Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Someone else's life...

One thing the gentleman who offered me a lift in Bangalore told me was quite true - we religious live as if we are immortal!  We honestly don't have a sense of time and show some urgency about going about with our life and activities.  Somehow we are convinced that there is 'sufficient time'.  He said this is something he realized as an ex-Salesian and now a businessman.  In his present state of life he has deadlines and commitments he cannot afford to miss or jeopardize.  That's his bread and butter. He better not take it lightly.  While for us religious, fine... nothing is really really 'urgent'.

The article that I was reading today had the following line in its conclusion.  An article written by a teenager who owes her life to someone elderly who lost his life in the process of saving her. She speaks of her wayward life earlier and her present state of life wherein she is balancing the guilt/burden and the strength for a renewed life.
When you owe your life to someone, you better live it!  
Reminded me of Don Bosco's promise to his boys, when he begins his recovery after than near fatal illness that almost killed him.
From now on, my life is yours.  I'll dedicate my whole life for you! 
When driven by that commitment one cannot really take things in a lax manner... one cannot afford to have a laid back attitude. It is almost like you've lost your one chance at life and now you're living someone else's life - a sort of second chance at life! 

The food vocation

Last evening a gentleman offered me a lift from the Provincial house to the Yeshwanthpur railway station in Bangalore.  It was quite a ride.  He did not hide the fact that he was a Salesian once upon a time.  Today he is no more with the Salesians and living a good life as a business man.

Among the many things he spoke he was quite frank in admitting that he had joined the Salesians, many many years ago, only because he did not have sufficient to eat at home and liked the food prepared in the Salesian houses.  He liked the dosa he would be given after serving Mass in the Salesian Parish and subsequently that is what led him to join the Salesians.  Only later, he confessed, he realised that he had more organs than the stomach alone!!

This idea that young people join us for several reasons and for quite varied motivations.  Even in the case of this gentleman.  There is nothing wrong or bad about it.  However, when one sticks on with that same motivation - whether healthy or not - is the real issue. When one is not open to questioning oneself and evaluating one's priorities and thereby taking decisions based on that, then one is living a very flimsy life.  

Monday, 29 August 2016

John the Baptist

Fr Maria Arokiam, during his sermon on the commemoration of the beheading of John the Baptist spoke of an interesting possibility.  He spoke of the probable crisis of faith that John underwent at some point or the other of his life.  John was all the time speaking of the coming of the Messiah and all that he would do.  But Jesus when he arrived on the scene did nothing much in line with what John was prophesying the Messiah would do.  He must have then had a crisis of faith, worse still in the prison for decrying Herod and his ways.
Was my life and shouting in the wilderness all for nothing?  Did I really point out to the right man?  Was it all worthwhile?  
While Fr Maria concluded that he somehow was assured by Jesus that he was right.  But I have my doubts if John was at all waiting for any assurance at all.  Suppose he did not get any comforting assurance from Jesus while in prison and later was released by Herod, would he have gone back to the 'normal' ways or continued being who he was?  I guess he would have been the same: wild, crazy and passionate.

Whether the Messiah was doing his work or not was not his concern.  Whether he was doing his job right and that too for the right reasons was all that mattered!

Working together?

One concrete thing we, the members of the Salesian family, can actually work on is the target group of our apostolate.  Not that it is unknown but why are we so blind to it. It had ocurred to me earlier while at Ramanthapur but now it flashed across my mind more vividly today.  As part of our work at Ramanthapur, we also look after girl children in distress. Of course it is at Hayathnagar.

I wondered then (when I first visited the place) and more so today.  Why on earth should we take up this task?  Especially when there are Salesian Sisters running two centres that too just beside our own centres at Bhoiguda and Uppal for exactly the same category of children - girls in distress or in need of care and protection. We could easily direct whenever there is a case, to the FMAs.

And as if that itself is not sufficiently illogical and insane, desperately search for and invite Sisters from other congregations to take care of the girls' home!! 

Moving together...?

Witnessing the workings of the major superiors of the Salesian family (SDB-Regional, Mother Superiors, Provincials) I realised how rigid our structures force us to be. What actually is created initially for the mission is now the one that determines the mission.  Even to arrive at a collective decision which would then be carried out in very creative or flexible ways, is so cumbersome with most saying, "We'll have to discuss this with our local team".  And I was imagining what the 'local team' would be saying if asked about the same proposed line of action - "How can we decide about it. It has to be decided at the Superiors level!"

Perhaps the most free 'liberated' person in this whole assembly is Fr Joe D'Souza.  He made his points clear: don't ask me for funds, but personnel I'm willing to send... just ask.  He never had any conditions for his society members. No conditions or contracts.  Need help, just ask.  I understand that even though this has its own pitfalls, but I honestly admire and appreciate his vision of not getting struck to any buildings or any complicated structures.

Though something is achieved by this sort of meetings but can't really say we are moving forward, may be in circles!!  In comparison to all that we can really achieve together, what we actually decide and carry out is nothing!

Buildings and Mission

During the sharing of the members of the Salesian family perhaps the most important thing that struck me was the ease and conviction with which Fr Joe D'Souza, the founder of the Disciples, shared about his 'secular group'.  He was quite happy and proud to state that his society has only two buildings, a headquarter for Brothers and another for the Sisters.  Other than that they have not a single building or structure.  And where do the 800 odd members live and work?  In every place wherever they are called to help out.  In whatever capacity they are needed.  Anywhere in the world!

I know that they are not big intellectuals or the 'educated' lot but most of them are so committed to the job and the people whom they serve that they are much more loved that any one with vows and formal formation.

Fr Maria too has been strongly hinting at our obsession with safe guarding and beautifying our structures rather than reaching out.  This has reached such a level that we find ourselves as slaves of the building while it is supposed to be the other way round.  All our energies are spent on protecting our established structures than on people whom we serve, to the extent that we are willing to sacrifice our values and principles but not our buildings!  

When opportunities come by...

Two interesting facts which I find quite meaningful in this whole discussion of the 'desire to want to change'!

Change itself is yet to happen!!!


Mr Conrad while speaking of his impressions about the whole process of Strategic Planning stated that there could be three causes for one to change:

  1. One has undergone great amount of pain and hence wishes for a change 
  2. One sees others around undergoing change and therefore wishes for a change in oneself
  3. One changes because of one's own choice / decision to change 

His challenge was to avoid reaching the first mode. Why wait till you are on the edge of the cliff or desperate?  The second mode however is not the ideal motivation to change.

Elaborating further he said that while undergoing transformation, one does not throw out everything!  It is not becoming totally a new entity.  It is mainly about managing the present (60%), selectively eliminate the past (25%) and then create the future (15%).  Perhaps the crux of the process is that 'selective elimination of the past' - you really need to identify that which you feel is something you can do without.  Owe to you if you are not sure of your essentials and in the process of jettisoning throw out the essence!!


Fr Joyce, the Provincial of the Salesian Province of Bangalore, during his welcome words to the members of the major superiors of the Salesian Family, narrated a short story.

The small wave complained to the big waves that it was tired of life and fed up.  That the big waves were all the time dominating and gulping the smaller waves was its main point.  This grumbling went on for some time and when it had finished the big wave replied, "Big or small, we all are basically made up of water!"

Forgetting this reality would result in squabbles and misunderstandings and complaints and competition.  Awareness and acceptance of this essence will only aid in growth and peace.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Sharing... from the heart

While our sharing based on our reflections on the Salesian Constitutions was good, it brought back to my mind some of the earlier sharings I was involved in, with members of my community wherever I was during my earlier years.

There was a time when I was 'all head' and would feel odd about people sharing their feelings and sentiments.  I considered them as not strong people or those incapable of 'delving deep' into something profound.  However over the years my perception has changed and today I hold quite the contradictory position.  To share something of one's own feelings and emotions in all honesty require a great amount of courage and maturity.  Only those who have a genuinely large heart for the group and are at home with the group and themselves can do so.

To expose one's vulnerabilities before others, one's own family members, does not make one more feeble or guilty; it actually strengthens one from within.  Done in an ambiance of sincerity and openness, it gives one the courage to face difficulties, no more as individuals but as persons who enjoy the support and cooperation of a 'family'.

Once we taste this sort of sharing when in a small close knit group of persons, a very sound theological or doctrinal exposition of a concept does not touch anyone as much as a downcast look or a brief pause after narration of a very personal experience.

Feastdays with children

I never really could fully comprehend the following extract from Don Bosco's autobiography Memoirs of the Oratory of Saint Francis De Sales, (p 115)... not until my stay at Ramanthapur!
On the feast of All Saints, Dr Borrelli and I prepared to hear confessions. But everybody wanted to make their confession; what could we do? There were more than two hundred children but only two confessors.  One boy was trying to light a fire; another decided to put it out. The one brought wood, the other water. Buckets, tongs, shovel, jug, basin, chairs, shoes, books - everything was turned topsy-turvy while they were trying to tidy things up! 
Perhaps my formal, organised and structured living in the formation house prevented me from really understanding this scene.  How could there be so much of a confusion?

It was not until I reached Ramanthapur, the rehab home for street children and started involving the boys in preparation for feast days or major celebrations that I not only understood this scene but became a first hand witness to it.  Those boys would be so eager to do anything you ask them to do!!  They only wanted to be part of the ongoing preparations and celebrations.  The greatest punishment would be to ask them to sit quiet!  Entrusted with a responsibility, boys would go to any extent to see that the task is done - even though in the process greater damage is done in another field or portion of the house!  If two of them are assigned to laying the carpet on the stage, they would make sure it is there - but don't ask what became of the backdrop which was worked on for more than a week and was already in place, until these two masters arrived on scene!

Their excitement and goodwill would be brimming over and one cannot even scold them for causing a greater monetary or physical damage.  Even if one did scold, the boy would only be perplexed for just a short while, with that strange look, "What wrong could I have done?" And before you know it, the excitement of the boy has doubled and he shoots off, assuring you, "Don't worry Brother, I'll do it better this time!"  Oh, boy!

That the event itself goes on smoothly and there is no real catastrophe (that the buildings at least are in their own place) is in itself a great miracle under these circumstances.

All said and done, it is worth the risk and perhaps the only meaningful way of truly celebrating a feast with the boys! 

Seeds of a Salesian Vocation

We had an rather serious and involved monthly recollection this morning at Gagilapuram.  We reflected by ourselves on the second chapter of our Constitutions (the Salesian Spirit).

Among the other things that caught my attention during the specific reading of the decade of articles we choose for our reflection, I found Art. 16 most appealing.  It speaks of the Salesian Family Spirit.
In an atmosphere of mutual trust and daily forgiveness, the need and joy of sharing everything is experienced, and relationships are governed not so much by recourse to rules as by faith and the promptings of the heart.  
Quite a good synthesis of what should characterize a religious community. However what struck me most was the sentence that followed.  Not that it was anything so revelatory. But I never knew that the Constitutions themselves had spelled this so distinctly, that too right in the first section of the book (only goes to show how thorough is my own knowledge about the Salesian Constitutions).
This is a witness that enkindles in the young the desire to know and to follow the salesian vocation. 
Looking back at my own life, it is precisely this 'curiosity' the sort of 'magic' in the ambiance at the vocation camp that drew me to the aspirantate.

Statistics reveal that for the past decade or more, there have been just one youngster who has joined us from our own settings.  All the others never ever were associated with the Salesians till they reached the vocation camp or aspirantate!  Spells something very very distinctly about our community life in the Province.


These days as I sit for prayer, I'm in a bit of a fix. Nothing alarming but all the same a bit unnerving.  It is about my future course of action.  I have been asked to pursue my doctoral studies in London and have completed all the formalities for the same.  However, the results of my IELTS is being withheld 'for further investigation'. That has brought my visa processing to a grinding halt.  With classes commencing on Sept. 17, and with no sign of the release of my IELTS score, I know not how it would turn out to be.

Honestly I do not know what to pray for!  That things smoothen out fast and I get to go or that this hurdle washes out all efforts put in so far and I stay on??  I only pray His will may be done but lacking any clue of what His will is in this regard is not very consoling!!

However when I see other confreres here in the Provincial house praying, given the heavy responsibilities they shoulder, my only prayer is 'THANK GOD... I have no such burdens!'  Truly before what each one of them is going through and all the efforts they are putting in for the good of the Province, the confreres and the mission, my dilemma is chaff!  In fact, I feel ashamed to ask anything at all for myself!  Watching them I can almost hear their desperate plea.  


Prayer 1:
Lord, show me the way!

Prayer 2:
Lord, help me see the way!

The first prayer in a way puts the onus on God... to direct my life.  It is as if God is to now chalk out a path and then lay it out before me.  The latter prayer merely asks God to assist me to choose and walk the right path.

Of course, for Him words don't matter but I suppose for us human beings, attitude certainly does matter.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Openness and curtains

A joke among young seminarians...

A young man discerning his vocation in a seminary was very frank with his superiors - that indeed was one of the strong recommendations of the staff.  However at the end of the year he was asked to discontinue his seminary life and priestly formation.

Not really sure and assuming that it was his transparent talks that resulted in his 'exit', he was chatting with his companions.  His friends fooled him and said, "Openness is good. Indeed you should open up. Open the windows but you fool you should have kept the curtains closed!"

Out of pity

A student of theology at KJC, Bangalore once did very poorly in his exam.  Once he received his marks he was not sure out of how much was his score and so he approached the professor and asked him, "Out of what score did I get secure these marks?" The professor replied, "Out of pity!"

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Involved reading...

Fr Jose Mathew, while animating the discussion on different documents, asked the participants to do an 'involved reading' of the text. Read slowly, mark important sections, write down any questions, clarifications, try to see connections and all that.  Quite a few of the participants were amused about this.

I guess this whole process of reading itself is that:  involved.  Of course, one can also speak of it as opposed to cursory glance.  I also guess he must have picked it up during his teaching experience, wherein unless told to do so, the students would 'read' but know nothing about the text!!  That's because they have 'read' - run their eyes over the printed letters - but not really read.  

India and the Olympics

India's craving for atleast one gold medal ended yesterday with P.V. Sindhu winning only a silver medal at the Olympics at Rio.

On the one hand we have one man, Michael Phelps winning 23 gold medals (over the years) and on the other we have one billion people (of India) craving for one medal!!  What a paradox!


This SAFC there was a repeated request for prayer for Fr Tom Uzhannalil, the priest abducted by the ISIS and whose whereabouts are still unknown.  While everyone still felt this as something close to our hearts - him being a Salesian - I was feeling odd.  Why only Fr Tom?? There are thousands of innocent people afflicted by the ongoing disturbances around the world, especially in the middle-east.  Women and children are the worst affected.  Viewing the disturbing images and reading the news reports (from secular media outlets) that come out of the region, leave alone the human rights and other NGOs reports, one cannot but be moved.

I guess the pain is felt only when it touches the 'family'. So I ask myself how and why does our formation limit our 'family'?  Granted that embracing the whole of humanity is not possible or practical, but when such grave atrocities are meted out to vulnerable and innocent people, how can one remain unmoved?

Presence and Witness

Another angle from which the stress on witness was felt was that of Jesus' life. He spent 30 years of silence and three years of preaching.  But those three years were impact filled primarily because the apostles and disciples SAW Jesus live his life, in all transparency, simplicity and truthfullness.  That was the lesson in itself, besides what he said. The latter only made verbal what was already being lived out.

Shift of methodology

A major shift in the mentality and working methodology of the formation department:
Not enough to have it clear in the document but make it really happen on the ground!  

The whole decision to shelve the 'almost' ready document on Salesian accompaniment in order to arrive at a new one but based on the lived experiences of all Salesians, even those in initial formation.  The earlier document was something prepared in the corridors of the Generalate!!

I personally liked the ambiance of this SAFC: more of listening on the part of the animation team rather than shoving down our throat some document or doctrine, because it is promulgated by the Formation department or Generalate.  

'Who we are' - 'What we do'

An interesting question that Fr Ivo and Fr Silvio asked, in their letter about the Salesian vocation, specifying the salesian brother, is the following:
Could the witness of a community which gives of itself with joy, not be an efficacious response to the worrying diminution of candidates to the Salesian life who choose to be Salesian Brothers?  Young people choose to follow us not so much for what we are able to do, but for what we are and what we are to one another. 

This is another strong emphasis of the SAFC this year: the life of witness.  Fr Pandi's goodnight perhaps specified it most.  He said he barely remembered anything taught to him in the aspirantate or those early stages of formation.  But what he has truly lived by is what he SAW being lived by the Salesians with whom he shared his life.

Rightly so, today we do not have vocations from our own settings.  The reason is all too evident: young people see us do lot of things but are not inspired or challenged by our life!  

Validity of Priesthood and Religious life

This understanding of the original identity of religious life is as demanding as it is illuminating. The immediate consequence is that religious life ‘functions’ only if it is authentic. If the Eucharist celebrated by a mediocre or even unworthy priest remains valid and fruitful for those who participate (without in any way detracting from the sacred insistence on the formation and holiness of the clergy), the religious life of a mediocre or unworthy religious is an absolute non-sense.
One of the main points of the SAFC of this year was the emphasis on the Salesian vocation as to be understood as primarily a vocation to consecrated life.  It is not merely to be a priest or a brother.  This false emphasis on priesthood (or brotherhood, which I say as swinging the pendulum to the other extreme) is really detrimental.  As Salesians we are bascially called to be a consecrated person, the subsequent living out is done either as Priests or Brothers! 

Living the vows

It is not enough to live the vows; we are called to live them in such a way that we become transparent, visible, joyful signs of the life of the resurrection. Signs are either visible or they are not signs at all. In our being Salesian Brothers or Salesian priests lies all the wealth of the gift that we are called to bring to the young and to the people of the 132 countries in which we live. Together we are the Don Bosco that they meet.

(an extract from the letter on the Salesian vocation, in its two forms, as Brothers and Priests)

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Becoming Christ-like

A young monk approached a senior monk seeking some advice and guidance.  After several points of interaction, the younger monk asked the senior monk a last question: Do you have any regrets in your long years of life and experience as a monk?

The senior monk replied, "They call me Christian but I have failed to become Christ-like."

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Skipping calendar

In most of our Salesian houses there is a sort of table calendar model with one sheet for each of our communities... just to remind everyone to pray for a community each day.  In the Provincial house we regularly remember and pray for a community everyday, in order.  At Ramanthapur too we did pray for each community, however we never managed to pray for all of them!  The order was never possible.  Reason: Boys attending Mass would each fight to change the sheet and then invariably some communities would get 'more' prayers and some turn out to be 'orphaned' with no prayers at all!

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Truth of the Eucharist

A Protestant Pastor and Catholic Priest were having a casual conversation and the Priest complimented the Pastor for his familiarity with the Bible and the way he cites it in his preaching. The Pastor returned the compliment saying, "I like the way you clear the altar after the Holy Communion... the way you pick up all the particles of the Eucharist and with reverence clean the chalice... as if Jesus was real!"

Private Judiciary

The other day while lamenting the number of court cases and the issue of delayed justice, Fr Pandi blurted out one possible solution.  Something that never occurred to me earlier.  He was speaking of many political and authoritarian big-wigs taking the judiciary for a ride.  Cases where the truth is evident to everyone but none give any verdict and the case gets dragged on and on for several years. Even when the final decision is announced it is a sham.  In the process, those who cannot afford the court fees and expenses get trounced waiting for justice... lives are lost, livelihood destroyed, dreams shattered and noble aspirations turn bitter in the process.

Fr Pandi suggested, "Why not privatize judiciary?"  Well that's one viable option.  If various departments and business establishments can be privatized, why not judiciary?  Though it is the state's responsibility to ensure justice and speedy trials, when it fails and at times fails miserably, why not let organisations or institutions with integrity take charge. The state then can demand greater transparency and can be the final point of reference in case of retrials and undue delays.

Of course, that 'integrity' and 'transparent' words are huge blackholes!!

Being prophets

Being prophets is a risky gamble.  Jeremiah was almost killed for prophesying against the house of Judah. However he is protected by Ahikam (it is the first time that I am coming across that name!).  John the Baptist lost his head, literally for speaking out the truth.  The Jews (and Romans) ultimately got the better of Jesus, after several failed attempts.

Even today none wishes to speak the truth openly.  Those who polish it, or trim it neatly to fit in the regular flow of thought are appreciated. Even those who malign and distort truth are felicitated.  But those who spell it out in all honesty are hounded.

Times have changed but not the mindset.  The strategies employed to silence those who speak the truth have certainly become more systemic and oppressive.  Prophets are not seduced by power and those in power cleverly scheme and eliminate the prophets.

Mass in the open

Another delinking factor between the Church and ecological concerns is perhaps the Holy Eucharist. Or the very institution of this sacrament or the model adapted by the Church.  I've stated this earlier as well but not this dimension of it.

If only the church had adopted the scene of the feeding of the five thousand as the Eucharist model and not the last supper, we would have had the Eucharistic celebrations out in the open. Not in some well built, brightly lit and highly decorated churches.  The open meadows would have been the places of worship, the altar and the celebration.

The Church would have fought for vacant lands and greenery rather than compound walls.  Instead of competing with neighbouring villages or Parishes in rebuilding 'magnificent' churches, the ecclesial resources could have been invested in preserving the ecological balance of the neighbourhood.

Touched... personally

A random crazy thought during meditation a couple of days ago...

Jesus could have very well blessed the river Jordan itself.  Anyone who would drink of it or use it would be healed of any and every sickness.  He didn't!  Why not? I suppose that would have been easier than blessing and healing each one as they came.  Imagine, the woman with the hemorrhage struggling to secure that cure! Why put people through all this trouble?

I believe the values of the Kingdom are not abstract or common (cheaply available, just for the grabs) but highly personal.  They are perhaps 'hidden in plain sight' in as much as they touch and impact the personal lives of individuals not crowds.

Take the case of the woman with the hemorrhage.  There were so many clamouring around Jesus, pushing and pulling him. But none of them reported any healing, except for this woman who merely managed to touch merely the fringe of his cloak.

Kilometres according to the tyres

Returning to blogging after quite a few days. Had been busy with the IELTS test and the crazy rush to get the documents ready for the visa to study in the UK.

During these days of sharing anecdotes and famous statements of confreres over the years, we are having a ball of time in the dining hall.  One such incident was narrated of a community picnic from "---" to Vizag.  They had hired a bus and also travelled by their own community jeep.  The agreement with the bus was that payment would be made according to the number of kilometres travelled.  On reaching Vizag the bus driver declared it was 420 kms.  The jeep driver endorsed it.  However, the Rector, CLB intervened and said, "That cannot be!" He said if the jeep is showing 420 kms, the bus should show less, say only 350 kms or so.  The confreres and the confused bus driver asked how?  The jeep tires are small but the bus tires are big, was his rationale!!
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