Saturday, 29 March 2014

Grace vs Freedom/Wisdom

I've heard many a preacher state that God gives us the grace! It is not our choice to get one. It is solely God's gratuitous gift. Well, I'm not talking about the puritanic bent of this concept but the usual and the normal "balanced" perception of 'grace'.

Frankly, I try hard to recollect my theology classes on 'grace' but am yet to succeed!  However, I have a slightly different take on this idea.  I really don't think, God gives me graces! No, not ready-made packages of virtues or gifts.  Certainly not my God!  I believe and love my God who in turn gives me not such gifts but rather gives me the possibility of receiving such graces.... the ability to understand the grace and the skill to cherish it.  In short, He gifts me with freedom to make my own choices... with knowledge to sift the choices and the loving support to cherish the choices I make and the wisdom to know the wrong choices I make.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Radiating inner joy

Here's a passage from The Alchemist:
The candy seller had a smile on his face: he was happy, aware of what his life was about, and ready to begin a day's work. His smile reminded the boy of the old man - the mysterious old king he had met. "This candy merchant isn't making candy so that later he can travel or marry a shopkeepers daughter. He's doing it because it's what he wants to do," thought the boy. 
I guess that sort of joy and radiance is reflected on a person's face when one does what one truly wants!

I wonder how many of us religious reflect that radiance?

'Envisioning' faith

Very often we read the Bible very sanctimoniously.  It is like watching a movie, the end of which we already have seen. We do not see the scene right before our eyes, from that moment's perspective. Our mind always compares it with the last and concluding scene and measures its depth!

The annunciation of Gabriel to Mary too is sometimes seen from this same perspective.  We very well know what happened after that and how Mary is today called the 'great', the 'holy' and the 'Immaculate' and all.  But for once let us look at Mary in her own times, in her own context, in her own cultural milieu.  That is easier said than done.  To do this, (and perhaps to show the severity of this event) I propose that we visualize my own sister coming and telling me that she is pregnant with child from the Holy Spirit.  What do I do? Believe her? Stand by her?  Investigate the whole narration and still not believe?

Or what if one of our faithful parishioners comes and tells the parish priest (you), that he is Jesus Christ? By all practical and objective standards, this person has been good all his life.  Would you then accept his statement and start following 'His' instructions?  Would you?  Or would you try to 'exorcise' him, for after all you are the 'alter Christus'? Right?

Faith is a risk. It does not come in a neat lovely package with some sugar coating.  It basically challenges us and throws our regular, accepted, comfortable life totally out of gear.  And if we do not want such a thing to happen, yet claim to have faith, then we are royally bluffing ourselves.

Faith in the Word of God that is 'dead' in the Bible is no real faith unless we are willing to see it come alive in our today, in flesh and blood, in fact and in truth.  To have such a 'vision' is faith.

(Thought of including a picture of the annunciation, but did not find anything appropriate: all of them depict Mary as already a celestial woman, or in prayer, or just waiting for the divine message... none portraying Mary as an ordinary woman, at work, surprised, 'yet to come to grips with what was being said'!!)

Monday, 24 March 2014

The Samaritan Woman

The Samaritan Woman is an epitome of a real model for evangelization. Here is my take on her being a model:

  • She was willing to shed her prejudice and fears about the Jews (an unapproachable entity, then... and for us it would be the Lord).
  • Most importantly, she experienced Jesus first-hand. She did not rely on someone else's experience... not experience of an experience but a direct personal and intimate experience of the Lord Himself.  Only then did she venture out and testify for Him to others. 
  • She joyfully introduced Jesus to the others of her village. 
  • Once she did introduce Him to the other Samaritans, she took a back seat. She claimed no privileges or special praise for her role in acquainting Jesus and the other Samaritans. She let them have their personal space and time, which rightfully and conclusively led the others to say, "... not because you said so, but because we experienced it for ourselves!"

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Sanitized Religion

Since Lent began this year, we had the Way of the Cross in a short but 'hitting' manner with points for reflection written by the Brothers themselves.  There are no niceties or pietistic frills - just the journey in its raw form coupled with a personalized reflection for each station.  My attempt was to get our attention on to Jesus and walk along with him along the dry, dusty, and rough road rather than engage ourselves in some emotional sympathy drama, a sort of pity for 'someone' being persecuted and killed while I remain a sympathizing observer from the VIP box.

Morever I wanted the Brothers to exercise their creativity and explore ways of making prayer more alive and personal. Being a para-liturgical service, the Way of the Cross provides a good platform for improvisation without the hassles of the code of canon!

Very many of the Brothers find this whole process relevant and meaningful.  However there are few who 'do not feel the holiness'! Reason: Neither transitional hymns, nor ready-made printed prayers before, during and after the journey.  And of course, the whole practice winds up within 35 mins. This group prefers to have the service for more than an hour but inside the Chapel, (that means, the fans will be on, there will be the carpet under our feet, lesser mosquitoes, and kneeling/genuflecting will not too difficult a task!).

Imagine the irony: The way of the cross in the comforts of our Chapel!  That's like sanitizing something so mundane that it looses its very earthy-feel, and yet claiming to experience the original! 

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Challenging the 'Church'

We are nearing the completion of the academic year and it is time for the evaluation of the different aspects of life and works that we managed to accomplish during the year.  As I sat today collating and tabulating the personal evaluation sheets of the Brothers, something that struck me was the following.  This year, more than ever, we have been collectively and very very consciously re-moulding our image, opinion and convictions about very many things, especially the Church and spirituality. (I should say much credit for this goes to Fr Maliekal).

I very well know that it is a counter image that we are trying to project and help our students imbibe. Counter image only because the Church in Andhra Pradesh - or let me be more specific to say, that the clergy and those who really call the shots (unfortunately!) - is very often too narrow-minded and selfishly pietistic in its outlook.  This is evident, most of all, in the reactions and responses of the Brothers when we challenge them to a different perspective of things related to prayer, devotion, animation, spiritual life... But I'm glad and more than convinced that unless we do it here and now, I too will be culpable of not making the Church relevant and truly Catholic! I certainly am not in any way keen to build an institutional Church, but 'the Kingdom of God', yes! Someone needs to challenge some basic - and I mean, very very basic - issues that are neatly and conveniently compromised or totally misinterpreted.  Being in a regional Major Seminary truly provides the best possible ground.

It is not that I expect changes to happen tomorrow morning, but I very well can sow the seeds today! That's one point I certainly feel proud of...

Living OUR lives

While thinking of my views and opinions about others, especially those in the community, I remembered reading something in the book The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho:
When someone sees the same people every day, they wind up becoming a part of that person's life.  And then they want the person to change. If someone isn't what others want them to be, the others become angry.  Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives, but none about his or her own.  
This is very true of us religious living in a community, especially the last bit of insight.  But then I asked myself, how do married people live? Say, my parents or my brother's family?  They share their life with the same person till the end of their lives.  We religious at least have our annual transfers! The key, not to solve the issue, but to understand one another better is, communication... an open and sincere sharing of views wherein I talk as well as am willing to listen.  Lacking in which I only keep creating an ideal confrere while the real confrere is not really listened to. 

Monday, 17 March 2014

An honest video... very touching!

A beautiful video to a future mom, from 15 children with Down Syndrome...
Very beautiful... it makes no pretensions or put gloss over the illness.
March 21 is World Down Syndrome Day...

Setting standards

There is the anecdote of two friends travelling through a forest when they hear a lion behind them.  As they plan their escape strategy, one of them says that he is going to run. The other asks him if they really can outrun the lion.  The first one responds, "I do not need to outrun the lion, I just to run faster than you!"

Now what's worse than having no standards or levels of excellence set by oneself?  Lowering them to the level of the last of the group!

In the movie Annapolis, there is nice dialogue between two plebe's (fresh navy recruits) - who are also good friends:
People who live in Arkansas, you know what their favourite state is?
Mississippi. 'Cos, Mississippi is the only thing that keeps Arkansas from being the worst state in the whole country.
We can very well settle for standards far below our capacity or potency, settle for something purely in comparison to the most 'weakest' in the group. Surely there is neither merit nor courage in achieving that set goal or aim!

Why am I here? (2)

May not be an exact continuation or sequel to the reflection of mine I posted earlier (here). Nonetheless related, for sure.  For most of my Brothers and perhaps me too, it is not always the lack of purpose or direction that makes us shallow.  It could also be too many purposes, too many directions that we take up at the same time.  In such a circumstance, it is not lack of purpose, but a lack of prioritization.  Or an inability to synthesize, to gather into a whole all that is scattered.  Or it could also be a fear of discernment - what if, the path that I am following now, is not really the one I am supposed to be in?  Am I to start all over again, on another path, in another direction?  For some, this may be too much.  Therefore, 'let me carry on in this direction, even though I'm not meant to be here... after all, there is not much of harm done, no much strain either'! 

Tower vs House

A particular person, after a hectic and tiring day was explaining to me the reason for his exhaustion.  He is currently erecting a tower, the sort that are now cropping up everywhere: 'multi-storeyed statue-displays'!  Now there is this hut right in front of this tower! Literally, right in front of the tower!  So the view of this TOWER (five-stories) from the main road, the highway, is obstructed by a hut (which obviously does not even reach the height of the ground floor of the towering tower)!  But wait! Is the hut before the tower or the tower behind the hut?  However, the one building the 'kingdom of God' found this shackle too offensive and had just managed to convince those therein to relocate and also helped them shift their 'hut' just a few feet away from the tower.

So I was asking myself, was this 'building the kingdom of God' or 'shifting the kingdom of God'?

[I would be partial if I were not to acknowledge my allergy for constructions and especially those wherein only 'god' is permitted to live ... as if he needs one! And certainly these 'towers' are in that list. For this post, I'm not inserting a photo, not one of those sickening towers]

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Why am I here?

Fr Maliekal, is trying hard to get the Brothers to write a sort of 'application' for their continuation or admission for the next year, akin to the Salesians writing one seeking admission or renewal of their temporary vows. Brothers do not really get what he is asking for since they have never done such a thing before.  However, his intention of coaxing them to write down this small note is very very beneficial. It tells them to see for themselves where they stand in their vocational journey, their motivations, their reasons, their passion or lack of it...

I distinctly remember writing my own application forms - that's because I've written as many as 9 of them in as many years! While most of my companions would merely copy the sample given to us or preserved by them from their seniors, some of us would come up with our own script.  However, we would be told more than once to include certain key phrases and sentences. But I always remember this exercise as a personal reminder of what I'm here for.

The Brothers now face the difficulty of now knowing what to write.  More than a matter of text, for most of them, it is a matter of lack of content!  Very many of them are here in the flow, not necessarily by a definitive choice that they made or are willing to review, if they ever made one.  If pressed, they come up with very glossy and highly spiritual statements - the meaning or depth of which they have settled in for something very very petty/shallow but would never look beyond it nor let themselves be challenged to review the same. 


My friend Rabbi came up with this nice piece on 'Choice'... on how we make choices and how choices make us. I liked one of the last bit that he wrote therein most... and perhaps that was also the context of the whole piece, namely holidays.  Holidays, are meant to test our own choices. Perhaps other times our schedule is fixed or decided by the routine we follow.  During holidays there is much time which is totally at our disposal and discretion. What we do with what is in our hands, is our choice.

Read his whole article here.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Listening to no one

Here's an interesting sms I received yesterday by way of advertisement:
To listen to songs of no one ... click ... 
That'd be quite some adventure, listening to no one!

Saturday, 8 March 2014

The Preventive System, in a gist

Here's a reflection shared by Fr Julian Fox in his latest news on austraLasia #3387. It shares the views of a senior Salesian Priest attending the ongoing General Chapter. The reflection is about the way we employ the three words, Reason, Religion and Loving Kindness in our understanding and how and where could Don Bosco have learnt the REAL and practical meaning of these words.
I heard these three terms as a kid in the village, from my grandfather and grandmother, but not in Italian (we spoke Piedmontese at home always). When things needed to be worked out amongst people, maybe something had gone wrong, grandpa used say 'Rasunuma 'n poc' = 'Let's have a chat about this'. It was very practical reasoning, nothing cerebral about it. On the other hand, grandma's comment on things was 'Un poc 'd religiön 'l rangia tüt' = 'a bit of religion (a sense of God) will fix things up', and 'Vorumsi ben' = 'Let's get on together'. Here 'religiön' has little to do with cult, rules and regulations and a lot to do with the primacy of God. And where 'amorevolezza' in Italian (loving kindness in English) seems to suggest me showing this to them (so one way, in a sense), note the communal aspect of 'vorumsi ben'.
Now that's the most comprehensive and still deeply meaningful explanation I've ever come across in my whole Salesian reading. 

Friday, 7 March 2014

English exam in summer!

The English answer papers are on my table... Here's a sneak peek (I'll try to be as verbatim as possible, unless the computer makes the changes automatically!):

Combine the two sentences using a conjunction

  • He was punished. He was guilty. [A] He was punished therefore he was guilty. 
  • I will come. I am not ill. [A] Though I am not ill, I will come. [another answer] I will come so I am not ill. 
  • He has been wounded. He was cheerful. [A] He has been wonded because he remained cheerful. 

Write this in a proper question form: You went to Kolkata in February?

  • When did you go to Kolkata in february? 
  • in which mounth you go kolkata? 
  • You went to kolkata on the february?

Sorrowy to here about it. (Let me 'translate' that for you: It is a response to a death news! And I suppose he meant, 'Sorry to hear about it').

Catch me so that you can. (The statement was: Catch me _____ you can)

Here are some sample sentences from the section which said: Write a sensible paragraph (only 60-70 words) on 'Summer season':

  • In the Lent season we can know how the sun it is. 
  • lent season begins in lent season. 
  • summer season is very beautyful spring.
  • when I see a summer season, firest of all i remember my childhood mamaries...
  • I enjoy my summer holyday with my borthers... 

A student wrote a string of words related to summer, one below the other.  I couldn't make out why would he write mere words, till I read my own instruction for the umpteenth time... this time trying to see how he would have read it ... (only 60-70 words)

Election season

Election season!
That perhaps is the only and most valid answer or response that can fit any and everything that goes on in the Indian political scenario now.  People changing parties, leaders leaving party and forming another party, ministers joining arch-rival parties, alliances (of any and every sort), mud slinging (and 'campaigning' is only the euphemism), talks, speeches about the opponents, ... name it, you don't name it, everything imaginable and unimaginable is already at play in politics, most especially this season...
That's why, 'election season' is a phrase that sums up everything! Only problem is if news channels use this phrase to summarize all that there is, they may have to show clippings of National Geographic for most of the time. 

Choices of today

Lent is a nice time for me to re-evaluate my own choices... mostly those petty ones which I keep making everyday and every moment.  To be more conscious and aware of the choices I make here and now.  So that the more reasoned and worthy the reason for the choices of today, will my choices of tomorrow, especially those in moments of difficulty or dilemma be worthy and authentic.

Lord help me make my choices of today worth for a meaningful and authentic choice tomorrow. 

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Dare say...

Here are the concluding words of Fr Pascual Chavez, the Rector Major, as a conclusion to his report of the Congregation and perhaps his parting message to the Congregation and an indication for his soon to be elected successor...
We need to learn the art of dying and the art of living, letting go of what ought to die, so that the new can germinate, blossom and bear fruit. This is the work of the Spirit, who removes the heart of stone and replaces it with a heart of flesh, renewing the face of the earth. We have to raise the stakes and dare to say openly and clearly who we are, what we want and what we are asking for, without lessening our demands or the needs we face.
I really would like myself and my congregation, every Province to take that call seriously, especially that part of '... dare to say openly and clearly who we are, what we want and what we are asking for...'

Something for the day...

From Chris...

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Radical life and choices

Reading through the opening address of the Rector Major on the occasion of the official inauguration of the General Chapter 27 (GC 27) of the Salesians of Don Bosco, I was quite struck by the following point made by Fr Pascual Chavez
At times there is a tendency to identify our being radical with  perfection or seeking it, but it is not so: we do not expect fruit from a small plant, and even more so from a seed just planted in the ground, but that it puts down good, deep roots. For someone who wants to enter Salesian life, or religious life in general, we cannot demand that he be "holy" (unfortunately, at times, not even after many years of consecrated life) unless he is well-rooted/radical in his life choices ...  I believe this has implications for formation ...

Monday, 3 March 2014

Life is...

In the context of the b'day celebrations we had the other day in the community, here is the notice board that was prepared by the Brothers:

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Real poverty hurts

I read the message of Pope Francis for this season of Lent today.  It speaks of his reminder about poverty and sharing.  It recalls us to the fact that Christ enriched us not in his riches or heavenly state but in His utter poverty.  Most of the message draws on the Scriptures but what really caught my attention was his 'plain' talk towards the end.  Somewhere just before concluding he states
Let us not forget that real poverty hurts: no self-denial is real without this dimension of penance. I distrust a charity that costs nothing and does not hurt. 
Very strong and true words.
Earlier in the message he subtly differentiates a charity born of abundance and even a sense of altruism and piety from the kind of charity that stems from being one in all aspects of life and living - from a sense of 'real poverty'. 
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