Sunday, 24 July 2016

Feeding the whole bucket

Very often one of the recurrent topics at b'fast table on a Sunday morning is the sermon!  I remembered and shared the following anecdote I read long long ago, this morning at table.

A pastor prepared his Sunday sermon well but was in a way disappointed to see only one member of his congregation at Church that Sunday.  However after reading the gospel he asked the man if he should go ahead with his sermon. To which the man replied, "I own a poultry farm and everyday I feed my chicken. Even if one comes I still feed it." Taking that as a 'yes', the pastor launched into his sermon with full gusto.

After the service was over the pastor asked the man what he thought his sermon.  The man replied, "I own a poultry far and everyday I feed the chicken.  Even if one comes I still feed it... but I do not feed it the whole bucket!"

Not far enough...


Relationship

A couple of days ago I posted a reflection on sin and love. The basic idea being that when we hurt those we love most we readily ask pardon because we prefer to love them rather than bear the guilt and shame.

The analogy of abusing one's own mother hurts me much because I love her. However it is not so much that I love her but I believe it is because of the knowledge that she loves me!!

The beauty of a relationship is not in the fact that you love the other but in the truth that you are loved by the other.

Perseverance: God is search of Man

Perseverance is the basic theme running through the readings of the day.  Abraham pleading with the Lord to spare Soddom if he finds at least 10 good people (what initially was 50 good people). In the Gospel we hear Jesus speak of the man who keeps knocking on the door of his neighbour till he offers him some bread, even though it is well past meals time.

It is very likely we relate ourselves to the man asking and the Lord to the one who is being asked.  However, it is interesting to note that often it is the Lord who is persevering, in spite of all our negligence and indifference.  Perhaps more than the Lord asking us to persevere in prayer, the readings hint at the perseverance of the Lord Himself.  The second reading makes this point quite noteworthily.

Reminds me of the book of Abraham Joshua Heschel, God in Search of Man.

The Holy Eucharist

A Protestant Pastor and a Catholic Priest were engaged in a conversation during which the Priest offered the Pastor a compliment.
I admire the way you break the Word of God and speak so passionately about the Word. 
The Pastor returned the compliment saying
I admire the way you clean up after the Mass... as if the Eucharist is the real body of Jesus Christ. 
(This was narrated by Fr Pandicherry Joseph, recalling one of Fr Loddy Pires' retreat talks, many years ago).

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Why become a Priest?

More and more today the idea of Priesthood is changing... changing radically.  Not always can we say that it is for the better!  Often it is for the worse.  Priesthood is seen by quite a few youngsters as some shortcut to fame and comfort.

We had an interesting passage during the spiritual reading from the Memoirs of the Oratory, written by Don Bosco himself.  He is narrating his childhood and he describes his first encounter with Fr Colosso.  The latter asks little Johny, if he wants to study.  To which Johny enthusiastically replies in the affirmative.  Asked why does he want to study, he replies, that he wants to become a Priest.  Colosso does not stop there and rejoice that he has found a candidate for priesthood.  He continues, "Why do you want to become a Priest?"

I wonder how many of us, especially vocation promoters, ask that question to the young people who approach us for becoming Salesians. Very many come with very different and subliminal motives. Rather than help them understand and grow up to see the right and best motives, we only gloss over the peripheral.  The youngster's motive only gets endorsed either by the silence of the formators or the counter-witness of the religious.  Does he really have the opportunity of discerning, purifying and strengthening the motives behind his choice to become a priest?

Yahweh, the non-vegetarian

Right since the book of Genesis, Yahweh is time and again confirmed as a non-vegetarian!  Of Cain and Abel's sacrifice, he chooses that of Abel (livestock!).  The whole of Old Testament is full of sacrifices of goats, and bulls and calves and all that.  Even in the new Testament, there is the offering of turtles and doves.

Certainly the Jews were are a whole bunch of non-vegetarians!  So was Yahweh!

Knowing God

As part of my Ancient Western Philosophy class with the first year students at Karunapuram, I was telling them about the arche (basis) of the universe as proposed by the early Greek philosophers.  Anaximander states this arche to be something without form or shape, a limitless aperion.  It all went on well, till the next day one of the students asked, "How can a non-physical reality give rise to, or cause, physical reality?"

I threw open the question to the whole class.  Even after much cajoling and offering some pointers, they were clueless.  After a while I softly told the one who asked the question, "Now get ready for an avalanche of answers!" I then rephrased the question. Honestly I only added one word before the 'avalanche' commenced.  "How can God a non-physical reality give rise to, or cause physical reality?"  As the barrage of answers flowed in, I was laughing and laughing.  All of them the typical pietistic answers about God being the creator and maker...

As I challenged their answers, the look on their faces was worth every bit of it.  How convinced are we about our understanding of God? While we think we are sure, we actually know nothing much!  But in our ignorance is our bliss!

Defining sin/love

While at Karunapuram, Puma one day approached me asked, "Does God get offended by our sins?" I immediately replied, "That's up to Him. If He wants to, He will. If not, He won't."  His next question was ready. "Then why confess?" As I reflected, an analogy came to my mind, especially in the context of that day's reading where Jesus meets and praises the woman at Peter's home.

One day I scold and say bad words to ...

  1. a drunkard on the road
  2. my good friend.
  3. my own mother. 
Am I then comfortable or does my conscience prick?  If the latter then in which instance haunts me?  It all depends on my relationship with that person. Naturally, I'll feel more guilty and ashamed of raising my voice against my mother, than in the other two instances.  The more I love, the more I feel... It is also because somewhere deep within us we prefer to love than harbor guilt, shame, fear, hatred or envy.  I therefore ask forgiveness from God because I love him and wish to savour that love better.

"Her many sins are forgiven, because she has loved much!"

When shall I come again?

The last week there were a couple of senior confreres here in the Provincial house from different places for a couple of meetings.  It was nice hearing from them amusing stories and incidents of the past, especially those of their younger days.

Here's one such event: Fr Lens was on the staff of KJC, Bangalore and was teaching patrology.  He was stern and one particular student, C.J. Francis, failed his oral exam.  He had to appear again after his holidays and he did.  This time after the exam was over, Francis asked Fr Lens, "When shall I come again, Fr?"

God's will

Speaking of the Gospel of the day, Mt. 12: 46 ff... Benny and I were having a small discussion during breakfast.  He casually asked me why I became a Brother.  When there was no straight forward answer coming he said, so you became a Brother because God wanted to become a Brother?  I immediately said, "Don't put that burden on God!" And we both laughed.

He said during his Mass in the Convent this morning he asked the Sisters what was God's will?  He asked them if they becoming Sisters was God's will for them. When they all affirmed, he thrashed it out saying, "Becoming a Sister was your choice!"  God only wills that we love one another... that's what the Gospel of the day clearly indicates.

By loving one another just as God loves us, we fulfill His will... the rest of what we do and say and be is purely an outcome of that primary task.  If only we are able to savour His love and respond and spread it out, the rest will all fall in place.

Mother, Brother and sister...?

While meditating on the Gospel of the day, Mt 12: 46 ff where Jesus pointing to the crowds says that whoever does the will of His Father is his mother, brother and sister, this thought came to my mind: Jesus, far from calling us to sever our ties with our dear ones at home is only asking us to extend that affinity to a larger sphere.

The analogy that came to my mind is that of a tree.  A tree which is seen outside has its roots deep within, something not seen by all.  It is these roots that basically help the tree stay, and stay alive.  However, what the tree absorbs through the instrumentality of the roots is not for the roots... the leaves, branches, flowers, fruits... they are for all.  The tree does not say that since the roots support me, I should offer all these 'fruits' back to the roots. Neither do they roots claim for it.  Such is the role of the family, the closest of kin.
One might ask, where is God in this whole picture... well, He's the sap which nourishes the whole tree.

Amen!

For quite a few days now in our dining hall there is a sort of 'confusion' during the prayer after meals. There are a couple of versions of the same prayer and we don't seem to be sure of which one we collectively are saying.  So therefore the beginning of the prayer is loud and clear and so is the ending 'Amen'... the rest is a big blur!

As TV Jose said to me the other day while at Karunapuram, the definition of 'Amen':  that part of the prayer which everyone knows!!

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Prejudices

The past few days have been a living example of how personal prejudices - deep and crooked - can be detrimental to any learning or growth.  When so jaundiced about someone whatever the person says or proposes is immediate attacked or thrown out without even a casual look. Ideas and words become stingers and they are thrashed out of one's views without battling an eyelid.

Basically I fear it is a sickness to think that we know it all and therefore there is nothing new to be learnt.  While claiming to know, we actually think we know it all; while in reality we hardly know it.  We proudly proclaim our love and attachment to what we hold dear... but I wonder how much of it do we really know, and understand, to say that 'I love it dearly!'

There is also a great fear of moving out of our comfort zones and trying out something new or different.  But when one is not even open to, leave alone try out, new possibilities and suggestions one is nailing one's own coffin!

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Thy Kingdom come...

Jesus' prayer did not say, "... that I may go to Your Kingdom..." but the prayer says, "... Your Kingdom come..."
This was made explicit when Prof. Dev Manti, blasted us for being partial in our take on formation.  We spoke of the formator, formee and the whole dynamics between them. He said all the while you speak of relationship with God and the Spirit. How then is the Kingdom established, if all the while you are lost in relating to God alone?

I think we need to define who the 'other' is.  In stages of initial formation, say till our practical training, the immediate other (from the perspective of the formee) is primarily the formator. But not exclusively!! There are also the other persons whom he interacts with: the staff members, the domestic helpers, the oratory youth and even occasional visitors and strangers.  The 'other' at that stage is not primarily the general public, the wide 'field of apostolate'.  Now if the formee, is assisted to relate to each of these people (formators, staff, domestic helpers, immediate neighbours, visitors) as people, not as higher or lower, not as differentiated, then he is on the right path.  Of course, this will be 'learnt' mostly by the way the formee sees the formator relating to each of these groups, individually as a group as well. It is the same with regard to relationship with God.

Once this is achieved (the formee has learned to relate to EVERY people holistically) the formee takes it wherever he goes.  He will replicate that mode of relationship - a human being meeting another human being.

Where then does the dimension of taking the side of the marginalised happen??  By the very act of treating everyone as a human being, we are already taking sides!  

Shepherds or shearers

A very apt analogy of a formator-formee relationship was drawn by Fr Alex (INK). He drew inspiration from Pope Francis who spoke of the sheep and shepherd.
Be shepherds, not shearers! 
The shearer does not know the sheep. He need not feed them nor look after them when they fall ill. The sheep are brought to him. All that matters for him is the wool, what he gets from them. Note, the wool is not for him. Therefore he is not 'greedy' or selfish!

On the other hand, the shepherd, knows the sheep. He is with them all along. He is genuinely interested in them, their well-being.  Most importantly, the sheep know him.

We could be the shearer or the shepherd... the choice is always open!

Sheep with the Shepherd

We often think that sheep without a shepherd is a very pitiable situation.  Something that really needs correction. Truly so.  However, I would like to throw light on the other side of the story: sheep with the shepherd.  Somehow we have a mental construct that once the shepherd is there, everything is fine. That all the sheep follow the shepherd. That all of them follow him in singular file!

Unfortunately they don't!  They wander about, of course not too far. But they do wander.  Some stick close to the shepherd, not all.  Some take a longer detour, some shorter. But they are all there, with the shepherd.  In such a case would it be right for those sheep following the shepherd closely that those 'wandering' about a little or more, are not following the shepherd???  Is it right for those 'wandering' to think that those walking in the shepherd's footsteps as 'slaves'???
It struck me that in the Salesian history, when in Don Bosco's times, the young Rua, Cagliero and team would be going out of the oratory for classes (theology?). Rua was the appointed leader who would never take a detour.  Cagliero, on the other hand, would run ahead, watch the street jugglers, wall posters and all that, but be in time, join the group, right in time.  I also remember reading that Rua complained about this to Don Bosco.  I only forget what was Don Bosco's reply.

Getting back to the sheep-shepherd, I think the right question for both the groups (those walking 'close' and those 'wandering') to ask is 'What does the shepherd say?'

The Myth of "I know best!"

We are in the midst of a heated debate.  The topic being, whether children are capable of decision-making.  Most in the group were fighting tooth and nail, that we (adults) need to decide for the child, because the child is not capable of making serious decisions.  So we have to intervene.

I was of the other group stating that children, especially children in our YaR centres, are capable of decision making.  To prove this I only gave two proofs: the very fact that the child has run away from home (the decision to run away, a risk, a gamble) and to compound it the decision of the child to stay away from home!!!

As long as we (adults) stubbornly and egoistically hold on to this notion that 'I know best', children will never come on board. They will either become subservient, giving up their decision making skill and in the long run the very capability - another way of explaining 'institutionalisation' or 'making capable decision makers into impotent living beings'.  Or they will rebel, and turn out to be always opposing because that is what they grow up to know as a way of expressing themselves.


The Coco-cola Girl

The other day as I left DBSM, Bengaluru I was at the portico (under construction) making a couple of calls.  At a little distance was a little girl there trying to open a coco-cola tin.  I realised she was using her thumb to press in the lid.  Just as I began to tell her to pull up the ring rather than press it in, she forced her thumb into the can!  In the process she injured her thumb and looking up at me she smiled.  She then began to suck her thumb. After a couple of minutes I looked up from my 'phone-world' to see if the girl was feeling better about her thumb, she generously offered the coco-cola can, saying, "Let's share!"  Honestly I was very touched. But since I do not drink soft drinks, I politely declined, stating that I do not have a habit of drinking soft drinks.  She was quite surprised and then solemnly declared, "आदत डाल लेनी चाहीऐ !" (You should form that habit!) This time it was my turn to smile!!
Two things, perhaps contrary nonetheless very revealing: the generosity of the child (retention of innocence) and the conviction that coco-cola is a healthy habit (immersion in modern culture).

Open to learning

Last week I was in a meeting and now I'm part of another meeting. Both different motives, though some of the participants are the same.  However, something that I find very relevant and good is this: Lay persons are animating and guiding the whole process.  In the former meeting, it was Mr Conrad Saldanha guiding the Strategic planning. In the current one, it is Mr Dev Manti, for the Participatory Action Research.  Honestly it is a great shift we have made... from being closed to any lay person "teaching" priests and religious to a state where we feel that this person has something worthwhile to offer... something I can learn and grow for.

The best part of it all: these lay persons are far more passionate about the mission of Don Bosco than I am!  If most of us Salesians join hands with them, what marvels we can achieve.  If not join hands, at least not block or barricade their efforts, unwilling to let go of my 'ordination' or 'profession' ego. 

Monday, 4 July 2016

Education ... freedom and authenticity

A quote from the presentation of Mr Kurian during one of the Strategic Planning sessions.
Pedagogy of the Oppressed (Paulo Freire) and Deschooling Society (Ivan Illich) have discussed at length the politics of education.  True formation must decolonize the mind. There is nothing more damning than the illusion of a unique, singular, uncritical and choiceless identity.  "If traditionalism were proper, the prophets would merely have followed their own leaders and not come with new messages" (Akbar and his India). 
Along with Oscar Wilde, we could remember from time to time, that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.  Provided, of course, the freedom to think is at the service of the freedom to authenticity. 

Purpose of education


Strategic Planning (5)

Good nights ...
of what we 'did' – buildings we put up, seminars we conducted, meetings we've organised,… are these the 'food for thought'??? What's the rationale? What is the message we are communicating?

Whom you project as 'successful'? What are the 'achievements'? What are the 'success indicators' we set for ourselves, leave alone our young people?

Education

Another quote from one of the resource persons:
Today the purpose of education is the help young people fit into society rather than fix it!
The whole problem with us now is the interpretation of 'fixing' society.  

Salesian identity

Fr Jose Mathew in his talk, and rightly so, began with the identity of the Salesian.  His rationale: When we say that we want to achieve something we need to know what exactly it is we want to achieve.  For that we ought to primarily take stock of who we are.  Without this we run the risk of becoming one with the dream that we run after.  He quoted from a survey which marked religious and priests the lowest in the area of witness!

He therefore began by clarifying our identity as Salesians.  This was something very many like to hear but not practice. We easily shelve this basic fact of life because it is very demanding.  We prefer to do than be! We seem to be in a hurry to do things, without primarily knowing why we do what we do.  We forget that what is picked up most is who we are than what we do.

I also liked what Mr Conrad said, in passing, in a small group discussion... scenario building is for the work, not clarifying the identity!

In another context someone else mentioned of religious striving for mastering the art of administration while forgetting that we're primarily to be engaging ourselves in ministry.  We are primarily called to be men of God and lead people to God!

Dream at 9???

One of the richest insights from this meeting was the interpretation of the famous dream at 9 of Don Bosco.  Fr Palli latched on to it like a leech!! It was during the presentation of Fr Jose Mathew which he openly endorsed, once again later.

We all were given to think - we liked it that way - that the dream at the age of 9 of Don Bosco shaped his whole life.  Wrong!!!  In fact, Don Bosco started living the dream already at the age of 5.  The dream if at all it played any role was to endorse this attitude of a growing youngster, serving as an inspiration for others - and that's exactly what Don Bosco intended it to be!

Dream at the age of 9 was already a lived reality from the age of 5!! It is not that Don Bosco had the dream and then his whole life was guided by it. It was already a lived reality by the age of 9, which took the form of a dream and then continued to be a representation of his lived reality.

Hidden Agenda?

I liked two statements that Palli made during the discussions.
Any hidden agenda is not good agenda! 
He interjected with this statement when a confrere started speaking of our task of evangelization (preaching and proclaiming Christ) especially in a context that does not endorse it.

The other is from the cartoon, Dennis the menace...
You can win any game, if you make the rules of the game. 
This is how the government and corporates play. The others are bound to lose because the rules are always set against them.  For an onlooker, the game was played out perfectly and as per the norms and therefore the win of the government or corporate is legitimate.  But when the rules themselves are skewed and the poor have no say whatsoever in the rules nor an alternative to joining the 'game', then it is injustice! 

Strategic Planning: Skill or values

While we listened to a couple of young people  (two ladies, a tribal, a migrant, and a student) and their take on growth and development, I couldn't but take note of one word which practically all of them used, often repeatedly!
 ... mainstream
Most of those who spoke were not from Bangalore but all of them explicitly stated that they'd settle down in Bangalore itself.

I could not resist the itch and asked the assembly thereafter:
Are we Salesians comfortable with someone, especially a tribal youth, rural youth, calling urban life and lifestyle “mainstream”? Young people move out of their rural, tribal settings for education is fine. But are we fine with them never turning back to their origins… fascinated and comfortable with the city life? I understand some youngsters staying back in the city after the completion of their education or learning a skill. But most?? What exactly have we done with them? Educated them or Urbanised them? More profoundly, made them better human beings or smart technicians/educated professionals?

From another perspective: Get young people out of their living context in the name of offering them education/skill and then they get so acclimatized to the city that they prefer to stay back, making them migrants. Are we playing both ways while speaking of or reaching out to the 'migrants'?

We offer the young an education, a skill but do we also offer them values? If we do so, what exactly are those values? Do those values impact society or are they something so personal that the impact does not go beyond the self?

Strategic Planning (4)

About politics...
Salesians, by the Constitutions and tradition, are to keep away from politics.  Well there is now a better understanding of this word 'politics' emerging, which makes complete sense to me.  I now understand better Fr Palli's stand on issues and concerns.

Politics can be viewed as something related to parties and electorate. But there is something more deeper and invisible that actually decides and plays havoc.  Perhaps in Fr Maliekal's words it would be 'politicking'.

So when we Salesians are called not to get muddled in politics, fine.  But when it affects policies and decisions which in turn adversely affect those whom we work for, then it is our bounden duty to intervene and get involved.  We cannot be bystanders in such a case.  The answers are not always in party politics or elections... that's where we need to invest our thoughts to see how we affect politics without becoming politicians.

Strategic Planning (3)

One of the many insights that really appealed to me was when Prof. Haragopal spoke of secularism.  He defined it not in terms the state not supporting any religion or leaving out of religion from all politics (both of which is impossible in today's national scenario), but in terms of viewing a human being as a human being.

When any other adjective/adverb describes the human being, it only divides. View as a human being and relate to a human being and then all differences, “adjectives” (religion, gender, caste…) are seen as differences to be celebrated / enriched rather than act as stumbling blocks… Therefore what is your focus? Building the “adjective” or the basic common platform, of being human??

Strategic Planning (2)

The tussle is always between this: modernization vs the real beneficiaries. We aim for upgrading and making 'hi-tech' our services for youth but what about those whom it does not reach. The call to move from the maintenance-mode to the innovative/creative mode is indeed novel and is needed, but without losing sight of the real target group.
... greater gospel fidelity, particularly moving towards the poor (Pope Francis)
How do we achieve that? We seem to be on two or three groups each pulling in a different direction: humanistic, spiritualistic and technical.  While each one is necessary for meaning and efficacy of our apostolate (in fact only different perspectives), the right balance too is integral! 

Strategic Planning

We concluded yesterday a workshop trying to initiate the Strategic Planning method for evaluation of our national networks, our whole working strategy across India.  I was asked to help out with the documentation.  However, it did not take me long to realise that the whole future mode of action is all set and decided, the planning is only to confirm it.

While on the one hand I denounce this mode of thought, on the other hand I am hopeful that the result of this planning, involving all stake-holders would certainly throw light on very many a truths we Salesians have along the way ignored or trampled.

Fr Joyce Francis during the inaugural Mass spoke of the four-fold fidelities:

  • Humanity and our times 
  • Christ and the Gospels 
  • Religious life and mission 
  • Salesian consecration and charism. 

I think his perspective on this whole 'strategic planning' was clear when he clearly emphasised:
Not forget the essentials when we go about the urgent.
Anyway, it was an unwilling experience!  More reflections in the posts to come...
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