Friday, 30 September 2016

To London...

Last evening I got news from my travel agency that they received my visa from the UK consulate in Chennai and by nightfall, I had my ticket confirmed for London.

That in place, I'd be leaving for London to pursue my higher studies, on Sunday October 2, 2016.  Will be staying at the Salesian community of Chertsey while attending classes at the University of London.

Much more than myself, there are scores of people who are thrilled about this confirmation.  There are many who have been praying seriously so that this comes through.  I am grateful to them all for their kind concern and affection towards me.  However, I tell myself repeatedly that it is someone else's sweat and blood that I'm enjoying... for this opportunity.  I cannot afford to squander this great opportunity.  Most important of all, I wish to constantly discern what God wants me to do and pray for courage to do His will.

To be prophets...

It is not only good to have prophets but essential for any and every group.  Or else when everyone thinks alike and not one attempts to see other possibilities or repercussions of the groups decisions from a larger perspective, we become lopsided and parochial in our initiatives. Therefore someone offering a different perspective, or even a contrary opinion, is far more beneficial for it facilitates the sorting out of priorities and purifying motivations.  The prophet and his prophecy forces us not to grow complacent or develop a stagnant attitude.  They rattle our comfort zones, challenging us to strive for truth, more than success; for integrity above glory; for meaning rather than continuity.

In all of this enterprise, owe to the prophet!  Not only has he or she to constantly check one's own integrity but also be battered by everyone around.

Fear of Mercy

This year the Church commemorates the year of mercy.  However, one strange feeling crept over me today as I listened to someone helping another person with her troubles in life.  Perhaps there is also a psychological dimension to it.  The fact is that mercy is feared!

Just like love can cut through any hard heartened person and transform him or her into another person altogether, experience of mercy really touches the core of a person.

Moreover it is an expression of strength without being showy about it.  Though it apparently seems like cowardice and inability, mercy is not possible for the weak.  Most people however, would like to 'appear' strong rather than truly 'be' strong.  Gentleness and meekness are not considered by the general public as virtues. Hence a facade of 'strong' feelings and expressions.  

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Not stealing...!

Yesterday we had an interesting conversation during lunch. It bordered very much on seriousness but was shared in a lighter vein.  But all present were very much aware of the seriousness of the issue.
There was a time when confreres were given pocket money. Today confreres pocket money!  
Another confrere quoted this incident. A Salesian sometime ago had come from a particular community to the Provincial house for a meeting.  This confrere was a bit caught in the middle of a peculiar situation where in the community resources were bleak but not the confreres!  Being the administrator and not having really experienced such a tricky situation earlier, he innocently exclaimed:
Confreres are certainly not stealing... 
and everyone hearing him was appreciative of his optimism and trust in the honesty of his fellow confreres, but were quite taken aback by how he concluded:
...they're looting!  

Monday, 26 September 2016

Working but not working!

This evening we spent quite some time tracing out the faulty electricial supply line of the provincial house. After opening up several of the main circuit boards and trying all possible things we managed to trace it, 'fix' it and then when we went about our other works.  When I later went to complete the work which I had started and which triggered this 'witch hunt', the problem was still there. But now equipped with the knowledge of where the source was, it did not take me long to zero in and investigate a bit more.  That's when I realized that the mini-circuit breaker (MCB), was actually tripping the power supply when there was a short circuit but the switch still remained on.
Philosophically speaking, noumenally it was working but not phenomenally!  In Fr Maliekal's language, it was working, but not working!

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Water blues and Property issues

For the past two days we have some 60 guests staying with us in the Provincial house. They are members of some prayer group gathered for prayer.  However, besides what they do for most of the day, invariably in the evenings and mornings our electricity circuit starts acting funny. That's because the guests have equipped themselves with immersion rods and very many of them are using it in their rooms - besides the already installed geysers at the end of each corridor.  When we have our own Salesian meetings this problem does not arise. Each one collects the hot water - those who want - from the end of the corridor.  But I guess used to living in independent houses, the guest-families tend to see their room as the world.  So each one wants to 'generate' hot water in the room itself and in the process deprive everyone, including themselves, of electricity itself!

Reminds me of Adam Smith - I'm not very sure if he's the one who said it though - differentiating private property and common property.  The water in the well is common property, but when I draw a bucket of water from the same well, that water in the bucket is 'my' water!  Now let me take it a notch up further: but when each one, rather than go to the well and draw out water, drills a 1000 ft borewell in one's own compound then that's greed - not sure if there's water even at that depth!  Very soon the day will come when every household will proudly boast of a borewell in their compound but mourn the fact that they do not have water!
There is enough for everyone's need but not for any one's greed. (Gandhiji)
The image is the cover page of a book written by Susan George

Heaven misrepresented?

The parable of the rich man and Lazarus of today's gospel has a very weird sense of heaven.  However, I guess the reading is not about heaven so much as is it is about priorities in life - not the material things of this earth: neither pleasures nor suffering.  Anyway as I sat for meditation this morning, I could not but draw comparisons between the difference scenarios presented in the context of the "wide chasm dividing the two"...

The divide is seen not just in heaven but on earth as well.  There is a wide chasm separating Lazarus from the rich man.  The only difference in the latter scene is that earlier Lazarus desired to bridge the gap but could not.  Later in heaven the rich man wanted to cancel the distance but couldn't.  However, in both the instances, the one comfortable would not leave the comfort of their respective present status.  The rich man would not reach out to Lazarus and later Lazarus does not reach out to the rich man in hell.  One cannot and the other would not - each time!

Furthermore, the rich man's last altruistic thought - perhaps the only one - or requesting Lazarus to go down to earth to warn his brothers, qualifies him for some "heaven". Even in that agony he is thinking of the good of someone other than himself - even though it is his own kinsmen.

So honestly speaking there is no big difference in both the scenes. Heaven does not seem any better than earth.  Perhaps the last line of the parable (... even if the dead were to appear, they would not change...) has something to do with trying to correct this weird imagery of heaven.  

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Lovely music and voice

One of the songs that I've been listening to quite a few times these past days. Nothing about the lyrics but the melody is really very very touching.  And for music it is just the piano.  Together, the smooth piano and the soulful voice, create magic!  Lovely music - just plain voice and the piano! 

Second home for a penguin

Friday, 23 September 2016

Mosquito bites

There's a message doing the rounds that dengue causing mosquitoes cannot bit above the knee. Therefore it is enough to oil your knee below to prevent mosquito bites as this particular 'dengue causing mosquito cannot climb more than the knee.

Perhaps there may be some scientific logic behind that instruction but my mind was playing tricks! In that case, those living above the ground floor need not worry at all. If the mosquito cannot climb beyond the knee how on earth will it fly to the next floor!  Then what of children and tall people?  Whose knee height is the maximum flyable zone?

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Reading habits (2)

While reading the book Don Bosco in Mangalore (by Philomena D'Souza), I became aware of the great impact literature has on one's life choices.  More than the physical presence of Salesians (which was totally absent till as late as 1997), it was the presence of literature from the Salesian publications that impacted the lives of the Mangalorean Catholic community.  Specially the Salesian Bulletin, Don Bosco's Madonna and the life of Don Bosco.

Though many contest that the age of printed text has ended, it is still very much in vogue. Digital media does indeed have a wider reach but that's not my real point. I actual wonder how many actually read!?  And even if they do read, what is it that we read (the content, type and length)?

When I was a student of philosophy (early on), there was a craze for reading novels.  I practically read all the novels of the library of Yercaud and Nashik.  (Those in Nashik would be read even before they were classified and put on the racks in the library, first by Christopher and then me).  That is besides the usual books and articles we were to read for our studies and term papers.  Some of my companions would grudge even borrowing a book.  Most however would read the newspapers for sure.

Later, during my practical training, there would hardly be any of my students found reading the newspaper... leave alone read books. They would surely borrow books from the library only to read the pages where the word of their topic (for assignment and term papers) appears, nothing more everything less!

Today I know for sure most confreres read nothing more than whatsapp messages - that too sent by non-Salesians.  Most Salesians are too lazy to write - even whatsapp messages!

Reading habits

I just finished reading the book Don Bosco in Mangalore: Before the Arrival of the Salesians by Sr Philomena D'Souza (the book launch of which was held last month end in Bangalore).

Was happy to read it for it offered me great insights into my own background.  Though of Mangalorean descent was never very familiar with my faith 'roots'.  The book offered quite a bit of history of the Mangalorean Catholic community.

However what appealed to me most was the spirit of youthfulness that was guided by the Priests and other youth clubs of the mid 1900 around Mangalore.  Inspired by Don Bosco's style and grace, these youth clubs were proposed, guided and organised by non-Salesians (Salesians had still not arrived on the scene - not till 1997. By then the zenith of the 'salesian' spirit was long past!).  I'm listing below some of the truly profound - yet simple - lines of action of a youth club established in 1967, on the model of a couple of others existing already:
  • monthly meetings to enhance exchange of ideas, plan, discuss and decide;
  • library and reading room to inculcate good reading habits;
  • organising drama and musical performances in Konkani and other languages;
  • organising spiritual retreats and the study of Sacred Scripture;
  • inviting resource persons to give talks on various relevant issues;
  • felicitating people who have shown exceptional achievement or given exceptional contribution to society. (page 81)
I wonder how come the present generation has lost its passion for reading.  Earlier children would long to go to school. Now they detest going to school and studies itself!  Reading rooms and libraries!!!  Wow.  

Monday, 19 September 2016

Cutting corners

The Mass readings of yesterday were an interesting set.  They were all about money, wealth, service, loyalty and those cutting corners (Sunday Sept. 18, 2016).  One of the stray thoughts that flashed across my mind as I sat for reflection was what kind of a sermon would the Priests offer in the Churches today?

I was sure it would have been a rosy or fiery sermon on how not to get attached to money and prioritize God and all that stuff. But it would all have been for the people - those listening!  (As is always the case!) I wondered how many priests would have had the courage and the humility to sit down and ask some of their parishioners to share their reflections on matters of finance and economic transactions.  And he listened.  Going a step further, I wonder how many would have dared asked his flock if they found him worthy enough to be trusted with the finances of the Parish.  Or did they think that he is like the shrewd servant of the first reading or the gospel?

Anyway, not only this reading but I guess all sermons are for the others!  If only we'd preach to ourselves, our sermons would be truly short and efficacious!

Take my hand

A miser was on a vacation and while on a boat ride, the boat capsized.  As he was bobbling, drowning in the water, someone offered to help him out. "Here give me your hand!" There was no response from the miser and then someone who knew him well enough to know that he never gave anything, shouted, "Here, take my hand!"

I guess marketing specialists excel in this art!

Your work!

The one who does little but that what he is supposed to do, truly does much.  But one who does much, except that what he is supposed to do, actually does little.  
In the context of some charismatic individuals this is applicable. And Fr Samala the other day reminded that the above words were of Don Bosco himself!  If I remember well it is in the context of Obedience that Don Bosco said these words.

Ad quid perditio hec

Being with Fr Pandi one often hears some Latin phrases from his early years of formation.  The one that I picked up fast is this:
Ad quid perditio hec
To what purpose is all of this ... in other words, everything is a waste of effort!

The context in which this phrase cropped up today also was the fact that we are having a set of meetings in the coming days, and the participants list is constantly changing.  Worse still, so is the agenda!!  For the past one and half month some confreres are so busy attending, conducting meetings that there has hardly been any moment of rest at all!

I understand some of these meetings do help, but only when the agenda and the purpose is clear to everyone. Or else if the coordinator or animator himself is not sure what to really discuss, then it is a waste of effort, time, resources and energy.  Only the formality of having conducted, or attended, a meeting is fulfilled.  Not much or nothing at all is registered or imbibed.  

Cell phone thrill

Fr Joshtrom had long time back narrated an incident of Rome in one of our Salesian houses. It was still the time when young clerics or practical trainees were not permitted to have cell phones for personal use. However, one cleric was might thrilled when his own rector gave him.  Every now and then the rector would call up the Brother to enquire if things were all fine and that he was at home in the new place.  Slowly as days went by the Brother realized, the cell phone was not so much for him, but more for the Rector to keep tab on where the Brother was!

A story

As I was rummaging through my collection of books at home I came across this particular book, which I had in my collection only because of one particular explanation or presentation of ethics.  Most importantly it was not a book about ethics at all.  However, during my first year of Practical training when I choose to teach Philosophy of Morality, this particular narration put things in perspective, primarily for me and for most of my students as well. Besides the last para about the aspiration of a 'teacher' somehow found a resonance within me.

The context is the value of a story!
For instance, almost every student will admit - at least in theory - that love is more important than sex. But when it comes to actual practice, it's a different ballgame.  For example, "Why can't my boyfriend and I sleep together?  We really love one another." Well, I argue, in the first place you can sleep with him. Short of chaining you in the cellar, who can stop you? The real question is whether it's the best gift you can give one another.  Now that response usually makes them raise their condescending eyes toward heaven and wonder if my insanity can ever be cured.  "Of course it's the best gift you can give someone you love!" 
Well, I rejoin, you love your parents; you love people of your own sex; do you give them that gift too?  More groans. "Father, you're really dumb! There's only one person - at least one person at a time - that you give that gift to." Backed into a corner once more, I go for my last weapon: I tell a story to illustrate what I mean, in this case a true one. 
When I was born, I was a breech birth, which means I came into the world folded in half, not headfirst but rear-end first. (Usually there are some wits who capitalize on that, but I continue undaunted.) As a result, my mother was so torn by the delivery that she had to have a great many stitches.  The doctor told my father that he should stay out of bed with her for about three months. But my father, who was the kindest man I have ever known, didn't want to take even the slightest risk of causing my mother even the slightest pain. So he stayed out of bed with her for a year.  That raises the question: Which way did he show more love for her - by getting into bed with her or by staying out of bed?  Is it possible that there is an even greater way of showing love than sex? 
Perhaps not everyone in the class immediately understands what I'm getting at, but it's rare that the story doesn't make everyone of them think, make them wonder if perhaps there might be an aspect of love they haven't thought about.  As a teacher, that's my job: to make people think, to make them reassess, to make them grow - which often means leaving behind opinions that are comfortable, reassuring, self-serving.  
William J. O'Malley The Living Word: Scripture Myth  Vol. 1 (New York: Paulist Press, 1980) 30-31.

Friday, 16 September 2016

Sacred body

Today morning's meditation was on the real presence of the Lord in the Holy Eucharist.  As Fr Samala narrated all the possible miracles of the sacred host transforming in to visible flesh and blood of the Lord, I was wondering to myself: What of the many bodies broken and shattered all for the greed of some?  Surely it would be more painful and hurting the Lord than when we are talking of particles of his sacred host falling to the ground or drops of sacred wine/blood falling on the altar.

How we can be so 'sensitive' to the dust particles of the Host and not to the visible body of a suffering human being...

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Religious life

After a heated discussion in the house assembly of a theologate, about the theme of the Rector reprimanding or not the young brothers, the Rector got up and thundered:
Religious life is not democracy where you all say and it will be so.  Neither is it autocracy because I said so. But it is theocracy; God rules.... And I speak on behalf of God!

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Shut up!

When does one say "Shut up!" to someone else?
When I realize that I have nothing more valuable to say and the other is just getting started to share something valuable!

Saturday, 3 September 2016


It is exactly a month since I appeared for my IELTS test.  The results were due on Aug. 17.  I did receive a mail that day, but instead of the results I was informed that it would take some time since my result was "pending further investigation". All my mails and phone calls have only elicited one response: 'Have patience'.

Without the IELTS score, my travel agency says it cannot apply for the visa.  To make matters more intense, my course in London, to which I have already been granted an unconditional admission, commences on Sept. 19.

At this juncture there is nothing more to do than wait.  But this evening I've been doing some serious thinking!  I suppose crossroads don't just appear only once in life.  One is bound to come across them quite a few times in life.  I almost forgot that! Having passed through one quite recently I thought it was now a straight and clear path ahead.  Is it?

Perhaps an indicator that God wants me for something else... something that does not need a doctorate, and much less one that is done abroad!  Or may be just a small rest before a heavy intellectual work! Whatever, I'm open!

Shepherdess to Education Minister

An inspiring news article that I came across today:
Once A Shepherd Girl In Morocco, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem Is Now France's Education Minister!

It tells the story of the present Education minister of France who in her childhood looked after sheep that too in Morocco.  She never learnt French till she reached college.  Circumstances led her to France and once there she gave her best.  She learnt French. Mastered the political scenario of the country.  Learnt to reflect.  Tried to give back to the country which helped her so much.  And put it all together, she is now the Education minister deciding policies and affecting changes in France!!

It is no fairy-tale.  It is one of hard work and determination. Commitment and passion. Discipline and sacrifices.  One of transforming difficulties and hurdles into opportunities and moments of learning and growth.

Her advice to young people:
The best way to be happy with your future is by playing a part in it. If you’re just a spectator of collective fate, you’re bound to feel frustrated.

Whom did Don Bosco want?

I have been time and again telling this at every opportunity to the young who are with us for becoming Salesians: Don Bosco did not want priests or brothers, he wanted anyone and everyone for young people.  His concern and only concern was the youngsters.  Nothing else mattered to him, certainly not priests or brothers or where they came from.
In our holy founder's thinking there is clearly a social concern.  I think we could justly speak of a kind of 'lay style' in our congregation as we take stock of the history of its founding, the unique life Don Bosco had in mind, and the very nature of the mission he chose.
... Don Bosco's intention to set up "a vast apostolic movement for youth and the masses," the chapter on extern Salesians in the first editions of the Constitutions (1860-1874), and the new style with regard to flexibility of structure, ownership of goods, religious garb, adaptability, family spirit, secular terminology, special fields of apostolate and working class circumstances. 

Living our religious life

An emphasis and reminder of living our religious life as it is supposed to be... not interpreted and squandered!
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.  

Each particular vocation - a reminder to all

Here's another insight that I gained from the document on Consecrated life and the Salesian Brother... each vocation is a call to do something which all are called to do, but more specifically serve as a living reminder. Not that only those who choose that particular vocation are to do that kind of service or help but most importantly they are to help others do it, and how? By being exemplary models.
Not only are the states of life related and ordered to one another, but each of them also highlights and embodies a quality that belongs to all.  There is, within the church, a peculiar relationship between the particular and the universal.  The specific characteristic of the deacon, for example, is service; but the whole church is called to serve, so the deacon is best understood as an icon of service - a reminder to everyone in the church of our call to serve.  Within a church that is communion, the particular exists for the sake of the universal.  Abraham and Israel are chosen and beloved, but precisely so as to become a blessing for the nations. Each state of life in the church is a sign to the others.  

Consecrated life and Salesian life

For quite sometime now, especially since the recent SAFC meet wherein the emphasis on Salesian life as a life of consecration, as something 'different' from being priests and brothers, I have been asking myself: How is it that I never came across this idea before?  How come, I never understood this distinction earlier? Or is it that I was never ever told about this all my years of early formation? I really have my doubts.

Had been reading and re-reading the document prepared by Fr Ivo and Fr Silvio about Consecrated life and the Salesian Brother today. Like it for the clarity of thought.  As stated above, it is really new to me!!

Pope Francis observes that religious are marked not so much by their radicality as by their being prophets, witnesses, signs:
I am counting on you 'to wake  up the world', since the distinctive sign of consecrated life is prophecy. As I told the Superiors General: 'Radical evangelical living is not only for religious; it is demanded of everyone. But religious follow the Lord in a special way, in a prophetic way.' This is the priority that is needed right now: 'to be prophets who witness to how Jesus lived on this earth...' 
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