Friday, 26 July 2013

Redefining 'spirituality'

In my Anthropology class today, I had an interesting discussion with my Brothers. It was about spirituality.  One of them asked me, if a Priest, neglecting his prayer life, goes about doing good to people, can still be regarded as a spiritual Priest?  Rather than me answering it, I reverted the question to the whole class.  Most of them were of the opinion that he could still be called a 'spiritual priest'.  However, a handful of them had objections.  Finally when all had stated their stance, I replied that all that was discussed had nothing to do with spirituality!  It was rather a very good example for 'Carthesian duality' of which I spoke to them, as part of the conclusion of the chapter on 'spiritual being'.  I had stated that this attitude of splitting things up into halves and juxtaposing one against the other is not something spirituality is all about. Rather, it is about integration, balance and harmony!

I took the opportunity to blast their foundations about Priesthood and spirituality. I emphatically and with reasons showed them how spirituality is not the monopoly of Priests or religious.  Every person, everyone, is called to be holy!  Priesthood is nothing more than one of the several means to reach that goal of sanctity, holiness, oneness!  The worst is when we idolize priesthood itself! Further damage is done when priesthood and sanctity are automatically linked!  C'mon!

Very many in the class saw the point, some even questioned me for this - but all in good faith!  


The past two weeks have been nothing less than a solemn celebration in the villages across the state. It was the case in the neighbouring villages too.  Thanks to the panchayat elections, scheduled for tomorrow, there is free food, booze, clothes and money flowing in the houses of every person whose name appears in the voters list.  Every person contesting, either as sarpanch or ward member, is doling out gifts and cash to every voter, irrespective of his or her allegiance.  Naturally in the process - for once, at least - the voter is rich, because he or she is being given money by all those contesting!

I asked our driver, whose wife too is contesting, as to the need for giving this money.  His straight reply, "Nothing moves without money or gifts!" I asked, what of honesty and service... is that not worthy enough a criteria for electing people to public posts?  "Not anymore," was the immediate reply! Besides this cash and kind, delivered at home, all those who agree to rally behind a contestant for a day - one needs only to walk behind, say a few slogans or carry a banner or flag, nothing more - are given lunch (a packet of chicken biriyani), one quarter bottle (that needs not explanation to an Indian), and Rs 250/- and of course, some snacks and drinks along the walk.

The spy network too is quite interesting. Each contestant appoints some guys, real good for nothing guys, as 'check-posts', to keep him or his lieutenants informed if any other contestant is entering the village or distributing somethings.  Our dhobi is a real sample himself.  He was chosen by one contestant and - here's the best part - by his opponent too!!  So he kept guard for two nights at the entrance of the village watching out for 'the other', and earned Rs 2,000 from both the sides!

The ones I pity most, are the people themselves.  They literally and gladly are 'prostituting' themselves today, and loosing their right to demand in the long run.  None of them asks the one distributing cash and kind, as to where did he or she get so much money to throw it about.  Barely does anyone realise that once elected to power, the politician rules and today's 'king' will be fleeced and stripped of everything he or she owns and has. 

Values percolate

Last night we had the skit competition for our Brothers.  The theme, being the Marian month, was Mary.  They were free to choose and develop any idea they wanted and from anywhere.  All the groups came up with their own ideas and creative presentations.  It was interesting to watch them create their own costumes and props.  What really touched me was the messages they chose to deliver.  They were all from our regular philosophy classes. Themes like freedom, responsibility, choices, attitudes, respect, spirituality, growth, were very much floated not only in direct speech but through subtle messages too.  It was very consoling to see that what we staff constantly keep exhorting and speaking of is trickling into their hearts and minds. Hope it soon permeates their whole life. 

Sunday, 21 July 2013

The fire within...

The other day Fr Maliekal was speaking about Moses and his interaction with the Egyptians, his fellow Hebrews and his subsequent encounter with God. He highlighted the transition of Moses from one who was all strength and power (wherein he tries to settle things with the oppressive Egyptian and intervenes during the fight between the two Hebrews) to one who surrenders to God and His plan (before the burning bush) and that too with lots of reservations - I'm unable to speak, I'm not courageous!  What happened to that vigorous Moses? What happened to his fire?
I believe this is a real transformation.  I set out on my own and then in due time and occasion ask God to add His bit to my effort.  It is not that I initially set out in rebellion against God or out of pride.  No, not at all!  Rather I set out in respect and confidence that I've been blessed by God with those skills and energies to do my bit on His behalf.  As much as I can, I do... for what I'm able to achieve, is again not totally my own, but something gifted by Him.

Contrary to this strategy is the one wherein I 'surrender' outright and do nothing! This is a real lame excuse, according to me, of very many who call themselves spiritual or pious.  If God did not consider you and me worth anything, He'd have made us as sticks or stones, not human beings!  So rather than insult the creator or one who gifted me with what I have, I put to use these to do my bit.  That's prayer; that's respect; that's partnership; that's treating God as a person! 

Abraham, Mary, Martha and Jesus

Today's reading speak about hospitality and treating guests. Abraham royally treats the strangers not knowing who they truly were. But given his Jewish upbringing and natural habit of taking care of those who travel, he treats them well.  Mary and Martha too attend to Jesus when he visits their house in Bethany.  The difference in both these instances, as stated by the Parish Priest in his lovely sermon today, is that Abraham did not know whom he was attending upon. Mary and Martha knew very well who and what Jesus was.  Not knowing that they were divine beings, Abraham offers them whatever comfort he could provide, since they needed it.  Martha was busy offering Jesus the things He did not really want, not immediately!  It was not necessary to give to Jesus then, but be open to receive from Him!

What and whom to give, has been stated by Jesus elsewhere... To the Samaritan woman he says, "If you but knew who is asking you for water, you'd be the one who'd ask Him to give you the living waters!"  Martha and Mary knew Jesus, yet Martha was keen only on giving to Jesus.  Elsewhere Jesus says, "When you throw a banquet, do not invite those who will be able to repay your invitation in kind, rather invite those who will not be able to pay you back!"  This clearly states whom to invite: strangers, poor, the destitute... your enemies.

Quite a point for reflection:  Jesus has more to offer than you have to give!  


Why do we greet one another 'Good morning', 'Good evening' and so on?  Is it merely a statement or a mere expression?  If it is mere information, then one need not since the other person too is not such a dumb idiot to notice the goodness of the day.  If merely an expression, then need not be cliched!

I think these bits are a commitment to make the moment good, for myself and for the other too.  It doesn't make any other sense to me!

And I'm still wondering why this thought flashed my mind as sat for tea the other day at table!

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Tough decision

This one could not have come across to me at a better time... a quote of Roy E. Disney.

Am really battling something important and serious, that came up today. Not that I do not know what I stand for, but am thinking of the avalanche of repercussions that will follow, once I decide going by my heart.

... could use a little prayerful support


In class today, while speaking of freedom, as part of my class on Anthropology, I spoke about Nelson Mandela and today was also his 95th b'day.
There is no such thing as part freedom.
Truly, an inspirational icon of our era... and as someone greeted him on this occasion, "Thanks for making this world a better place!"

I came across a couple of his inspirational words here.
And given my present state of mind, the one that really caught my eye (and heart) is this one:
Lead from the back and let others believe they are in front.
And this one too...
There is no passion to be found playing small - in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living. 

Becoming holy

As I finalize the survey forms for the forthcoming Salesian Brothers' Congress, with the help of confreres and friends, I am aware of certain things that I'm consciously excluding or including in the forms, things which can implode or explode... I really can't predict; but the fact is that they will cause a stir in those who are serious about the whole affair.

One of such things is the whole idea of practices of piety and its place in our spirituality or sanctity.  So this morning, as I sat for meditation, it struck me that if I were to ask a person, what he or she does inorder to live, I suppose the person would say what his occupation is or where and how he secures his daily bread.  I certainly would not hear him or her say that he or she breathes!  Why not?  Is breathing not essential?  Certainly, but it is so essential that it is taken for granted.  That's the least one needs to do to live.  So too, when it comes to being holy (especially in the context of religious life).  Prayer is something so essential and basic that it is almost taken for granted as part of being holy.  It is the least one can do!

I remember Fr Stan telling us before the Provincial Chapter, of a young cleric whom he confronted about his regular absence from community prayer, to which the cleric retorted, "But morning prayer and evening prayer is not everything of prayer."  Fr Stan told us, his response: "That's the least we expect of you.  If you find even that difficult, how else are you growing in holiness?"

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Reform and responsibility

Something that Ratna said during his recollection talk that he preached to the Community this evening...
The world is full of sin, but no one knows who the sinner is! 
Interesting to note, how all of us square the blame on someone else or something else when it comes to taking responsibility of things that are not as they are supposed to be.  Even if we do acknowledge - which itself is something positive - we do not do anything to reform the state, or make better than what it is.  So the status quo continues and each one talks about it, argues about it, blames someone for it, is agitated by it, but does nothing much about it. 

Sunday, 14 July 2013

I believe...

What is 'Theism'? Belief in God? Is it just that belief that God exists?  Then what could be 'humanism'? Belief that human beings exist?

This was the concluding point of my chapter on non-theism, as part of the Philosophy of God class.  I was attempting to list the positive aspects of non-theism from a theistic point of view.  On discussing we realised that there ought to be a real deeper understanding of the word 'belief' than it appears!  Or else it wouldn't be in the description of the word theism.

I also reminded the Brothers that belief thus has far reaching meanings, implications and tentacles than just stating the word or reciting the creed... I believe!  Perhaps it basically boils down to propositional faith or existential faith. 

Religious polls?

During the Mass that I attended in a Parish today, the Parish Priest, towards the end of the Mass, during the announcements, very warmly exhorted his parishioners to consider voting for only the Catholics who are contesting the Panchayat elections in their respective villages.  His line of argument: we need to have 'our' people in key places and those who will help 'us' in times of need.

I was not sure if I'd issue the same statement if I were in his place.  I'd certainly exhort my people to vote for the most honest and dedicated person contesting the polls, no matter who or where he or she comes from!  Nothing less, nothing more!  

Monday, 8 July 2013


I'm taking Anthropology for the second course and theodicy for the third years.  The former is not a real class: the students did not want me to ask questions... so I merely 'read out my class' and they faithfully write down.  It is nothing but a 45 minute exercise in writing!  No questions asked, none answered!  Initially I thought of just dictating the notes and not giving it another thought myself. Then I said to myself, just because they are not keen on asking questions, why should I stop asking questions?  So I ask questions to myself and try to answer them... all of it in a slow and loud voice!

The other class of theodicy, with the final years, is quite interactive.  They are hell bent on carrying on this mode. So I barely make much progress as with the aspect of covering the syllabus. But I know they are with me (at least most of them; a handful are like Alice in wonderland) and are thinking!  What more can a professor of Philosophy ask, other than his students are engaged in critical reflection?

I always believed that questions, more than answers, are the triggers to thought and reflection.
You become intelligent not because you know everything without questioning but rather because you question everything you think you know. 

Everything figured out!?

As I work out the various things in view of the Brothers' Congress, to be held at the end of the year in Guwahati, I realise my list of things 'to-do' is never ending!  I keep working and reworking on these 'to-do' lists of mine and I now seem to reach a point where I'd soon be writing a list of how to write these 'to-do' lists!  It's really really bad! My pocket notebook has somethings, so does my daily diary, something are in the annual planner, others in the bits and pieces of paper on my table, some appointments and dates keep coming in via mail... gosh!  

Am reminded of Sartre's quote: 
Everything has been figured out, except how to live.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Make you feel my love (Adele)

Love multiplies options

Life is not something we understand in one sitting. It is something we gradually discern and learn about for ages and ages.  Just when we feel that we have mastered the art of living, we are thrown into a turbulence and then the whole process begins again.  Can't say that all that preceded was a waste... it depends on us to pick up the best and take it forward or curse and begin afresh all the time.  Something nice I heard in the movie Yeh Jawani hai Deewani...

Life was fine and good. But after meeting him I realised that I could be happy too. 
That's another phase of life! Love multiplies the options of finding meaning in life and living. But love is still a bonus. The basic is life! With that, why ask for more?

Friday, 5 July 2013

Bonsai Manager

During my train journey, which was incidently longer than the days of the meeting itself, I got the opportunity to read the book, The Case of the Bonsai Manager, by R. Gopalkrishnan. Interesting reading... though I should say, it starts getting a bit boring half way through. Not that there are no fresh insights... in fact, plenty of them. But one gets used to the style...!

However it was good travel reading. Among the many things I picked up, let me share something funny to begin with...
While learning instructions as to how not to relate to women in pubic while in Arabia, here's the conversation:
... how would the muttawah (religious police) know whether the woman accompanying me was my wife or not, I asked.  With great seriousness in his eye, he said, 'If you seem to enjoy her company, they would know it is not your wife!'
Wow, what a litmus test!

Tractors or obese elephants?

While in Delhi for the preparatory meet in view of the Salesian Brothers' Congress, I got to visit the neighbouring Salesian communities at Alaknanda, Najafgarh, SPCI house in Dasharathpuri and Ashalayam in Palam.

On the way, we were amused to see tractors laden with something that made them look like pregnant elephants... here is a pic.

The Delhi heat was quite suffocating. Unlike here in Vizag where the climate cools a bit in the evenings or late nights, the Delhi temperature showed no respect to the clock!  Day and night were equally hot!

As soon as I alighted near the Escorts' hospital, I remembered that it is while in Delhi during my maiden and previous visit that I saw Roshni's photo (my sister-in-law) for the first time. My brother had mailed to me from Bangalore and wanted me to show it to my parents. However, it was only possible only after my return from the Philippines, that was after a week.

Anyway, so far so good, I have pleasant memories of my two trips to Delhi.  

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Lot and his set of choices

Fr Michael, the Salesian Provincial of New Delhi, shared an very insightful message during his homily this morning, during Mass. The first reading was about Lot fleeing from Sodom.

Lot, in comparison to his uncle Abraham, was always given preference by Abraham.  When asked, Lot choose for himself, the better looking part of the place for himself and his livestock, leaving Abraham with the 'not-so-appealing' scenery.  He could have very well let his uncle, Abraham make the preferential choice.

When asked by the Lord to flee from the impending danger to the mountains (symbolically representing, the presence of God), Lot bargains for the little town of Zor.

Lot consistently made choices to be away from God, totally on his own and always from his own and selfish perspective.  Abraham on the other hand, mostly discerned what was good for everyone concerned, including God.  Perhaps that's the reason, Abraham is remembered with much great reverence and respect than Lot. 

Never missed Sunday Mass

A five-hundred rupee note and a fifty-paise coin were thick friends but were unfortunately separated. After a long period they happened to meet and began to share their experiences.

The five hundred rupee note began and proudly spoke of all the rich and wealthy hands it passed through and all the lovely places it got to see.  When it was the turn of the fifty-paise coin, it said, "I never missed a Sunday Mass!"
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