Friday, 22 February 2013

What am I doing?

I just finished going through the ten papers that I would be putting to question tomorrow as part of the philosophical defence of the final year students. It was  more agonizing than the Way of the Cross itself.  More than painful it was nauseating.  To see, Seminarians, would-be-priests writing thrash after three years of study of philosophy is truly a miracle!  I suppose it is similar to how the Church still continues to hold its sway on people, in spite of the numerous idiots and ******** who claim to be its leaders!  Tomorrow is the defence and I'm telling myself:  Don't ask any sensible question for if I ask, even after knowing well that the guy sitting infront of me has understood nothing (neither the text he worked on the whole year, nor the short presentation he's making and least of all, the question that I just placed before him), I'd be a fool... not he!

I'm asking myself: What the **** am I doing here?

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

I will follow Him


I will follow Him
Follow Him wherever He may go,
And near Him, I always will be
For nothing can keep me away,
He is my destiny.

I will follow Him,
Ever since He touched my heart I knew,
There isn't an ocean too deep,
A mountain so high it can keep,
Keep me away, away from His love.

I love Him, I love Him, I love Him,
And where He goes,
I'll follow, I'll follow, I'll follow.
he'll always be my true love, my true love, my true love
from now until forever, forever, forever

Pilobolus Shadowland

Thanks to Fr Koshy for leading me, and subsequently all in the community, to watch this creative piece of art. Truly amazing!

Parable of the tilled ground

My thought for the night, to the community:
In the Gospels, the parables used by Jesus about the seed and the sower, the weeds and the soil, leave me somewhat still looking for the 'missing piece'.  Fr Thathireddy's closing comments after the Provincial Chapter, gave me an insight into this 'missing piece'. He said that the Chapter was basically tilling the soil, ploughing the field; the seed is to be sown still.  Most of us, staff and students, towards the end of the year, go to 'harvest' our crops, the fruit of our year long labour of study.  For many, there isn't any. Of the remaining, only a handful get something worthwhile.  The rest only pick up some leftovers.  There could be several reasons for this debacle (the low quality of the seed, the fertility of the soil, pests, lack of water...).  However, I guess there could be another reason: the ground was never tilled!  Never did anyone care to prepare the ground!  I am sure if Jesus were to have lived some more time on this earth, he'd have added the parable of the tilled ground too. 

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Change criteria?!!

I remember distinctly reading in the Ratio, the Salesian formation manual, that one of the criteria of promoting a candidate for Salesian religious life is 'an abundance of positive aspects and not merely absence of negative traits'.

However, I'm now faced with a situation wherein quite a large group - not just a handful - are just floating around.  They have neither the fire, nor the aptitude, nor the guilt of not doing enough, and least of all not even sufficient intelligence to grasp what is said and done.

So what now?  Change the criteria?  Continue the status quo? Detachedly watch the downfall? Eliminate those not upto the set standards? (then there'd hardly be any left!)

To the last question, I need to ask myself another question.  What am I voting them in for?  Why am I sifting for the best among the worst? What is the standard of my expectations? For what do I need these young men (or rather for what does the church and the world at large need them)? To keep existing institutions going? Or to be the yeast in the leaven?  If the former, I'd need quite a few.  If for the sake of the latter, just a qualitative handful would be more than enough! 

What to do?

There was a time when I was convinced that one of the major difficulties of students, Brothers in formation to be particular, was the language, English.  Given the fact that most of them were from a Telugu background with no grounding in English whatsoever, made it really difficult to understand the language and thereby Philosophy was a big BIG challenge - or rather, English was a big challenge (Philosophy was the victim!).

Now the situation is quite different.  This is no more a hunch, not even a belief, but a firm conviction. Brothers in formation, quite a few of them at least, have no grasp of reality.  Language or no language, their world-view and vision is so narrow that they just do not 'see'.  Even if a wider picture is presented to them, with all its grandeur, they see only one speck and are thrilled to have 'understood'.  What, in fact, they have grasped is some imagination, with little or no effort at grasping the basics.  Leave alone the basics, they do not even get the fringes!!

I spoke to a student of mine this evening and narrated to him an analogy: There is a vacancy for a driver in the institute in which I am placed as the administrator. One guy turns up for the job.  He is an honest guy, decent looking, with no bad habits whatsoever and very obliging and helpful.  However the best thing is that he does not know driving at all... not one bit of it. So what do I do?  Perhaps I can teach him ... may be.  But for how long?  Three months?  Six?  A year? Three years??? How can I entrust the vehicle to him knowing well that he knows not a thing about driving?  The fear is not so much of the vehicle (first of all, it is not mine... it belongs to the institute!). In case of a mishap, I can send it to the garage, get it repaired.  Worse comes to worse, get a new one.  But the issue is of human life, of the one driving it, those travelling with him, and others on the road.  Any casualty is doom!  In this circumstance, how justified am I in handing him the keys?  The Church, priesthood, animation, leadership, pastoral service is all in the same line!  

God

Is God someone/something ... whatever! ... that is 'used' to make sense of everything, especially all that stuff which goes beyond our control or thought process? Is it fear within that without 'God' the world would be chaotic and life would be a rather uphill task, especially the making sense of things?  What if, like Nietzsche, we live as if God did not exist?  Or is it that 'God' is so in-built in us that we cannot shake it off (Augustine)?

Well there are always more questions than answers with regard to God! 

A fine evening with the MSFS

Last evening four of us attended the 175th anniversary celebrations of the MSFS congregation's founding in India.  It was held at St Aloysius' School, Vizag their first institution in India in since 1847. It was a rather huge gathering and it was arranged very well.  Practically everything was seen to and the whole programme (Mass, felicitations, tableau and supper) went on smoothly.  There was sense of perfection in what they did. Not too many things but a few things, but done well.

Some interesting facts about the MSFS:

  • They are altogether nearly 1400 members (priests, brothers, temporary and perpetually professed). 
  • In India itself they have six provinces. Then another four Provinces outside India. Added to that they have something called pastoral areas or missions.  
  • They are currently present in 28 countries and the 5 inhabited continents.  
  • Their presently newly elected Superior General is an Indian, Fr Abraham Vettuvelil (the previous one was the first Indian to be elected to the post). 
  • They certainly have an Indian face to the whole congregation.  


I was quite impressed, as before, by the Provincial of the Vizag province, Fr Simon Paicatt. He was completely in command.  However, his words and actions showed no stress or tension.  I also was confirmed in my belief that he was truly a man of few words - just the amount necessary and the right ones too.  It was a fine evening.

Add to that the deflated tyre of our jeep that I observed after supper as we were leaving.  This time I was not confident of replacing it all by myself and sought help.  One good Samaritan helped and we were on our way back in a short time.  The next time, I'm caught in such a situation, I surely would fix it myself.   

Marriage

Paidamma's daughter, Gowri
The day before yesterday was the marriage of one of our staff members, and another staff member's daughter too was getting married. So in the evening, three of us set out to wish the couples as representatives of the Seminary.  Paidamma's daughter, Gowri was getting married close to her house (if one my call it that at all).  Paidamma's house itself is nothing but a hut.  I always thought that all in Gollalapalem (the nearest village to the Seminary) had pucca houses.  I was rather humbled to learn that of all people our own kitchen staff did not have a proper house.  Anyway, we wished the couple and then moved on to the next marriage venue, that of Edurlamma, another kitchen staff.
Edurlamma, during the short thanksgiving gathering,
we had in her honour a couple of days ago.
In the next place, the bride and the groom were not given anything to eat the whole day!  The were allowed to eat only the following day.  I was wondering if it was some sort of punishment?  Anyway, she seemed happy. Her husband is an auto driver and appeared quite a ruffian.  And knowing Edurlamma, I barely doubt that she'd soon settle him!  

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Buddha's suffering!

These days the first year students are presenting their Seminar papers to the class.  Their grasp of reality and reading capacity is abysmally low and hence I placed before them only two conditions: a thorough grasp of the topic they choose (so I let them choose the most 'idiotic' and easiest of topics) and a scientific paper (no matter what procedure they follow).  In spite of all these allowances, here's a sample presentation. The guy was speaking about the idea of suffering according to Buddhism.

  • At 16 years Buddha married a beautiful wife of Sudhodana... (even Buddha himself would have lost his temper at this!)
  • The corpseman was being carried by a crowd of people... 
  • Suffering does not come however... 
  • When we born in this world we live till the end of our life.
  • In the body the heart receives the heat ... (God alone knows what he meant by that) 
  • Suffering comes because of whitehead (he meant, old age), teeth falling out... 
  • Sickness of suffering... (this was elaborated; but don't ask me what he spoke)
  • Before I conclude my talk, I finish with... 




Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Questioning myself

Fr TD John, during the recently concluded Chapter often told me that the moment there is an immediate, vehement and emotional opposition to somebody or something, be sure there is something there!  I'm beginning to believe in it.

During the preparatory meet for the Chapter, our small group discussing the theme of 'mystics' slowly but convincingly put as the first challenge before us, our own lack of conviction that we are men of God.  When we presented this to the whole assembly, there was quite a bit of opposition.  Subsequently, some grasped the point (or rather, acknowledged the fact) and then the discussion took a detour and the point remained.

During the Chapter proper, this point was again a heated topic for discussion.  It reached a point where I was sure, it would be thrown out of the document altogether.  Then, call it God's grace or Divine intervention, slowly some wise men put it this way: Not that all are not convinced of God and faith but there is this feeling among some!  Sitting right in front I bowed my head in a silent prayer and acknowledged before God, that I did not have the courage to claim that I was a man of God. That awareness and acknowledgement has been tugging at my heart since then. (Thanks to the humility of the general assembly, the final document still retains the point).

Today in class too, when I presented the Brothers with the same challenge, there was certainly a vehement opposition, even vocal.  Some were jotting down every word of mine, because it was 'spicy'. Some were recording it to use it on others. (Others, as usual, were taking notes for the exam!). I know not if any of them will use it for themselves.

Now my basic question is this: What if we/I for a moment, atleast, even if necessary, as a supposition (and not a fact), acknowledge that I am not a man of God... I wish I were, I hope I will be, but as of now, I really do not have the strength to make that claim?

Convenience, not conviction

Today I got a lovely chance to challenge my students of the third course, to accept our own hypocrisy about Chrisitianity and the Church.  Discussing religious diversity and the famous responses of exclusivism, inclusivism and pluralism, all of them were very sure of the inclusivistic attitude of the Church (they are fresh from a workshop on the Vatican Council II).  However, I challenged them if our daily living and practicing of our faith reflects the same.

If our proclamation and evangelisation is merely to add numbers to our 'church' then it is as good as advertisement or propaganda.  If it is mere vocalising our sentiments, then it is dramatisation.

Still fresh with our Chapter discussions, especially the whole theme of mystics of the spirit and Stan's talk on practical atheism in consecrated life, I realise our faith is more of convenience than conviction. We speak and preach Christ not because we are really, really, REALLY convinced of Him but because it is either convenient or mandatory.  Either of the latter options is no true meaning of evangelisation or witnessing.  Let me directly confess for myself, rather than speak for everyone else: I still am not ready for Him! Yet I claim to be His disciple!

Only now am I beginning to understand the prayer, "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief" (Mark 9: 24).


Monday, 11 February 2013

Untying oneself

As part of the retreat talk, Fr Raj Kumar presented another point for reflection:
Just like a boat still tied to a peg on the shore, we are often held back due to some of our own choices.  In order to row ahead and progress, we need to untie ourselves.  No amount of rowing the boat will take us forward, if the boat is still securely tied to the post on the shore.  No amount of effort to progress in spirituality is of any use, unless we untie ourselves, detach ourselves from some of those things to which we've tied ourselves to.

This Lent, it is good to reflect and see what are those things that I've tied myself down to.  Perhaps good and useful things but really necessary?  Time to move ahead....

The rich young man

Yesterday we organised a day-long retreat for the Catholic youth of our neighbourhood.  Though the number of participants who turned up was very low, the intensity of the input sessions was good.  I had invited Fr Raj Kumar from Vizag and he indeed offered much for reflection and introspection.

He began his talk by citing the rich young man of the gospel who approaches Jesus seeking the means to eternal life.  Fr Raj Kumar questioned what sort of youngster was this?  No normal youngster ever seeks eternal life - certainly not in the prime time of his life.  It is normally when sick, injured or retired that one turns one's mind and heart towards such matters. Why then was this young man so eager about eternal life right in the best years of his life?

Such a high level of spirituality and motivation for things of the afterlife?  Whatever it be, the young man truly deserves greater study. 

Religious preferences...

Last night we visited the Missionary Sisters of Mary Help of Christians (MSMHC) at Madhuravada.  They had bought a plot of land in 1995 but never really took care of it.  The present Economer took up the issue and tried to secure the land before there would be more encroachments and loss.  They had finished constructing a compound wall and a small grotto sort of thing with Our Lady's statue.  They invited us, closest members of the Salesian family, to bless this initial completion and for a fraternal meal.  It took us nearly two hours of drive to reach their place. By the time we reached it was pitch dark and all we could see was the single room they had constructed in part of the plot.

However it was a good trip.  We also met the family of one of two Sisters overseeing the work.  The family is from our closest village here.  Listening to the Sisters, I realise how different people have different focus and areas of competence.  Perhaps the one who bought the plot had some vision for the place.  The next person who succeeded her, had perhaps her own bowl of worries to sort out and then slowly the presence of this place slipped out of consciousness... till someone discovered its existence and then tried to regain it.

Perhaps that's one of the curse - blessing ?- of religious life. 

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Deification of the means

What is the final Absolute? Or WHO is the final Absolute?  Often in our attempts to reach God we use means... mortal and limited as we are, we really need tools, aids, means, something which will facilitate our link and our journey to the Absolute. However, somewhere down the line, we get so lost and entangled in the means chosen, the very path that we miss out the real intent, the ultimate purpose for which we chose to tread that path, or selected that particular means.

That's exactly when we create 'god', when we make the means, paths, tools and helps the 'god' forgetting the real God.  History has suffered much because of this. Yet we have learnt very little.  

Friday, 8 February 2013

Chapter concludes

Our Provincial Chapter concluded yesterday.  Of the four chapter that I attended so far, this was quite relaxed and smooth (the one in Guwahati was of a different kind altogether!). Thathi indeed did a very commendable job as the Moderator. A basic summary of the events and deliberations is here. My presence in the group discussing the 'Mystics of the Spirit' theme was greatly enriching.  Perhaps a better picture emerged only towards the end of the second day. Whatever it be, I realised how shallow we are in our faith, spirituality and sanctity. Worse still we fight tooth and nail to blatantly deny it!
I, for one, would like to graduate from the initial level of awareness to deeper reflection and effect change in my life-style.  

The whistle-blower

The Gospel of the day speaks of John the Baptists' courage and determination to stand for truth no matter what. Fr Maliekal rightly used the word 'whistle-blower' to describe him during the homily today evening. Rarely does one get to see such courage and determination.

Reflecting deeper I realised that the whistle-blower derives his courage and strength from within.  That's why no matter what the external circumstances are, he does not crumble.  Moreover this attitude is not something that one begins to show all of a sudden.  It is a basically a process. And as one said, those on such a path often end up walking alone.

I screened the movie, Oh My God for the third year students today as part of my course on Philosophy of Religion.  It took nearly four hours of the day because I was posing questions and having discussions all along, especially at crucial points or whenever there was something worthwhile spoken between the main characters.  There is one scene towards the end when one of the pujari openly supports the protagonist atheist, that too in blatant opposition to 'his own' fellow priests and religious leaders. When one of the Brothers pointed out that to be a very valuable insight that as Priests' one ought not to make a business out of religion, I asked him what about the courage to stand up and challenge everyone else for what you believe and hold to be true. Now that requires inner conviction, impeccable conduct and a sincere commitment to what is true and good.  

Creative designs

This time at the Provincial house, there was some good artistic work by Br Ashish (from Odisha).  Though with his right arm in the sling, he did create some good and creative art work for the statue of Don Bosco and the around in the altar in the Chapel.  Here are the photos.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Love of the spirit

Discussing intensely about the Chapter themes (Mystics, Prophets, Servants) naturally is bound to evoke some ripples in our table talk and walk-talk.  Such was one comment made when three confreres were engaged in a discussion in the dining hall.  One confrere seeing that the three were Salesian Brothers said, "So here are all the three: Spirit, Prophet and Servant." All was fine except that the first title was not 'mystic' but 'spirit' and it was referring to Br ___________ who is well known for his love of the bottle!

Skeletons??

Why are we so hesitant to be scrutinized for our structures, functions, dealings and even our own selves  either by an external or internal forum?  When done by and for a sincere purpose, and most importantly when I'm clean and clear, why fear?  I only stand to gain by the whole process, nothing to lose ... only gain!

Skeletons in the cupboard?  

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Radical choice ... not to be radicals!

In the morning session of the Chapter, our group discussing the aspect of 'Mystics in the spirit', presented its report and data for the Chapter document. One of the three lines and action we proposed was a radical living of the Gospel.  Though it still remains a bit vague and cannot be termed a 'line of action' in its complete sense, we did not put anything specific. Or rather, I did not put anything specific (for I was the secretary of that group).

I didn't put anything specific for one simple reason:  Anything radical is impossible for 'us'.  Perhaps as individuals, yes, but certainly not as a whole group.  As per my expectations, there was a clarification regarding the same.  I clarified that it meant a direct living of the Gospel call, not some interpretation or justification of our interpretation of the Gospel.  I still desisted from making it specific and merely stated that being a radical meant, being crazy, bizarre, out of the world, totally out of the normal... I concluded my clarification with a simple question to the assembly: Can anyone propose something really hard-hitting, something really drastic, that we could live out joyfully?  Silence!

During the break time a while later, most agreed that 'we' can never really be radical.  We are too used to our structures and addicted to our comforts to make any 'out of the normal' choices.  We just cannot, and more than that, will not... 

Measuring Spirituality

Sr Bala Savarimuthu, while expressing her opinion during the heated discussion on the aspect of we Salesians being mystics/men of God, made a very striking "accusation". She endorsed the opinion of our small group observation that Salesians are not seen, nor are we ourselves convinced, that we are men of God/mystics.  Thanks to her and a couple of others that helped most see the point and more specially the depth of seriousness of the situation. In the beginning, the trend was to vehemently deny this observation.

Anyway, another significant point stated by Sr, was this:  The depth of our spirituality can only be measured by the way in which those in our care grow in spirituality.  Only when 'they' grow means that we have grown...  

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Convictions from within...

Today has been one of the longest sitting sessions of any Chapter for me.  I barely left the hall, except for meals.  Even these few lines are being typed from the hall itself.  However, it was quite interesting and I never felt bored or tired.

Most of the time was spent in discussing in smaller groups the main themes of the Chapter.  The other main issue discussed was those topics classified under 'Varia'.... interesting discussion. What was the most important issue in the morning, was voted out in the first round itself at night!  What was a list of 16 became a mere 8 with the rest being thrashed out completely as not immediately relevant or not directly pertaining to the Chapter.

One of the many things that caught my attention during the group discussion was the aspect of convictions.  How do we help young people, especially our young confreres, grow in convictions? They can neither be taught nor thrust upon from outside.  They can only be inspired and cultivated from within. Whatever be the case, it is easier said than done!
Here's the group photo of the PC 8 members: 52 members with voting rights, 3 as observers and 2 external secretaries

Castle of words

Proposals made during the preparatory meet for the themes to be discussed under 'varia', were numerous.  So the preparatory committee were given the mandate to prioritize and shortlist it too.  But when it came to the Chapter proper, it was questioned as to what happened to the 'missing' proposals.  So the old list was dug out and since quite a few of those were mere phrases, individuals who had earlier proposed these were asked to elaborate.  Silence!

So much for gravity and urgency of the matter! Most of our discussions are based on fickle ideas and sentiments without an iota of sincerity or commitment.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Who can be radical?

I was very happy to hear that Fr Stan was preaching the inaugural recollection talk for the Chapter.  His talk was truly inspirational.  It took me back to the years 1996 - 1998 when I was a student of Philosophy at Yercaud and he was my Principal. As then, his talk raised more questions that offered easy solutions!

He began his talk asking who can be radical?  Right away he ruled out the Church, the Congregation, the Province and even the Community from possible answers to that question.  He stated that according to him, only individuals with a deep faith commitment can be radicals.  Of course, no radical is easily understood, appreciated least of all supported!

His basic challenge to all the members was to basically accept the practical atheism of Consecrated life today - that of having faith, but not living it;  of having moral codes, but of different standards for different people (softer ones for ourselves and harsher ones for others); justification of privacy and individuality which are actually individualism.  More on it later.

Listening to him I realised one thing: we are collectively trying to think of ways to break the mould, all the while living inside an iron cast mould which we ourselves voluntarily entered! Perhaps we need reconsider the whole and not just a part, and that too from within the whole. But who'd take the onus: 'we' or 'I'?

Chapter musings

I arrived in Hyderabad to attend the Provincial Chapter this morning.  Talking to Joji this evening after supper I realised it is my fourth Chapter since 2007.  My initial euphoria and expectations from a Chapter died before the first Chapter concluded.  However, the second one that I was fortunate to participate in (while at Guwahati) opened my eyes to the immense potency of this important body which gathers only once in three years.  So irrespective of the outcome or the effect, I participate putting in my two pence!

Unlike the third Chapter, where I entered decided to make a dent in the basic concept of vocation and vocation promotion (and in the process ending up successfully fighting a former Provincial himself), this Chapter I have no fixed agenda.  The only resolve I have is that I need to focus and invest more on the Brothers (those entrusted to my care now). Of course this decision is not the result of the Chapter; nonetheless it is not totally unrelated to one of the main themes of the Chapter, namely 'Servants of the Young'. 

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Confusion, Drama, Devotion

This year's Parish feast, held yesterday and today, was more peaceful than the earlier couple of years that I was a witness to.  As opposed to the past two years, I did manage to steal an hour of sleep at night yesterday - something I thought would only be a dream! Though there were some trouble-makers it was not a big nuisance.  I was happy to note that quite a few of the youngsters who gave us a lot of trouble last year were sober last night and surprisingly did recognise me too.  Practically all of those young people came by to wish and speak to me for sometime at least.

However, as ever this sort of mega-celebration is more of a confusion, drama and tension than devotion and spirituality.  Perhaps I'm being a dualist - dissecting the secular and the spiritual... perhaps, all the confusion and noise and tension and fights and drinking and what not, is part of the whole spiritual exercise - if not for us, at least for the pilgrims.

Anyway, God bless them all!

Friday, 1 February 2013

Liberating God?

In my Philosophy of Religion class we were discussing today about God's omnipotence and omniscience. It was interesting to watch them stare helplessly - and then pleadingly - as I challenged and in a way tore down their 'match-stick ideas' of God.  Though not all were convinced of my arguments or reasoning and viewing God differently, in a more sensible and human fashion, than as one 'in the clouds' and 'beyond everything', most saw the point and were willing to atleast reflect on it.

At times, I also feel it is not them that I'm liberating from their shackled ideas but God Himself... saving God from their petty and shallow construct of who He is and what He ought to do.  
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