Sunday, 31 March 2013

Redeemed??

As usual, Rabbi had something to tickle me this Holy Week.  He sent me a note sometime earlier this week and it read...
If we want other to believe in our redeemer, why don't we look bit redeemed ourselves? 
Reminds me of witness value and the Easter joy that we Christians are called to embody. Not so much as a penance or a duty but because that is the natural outcome of placing our trust in Christ.

For me Easter is always a matter of personal experience.  No matter how many times I read the Gospels or watch the movie or listen to the sermon about the whole passion and death and resurrection of the Lord, nothing counts greater than my own personal experience of Him.  Sans the latter, nothing makes real sense.  However I also do admit, I 'know' it more than I have it! I wish I could truly say the other way round. 

Resurrection in the garden of...

We had the morning Mass in our own chapel and I gladly gave the Easter vigil (held in the Parish) a miss.  Fr Maliekal personally oversaw the decoration and preparation of the various things needed for the liturgy of the day, including creating a 'garden' around the Easter candle and the holy water.  He had his reasons for doing so.

Alphonse did give a nice touch to the empty tomb with the left overs of the refectory stones (see below).  Well, another liturgical season ends and a new one begins... this too shall pass away.  And as I believe, the thrill and depth of the new one depends not so much on the new one itself but how well the previous one has been lived as a build up or stepping stone for this one!

Anyway, happy Easter to all.

Saturday, 30 March 2013

He's supposed to walk, isn't he?

My three year old nephew while watching the passion play being enacted in my home parish made this comment sometime halfway through...
He is supposed to walk, isn't he?  Tell them to beat him again.  
Most probably he was at the second or third fall of Jesus.  As Mum reported this to me today, she was laughing. She told me, he was partially upset because his sleep was disturbed and no one was moving, till Jesus moved.

Well, I asked myself, Jesus was 'supposed' to have walked the way of Calvary, but was He supposed to?  Had he not 'walked' that way, that day and certainly for that purpose, perhaps, like my nephew's comment, we'd all be still standing still, where we were, making no progress.  Not knowing where to go.  Even in His moments of agony, Jesus leads the way. All I'm asked to do is be courageous and generous enough to walk in His footsteps. 

Why me?

Over the last year I have had to take care of someone who is not psychologically sound (at times) or atleast always be on the alert for signs of tripping on medicine or any signs of highs and lows, which subsequently lead to a dramatic outburst.  Sometimes I found asking myself, why me?  Could not have someone else this 'duty'?  However, one thing that silenced all these questions was the fact that he was one who early on in my formation process guided me, long time ago. Furthermore, he is now family and in the family we do not calculate care and concern.

Sitting this morning for meditation, another 'reason' flashed across my mind.  There is a scene in the Telugu movie 'Anjali', wherein the two children ask their father as to why, of all families and houses, did they (parents) have to get Anjali (the youngest who is mentally challenged) to their house?  The father after a pause replies, "When God wanted to send Anjali on this earth, he looked out for a loving family which would take care of his special child.  He wanted her to have an elder brother who would take care of her, a sister who would play with her and a mother who would love her very much. And he found us! That's why Anjali is with us."

Perhaps this is one way I can put to use the abundant graces God has bestowed upon me... by sharing them, with others, especially those not so blessed as me.

Thank you Lord! 

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Priesthood... for what?

The Eucharistic service of the day was an exalted praise of the institution of the priesthood... without any mention as much - other than ceremonial and meaningless - of the other dimension of the very initiation of this particular ministry (one among the many)... namely 'foot-washing'.

Most people, especially the clergy, are happy and thrilled to celebrate Maundy Thursday as the institution of the Priesthood, by none other than Christ Himself.  They give a damn about why at all did He do or say what He did or said!  We often forget, conveniently, that Priesthood is a ministry for service, service of God and His people.  Anything and everything else is secondary or even less than that!

The moment one tries to emphasise anything above and more than, being in love with Jesus Christ, so madly enough to be able to hear His call and follow Him, is the moment one begins the decline. One may be very pious and 'devoted' but ultimately if there is nothing of the former, then it is all bullshit - however good and 'holy' it may appear! 

Down memory lane

On my way back from Vizag today we saw several children come out of their exam centres and return home after their examination for the day (at about noon time).  We realised they are the tenth standard students writing their public exams.  I remembered that it was exactly twenty years ago that I wrote my X standard exams.

Whew... long long time! I remember well that our centre was in St Theresa's School. The same school where I began my schooling before moving to Don Bosco.  Apart from doing well in those exams, I don't remember much of the whole high tension 'drama' - those days X standard exams were considered something akin to the final judgement itself! 

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Not yet home...

Another Lenten anecdote I came across these days...
A famous actress came back from a two-week visit to China. When the ship landed there was an enthusiastic crowd to welcome her.  On the same ship there was a missionary who had spent his whole life in China and nobody was there to welcome him.  "I do not understand," the missionary prayed, "the difference is too great." "Wait," God answered, "you are not yet home."

Renunciation and Lent

A good story for renunciation, especially in this holy season of Lent...
The boy walked with his mother, holding her hand, with a sweet in the other. A poor lady with a dirty boy, dressed in clothes that were much too large, approached them and asked some help.  The boy looked at his mother so as to ask: "Shall I give him?" and when she nodded approval, the sweet changed hands.  A passer-by was greatly edified and asked the mother, "Now you will certainly buy another sweet for the boy?" "No," said the mother, "because renunciation means to do without."
Some of us in the community expressed our desire to give up meat all through Lent. Since there was not a overwhelming majority, I decided not to impose it on everyone.  So it was decided that meat would be served only on Sundays and I got the exact number of those 'renouncing' meat.  Accordingly I reduced the quantity of meat. That night after supper, a couple of those who raised their hands to say that they are 'sacrificing' meat this Lent, approached me and asked, "Brother, how come you did not inform in the kitchen to serve us eggs, instead of chicken?"

I am not the same everywhere!

Being in the thick of exams, I asked the Brothers not to wander about anywhere and sit anywhere for their study.  I told them to stay put in the study hall or at the most on the veranda outside.  This was primarily to get them used to a particular method of study which involves concentration and getting used to a particular place.  All along the year they sit in the study hall, only during exam times they would like to sit on the terrace, under the stairs, beside the auditorium, under the jackfruit tree...

One of them asked me why can't they study anywhere, anyhow they want to?  I replied, not because any place is good or bad, I just don't trust you guys to make use of any place for study.  I was reminded of an anecdote which was said about someone insisting on going to the forest to pray.  When asked why didn't he pray in his house or in the common place of worship, citing that God is the same everywhere, he replied, "God is the same everywhere, it is I who am not the same everywhere!"

Defining spirituality

We concluded the evaluation of the Brothers today. Of the main five sectors that we based our remarks on, the one dealing with the spiritual dimension was a bit tricky.  Well one might wonder what's so difficult about spiritual dimension for those who intend to become priests?  That's exactly the difficulty. So sometime right in the beginning we agreed that in that section we would not limit ourselves to merely talking or evaluating the practices of piety or punctuality for Mass and capability of reciting prayers and singing.  I, for one, extended (or say, defined) spirituality to mean integrity, a sense of balance and constancy in life as a whole, not just in and around the Church and prayer.

While practices of piety and prayers are part of spirituality, to restrict the latter to the former is absurd...  though very many do that and fail to see the larger picture. But I was glad we collectively agreed upon this wider picture of spirituality.  So we repeatedly asked ourselves, 'How is this person in his overall outlook towards life and relationships? Is he balanced?  Does he live a rather steady and coherent life?  Is there a basic sense of integrity and communion in the various aspects of his heart, mind, body, spirit and attitude?  

God as my witness

Very often we love to see God as the judge. While at Mass last week, a thought struck me: how about God as my witness.  Would that not be the greatest compliment I can ever receive? The worst is when God is a witness, but not on my side!  Or that when called upon to bear witness, he remains silent.  But just imagine if God speaks up on my behalf... wow!

Now I do not mean that He has to appear and speak on my behalf here and now.  It is just my imagination of the final scene in the after life.  But I guess, I'll have to work for that privilege (decision, of course, is God's) here in this life! 

St Joseph and discernment

Here's what I shared with the Brothers for the feast of St Joseph...
Would Joseph have taken Mary for his wife, if not for the message of the angel?  I firmly believe that he would have joyfully taken her to be his wife, angel or no angel, message or no message!  Given the person that he was, he did not need an angel to tell him what is right and what is good.  He knew it by then.  Why and how come?

Basic principle of responsibility and choices:  Everytime I make a choice for the good, I build up my virtue.  Later, when faced with a dilemma or a challenge, I do not have to struggle much for I will invariably choose the good, the true, the right!  Joseph did just that.

Secondly, if Joseph were to have married Mary only at the behest of angel/God's command, and not made that his personal choice, he would have grumbled and cursed both Jesus and Mary the rest of his life - which I'm sure he didn't.  God only proposes, offers, directs and inspires... the choice is always, always with us.  The more I take responsibility, the more I grow.

So what is discernment, if all the choices I make are totally mine?  Well the art is in knowing which one is from God and which one is based on my personal convenience; which one is true and good for all, and which one is true and good for me alone...!  The next step is of course, as important as the discernment process: making that decision, influenced maybe, inspired maybe, 'given to me' maybe... MINE! 

The logical tower...

Long time ago, while correcting one the logic answer papers, I came across this argument in one of the answer sheets of the Brothers. I can never ever forget this!
1st premise: If there is light in the tower, the British are coming.
2nd premise: The British are coming.
Final statement: ___________ (the students were supposed to fill in this).
One of the answers: There is no tower!  

Monday, 25 March 2013

Priesthood

My net connection is restored - the modem was burnt due to a sudden thunder and lightning, last week. There's much that've to write but let me begin with the most plaguing thought of the week...

As we sat for the scrutiny of the Brothers over the last week, I asked myself, what is the idea of Priesthood that most of my students have?  Then I asked something more fundamental: what is my view of priesthood?

So I asked myself what is it that I look for in my students as I evaluate them and vote for their continuity (or not), as with regards the 'vocation' to priesthood?  I basically feel that as priests they are to be men of God... with their heart, head, tongue, every fibre of their body and soul. Well that is only one side of the story. The other and equally important aspect is that they need to be men of people too... men of God for His people!

Furthermore, in and through every thought, word, deed is geared towards knowing and doing God's will... not so much because God wants me to do it, but because I see that it is I who really want to do it out of my own joyful and convinced choice.

A priest is certainly not a mass celebrating machine or a singer entertaining the choir with a sermon for free!  He is also not a church-builder, meaning a contractor!  Does that mean that he does not or should not do all these?  Well, these are only the least he can do... but that would be an insult to this noble vocation.  These are peripherals and without the core (personal choice to be with and for Jesus), they are meaningless and in the long run, run the danger of becoming 'gods' themselves.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Eyer?

The best I've come across so far in my correction of the English answer papers of the second course students (of Philosophy!) is the following...

Guess what is this: EYER

Anyone?? Atleast make an attempt...

Well, that's the spelling for 'year'!  Perhaps the Brother should have been born in the Solomon Islands. He'd have surely felt at home! 

English mincemeat!

One of the phrases that I'd asked them to write a sentence about was 'go bananas' (act or behave in a silly or crazy fashion).... and most of them went bananas. Here are some samples!
People go bananas to the market. 
In the seminary nobody goes bananas on the table. 
There is no day in the Seminary when bananas go away from the table. 
Brothers go bananas to the refectory. 
If Raju kicks the ball, it goes like banana as possible as.
Due to lack of food go bananas.
The helping nature go bananas in the community. 
You can go bananas within 3 years of life in this seminary when you are capable in all the fields. (This, I fully agree!)


Baptism not for non-Catholics

Here's a conversation between the Parish Priest and his catechist about Easter baptisms, (this was one of the questions asked by me in the English exam):
Catechist:  Father can you give baptism to non-Catholics also? Because last week two families approached me and asked about it.
Priest: No. We cannot give baptism to non-Catholics.  They can receive baptism only when they are converted to Christianity.
Catechist: Father, why only Catholic people receive baptism?
Priest: It should not be given to all.  Only those who are born Catholics are converted Catholics will receive baptism.  
The author of this conversation is one preparing for Priesthood, doing his second year of Philosophy! 

Thursday, 7 March 2013

English earthquakes!

I began to correct the English answer papers of my students today. Invariably there are some answers to keep me awake and amused... here are the first few samples:
Man can do nothing but stand an eviction to disasters. (Don't ask me what is he writing about or what he means by this!). 
My analysis deals with major earthquakes that our times have managed. 
... more yet to come! 

Monday, 4 March 2013

Happy with the apparent!

Most of my seminarians believe and are firmly convinced that as priests, when encountered with some difficulty brought forth to their kind consideration, all they have to do is this: dole out some advice (say something) with two to three Biblical verses (with reference as icing).  That done, the problem is solved and everyone is happy!

However, my guys fail to see the indepth values and the subsequent demands this ministry makes on us.  They need to realise that a mere blah-blah with a verse added as decoration and delivered with a dramatic flair and all of it enveloped in some bullshit 'advice', cannot be an adequate response.  It is people we are dealing with and not some dolls or even children who can be temporarily helped to get over their troubles with a fairytale and a candy.  They are people who need to be strengthened, to be helped to stand and fight their own battles;  they are people with flesh and blood and a whole lot of power hidden.  Unless we assist people REALLY (and even receive their help, when in need), we have no right to bluff them!  We cannot make Karl Marx's idea of religion as opium, come right, while all the time denying it.  

Accident?? How bad??

While Fr T.V. Jose was an assistant at Ravulapalem, a boarder had been home to visit his relatives who had met with an accident.

On his return to the boarding, Fr Jose asked him how bad was the accident.  The boy's reply: "Average."

God of little things

The Biblical text of Naaman (2 Kings 5: 1-15) and his cure at the hands of the prophet Elisha is a good lesson in understanding our God, our God who is in little and small things... not always the grandiose and solemn things that we would love to associate Him with. To begin with, it was the little slave girl who informs Naaman about the prophet in Israel. It was the little thing that Naaman had to do, to get cured - go bathe in Jordan (nothing great or grand about it at all).  Then it was the 'little man, Naaman's servant, who interrupts Naaman before he totally rebuffs Elisha's instructions.  Perhaps it was also Naaman's little faith that he could get cured that brought him to Israel. However, a confluence, a harmonious blending of all these little things brought about something grand and great.

Silly of us to see and applaud the final miracle but not recognise God in the little things that led to this final change.  

Formatted God!

The reading of the day from the second book of the Kings (2 Kings 5: 1-15), about Naaman, rightly highlights something of ourselves whenever we interact with God.  We 'want' God, but in our way, in our time and in our 'format'.  Anything or anyone outside of this parameter, is not God!  Naaman had his treatment planned out.  He expected the Prophet to come out, pay homage to this 'military commander' and then do some sort of magic or miraculous ceremony by which his leprosy would disappear.  Instead all he is asked to do is bathe in Jordan!  God did not fit in his pre-formatted mind, hence he walks away in a huff.

God has His own ways, at times quite different from what we think or wish.  To fit Him in our little understanding and expect Him to be just that little is perhaps trying to bonsai a century old grown up tree... neither the tree nor our dream survives!

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Demystifying 'community'

On February 12, 2013 The Hindu carried an interesting article by Sanjay Srivastava on it Op-Ed page, titled "Pathology of the hurt sentiment".  It shed some interesting light and presented some refreshing facts about community and feelings. As I read the article then, something struck me but I couldn't figure out what.  So I preserved that page and it has been rolling on my table (which is often clean of any papers except my planner) since then.  I picked it up again today and it occurred to me that perhaps there is some lesson for me about our Salesian or religious community in this article. So here are the excepts that led me to this insight:
A community is not a monolithic object and not all members of a community enjoy equal rights and privileges.  In fact, very frequently, the idea of not hurting public sentiments only serves to mask the fact that it is the attitudes of the most privileged that are being protected from criticism.  There are, actually, not only communities, but also individuals with different interests, and relationship to power and privilege.  
A note about the past, history... tradition:
When public commentators are urged not to hurt public sentiments, it is an an implicit plea to allow past practices and beliefs to dictate contemporary life. 
Continual glorification of the past is, in fact, a frequent indicator of contemporary cultural nervousness. 
Demands for respecting public sentiments are not only premised on the idea that there is a homogenous public out there, but that sentiments and beliefs are themselves unchanging.  Further, that the slightest questioning of an established way of thinking will lead to civilizational chaos, disharmony and social disarray. 
The idea of 'community' is, in the final analysis, both an objective reality as well as fiction.  For, we might, for instance, pray in a similar manner to many others (and the act forms an actual religious community), but to think that all members of a community must continue to believe in ideas that might have been prevalent a hundred years ago is to present a fairytale version of what community life should be about.  
Some bells about radical life of witness, community life, upholding tradition, preserving our heritage, identity, and the upcoming Salesian Brothers' Congress are ringing in my ears! 

Funeral Oration

Having witnessed Fr Maliekal's struggle to explain me (a Salesian Brother, not as a would-be priest), I decided to speak something in that line and thank Fr Maliekal's mother for the same.  This is what I spoke to those gathered for the funeral (in English; for if I were to have spoken in Malayalam, the dead would have resurrected and those living reached the gates of heaven instantly!):
We often think very highly of priests and religious, with a feeling that their 'vocation' is a very noble and a 'lofty' one.  However, every vocation is a vocation to life, to love, to serve.  As priests and religious we only choose one form of doing that.  But every path of life also offers this. Greatness lays not in becoming a priest or brother or sister, but in living one's life to the full. And today we thank this mother who lays here before us for exactly this: that she not only lived her life to the full but helped her children too, five of whom are present here with us, to identify and equip them with the necessary skills to live their life to the full too.  For this we thank you Mummy! 

Funeral of Ms Kochuthresia

I am not very comfortable at funerals, hence I avoid them altogether.  I must have attended no more than 3 funerals so far.  This funeral, the one of Fr Maliekal's mother was quite different and unique.  It was much more sober than the ones I previously attended. It was as per the Syrian rite... therefore no Mass but just a service before the funeral (there was one for the family after the funeral, though).  The ceremony conducted at home itself was quite moving.  Though held in Malayalam, I could feel the depth and the richness of the liturgy.  Another interesting fact I noticed was that everytime a religious or a Priest would come to pay their last respects, there would be a special prayer they would intone and all those present would join.  It was something really very prayerful.  And this funeral would be most special because, this is the first time I witnessed someone being interned in the wall and not buried.

Here are a few snaps of the funeral procession...


Maiden visit to the land of Churches

On Wednesday February 27, in the early hours we received the sad news of the demise of Fr Jose Maliekal's mother.  She was an epitome of health and strength and so her sudden death, due to a heart attack was a shock for all who knew her well.  I accompanied Fr Maliekal to his hometown of Puthenpeedika, Trichur (Kerala) for the funeral and as a representative of the community.

This was my maiden visit to Kerala and I certainly did not expect it would be for this sad occasion.  Though Fr Maliekal offered to take me to a couple of Salesian houses in the vicinity of his house or others offered to take me around after the funeral I politely declined since I wanted to spend time with the family.  I am glad I did that.  I got to meet all his family members, even the distant ones.  Fr Maliekal made sure I was introduced to each one.  He also made sure they were well confused about me being a Brother.  Of course, he was only trying to demystify the idea of 'only a brother - yet to become a priest'.  He was trying his best to tell them that there is something more than just being a brother, on the way to Priesthood!

Two things that struck me immediately about Kerala: there are churches everywhere. In fact, the first noticeable structure that I recognised from the plane was a Church - and so was every other structure.  Fr Maliekal's home parish itself was a huge thing. Secondly all along the roads, every 10 mins one comes across a nun in her habit - now that's something one does not witness everywhere (perhaps in Rome, maybe).

Overall, it was a very very enriching trip. 
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