Wednesday, 31 December 2014

PK and lively ads

As I was glancing through the movie posters of PK, I came across these two hilarious pics related to the movie.
 Amul has always done great contextual and vibrant ads. This one is just one of those several! The use of words, pun and crisp nature of these ads is something remarkable.
(Translation: For those who shaved their head, in imitation of the movie ´Ghajini´, PK offers a real test of loyalty!)  ... Aamir Khan appears naked in the opening scenes of the movie! 

Theology or Anthropology?

As I was updating - or rather, reworking - my class notes for Modern Western Philosophy, I came across the dilemma of one of the writers, while speaking about some early philosophers.  He states that most of what is spoken of God is basically a human perception.  Philosophy of God actually offers a good insight into anthropology! 

What we actually perceive about God and all things related to God, is more about ourselves than about something supernatural.  Even in the movie, PK, if one focusses only on the God-talk or religion banter or about theology, one is certain to make a fool of oneself.  Instead if we focus our attention on what does the movie speak about us human beings, especially those who vehemently claim to be disciples or followers of a ´good and great´ God, then we stand to learn a lot.

Another thing that strikes me about the protests against the movie: when religious leaders speak of sacrifice, renunciation, brotherhood and all those virtues spoken of by true religion, there is hardly anyone paying attention, leave alone living up to those ideals.  But when there is something very fundamental and challenging that is posed about religion, every Tom, Dick and Harry becomes a ´religious´ person, a ´true devotee´.  

God as a person

I did an experiment to find out how much of God do we truly seek to grasp and understand.  I did a word cloud search for the term ´God´ and I chose the following at random.  I know this is no scientific or valid research, but still is an indicator.
God is barely seen as a person, a being. He is most always a ´he´; synonymous with a string of his attributes; very theological and conceptual (of course, I understand it is a word cloud!)...

What I wish to basically state is that God is rarely looked up to as a person. And even if the term ´god´ is expressed in personal vocabulary, it is of someone and I am merely appropriating it, sans the initial person´s experience! In that sense, the term looses its meaning and flavour and everything, sooner or later.  It becomes an empty shell - good and great on the outside but very much hollow and agonizingly burdensome within!

God Himself is so desperate to become human - I suppose, that´s what Christmas is all about - but we human beings are more desperate to make him divine! 

God and Religion

One of the major flaws of human thinking - consequently affecting human behaviour, attitude and relationships - is to equate God with religion; Christ with the Church.

Religion is basically a means to lead one to God but most of us conveniently settle for religion and God is ultimately, subtly, thrown out of the picture altogether (though His name and image will very well be used as a shield).  Religion makes a caricature of God and it is worshipped as sacred; an individual tries to portray his idea of God arising out of a deep personal experience with God, and he is branded a heretic or a blasphemer.  

PK, God and Religion

I began watching the hindi movie PK yesterday.  I am yet to complete watching it. For once I did not want to rush in to see the conclusion.  I just wanted to savour it... let the questions sink in and let questions in me arise.
As I sat reflecting on some of the primary questions or issues the movie tackles, I asked myself, why did PK start searching for God?  Was it only because he lost something? Was it not also that he, who earlier did not have a notion of God, was ´told´ about God and that he had all the answers?!  What if PK were to have followed his own method or strategy to find his lost property? Would the storyline be the same? Perhaps! Not really sure!

I keep reading about the protests and agitations against the movie in several parts of the country. Several Hindu outfits and groups denouncing the way the movie portrays religion and religious leaders.  I asked myself what if the movie was remade with a Christian slant?  Would the Church too have objection to it?

Frankly speaking, from the part that I watched, there wasn´t anything objectionable about the movie: either in its portrayal of religion or God?  All that it does is raise pertinent and very deep questions about God, religion and humanity. Those who feel ´threatened´ by the questions or presentation, ought to introspect and see what is that that they are frightened about? And if one is genuinely interested in God or religion, seek to find worthy answers for the same, rather than silence the questioner itself. 

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Dying young

Priests and religious die young, perhaps 40 to 45;
but are buried only at the age of 80 or 90! 
said by Fr Kulandai SJ

Monday, 15 December 2014

Choose to be holy

Reading the Old Testament from the perspective of gathering the history of the people of Israel, one cannot notice the whole divine-human dynamics that goes on. I think the point where the Israelites then, and we today, fail to really live up to the sanctity that God calls us to and offers, is when we rest complacent over the gift that He offers.  This is applicable all the more to Priests and religious who claim to be chosen, 'specially' by God (something I totally beg to differ with).
God chose us! True! But that fact does not automatically makes us holy!  I too have to constantly, regularly, every moment and through every deed of mine, choose to be holy.

As for the fact of being chosen by God, whom did God not choose? Anyone?  God calls each one!  Each one! 

Poverty vs Poverty

I remember during one of the meetings in the Provincial house, while discussing about our life of poverty and the corresponding lifestyle that we live, Fr Sebastian John made a very strong point. He said that in the Indian context when we say that we are like the Hindu sanyasis, it is actually a very very contradictory imagery we are providing.  The Hindu sanyasi when he leaves home, he leaves everything: attachment to his family, material possessions, family inheritance, every comfort of the world.  He is practically a beggar on the street, living his life day to day on the charity of others.

In such a context, when we say that we have left behind everything for the congregation and Don Bosco, it is actually a farce!  We do leave our own families... but build up relations with the community members and call them our 'family'; neither are we totally cut off from our natural families altogether.  We say we have given up our family inheritance... but we lack nothing!  We live a comfortable life, assured that the congregation will take care of our every need.  We have buildings to live in (not a small house); separate individual rooms, meals all round the clock, vehicles for our conveyance, domestic helpers to do our work (not only the work of the community)...

And the fact of not owning anything? Well the tons of lugguage we chug along when we move from house to house when on transfer, in contrast to the small 'potli' (sack) a sanyasi owns, speaks for itself.  

Celibacy and Sexuality

As part of the psycho-sexual integration seminar held last week, Fr P.O. Jose made an interesting observation.  When asked why was it that this topic never really discussed in religious formation curriculum in the past, he replied, that it was purposely ignored.  Somehow, besides the various imaginary stigmas and prejudiced notions that hindered an open discussion on topics related to sexuality, there was this peculiar underlying belief that the vow of chastity would somehow make things alright!  That making the vow of chastity would spare one of all the inclinations of the body and sexuality.

Today we realise that the vow of celibacy and a holistic understanding of sexuality is a real bonus for us to love, love all and love deeply. 

Priesthood and homosexuality

Last week there was a seminar for our students on psycho-sexual integration. As the conclusion of the same there was a panel discussion. During the discussion there was one point made by Fr Jose Mathew, in his usual sober tone, as a matter of fact. When asked why is it that the Catholic Church does not look very encouragingly upon those with homosexual tendencies as candidates to religious or priestly life, he  gave the Church's viewpoint, then from the point of psychology and finally concluded stating this: Why is it that this point alone is being singled out as 'against' the Church.  The Church clearly sets down certain requirements of those who are called to serve the rest.  There is community life (for the religious), the demand of detachment (poverty), humility (obedience)... and so is this aspect too.  That as men called to live in a community as Brothers to reach out to serve those to whom we are sent to, especially we as Salesians called to serve the young, we need to be men who can love one and all equally. And for this if our inclinations and motivations draw us to one or only a few then we will never be able to truly be generous in loving everyone.  

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Adieu, dear Fr Lens!

Let me start this month of December and break my long silence with a rather sad event: the death of Fr John Lens sdb.  Of all the Salesians I know, I always looked upon Fr Lens as the closest representation of Don Bosco.  His loss, is indeed much felt and is indeed a great loss, especially for our Province.

Several good and great things were enumerated about Fr Lens yesterday during his funeral service.  More than that the very presence of so many Salesians, even those from the neighbouring Province of Bangalore, and most specially of ex-Salesians and past pupils, was a indeed a great testament of Lens' impact as a person.

He never learnt Telugu (the local language) and did not have a great liking for inculturation with regard to liturgical matters.  But viewed through the whole large prism - as large as the largest Egyptian pyramid itself - these factors are mere dust!

I personally did not really feel sad for I am convinced that he was a man who did much more than what was assigned to him by God when he put him on earth... much, much more!  There would hardly be anyone who would claim that he could have done more than what he did during the years, he spent with us.  Even in his old age, he never knew what it was to sit idle, do nothing! He always kept himself happily occupied. Most of all he read!  Everyday, ... even hours before his final breath.

My immediate thoughts about this simple yet, giant of a Salesian of Don Bosco, soon after I heard about his death are here as posted on the Salesian national website

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Teaching - Marks assured!

Teaching philosophy - or for that matter, any subject - to a group of seminarians is perhaps the most unrewarding task one can engage oneself in (with the exception of what benefits one derives personally from the effort one makes, not much can be expected of the students). Most of the students 'go through' the curriculum only and only because it stands between them and ordination.  If this stage were to be side-tracked in any legal way, there would hardly be a handful choosing to study at all!

So I'm thinking of  a proposal:
Offer students the choice of earning 45 marks (40 being the pass mark) by merely opting out of the class. That would mean they need not attend classes, no assignments, no reading requirements and no tests and final exam either.  The alternative is to stay in class, go through the grind of study, fulfill enough and more requirements of the course and EARN the 40 marks, or more as per one's effort. Of course, prior to making this proposal, I first need to assure and promise them that there would be no repercussions, whatsoever, from anyone or any quarter at all, for the choice they make.  That's primarily to put to rest the conviction that most of them carry about in their heads that passing in the exam and subservience are two requirements for promotion to the next level of formation.  So if this is assured, then only those who are really interested in LEARNING, will stick on. Oh what a joy will such a learning - and teaching - be!  

The 'best' ... where to?

For many years I've always heard and seen in concrete, the policy of religious superiors to send their best personnel to formation houses - whether they be young practical trainees or seasoned confreres.  I too found this very logical and practical.  After all, to train those learning the ropes, you need to send in the ones who are 'ideal'. (One can very well contest who decides and on what criteria, the tag 'best' is awarded to some... aren't we all the best of who we are, or supposed to be).
However, during the GC 27 when the Salesians met Pope Francis, the latter exhorted the superiors to send out the best to be with the young, making explicit that the 'best' are not to be reserved for theology or formation.  When I read it first, I really thought that Pope Francis was not at his best that day. But now reflecting on that and all that is transpiring in my mind and around me, I realize the truth in what Pope Francis suggested.  It makes complete sense when I realize that youngsters joining us are not from formation houses but from different settings we work in.  And if youngsters do not see a life worth living, a challenge not fit taking up, why on earth will they ever join a religious order?  And even if they do join it will be for something totally counter to what religious life is all about... and why is that? That's because that is how religious life is presented to them.  

At home?

I've been trying to decipher as to why the 'participation model' works best in a home for street children, and not so well in a formation setting, at least in the Philosophate.  My analysis may be too raw or biased.  All the same I feel it is something that needs to be taken into consideration.

A child from the street, is very enthusiastic and most importantly responsible, when it comes to partaking with the caretakers in decision making, especially those decisions that affect him.  Perhaps this is because the child or the youngster knows from first hand experience what it means to make a choice and then bear the consequences of the same.  The choice to leave home and take to the streets was his and so were the consequent consequences of his choice.  He has that learning experience.  So now when you offer him a share in making decisions, perhaps even guided decisions, he still will very well be aware that the consequences of that decision or choice are going to be facing him sometime or the other.

A young man moving into the formation house, too leaves home to either become a Priest or a religious.  But hold on, does he?  Or has he moved from one house to another? Does he really accept the consequences of that choice of leaving home and live accordingly?  Or does he demand and expect the 'new' home to provide him with better facilities than the one he left?  Is he challenged enough to 'make a home' rather than merely enjoy the security the present home provides to slip into a comfortable life of ease?  To one who has never made any further choices, nor faced the consequences of the first choice, to such a youngster 'participation' would only mean a cushion to make his life - and his life alone - comfortable. 

Sunday, 2 November 2014

For everyone else...

Just a couple of days ago there was a particular person's name doing the rounds in some parts of the US.  It was of a professor of religion at Cleaveland. He taught at St Ignatius High School and his name was Jim Skerl.  To know more of him watch the video below... or read this article (from The Deacon's Bench)
Besides the many initiatives he undertook and lead young people to join in, what struck me most was his quote on the perspective of education he offered:
An Ignatius education does not exist to make you better than everyone else. It exists to make you better FOR everyone else.
I suppose that idea can be apt for any formation setting as well ... formation is not be make one better than everyone else but FOR everyone else!

The militant Church

Only today did I come to know that the Church considers those living on earth and making their way up to heaven, as the 'militant Church'.  Furthermore that the 'communion of saints' meant that the three categories of saints, the triumphant (those already in heaven), the militant (those of us still alive) and the suffering (those in purgatory) are always in support of one another.

The former fact surprised me, not so much the concept but the title itself, 'militant'.  Somehow I did not expect the Church, of yesteryear to be so 'radical', even in according titles.  Besides it is also good to see that the Church does accord some status to us living, not so much as sinful and dreaded but as 'saints'.  That's truly very encouraging and affirmative.  

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

The best and the worst

It is said that one gets to see the real nature of a person only in times of crisis.  It is also said that in times of natural calamities or disasters, one gets to see the worst of humanity.  Well, I've seen the best and the worst!

Here's the list of the worst (how and who):

  • getting the survey inspectors to review the damage to farm and property: phone, plead, send emissaries, wait, and sometime even bribe the village secretary, only to get them to do the assessment
  • approach the Revenue office with petition for compensation or help to repair damaged residence of the boys:  the MRO tells you, hostels are not residences! (So where do the boys stay? At his residence?)
  • erecting fallen electrical poles and pulling new wires to restore electricity: bribe in someway or the other, practically every Tom, Dick and Harry
  • distribution of food, clothing and essential material: not without labels bigger than the product stuck on each item, a big banner in the backdrop, atleast a couple of photographers and journalists, and the assurance that this 'charitable act' would appear in the newspaper the following day
  • (may sound absurd, but true!) charging cell phones, in the face of lack of electricity: people charging Rs 150

On the other hand, it was amazing to see some people like Nagaraj, Appa Rao, Suribabu and several others, walk in time to time, to say hello and willingly join in some work being done.  Even past pupils of the place (who happened to drop in for collecting some certificates from the schools or some financial support) walk in and stay on to help, just like that! Or a farmer pulling down the fence around his property and well so that those around, or anyone for that matter, could use the water from the well. 

Feel, Do, Be ... Good

Often our whole formation structure and all our activities are geared towards, perhaps unconsciously, making one 'feel good'.  Whether it is prayer, work, study, relationship, apostolate... The same is repeated when the students complete their basic formation and are involved in full-time apostolate, not just in their early years but all through life.  Make people 'feel good'.  So we have 'good' sermons, 'radical' documents, 'smiling' relationships, 'high-scoring' students, ...

Some of these boys go on to also 'do good'. That certainly is one step ahead of merely 'feeling good'.  So, some charitable works once in a way.  Some heroic deeds in some place... the rest of time is spent on riding high on the good feeling that is earned from such deeds!

However, very few - very very very few - graduate to 'being good'.  Now that's a different ball game!  'Feeling good' is a form of escapism (from growing in depth, from being men of substance).  'Doing good' is a form of lethargy (can, but do not will).  'Being good' on the other hand, demands a sustained endeavour, a collective effort, radical choices and lifestyle in congruence with those choices, a steady and joyful commitment... there is no play acting here, no breaks/holidays (from being good).  

Study of philosophy

I had an interesting discussion yesterday with a section of the second course students as introduction to the subject, Modern Western Philosophy.  It was basically in the context of modern western thought declaring independence from religion and doctrine to chalk out a path or strategy for philosophy (as against the domination of Christian thought and doctrine during the medieval era). In that context, I stated that Philosophy till then was considered as a handmaid of theology and perhaps this led to the Canonical requirement that those aspiring to Priestly ordination ought to undergo philosophical training too.  So I asked the group, if they, either out of their own experience or what they gathered from the seniors, felt the relevance and importance of studying philosophy, especially in preparation for priestly ordination.  The group was divided.  Some were very convinced and clear as to how philosophy has opened up vistas for them hitherto not thought of.  Some stated that it has indeed strengthened their faith.  There were also some who frankly felt that perhaps three years was too long a duration. They were of the opinion that Philosophical studies could be of some shorter duration, perhaps a year.  The other two years (major portion of the available time) could be catered to studies on the Bible.  Their argument was that people are thirsting for the Word of God, not philosophy.  Furthermore they argued, that at times, those who do not study philosophy, reason out better and are more rational than those who undergo a systematic course on philosophy. And as it is, we naturally reason out, so why Philosophy?!

I fear the latter group considers philosophy as another course, another subject to be studied.  (I am sure, they consider studies related to the Bible too in the same manner!) However, they fail to see that study of philosophy basically offers them tools and skills that need to be imbibed, personalised, and then applied. Rather than a set of doctrines to be studied, Philosophy offers the skill to make the most of reason.

This is the same of even social communication or media.  That's the reason I am not very much for a separate department or commission for communication.  It is not an independent body or section that works by itself.  It is what facilitates and lubricates all our endeavours. It does not and cannot have an identity of its own, totally independent of the common mission.  Communication is for communion and not merely for communication! 

Exchange programme?

Staying at Sabbavaram for a week and noticing things, I realise that there is not much of a difference between a Nava Jeevan institute (home for street children) and a Philosophate (like the one where I am presently)... or between the children and staff of Nava Jeevan and the Brothers in the formation setting... especially when regard to maintenance of buildings, concern for goods of the house, allergy for prayer, resistance to hardships and difficulties, enthusiasm to do things for the house, attitude towards work, priority of food over most of the things, an amazing ability to pass stinging comments...

I wonder if there would be much of a difference if we exchanged the Brothers here for boys from Nava Jeevan! I also ask myself, if I was any different there than how I am here and now? And what am I upto, given the fact that I can affect transformative policies?

I figure that one of the aspects that does play a role, is how grounded has been my upbringing and what / where /  who do I consider HOME. 

Money, as the spoil sport

Over the years I've become convinced that money plays spoil sport in most human endeavours, especially those undertaken by religious!  The staff, students, and even visitors get the impression that there is plenty of money with the Salesians... and it does not take too long for them to become convinced of this!  How?  We Salesians ourselves live and give that impression.  This does more harm than good to all those involved.  A very unhealthy attitude sets in, among our boys, our staff, the visitors, government officials and civil authorities.  Everyone seeks to grab and use - the right word would be 'abuse' - the house, with everything in it. Rather than be concerned about the goods that we use, either in common or private, there is a tendency to merely use.  And if a particular gadget or tool is spoiled or damaged or misplaced, no one is really affected. No one tries to look for it or attempts to fix it up. Why? If not this, we can always 'get' another one.  We merely need to make a 'list'... and lo, a new one would appear.  This applies to clothes, stationery articles, books, tools, furniture, equipment, buildings, ... even food and people! 

Attitude towards work ... being at home

By nature, most people I've encountered during my work in Andhra, are not industrious... certainly not most of the youngsters.  Some work hard, but only under constant supervision. Left to themselves, they're either drunk or asleep or both! Very many are specialists in dodging work.  They know where exactly not to be and if by chance they are caught up at a place where there is work to be done, they have skills to disappear within seconds.  The most favourite 'work' is 'khali ga undadam' (that's 'being idle', in Telugu!).  There are some who do work but take ages to complete something that could very well have been completed in an hour or so.  But all the while they are 'working'.

I closely and very clearly noticed the difference in attitude towards work, in general, during the past one week.  What makes the difference is when one perceives the work at hand, as mine.  The house where I live, as my home.  When I am at home, I give my best, my heart and soul, my flesh and blood, my time and energy, the best and last!

Another fact that was reiterated was the practical working alongside with the staff or boys.  It does make a huge difference.  When some of the boys and others asked me why I was so passionate about doing things all the while, I could only tell them that I consider this, where I am now, as my home... and I'd like to make it the best place I am capable of envisioning.  

An overview of Devipuram

Perhaps an overview of Devipuram, Sabbavaram would give a holistic picture of what I put down henceforth.

The place is about 40 - 45 kms from the port city of Visakhapatnam and was equally - if not more badly - battered by Hudhud on October 12, 2014.  We Salesians have a rehabilitation home for our Street and under-priviledged children exactly opposite to the small road leading to the temple at Devipuram.  We have about 101 boys staying with us and attending the local schools in the vicinity. There are also batches of young people who attend the vocational training courses offered by DB Tech, in another part of the same campus.

On the day of Hudhud, the children were at home and luckily none of them was injured or hurt. Of course, some crazy and weird media reports did do the rounds.  I was asked to help out at the place and I reached there exactly a week later.

On entering the city of Vizag, I gathered that the damaged done by the 7 hours of relentless winds blowing over 200 km/hr, was more than I imagined or witnessed ever before.  The city itself was most badly hit.  I could not trace one single tree standing intact; most of the huge and lush green trees were all uprooted.

At Sabbavaram, none of the 700 coconut trees, we have in our sprawling 19.5 acres of land, is intact.  Some 200 have totally fallen and the rest appear like the alien ships in the movie The War of the Worlds.  The 4 acres of cashew trees resemble something like a plate of noodles!  Most of the teak trees were flattened. Those that were spared of kissing the ground, appear as if someone chopped off not only its branches but every single leaf as well!  Not one electrical pole - neither in the campus nor on the state highway along which we have our home - is standing tall.  The electrical lines, even those of the high tension wires and poles are all strewn over the place. The oldest residential structure, one of asbestos sheets is bereft of all its sheets and is totally open to the sky. The other two buildings witnessed the sintex plastic water tanks being ripped off and flung a couple of kilometres away.  The kitchen, made of thatched palm leaves, had to rebuilt (temporarily) for all the poles and sticks supporting it have given way.  Even heavy metallic objects and every kind of odd household material can be found in the campus, most of which belongs to some neighbours living a couple of kms away.  The stench of dead poultry from the surrounding farms added the missing fragrance to the scene.  The swarms of houseflies by day and mosquitoes by night never missed offering their company and 'hospitality' to the handful of us inmates trying to rebuild our life.

[Letter of the director, appealing for assistance]

To make the most of the least

I returned to my community from Sabbavaram, yesterday morning, exactly after a week.  I was at Sabbavaram to help the place get back on its feet, and more specially to make it hospitable enough for the boys to return, after the place was battered badly by the cyclone Hudhud.  There are several things I learnt and observed during my week long stay there.  I will surely chronicle them in the days to come.  (I purposely did not click any photos not did I secure any, for I did not want to limit my experience to some visual sympathy or use the pics for any propaganda!)

However, my first and the most strong impression, as I get back to life here and its rhythm - quite different from the one that I got into, while at Sabbavaram:  comfort and luxury dulls the person; frugality really brings out the best in an individual.

No wonder why religious and consecrated life emphasises so much on the vows of poverty as a means to holiness.  The more we have, the more we become choosy and fussy.  The less we have, the better we appreciate the little we have and find ways to make the most of what is at hand.  

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Evolution of Communication

While preparing for my Communication course next semester, which begins this Monday, I came across the following cartoon. Good one, describing the evolution of communication and information technology over the centuries... of course, with a lot of humour and truth too!

Bakers display...

Last week while in Mumbai for the South Asia Formation Commission meeting, we had the opportunity to visit the Don Bosco Centre for Learning at Kurla.  It truly has grown in a multi-layered zone of educational and professional training centre.  One of the things we got to witness was the bread display by the hospitality centre.  Here are a few pics...


Monday, 13 October 2014

Situational Formation? (2)

I reproduce here something more tangible and sensible, as continuation of my previous post of Situational Formation?. The following is a response that came in from a good and well-intentioned friend of mine. 
... what you are saying in other words, is let them be lay people engaged in spiritual and religious study. It is fantastic but you may have 2 priests at the end of the entire process. Needless to say, those two will be priests you will be proud of (might turn out to be very individualistic and weird too by regular church standards), but you will only have that kind of numbers. 
Experience of daily practical stresses is also why some lay people can be much better at pastoral work than priests. They understand how hard it is to balance. And then too, you can see how hard it is to put the beatitudes into practice. Almost certain, that the quality of preaching will change. Then, the church will get into the business of justifying why, how, what, cost, so on and so forth, just to pump up those numbers and you will be back at square one. 
Take a middle path. Treat them like we would our kids who are studying who have to earn a scholarship. They need to work hard and/or be brilliant. If not, then they need to earn while studying to pay the fee (subsidised please..we need to give them a break). Once the course is done, they all work for a living like the rest of us. The church would need to pay them a living wage. (this would be like the apostles were- they worked for their living and preached the good news). I say church because if they had to perform regular jobs, they won't be able to do full-time priest jobs.
I'm posting this text for I see a great value behind the whole idea of formation and priesthood/religious life... and if anyone is not willing to attempt to see it, leave alone embark on this risky journey, will really need to clarify his or her concept and orientation towards consecrated life, primarily to God and also to His people. 

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Situational Formation?

Our final year students are just back from a week-long exposure to social work and analysis.  I am told that they were working in the mornings and in the evenings going around the village collecting data, and evaluating the same in the night.  All of them look tired and worn out.  It is understandable as they are not used to such rigorous schedule of manual work, and study.

So I'm wondering, what if study for religious life/Priesthood too is made on par with this schedule.  We live in a particular functional house (not a well-furnished, royal palace).  Go out for work, earn our daily bread and fees... for as of now none of us pays for our food, lodge and study.  Suppose each one is to fend for himself... And then, study too!!  Not really in that order but all the same, why not have such a 'format', wherein each one has to 'earn' his formation process (study, work, pay)?  Practically this has several difficulties, I know.  However, I think we can attempt this module because the present luxurious model is not yielding appropriate results.  We get so used to the comfort that the house provides, that 'work' and 'living' does not seem our cup of tea anymore, especially once outside the formation setting.  

Thursday, 9 October 2014

An apostle?

The apostles of Jesus, as listed in the Gospels, can more or less be divided into three groups

  1. The ones closest to Jesus, headed by Peter
  2. the ones who had the most number of contacts with the non-Jews, under the leadership of Philip and
  3. those who were very strict about the Judaic tradition. 

Though they had their ideological differences, they worked as a team, a community. However, human as they were (including Jesus himself), there were some squabbles, differences and misunderstandings among themselves on various occasions - not only after Jesus' time, but during his time itself.

Now for the questions: Can I add my name too to the list?  After all, the apostles were called upon to witness Jesus.  And by my profession, am I too not called to witness Christ and the Kingdom?  And if my name is on the list, to which group would I belong?  

The 'how' of formation

An insight from today's homily by Fr Ivo...
Jesus' temptation was not about his identity as the Son of God or the Messiah but as to HOW to be the Messiah.  
In our formation scenario too, there are many who are passionate about the way our youngsters need to be formed to be 'good' Salesians, all with noble intentions.  However, the differences are not so much about the need for formation or the importance of it, rather differences are due to the mode of formation to be offered.

I think this is where the formation delegate and the respective rectors play a great role.  One can be very eclectic or too monolithic, but the ideal would be to follow a very comprehensive outlook and then a specific mode. Of course, the animator also needs to rope in all involved in the process, especially the formees themselves. 

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Christian paradoxes

Some paradoxes of our Christian life and mission: 
  • Christians: We have Christians who are baptised but not evangelised
  • Salesians: There are members who have professed but not committed
  • Priests: Clerics who are ordained as Priests but not Spiritual
  • Religious: Persons who have come forward voluntarily and professed to a life of committed dedication but insipid in their relationship, especially to those whom they have committed their life to (God and His people)
May sound quite pessimistic, but there is some truth in these statements. 

Saint and Martyrs

An amusing quote from our discussions...
If we have a saint in the community, then the rest are martyrs! 

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Don Bosco and Psychological Sciences

There is a lot of talk about the utility of psychological testing especially in the pre-novitiate.  The argument is that it is not for sending someone away but basically to help someone better in their vocational journey.  I myself have seen what good psychological sciences can bring in for the formation process - also the trauma it can cause in some cases!

What I am now asking myself is how did Don Bosco manage?  His time there was hardly any psychological tests or sciences at hand to use.  But he did well.  The boys did well.  The confreres did well.

Another perspective on the same could be that he may not have used psychological sciences but he did use the available sciences and means to enrich the quality of his Salesians and boys.  So why not use presently available means to enhance the quality of our life and mission?

Another take: What of the simple traditional but guaranteed methods and strategies?  

Discernment and Decision

At what time does a youngster with us 'decide' that he is to be a Priest or Brother?
The aspirantate? But isn't that still a forum or platform for discernment... so much so it does not even come under the formation commission. It is placed under the youth pastoral department. (that is something I learnt only today!) Salesian formation commences only with the pre-novitiate!

The pre-novitiate? But that's only to discern whether or not, I have a vocation to religious life. Perhaps also to know more about the Salesian congregation and Don Bosco.

Novitiate? Well this could be a place where one finally makes a decision. But one only becomes only a temporarily professed member of the congregation at his first profession. This too is not the final decision-making moment.  It is again a trial period (lasting 6 to 9 years)!

Well, the final preparation for perpetual profession (for a Brother) or Ordination (for a Cleric) could be the final decision-making moment.  That means, from the time a youngster enters the Salesian house (at the age of 18 or so) till this moment (say, age 29) what the hell is he doing???  Already decided?? Or discerning??!

Isn't discernment a process? And at some time, a decision. Yes! But open to review by self and others! If my decision is so fixed and finalised that I am not willing to let it be challenged, neither by self nor others, then I am not even letting it grow. I'm only fanatically preserving it (my vocation), – mostly out of fear that in case something damages it, I would no more be a Priest or Salesian – not living it out recklessly and joyfully.

Vocation as my choice

Don Bosco was not the Rector of a formation house... he was a 'father' to a group of young boys who had none. He was the head of an oratory. In this context the confidence that boys had on him made a big difference. The boys felt comfortable and free to open up, pour out their hearts and souls to Don Bosco because they had nothing to lose – they knew well, they stand to gain!

As with regards to our discussion, we claim to be formators, perhaps Rectors of formation houses. The boys in our care are candidates for our Salesian way of life. The matter of confidence is applicable here too. However, what acts as a hindrance, affecting also the confidence factor, is the matter of choice. In very many instances, the candidates with us have already 'decided' – the process of discernment is often skipped – that they are to become Priests, continue being Salesians. So in this context, the decision is already made. And the Rector (or the formation staff) is seen as a threat to this 'survival' because he/they can terminate my decision. The lifeline of this decision is therefore in the hands of the Rector. 

That brings me exactly to the heart of my concern: Whose vocation? Whose choice?

If the vocation is mine and so is the choice! It is basically my choice to respond to what God wants of me. In such a context, the Rector (and other formation guides) will be seen as facilitators or persons who help me grow in this response, in every way possible – certainly not as threats!

Spiritual animation vs Administration

Only in 1901, with the Vatican decree that the Rector cannot be the ordinary confessor of the boys and confreres, did the portfolio of the Spiritual Director emerge in the Salesian community. The role of the Rector, who so far was the ordinary confessor too, now had to be reinvented. Given the increasing workload, the Rector got practically swamped by the legal, administrative, and organisational work. This did lead to the Rector leaving the spiritual animation part to the confessor and taking up other responsibilities.

The current phenomena which sees Rectors not take up the spiritual animation of the community could be traced back to this historical event. However I think it has another reason too: spiritual animation is more demanding than taking care of administrative matters. Another way of putting it: administration is more lucrative than spiritual animation. This calls for an introspective of our values, our virtues, what we as religious find 'lucrative'. And if helping a person grown holistically is not my primary option, rather I choose do some 'petty' service which is fulfilling for now then I need to rethink what my true vocation is!

A piece of history: Crypt Tabernacle

I learnt of an interesting piece of history this morning after Mass. As I was helping Br Richard D'Souza, a veteran Salesian Brother from Mumbai Province working in Uganda, he narrated the following incident. In 1945 the tabernacle, the one presently in the crypt of Don Bosco's Shrine, Matunga arrived in Mumbai from Italy. However, it was not cleared by the customs. Fr Maschio, of happy memory, then called young Br Bob, gave him Rs 500 (a huge amount in those days) and sent him to meet a certain man named Mr Eddie Pereira. The next day, the tabernacle reached Matunga. For many years it was kept in the School community Chapel. Today one can view it in the crypt of the Shrine.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

At Don Bosco, Matunga

Stepping into Mumbai - Matunga, to be particular - is like stepping into another world altogether. I reached here this morning for the South Asian Formation Commission meeting.  Sundays is all the more special for this place. One thing that one cannot miss is the number of youngsters who flock this place, especially for games. Right since early morning, till late into the night there are scores of boys who come to make the most of the vast grounds of the campus.  This is something we hardly get to see in any of our settings back in the Province.

In the morning attended the Mass in the Shrine, recalling coming into the Shrine with the boarders, a decade ago.  The singing, the hymn books, the announcements, the serenity of the place and of course, the brevity of the whole service.

In the evening I took a walk around the campus recalling to mind all those past experiences during my one year of stay here (2003-2004).  Most of all remembered and missed Fr Ronnie! God rest his soul. As I came infront of the primary section (presently the IGSCE wing), I remembered the afternoon Fr Ronnie couldn't stop laughing at lunch. He narrated how a small boy came running to him right before the classes began and told him that his Mummy has come to meet him.  Surprised he let himself be led to the entrance, only to find a Sister dressed in a habit (a similar looking garment worn by the Nuns, just as Priests have their cassock). 

Monday, 29 September 2014

Tugboats (September 2014)

Here's the second issue of TUGBOATS: A Bicentenary Issue (September 2014). The theme is an interesting one: Salesians 2115.

Some hard talk here.  And from the response coming in, it has reached far and wide and hopefully triggered reflection and consequent action too!
[The previous issue can be downloaded here]

Salesian Mission and the Lay Dimension

A concerned confrere asked me this simple but very relevant question: How do we envision the future of Salesian mission in India when the lay dimension (involving Brothers, lay people as cooperators, volunteers, past pupils...) is abysmally minimal?  Can it and will it truly be bright and holistic?

The immediate thing that comes to my mind is this. India is basically a land of cults and rituals. Therefore the person performing these takes a privileged place in society. Catholicism too, unconsciously or by way of inculturation, has imbibed this particular preferential viewpoint of some 'over' the others. I would not hesitate to say that there is also a very conscious and deliberate attempt to keep laity off the loop, leave alone engage them as partners. And in my frank opinion, this outlook will take some time to broaden up or open up.

My only fear is that we are not even ready to learn from the experience of the West wherein the lay participation has picked up after (or perhaps in revolt of) the domination of the clergy and the religious in the medieval era. Perhaps a few hard knocks will waken us up to the reality that needs to be witnessed and REALISED.  Hope we better learn to live this essential dimension of our Salesian mission sooner than a regretfully later date.  

Sunday, 28 September 2014

In God, first!

Fr Prathap said something beautiful while speaking about the vocation of being a missionary.  He stated that a missionary is one who trusts God more than oneself.  It caught my attention because, it is not as if to say that God is the only one I trust and discount myself to nought!  Neither is it total independence and self-reliance. But while I make use of the God-given talents and resources, my primary trust is in God.  

Thursday, 25 September 2014

... sought the Lord!

This morning's Gospel ends with this phrase: "... and Herod sought Him."

The Gospels are replete with this 'seeking':

  • Martha sought Jesus after the death of her brother Lazarus.
  • Nicodemus sought the Lord to clarify his doubts.
  • Mother Mary herself sought Jesus when there were rumours that he had gone off his head.
  • Judas came seeking the Lord in the garden of Gethsemane.
  • Zaccheus sought the Lord to quench his curiosity.
  • The centurion asked for the Lord to heal his dying ward.
  • Herod, the tetrarch, sought Jesus to find out who he truly was.
  • The earlier Herod, searched for baby Jesus to put him to an eternal rest. 
  • Mary Magdalene sought the Lord to heal her. 
  • Some of his apostles came in search because others told them to. 

Just two points:

  1. Did anyone seek Jesus for Himself, for who He was? ... not for some purpose of their own, but just pure, plain, the person of Jesus?
  2. All these people seeking the Lord were not to be possible if in the first place, Jesus did not come seeking for us! 

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Antique shop and Instant wisdom

The antique shop owner was doing a roaring trade, when the shop next door was taken over by another antique shopkeeper, who erected a large sign, which read 'Best Antique Deals in Town'. Trade was hit bad, when to his horror, the very next week, another antique dealer set up shop on the other side of him, and erected an even larger sign, which read, 'Finest Quality Antiques at the Best Prices in Town'.

The antique shopkeeper thought his business was destroyed, until he had a bright idea. Next day he erected an even bigger sign, right above his own shop doorway. It read, 'Main Entrance'.

Dealer in antiques but certainly fresh and sharp in wisdom!

Survival/Business tactic?

The other day I had to go to town to purchase a new modem.  On the way I could not but notice the rush in some of the clothing stores, in view of the coming feast of Dassera.  What made it all the more noticeable was the display of new cars and banners notifying the ongoing 'lucky draw'.  Shops were promising not just another saree or a piece of clothing but a brand new car for the winner of the draw. I was told that the eligibility criterion for participating in the lucky draw is that the present purchase ought to be of goods worth more than Rs 15,000 to 20,000.

I could not but help compare it with the 'Year of Faith', 'Bicentenary celebrations' and the upcoming 'Year of Consecrated Life'.  And I was wondering if the Church and the Congregation learnt such survival / business / progressive / revival (whatever one may prefer to call them) tactics from the managerial skills or the businessmen picked it up from the Catholic institutions?  

Salesians 2115

For the forthcoming issue of Tugboats (the bicentenary initiative of Cl. Manu, Karunapuram), we chose the theme 'Salesians 2115'.  Though it was a very crazy idea it was worthy and interesting, none the less. Here's my take on the state of Salesians, another 100 years from now.
There would be more communities but less institutions; greater networking and communion and less 'Salesian domineering'; more talk about humanity and little of 'Salesianity' or religiousity; more living witnesses than inspirational documents, and we will be more Christ-like than merely Church-like.  
What I desisting from adding - though I did hint at it - is that if not for this radical option, the Congregation is either going to be defunct or will be headed for a split!  

Absurdities

The other day while invigilating during the first written exam of the Brothers I realized the absurdity of my presence in the exam hall.  Seminarians are the ones who are to be the most sincere and trusted of all in the society... at least theoretically. And yet the need of an invigilator in the exam hall.  (So much for the standard of our future Church leaders and our formation paradigm!!)

It is more or less like posting a watchman at the cemetery. Those outside would not like to get in and those inside cannot get out! Yet one is posted at the gate!

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Understanding Radicality in the right context

Often there is a temptation in many, especially me, to view 'radicality' with regard to our vocation and living out of it, as something totally different from the present 'diluted' way of living or perhaps a very fundamental option, as in the beginning (may be like the founder or like Christ Himself).  However, one dimension that I'm beginning to now reflect upon is the following:
Radicalism is basically a response, a befitting and appropriate response to God's invitation.  It is not merely a set of activities or attitudes.  Only and only when it is the former will it truly and completely be 'radical', primary, and most importantly, for a particular purpose.  When it is only the latter, then it can get diluted or corrupted sooner or later because it does not have a source other than me!

However, yet to truly comprehend the 'how' of it.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Why invite young people?

Something that was troubling me during the goodnight talk tonight. It was a sharing by Br Lawrence Mondol, the youth director and vocation promoter of the Kolkota Province (INC).  That very combination of the two roles is perhaps the ideal, by way of our charism and methodology.  He shared about his plans and ideas for vocation promotion.

What kept ringing in my ears is this: Are we keen to have young people join us to keep our institutions going? Or is it that we wish to keep alive the charism of Don Bosco?  Frankly speaking neither of the two is an appropriate motivation.  The former is certainly an idiotic one!  The latter, though appears noble is a very dangerous trap.

I believe we invite young people to become Salesians because I (personally, and as a representative of the Salesian congregation) feel thrilled about my choice of being an SDB.  I invite young people so that they may discover the joy, purpose and meaning of their lives, as I keep uncovering bit by bit, being an SDB.  I encourage young people to become Salesians so that they may add life and vigour to the dream of Don Bosco and not merely repeat or desperately keep alive that dream.  

Religion as a play

How best can one describe Religion?
Well to me, as of today, the best analogy I can speak of is a PLAY, a drama.  Religion is perhaps like a play in which what matters most is not the stage, nor the actors, not the props, neither the audience nor the number of viewers but the one who ultimately calls the shots.

The fact that God is part of this whole drama - and not necessarily the one calling the shots! - makes this whole enterprise a real adventure.  If at times God is directing, then it is a 'spiritual' scene and if a human being is animating, then it is 'human'.  Sometimes human being dances and at times God is made to dance. As with regard to Christianity, God himself takes on a role by himself!

However, the beauty of it all is that it is all a living drama.  It has every sentiment, every dimension, everything one can think of, human or divine, spiritual or mundane.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Future leaders of the Church!

Today I finished correcting the class test answer papers of the first years of Ancient Western Philosophy.  I realised that very many of them (totally 40) have basically understood nothing ... literally, nothing of what I have been teaching for the past whole semester.

I therefore wonder, if after such detailed and painstaking effort they do not understand no basic and simple facts of philosophy (at least common sense matters??), how much and what exactly do they understand about the Bible and faith?  Will their grasp and presentation of their faith, doctrines, experience be anything sensible to anyone?

If expression was a hurdle I'd understand, but what if basic understanding itself is so faulty that there is not even one sentence which makes sense? The question is something and the answer is something else altogether!  At times it is a repeat of Hanuman carrying the whole mountain back to Rama when he is unable to identify the specific herbal plant: the whole chapter is there (including the birthplace and works of the philosoher) when all that is asked is one simple idea or a critique of one particular idea of the philosopher.  At times there is only the question repeated... over and over again, with the only difference that the word order is changed (don't ask me if there is any sense in those sentences!).  Sometimes there is only blank space!

Textual or Academic studies is difficult, I know and am willing to accept. But basic learning? Common sense or simple ordinary thought?  Add to that, the 'decision' or will to become leaders of the Church!! 

Learning-Fun

Two very enriching prospective sites I'd surely like to try for my teaching purpose or narrative uses:

  • My Story Book: A tool for creating story books for kids with pictures
  • Socratic Smackdown: A tool for enhancing argumentative and debate skills... done very systematically. 

The best aspect of both these possibilities: they are fun and literally games, with a definitive educative purpose!  Great way to learn through fun!

Thanks to Free Technology For Teachers for leading me here!

Cross vs the One on the Cross

Yesterday was the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. Most people in their search for meaning and purpose get stuck to the dead wood of the Cross and fail to reach or approach the living One capable of making sense to everything.

The cross was only the means, neither the purpose or the end of Christ's coming into the world.  This feast is a reminder or a challenge to each of us to be able to distinguish between means and purpose... not mix up the whole for the part  or the part for the whole.

Later last evening Prathap shared a very significant fact with us: that Hezekiah destroyed the bronze serpent made by Moses during the Israelites journey through the desert and which was the cause of survival of so many who were bitten by the poisonous snakes.  Reason:  They forgot Yahweh and his temple and word and thought the bronze serpent was the real power!!

The modern world subtly puts the cross vs the One hanging on the Cross and we ought to prefer the One on the cross and not the cross alone!!

Friday, 12 September 2014

Lovely song


Here's a very lovely ad based on the song from Barfi...
The child's expressions are very meaningful...
and here's the song from the movie itself

Starting afresh...

A good friend of mine once told me that the whole edifice of most structures is held high by just a few. The rest in the organisation are merely decorations! So however, pathetic the edifice or the structure may be, it is these few who slog it out to keep it alive or improve it. And when it comes to revamping the structure, one possibility is to jettison the 'parasites' or the decorations. But that only be like a simple white-wash. Instead, kill the few who uphold the structure in all honesty and good will... and then naturally the whole edifice will crumble. Then, out of those ruins or the flattened structure will emerge new, vibrant and authentic life. Even God did that (remember, Noah and the flood?).

I did not much believe in this re-creation then, but now tend to! 

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Under Water


Here's an interesting line from the movie Gangster Squad... very interesting:


The whole town's under water and you're grabbing a bucket when you should be grabbing a bathing suit. 

Wandering 'Salesian' Hen

We have about three dozen poultry (chicken, mostly) and a couple of ducks, besides half a dozen pigs and an equal number of dogs – thankfully, we have only one cat! Of all these, there is one hen that regularly frequents our lawn, inside the house. The rest of its brood never bothers to venture in. This particular fowl is the only one which dares. The best part of it is when someone chases it out. It makes such a crackling noise as though someone is plucking off its feathers. It amuses me as to why it should leave the whole 11 acre rich farm and wander into this small lawn... makes me wonder if it is some reincarnated Salesian Brother!! Makes sense also because as and when the youngsters here are Salesians, they wish to get out as much and as often as possible.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

All girls!

Yesterday was the birthday of Mother Mary and also Girl-child day.  Prayed that Mother Mary may continue being my guide and strength...
and here's a funny one for the feminine world! God bless you dear girls...
When a small girl said her bedtime prayers, she would bless every family member, every friend, and every animal, current and past.  One night after the family had finished the night prayer, she added, "And all girls." This closing became part of her nightly routine. Eventually the mother asked the girl, "Why do you always add the part about all girls?" "Because everybody always finish their prayers by saying 'All men'!" 

Fart of your body...?

Before every meal we have a short reading from the Bible followed by a short reflection on the same, in the context of food and gratitude.  I was distracted by the following text... or rather the pronunciation of the reader!
It is much better for you to lose a FART (part) of your body than to have your whole body thrown in hell! 

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Teachers' Day

Tomorrow, India commemorates Teachers' day... a day dedicated to felicitate the teachers in our schools and colleges, in fond memory of Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan.  In schools this is really a day of celebration for children as they express their sentiments for their respective teachers, and being children they are sincere in their feedback!  However, as we grow older, this respect and admiration for the teachers turns into disrespect and despise.

Being teachers, as those involved in one of most noble profession of imparting knowledge and leading young minds in their search for wisdom, is enough reason to demand one's respect.  Irrespective of their educational qualification or lack of it, whether competent or not, respecting teachers is the duty of a student - not an optional privilege!  Indian tradition lays before us a beautiful example when it equates a Guru to God himself - the other two being mother and the guest.
... and the best gift or form of respect a student can offer to one's teacher is to grow in wisdom and build one's life on values.  This begins when a student is open and willing to learn, however little or much the teacher has to offer.  

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Noah and his choices...

This afternoon I watched the movie Noah.  I was very much captivated by what I watched.  When I began to watch I expected some religious pious drama of God commanding and man obeying.  However, what surprised me was the take of the director and the whole story.  It depicts Noah and the choices he makes... not what God makes and tells him to do. The movie walks with Noah as he makes decisions, and struggles to live with the consequences of those choices he makes.  It shows a man living up to God... not merely God calling a man to do something and God making it all happen.

Another aspects of the movie I truly admire is the way, God is depicted. He is NOT shown at all!! All that Noah has is dreams, visions and signs. There is no 'God' appearing to him and 'telling' him in clear cut terms what he ought to do.  The only 'strange' phenomenon one gets to see is the Watchers, the unearthly beings which - again - choose to help Noah.

The latter part of the movie too is very meaningful.  It shows the pain and the desperate measures Noah is challenged to take up to fulfill his mission - he is to end his own progeny and let God begin afresh!  All along, God is 'silent'.

Today people prefer to believe that believing in God will automatically and 'magically' erase all problems and difficulties in life... that those who believe and trust in God are not supposed to have any difficulties in life.  In such a context, I truly am happy that the movie does not make life easy for Noah, just because God chooses him.  It shows truly and honestly how difficult life is for those who choose God!  The tagline of the movie should therefore have been, 'Noah chooses God!' 

Monday, 1 September 2014

Youth Fest 2014

We had the Youth Day yesterday.  Personally for me it was to get the 'youth within' - the Brothers themselves - to see reality a bit more than wider than mere doling out of games, food and maybe, a bit of information!
Rather than merely provide the youth with some heavy input sessions and make them passive receivers of information or swing to the other extreme of only having some dance and song programme, this Youth Fest was planned to involve the youth themselves in identifying and trying out varied options for issues they face in their day-to-day life. Looking at the day from that perspective, it certainly was a worthy effort and a move in the right direction.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Herod's court then, and today's crime scene

The central figures during the martyrdom of John the Baptist are alive in every crime-scene even today.

There is Herodias, the instigator.  She does not get her hands soiled - apparently, no. But she is the real brain behind the whole assassination plot.
There is her daughter, the innocent pawn.  She knows not what the ulterior motives and inner politics are being played.  She does not even know that she herself is being played!  But all the same, she is the weapon of assassination - even without her knowledge.

There is finally Herod, the policy-maker.  He knows exactly how things are going to be played out.  He merely lets them to his own advantage.  He certainly has the power to set things right, to do right. But he won't!  

Widening the meaning of Martyrdom

The celebration  or commemoration of the beheading of John the Baptist, (or as the latest ordo puts it euphemistically, 'the passion of John the Baptist') proves a very significant point about martyrdom.  Very often the Church has considered only those who have been slain 'for Christs' name' as the sole criterion for declaring some one a martyr.  If one analyses the life, or more particularly, the death of John the Baptist, it is clear that he never died because of his association with Jesus Christ.  He died just because he spoke the truth and dared to stand by it, come what may.  He paid a heavy price not for proclaiming Christ but for standing for truth and values.

The recent uplifting of the ban on the canonisation process of Oscar Romero is indeed a step in the right direction - once again, hats off to Pope Francis.  If John the Baptist can be venerated as a saint for laying down his life, because he chose to stick on to the truth and not because he was an ardent follower or proclaimer of Christ, so can Romero.  Truly speaking, Christ Himself stated: I am the way, the TRUTH, and the life!

Thursday, 28 August 2014

The best I can offer...?

I'd observed this particular phenomena in Kondadaba, not only among the Brothers but in some of the collaborators in the Seminary.  I notice the same or similar tendency among some of the Brothers here too.  What I am referrring to is something about hospitality. It can be regarded as positive but it certainly is not a virtue.  To be specific it is this:  Brothers think that when we, as a community, conduct an animation programme, inviting hundreds of children or youth, we should serve them lavish food  (read it as non-veg and with the vegetarian option as well)!  Perhaps it has something to do with the wrong impression that they have, namely that we have plenty of money and therefore we 'should' spend it for 'such noble' deeds.

However, for me I am beginning to see another angle to this whole thing. Brothers, when they visit families or are invited for a meal to a house, the latter certainly offer them Chicken curry.  All that Brothers want to do is reciprocate this kind gesture. But here's the catch, which I doubt if any of the Brothers even attempt to get.  Whenever a family prepares and offers a meal to a group or couple of Priests and religious, it has to make a sacrifice sometime before or after.  In order to serve, 'good' meals they have to forgo meat for their own family at least once, if not more.  I was informed by the Administrator, that if we were to serve Chicken for the upcoming Youth fest, it alone would cost us Rs 8'000/- Instead if that is taken off the menu and a decent vegetarian meal is offered (even if an egg is added to that menu), we can serve the whole group a sumptuous meal and still have some amount left in hand.

I wonder if Brothers would be willing to sacrifice their share of meat for as long as it takes to make up for the one-time meat served for the 300 youth attending this fest? If there is even a slightest bit of hesitation in accepting to do this then my former theory is right.

Finally, I am hatefully allergic to this notion that the best we can offer to our youth is a good meal!! We gladly and unabashedly accept that we have nothing better to offer than what comes from our kitchen!  What about my own reflections, my experiences, my own inspirational or challenging lifestyle, ... my own meaningful self?  

Geethanjali (2014)

We watched the movie Geethanjali (telugu) in the theatre this afternoon.  It was Fr T.V. Jose's proposal and so I joined in. The movie was worth it.  A commendable job by the debutant director Raaja Kiran.  The movie has to its credit quite a gripping story with lots of intricacies and suspense - enough to keep one guessing and anticipating the uncertain.

Secondly it does a good job mixing horror and comedy.  The best I liked was the story. It certainly is a brainy one.  The script writer and the director too keep the movie crisp and fast moving. There is never a moment of boredom (except maybe for the songs).  As to why there were songs in the movie, I don't have a reasonable or meaningful reply, other than 'south-Indian-mania-for-song-n-dance'. The movie by itself is quite neatly packaged, without any of the songs!  The finale does resemble Om Shanti Om, the hindi movie that boasted of a wide star cast in 2007.

Perhaps if the director (and script writer) could have ensured that all the scenes and characters in the movie are looped in and ensured that there are no loose ends, the movie would have gained much more depth/quality. However, on the whole, the movie is quite a good entertainer.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Of dreams, passion and priorities

Today in the college, the students are busy celebrating the Cultural Day.  The whole students group was divided into some 8 to 9 groups based on their language and cultural background. India being rich in its cultural diversity, there is quite a bit of excitement and enthusiasm in the air.  Watching the level of involvement and excitement that has been so since the last couple of days, brings to mind a comment made by one well-intentioned gentleman a couple of years ago after viewing a cultural programme put up by Seminarians, "Is this place an academy of dance and performing arts or an institute of spirituality and religious academics?"

He had a point in making that comment.  Our students love these sort of extra-curricular activities.  Which student or youngster wouldn't? Well that's not what I grudge.  What nags me is the disproportional investment and misplaced enthusiasm. There is a philosophical symposium coming up this weekend, besides the regular classes and academic assignments or take even the daily class participation.  It is mostly lacklustre or involving just a handful.  There isn't a balance at all!

One particular reason that I can think of is the following:  students here are here not because they want to, but because they have to!  Other places, whichever field of specialization the institute is offering, have students who are keen and are there because they love to be there!  Being there and getting involved in what the place has to offer is their dream, their passion. Most seminarians seem to lack precisely that: dream(s), passion!

Primary Option and the following options

How does one know what one's basic choices or goals in life are?  Is there any way in which one can find out if at all one has made a preliminary option for something in life?

I think there is.  One merely needs to find out what one spends most of one's amount of time, energy, talent, resources and oneself on.  That clearly will indicate both: whether the person has a greater purpose in life (for if he does not, then all his minor options will be hotch-potch) and what that is (because, all his minor choices will more or less be in that direction). 

Reconsidering our Primary choice

Among the many things I come to realize every once a while, here's something that is dawning on me lately. Perhaps I might have learnt of this in other forms earlier!

Sometimes we formators and more so students (formees) carry along with us - and thereby live accordingly - a notion that doing all things right makes one a good religious, a good Salesian.  Or even if one or two things are done excellently well, the rest can be give a go-by.  But certainly don't find myself agreeing to that.  To be an artist one does not have to be a Salesian but to be a Salesian you've got to be more than a mere artist.  To be a good basketball player one surely does not need to join the Salesian congregation - much less, continue as one! But to be a Salesian, playing basketball alone, however good one might, does not suffice.  I remember well now, something from the movie Patch Adams:
To be a doctor does not merely mean delaying death, but improving the quality of life. 
So I'm asking myself, what if someone is an expert in something and something only, but lacks the other, higher, better purposes in life or more especially, is not even willing to strive to see the possibility of the existence of such higher purposes...leave alone work towards them?  Frankly, he needs to reconsider his choice of being a Salesian! 

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Tugboats: A Bicentenary Initiative

As part of bicentenary of Don Bosco's birth, Br Manu came up with this good idea of bringing forth a sort of short publication (online/pdf format) for private circulation.  So the first issue is out.  Anyone willing to have a glance can shoot off an email to Manu (manunsdb@yahoo.com).  The title of the publication is TUGBOATS.

CONGRATULATIONS to Manu for his initiative and brave effort!

Something that I'd like some to dwell upon - myself included, but perhaps at a later stage than the prejudiced mind that I dwell in currently - is the following:
Is this bicentenary celebration (and such similar programmes) an overflow of our love and commitment to God and young people, or a glossy substitute to camouflage the decline or lack of it? 
Or
Is this initiative (and such as this) a genuine expression of our gratitude for Don Bosco and service of the young, or a desperate attempt to enliven our Salesian charism which somehow seems to have lost its sheen, down the ages? 

Change: for better or for worse?

The past couple of days I've spent in bed recuperating from a bout of fever and headache, have been quite soothing.  I spent time looking back at my life here in Karunapuram for the past two months or so. The one thing that I cannot overlook and which others - who've known and seen me earlier - too have brought to my notice is the fact that I've mellowed down - very very much.  I've become much sober than my earlier innings here.  Call it age, wisdom, laziness, mid-life crisis, time, experience... whatever!

I would credit it to two factors: My stay in Kondadaba for four years and secondly the circumstances here in the community.  From effecting a change by going guns-blazing to a slow seasoned one, it has been a long journey for me - but certainly not an easy one.  Add to that the circumstantial factors that made the former approach absolutely redundant or meaningless.  Now which of these methods will prove more effective, only time will tell.

In all of this one thing that I cannot undermine is the necessity of my physical and meaningful presence in the community, especially with the Brothers.  I certainly need to do more in this most important area. 

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Pope Francis in Korea

Came across something very apt and meaningful about Pope Francis. It was in the context of his current visit to Korea.  The Vatican radio ran this short note about his trip there (read it here). It concludes citing Pope Francis short trip via the high-speed train... because, he'd "never been on a high-speed train before"
And anyway, he added, it gave him the chance "to be with everyone else". You might think he'd have had enough of "everyone else" by now - but then he wouldn't be Pope Francis, would he? 

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Liturgical music and singing

Here's a nice piece on liturgical singing - or rather, the dearth of it! We need more singing

While at Kondadaba, the Brothers, over the years - if not out of conviction, at least out of compulsion - learnt that liturgical singing is not synonymous with 'noise-making'; or that music does not necessarily mean loud blaring music which drowns the singing altogether; or that liturgy is meaningless without brand new hymns - even if they are sung only by a couple of members in the choir.

The case is not very different from our Brothers here. Music is not music, unless it is blasted; music is not music if not heard by everyone, even if it is at the cost of the singing; what is more important is the keyboard and tabala and all possible musical instruments, while the singing itself is the last on the list of priorities.

Liturgical music is basically an ACCOMPANIMENT for the singing, and singing itself is a form of prayer - certainly not a performance.

Peter, Jesus and the 'boats'

The gospel of today, speaking of Jesus and Peter taking a walk on the waters offers rich insights into human psychology.  Basically I believe Jesus is calling us to have the courage to leave the comfort of our 'boats' and dare walk with Him.  The point to be noted is that it is we (Peter) who 'crave' to get out of the boat and onto the water.  Jesus merely confirms his desire by inviting him ... and most importantly, assures him of His presence.
I imagine a scene where Peter dares to get out of the boat but instead of going towards Jesus takes off in the opposite direction. And perhaps when sinking, for whatever reasons, calls on the Lord only to find the Lord on the other side of the boat... and therefore the moan (by Peter), "Oh, He always seems so far from me!"

In another scene, I imagine, Peter sinking and Jesus in the meantime busy helping someone else from 'another boat' get above the waters.  So the groan: "Oh, He always has time for everyone else except me!"  

Monday, 4 August 2014

John Vianney

Often St Vianney is cited as a precedent of permitting one without some basic intelligence to continue his priestly formation and get ordained. I beg to differ.  I believe that a certain minimal standard of intellectual ability is a MUST for a candidate to Priesthood or Religious life.  That does not mean that studies are the only criterion by which a candidate is to be judged as fit or unfit for consecrated life.

It should be noted that though Vianney lacked a 'brilliant mind' he made up for it with a determined effort.  Though asked to discontinue his studies and seminary life, he returned and sweated it out at his desk to secure at least the minimal marks required.

And then for those who claim that intellectual standards are non-significant for Priestly / Religious life, I suggest that when they do get ordained or make their perpetual profession, they better be ready to go the 'remote' and 'most unwanted places' for ministry... after all, Vianney did that, didn't he??... that too joyfully and poured out his heart and soul there.  And if the latter is not acceptable, neither is the former! 
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