Tuesday, 27 November 2012

A Radical Plan?

Today was the first day of the opening session of the Provincial Chapter VIII (PC 8).  Though termed as the preparatory session, it all the same is basically the same work.  At the end of the day (or as per the time now, quite early the next day!) I find it - as always - amusing and interesting at the same time.

Let me begin with the most insightful and touching moment of the day.  After two hours of discussion in groups, when the first group presented its synthesis of section on 'Mystics in the Spirit', the floor discussion made one point very very clear.  It all began with the observation made by Fr K. M. Sebastian, stating that there was hardly anything related to the spiritual or the mystical dimension in the whole section!  The culmination was when Fr E. J. Mathew stated (and all agreed, without any pretensions) that we Salesians are not seen as men of God by others and, we do not find ourselves to be men of God!

Well therefore, we already have a concrete and very 'radical' mission: Become Holy! Be Men of God and His people!

Monday, 26 November 2012

Give me patience, immediately!

Here's one earnest prayer said by one sincere devotee and as reported by Fr T.V. Jose:
Lord, give me lots of patience, immediately! 

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Integrity

For meditation yesterday I was reflecting on the one virtue that, if asked, I'd pick up over and above the rest. That would be INTEGRITY.  And that would stand for every aspect of my life being connected with each other, with each one being transparent and finally, collectively making a true picture of myself, primarily before God and myself.  

Christ the King

As I prepared myself for Mass this morning, I read the readings and was reflecting on the Kingship of Christ.  I found it quite difficult and irritating.  To look upon Jesus as a King and someone in 'power' was not very soothing or anywhere near inspiring.  The one thought that kept ringing in my mind was 'what about Christ the Prophet?' That never gets mentioned anywhere, any day!  The last Sunday of the liturgical year is dedicated to Christ the King; Maundy Thursday commemorates Christ the Priest.  What happened and where is Christ, the Prophet?

The only thought connected with Christ the King that made sense to me was that of surrendering one's will to Him (or better still, aligning one's own will to that of my Lord).  Apart from this surrender, the Kingship was a real distraction. 

Gravy Grace

A group of Sisters were being thoroughly trained by their Superior to play perfect hosts on the maiden visit of their Archbishop to their convent.  Naturally the young ones were quite nervous about the whole procedure.  When the Bishop arrived, (luckily he was one of the down-to-earth guys) he sat for meals and then asked the Sisters also to join him rather than everyone running around the table and him.  This was not something they were ready for.  Anyhow they began their meal ... but in stiff silence!  The Bishop tried to make them feel comfortable. One of the young ones trying to break the silence blurted, "Your Gravy, please pass the Grace!" 

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Leaves for clothing

While in Vizag for a day of purchasing (and wild-goose hunting) I was amused to see a sign board read:
Jockey: Clothing Mankind since 1917.
I was wondering what were people using till 1917?  Leaves?? 

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Love of Wisdom

The theme I chose for the Seminary Day and also the Jubilee celebrations is Love of Wisdom.  Being the philosophate, I thought this would be appropriate.  That indeed was the good reason; however, the real reason was that I wanted the Brothers to get the message prior to 'preaching' to someone (or everyone) else.  As always, the primary audience of my playlet are not the guests but the very actors and dancers and singers... the Brothers themselves.

The playlet is basically to convey the idea that the modern day temptations to religious and Priestly life are no more just the oft stated wine-wealth-women! I have my doubts if they genuinely were the reasons anytime at all.  The greater temptation is to fall for anything short of what each of us is called to be and do.  As consecrated persons we are primarily called to know, understand and be with Jesus.  Anything less than that is a failure of living out our vocation, however good that short-coming may produce or bring forth.

The 'foolish virgins' of today are those who fall for 'action' prior to commitment to Christ and Christ Himself; or those who choose to be satisfied doing 'some' good while being able and called to greater responsibilities.  The wise ones are those who discern their call and live up to it fully, to the best of their ability - not necessarily successfully ('cos that's not the point).  

Cost vs Value

The other day we were discussing the episode of Jesus being anointed by the sinner woman with the fragrant perfume and Judas intervening saying that it would have been better to sell the oil and give the money to the poor.  That Judas had his ulterior motives, is put in black and white.  However, the incident shows the emphasis of two persons in the same event.  Jesus looks at the value of a person while Judas is all about the cost of the thing. (I think the idea was propounded by Fulton J. Sheen).

Being the administrator I can very well relate to this observation made.  Often the cost of a material good decides the course of action rather than the value of the person involved in that interaction.  

The Donkey

An interesting analogy the preacher of our monthly recollection drew was about the donkey on which Jesus rode while entering Jerusalem for the last time.  He said that we are all like that donkey tied to a pole in a particular house.  Then the Lord asks for it, prior to his entry into Jerusalem.

"The Lord has need of it."

... from a particular house bound up with the domestic chores, to a public life witnessing Christ.  

Vocation, Motivation...

We had the monthly recollection this evening and the preacher spoke about loving and growing in one's vocation. He did say something very sensible and practical (though in a long and winding way).  One of the essential points he stressed on was the need to update one's motivation.  He stated that very many of us join the religious or Priestly life for very silly and petty reasons.  However, over the years of formation and study we need to upgrade our motivation and reasons for continuing what and where we are.  Quoting Mother Teresa he said that our true and ultimate vocation is to belong to Christ.

... couldn't have been a better timing when I'm trying to drive home a similar point (through the Seminary day playlet). 

Friday, 16 November 2012

Intoxicated by power

More than before, this year, I've been directly interacting with people who come for alms for all varied purposes - mostly genuine and urgent. Sifting their petitions and making decisions has not been an easy endeavour.  Yet something I observed in myself is this: the power of decision making, especially when the other is 'weak' and is expectantly looking up to you, is very very intoxicating.  The temptation to look down and feel elated is very hard to resist.  The feeling of being in authority, being in control and worse still, being better off than the other, offers a strange kind of high.  The tendency to preach and dole out advice is a direct outcome of such intoxication.

God help me! 

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Milk'n Reserve Bank

The latest addition to the exam (supplementary/repetition) blunders. This time from the English paper of the first years.  The section was to write one word substitutes for the given description.
Place where milk is processed:  Reserve Bank

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Being Truthful Inspires

This morning our b'fast talk ran into the canonization process of Mother Teresa. Fr Balaswamy said that her canonization process is facing some hurdles given her writings that are being scrutinised now.  In some of these Mother Teresa is to have expressed her great challenge and difficulty of finding Jesus in her daily works.  The rest of us at table found that ridiculous.  I was of the opinion that since she was so truthful, I am better able to relate to her, than if she were to write some pious quotations while within she was being troubled.  Going by the objects being aired, it is perhaps easier for an actor or actress - or better still, professional liars - to be canonized fast and easy, for they would certainly have nothing that would go against this whole process surface anywhere anytime!

During my theological studies, I remember disagreeing with my Professor (that too in the examination hall!) on the point of the letter to the Corinthians by St Paul being the best of his letters. The reason I cited was that I personally prefer St Paul of the Galatians for the letter was written when he was all enraged and discouraged - yet the letter stays on course. The one to the Corinthians was written and dispatched at a more relaxed time.

To sum it all, it is easy to be an angel when nobody ruffles your feathers.  

Children at their best

Commemorating Children's Day in India (Nov. 14), brings back to my mind something that happened while I was in Matunga in 2004.  Fr Ronnie (of happy memory) was the Rector and he loved being present in the primary section of Don Bosco School, Matunga, when children would come to the school in the mornings.  On one such morning, one of the small fellows ran up to him and said, "Fr, I saw your Mummy yesterday."  Fr Ronnie was certainly surprised.  So he asked the fellow where did he see her and what did she say.  The kid replied, "I saw her in Church and she was wearing the same dress you are wearing."

He had seen a Nun and taken for granted that she was Fr Ronnie's mother since Ronnie would always be present in the school in his cassock.  

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Generosity of Women

The Gospel of Sunday (November 11, 2012) which highlighted the generosity of the poor widow who poured in her little amount into the collection box but in the process earned the praise of the Master, struck me as something typical of women folk.  Add to that the reading of the same day: the widow offering to Prophet Elijah, the last bit of what was actually kept safe for her son and herself.  Again, a woman willing to offer the little she had for someone other than her own.  Both these women - and both were widows - had no guarantee that what they invested would ever return to them, leave alone earn them a profit!  Yet they were generous enough to give it away!

Jesus somehow presented these invaluable lessons of extreme sacrifice and trust through the instrumentality of women - He certainly knew the strength of a woman's soul! 

Youth Day 2012

On Sunday we had about 120 young people from the neighbouring villages and Parishes participating in an animation programme based on Trust /  Faith.  I was asked to animate the whole day but I declined for I wanted to guide the Brothers themselves (those who normally organise the day) to graduate from performing 'something' to animating the young with due and diligent preparation.  So I suggested that they have three sessions, one of which the Brothers animate, for which I would certainly help and guide.


I really found it much harder to get them do what they were supposed to do than doing it myself. However, today looking back on the day, I am more than happy.  The Brothers who slogged it out are much more happier than I.  All in all, I spent nearly 4 hours (collectively) with the two Brothers who were animating a 60 minute session. For a start it was great.  The two later came to share their rich experience going through the grind of it.  One of them, towards the end added, "I usually give a sermon every alternative week in my ministry place and I never found it very difficult or different.  But preparing for this programme was very very different, for I did not want to take chances with you!" Of course, he was really grateful and very elated.  

Fate of life

Compared to the previous years, this year the number of those who come to the Seminary seeking financial (or material) help, has been less.  Perhaps, I was not that observant earlier for Fr KT used to directly deal with all of them.  This year Fr Maliekal asked me to attend to all of those who knock on our door asking for help.  Interacting with them at different times, for different reasons and at varying lengths, I sometimes wonder how on earth some of them manage to survive!  Some truly are so plagued by illness that there is hardly any member of the family fit to work.  Some are rich indeed - rich in poverty and mired in debt!  There are others (especially the elderly) whom no one really cares about; not even their own children.

The other day there was a man who came along with his son, asking for some help to pay the school fees so that the boy could collect his hall ticket and write his half-yearly examinations. While speaking to him, I came to know that he was one of the masons who worked during the construction of the Seminary, especially the Chapel.  As I sat for prayer after meeting this father-son, I was thinking to myself: I have a safe and secure roof over my head and a beautiful Chapel to pray in - thanks to such as these men; and yet see the fate of life, he has to come asking for alms to the same place where he laboured.  Today he is an 'outsider' and I am the 'owner'!?? 

Liturgical amusement

The present Sacristan among the Brothers is a good guy - quite intelligent and very sensitive.  However, he tends to get lost in mystic thoughts and poems often.  Consequently one gets to see lots of 'action' these days, for invariably there is something forgotten or some misplaced item during the liturgical celebrations. As I watch all this with amusement, I imagine this particular Brother celebrating Mass, later on in years, and consecrating the paton - with no host in it!

I shared this thought of mine with the other staff members at table during supper tonight and Fr Wilson added something similar (which he already shared with the Brother himself).  He is sure, that the Brother, later on would consume the host much before consecration itself!

Let's see which of these comes true, if any at all! 

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Socratic wife?

Here's one answer from the supplementary exam of one of our students (the question was to write a few lines about Socrates):
Socrates was a man of Athens. He married a socratic woman.  

Friday, 9 November 2012

Faith that sustains

Teaching Philosophy of Religion to the third year students is a real challenge given the fact that most of them (us?) have such a narrow and shallow construct of God and Religion that they end up equating both and worse, that too to lowering the whole meaning of it to something so mean and idiotic that they'd die 'protecting' it - thinking that is something heroic!  I said this bluntly in class today and could vividly see that some were not too convinced of it.

In class today I challenged the Brothers to examine and see if their faith is so shallow and small that it runs the danger of being lost or washed off!  If so, I said, it better be uprooted - for then, you'd have the opportunity of sowing the seed of a genuine and sincere faith, that too if sincerely interested.  If not, one might as well carry on with one's broken and tattered belief, with no intention of strengthening it and thus turn fundamentalistic even without being aware of it or worse still, acknowledging it.

I believe my Faith is not something so feeble that I need to sustain it, rather it is the other way round, my faith is that which sustains me!  

That I teach or that they learn?

Last week I began classes for the second semester, in particular the most challenging subject this semester that I have on my hands is Philosophy of Religion.  Better prepared for it than any other subject, I found myself asking this question repeatedly: What is more important: that I teach or the students learn?

Hence rather than focus on my teaching I emphasize the students learn. Frankly speaking I need not teach but ensure that students learn well.  That would truly be an enriching experience for the students.  (For me too, for that would involve ways and means of getting them to do it, all by themselves without me 'wasting time' lecturing - which of course, is the easiest method of all)...   and in this whole process, all of us learn!

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Getting done vs doing it oneself

This Sunday we are organising the Youth Day for the youngsters of the neighbourhood.  I was asked to animate it but I politely declined because I wanted the Brothers themselves to learn to animate rather than watch and be mere recipients all the time. Now that is easier said than done!

As I guide the Brothers to prepare for the same I realise, it is far easier for me to do it myself than get someone else to do it.  I've to be calm and gentle with them because they are doing it for the first time: they are more frightened than excited about it.  I've to be careful not to trounce their ideas or suggestions for after all it is they who would be standing before the crowd and animating them.  However good my idea may be, I just cannot expect them to be at ease with it and if they are not comfortable with it, how can they pass on the message effectively to the youth.  Add to all of these, the time I got to spend with them - enormous!

Yet I got to do it, for I believe that is formation and guidance! 

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Mission Work or Escapism?

Only this evening I came to know that a confrere whom I know well has been transferred to another Province, an European one at that.  In plain political vocabulary it would certainly be nothing less than 'defected'.  Really surprising - actually, 'embarrassing' - was the reason cited for this 'defection'.  I know that things in the Province have not been very rosy or inspirational, if one may say so.  However that does not mean, that one just takes off - that too when one has been given the opportunity to better equip oneself and return to the Province!  Another trend in the Province has been that people opt for the 'missions' when they no longer feel comfortable here at home!  I have no doubts they'd be no better than what they are here; leave alone do any 'mission work'.

Anyway, I know not all and every reason behind this rather sad news. So I'd better not jump to conclusions. Whatever it be, I hope we continue to give our best to the world of youth, wherever it may be, while being true to our commitment and vocation.  I suppose, God knows best. 

Heart and Mind

The mind prefers to live in the past and is often lost in a maze of the bygone. On the contrary, the heart wants to live in the present.  It is in the here and now that the heart seeks to know who and what we are.  This collective tussle between the heart and the mind determines who and what we are.  Neither can we live only in the past - then we'd be as good as dead - nor can we live only in the present, then every moment we would be living afresh, with no anchor or foothold.

In simple terms, I suppose I'm reminding myself of the balance between feelings and ideas, something of what I learnt in the last week while in Mumbai. 

Monday, 5 November 2012

Evaluation

We, the Council members of the Seminary, have been sitting for the evaluation of the Brothers for the past five days.  To follow a certain format, we would list some of the positive aspects of the Brother under discussion and then offer some points for improvement.  (Of course, this is not in the presence of the Brother; the points listed would later be communicated to the concerned individual before sending it to their respective authorities.)

At times, we would not have anything to say about a particular Brother.  It is just that we have nothing! It made me feel ashamed because, I certainly had a long list of things that I want him to improve but after five months of living together I had not observed anything positive in him.

Another thing that kept tugging at my heart was that most often we were evaluating or judging a particular student from their academic performance.  While I do have to say that this phase of formation is geared towards intellectual formation, I still felt hesitant to believe that academic performance was perhaps the most or the only success indicator.  

Rain fest

With the rains that have kept us indoors for the past three days, our lake is full and overflowing... This is perhaps the first time in several years that the lake is overflowing.  The lower portion of our farm is all submerged and is most likely to be under water for another two weeks or so.  Our well, which is situated at the lowest point in the campus, is full, so full that one can collect water with one's bare hands, that too standing in chest-deep water!  However our building has taken a bad beating.  Due to the constant rains, the leaks have increased and in some places water keeps appearing all day and night!

However, when I remember the poor of the area, I cannot even utter a word of complain about our residence.  While I'm looking at the leaks, I'm sure very many in the neighbourhood would be searching for places where it was not leaking to spend the night, sitting - keeping oneself and the family dry and safe from all sort of creatures that get one gets to see in such rainy weather.

About a week ago there came a lady asking for some financial help to fix their main door (the only door of their house) which collapsed due to the incessant rains and the white-ants.  I had then asked her to come this Monday.  I wonder how she and her daughter (only two of them at home) made it through this depression.  

Exam humour

I happened to meet one of the staff members just finishing correcting his share of answer papers of the last semester exams.  Here's something that I found too 'insightful'...
Q: Name two works of St Augustine (as part of the subject on Medieval Western Philosophy)
A: St Augustine worked for the hippo people. 
The opening lines of the letter, from the English answer paper of one of the students who was supposed to write a letter to his Bishop...
His Existence ... 

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Marriage woes, even otherwise

Being the first of the month, I distributed the salaries for the staff and did spend quite some time talking to them just about anything.  One of the main points for discussion or you might call it a debate was the point of dowry, marriages and caste system.  I was surprised to hear from the kitchen staff that not only is dowry given away when a daughter is married off, the parents of the girl have also to give a portion of the dowry for the boys' sister, if any!  That would be to say that the bride's family has to pay not only money for the bride but also for her new sister-in-law!  Gosh!

And if there are a couple of marriages in the villages, everyone - literally, everyone! - in the village, and more especially those closely related to the families are all bankrupt that month.  Reason: the gift they OUGHT to offer at the wedding function.  This is kept record of and when there is a marriage in the visitors family, the one now receiving has to pay something MORE than what was given to them!  And so if there are more than 4 wedding functions that a family has to attend in a month, the 'gift' would drain their whole month's salary! And if there is a fifth one, they'll borrow and 'gift' the amount!  While the staff resented this whole procedure, none would try to break this vicious circle - all for fear of what 'they would say'.  ... the same rationale is given for all matters concerning inter-caste marriages, dowry, girl-child atrocities.

Having heard, spoken and debated with them at length, I only said aloud, "Thank God, I was not born in Gollalapalem (their village), and not as a female!"

Symphony

The feast day of all the saints can very well be celebrated as a day of Symphony.  True to the characteristics of an orchestra playing a symphony, all the saints put together offer a very rich mosaic of what God is capable of doing in and through the lives of people who are open to His directives.  Different musical instruments play different notes at varied intervals, which individually may or may not stand out, but when played in unison, produce a beautiful symphony.  So too all the - canonised and non-canonised - Saints, together in their own way produce a beautiful symphony of love, service and commitment to God and His people. 
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