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! 

Saturday, 2 August 2014

The God-debate

Compared to the group of students in Kondadaba, the students here at Karunapuram are more diverse in their thought.  Well, it is neither an advantage nor a disadvantage - viewed from the Professor's perspective. Brothers at Kondadaba were more homogeneous in their thoughts.  Moreover, theirs was a more naive faith, a belief that was very 'rustic' and based entirely on sermons that they were fed on till now.  Students here are more 'rebellious' in their thought - may not be in belief, though.  I fear, that in the presence of such outspoken and 'rationalistic' students those of the sober type get lost.  They may prefer to confine themselves in the cocoon of their 'petty Scriptural faith' rather than be drawn into the turbulence of such God-debate!

There are some, however, who basically want to argue - no matter what the point is, their stance is basically to challenge it!  Very many prefer to remain as bystanders or spectators, either because they find this whole 'God-debate' futile or they treat it as 'yet another subject to tide over'.  Some are naturally involved and inquisitive. A few remain on the borders peeping in when convenient and then retiring to their 'safe heaven' when the heat is too much.  However, I wish all take notes during these discussions and reflect.  For most, this whole exercise of reflecting on God begins and end with the bell and the classroom!  

Talking aloud to myself

Today's turn of events in the community were quite 'sinister'! I had sensed there was something in the offing when it was announced that the Provincial would be here for a couple of days to 'meet and talk to the Brothers'.  However, I did not think it would be this.  However, the 'transition' seems to happen smoothly - at least the announcement.  The rest, as things unfold.  All in all, while thinking of the confrere concerned, I'm reminded of a statement...
It was a sad and somber funeral... with the body still breathing! 
Another revelation:  I was told that if I were to replace him, it would have been worse!  Well, that's not very encouraging to hear from some higher up. 
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