Monday, 31 July 2017

Busy children

Found the following quote of Rousseau on the back cover of the Don Bosco Today magazine of the Salesian Bulletin of the Great Britain Province...

Jugalbandi

One of the typical Salesian characteristics, anywhere in the world, is the table fellowship.  Meals are a time of real bonding.  There is fun, laughter, sharing of information, exchange of ideas, and at times graveyard silence too!  But it often refreshes one after a heavy days work.

Something similar is the following lovely jugalbandi (duet) between husband and wife about monthly income and expenses, each one accusing the other for the latter!
Those bygone days, every song was meaningful and contextual.  The lyrics and music both close to reality and the heart.  

Rain day

An article in today's newspaper laments that nearly 10% of todays young people have never seen a live cow.  A clear 20% have never ever been to a countryside, leave alone seen agriculture or farming or animal husbandry.  True indeed.

I laugh my head off when I hear that my nephew and niece have such special days at school: 'Rain day', when they asked to get raincoat to school, so that they can go out in the rain!!  And at home they are prevented from playing in the rain. 'Nature day': when they get to see come cows and poultry in a farm - far off!  I remember when we were kids we were taken once in a while to the zoo to see the wild animals.  Today kids are being taken to see domestic animals!!  Days are not far when we'd have 'neighbours day' when we will see and greet neighbours for once!  Gone are the days of climbing trees, playing in the rain or the scorching sun, eating fruits on the tree itself (even without plucking them!), sliding in slush and dirt, getting bitten by all sorts of ants, insects and reptiles, walking barefoot all over the place, getting bruised playing it rough on the 'playground', riding a cow or a buffalo, stealing fruits from the neighbours farm, 'hijacking' a fallen coconut and trying to peel it with bare hands...

Am happy that my people back in Hyderabad have shifted home.  The present place is close to a lake and is still rural in some ways.  At least that way, my nephew and niece will get to see and live with some animals, birds and insects, and know how thrilling life close to nature can be.    

Jesuits and Pope Francis

Today we celebrate the feast of St Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits.  And from the little that I know of the Jesuits, I'm sure they're not as fanatics of Ignatius as we Salesians are of Don Bosco!  Good for them!

During Mass this morning Fr John prayed for Pope Francis.  It was only then that I re-remembered that he is a Jesuit.  However, his beautiful exemplary life witnesses Christ and the Gospel values more than his congregational lineage.  So no complaints.  It also occurred to me whether Jesuits do or did approach him for any special favours for the congregation over the last couple of years of his pontificate?  I don't think so.  The Jesuits wouldn't do that.  And even if they did want to, knowing the person of Pope Francis, they'd not approach him!

They're only few people of real calibre whom you know for sure what not to approach for! 

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Fishy meal

Last night for starters during meal we had sushi!  This was the first time for the three of us at table to eat sushi.  I had only heard of it being the favourite dish of the Japanese and knew that it was something about fish.  But on our platter at table there were a different varieties and shapes of "sushi".  So Fr Sean and I were thinking that perhaps the most common element of it all, being white would be the sushi.  Because I was under the impression that sushi is a type of fish!  After meal, Katie asked me how I liked the taste? I answered that I honestly did not find a taste at all. It all tasted like rice to me!  To which Katie replied, yes there is sticky rice in it!  I replied surprised, Really?  She was surprised and said, "Vincent, of all people, you should know that it is rice!"  "Then where is the sushi?" I asked in all my innocence.  That's when Katie patiently replied that the whole thing is called sushi, rice with bits of raw fish.

Okay! Another new thing learnt!  

Sabbath into weekend

Yesterday while reading the first reading of the Mass, about how Yahweh instructs the Israelites to keep the Sabbath holy and why, I was distracted.  The immediate thought that came to my mind was how did the the one day of sabbath turn into two days of 'weekend' in Europe which is predominantly Christian?  That too if it were to remain one day of weekend, I'd still see the connection, but two days?  Saturday and Sunday?

Perhaps one of the miracles of Jesus like turning water into wine, turning sabbath into weekend! 

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Clematis Princess Diana

Eureka!
Found out the name of the creeper and the flower growing near the garage door...

It is Clematis Princess Diana!
And how did I come to know? Found the label with its name and pic under the bush growing at its root.  

Mixing means and goals (2)

The Bible, dogma, doctrine, magisterium, tradition... are means to help us understand and live close to God.  They can be compared to a map.  Just like a map, they show us the way, offer us a route to follow.  However, the map is not the road, nor the journey nor the purpose of our journey.

But is not all of the latter found in the map, to some extent at least?  Yes, indeed.  However, it would be foolish to give up the road, journey and the purpose of travelling merely because one is enthralled by the indicators of these on the map!

Yet that is what we often do: give up loving and living close to Him, in our obsession to follow him.  We forget that God is a person, a living being, not a set of rules, principles and beliefs.  

Imagine the world differently

Am embedding a beautiful video of the L'Arche community (Japan), calling our attention to the world of the differently-abled and appealing us "normal" people to be normal!

Mixing up means and goals

In our enthusiasm to be devout and spiritual we tend to often fail to grasp the real meaning of being so.  We comfortably - and obstinately - settle for the means rather than the goal.  The means is something truly good and noble but we turn that into an end in itself, forgetting that it is supposed to lead us to the living God.  One simple example: the Bible.  The scriptures are meant to help us come closer to God.  However, it is also possible that we get so lost in the Bible that we forget God!  For those who contend that the word cannot be separated from God himself, need to ask themselves ' Is God so fossilized in the written word that he can no longer speak and make himself known through other means?'  If so, then they've never really understood God; some may have perhaps made the Bible into their God.

We Christians run the same danger of the Jews in Jesus' time.  The Jews then were sure of the scriptures, knew exactly what God was like and what he wanted.  But there comes a man named Jesus, saying and doing all the wrong things, and yet claiming to have been sent by the very God whose 'laws' he was breaking!  Today we are so 'full' of Christianity, that God himself may find it hard to enter our lives.  The readings of the day (God appearing to the Israelites on Sinai and 'blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear') are a stark reminder of waking up to this reality, rather than blaming those gone by for failing to notice the presence of God amidst them.

All that we say or do is for us to feel the presence of God.  Trust that He can use any and every means to reach to us.  We are only called to be open to His message.  Not be fixated on something so stubbornly that we block out not only any further communication from him but Him altogether!

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Getting a handle on reality

I liked the sort of conclusion the author of the article 'Is linguistics a science?' arrives at - or atleast I think is what the person is ultimately stating.  In a way, seems inconclusive or stating nothing new or grand.
The years-long immersion in Pirahã culture and the struggle to understand it had a profound personal effect on Everett. His encounter with their concept of truth made him rethink his belief in God and eventually become an atheist. His renunciation of universal grammar involved a similar disillusionment, since he had worked within the framework for the first 25 years of his career. 
Yet Everett’s study of the Pirahã falsifies neither Christianity nor universal grammar, since they are not designed for falsification in the first place. They are both a way to try to get a handle on reality. The first asks that you take a set of assumptions on faith because they are the truth. The second provides a set of assumptions for generating a line of enquiry that might at some point lead to the truth. I’m not sure whether you can call yourself a Christian if you reject the foundational tenets of Christianity – but you can certainly reject the assumptions of universal grammar and still call yourself a linguist. 
In fact, a drive to debunk Chomsky’s assumptions has led to a flourishing of empirical work in the field. Even as a foil, villain or edifice to be crumbled, the theory of universal grammar offers a framework for discovery, a place to aim the magnifying glass, chisel or wrecking ball, as the case may be. Archetypes of all kinds can simplify and exaggerate, and universal grammar is no different. But whether as a structured mythology or a catalyst for conflict, it nonetheless helps us to reach a deeper understanding of the world.
[Article and picture as found on Aeon; emphasis added]

To be scientific: validate or invalidate?

I was under the impression that something to be scientific a hypothesis needs to be proved or disproved.

However, it appears that according to Karl Popper's criterion of falsifiability, the capacity to disprove is what makes something scientific.  The idea is that if you go out looking for confirmation of a theory or hypothesis, he said, you are almost certain to discover it. By contrast, good theories or hypotheses are those that allow you to search for contrary evidence. It is possible to conceive of an observation that would conflict with one’s expectations. The capacity to be disproved is what makes a theory scientific.

[Came across this insight reading the following article on Aeon: Is linguistics a science?]

But I guess, any process that involves a systematic and immersed study, either to validate or invalidate, could be termed scientific.  Haven't read much about the falsifiability criterion but seems self-defeating, in a sense.  On the one hand, it keeps at bay the danger of 'assumption', of making something so fundamental and basic that it cannot be challenged.  While from another perspective, if challenged and proved wrong, then is no more valid.

Whatever it be, if in the ultimate analysis, the whole endeavour makes me a better person, willing to see the world in a better light, then that's it!  

Creepers, survivors and thrivers

Am yet to identify this flower. It is from a creeper.  A couple of 'experts' had a look but were unable to identify the flower.  Surprisingly the creeper is small and not a large dense bush.
Then there is this particular plant.  Again, yet to be identified.  In winter it sheds all its leaves and looks 'dead' with just the its branches.  Only with the onset of summer does it start to sprout the leaves. And they look good.  Another amazing feature of the leaves is that once they fall, the colour slowly turns into bright flourescent orange! 

Unfortunately it is growing in the lawn and John wants it out of the way!  I had initially tried to grow it from its branches.  Did not succeed.  However, a couple of weeks ago noticed small plants sprouting from its roots.  I've successfully transplanted one (behind Our Lady's statue - and placed an old bench on top of it, to save if from being trampled by the fox that visits us at night!) and another in a small pot.  There are a couple more growing on the ground still.  Need to shift them to small pots and then cut the big plant.  

the small plants sprouting from the roots
With good steady and slow rains for the last three days, this particular balloon flower (Platycodon grandiflorus) is the largest that has bloomed on this plant so far! 

Accidental beauty

There are some small plants growing around some places in the garden.  I let them be, for they looked different from the predominant weeds.  Some of them turn out to be weeds but some have turned out to be real wonders.  Here's an accidental beauty! It is called Viola tricolor L and has several common names (Johny Jump up, heart's ease, three-faces-in-a-hood...).

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Hay fever

One of the many pleasant memories I have of my 5 years of stay in Kondadaba was the continued learning of the local language.  Well it was Telugu, but not the same Telugu as elsewhere.  Most of all, it was a constant 'upgrade' trying to understand what Apparao our gardener spoke.  (I was better; Fr KT Jose who was there for 12 years still could not follow most of what Apparao spoke and neither did Apparao understand what Fr KT spoke!).  Anyway, the adventure was always enriching and entertaining.

Being here in the UK, one gets to pick up typical phrases and sayings of English particular to the British.  'Hay fever' is one that I learnt today.  In my usual existing vocabulary it would be 'pollen allergy'.  There are some who struggle much or little, especially the following morning, after a couple of hours of work in the garden.  Here in UK it is referred to as 'hay fever'.  Those allergic to pollen end up sneezing, blowing their noses, struggling for breath, eyes turning red or struggling to keep them open or close them...

Places in heaven

Preparations for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation have already been underway since long here in the UK.  Not only Protestant but also all the Churches are trying to get involved in some way or the other in reflecting on not just the event but its aftermath as well.  Hardliners always swing to the extreme and call for greater clarity between one's own Church and other denominations, falling back on the founder's distinctive characteristic.  Like the Orange Order (Ireland) calling on Protestants to refrain from using "RIP" for the dead as they deem it is a prayer for the dead - something they find superstitious and bad.  After all, as per their belief all that one is to earn, of course by faith alone, is here on earth.  Nothing more can be achieved after death.

Anyway, that was what I was distracted with during Mass when I heard the words of the Gospel wherein Jesus tells Salomi, the mother of James and John that the places on either side of him in heaven are for those the Father has allotted.  Is it that they have been earmarked for someone and no matter what or how good one strives to be, one can never ever secure those?  Well, I don't think so.  That they have been allotted does not mean the one's who will occupy them has been finalised down to the particular individual.  But basically the characteristics and virtues of those who get to sit there have been made clear.  It is like the reserved compartments in trains wherein those who have planned their journey, bought the tickets in due time and have paid the required amount are eligible to occupy. Those passengers do not own those seats but are worthy to use them for having fulfilled the requirements.

However, let me also add that I don't think, for those people who really 'deserve to be at the right and at the left of the Lord' in heaven, it really matters where they sit, as long as they are in the presence of the Lord! It is a strange paradox: for those whom it matters, don't deserve; and for those who deserve, it does not matter!

Monday, 24 July 2017

A philosopher risks life

For once, heard something good of a philosopher... rather philosopher doing good for the world in practical terms: French philosopher Dufourmantelle drowns rescuing children
She believed that 'life begins with risk'.  (Photo source)
Dufourmantelle died trying to save two children from drowning.  An advocate of taking risks, she died living out the principles she spoke about! 

Synthesis of Community life

I have come across the following passage from the Thessalonians (1 Thess 5: 13) earlier as well. However, this particular version of it stood out very much as a perfect synthesis of community life:
Try to get along with each other in the community.  Warn those who are doing too little, encourage those who are anxious, and reach out to those who are burdened.  Be patient with each person and sensitive to individual needs.  When you get on each others nerves, don't answer back without thinking.  Look for the best in others, and try to bring it to the surface for the good of the whole community.  Stay cheerful whatever happens, thanking God for everything.  This is the way people are called to live the life of the risen Jesus. 

Driving test: Passed!

Great news and achievement: I passed my driving test today!

Being the 24th of the month, I knew Mother Mary's special protection would see me through the test today.  And I did!  I was also greatly happy when I got the same examiner who took the first time I appeared for the test, Matt.  He certainly is very pleasant and responsive.

On reaching back home I showed the certificate first to Fr Sean because he was kind enough to spare some of his time and come with me on a couple of drives to offer guidance.  During supper he surprised me with a card!

Sunday, 23 July 2017

All heaven declares...

The music of the hymn 'All heaven declares the glory of the risen Lord...' is very soothing.  Am not very much touched by the lyrics but the music is quite good.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Dunkirk

Fr John invited Br Vlastik and me to watch the movie Dunkirk at Vue in Staines today.  Personally it did not really impress me at all.  Perhaps I am comparing it to other historical war movies which were more appealing.

Anyway, was amused by the first comments of people as they walked out of the theatre after the movie.  But before that I think the director and team need to be congratulated for speaking of a rather 'not-so-glorious' moment of British history.  Dunkirk is not about the victory of the British army or navy, as most movies normally are, but about the pitiful retreat of the British army from the marauding Germans.  Truly knowing the context of the war, helps much in understanding the movie better.

Now for the comments...
It is normally I who used to choose boring movies. Today it was your turn. 
The boats were the real heroes. 
Had to shake myself up a few times from falling asleep. 
And the best one...
It was as lame as the warships! 

Fastest liquid

The other day we were discussing about milk.  Know not how on earth we reached that topic, but there we were talking about it. Fr Marco stated that in some parts of Italy you could get milk straight from the farm.  All you need is a container of your own.  Of course, it is dished out from a machine.  Fr Sean recalled that in his younger days farmers would come around the houses selling milk.  Straight from the dairy. There was nothing called processing or skimmed milk.  It was just milk.  Of course such a practice would be totally abhorred here in the UK at present.  The 'health and safety' motto would never ever allow such practices!  To which Fr Sean replied, "Well, I survived this long drinking that milk supplied by the farmer!" (He is 84 today!).

I maintained a wise silence, with images of how milk is transported and distributed back in India, playing in my mind... and in a way repeating to myself Fr Sean's words!

To wrap up on a lighter note:
Do you know which is the fastest liquid?
Milk!
It is pasteurized (past-your-eyes) much before it reaches you! 

Friday, 21 July 2017

Critical press

Compared to India, here in the UK, the press enjoys a much more free hand.  The freedom of the press sometimes borders vulgarity, direct insult and even outrageous comedy.  The following are some of the cartoons published in well known and reputed newspapers across the country.  They all take a shot at the none other than the Prime Minister, Theresa May, directly (for her role in the Brexit process).




Honestly I can't imagine such cartoons of our Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi appearing in large colour print (and originals sold in auction!) in our daily papers.  Not only the cartoons, most likely the paper itself may never appear again!  Even if it did, it would be under a different editor or set of journalists. Even if none of this happens, the offices of the newspapers are sure to be vandalized and the offenders never caught.

That people have a right to know, is perhaps the most underlying principle journalists and editors here in the UK go by.  While some newspapers are full of gossip, there are papers worth their ink and even these do not spare some fun and chastisement of those in power.  However, I guess they also ought to be careful of the veracity of what they print, lest they be sued and end up paying through their nose.  Not only the public views and policies of these politicians but even their private lives are not spared from appearing on front pages.  Such high levels of scrutiny by the press of each and every word uttered by the political leaders, ensures that there is a wide range of views expressed and issues discussed in public domain.  

The Lord hardened Pharoah's heart...

The first reading of the day begins with this statement:
"The Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart..." (Ex. 11: 10)
Honestly if only Yahweh did not do this, there'd be no Passover, no slaughter of the Egyptians at the Red sea and no hurried exit from Egypt.  Just that one act of making Pharaoh obstinate resulted in all this following confusion.  So why did he do that?

Some would prefer to believe that he did that in order to fulfill his promises to the Israelites; or to show them his greatness.  These could be 'good reasons' but not 'valid or real reasons'.

The fact is that he didn't!  Yahweh, the almighty could inspire Moses and Aaron and lead them to guide the Israelites out the Egypt, but he could not and would not change the heart of Pharaoh.  That was something beyond his own nature... to meddle with the decisions of human beings.

So then, is the Scripture wrong in making that statement.  Well, can consider it one of the many anthropological modes of expressing an experience of God.  

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Indian Politics

An amusing but interesting insight into the current Indian political scenario...

Preservation by isolation?

The idea of 'getting back Britain' through Brexit, has quite a few who wonder what exactly is to be 'got back'?  I personally am not sure - blame it on my political ignorance!  However, one thing I know for sure, the English were the most 'geography thirsty' people in history.  After the Romans under Alexander, if there was any country which had colonies dotted across the globe it was the British.  If at all, anyone can really talk of 'getting back' it is these colonies which can speak of it in the truest sense.

Britain has barely been alone in any of its quests or ventures outside its shores.  It has always been piggy riding on its power by making others do things for them.  Looking back at the history of India, those Indians who fought in the first and second world war, barely made it to the history books.  Most of these men fought under the British flag and yet I wonder if the names of these men were ever recorded anywhere at all. Having seen some interior villages of England, the names and memory of those who went to war, especially those who died, from that particular village are fiercely protected and proudly displayed.  Well, I guess the Indians did not count - they were dispensable non-entities.

Even the very idea of segregation of a population, a strategy Hitler made use of to the hilt through his concentration camps, was actually of the British minds.  It was first used in South Africa during the Anglo-Boer war.  So now when Britain wants to exit the European Union, this idea of 'preserving itself' appears strange.  A sizeable English population does not really appreciate the multi-coloured reality London is turning out to be!  Even if these non-white Londoners swear by and live their allegiance to the English law, they are not considered 'English'.

If Brexit is a ploy to fortify itself against everything 'non-white' then Britain ought to remember that a compound wall not only prevents outsiders from coming in, it imprisons those within!  

Holiday season

The schools in England, almost all of them, conclude the academic year tomorrow.  And with that the holiday season begins!  Going to some place away from home is one of the essential features of English life, I guess.  So everyone keeps asking me where am I going for holidays (as if I was working all along!).  When I plainly reply that I'm not going anywhere, they are quite surprised and say, you should go!  Coming from a place where taking holidays is a distant dream, there are not even 'weekend getaways', I find their surprise amusing.

And holidays and 'taking off to some distant place' is not a feature only of families with small children, but everyone, even priests!  Some just take off!  Lucky are those parishes where he makes some alternative arrangements for the days he is away.  Some just announce and leave it to the parishioners to arrange for priests, if they wish to have mass in the parish for those days.  No wonder, we've been receiving several calls for 'supply' (chaplaincy) over the last few days - mostly from lay people!  

Happy b'day: Fr Sean

Yesterday we also celebrated the b'day of Fr Sean.  The actual date was almost two weeks ago. But since he was away in Ireland to be with his only surviving sick sister, we could not celebrate it earlier.  He turned 84 now.  Given his age, he is still perfectly fine and healthy.  Good for him he did not agree to go to Farnborough.  Like me he too does not have any responsibility in the community, other than being present!  However, he does much more than me for certain! He is an early riser... is up by 4.30 am!! (just a couple of hours after I've hit bed!!). Every weekend he drives about 200 miles to assist at a Parish of his long time friend.  He is the delegate of the past pupils and knows practically each boy who passed out of Bootle and Blaisedon (where he spent most of his years) from years back!


The past one month has been hard for him as he lost his younger brother and sister within a span of three weeks. Yesterday while thanking the community for our support he said that the fact of their death really did not hit him till someone recently asked him where would he go now for his holidays?  His brother and sister were unmarried and lived in their parental house which has now been put on sale.  His only surviving sister, a Nun is in Ireland itself.  Reminded me of what some other Salesians used to say, 'Once the parents are no more, going home for holidays for us religious is no more the same!'  

Back from the dead: fuchsia

One of the many fruits of my work in the garden:  'resurrection' of a fuchsia plant from an almost dead stem.

Anyway by now I know which is a plant and which one not one best in the garden.  Bit by bit have cleared quite a bit of the garden of the 'wild' growth of some of them.  In fact, those cleared bits look somewhat like my head: bald and clean!  

RIP: Fr Ivor Netto

Yesterday was the funeral of Fr Ivor Netto, at Shiplane Cemetery Farnborough.  It was the first time I witnessed the burial here in England.  It was quite sober and quick.

I had met Fr Ivor on two previous occasions.  The first time was during the memorial Mass of Fr Frank Sutherland, my first visit to Farnborough.  The second time was in the month of May when I was making my retreat at Farnborough.  In the month of June I had contacted Fr Ivor for some help with editing a text of someone else.  He had agreed to complete the task by the end of the month.  However, his sudden death due to a stroke towards the end of the month, left me wondering how much of the work he did complete. So with permission from the administrator of the house, I did manage to hack into his laptop only to discover that he had not started it at all!  Anyway, God rest his soul.


Burden and strength

The Israelites were slaves under the Egyptians till Moses, under Yahweh's guidance, leads them out of slavery.  The first reading of the day, records God instructing Moses to go to the people of Israel and the Pharaoh to tell them of the end of their slavery in Egypt.

Interestingly the gospel speaks of burden and yoke.  The Lord does not say that He will take away the burden.  Instead He says, "My yoke is easy and my burden light."  There is no talk of taking away the burden or difficulty.  But only the assurance that neither will be too much to bear.

In our moments of difficulty and trial we often pray that the difficulty be taken away, forgetting that a genuine prayer would seek for strength and courage to go through the difficulty.  Even in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed that the cup of suffering be taken away but if it was His Father's will, he was also sure that the Father will give him the necessary grace to endure.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Community prayer and work

When I reached Chertsey eight months ago, I found the sort of arrangement - residence away from the apostolate - a bit strange and odd.  Of the five us, no two worked in the same place, leave alone the work places being something owned by the Salesians!  In truth, I was asking myself, how 'Salesian' is this?

Now having spent more than half a year and having a better picture not only of the work being carried out from Chertsey but across the Province of GBR, I am more understanding and optimistic of this way of living.  In fact, this evening as I sat for prayer, it struck me that if only we were to adopt this model back in India, it would be tremendous!  Am not sure if this would be ideal for a city setting, but in rural or semi-urban parts of India, residing among the people and working just like them in some place would be a great example of religious life.  It is not the work as such, but the living together, the community dimension that would raise a million doubts among the neighbours.  Invariably they would seek to understand.  We may be working in different parts of the place, doing ordinary jobs but living under one roof, praying together, spending quality time with one another and sharing our experiences would be a great example of religious life.  We would not need some high end job, just enough to carry us through our basic needs.  No large buildings to build, lavish food to eat but earn enough not to be a burden to the Province. No earning chunks and doling it out in charity.  Naturally our faith and goodwill will propel us to do more than just our jobs in our work places - it would help us build the neighbourhood.  Our life and lifestyle would be the real witness.

Am well aware that some Sisters do this and it has not been widely accepted by all in the congregation.  But living this way is being part of the larger community at its basic level.  None can accuse us of being outsiders.  Neither are we word/verbal preachers!  We may not able to change the whole place all at once, but we can certainly sow the seed of faith, by our very community life of witness - living together as brothers, even though not bound by blood, radiant with the joy and simplicity of life beyond mere human means.  

Fearing imagination

No sooner did I complete reading the first reading of the Mass then it did strike me that the situation therein was not very different from the present situation of the West.  The reading from the book of Exodus, speaks of the fear among the Egyptians of the growing number of Israelites.  

The situation today of the West too is similar.  In the context of the immigrants and migrants, there is a sense of 'fear' among the residents that they would be overrun by these 'outsiders' sooner or later.  Hence the animosity, anger, protests, ill-treatment... The strange but true fact of human nature - then and now - is that when I fear, I start oppressing the other.  Rather than tackle the fear within me, I begin to make others frightened of me!  

The gospel offered very mixed and strange response to this dilemma: those of the household shall become enemies;  whoever loves life will lose it...; whoever receives you, receives me...; whoever gives a cup of cold water to these little ones....  Interestingly it does not mention of fear.  

I guess there is a logic in the statement that fear clouds clear thinking. 

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Values

Another interesting insight about cultural differences in the East and West from my discussion with Br Vlastik.  We were talking about hierarchy, values and culture.  It is not always that we have different values.  Mostly it is difference in prioritization of values.

For example, here in the West, personal happiness takes precedence over and above family ties.  Hence the large number of divorces, remarriages and sexual liberty.  When a man and woman marry each other, and if they do reach a point in their life together at which they feel that their personal happiness is threatened by their marital bond, then they would prefer to go separate ways than sacrifice happiness.  In the Asian culture, family unity is considered of greater importance than personal happiness.  Hence even when a married couple realises that living together is nothing short of hell, they'd still stay together.  Most often it is the woman who bears the most in our culture.  But everyone tries to retain the marital bond than break it for personal fulfillment.

Naturally someone from the East will find the high rate of divorces and breakup in the West shocking, those in the West are shocked how couples live together even if both are not really happy in the marriage!  For a Westerner looking at an Indian wife spending her whole life taking care of the house, husband and children is 'atrocious'.  For the Indian wife she feels complete when she holds the family together, even if that means she is a full time housewife.

The Hindi movie Ki & Ka comes to mind in this context.  It rightly draws one's attention to the role of the man and woman in the house, in a marriage, especially in the Indian context.

Another scene with an interesting insight into relationships and roles in family life...

Cultural roots

During my lengthy and exciting discussion with Vlastik today, it struck me that the whole hierarchical style of functioning in the Salesian world, as experienced and lived in India is not primarily of the Salesian heritage.  It is actually more of the Indian culture than the Salesian tradition.  That the Italian Salesian tradition which we inherited also happens to be a hierarchically based is an added reason, not the primary reason.

This fact dawned on me when I realised Vlastik's predicament as to how come Salesian religious life in some parts of the world is hierarchical.  However elaborately I explained to him, he found it baffling. Then it struck me that his European culture and upbringing has a different set of prioritized values wherein even children are consulted in families.  Naturally in a Salesian house, even the youngest confrere is respected and treated with the same privileges as a senior confrere.  He is not treated differently, as we do back in India.  Here in the UK, a temporarily professed has the same privileges as the one celebrating the diamond jubilee of his profession.

Back in India, our culture considers the father as the head of the family.  He makes all the prominent decisions.  The mother is at times consulted.  Children are rarely even informed.  Moving from such a a general ambiance into the seminary life with its superior-student dichotomy is not very difficult, unless one had a different upbringing or is a late vocation who has moved out of his parents shadow and learnt to make his own decisions for his life.  In this continued ambiance, no one has any 'problem': the rector and staff take decisions and the students follow.  Ask the students to get involved in the decision making and they're baffled or at a loss!  Because all along they've been told 'virtue lies in obedience'.  The rector is happy to make the decisions and the students is happy to follow!

From this perspective, I see the great difficulty of what Fr TD is trying to bring in, in our Salesian system: participation.  What he is fighting is not rooted merely in the Salesian religious tradition, but in our general cultural heritage.
Found this in an interesting article I happened to come across on the net... read here.

Perpetual profession at Battersea

Today was the perpetual profession of Cl. Gregory and Cl. Joseph Tran at Sacred Heart Parish, Battersea.  It was for the first time that I drove up to London with the aid of google maps.

Fr Basanes, the Councillor for Missions, was the main celebrant at the Mass.  He began his sermon referring to the "confusion" some could have of the occasion and the people involved: Cl. Greg from Nigeria, Cl. Joe from Vietnam, himself from Argentine, but working in Africa but now coming from Rome!  Moreover from the photos of the event/Mass no one would be able to identify that the place is London... all because of the wide mixture of people in the Church from across the globe.  There were quite a few from Africa, Vietnam, some of use Indians, Britishers and all sorts!  Fr Basanes concluded saying this exactly is how the Kingdom of God would be like.  All in one place, as a family celebrating God and His creation.  There'd be no strangers or foreigners.  Everyone would be part of the family.

Significantly just before the final blessing he invited the two clerics to come with him to the statue of Mary Help of Christians to seek her intercession to grow in their vocation.  He also requested a hymn to Our Lady be sung for the concluding hymn was something else.  It was later during the day that it struck me that today back in India we would commence the Marian month in most of our Salesian houses.

Fr Basanes, Joe and Fr Gerry 

A 'photo bomber', Fr Basanes, Greg and Fr Gerry

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Save animals... kill people?

And I thought India's craze for the cow (an animal) was a stray one, till I read this news on BBC.
Cat killer jailed for 16 years...

Well I do honestly believe that no creature should be tortured, leave alone killed.  While I am not a vegetarian, I cannot get myself to eat the flesh of an animal if I see it being killed.  However, I do eat meat - in fact, anything at all! But this fanatic reverence of the cow over and above human beings and their well being, and sometimes even at the cost of human life and limb, is just idiotic.  And is the cow the most important issue that a country needs to debate about?

However the following wrap up by Faye D'Souza on Mirror Now  (the Urban debate) is spot on right.  She hits the nail on the head! Watch the following video from 53.34

Competition meditation

Fr John ordered two garden chairs and has been enchanted by them since they arrived yesterday.  Just to pull his leg, Vlastik and I thought of putting up some competition for him.  So...

When parents can't decide

For quite a few days I've been following up the news about the case of little Charlie Gard, the struggle his parents are going through to convince the court and the medical team to permit them to take their child to the US for treatment.  Honestly I don't see the logic of preventing the couple from taking their child to the US for treatment.  One of the points of contention is that the treatment spoken of is only experimental and it has not really been medically proved.  But precisely so, I argue, that since all possible options have been tried, in vain, this possible option should be permitted.

The main reason for not granting the parents to take their child to the US for treatment is that the proposed new treatment would only add to the suffering of the little baby.  Hence the court now directs the hospital to take the child off the life support.  (read the whole debate argument from the legal perspective here).

However, this particular case where the state takes into its hands, the decision about the well-being of the child, rather than let the parents decide is a bit too outrageous for me. This is peculiar to the UK.  The predominant law which permits the state to intervene is often invoked - and rightly so - in care cases, when the child is at risk from its own parents.  However, in this rare case, when there is an international panel of medical experts claims that there is a possibility of treatment available outside the UK, the court should consider that option.  Somewhere I feel there is also this stubborn belief that the UK has the best doctors!!

Hope love for life and trust in God, will show everyone involved the right way. 

I watch the sunrise...

Have heard this hymn just a couple of times earlier, and always felt greatly at peace at those moments.  We sang it today at the diamond jubilee ordination celebrations of Fr Peter Burns.  Like most the words of the chorus... endorsing my conviction that He is always with me; it is I who needs to feel His presence!
...You are always close to me, following all my ways.
May I be always close to You, following all Your ways, Lord!

I WATCH THE SUNRISE...

I watch the sunrise lighting the sky,
Casting its shadows near.
And on this morning bright though it be,
I feel those shadows near me.

But you are always close to me 
Following all my ways. 
May I be always close to you 
Following all your ways, Lord. 

I watch the sunlight shine through the clouds,
Warming the earth below.
And at the mid-day, life seems to say:
"I feel your presence near me."

For you are always . . . 

I watch the sunset fading away,
Lighting the clouds with sleep.
And as the evening closes its eyes,
I feel your presence near me.

For you are always . . . 

I watch the moonlight guarding the night,
waiting till morning comes.
The air is silent, earth is at rest –
only your peace is near me.

For you are always . . .

Internet break

The last four days were quite historical days for us in Chertsey or atleast for me!  There was no internet for the last four days! Our router had conked off and we had to wait for the technician to come and put in a new one.

Thanks to this 'internet break' I did manage to get back to my Master's dissertation - also there was the Recollection beginning this week where I actually resolved to get back to working on the dissertation!

Am now so used to the internet being 'there' that the absence of it leaves me with an odd feeling... something missing.  However, it was not really as bad as I thought it would be.  I did all the things I would otherwise (gardening and solving sudoko) and the time I would spend on the internet, spent it rather on re-reading some articles for my dissertation. Just a few years ago, there was no internet and life seemed so good.  With the net, it still hasn't become easy!!  More packed and filled but not more at ease!

Seeing those who saw Don Rua

Only today did I know that Fr Brendan McGuiness, the senior most confrere of the Province and presently resident at Farnborough, aged 90 (and very much still active!) has seen Don Rua in person. During lunch today he said how hard he tried - in vain - to get the attention of historians to record the fact that Don Rua visited Farnborough twice!  He feels bad that nowhere is the visit of Don Rua to Farnborough recorded.  And after his death the only witness to this historic event and this fact too will die!

He narrated how on one occasion in preparation for the centenary of the birth of Don Bosco, there was a video team which came to Farnborough.  Seeing this as a good opportunity, Fr Brendan ran to his room managed to find a picture of Don Rua, pulled out a photo frame from his collection, mounted the picture in it, printed two lines on his computer "Don Rua, first successor of Don Bosco, visited Farnborough twice!" - in bold! - and then ran back to the school chapel and mounted it right at the entrance.

The video team went around the whole campus but did not come to the Chapel!!!

Simple Jubilee

Today was the Diamond Jubilee celebrations of the Ordination of Fr Peter Burns at Farnborough.  I thought it would be a rather pompous event with many in attendance.  It turned out to be a simple ordinary Mass and lunch.  Among the guests there was the Provincial, the former provincial and a couple of confreres from Bolton.  There were only three ladies for Mass: the two cooks of the house and another lady whom I did not know.  There were no natural flowers on the altar, no flexis printed or notice board or backdrops.  No gloria or solemn blessing at the end.  The Mass was in the school chapel.  In all we would have been about 25 of us in all.  Not even one each for the number of years he has been ordained!  I found it quite odd.  I really thought there'd be many many people.  Perhaps they were not invited!

More interesting was the person of Fr Peter himself.  Neither did he preside over the Mass, nor did he preach the sermon.  He was at one end of the altar as the rector of the community presided and preached during the Mass.  The Provincial was just another con-celebrant.

No pomp or glamour. But every bit of the Mass was well prepared.  A booklet for each participant with the readings, hymns and some photos of his.  The Missal was marked and ready.  Fr Pat accompanied the music with a box guitar.  The prayer of the faithful was printed out.  No grand felicitation or talks about Fr Peter.  After lunch the Rector handed him an envelope (with the 'Queens' picture, I guess!) and Fr Gerry too handed an envelope and said a few words.
Br Michael Delmer with his crutches listening to Fr Peter

Fr Peter broke into a jig when they sang as he cut the cake!

Fr Gerry spoke a few words...
Most hilarious was Fr Peter's "speech" - lasted no more than 3 minutes.  He concluded: "Do unto others, before they do to you!" 

Monday, 10 July 2017

Rooted in Him

For the last few days I have found a particular phrase quite often from the first readings:
I will give to you and your descendants this land... 
Besides this there are a few other phrases like, 'I will bless you...', 'I will keep you safe...', 'I will make you ...'.  At first I thought of Yahweh bribing Abraham and Isaac into believing Him to be their God.  However, there are also subtle and sometimes blunt commands, from Yahweh, not just to accept him as Lord and God but to be rooted in Him.  No matter what happens to them, where they go, what they own or not, He is to be their ultimate dependence.   That without Him the rest would not really last long.  It is not a threat or a warning but a challenge and a generous invitation to experience.

Analogically speaking just like a tree that is sometimes praised for is girth and strength; its flowers appreciated for their fragrance and beauty, the fruit tasty and sweet, its leaves green and healthy, its branches strong and useful... however the tree is not to invest itself into any of these as much as it should in its roots.  The same roots which are never noticed by anyone. But without them being and doing their work, none of the aforementioned would be appreciated and admired.

Yahweh invites Abraham and Isaac then, and me today, to root ourselves in Him.  He may also entice us with great blessings, victories, possessions, name and fame but these are only to remind ourselves all the more of the need to be rooted in Him.  Just like the tree that does not have to do only one thing - it can simultaneously grow above and beneath the ground - but learn to prioritize (strengthening its roots), we too are called to do the same... and the rest will take be taken care of (both by God and me).

Sunday, 9 July 2017

On an island!

Happened to come across this comment posted on a youtube video of the UK police catching a thief who was trying to get away on a bicycle...

Don't know sh**

An atheist was seated next to a little girl on a plane and once the flight took off, started a conversation with the girl.  On asking if she would like to have the conversation about how there is no God, or heaven or hell, the little girl agreed. But she said she has a question.  "How is it that a horse, a cow and a deer eat the same green grass but the deer excretes little pellets, while the cow turns out a flat patty and the horse produces clumps?"  The atheist was quite baffled by this and replied, "I have no idea."  To which the little girl replied, "Do you really feel qualified to discuss God, heaven, hell or afterlife when you don't know shit!" 

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Recycling good goods

Yesterday and today I made trips to the Community Recycling Centre near the Lyne farm, about 5 miles from my place.  Went there to dump all the branches and garden waste that has been piling up.  Since the garden bin is collected only once in two weeks, I had to always minimize my "clearing"!  Anyway, finally decided to drive down there and dump what has been cut so far.  (Fr John, pulling my leg, tells me to next take down the huge tree that is right infront of the house!).

Anyway, driving to this recycling centre, there are different sections and places where different things are to be deposited.  Besides dumping construction material, all other things are 'free'.  If only our Indian bhangar walas (the scrap dealers) were to come here, they'd mint loads of money overnight!!  Looking at all the things that people dump there is a bit heart breaking.  Honestly, two-thirds of things there is good stuff, just not wanted by the owners.  I did not really look at everything there, for fear that I may get back more stuff back home than what I took to discard! But it is saddening to see all the good things that just get 'wasted'.  

Black Cherry Fair

This morning I was at the Abbey field helping out at a stall put up by all the three churches of Chertsey.  It was part of the Black Cherry Fair of Chertsey.  Am glad I volunteered.  I basically helped transport water and milk to the cafe they were running at the field from St Peter's Church.  When not 'rolling' water, I was helping kids hook the fish (a game meant for kids).
An interesting innovation to transport water (40 lts) without carrying it! 
Was really pleasantly amazed at the number of children!  Wow! Never knew that there existed so many children in Chertsey!!  It was really a sight.  I could have spent the whole day watching the children and their amusing ways.  Also got to meet a couple of families whom I had earlier met in the Church during the days of the preparation for the first Holy Communion.

Of course, there were several other things going on: band, vintage car rally, about 101 stalls, march pasts, competitions, games and all that... but I was happy watching the tiny tots. 

Friday, 7 July 2017

Joseph and his amazing dream coat

I was thrilled to watch once again the amazing musical 'Joseph and his amazing multi-colour dreamcoat' this time put up by the school and staff of the Salesian school.  The added thrill was that Fr Marco was playing the role of Pharoah.

I first was part of this great piece of art while studying philosophy at The Divyadaan, Nashik.  I was part of the technical team and hence was thorough with every bit of the musical.  Watching it again after 18 years flooded my mind with all the memories associated with all the rehearsals and characters played back then by the Brothers!  Branco as Joseph, Emma as the narrator, Blany directing the whole play, Cletus Pats as Potipher's wife, Claudius choreographing and guiding me with the technical tricks, Chris as Jacob, Bastin as the baker, Parish youth dancing the calypso and jive, the "zone B" problem with the amplifier being operated by Wyman, Shanker and James Kariuki at the spot lights, ... !!

The performance today was quick and beautiful.  The children were truly amazing. All the actors, except Pharaoh, were students. Only the musical accompaniment had some staff members.  The casting and choreography was slightly different from the one I still remember of Nashik but the same lyrics, same thrill, same excitement.  The experience was different though... this time as a spectator.  But every now and then I found my eyes welling up remembering my Nashik days!

And of all the songs, the best one, then and now, is the one titled 'Any dream will do...'

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Isaac's trust

Abraham is acclaimed as the father of faith, especially for his act of willingness to sacrifice his only son, at God's command.  It all seems very convincing and courageous.  However, the episode of him going to Moriah with Isaac and his servants, especially the last bit of climb up the hill, alone with his son, all the more when Isaac asks about the sacrificial lamb is quite poignant.

From the eyes of a reader or a listener it creates a sense of wonder or amazement or even repugnance (depends on one's perspective).  However, I wonder what this event meant for Isaac.  To see his own father getting ready to kill him would no doubt scare the life of any child. What kind of relationship would Isaac have with his father henceforth?  Most importantly, would he trust his father ever again?  Furthermore if his relationship with his own father was strained how could he trust in Yahweh who initially demanded for his sacrifice?  Was he then a mere pawn in His plans?  After all Isaac is still a child.  If he were a teenager or an adult, he could have reasoned and seen the "faith" of his father and thereby rationalise his actions, but he is still a child!

The narration extols the faith of Abraham but speaks nothing of the state of Isaac.  

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Truth as social construct?

The whole notion of 'truth' as constructed by social understanding and practice came to my mind as I read the first reading of the day.  It is from the book of Genesis wherein Abraham sends away Hagar and her child to fend for themselves, at the explicit demand of Sarah.  Hagar and her child is then rescued by God.
That the whole passage is rife with core human emotions is undeniable: jealousy, helplessness, fear, anxiety, anger, distrust, joy...  But then the questions it leaves behind are quite taunting.  How can God permit such partiality, in letting Sarah and her offspring be called the 'chosen' one?  Or is it that they declared themselves to be the 'chosen' one?  God did not tell Sarah or Abraham to disown Hagar and her child.  In fact, God rescues Hagar and the wailing child.  He shows them the well from which Hagar offers her thirsty child water.

More complex is the question when Muslim claim inheritance from Abraham and as God's favoured ones when they claim to be descendants of Hagar's child.  So whom did God prefer?  Isaac or Ishmail?  Well, I believe God does not make pre-fixed preferential choices.  He is with those in need, those marginalised and the poor.  Every historical intervention in the Scriptures shows that. Even this one!  But humanly speaking, where does truth lie? (can't find an interesting article I read a few days ago about truth, alternative facts, lies ... and several references to Rorty).

Perhaps in those days the slaves and their offspring were totally dispensable.  That was the culture.  Today we can say that is totally inhuman to treat any human being like that. But we cannot be sitting in the armchair of 2017 and pass judgement on an event which happened in BC!  So that act done in those circumstances was right. Justifiable.  Or was it?  This is where the dilemma kicks in, that of truth as a social construct.  
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