Monday, 31 August 2015

Refreshment!

I wasn't dying to go for the formation commission meet last week. However, I am glad I did. What was very helpful and enriching was not the meeting itself but the opportunity it provided me to meet people whom I esteemed much.

Talking with a couple of them, helped me see myself and my future course of action, in a different perspective. Perhaps that is what qualifies speaking to someone with wisdom and experience.  They nudge you to think from angles you've not thought existing before.  Most importantly, they challenge, without being intrusive or oppressively overbearing but intuitively, to review one's own firmly held beliefs and concepts.

Of course, then there is the whole group of friends and well-wishers who do chip in with their nostalgic memories down memory lane and of course, with a bit of fresh new-found wisdom!  Thanks to them all.

Thanks especially to Fr Ivo and Fr Stan!

Saturday, 29 August 2015

As long as I can see the light...

A very melodious and meaningful song I heard today...
from the movie Black or White. It is a funeral song...
Put a candle in the window
'Cos I feel that I got to move
Though I'm gone gone,
I'll be coming home soon
Long as I can see the light 
Pack my bags and let's get moving
'Cos I'm bound to drift awhile
though I'm gone you don't have to worry
as long as I can see the light
Long as I can see the light 
Guess I have that old travelling bone
'Cos this feeling won't leave me alone
but I won't won't be losing my way
Long as I can see the light.

Friday, 28 August 2015

Sitting in the box

In the movie The Dolphin Tale 2, there is a farewell party to Sawyer.  He is not sure if he should leave his beloved Winter, especially when it is not sure if she would continue or be moved to another place, and go for his privileged educational trip around the globe on a cruiser. Morgan Freeman brings him a gift and ... a lesson.  The gift is a pocket watch, in a beautiful box.
The watch is beautiful but it has been sitting in the box so long that it stopped. You have to shake it up now and then to move it forward. It's a big world... too many opportunities out there to spend life in a box, no matter how nice the box is. 
When one door is closed another opens. Life is always full of possibilities. 

The Parable of the Bridegroom

This morning the gospel was that of the five 'foolish' virgins and the five 'wise' ones (Mathew 25: 1-13).  Of course, everyone knows that the five who did not have sufficient oil to feed their lamps were left out of the banquet hall. Very many would also know that it is only a parable intending to convey a message than speak about the people involved.
Interestingly it occurred to me that perhaps the 'wise' virgins were not really generous!  Were they to be charitable, they would have shared the little that they had with the other five and perhaps share the merit or fate together.

Another insight that struck me this morning was perhaps (like it often happens) the 'foolish' ones would ever remain 'foolish' if the others were to share with them the oil they had.  Perhaps this embarrassment caused would wake them up and come prepared the next time they attend a wedding.  Or else, they may come unprepared always, expecting others to help them out in time of need.

Yet another thing that occurred to me was that perhaps the whole parable is not about the oil or the virgins at all!  It is basically to remind one for what did the virgins come for... to welcome the bridegroom!  And if all that they do is not directed towards that primary purpose then, it makes no sense or clearly says that they are not clear of their identity.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Of the vineyard workers

We are familiar with the parable of the vineyard and the workers narrated by Jesus in the gospel of Mathew 20: 1-16. It is the one wherein the one who is invited at the last hour to work in the vineyard receives the same pay as the one who has been slogging it out the whole day. Here's my imaginary continuation of the same... mostly from me as a human being rather than understanding Jesus' heart and mind.

The next day a couple of the same men who worked the previous day in the Master's vineyard were again found at the square, awaiting to be called for work during the last watch of the day. To them the Master said, “Go into my vineyard and work and I'll pay you accordingly.” At the end of the day, they too like the others received the one dinar each.

The third day some of them said to themselves, “Why slog the whole day when we can work for the last hour and earn as much?” And so a couple of them loafed about the place the whole day, spent their money and by evening returned to the square, awaiting the Master. The Master perceived their plan and did not call them at all. He called out only those who, in sincerity were willing to work but did not receive any job since morning.

P.S.: I think the parable is more about divine justice than of human sloth... all the same could not resist putting down this insight!

Investing in people

Being at Punganur, and not having an official responsibility to fulfill, I glide in and out of any department or section of the work here. Not sensing me as a threat or an 'authority' figure, everyone feels comfortable and friendly. This provides me with a great sense of liberty to try and share with everyone – confreres, teachers, students, staff members – what I have within me and what I am made up of... my values, principles and attitude. Rather than expect from me some monetary help, I'm blessed with the position of being helpful in what I love most – investing in people rather than in structures or materials!

Gold and silver, I have none, but from what I have I give! Rings some bells?

Home They Brought Her Warrior Dead

Home they brought her warrior dead
She nor swooned, nor uttered a cry:
All her maidens, watching said,
'She must weep or she will die'.

Then they praised him, soft and low.
Called him worthy to be loved,
Truest friend and noblest foe;
Yet she neither spoke nor moved.

Stole a maiden from her place,
Lightly to the warrior steeped, 
Took the face-cloth from the face;
Yet she neither moved nor wept.

Rose a nurse of ninety years,
Set her child upon her knees –
Like summer tempest came her tears –
'Sweet my child, I live for thee'.

 - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Goodness boomerangs!

In contrast to the rosary recital in Karunapuram, here at Punganur there is a literal verbal fight to pray the first part of the 'Hail Mary', every night! Add to that the fact that these boys are all Hindus!! The verbal fight is a very tenacious one with no one willing to give up their chance, even till the ninth 'Hail Mary'! Or else the Brother has to intervene and literally plead with a couple of the boys to let someone else continue. Rather than dampen or come down heavily on their enthusiasm, I devised a plan to channelize it to something constructive. So a couple of days ago, I announced during the night prayers, that only those who consciously do atleast one good act during the day, should lead the rosary.

Imagine my surprise the next night when there were more contestants than before to recite the first part of the prayer! And each of them had already informed me the good they had done during the day – without me asking them or telling them to report it to me! I guess that's why 'the Kingdom belongs to such as these!'

... a revolution in heaven

A few days ago, I read one of the obituaries written by the Provincial of Mumbai of a Salesian Brother, who was known to create more problems than buildings during his life time. Very many were very 'frightened' of Br Phillip Neri who had the knack of raising a social issue where none saw any problem. Of course, he was more appreciated outside the Salesian circles than within the community. What attracted me was what the Provincial stated towards the end of his obituary: 'Hope Br does not cause a revolution in heaven'!

I thought that was quite a safe way to conclude a message. Neither negative, nor positive... just safe!

Sunday best tossed out!

A couple of days ago I was reminded of the time when the whole concept of wearing the 'Sunday best' got tossed out of my system. It was a couple of months after I joined the aspirantate, in Gunadala, Vijayawada. Having brought up in a traditional Catholic family, I grew up in a culture of wearing the best clothes for Sunday Mass. I carried that 'tradition' to the aspirantate too. However, after two Sundays, and precisely two days of oratory with the street children of Vijayawada after Sunday mass, I threw out this tradition! Initially, I wore the same Sunday best to the shelter home where I was sent for my Sunday oratory. By the time I reached home, the clothes were anything but neat. With children hanging on me, pulling me in all directions, then all the crazy games we used to invent to bring a smile on their faces... the clothes bore the brunt of it all. The next two Sundays, I was very much conscious of my clothes and thereby very very restrained in my 'involvement' with the kids. On my way back home on the third Sunday, I realized that I was more worried about my clothes than the boys for whom I was visiting the shelter home. By the time I reached home, 'Sunday best' was tossed out of my system!

Who does...?

Sometimes it is the very people who no one imagines anything of, who do the things that no one can imagine.
From the movie, The Imitation Game

Mass at one's own Parish

Learning of the day:
That no one, not even the Canon Law directs, can compel a Catholic to attend the parish on Sunday Mass.  That Sunday Mass is obligatory, yes but not necessarily only in the Parish where I belong!  I am free to go for Mass ANYWHERE!  It is good to attend the Mass in one's own Parish, but not compulsorily only in one's parish. 

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

St Thomas' Tomb, Chennai

Learning of the day:
St Thomas tomb (under the Santhome Church), in Chennai, does not any more contain the remains of St Thomas.  He was once upon a time buried there. Later, perhaps in the 16 or 17 century, his body was taken away by the Portugese.  Popular belief: it is in Italy in Adessa.

Interestingly, this fact that the 'tomb' no more contains the mortal remains of St Thomas is not made known anywhere. It only states that it is the tomb!

The Vine and the Branches

For this morning's Lectio Divina we had the passage from the gospel of John... the one about vine and the branches.  The one that struck me most this morning, for the first time ever, was the following:
My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples (Jn 15: 8).
That means, to become a disciple it is not enough merely to be with the Lord. One of the earlier verses states
Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away... (Jn 15: 2)
This means that there are branches which do not bear fruit and are not yet cut... they may eventually be cut, but for now there are.  Not all the branches yield, or yield abundantly. So to be a disciple one has to not only be connected, in touch with the Lord, but also be fruitful.

Another caution: Being fruitful, not as in being successful.  The grape is fruitful not by 'doing' some things but by 'being' useful.  My fruitfulness, which is a consequence of being connected to the Lord, is of being useful and meaningful to others.

Religious Life and Holiness

This morning we heard a lay man share his views about priesthood and formation to priesthood.  One of the points he was very convinced of was that Priests are holy - more than lay people.  I asked him if his holiness had anything to do with his priesthood?  He was certain it was all about priesthood.

I feel differently.  Holiness is not the monopoly of priesthood or religious life... a fact that all would readily agree.  While most consider - like the above-said gentleman - that it is grace of God that really transforms a person, I am of the opinion that it may not necessarily do so. By doing so I'm not belittling God or His grace... rather I'm endorsing the same.  Because the God whom I believe in is not someone who would automatically work wonders in me, without my awareness, knowledge and most of all, consent.

I someone am convinced that religious life or priesthood is merely a path, just like married life or individual life, to holiness.  Perhaps it offers us greater possibilities of achieving that better and 'faster' but at the same time it also great risks ... with great possibilities come great risks!

Moreover God gives us all - ALL - opportunities; some utilize most of them, some less, perhaps some none.  But He certainly does not have favourites or pets whom he pampers with ready-made graces!  

Monday, 24 August 2015

Be perfect as in be whole

And at the end, if we are brave enough to love, strong enough to forgive, generous enough to rejoice in another's happiness, and wise enough to know there is enough love to go around for us all, then we can achieve a fulfillment that no other living creature will ever know. We can re-enter paradise. 
Harold Kushner

Loving patience

Had a bumpy ride from Punganur to Chennai last night... couldn't expect anything more, occupying a seat in the last row of the bus!  Added to that there was a small boy and his mother sitting beside me and the whole night - the whole night! - the boy kept crying for his grandfather. Most of the passengers were irritated and would often stare at the mother.  One youngster was so vexed that he even went to the extent of asking her when was she getting off!

However, what appealed to me most was the loving patience of this mother.  I'm sure the child must have slept well during the day, if not it would not have the energy to keep crying all night.  That meant the mother would have been at work all day long. She appeared to be a daily wage labourer or a vendor.  But not once did I hear her raise her voice or beat the child.  All along the journey, she kept distracting the child in a hushed voice, with all sorts of stories and what not. Neither did she threaten the child to stop crying - maybe just one or two times, but that too in a very tender manner. The whole night she kept her child busy showing her things from the window, talking to him of all sorts of things, narrating stories... so patiently and with such love. I guess that is possible only for a mother.

Of course, I've seen other women take care of their children - believe me, for it is coming from one who has some divine 'blessing' of always travelling with some noisy kids - but this woman stands out for her loving patience! Truly incredible.  

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Philomena

Just watched the movie Philomena.

It is based on a true story of an elderly Irish lady looking for her long lost son who was taken away from her and given up for adoption in the US. All along a journalist assists her in this endeavour to meet her son... for a scoop. The story is BEAUTIFUL but the feelings are too hard to empathize.

I was viewing it from different perspectives. At times I found myself resonating with Martin (the journalist): his anger, his hatred for the nuns who separated the child and the mother, even when they had an opportunity to reunite them, his own growth in assisting someone discover her roots and relive the past, his flip-flops about being professional and humane...

At times I found myself in the shoes of Philomena: her simplicity and her attitude towards the Nuns who looked after her and all that they did for her. However, the ending scene is very moving. She forgives the nun who justified her actions, so convinced of her own virtue! When questioned as to how she could forgive someone just like that, she replies, “It is hard for me! But it is my choice!” The movie truly evokes contrasting emotions, giving you valid and true reasons for both the emotions... leaving you to make the decision!!

Something I learnt about religious life/ the religious: Why do we always think that it is about us? When all along our life and formation we are asked to shift the focus from ourselves to God and others! Why is it that we become so self-righteous and morally upright that all we do or say, becomes the parameter we judge others by? Why should we be anywhere in the picture at all when all along we 'vow' to let God shine through us? Why does mere practice of vows make us so proud, when they are actually mere means for a greater end: and without achieving that great end, we pride ourselves in merely, literally practicing the letter of the vows!

I'd like to get into the heart and mind of Philomena to know how on earth and at what point in her life did she learn to be a real Christian? After all she went through, how could she still be so magnanimous and forgiving? Where and how did she gain that attitude? Any 'normal' human person would grow bitter and angry and furious, if not at the treatment meted out to her all along but certainly at the insane and ridiculous justification of all the wrong, carried out by the same people, later on in years! But she chooses differently! How? Why?

Friday, 21 August 2015

The RO water purifier

I did some online research about the RO water purifier system we have installed here in the community for safe drinking water. I was led to this purely aghast at the amount of water being wasted from the purifying plant. I basically wanted to know how best to use the waste water discarded. None of the sites I visited ever spoke of any means of utilizing the water. All those whom I asked told me that it cannot be used for anything sensitive... not even washing clothes, leave alone watering the garden or bathing!

Today's paper carries a small write up by a common housewife on the disadvantages of installing an RO system. Basically she was citing the moral issue of wasting precious water in a country like India which is already classified under 'water stressed'. What of those who have already installed a 2000 litre plant? Install another tank to collect and use it to wash the cowshed and the school verandahs!

English Paper!

Today's specialty: Read an English daily (The Hindu) after three months!

The only advantage for me of not getting an English newspaper in this area (Punganur) is that I get to practice reading Telugu. But it mostly ends up in practicing Telugu and hardly getting to read any news.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

The Advantage of Being Systematic

Living here I'm witnessing first hand the disadvantages of being unorganised. Not that there is utter chaos or mismanagement, but if only we could be a little more systematic and organised, we could achieve much more. Ad hoc decisions, plans, and actions leave a bad taste if not immediately, certainly in the long run. The most important thing that is at stake is time. We loose such an amount of time for sometimes such a silly thing as finding a piece of paper... merely because we have not learnt the art of putting it in the right place at the right time. Then there is the consequent loss of energy, resources and ultimately peace of mind.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

The Value of Patriotism

The other day we celebrated the Independence day in the school with a solemn march past, drill, a couple of interesting cultural programmes and of course, a string of talks and messages. During the staff evaluation that followed, I made an intervention: As educators we need to set imparting values as targets not success. Children are sharp and they are quick to grasp what our emphasis is on. They naturally and unconsciously pick up that. If our success indicators are smooth running of the programme, a grand show, a big round of applause... then they learn to work towards these. On the other hand, if my emphasis is on values and principles and more specially on children themselves, and if I am willing to sacrifice success for even one child, then they learn that people are more important than programmes. That I am esteemed more than an event.

On further reflection, I asked myself, what patriotic value did we impart to the children on the occasion of the independence day? That patriotism meant merely a day of celebration? Nothing before or nothing after? That they learnt a form of discipline, by way of standing in a straight line, marching to a beat, performing a particular exercise or dance... basically a discipline; yeah, that is true. But I ask again, is that all we educators are capable of imparting? I tried to view it from the child's mind: patriotism means honouring the national flag on August 15 – the rest of the year it is rotting in some cupboard pushed around in the corners. Patriotism means singing Vande Mataram and marching left-right-left – what about love of country or countrymen?

Blessings come as opportunities

That God does not offer ready-made packages of wisdom or talent or anything for that matter is something that I learnt from a movie: Evan almighty! It is there that I began to realize that when I pray for courage, God does not swell my chest or strengthen my muscles; rather He offers me possibilities, occasions to be courageous. When I pray for love, He does not send some nice goody-goody feeling into my heart; rather He brings people into my life whom I can love and receive love from.

I told the boarders last night the same. God or Mother Mary is pleased with our fervent prayers, especially the ones we are offer privately at their feet in all earnestness. However, do not expect God or Mother Mary to do what you are supposed to do. They offer us chances, possibilities, opportunities to bring to fruition what we ask for. Asking God to help me study is not going to be answered if I squander all the many opportunities that come my way by way of study material, time for study, luxury of facilities for learning... Similarly Mother Mary is not going to score a goal in the football match on my behalf and make my team win... however hard I pray. She rather offers me the chances to learn football all along and the possibility of shooting goals during the game. To ask for help and then totally act indifferent to the opportunities that flood by is an act of foolishness.

My learning at Punganur

It has been two and half months since I set foot in Punganur. As I reviewed my own stay here to see what are the three most important discoveries I've made which have helped me see things differently, I realized the following:

  1. Children are much MUCH more enthusiastic and eager to learn than the Brothers! It is too evident to miss. 
  2. I have been enjoying the luxury of free time – plenty of it. Devoid of a full time responsibility, I have lots of time for myself. This has given me the possibility of indulging myself in all sorts of handiworks, manual labour and maintenance works. It has also challenged me to make the best of the available unstructured time. 
  3. This period of stay and interaction with the children has taught me that some of the ideas and principles I lived by and taught others are not that easy to practice in reality. They truly are ideals... but true all the same!


Tuesday, 18 August 2015

It's Change...

(A rather amusing poem from one of the text books of our school children)

Mum, I don't want to go to school today,
'Cause I fear our world is in decay.

I feel my teachers are part of the plot,
I'm the only one who sees through the rot.

Scientists are cloning pigs and sheep,
Saying, it's change – a quantum leap.

Biologists are making stem cells grow,
Saying, it's change – the way to go.

Geologists are finding cracks in our earth,
Saying, it's change – predicting its birth.

Archaeologists are digging up fossils and ones,
Saying, it's change – time for clones.

Yes, scientists are causing me great concern,
Giving us kids too much to learn!

 - Emma Gorrie

Monday, 17 August 2015

Latin and the Romans

Here's a short poem found on the last page of a Latin textbook... of course, written by a very bereaved soul:
Latin is a dead language;
As dead as it can be.
It killed the ancient Romans,
And now it's killing me!

Saturday, 15 August 2015

A Nation's Strength

Not gold, but only men, can make
A people great and strong
Men who for truth and honour's sake
Stand fast and suffer long.
Brave men who work while others sleep
Who dare while others fly -
They build a nation's pillars deep
And lift them to the sky. 
 - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Seeking guidance

Accepting to talk to someone at their request is risky business! You never know what they wish to speak about and where you'd end up the whole conversation. But it is always a great GREAT help to the one seeking to speak to someone, if only I am sensible and willing to listen with a patient ear. I've had one such experience today. The person started with something very much on her mind right now, these past couple of days. Call it divine inspiration or whatever, when at a particular point I expressed my sincere observation about the person. She completely broke down and what followed next was anything but close to what we began talking about! She shared a particular painful experience she did undergo quite a while ago which she realized is the cause of her strained relationship with someone else. Once this was acknowledged, the initial matter was not the primary focus at all! From my little experience, I desisted offering a solution or a remedy; least of all offer a pious suggestion or activity! I merely let her speak and when she felt she was done, I merely shared with her one of my own past experiences asking her to see if there was anything that she would like to try from what I shared. Uff!

Makes my vague aspiration to equip myself with some counselling and spiritual direction skills more formidable...!

Text books

Going through the textbooks of the children, I am very much surprised at the content. It is hard to believe that these are books formulated, promulgated and endorsed by the government. The content is really really beautiful. Furthermore the method and the mode suggested therein is something very very educational. It really makes learning a great adventure and joy. There are exercises, reflective questions, activities, surplus questions for further investigation or research, different type of ways of revising the lesson, separate sections for improving writing, reading, vocabulary, grammar, general knowledge...

In short, an ideal tool for making education a joyful experience and at the same time an enriching time for life. (However, am sad to also note that all this fun is spoilt by the workbooks being supplied by the school itself! They have all the answers, to every question asked in the textbooks. They simply drain the fun out and make the students mere robots left to study the already given answers by heart! What a shame!)

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