping students focus on the substance of life makes education holistic and worthwhile the effort. If not, even a computer or a tape-recorder can be labelled a 'teacher'.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Trespassers on a picnic spot?

During my retreat at Hyderabad, and one of the last days of the retreat I took a long winding walk with Mas and Chinnappa. We made a round of the Himayatsagar barrage and once we reached one end of the barrage, I could not but reach for my mobile to click the photo below.
Though I mainly clicked it, thinking that they got the word 'sewage' wrong and to record such crazy ideas, I checked the word today and found that I was ignorant of the word 'sewerage'. Anyway, I learnt the meaning of the latter but on a closer look at the photo, I couldn't but laugh when I read the warning ' Tresspasser will be prosecuted'. The place is actually a picnic spot which is visited by hundreds everyday! It would be interesting to find out which of the millions who've been there (tresspasser!) has been prosecuted!

Integrating study and life

After quite a few weeks of break I resumed my classes today. It was really refreshing. Somehow, once in a classroom, I just feel totally myself... at my best. And furthermore when students are very much involved and actively participating the thrill of teaching is doubled.

Today, learning from past experiences (looks like I'm learning more than the students!), I put them on a new assignment from next Tuesday. I know very well that studies are a total disconnect from their life. According to the Brothers, this whole thing of Philosophy and study has no bearing on life... that they are convinced of. So the result is that they see no connection - or rather, make no attempt to see the profound connection - between what is studied and what and how a life is lived. To break that, I've asked my students to pick any one idea of the Gospel of the day, and any Metaphysical principle that we have spoken of during the semester and show me the connection... all of this in just 6 sentences. At first when I said, 'assignment' they were all pale, but when I explained what I wanted from them and why, they seem to brighten up to the idea. Let me see what they come up with for the next month.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Silence in Communication

Here's perhaps the crux of the Message of the Holy Father, Benedict XVI on the occasion of the 46th World Communication day (Jan. 24, the feast of Francis de Sales):
The process of communication nowadays is largely fuelled by questions in search of answers. Search engines and social networks have become the starting point of communication for many people who are seeking advice, ideas, information and answers. ... Indeed, people today are frequently bombarded with answers to questions they have never asked and to needs of which they were unaware. If we are to recognise and focus upon the truly important questions, then silence is a precious commodity that enables us to exercise proper discernment in the face of the surcharge of stimuli and data that we receive.

Criteria for prioritizing

Among the many things that Don Bosco learnt and mastered, music was an important feature. Something he passed on to his sons, as well. However, during his formation to Priesthood, he was once drawn into playing the violin for a party. The merriment and mood created by his music disgusted him so much that he broke the violin and never again touched it.

This set me thinking: Do I sift my talents? Do I prioritise and accordingly focus my energies? And perhaps the most important of all, what criterion do I have for such a prioritization?

Little Johny's zeal

Don Bosco, as a boy, aspiring to join the seminary in order to pursue his dream of priesthood, had to fend for himself. His mother, Mamma Margaret, did not have the resources to meet all his financial requirements. John Bosco had to secure them on his own. This, coupled with his poverty, saw him engage in all sorts of works: grazing cattle, agriculture, tailoring, book binding... However, what strikes one is his zeal to learn. He could have very well, stuck to learning Latin, devoting his 'free time' during work days to this task. Of course, Latin was perhaps the deciding factor - besides money! But little Johny was of a different mould. He was keen to learn, eager to know, stubborn till his head and heart were at peace... So even though, he was only working for the tailor, he learnt tailoring, when he could have very well, done the least and got the most amount of money.

Tells me something of our strategy of work and apostolate: what's the aim of our struggle? Success, name, fame...? What do we do with the rich experience we gain in and through every single deed? Do we harvest that abundant experience?

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

MSFS celebrations

I'm just back from the MSFS celebrations of the feast of St Francis de Sales. I was keen on going and joining their celebrations because there is no fanfare at their place. All their celebrations are very modest and without much noise and ado. Most importantly, they are punctual and short. There was a large gathering of Priests and religious as well as some well wishers. On the way, driving the jeep, I was told by an MSFS priest (travelling with us) that they are about 40 confreres in each of the Provinces. India has six of them.

Another reason why many feel at home with the MSFS, especially here in Vizag is that, though this is their stronghold (even the Bishop is an MSFS), they never impose themselves. They show no dominance or try to exercise authority. They go about their tasks without much noise and are ever willing to lend a helping hand to the diocese. This peaceful strategy does not threaten any other group, congregation or the diocese of the Church.

Priorities

I was at the bank yesterday and spent almost two hours sorting out transactions of the Seminary accounts. All along the bank employees were very kind and did offer me a great amount of help. They kept suggesting things that I need to do which would help me get the most of the available resources. Most of it was going way above my head. At one point, I laughingly shared with them, "Just understanding and putting things in the right place itself is costing me my hair! Anything more would see me lose even the little piece of brain I have below that hair!" They all had a hearty laugh ... and we carried on with our work.

I was thinking to myself, there are so many confreres who are so adept at all this financial transaction and even, manipulation. To them this seems a child's play. Should I too master this financial domain too? The temptation is there but in order to get to know the nuances of it, I need to give up something else. Now that's a pretty loss. I certainly have my priorities right. Financial administration is one area I'd rather be ignorant than give up something which I feel, as a religious I ought to focus on. To get the basics of essential aspects of life in general, yes, but to gain mastery of all aspects of life, I think is stupidity.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Learning their own lessons...

Last week, right on the day of my arrival from Hyderabad, a couple of the Brothers came to meet me. They were a bit perturbed and slowly shared with me the experience they had just the previous day when they were out for the ministry in one of the neighbouring villages. A couple of youngsters had cornered them and accused them of preaching religion and in a way seducing the innocent women of the village. They sternly warned the Brothers not to come to the village again. I listened to them and realised that they were a bit shaken up but I let it sink in them and heard their full narration without interrupting or saying anything. After they finished all that they had to say, I just told them: "We'll see." They surely were not expecting just that from me. However, I was in no way going to give them a remedy just then and there.

Two days later when they submitted their report in writing, as is expected of everyone on every weekend, I asked them to think over it for another day, meet together, discuss their next step and meet me with their opinion. They did so two days ago, stating clearly that they wish to continue to go to the village. Even then I did not say anything. I met them again this afternoon and told them my purpose of letting them take a decision about this: anyone other than them deciding what to do next, would be someone else's decision and never their own. I wanted them to make their own decision and then I'd promise my full support for that. It would then be their decision, about their ministry, for their own good! However, for safety sake, I did add a couple of observations prior to their departure this afternoon.

Just a while ago, when they returned, they were beaming from ear to ear. They couldn't wait to share their experience of the day with me. Today, quite a sizeable population of the village came out openly in support of them, against the youngster (today there was only one left, I was told - the others disappeared into thin air when the support group increased!). I once again listened to their whole narration and expressed my joy at this turn of events. I wished them goodnight asking them to draw their own lessons from this.

One among them came back to share with me what he says is now too evident for him. He stated: "Brother, if we are sincere in our ministry we need not be frightened at all. We only have to be true to what we are supposed to do." Well, that's a great insight, self-earned!

Friday, 20 January 2012

Chaos Theory

I just watched Chaos Theory. A lovely movie for precision freaks! It is the story of a time-management speaker and his life story especially of that phase where he discovers, the hard way, that life isn't a planned schedule. It takes its own turns and twists. The lead character, played well by Ryan Reynolds, through a bizarre chaotic string of events learns the strength of love, over and above his precise calculations and plans. One of the concluding dialogues sums it all:
The most important thing about love is that we choose to give it and we choose to receive it making it the least random act in the universe. It transcends blood, it transcends betrayal and all the dirt and makes us human.
The best parts of the movie that I liked are the ones where the confusion begins, him being seduced by a participant, ending up in a hospital helping a pregnant woman deliver a baby (and then she disappears), the wife getting a call about 'her' baby. The scene where he discovers that he has been sterile all his life (and mind you, he has an adorable daughter of seven), is quite amusing and touching at the same time. The conversation in the boat with his best friend trying to save him from committing suicide, while he actually is trying to shoot him is hilarious!

Work done easy!

I spent the whole day today in my room itself. I sent word to the Principal that I wouldn't be taking classes - perhaps one of the few times in my whole life when I've skipped classes. I took time to correct the dissertation papers of my students. But this year, thanks to their lethargy and the freedom given to them, there is absolutely no stuff in their papers. That makes my work really very easy as I barely have anything to correct therein.

It is really surprising to see the standard of students these days. Earlier times, as school children reading was a compulsory requirement. In the aspirantate, book summaries were demanded. In the philosophate we had to almost by heart the whole library. And now, our Brothers spent their whole year with just one book and still there is barely anyone who can claim that he understood at least one-third of it. What a shame! It is not that the books approved were of some Heideggar or Lonergan! Far from it, most of them were just some 'booklets' with a hard cover!

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Chicken of God

With the first years today, I began the chapter on Hermeneutics, as part of Epistemology. Having described briefly what it is all about, I was explaining its origin and that when I said that initially it was restricted to the study of the Bible. Slowly it evolved to be applicable to every aspect of life. As part of this I know not how, I ended up asking the Brothers if they ever asked why and how was Jesus referred to as 'Lamb of God' and not as 'Chicken of God'. They had a good laugh but soon they did get the import of it. Hope they grasp the right things!

Getting priorities right

This morning a new Priest celebrated his first Mass here in the Seminary for the community. He is a past pupil of this seminary but is currently ordained for the Miao diocese of Arunachal Pradesh. During the Mass and thereafter he shared with the community some of his hardships and struggles which he underwent along his journey to Priesthood. Listening to him, time and again, repeat that he had to undergo many trials, shed many tears, face many hardships, ... and finally become a Priest' I was wondering what was the emphasis upon? Though not explicitly stated (as I've heard several do) the guy was in some sense indicating that he had 'won' a victory. But from what I heard of him, he seems to be a simple guy, unfortunately misunderstood by some - and therefore supported and encouraged by many. Whatever it be it was good listening to him. I only hope our Brothers don't get the wrong message - just persevere, come what may, and one day you'll be a Priest! Even if along the way, you'll have to compromise on basic values and principles, no problem.... but never jeopardise the 'ordination' plan!

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Qualities of the heart

Fr Santiagu presided over the Mass today and in his homily recommended that we all strive to acquire the qualities or treasures of the heart. Rather than focus on things not relevant to this state of life, he asked us all to cultivate the virtues of sacrifice, compassion, tenderness, truthfulness, sensitivity and gratitude. Citing the reading of the day, that of the selection of David, the youngest of the lot of Jesse, rather than the strong and mighty sons, he said that Yahweh sees the interior rather than the physical or exterior. Let us then strive to grow strong and courageous from within.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Mary Magdelene and Jesus

I'm still enamoured by the person of Mary Magdalene and was wondering if at all she had not been caught in that 'act of adultery' (John 8:1-11). If at all, she would not have been almost stoned to death... and of course, Jesus' final act of saving her. Would she have changed her lifestyle if none of this had taken place? Could a chance meeting with Jesus effected the same change as did this dramatic episode?

The retreat preacher said that in that moment of heightened anger and mob frenzy, Mary 'reconciled' (I think the right word would be 'recollected') her whole life as she awaited certain death. And it is when none punish her, not even the Righteous One, that repentance takes place. However, if this were true, then only such dramatic moments of crisis should lead to repentance. Can not reconciliation and repentance take place without a 'crisis'?

My understanding is that Mary Magdelene would anyhow be a different person, whether rightly or wrongly accused, whether brought to be stoned or not... for what really mattered was her encounter with the Lord. The rest only provided a sort of context, a dramatic one indeed, but not necessarily the only one possible. And certainly a 'crisis' is not the pre-requisite to meeting the Lord! He is present all the time! But, in the case of Mary Magdelene, what a glorious transforming encounter it was!

My Parish Priest is like God...

During the retreat, someone almost equated his Parish Priest with God, saying, "Our Parish Priest is like God..." and just as we were beginning to feel jealous of his fortune, he added, "... invisible six days of the week and incomprehensible on the seventh day!"

Sign of things to come??

The other night I had a dream: I found myself being challenged by a young Salesian (perhaps a formee) about respecting his decision to not live life seriously or something about the right to live as he thinks best. I dreamt that I responded (surprisingly staying calm), "Think and speak for yourself, others and everyone concerned, something that is worthwhile now and relevant for later too ... then I'll value your words, respect your thoughts and consider you as a sincere religious. But if your whole world of thought, word and deed begins and ends with you, then I have no hesitation whatsoever to say that you're in the wrong place."

Sign of things to come??

Updating formation attitudes

Listening to the retreat talks and the goodnights of the Provincial, especially those that touched upon the topic of the emerging needs of the society and our response to the same, I was thinking to myself, what would be my role as a formator in this whole shift of paradigm that the Congregation is challenging to.

I certainly cannot form the students - that certainly is the worst failure of any formator! Rather to help the students learn that their life and vocation is primarily their responsibility is perhaps the most important lesson that I need to focus on getting across. Gone are the days when formation was imparted! It needs now to be imbibed more than imparted.

Moreover, the formation offered ought to enable the next generation Salesians to easily launch out and respond creatively, effectively and enthusiastically the ever changing needs of young people in the world. Merely training them to run our existing structures would surely facilitate the downfall of our congregation.

"Yo, man. What's up?"

I returned from my three week stay in Hyderabad just yesterday. Two weeks at home for holidays and a week of retreat at the Provincial house. Good to be back in the community. And I think last week was the first time that I stayed away from the net for so long in the past couple of years. However, I did put down my reflections and thoughts daily and I'd be posting them according to the dates proper.

Yesterday I participated in the Mass with Fr C. Thomas presiding. We were just the two of us, of course, besides the Lord! The speciality was the new missal and the new prayers and responses. Given the hullabaloo that surrounded its initiation and authorization, I thought there would be some major changes in the word and pattern. However there are not so many a changes in the pattern. Of course, a couple of phrases and words, moved about here and there. Being the first time, it was a bit odd to say things differently which I've been accustomed to say since my childhood. But then I said to myself, it is fine. What's the big deal in saying the prayer, if it helps in a better way. The reading of the day too offered a good insight. It was the first reading from the Book of Samuel wherein Eli teaches little Samuel to respond to Yahweh calling him. I was wondering, what if Eli told Samuel to respond differently than what is written in the Bible? Instead of telling Samuel to say, "Here I am Lord, your servant is listening" what is Eli had told him to respond, "Yo man, what's up? What's the deal?" I don't think the Lord would have abandoned Samuel and gone after somebody else. God too would have responded in a similar manner.

Language after all is the bridge of communication. What matter most importantly is the relationship.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

In praise of Mary Magdelene

In the whole life story of Mary Magdelene, it is said that after her maiden encounter with the Lord, she never left His side. I wonder who loved more: Jesus or Mary Magdelene? I have a feeling Jesus went about His work and Mary never interfered but was always around. He was her world.

Having spent the previous two weeks at home, it struck me that Mummy was (and is) the first one to rise up early and get ready everything. That includes breakfast for all (including my naughty-naughty two-year old nephew, Chris), lunch for my sister-in-law and the many other household tasks that she does besides the kitchen work. Now why is that? Because she loves us all. Only the one who loves most does this sort of sacrificial work. Mary loved Jesus most, certainly more than the apostles. For on Easter Sunday she was there 'early morning' to anoint His body while the apostles were still sleeping (perhaps).

Friday, 13 January 2012

Take away the stone

The morning session today was on reconciliation and regeneration. This was perhaps the most challenging one for me to comprehend. I need to ask the preacher for clarification about the first stage of this whole process where he outlined the movement thus: reconciliation to repentance; repentance to reception and reception to regeneration.

However, what fascinated me most was the analogy which the preacher used, another Biblical character: Mary Magdelene. Her life has always been intriguing. The preacher pointed out that perhaps the three Gospel instances citing the woman caught in adultery (Jn. 8:1-11), the one who anoints Jesus with the costly perfume (Mt. 26: 6-13) and the one to whom the Risen Lord sends out as His first messenger (Jn. 20:11-18), refer to the same woman.

In his notes, the animator drew parallels between the two commands of Jesus: “Sin no more” and “Take away the stone.” When Jesus commanded, “Take away the stone” it echoes “Sin no more.” Probably we are not ready to take away the stone, for we find comfort in those stones, as we have grown familiar with them. We will have many justifications for not taking away the stones.

Retreat resolutions (?)

The best act of the day: I went for confession. I realised that I need to get my act together. So why not get to the basics of religious life, those resolutions taken during the novitiate. The itch to say more is so strong ... but I guess that would be my second confession then!

To laugh heartily, confess regularly and write frequently seems a resolution worth a sincere try... or decision.

Walking down memory lane... with stalwarts

The Holy Mass today was very touching. Four of the senior confreres shared their rich experiences about those no more and thanks to Fr Chacko for facilitating this sharing. It was another moment of learning and updating the rich history, which often goes unrecorded and eventually lost. All the other participants too mentioned the names and prayed for those we once knew and lived with. It was a pleasant trip down memory lane with those who once walked and worked in the Province (and on our life too) and are today watching us from above.

Recollecting days with Fr Varricatt John

I was privileged to live with Fr John Varricatt during my practical training in Karunapuram. He passed away too in the same time. I, along with Prathap (then, a deacon) was honoured to attend his final Eucharistic celebration. However, that's another story.

Here I would like to record what I heard this morning during Mass from Fr C. Thomas and Fr Chacko about Fr VT John's earlier days. Fr John was already a Brother when Fr Chinnappa Thomas joined Sacred Heart, Tirupattur. He was a well known chemistry professor and was in charge of the lab. Later he was sent as the Parish Priest of the first Parish we Salesians took up in Andhra Pradesh. That was at Brahmanakoduru (the closest Salesian presence to that now is Chandur). Fr Chinnappa Thomas recollects Fr VT for his punctuality and passion to visit interior villages than merely concentrate on the main parish locality. His logic was that those near the parish can always come to the Church but those far off, need to be guided and met. Thus villages like Jupidi (from where Fr Remalla Thomas – then still a baby – hails) and Ethera were frequently visited for the one or two Christian families that were there.

Fr VT reached the place to take charge on May 31, 1972 – that was his b'day too. But he never told Fr C. Thomas who was already there. After four years, the need was felt to shift the differently-abled children whom they were already looking after in Brahmanakoduru to Mangalgiri – the chief reason cited was the non-availability of good drinking water. Fr P.C. Thomas asked Fr Chacko (who was free because the Kotagiri Parish was returned to the diocese), to assist Fr VT John. That marked the beginning of the historic Mangalagiri house under the guidance of Fr C. Thomas.

Remembering Cl. James Thuruthel

During Mass today, which was offered for the deceased members of the Province, four of the Priests shared their experiences with those no more. It was very moving. I share here something of what I learnt about Cl. James Thuruthel who died on May 20, 1989. It was a surprise for me to hear that Fr Palli was his close friend. Secondly that he was a very active social worker and would have been a great asset in that line for the congregation.

As a student Brother he was studying at Loyola College, Vijayawada (I know not what stream or course) while staying at Mangalagiri. The next year he was shifted to Pezzonipet while still pursuing his studies. That year there were four confreres at Peta: Frs Johnson Moyalan, Pallithanam Thomas, Kottekarotte Joseph and Cl. James. Both in Mangalagiri and Peta he was fond of children and was very actively involved in their activities in spite of his studies. It was during his stay at Peta that he in a way pioneered or initiated the street presence and meeting the children in the railway station. That was way before the Street Childrens' apostolate came in vogue.

The following year he opted to be a missionary and was sent to the novitiate in Arunachal Pradesh. However, prior to commencing his theological studies he returned to the undivided Bangalore Province. It was during his theological studies that he was sent to Ravulapalem for his summer ministry.

Fr Palli recalled with great nostalgia that it was he who led the first cycle yatra of a group of 20 men, in support of the dalit cause organised by PARA on May 1, 1989. They started at Bobbarlanka and reached the mandal headquarters the next day where they held their first awareness programme. After this, and before they took up the second phase of the same programme, they decided to take a week off and relax. That was when tragedy struck: May 20, 1989. Cl. James and Sr Ignasam drowning in the Krishna river at 5 pm. It was hard for everyone especially his parents because this was the second case of death by drowning in the family. His younger brother too died in the water.

Thanks to Fr Palli was this informative and personal sharing.

Prejudice against manual labour

Here in the Provincial house there has always been a sort of silent war being waged among the staff members. It is basically on the differentiation made on the basis of work and pay. Those who do the house-cleaning feel that they have to do the most amount of work, all round the clock, while those at the desk have barely any back-bending job to do and yet take home a fatter pay cheque than themselves. In a sense it is true. Those who do sit comfortably in offices or at desks and never ever sweat, earn much more the those who slog it out in the sun or do the most amount of physical work. Some say 'it has to be so'. Or is it that it has been made so?

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Chastity

While the animator shared some good points about the virtue and vow of chastity, I picked up the following terms which make a lot more sense than just 'sexual purity': wholesome relationship (this is basically what I have been driving at during my Anthropology classes with my students); sexuality as openness or universality wherein everyone is included and there are no 'particular friends'; transparency too comes within that aspect, I guess.

Another aspect which the preacher hinted at but is very relevant is the relationship between sexuality and trust. People, especially those facing difficulties in their relationships, prefer to approach a Priest for they trust that he is a man of God. That though he lacks an experiential knowledge of such matters, he can be trusted because he is detached from any bonds. This trust truly means a lot. And trust ought to be earned.

Poverty

The focus of the preacher today was on poverty and chastity. Some aspects that he shared did make a lot of sense. I had so far thought of poverty in terms of detachment. However, the preacher presented another dimension of the same when 'defining' poverty as a commitment to share. While he did not speak much of detachment, (I guess because he thought it was more apt an attitude in the Western context of affluence) his emphasis on sharing was profound.

As I reflected later, I realised he did not even mention 'Divine Providence' but referred to it more than once and in very apt contexts. Another aspect associated with this vow, he added was openness. However I thought that would go better with chastity. Anyway, he had his valid reasons to claim so.

Tough talk

Last night the Provincial was stern in his reminders about some points concerning religious discipline, especially pertaining to finance and administration. While what he said was not something unknown, but certainly something that is purposely forgotten! What I appreciated most was his guts to state it plain and clear. Though he did fumble for the right expressions, his intention to call a spade a spade is praiseworthy. I guess it his moral certitude, as a person, that makes him stand and state these principles, which not very many, especially these days are willing to even discuss.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Asking questions AND...

One of the distractions of today was the chat I had with a confrere I know since I was a kid. The main point of his sharing was his concern about the growing sense of carelessness among the younger confreres in the name of freedom. He strongly felt (and I do agree) that the young Salesians (even newly professed) think and behave as if everything is fine with them and there is nothing that they need to know or worse, improve or grow in. Reflecting about this in my personal time, it struck me that I always thought of relevant questions as the key to mature living. I now would like to add a further dimension to the same. Perhaps, given the context, asking questions is not the final stage of philosophizing. It is but the beginning. One needs to make a sincere and valiant effort to seek relevant answers for those questions. While most of the students of philosophy (especially my Seminarians) do not arrive at the former stage itself, to remain stagnant at the questioning level itself is even more dangerous.

What makes me tick-tock!

During the evening adoration we were asked to share those aspects that kept us going in our religious life, especially those that helped us tide over difficult times. Mine was the shortest of all (well, I was told to speak only for 2 minutes – I guess that was told, in vain, to all!). Prior to the service I spend some time reflecting upon this and realised that I've spent 16 years as a Salesian! Wow, so many years... and I barely realised the passage of time. It feels as though I was in Yercaud and Nashik just a couple of years ago. Anyway, I could hardly recall any 'crisis moments'. So this is what I shared:
The past 16 years of my Salesian life have been an enriching and joyful journey, made all the more cherishing due to my moments of prayer, the affection of my parents, the care and concern of my confreres and the responsibilities that were entrusted to me. I know the Lord is ever with me and I look forward to living my Salesian life savouring the Lord more and more.

Obedience has gone to the dogs!

An interesting thing the preacher shared with us was about the word obedience itself. He was told by someone and he verified it himself, he assured. On doing an internet search for the word 'obedience' he got 814 sites … but of those only one was related to the real search meant, religious vow. All the rest referred to some locations, methods and procedures of training dogs!

'Creative' quote

Read everyday something no one else is reading. Think everyday something no one else is thinking. It is bad for the mind to be always part of unanimity.
Christopher Morley

Obedience

This evening's conference was on God's will and obedience. The preacher spoke well and several of his insights made me think. He spoke of obedience in terms of being able to listen, to being available, as “responsible listening” (a phrase of Card. Joseph Ratzinger), and as a great means of growing in maturity and authentic witness of truth.

Distinguishing obedience from slavery he stated that true obedience leads one to be an authentic and altruistic witness while the latter leads one to be childish and immature.

That obedience is always for the common good, and never for the individual (neither of the one giving the order nor the one receiving the dictates). It is also a great ego-slicer.

Talking about God's will in this context the preacher also brought out a very profound insight. Often in our community's when unable to arrive at an important decision we take a vote and consider the opinion of the majority the final answer. He pointed out that the majority opinion need not always be God's will. The real task is to discern God's will and not arrive at a decision. That was something quite revealing.

Retreat humour (from an earlier retreat)

One of the retreats that I attended here in the Provincial house was preached by a certain Guruji. He certainly was a bit odd and a wrong choice given the nature of Salesians. There were all sorts of exercises for meditation and different (I wouldn't put it as odd) requirements for his input sessions. I still distinctly remember one of his sessions wherein he kept repeating to us that he is a special creature of God. That he is a unique person. That there is no one else like him. That God did not create another person like him. This was not a new thought to us. But the way he was going about made his thoughts weird. Half way through his discourse, he found Frs Koshy and Pandi distracted. On interrupting their gossip, and inquiring what they were talking about, Fr Koshy after much insistence from the preacher stated, “Fr here says that God did not create any other person like you because He did not want to repeat His mistake!” We all burst out laughing! The preacher really took offence at this comment and walked out of the hall.

Masha-Allah

An interesting learning of the day: Muslims greet one another with two main salutations. I never thought about the difference. Insha-Allah means to say that 'God's will be done'. Masha-Allah, on the other hand, means that God's will will certainly be done!

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Understanding evil

The evening conference of the preacher was on evil and suffering. I was pleasantly surprised to see him dwell on the positive side of it and never once did he try to make a pietistic mash of it all. He was very sensible and down to earth practical in speaking about evil in the context of a loving God... quite like that of my theodicy class (of course, it wasn't as rational as I would have spoken, if given a chance). Rightly so as he pointed out, there is no ready-made solution for evil. Worse still there isn't any fast-food style remedy for evil either. So in the precise moment of pain, suffering and faced with evil all that counts is the attitude that one has developed all along the way. No instant remedy will help in the long run (neither in the exact moment). The best way of encountering evil is to view it as part of life and certainly not take the blame straight to God. Most importantly are the lessons we draw from such experiences. For as the preacher began,
Mishaps are like knives that either serve us or cut as as we grasp them by the blade or the handle.
James Russel Lowell

Recent developments

I went for an evening walk today. Not that I was keen on some exercise but I was more curious to see the developments over the past two years since my departure from this place. I was quite surprised to see the growth of the neighbourhood. As at home, there are tall buildings coming up on all sides of the campus. Gone are the days when the Provincial house stood like a Goliath along the Vikarabad road – that certainly is history. It is now one of the Lilliputs along the same road and even among bylanes!

Just a five-minute walk from the Provincial house will take you to a new sprawling walled campus. It is some posh villa colony. And what's the price of each of the 152 villas under construction? Just 1.8 crore! Further down the road there is another such complex coming up. Then there is a new function hall up and ready. The “Lord's” Engineering college has a new and bright colour and a couple of pillars coming up on their already extended building. The outer ring road has another side lane and the traffic on that too is no less that on the main road. The number of students riding up and down the otherwise deserted road has increased a hundred fold. Consequently has the vehicular traffic increased. And right infront of the Provincial house gate is a large 'fresh chicken' shop! Perhaps the only thing that's still the same is the army boot camp across the road. And hopefully that would remain the same.

Salesian mash-apostolate

I met some of the school teachers, some new and a couple of them whom I had appointed two years ago, of Don Bosco Bandlaguda, this morning. It was nice to see the strength of the school growing. The number of students is increasing, so is the staff and the facilities. Hope it lives up to its dreams and expectations... some of which I had a hand in chalking out.

I also met a couple of the parents who had met me prior to admitting their wards to the school. They did recognise me and were thankful for the opportunity.

Connecting this enterprise to the rest of my apostolate, I think I've practically covered the whole of Salesian ministry types in the Province, except for technical schools. I also need to acknowledge that I've spent my whole Salesian life thus far, in the formation line. But short stints here and there as in BIRDY (youth apostolate and social work), Bandlaguda (school), Navajeevan - Vizag (young at risk), DB DIGITS (communication), Provincial house (Secretarial/Desk job) and of course, animation all along. Let's see where else the Lord leads me to...

Pleasant surprise from Shankar

I was surprised to receive a Christmas greeting from Chota Uddepur yesterday. It arrived in my name addressed to the Provincial house. At first I thought it must be from Ramesh but then the address was anything but a Salesian residence. The card inside too had nothing more than a line of greeting and a couple of signatures... none of which helped me identify the sender. I flipped the card over and looked at the photos there. It was of some school children and all of that. And then I suddenly saw a face I can never forget... Shankar. He was my companion during my M.Ph. At Divyadaan, Nashik. It was his family photo and that of his school.

I wrote a reply to his card today... and it was a real pain. Not the sentiments but the hand. I realised that it was ages ago that I ever WROTE a letter. I certainly have mastered my typing speed but in the process have paralysed my handwriting. It took me 45 minutes to complete a two page letter... something I would have accomplished in 10 minutes straight on the laptop. I certainly need to start 'writing'... literally!

Reputation and authority

Though Fr TV Thomas, the main celebrant of the Holy Mass chose to emphasise on some other aspect of the Gospel, I was perturbed by the readings of the day (from 1 Sam and Mark 1: 22-28). Hannah's grievance and lamentation was for a male child. But what was her motivation? I thought it was purely selfish on her part to crave for a male child. She merely wanted to redeem her own reputation. She wanted to get rid of the social stigma of being a barren woman. The child was only a remedy for that. Furthermore, she was willing to give up her son to the temple... why would she do that if she really wanted to be a mother?

To add to my dilemma, the gospel from Mark (1: 28) ended thus: “... with this miracle, the reputation of Jesus spread throughout the hill country.” Why this fixation with 'reputation'?

Or is it that I got the bull by its tail. Fr TV spoke of authority and power. He stressed that like Jesus, the real authority and power originates from within and not from outside. Only and only when the inner strength initiates, can the external power be additionally utilised appropriately and effectively.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Retreat humour

Even retreat moments are filled with humour and joy. During the evening adoration, the animator announced that we would spend a few minutes sitting quietly listening to our inner voice. No sooner had he concluded we all heard a single voice – that of Shantha Murthy, announcing the hymn number! It was hard to then hear the inner voice thereafter!

Discernment

The animator of the retreat asked us to spell out our expectations of this retreat. And that was perhaps my first real preparation for the same! I realise that I need to really discern what God wants of me. I thought I had it all figured out, straight and clear. But somehow, now I'm not so sure. It is not that God has not given me hints but I've not bothered to pick them up, of late. I seem to have enveloped myself in my little work and world and shut myself out from the larger and greater picture of myself and the world. I need to get out of the cocoon.

Refocussing...

During a brief chat with Fr Koshy, he was sharing that the whole enthusiasm which the Young at Risk (YaR) sector initiated a few years ago has fizzled out. So is the work related to the YaR. I too realised this fact, and stated so. But it never struck me, as to why so? About three to five years ago, it was YaR everywhere. Everything was coloured by the initiatives and activities of this vibrant sector. There was so much of life and enthusiasm surrounding this specific apostolate. Fr Koshy pointed out to one particular reason that perhaps is the most profound reason for this decline: stagnation of vision. YaR, true to its name, reaches out to those at risk. However, somewhere down the line, it got stuck with street children only. That the young are enslaved by several other forms of evils is something not really looked into. We have 'entrenched' ourselves into the street children work. Truly then, we need a refocussing or widening of our vision related to YaR... and of course, an appropriate and enthusiastic action to follow that too.

Down memory lane...

On reaching the Provincial house and interacting with the confreres and staff, the best compliment that I received was from one of the newly appointed cook. When I happened to meet her just outside the refectory, I politely smiled to which she smiled back and asked me, “Are you the Brother who were here earlier and who used to make everyone work with a smile?”

That and the joyful remembrance of the other staff members brought to my mind that at Kondadaba I barely laugh loud... certainly not as heartily and loud as I used to while in the Provincial house. Now that does not mean that I'm 'less happy' there than when I was here. Perhaps I was letting too much of my role (as dean of studies) overshadow me (as who I really am). That was perhaps my first insight or introspection, even before the retreat began.

Annual retreat

It is after a gap of 7 years that I'm making a full-fledged retreat. The last one that I really and fully made was just before my perpetual profession. Ever since, it has always been in bits and pieces and at times never at all too. Anyway, here I am to see where and what the Lord wants to tell me...

About ads and service

On my way to the Provincial house for my retreat as I viewed the plenty of ads and bill boards covering every bit of public space along the busy roads, an idea struck me: why not make every advertiser (especially bill board users) use 20% of the ad space for a public service message. It could very well be in line with the product they are endorsing. In that way, a social service message too will be delivered along this otherwise purely commercial lines.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Retirement felicitation

Mummy was keen that I watch the farewell function that was organised to thank her on the completion of her service in the school. It was held sometime in November. Even Ms Nalini, my substitute social studies teacher, once upon a time, was also felicitated on this occasion. Together with Mummy, Chris too shared centre stage!

Mummy tells me that her Provident Fund papers are still to be approved by the Government. The main reason for the delay has been that Mummy never took any leave in her years of service. That was impossible from the Government's viewpoint. But we at home and even those in the school know, Mummy never missed school... not for a day, not for any reason.

Bigg Boss lessons (2)

Another interesting lesson that struck me a while ago while reflecting on the frenzied Bigg Boss (season 5) episode was when I came to know something of the background of the participants. Of the five remaining, two are married and the rest unmarried (yet). And I couldn't but observe that of the five, the two married ones were the most patient and prudent. The other three are so boisterous and 'ready-to-flare' at the slightest provocation.

I was telling Mummy, that's because those married have already had their share of fights and squabbles at home... and learnt most importantly that living together is not about winning, it is about living ... and that includes giving and receiving. One need not and cannot be the boss always. At some point or the other, he or she has to let someone else rule the roost. Playing the second fiddle is no sin or slavery. It is perhaps the most sensible thing to do in certain circumstances.

From another perspective, one of the most essential element in communication and dialogue is silence!

Changing skyline

Going up to the terrace is now a different experience altogether. Earlier when our house had only the asbestos sheets, it was a great achievement to get to the roof and see the surroundings. The only building clear and tall visible from any direction those days was the Don Bosco school building. Now we hardly get to see beyond the first street that crosses our house... such is the tall growing skyline dotted by buildings. A few years from now it would be all the more different, I'm sure. Another interesting thing is that there is hardly a block in which there is no construction, renovation or repair going on. Every street practically has atleast two to three five-floored buildings. Houses with bare asbestos sheets, which was the most common thing about a decade ago, are almost extinct.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Big Boss lessons

I have been watching the Big Boss Season 5 episodes for the past three days with Mummy. I never really liked any of this crazy stuff with nothing to do with reality earlier. However, watching the fag end of this episode was interesting. How human behaviour reveals itself close to that of animals on the slightest provocation. Arguments, fights, squabbles surface at the shortest notice and that too for the most silly or idiotic reasons. However, more than any 'boss' emerging, it is the blatant portrayal of human personality. There is so much of fan following of this show and I wonder what would people think if they fit cameras into religious houses and see the over all spirit prevailing therein. I do not say that it is heaven but certainly not a cage in a zoo with animals put in for the sake of entertainment and money!

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

The Good Samaritan, with a touch of reality

Here's an interesting commentary on the Gospel passage of the Good Samaritan:
I was hungry and you formed a humanities club to discuss my hunger.
Thank you.
I was imprisoned and you crept off quietly to your chapel to pray for my realise.
Nice.
I was naked and in your mind you debated the morality of my appearance.
What good did that do?
I was sick and you knelt and thanked God for your health.
But I needed you.
I was homeless and you preached to me of the shelter of the love of God.
I wish you'd taken me home.
I was lonely and you left me alone to pray for me.
Why didn't you stay?
You seem so holy, so close to God; but I'm still
very hungry, lonely, cold, and still in pain.
Does it matter?

Plant people

Here's a Chinese proverb about motivation that I came across this morning... makes a lot of sense:
If your vision is to for a year, plant wheat. If your vision is for ten year, plant trees. If your vision is for a lifetime, plant people.

Values on TV serials

I realise that everytime I come home for my holidays I end up writing something about the hindi serials that are screened all day (and night) long on the various channels on the TV. This time round I also watched a couple of them along with every one in the family. Something that struck me was that of the three that I have been watching for the past week or so, one of them has indeed taken a slightly educational value. Frankly speaking I'm watching them after a gap of seven months and yet I can still remember the basic story line and don't seem to have missed much. Now coming to the one that I have in mind, it has as its focus the development of the woman. Though the setting and other aspects are very much questionable, the theme being driven by the directors at least boldly advocates women empowerment, especially through education and leadership roles. That at least is praise worthy. Let's see how and what further values it incorporates (for I'm sure it'll run another century!).

At home

Spending time with my two year old nephew and watching others, especially my Mum, deal with him is something interesting. I always find myself comparing this whole 'exercise' with my style of dealing with the Brothers in the Seminary... after all they are my boys! The more I observe, the more I realise that they are two different methods. Handling kids is not always the same as dealing with grown ups. With children one ought to play a different game, while with grown ups it is something different. I know only a straight direct way, but with children you got to go round and get them to do what you think is best. If there is something I wish to let my Brothers know, I drop strong hints which in case are not picked up, I spell it out in as blunt a manner I can. But with my nephew here, he is sharp, he picks up my looks and understands that I do not approve the mischief he is working at. He will either start crying or turn around and carry on with what he has in mind.

That said, two things are very similar with regard to Brothers and kids: both need to be told what is best for them and they need to be dealt with delicately (the kids more than the adults).

Monday, 2 January 2012

In the new year at a new place

What better way to begin the postings for the new year than to do it about and from home... still enjoying my annual holidays with my people at home. The last two days we were all at our new farm house (about 72 kms) from here. It is a 3.3 acre plot bought and being developed by my brother. It is more for a farm and a sort of relaxation than any business or building. As of now it has been furnished with a two room house and with plenty of fruit plants, mostly mango. The past two days were spent in clearing up and tidying the place - as much as possible. For posterity sake, I clicked a few photos of the family, especially my nephew, Chris.




The following ones are the best of the lot...
That's our new 'gardener' watering the plants... or rather everything but the plant!
This was just after the Nataraja's dance! He accidently landed in a bit of slush and with his feet all dirty, he had to be 'air-lifted' to be cleansed!
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