Tuesday, 31 March 2015

More 'seedful' than fruitful...

I spent the previous week at Karimnagar for my retreat with Fr Kulandai SJ.  It was my maiden guided retreat and I truly felt, that it was the best thing I could asked for, given my state of mind and soul.  To describe what I went through during the past one week would be like asking someone else to tell me the taste of the food that I'm eating!  Hence I desist from penning anything much of last week.  However, the changes in myself would be more felt than described... so I'd like to leave it that way.

One interesting thing (among the many) that happened during the week was the sms from my wise-crackpot Rabbi. I had not heard from him for a long long time now. And then bang, in the middle of the retreat I receive an sms from him.
It is funny because we ask God to change our situation not knowing he put us in the situation to change us. 
Looked as if God was using a multi-dimensional approach to get to me!

All in all, I returned to my community more disturbed and uneasy than when I began the retreat, but this time for some other matter and at a very different level.  That way, I'd describe my retreat more and 'seedful', rather than fruitful!

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Come to...

Fr Tom gave quite an insightful goodnight thought tonight.
There are three types of people in the world

  1. Those who come to see: The kind who are mere passive observers, in crude but plain words, 'dead weights'!
  2. Those who come to use: The type who feel the whole world is for them and their use.
  3. Those who come to serve: the kind who realize that life is more about making this world a better place than when we first set foot here. 

Friday, 20 March 2015

Taking sides

During the PAR training programme, an interesting question that plagued my mind, as it did some others too, is this:
If we are to take sides with the weakest and be biased about our whole attitude (if not of our procedure), then there may come a point wherein the group which we have been standing for, becomes one of the groups on the forefront and another is now the last.  What then? 
Another form of asking the same question would be
Why not be impartial and strive for equal growth, especially of the marginalized?  Why should we take sides at all?  
Prof. Manti was clear and direct in his answer: The moment we see that there is someone who is marginalised we take his/her side! That's it... that's what PAR is all about.  To talk of equality for all, at all times is living in an utopia.

Jesus choose a particular group

One of the points which Prof. D. Manti, stressed upon while trying to explain to us the concept of Participatory Action Research (PAR), was that the reseacher ought to identify the weakest in the group and take sides with him/her.  This is an essential move for PAR.  One cannot truly carry out PAR being an outsider or one above or below.  One has to participate - willing to undergo the same process as he or she wishes others to follow.

He stated that Jesus Himself showed the way.  He did not come for all people. He came for a specific group of people, was born among them, lived and died among them. He did not take a global pass and traverse all across the globe.  He chose a particular set of people as his own.  It is from amidst them that he reached out to all.  Prof. Manti challenged us, "If He dared to do it why are we frightened to follow him?"
Makes one rethink the whole notion of "all things to all people". Whatever the theological or rational interpretation of that phrase, the above fact too cannot be denied. 

Risking a different approach

The Bible (or for that matter, any text) offers a different meaning when read in a different context.  During one of the days of the PAR training programme, the gospel was that of Jesus curing a man who was seeking help for years.  I was thinking: Jesus could very well have assisted the man by the Siloam to get into the waters, when stirred and thus help him regain his health.  However, when Jesus entered the scene the whole concept of healing, health, cure took on a different meaning.  He offered a totally different means of regaining health.
In life, we are so fixated on certain ways of doing things. Rightly because, the followed path has yielded results.  While this is true and good, it is also harmful not to seek newer means of achieving better results.  Jesus offers a new model of being healthy and getting cured.  Are we willing to try out different means to become better and more meaningful?  Or are we happy with doing what was done, the way it was done, merely because it guarantees results?  Do we risk? 

Participatory Action Research

The three days of training programme in Participatory Action Research (PAR) at Ramanthapur were enriching days.  I am happy I chose to be part of the same.  (More about it, read here).

Personally, I learnt most...

  • That participation, includes the “last” in the group too! 
  • I also got to know the names and some thing about the lives and works of people working with the YaR centres, some for decades of years! 
  • Perhaps this method is more needed in a formation setting than a YaR setting. The rationale is that if Brothers see this in action and are involved in this exercise, they would automatically live it out in their own places of apostolate, wherever they are. Then we would not need to train the YaR sector, every sector would slowly but surely adopt this strategy.  (However, this entails that PAR be understood as a strategy, rather than another course to be completed!)
  • Better we start to learn and enjoy working with lay people before it is too late and say, “We should have better prepared them, earlier.”

Christ is already there!

Yesterday evening, was happy to join the Mill Hill Missionaries (MHM) celebrate their feast.  They had a rather simple Eucharistic celebration, followed by some (bypassable) cultural programme and a meal for all.  The short sermon was preached by an African priest, Fr Ephrem.  I liked what he spoke... clear and precise.  Of what he spoke, I liked best this idea:
As missionaries we do not take Christ to the new place.  Christ is already present there.  Therefore as missionaries all that we are to do is make Him known.  
To think that we, religious/missionaries have the monopoly of Christ and that without us people will not know or experience Christ is an fool's illusion.  I've always heard of bringing Christ to the people and taking people to Christ.  This is the first time, as far as I recall, someone telling that Christ is already there. That's a very beautiful and mature missionary orientation!

Thursday, 19 March 2015

The dancing millipede

Fr T.D. John, during the three day training programme in Ramanthapur shared an interesting and amusing story.  He was speaking in the context of being at home and free, like children.

There was a dance competition organised and all multi-legged creatures were the competitors. One particular millipede was really at its best.  It really loved to dance and it was a joy to see it perform on stage.  Other competitors were jealous of it.  One particular centipede then went up to the millipede and asked a simple question:  "While dancing does you 154 foot know what your 793 foot is doing?" The millipede really did not have a clue as to what to answer.  During the next round of dance, the millipede was so self-conscious that it did not make it to the next round.

At times becoming self-conscious is really not beneficial. Self-awareness is good, but not being too self-conscious.  Children, on the contrary, are spontaneous. That's why they do amazing things.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Seraphia, the true image holder

Long ago, there was a small girl who was held in captivity by her relatives for many years.  Her condition was no better than an enemy slave girl. All along all she ever knew of was insults, hardships and abuse.  One fine day she was lucky to escape the clutches of those who held her captive.

One day as she struggled to secure her daily bread in a large uncaring world, she falls in the eyes of a young Jewish lady. Noticing the little girl and her struggle, she makes enquiries and then approaches the girl herself. At first the girl is silent and frightened... that she would be sent back to her old place or that her relatives would be informed of her whereabouts.  However, she senses a sort of assurance in this lady. After much persuasion, she agrees to go along with this lady. At the warm exhortation of the lady, a good family adopts the girl.

At her new house, everything was contrary to all she ever knew all her life.  People were gentle and tender... something she found difficult to at first understand. She was very cautious and suspicious too... for they seem too good to be real. The gentle young lady would frequently visit her and offer some advice during her short visits.  She even gave her a new name: Seraphia.  Once the girl realized that she has was now a member of the household, she began to grow more bold and secure.

The girl began to notice that the other children of the family were happy and free.  They never clung on to anything very obstinately as she did.  She also began to realize that there was something more precious they received when they shared what belonged to them with her.  Being a keen observer she soon learnt the joy of giving and sharing.  Compared to what things she gave away, the thrill she felt in sharing was great.  It did not take long for her to graduate to learn to share and give not just things but love and concern.

The young lady's presence in her life too made a great impact on her upbringing.  She instilled in Seraphia the virtues of being truthful and bold.  She told the girl to never cower in face of opposition and intimidation.  Years passed by and she eventually grew up to be a fine young lady.  Being a very tender and truthful lady, she reached out to all people, not only in her foster family but all the needy in the neighbourhood as well.

Now those were turbulent times.  The Jews were under the rule of the Romans and they were constant uprisings against the Romans.  Seraphia knew of all this. One day as she went about doing her household chores, she hears of a loud commotion in the streets.  She rushes out to see a man being tortured by the Roman soldiers and dragged along the street.  She feels pity for him and reaches out to help him.  This act itself was seen as a scandal... a woman, out in public, reaching out to a man, a criminal. Yet her loving nature did not let any of these social taboos prevent her from getting near the man.  She sees him and understands that his face is so bruised that he can barely see. His nostrils are filled with blood and dirt.  She looks around for some water to wash his face and offer him a drink, but finds none nearby.  She instantly whips off her veil (again another never-do act in a Jewish setting, especially by a woman) and places it in the hands of the man so that he may wipe his face. The man realizes a gentle soothing presence beside him and the intention of the cloth placed in his weak hands.  He wipes his bloody face and before he utters a word of thanks, his tormentors pounce on him and drag him away.  He has time enough to merely return the cloth to those loving hands which offered him the same.

As she looks on helplessly, the Roman soldiers take their prisoner away. She is then surprised to see the young lady who gave her a new lease of life, follow this criminal as he is being dragged away. She soon realizes that it is her own son.  She rushes to her, embraces her. The lady does not say a word but Seraphia hears her silence thank her for her kind act towards her son.  In deep sorrow, she follows her son and Seraphia is left alone on the street.  It is then that she notices the strange imprint of the face of the man on her veil.  

Leadership

Who is normally elected as leader - of a rather sensible and mature group?
(Just a few of the essential characteristics in a context where those with neither brains nor balls get elected!)

  • A person of certain moral standing, capable of living an authentic life of witness. 
  • One who has both, the humility to ask for help and the courage to demand responsibilities/duties be fulfilled by its members. 
  • One who can consult as well as take sound decisions, and stand by them. 
  • One who can demand privileges for the group when rightfully deserving, on the one hand and on the other, pull up its members for falling below certain accepted standards. 
  • One who is respectful towards all but frightened of none but God. 

What if some of these or none of these are taken into consideration when election of a leader?  I suppose, it goes without saying the poor quality of leadership and in a sense, the level of maturity of the group. 

Enthusiasm

It is Rene Descartes who once said
To be incapable of enthusiasm is a sign of mediocrity. 
There are people in whose presence we feel all charged up.  They exude enthusiasm and make the whole atmosphere lively. There are others who are wet blankets! Some have this special grace of charging others but remaining inert themselves... just like the ones at the baseline of a sprint race; they call out 1, 2, 3 but while the sprinters charge forward they remain where they are! Some are conks in a desert.  Drained of all vitality they are as dead as can be.

Friday, 13 March 2015

Changing times

Some years ago, when it was time for the young confreres to be assigned their primary mission field, the most studious would be earmarked for formation, mostly M.Ph. It was then an honour to be sent for studies in Philosophy.

Then came a time when young confreres were 'told' to go for philosophical studies.  There was not much of honour in it for it basically meant, that one is destined to be in formation houses, at least for most of one's Salesian life. That was not a very comforting or easy proposal.

I wonder what time are we now in? Do we have people capable at all to be sent for studies in Philosophy?  B. Ph. itself seems a herculean task (for that matter, any studies!). Do young confreres show an aptitude for anything at all?  What of that passion, the fire, the zeal...?

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Religious Life is for grown ups...

Something to sap my crazy ideas... to begin with (at least)... my storybook
Religious Life is for grown ups... (click the link to view the storybook)

The text is taken from the book of Fr Joe Mannath.


Wednesday, 11 March 2015

The Dalai Lama's wisdom


Peace

Peace, is often mistaken for absence of war and turmoil.  That's as good as saying there is silence in the graveyard. Peace actually comes when there is truth, justice and love.  It does not wipe away differences, or anxieties or troubles.  In fact, they abound... but the difference is that there is a certain balance and harmony in it all.  Even if there is chaos, there is growth and peace.
However, when there is no worthwhile value existing and everything is 'silent', that kind of peace is what cowards and fools crave for.  Without truth, justice and love, no peace is ever possible!

Young people...

I had heard it first from Fr Godfrey D'Sa... was happy to read it again in another context:
Young people are a strange lot. You ask them for little; they give you nothing. You ask them for much; they give you everything.
Today I learnt that it was said by Cardinal Mercier.

Another quote of Fr Godfrey which he often repeated was this:
Ships are safe in the harbour, but that's not what they are meant for. 
I had heard of these quotes in the context of personal growth and ministry, especially with young people. The first quote was always proved right in my personal work style and experience. 

Monday, 9 March 2015

Impact of family, convictions and formation

At the end of a particular chapter about being a happy religious, Fr Joe Mannath, raises this question for further reflection:
When you meet inspiring religious, is their mature and virtuous behaviour (as far as you know) mostly from their own personal conviction, mostly due to their family, or mostly from the formation they received in the order? 
[Joe Mannath, A Radical Love, A Path of Light: The Beauty and Burden of Religious Life (New Delhi: CRI House, 2014) 100.]

Having reflected over this for quite sometime now and reviewing my own life, I realize that most of who and what we are is what we pick up from our own family, at home.  So as an answer to the question above, it would be all the three. But if one were to grade, as being asked (I suppose), I would rate the impact of our family upbringing the most formative.  Following that is the role of personal conviction and finally the formation received during our initial years in the congregation.

This certainly has great repercussions on our process of vocational discernment and initial formation. In our desperate need to have numbers and satisfy our false ego that 'during my tenure the number was high' we tend to make great compromises on quality and bypass certain essential processes. These tend to damage not just the future of the congregation but the very life of the individual as well.  

Religious Life

The distinguishing marks of religious life, according to Fr Joe Mannath:
... the centrality of the search for God, the wisdom to guide others on the same search, the avoidance of comforts and luxuries, manual work, a simple life and hospitality... 
[Joe Mannath, A Radical Love, A Path of Light: The Beauty and Burden of Religious Life (New Delhi: CRI House, 2014) 80.]

Irrespective of who and when and how, the founders of various religious congregations and orders, were primarily keen to respond to God with all their heart.
A simple life based on an intense God-search and genuine mutual love, coupled with deep and effective compassion for others - that is how new religious orders start, not with books, buildings and structures (p 81).

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Goals of Religious life... any life

Here are the three goals of organized Religious Life (same for ANY Christian group): 
  1. Personal Growth (Christ-like persons)
  2. Community building (build the Kingdom of God; not for personal reasons, but because of Jesus)
  3. Mission (to bring God's love to people, as did Jesus). 

Why be a religious?

I have been reading Fr Joe Mannath's A Radical Love, A Path of Light: The Beauty and Burden of Religious Life.  I purposely am not rushing through it.

Fr Mannath, time and again, makes this statement: '...it is for any other form of life too...'.  This only confirms my conviction that religious life is no special or great vocation. It is as good as any and every other vocation to life.  All that one can say is that it is different. Right in the first chapter, this is evident.

The oft repeated question in the initial part of the book is 'Why become a religious?' It certainly is not to be different or superior to others. Not even to run institutions and man (or woman) organisations.  Just like every other form of life, religious life is basically a call to live more competently and professionally what everyone is called to do. As religious, we are called to be professionals of the Spirit... to live a radical life, as did Jesus.  We may do a hundred and one things, but if we are not masters of spirituality, then we are not worthy religious.  

Friday, 6 March 2015

Bi-Polar Disorders of modern religious

There is always the statutory sign reminding that using cell phone while driving is dangerous.
But one caught doing so, was clear: he wasn't texting while driving, he was driving while texting. That's what we have come to.

Being a religious, one cannot marry... but one can have a keep!
As a priest, one is not supposed to cheat... but one can help oneself to the project fund.
A religious is not expected to break his or her vows... but one can always interpret them in any and every way... and yet keep them!
The one responsible for the mission, can preach all holy things... yet mean nothing.
The head of a congregation hears all that a member has to say... and still listen nothing, do nothing.
On the pulpit I can be as passionate as I can be, but not for a minute before ascending nor a minute after descending.  

Call to Religious Life

Yesterday noon I had the opportunity to animate 30 youngsters (aspirants) of the Holy Cross and the Montfort Brothers.  I had a two hour session with them on the Call to Religious life. It was a good opportunity for me too, to evaluate my own vocation and its living out.

I basically stressed on three points, in a manner that those boys would grasp, given the fact that their knowledge of English was very rudimentary.

  1. That the call is a personal call, an individual invitation (not a common call or group invitation) and therefore demands of us a personal response.  
  2. That as religious we grow bit by bit. However, what keeps us alive and fresh is the keen desire to learn, to grow.
  3. And that what we ought to grow-in, most of all, among the many other things we choose to, is to become Jesus like.  Just like a Doctor may play cricket, drive his own car, and at times even teach, but if he is not good in administering medicine, he is not worthy to be called a Doctor. Similarly, we may do several things, quite efficiently too, but if we are not experts of spirituality, of being Jesus-like, then we are not worthy religious.
     

Do not compete...

Here's one from Fr TV Jose's experiences... Found on a bumper sticker:
Do not steal. The government does not like competition!

Thursday, 5 March 2015

A New SYM Website

Here's a good painting of Don Bosco with the boys... found it on the new Salesian Youth Movement (SYM) website.  The site caters as an information and resource centre for all youth ministry initiatives and experiences.  Hope it is collaborative and informal, as envisaged years ago.

Am surprised to see that this site is powered by JJ Softwares.  This was a dream project in the pipeline for several years.  That it is being taken up by the Generalate (Rome) is great.  JJS is the same team that generously and very innovatively helped develop the South Asian Salesian Website (donboscoindia.com)... the best democratic and involving site that I've ever come across. The concept and the process itself have been truly noble and very formative for everyone involved.  Thanks to visionaries like Fr K. J. Louis and Fr P.T. Joseph. 

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Two parts of the Bible... anyone?

The exam was about the course, Introduction to the Bible and so was a generic question asking the students to give a brief description about the Bible.  Here's one of the answers:
The Roman Catholic Bible has two parts: Dei Verbum and the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  
Here's the icing on the cake:
The student is a Seminarian,
nearing the completion of his first year of Philosophical studies! 

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Bless me, Ultima

I watched Bless me, Ultima, yesterday. A good movie to review how perceptions, beliefs and faith itself gets formulated in one's life, early on.  The character of Tonio is central, and so is that of Ultima. However, what really grips one is the sincere search of Tonio for answers.  He witnesses several things in and around him... in the neighbourhood, in his extended family, among his own siblings... The arrival of Ultima, serves as a great blessing for him.  He begins to open up, though he does not understand fully.  It is also amazing to see how the 'Church' (the priest, the construct of the 'church' in the family, school, friends, non-Catholics, society...) miserably fails to satisfy Tonio's quest.

However, it is important to notice how Tonio makes his own understanding of the situation and shows a maturity well beyond his years. The scene where Tonio is forced to enact as a priest at the confessional, by his friends in school, is really great.  It gives one a glimpse of Tonio's grasp of God, faith, forgiveness, religion and evil.

The scene during the First Communion too is very poignant.  There's the first boy who nearly chokes on the host!  How realistically portrayed!  Then there is the one after Tonio, who when asked if he feels anything (after receiving Communion) replies, "I feel hungry." Then there is Tonio himself, awaiting for that great revelation to happen, because now he is 'one with God'.  He awaits God to answer his questions about the evil he witnesses in his life.  The disappointment is evident on his face.

The brief conversation he has with his father in the van, on his way to his uncles' farm presents the other side of reality.  A simple but profound perception of good and evil. (Click here to read some of the prominent quotes of the movie and the novel).

The film does not take sides. Neither does it preach. It basically chronicles the sincere effort of a young boy seeking answers in a world where good and evil are all too often mixed up and no one really dares / seeks / wishes to get involved.  Most people prefer to watch on the sidelines as by-standers rather than get involved or take sides, on behalf of what they evidently see as good.  

Monday, 2 March 2015

Shepherding


A good video about being a shepherd, what it means to be a 'pastor'
... read it first on The Deacon's Bench

Inspiring Change

As Jesus went about doing good, he reached the placed called Jopeth.  Not so long ago, a deadly plague ravaged this whole area leaving behind a whole generation of people physically disfigured. Hence not very many visited this place and neither did the residents of this place venture out, too much. Some had their faces contorted, very many their limbs and some were total hunchbacks. Those who survived or recovered took care of the others who bore evident marks of this plague.

Hearing of Jesus passing through their place, quite a few people gathered to greet him in the town square.  They listened attentively to what Jesus had to say about the Kingdom and of God's love and mercy.  Very many of those who heard him, were happy not only because of what he said but also because here was a man who stayed on in their town centre without casting furtive looks about the townsfolk.  He seemed in no hurry to get out of the place; neither did he flinch or show any sign of viewing any abnormality among the people.

Those who approached him for a cure, he gladly healed them, always with a smile and a kind word in the ear.  Among them were two men, one with a withered hand and the other with a twisted leg. The former was rather poor and the latter quite well-to-do. When the man with the twisted leg was helped to reach Jesus, the latter asked him, "What do you want?" The man replied, "That I may walk by myself."  Jesus asked him, "Why so? You seem to have enough people to help you go around. Why not ask for something else?" The man answered, "I know what a burden I am to my family and those who assist me. If I can manage my own affairs, all of these people too can do something more useful and assist someone else too. I too can help others, for since I have been struck, I have witnessed for myself the care and concern of so many."  Jesus said, "Very well, then. Go on your way!" The man kissed Jesus' hand and turned around and walked home, all by himself!

The last one left in the square was the man with the withered hand. As he saw the man with the twisted leg get healed and walk on his own, he turned around and began to leave.  Jesus noticed him and called out, "My friends, don't you have anything to ask?" The man approached Jesus and honestly said. "I don't think you have what I need." "And what would that be?" asked Jesus.  "Some financial support."  Jesus seemed puzzled.  This is the first time someone asked him for some money (besides Judas!).

Noticing his limp hand, Jesus asked him, "Don't you want your hand to be healed? That, I can."  The man replied, "I didn't come here for something as cheap as that. In a town where half of the folks live a life of physical deformity, my withered hand is no big issue. Back at home, I have a younger brother with a deformed hand, just like mine.  What am I to tell him, if I go back with a good arm? However, I thought if you were to give me some gold coins or show a hidden treasure, I'd have enough resources to get people to take care of us both."   Saying this, he walked away.

Jesus turned to his apostles and said, "The greatest treasure one can pass on to someone is not something outside of oneself, but reveal to one the grace and potential hidden within."
Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. [Marianne WilliamsonA Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles, Ch. 7, Section 3 (1992), p. 190].

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Guardian Angel

Thinking of the guardian angel, this afternoon, I was thinking, it surely has its hands full. Not that we are reckless but that it has to take care of us even without our knowing it.  And if by chance, we do not follow its directions, it still has to bear up with us. Go the wrong way, not because it wants to go, or because it has failed to warn me, but because I am on the wrong path!!  Much to learn of Salesian assistance from the guardian angel.

Good ol' days


Discernment

The readings of today, besides conveying the theme of sacrifice, spell out something deep. Abraham is called up to sacrifice his son; God does so, in the Gospel. However, what struck me was something else. How is it that Abraham (and Paul and Peter) discerned that what they 'heard' was from God? Take for example, Abraham. While he 'heard' that he was to become the father of the nations, he had in reality, no children. When told to sacrifice his only son, he took off.  What made him so sure that it was God who was asking this of him, especially given the fact that it was the same God who promised that he would be the 'father of the nations'? Why didn't he dismiss this as some whimsical fantasy of his?  Why not think that God was joking and smile and forget about it?

The same applies to the others in the Bible.  I am not inclined to believe that God spoke in as clear and distinct terms as someone in my own community is speaking to me in words.  I suppose God has his own means of communication, the same even today!  What parameters did these Biblical figures use to gauge and arrive at the conclusion that it was God asking them to do what they did, not their own ego, not their fantasy, not their unfulfilled desires, not the echo of their friends and relatives...?

I wish it were as easy for me, as for them!
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