Sunday, 29 April 2012

Let Go

Photos of Kotagiri





Here are a couple of snaps which I clicked with my mobile during my week long stay in Kotagiri....

Being Shepherds and sheep

Fr Dominic Savio, in his sermon this morning, speaking on the gospel passage of the Good Shepherd, listed the qualities of a shepherd.  Prior to that he was clear in stating that each one of us is a shepherd in his or her own right.  Elaborating the characteristics of  a shepherd, he said that a shepherd ought to love his/her sheep, keep an eye on the sheep and if necessary risk his/her own life for the sheep.

So far so good. What I did not really find myself agreeing to was what he concluded with: the sheep, he said, has only one duty - to listen to the voice of its master.  Well, not that I have a problem with that quality.  It is only that the whole responsibility of the sheep is on the shepherd!  That for me is unnecessarily adding to  God's already hectic schedule.  We too ought to take an equal - if not, more - responsibility for ourselves rather than merely dump everything on God.  

At Gunadala


I was in Gunadala (Vijayawada) the other day to spend a day with the boys who had come to participate in the Vocation Camp (there were 28 of them). On my way, from the centre to the house, I could not but help notice the changes that have come about there since the time I was an aspirant at Gunadala (in 1993-1995).  The muddy streets are all now well laid out concrete roads, the petty palm-leave covered shops are now with a decent shutter and a concrete roof, the houses look a bit more tidy and well kept.  One thing that has been good is that practically all of them have planted some plants or trees in their little spaces.  So the whole place is green.  Of course, one of the few things that have remained constant is the stench emanating from the budameru (three of them) and the filth flowing – or lying stangant – along.

Save ourselves


During my dining table talk with Fr Louis during supper, we almost covered everything under the sun!  However when speaking about the quality of formation and the type of Priests that are today found in the society, he used a phrase which he heard during a conversation he had with the Professor of a college.  The Professor seems to have said, “Fr it is time we save ourselves!”

There were times when the Priest or religious was envisaged as Christ – a means of salvation. The truth of it may still be true, but is it also envisaged so?  Or have the laity lost all hope in the salvific role of a Priest and religious?  Or better still, have we (religious and Priests) made the laity lose all their hope in us?

Speaking of Don Bosco

The other day I was invited by Fr Joji to speak to the vocation camp boys about the person of Don Bosco. I was expected to briefly present the life of Don Bosco in a day – which later got shrunk to a couple of hours. However, I focussed on the early part of his life, keeping in mind the group which I was addressing (basically 19-20 year olds, most of whom have never had the opportunity to know about Don Bosco). But as I prepared for this, I found it extremely difficult to select which part of his life to eliminate.  Worse still, instead of encapsulating his whole life, for the boys, I found myself reading and reading.

Another aspect that struck me was that there were several aspects of the life of Don Bosco that we, Salesians take for granted.  Like his place of birth was Becchi and that he was born in that particular house, which we see most often in the painting and pictures. While the fact is that Francis Bosco (Don Bosco's father), had still not moved out of the Biglione farm where the Bosco's were still working in 1815.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Perseverance and fidelity

Most of us easily confuse perseverance with fidelity.  Only lately did I realise that the two mean very different things.  They may be closely related but certainly and in no way are they the same.  I can very well 'persevere' in my vocation as a religious without being faithful to the commitment I have vowed.  Of course, one might say that perseverance involves fidelity... but it does not automatically follow. I may stay in for varied reasons.  But to be meaningful, I need to stay in for the right reasons.

Given the difference, I do strongly feel that we are called to be faithful, not just 'hang on'. Moreover good to be clear also about what to be faithful to... fidelity to the person of Christ and not a rule.  I need to constantly remind myself of this.

Lives of Saints

One reason why there is a greater demand for biographies (general) and novels, in comparison to lives of Saints, is that the former includes practically the whole life of the person or event. The latter is an 'edited' version of the good things of the individual's life.  Perhaps if the biographies of the Saints were written with both the highs and lows of the individual concerned, there'd be more people who'd be attracted to imitate their lives than just pray to them!

Right reasons

One useful bit of information and revealing bit of knowledge that I gained while at Kotagiri was the fact that in the formation process, what matters most is the current motivation and not the initial one.  It makes a lot of sense, given the fact that most join the Seminary or convent for very varied and sometimes 'not the best' intention.  However over the years, this intention to continue or motivation to carry on undergoes changes and one blooms in to a mature individual.  It is also possible that one may join with the best of intentions and may end up continuing for all the wrong reasons!  Hence to evaluate a persons vocational strength is to rely more on the current motivation than on what was or will be.

In line with this, what comes to my mind right now is one of the last lines of the movie, Love comes softly ... "If I've to stay, I've to stay for the right reasons."  

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Youth, mistakes and formation

It is said that the young have the right to do mistakes.  It is the elderly (grown ups) who need to live an exemplary life.  If one confuses these roles or makes an inverse of this then one is being a hypocrite.  There is something here that I need to reflect further, especially as a formator.  I suppose it is only through their own doings that young people learn most of the things in life.  If deprived of this opportunity, either in the name of discipline or formation, and that too if done in an ambiance of fear, then certainly we are forming depraved religious/Priests.  I know it is a very thin - and sharp, if one might add - line that one needs to walk as a formator... and that's both, the privilege and the curse of being one!

Insights from the seminar on Sexuality-3

One of the most debated issue during the seminar was homosexuality and the Church's perspective.  From what I gathered, it was Fr Joe's stance from the psychological perspective (and human perspective, if I may add) versus the theological stance of the professors of theology.

Frankly speaking I never reflected upon this topic seriously till the day.  I always thought that one is indulges in homosexual behaviour is not fit for religious and Priestly life.  Well, I now have a slightly better and open perspective.  I came to know that there are those who are naturally (by nature) attracted to persons of the same sex (orientation) and then there is the whole list of circumstances that lead one to act in a homosexual manner (behaviour). Now it is difficult to separate the orientation from the behaviour, because one precedes (or flows) from the other.

However, my point of understanding having heard attentively the presentations and discussions is that homosexuals who are by nature that way, should not be prevented from entering the Seminary and discerning a religious call. (The Church, I believe, too 'permits' this). The rationale that he or she is attracted to the same sex and the context (seminary or a convent) provides a grave danger, is not really sensible.

My argument would be this: If the heterosexual can be trusted to know his or her limits and live a genuine religious life, why not a homosexual?  Furthermore, we say that even a heterosexual ought to have a healthy relationship with the persons of the opposite sex. Why deprive that opportunity for a homosexual, all the more if it strengthens his or her religious vocation.  Finally, just because heterosexuals are a majority, how does homosexuality become wrong?  (At the most it can be termed the minority).

However, I do hold that those who indulge in homosexual behaviour and acts are not to be admitted to religious life for they would do great harm to others (and to themselves).  (Is not the same applicable to 'sexually aggressive' heterosexuals?)

Insights from the seminar on Sexuality-2

Fr Joe during the seminar on sexuality and celibacy stated more than once that a truly inspired and inspiring religious or Priest will have three or four encounters with a person of the opposite sex where in he or she will feel that it would be great to settled down in life with that person.  He also was quick to add, that this is normal; it is healthy and there is nothing sinful about it. However, what makes this delicate balance of relationship murky is clarity of who and what we are and what we intend to do or be.  Blessed is he who is able to develop a healthy relationship with a person of the opposite sex for he/she that would certainly ensure a greater living out of one's religious vocation.

Someone during the break asked me, "How is it possible to jump in the well and not get wet?" He continued, "Fr Joe is asking us not to shriek from relationships with women but how does one still stay 'clean'?"  I shared with him what I truly felt about this:  Relationships are relationships, but what makes or breaks them is the attitude one has when one's dealing with the other.  Furthermore, if one is open and sincere, seeking the good of the other and knowing well what is good for oneself, both those involved in the relationship will benefit out of it.

My points for further clarity were thus laid out for him:

  • Do I hesitate to share my friendship (friend) with those of my community confreres? 
  • Does the relationship enhance the quality of my ministry and the ministry/life of the other?  (A true and genuine relationship will automatically do great wonders for one's mission).
  • Do I have the liberty and space to express my sincere feelings and emotions to the other without fear of being misunderstood or manipulated?  
  • Does the relationship widen my horizon to include more and more people or does it close the world in only on just the two of us?  (The former is a great indicator of a healthy relationship; the latter is a sign of immaturity in friendship). 

Insights from the seminar on Sexuality

During the Seminar at Kotagiri, something that I could not but notice and appreciate was the good teaching Anthropology (earnestly, shall I add) had done to me, especially in shaping some healthy and very positive attitudes with regard to our body and human sexuality.  I had always believed and taught 'sexuality' as relationship. This idea was perhaps the basic foundation stone for our seminar.

That celibacy is more about growing in love and not a list of do's and don'ts, is another insight that I was strongly reminded about during this enriching seminar.  Being a religious I choose to express this love (of God and my own) in ways slightly different from a married couple.  The latter express it exclusively to one another in a conjugal way; the former has a million other creative ways, out there to be explored and used, to convey the love within to a greater multitude than just one or two.  As religious, I'm called only to give up one expression of love (conjugal), not every expression and certainly not give up love itself.

Celibacy is to love someone more deeply than myself.  And it is right here when some were getting 'ideas' that Fr Joe cautioned:  unless and until we are gripped by the person of Jesus and His message, our celibacy has no meaning.  It is only a sham, a cross and a curse.  Human as we are, we are not called to give up relating to one another, we are only called to relate to one another healthily.

Celibacy involves not just me and the other but the Spiritual Director and God as well.  And what are the signposts for a healthy celibate life? Simplicity of life and a commitment to love. 

A wider perspective

During the seminar on Affective Maturity and Celibacy, Fr Joe Mannath often referred to this aspect more than once: At times we Salesians get too closed within ourselves.  Given the potential and the reach we have, we ought to do more for the Church at large rather than be satisfied thinking and doing for the congregation alone.

Well, that's not the first time I've heard that from someone who is esteemed more by the lay people than the Salesians themselves.  And I for one truly and fully agree with them all. 

Being left and right

Learning of the day:
We are left or right handed basically by the tenth week of our conception, and it depends on which hand the feotus (mind you, just 10 weeks old) decides to use.  Wow!

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Affective Maturity and Celibacy

Fr Joe Mannath made it very clear in his introductory message that he would not say good things or things which are 'nice' rather he would share what he considers right and present his reasons and statistics for the same.  With that said, he did challenge some of our assumptions about formation, celibacy and sexuality.  I'm sure in the days to come there'd be more of such challenges and reminders to focus on what is real than what is 'nice'.

As for my expectations from this seminar, I use a phrase Fr Joe used once during his preliminary talk this evening:  convinced and inspiring celibate. I wish to understand, and if need be, confirm, clarify or change my own understanding of celibacy and sexuality so as to become a more integral person.

As by way of basics, he defined sexuality merely as being a man or a woman.  He did not hesitate in stating that most people think sexuality is a problem and celibacy is the solution; while celibacy is the problem, sexuality is our given human nature.  One really does not need celibacy to become spiritual or holy.  But none can become anything at all without one's sexuality... because sexuality is basically who we are. There is no denying that fact of life.  

At Kotagiri

Am presently in Kotagiri to attend a seminar on Growth in affective maturity and celibacy. It is animated by Fr Joe Mannath sdb.  That information should suffice to explain the quality of the seminar.  More of that later...

I had a pleasant journey and reached here in time to see the place as I walked to the house from a distance.  This is my first trip to this historical place which was once a theologate and then for a long period the novitiate of the united southern Province.  Of late it is undergoing some change and is yet to find it best possible means of existence.  The place reminds me of Yercaud.

This is the first time I get to see tea gardens - though, I'm told, this is not the season for the harvesting the leaves.  More than all of this, I get to meet some confreres from across India whom I met years ago or never met at all.  From the introductory session, I gather it is going to be some heavy stuff and I hope to make the most of it.  

Eating risk

The day before yesterday we, the community at St John's, went out for a meal together.  This was the first time (and the last time too) that we fiver of us staff were out together for a meal.  We were joined by a couple of confreres too.

We went to a good hotel and opted for the buffet section.  We were practically the first ones to enter and within a matter of 20 minutes the whole place was packed with others coming in ... all from different walks of life and mixed groups.  What caught our attention was the table right next to us. We spent nearly an hour leisurely tasting all the offered menu and chatting all along.  The table of 4 next to us was occupied by a group of youngsters first and when they left, by a group of middle aged gentlemen.  What surprised us was that both the groups stuck to the same 'known' menu - rice, mutton, dal and pappad.  There were like a 50 varieties of things laid out there.  They hardly touched anything other than those mentioned above!

Most of our group tasted everything.  When the one among us who stuck to almost the same menu as that of our immediate neighbours, as to why he did not try the other varieties which we hardly ever get to eat, he replied, "Why risk taking something you do not know?"  We never understood the logic!  

Fr Jacob Srampickal SJ

I was surprised to hear of the demise of Fr Jacob Srampickal SJ this afternoon.  I had first met him when he had come to take a course for us, just three of us  M.Ph. students in Nashik in 1999. At first we three of us students thought that he was a cartoon.  However, our informal interactions, in and outside the classroom, revealed what  a gem of a person he was.

His ideas were never too lofty or hyperbolic.  He was very much grounded in all matters of life, especially with regard to the subject he loved most - Communications.  As a person he was very friendly and cordial.  He never threw any airs about him being a big shot - which he indeed was, given all the qualifications and portfolios he held.

I also remember the time he took us all, the 14 of us M.Ph. students for a Hindi movie.  I also remember the movie.  It was Hum saath saath hain.  It was great fun.  I don't remember much the discussion we had thereafter, but his first hand remarks during and immediately after the movie were very rich and insight-filled.  His books too were simple and appealing.  Given the fact that he always was in line with the Church's teaching, made it easy for us students to go straight for his books rather than scout around for relevant and approved material for our research.

To know more about him, click here (Fr CM Paul's blog).

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Don Bosco

Here's Don Bosco!

Last day together

The last two batches of the Brothers left today morning.  We are now just the staff and a couple of the Brothers to help out during the summer.  To have the seminary all empty without the Brothers is quite a strange feeling.  No wonder, it is always people that make a house a home.  

Rumours / Reports

The other day there were several rumours/reports of an earthquake in and around our place.  However, I never felt anything.  But the best was when Rahman, our chicken supplier came that evening and asked me if I noticed that the wind was too much today.  I replied that it had been windy quite a few days since.  He was not convinced. He was sure that the wind was too strong that day... and the reason?  The earthquake. Well, another rumour/report?  Hard to say. 

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Gospel, preaching and life

Last night I purposely stayed at home rather than attend the Easter Vigil service which I knew would only be prolonged unnecessarily by a long winding sermon with no head or tail but a string of words.  Most of the preachers try to impress rather than effect a change for good.  Rather than lead one to take stock of things and take upon oneself the onus of change, most often the preaching is aimed at 'instant conversion from all things evil' - something that is barely possible and even if it does happen, does not last long.

Secondly I earnestly pray that we shift our sermons outside the Church... live it rather than blast it! In this connection I sincerely look forward to the newly announced General Chapter of the Salesians (GC 27) which has its theme: A radical Gospel-informed lifestyle.

Easter hope

Today was Easter Sunday.  There could be a million lessons we draw from this significant day/event. For me today was a reflection on hope.  And defining hope, I figured it could be stated thus: that which keeps alive.  

Hope is essentially a silent ingredient in every great virtue.  It is perhaps the launching pad from which many a person do and achieve great things.  It is also true that there are other virtues that truly assist and support in the process, but the one that keeps them all 'alive' is perhaps the hope that what one is after is real and possible.

As Andy states in the movie, the Shawshank Redemption,
... hope is a good thing, perhaps the best thing. And no good thing ever dies.

Gift

This afternoon after lunch I officially thanked and presented the first year students and a couple of the second year students, who finished all their exams almost ten days ago and since then have been enthusiastically doing some hard labour for the Seminary, a small gift.  They had divided themselves into bascially three groups: painters, peelers and chippers...  Each with a specific task that I had proposed to them the day they finished their exams.  While the painters have been painting the window mesh frames, the peelers were busy peeling and drying the good coconut harvest we had this year, the chippers sweated  - and 'blooded' it out, preparing for the new flooring in the dining hall.

Prior to receiving the 'gift' at the hands of the Rector, I made clear my mind: not just for the work done, but for doing it joyfully and enthusiastically.  

Puncture

This afternoon I watched the movie, Puncture (2001).  It is based on the true story of how the American medical community made a major shift in its policies regarding health care especially of those in the service of health care.  The decision was to switch to the use of single use syringes and thus prevent the spread of epidemics and deadly diseases to a great extent.  Besides the script, editing and the characterisation of the actors, what struck me was the person of Michael Weiss (played by Chris Evans).

The fact that he choose to take on the nation's powerful health department lobby with its far reaching tentacles, while he being a guy with his own demons with regards to health, is something quite challenging to understand.

The real Michael David Weiss
Secondly the movie does not in any way try to portray him as the 'saviour'.  He is just an ordinary guy who has this gut level feeling that what he is up to is the right thing... even if he has to face evident defeat at the hands of the rich and powerful.  I wonder how many of us would have that courage - or lunacy? - to stand against a structure or established institution?

The movie does not hesitate to accuse the American administration, especially its shrewd and insensitive health policies, of being the cause of spread of epidemics in the developing countries of Africa, Asia and South America.  Though being  a major cause, of course behind the curtains, of the spread of diseases, the American government then acts as a great Samaritan doling out medicines and 'health care'... it is like trying to tame your own creation.  When would that one time use syringe find its place in India, is something that I look forward to... (I also admit, that there has been a significant shift already in health standards, but the basic issues still remain unanswered).

The most amazing fact that really caught my attention was one of the final frames of the movie which showed his age: just plain 32!  That's two years younger than I am as of today.  To have the brains and the balls to effect a change so intense and significant in spite of such uphills in his own personal life, seems too real to believe and accept.  But true it is. 

The Beauty of Faith

On Good Friday the supplement of The Hindu had the feature on my home Parish of St Theresa's, Sanathnagar, Hyderabad.  I was pleasantly surprised as I caught glimpse of the paper lying on the sofa and the picture caught my attention as some place familiar.  I picked up to read the first line and I knew it was about St Theresa's.  To read the whole article and view the photo, click here. The title of the article, The Beauty of Faith encapsulated the spirit of the write-up. 

Friday, 6 April 2012

Kingdom of God - from the left of the cross

The last oral reference Jesus makes to the 'Kingdom of God' is while on the cross. Surprisingly, it is not Jesus who initiates the discussion. This time round, it is the thief crucified along with Him.  As one preacher today informed, perhaps this thief was a good man and had been following Jesus around. There is no other way one can explain his 'instant conversion' on the cross.  Furthermore, his request to Jesus to remember him, is certainly a proof that he knew what Jesus spoke all along during His ministry.  

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Of wise men and donkeys

While watching TV the other day, I heard this statement from Navjot Singh Sidhu.
जब दो ग्नानी मिलते है तो परस्पर बातें होती है;
पर जब दो घधे मिलते है तो परस्पर लातें होती है! 
Literally translating it would not give the correct meaning but let me state the meaning of the same.
When two wise men meet there is an exchange of words of wisdom.
But when two donkeys meet, there is only an exchange of kicks!  
Depends who we are and want to be when we enter into a conversation or dialogue.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Interpreting the Scriptures

A couple of days ago Willy asked me a doubt with regard to a passage in the Scriptures.  The text is found in Luke 26: 32 ff.  It speaks of Jesus having a conversation with his apostles about swords and concludes with them reporting that they have two of them and Jesus says, 'That would be sufficient'.  Well, I wasn't even aware of such a passage till Willy asked me to explain it.  

Frankly speaking I'm yet to find the meaning or the very reason for its existence in the Bible!  However, what brought me to comment on this is the fact that most of us interpret or try to 'encapsulate' some quote or incident into something so small and little.  We fail to see the whole picture.  And in the process end up with all patches so disconnected and out of place that we do not understand the real meaning of it ALL.  I was gladly happy to read (a blog/post titled The Sacred Page) that one of the qualities expected of an official and authorised interpreter of the Scripture is a philosophical frame of mind, along with knowledge of the present and then reality.  Makes perfect sense to me! 

Kahaani

Sometime ago I watched Kahaani, a well scripted movie.  It breaks several myths and creates a new trend.  It has as its lead a female. Perhaps the only 'well-known celebrity'.  All the other characters are relatively new or 'never heard before'.  Yet, the script and direction carry the movie well into limelight and delivers a powerful message.  There are cinematic liberties taken, but sensibly done.

Vidya Balan does a really commendable job.  So does each of the characters portraying a very different and interesting role.  That each of the characters involved play a significant role and add meaning to the whole movie is something I liked very much.  That includes all those behind the scenes too, especially the cameramen, editors, and of course the director, Sujoy Ghosh.

Though there is some distant 'hollywood connection' (perhaps the finale resembles Taking Lives), the freshness of the plot too is very appealing ('cos these days there is hardly any creative script or thought).

Final verdict: a movie worth watching.


Monday, 2 April 2012

Insights from the Income Tax hearing

The one and half hour, Mr Kamalesh and I, spent with the Income Tax officer, Mr C.V. Rama Rao this evening was another crash course in accounting and matters related to income tax and sorts.  Though the end result was that we succeeded in convincing him that ours in not just a religious society but a charitable one too.  However, that turned out to be our pitfall too.  We are now asked to explain how we are eligible for the income tax deduction 11a (- that's the code I believe) while being both, a religious society and a charitable society at the same time.

Anyway, I'm happy I was present for this occasion: the first in the history of St John's Seminary (being called for an income tax hearing), my first time (without even completing the first year of my official term as administrator) and above all for all that I learnt from this whole experience.  Well, here are some of the 'million' things I learnt today...

  • Every foreign contribution received should have a source letter (from the donor containing details about self and explaining the purpose of the contribution). 
  • The contribution is to be accounted straight into the main foreign account (FC). It could later be transferred to the sub-account for which it has been sent.  But it should first and directly be deposited in the main FC account.  
  • Know every bit of your financial transactions (from which account, to which, for what, when...) 
  • Preserve every bit of documentation and accounting information. 
  • Integrity and congruence are not the same thing but in matters such as this, they are the same!

Goes without saying, accounts ought to be PRESENT (available, in the first instance), precise and tallying every and any statement.

Frankly speaking the hearing was more about what we do with the money rather than the technical aspect of documentation and accounting strategy.  I hope we get through this ... 

M. Thomas & Co. and the SDBs

The half an hour that I spent with Mr Kamalesh waiting for our turn with the Income Tax officer in Vizag today, was quite enriching.  This is the first time I'm directly dealing with Mr Kamalesh and I found him very sociable and pleasant person.  My previous encounters with him were quite 'hi-bye' sort of, since I was not directly involved in this whole crazy thing of administration and accounting.

However, before I deviate let me put down what Mr Kamalesh narrated to me... as to how M.Thomas & Co. and the Salesians got linked up.  In the year 1972, the Salesians of the south Indian Province (of Madras) were on the lookout for an accountant who would see to their accounting.  The Provincial, Fr Thomas Myladoor in one of his conversations with a Salesian cleric (Amala Joseph), came to know that his father was a _________ (a reputed post, somewhere) and therefore approached him to help out with the Salesian accounting system.  That gentleman turned out to be Mr M. Thomas who had a couple of months ago started his own firm, M. Thomas & Co.  Initially Mr Thomas was reluctant to take up the offer.  However, by 1973 the collaboration had already begun. Sooner than later, a sort of special accounting strategy was drawn up for the Salesians specifically.

During one of the initial audits or evaluations, an Income Tax officer (or was it commissioner?) was highly impressed by the work and strategy of M. Thomas & Co.  That appreciation and word of mouth advertising - if one might call so - saw the fledgling firm of M. Thomas & Co.  grow into a reputed auditor's firm.

Mr Thomas headed the firm till 1986 and upon his demise, Mr Rosario took up the baton. Mr Kamalesh also stated that he joined the firm as a student in 1983 and since then stayed on. Mr Thomas, due to his ill-health, especially rather bad eye-sight (he had high diabetes), was close to death already in 1985.  By then Mr Rosario was overseeing the auditor's firm.

Thanks to Mr Kamalesh for this fine piece of information and also for being the defence person for our income tax hearing today.  
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