Tuesday, 31 January 2017

The Salesian formula

Don Bosco's formula for sanctity (If I'm not mistaken it was something he gave to his apprentices, during one of his goodnight talks):
First, be happy; second, study and pray; third, do good to everyone. 
Though laden with meaning and needing further explanation of what he actually means by 'happiness', or 'prayer', this simple formula synthesizes Salesian spirituality in a sentence.
The temptation for me is to propose this formula for others, forgetting that I'm a student myself!

Monday, 30 January 2017

Swim against the tide

Message of the Rector Major (31 January 2017)

My dear young people of the entire Salesian world, dear girls and dear boys,
I greet you as a friend, brother and father; I address you this greeting on behalf of Don Bosco, as I come to you “knocking at the door of your life” on the occasion of the feast of our Beloved Father.
A few days ago Pope Francis wrote a letter to the youth on the occasion of the presentation of the document that will be used to prepare the XV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which will be held in October 2018. At the beginning of His letter, the Pope tells you, “I wanted you to be the centre of attention, because you are in my heart.” I know well, from my personal experience, what it means to carry you in my heart and to express every good wish, even if in many cases we have not yet had the possibility of greeting each other personally.

May I tell you something in confidence? Often, when I encounter you, young friends, in the various parts of the world and I must address you, I think what Don Bosco would tell you on behalf of Jesus. 

I am aware of the great diversity existing among you according to the nations and continents in which you live; diversities also of culture, diversities for the type of preparation for life, some with studies of vocational training or of qualification for a profession, others through university studies. I am aware that the situation of those who can count on human and economic resources to develop their talents is different from the one of those who lack these opportunities, etc. But I am convinced that your young hearts have so much to share and that, despite the differences, they are very similar to one another, and because of this I think I can address you a common message that reaches you wherever you are.

The message I send you today is in full harmony with the one that on various occasions Pope Francis asked you: “Dear Young Friends, I have confidence in you and I pray for you. Have the courage to ‘swim against the tide’.”

Many are the adults who have full confidence in you. I am one of them, my dear young friends, and I invite you to be courageous in your life. I spur you to have the strength to “swim against the tide”, when the call to be faithful to yourself and to Jesus resounds in your hearts.

Today the world needs you. It needs the great ideals that are proper of your youth and of your juvenile dreams. The world, now more than ever, is in need of young people who are full of hope and courage, who are not afraid of living, dreaming, looking for that authentic and profound happiness through which God dwells in your heart. Young people who have the will to commit themselves and who are capable of committing themselves and of loving “to the point of suffering”, as Mother Theresa of Calcutta, now a Saint, said. Young people who, under the spur of their commitment, are capable to donate their time and even to donate themselves.

Regretfully however, there are may young people who are “tired, bored or disappointed”, or young people who never felt enthusiastic for anything, young people who are week and frail. These youth need other youth; they need you who, speaking of the experience and with a language that comes from life, may show them that there are other ways and other possibilities. Young people who help them to really understand that fleeing from the challenges of life is never the solution; young people who also as true disciples-missionaries, help them to discover Jesus in their life and to believe in Him. A Jesus who, obviously, “does not sell you illusions”, but who offers Life, the authentic one, His own Life, His very Self.

I think, my dear youth, that on this 31st of January 2017 Don Bosco could tell you something so simple, with the words and language of today, as the Pope did in His letter: “Do not be afraid ... A better world can be built also as a result of your efforts, your desire to change and your generosity. Do not be afraid to listen to the Spirit who proposes bold choices; do not delay when your conscience asks you to take risks in following the Master.”

I wish with all my heart that it may be so for you: that you may be capable to risk, when it comes to Jesus and to God the Father in your life. You will never lack his Presence through the Spirit and it will be a certain guarantee for your human journey of happiness. I greet you with sincere affection and wish you a happy feast of Don Bosco and the ever maternal protection of our Mother help of Christians.
Fr Angel Fernandez (Rector Major)

Feast of Don Bosco

The altar of our Chapel for the feast of Don Bosco


Sunday, 29 January 2017

Novena to Don Bosco: Call to Holiness

Novena to Don Bosco
(Remembering DON BOSCO and the significant people who shaped his life and works)
Day 9: Jesus Christ 
(His Master) 

CALL TO HOLINESS

Don Bosco's whole work for the boys was the result of a personal call from Jesus. God was above all else and the real cause of his initiatives. Don Bosco's sole concern was the welfare of his boys: Da mihi animas, cetera tolle (Give me souls, take away the rest).
Sanctity is easy. 
Don Bosco's often repeated words to his boys 
In Don Bosco, the extraordinary becomes ordinary. 
Words of Pope Pius XI while speaking about the way Don Bosco lived his holiness in the most humble and practical manner. 
Holiness is the best gift we can give to our young people. 
Said by Fr Pascual Chavez, the 9th successor of Don Bosco, in imitation of our founder who not only was saintly himself but made those in contact with him saints, as well. 

While at prayer one time, Don Bosco was interrupted by the visit of a wealthy noble. “Tell him I'll be there soon,” he said, and he continued his prayers. Three times he was called. Finally he went. “My dear Sir,” he said, you are a good friend of mine, but God comes first.
(Click here to download the pdf file for display)

Of nightfall and sleep

Here in UK, these days, by 4 pm it is already dark. And being a small town, all trade and business outlets close by 5 or 6 pm.  The only ones open till 9 or so are the restaurants.  But for those of us indoors, it hardly makes any difference.  I was trying to imagine the kind of life people lived prior to the invention of the electrical bulb.  It must have been a very strictly regimented one, that too by the sun.  With sunset practically all activity would cease.  I'm sure people were up early too, with the sunrise.  That certainly makes the invention of the bulb a significant turn in the evolutionary history of mankind.

Personally, I've never really managed to discipline myself in this regard.  I've now so grown used to hitting bed late that if I by chance go to bed anything earlier than 9 pm, I tend to stay awake longer than if I were to go to bed later!  Sometime I envy people who sleep much less than I do - and still go about their work very efficiently.  But if their regular schedule is disturbed, then they get mighty pissed off.  I'm blessed with a good sleep - always, anytime, anywhere!  Sound, light, travel, practically nothing disturbs me.  For that, I'm grateful. So I really wouldn't want to exchange places with anyone else in this regard... or for that matter, any regard!

Mask of God

Read it in an interview today...
attributed to Martin Buber
Nothing is so apt to mask the face of God as religion. 
Know not in what context or for what reason Buber makes this statement, but it certainly has a relevant and meaningful message to convey.  More often than it would like to acknowledge, religion often masks God.  In a way it is helps for a beginner but not for one who really wants to get close to God.  The very initial step becomes the stumbling block for further steps.  Letting go of something so comforting and known, in exchange for uncertainty is very discomforting and a risk which faith is all about.

Creative ads (vehicles)

Here are some creative ads of vehicles...




Saturday, 28 January 2017

Novena to Don Bosco: Divine Guidance

Novena to Don Bosco
(Remembering DON BOSCO and the significant people who shaped his life and works) 
Day 8: Mother Mary
(The Divine Teacher)

DIVINE GUIDANCE

Honoured as the principal patroness of the Salesian Congregation, and revered under the title 'Mary Help of Christians', the Salesians continue to imitate the filial devotion that Don Bosco had towards Mother Mary right since his childhood.

When you came into the world I consecrated you to the Blessed Virgin Mary. When you began your studies, I inculcated this devotion in you. Now I want you to belong totally to her. 
Said to John Bosco by his mother on the day before he was to join the Seminary and receive the cassock to begin his ecclesiastical studies for Priesthood (October 30, 1835) 
Become humble, strong and sturdy. 
Mother Mary's advice to young Johny Bosco during his famous dream at the age of nine, while promising her maternal guidance in changing the wolves into meek lambs. 
It is all the work of the Madonna. It all comes from a 'Hail Mary' recited with a boy forty-five years ago, in the Church of St Francis of Assisi. 
Don Bosco's words after the successful trip to France and Spain, even in his last years of life (1886), in order to raise money for the Church of the Sacred Heart in Rome.
(Click here to download the pdf file for display)

Friday, 27 January 2017

Novena to Don Bosco: Reason for our Existence

Novena to Don Bosco
(Remembering DON BOSCO and the significant people who shaped his life and works) 
Day 7: Youth 
(His Heartbeat) 

REASON FOR OUR EXISTENCE 

“... that part of the human society which is so exposed and yet so rich in promise.” 
(Constitutions of the Society of St Francis De Sales, No. 1) 

I owe you my life. Be sure of it: from now on I will spend it entirely for you. 
Don Bosco's solemn perpetual promise soon after he miraculously recovered, from certain death in 1846... thanks to the fervent prayers and wishes of his 'dirty little rascals'. 
For you I study, for you I work, for you I live, for you I am even ready to give my life. 
Don Bosco's words to his poor boys, those under his care and for whom he was willing to go to any length. 

Don Bosco used to go begging in the city of Turin for the maintenance of his poor boys. At one place, when Don Bosco extended his hand asking for some help for his boys, the man spat on it. "This is for me," Don Bosco said calmly and extending the other hand, said... "Now for my poor boys!" The other person was so touched, that he remained a generous benefactor of Don Bosco all his life.
(Click here to download the pdf file for display)

Dying of nothing

People are fussy about diet and what they eat and drink. Some saying we should eat fruit before meals; others say, after meals. Some are against meat, some against egg and milk. Some are finicky about eating leftovers of the previous meal or the previous day. Some are very particular about the date printed on the label, stating 'best before'. Often people recommend someone else to take (or not take) something because it harms one's health. Like eating tomatoes causes kidney stones. The recent news that toast can cause cancer! The comedy (or tragedy, if one might call it) is when people who have eaten something with great cherish all along, start feeling ill when being told that it is not good for health.

Moral: If you eat nothing, you die of nothing

No common elixir

I heard of this psychologist who was divorced and his kid living with his ex-wife. At first I found it strange that a person who helped other people put themselves and their lives in order, could not save his own marriage, prevent his own life from being a harmonious one.  From all that I knew about this person, he was a rather competent and well known person, appreciated for his insights and professional style of carrying out his work. So how?

This morning it struck me, why not?  How come I reached the conclusion that just because he helps others with their problems implies that he does not have problems?  Just because someone is a doctor does not mean that he cannot have ailments.  Just because someone is a priest does not mean that he has no crisis of faith?

Perhaps my presumption that one who assists others, is also capable of sorting out his own issues.  May be true but one never really knows what kinds of problems the other is facing.  No one knows the cliffs and valleys the other person is forced to navigate.

And that in a sense furthers our need. our interdependence on one another.

Law and Justice

Never thought of this distinction: law and justice.  Perhaps never bothered to think in those terms.  But there is a huge difference between law and justice.  I've not really bothered to find out the definition and intricate meanings of each but what struck me is that the law has got to do with action while justice is about the being. I may be splitting hairs here but I see a slight distinction.

The law is about the act, the actions one does and the subsequent things that follow.  So one breaks a law only when one has done the act.  So the act is central. However, when it comes to justice, the person is central.

This concept flashed  in the light of my reflection on human rights vs the human rights list.  I'm beginning to see more and more clearly that human rights is more about the human being rather than the rights.  Not that the rights dimension is nonsense or illogical; but that is not to be the focus of one's attention.  It is the person who takes the primary position.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Novena to Don Bosco: Generosity

Novena to Don Bosco
(Remembering DON BOSCO and the significant people who shaped his life and works) 

Day 6: Benefactors 
(The bloodline of the Oratory) 

GENEROSITY 

Don Bosco, ever remained grateful to all those who contributed to his vast and noble work for the poor boys and the Church. He would personally take care to correspond, wish and pray for his benefactors. There were from all walks of life: kings, ministers, businessmen, farmers, past-pupils, friends, and even his own boys.

His own mother, Mamma Margaret and the mothers of some Salesians, generously offered their time, talent, energy and resources for the oratory.
They are the long hands of God Himself. 
That's the title he would give to his benefactors – all those who contributed generously, in whatever way they could towards the mission of Don Bosco. 
If we have nothing, we can give nothing; but if we have a little, let's give a little. If we have much, let's give accordingly. In all cases, let charity be our guide, for ultimately it will be to our advantage. 
Words of Don Bosco while giving some monetary help to those who came to him, while he himself had nothing much in his account.
(Click here to download the pdf file for display)

Caricaturing opponents

On treatment of opponents, here's a quote of Nietzsche (Will to Power, § 374)
Every society has the tendency to reduce its opponents to caricatures-at least in imagination-and, as it were, to starve them. Such a caricature is, e.g., our "criminal." Within the aristocratic Roman order of values, the Jew was reduced to a caricature. Among artists, the "philistine and bourgeois" become caricatures; among the pious, the godless; among aristocrats, the man of the people. Among immoralists it is the moralist: Plato, for example, becomes a caricature in my hands. 

Leading to reflection; not description

Am surprised at the writing style of Nietzsche... short paragraphs of just three to four sentences.  Often, there is not much of a connection between one para and the following one, given the fact that they have all been collated from over the years and arranged.

Then there is Wittgenstein, again, short pieces.  Not lengthy pages after pages with neither breaks nor even sub-headings.  See his Philosophical Investigations.  They are preferably referred to by their paragraph numbers than page numbers.

The beauty of such short texts is that they leave much room for reflection.  They do not have everything said and done in as detailed manner as possible. They merely throw you a point and then rattle your brain.  Put you on a different track of thought. Throw you off guard.  They are open-ended.  Can be interpreted in different, divergent ways.

I wonder if at all they were trying to build up a system of philosophy? More than the Nietzsche, I can hardly make sense that Wittgenstein wanted to build another system of philosophy.  His attempt seems more like what or how philosophy should done - if at all one is to do such a thing called 'philosophy'.

Another writer with a similar writing style, whom I've found interesting and leading to reflection, is Anthony DeMello.  Short texts, laden with meaning and open to interpretation. 

Written human rights

There is something the fact that human rights weren't formulated in writing for long, has to say to us. This list, say the UDHR, wasn't something existing from time immemorial except in practice (each period in history according to its understanding of humanity, irrespective of our present judgement of the past).  And whenever we do find historical evidence of a written document, it was in the context of state being the culprit and hence citizens demanding in writing from the state this assurance.  No one ever felt the need to 'write down', unless these basic premises were under direct threat from the state.

… also in the context of our contemporary situation wherein there is an increasing critical questioning about the reason (or lack of of reason) for practising human rights.  Hence till then, till a valid reason is established and collectively agreed upon - not just for the sake of political reasons but honestly and for their own sake - these are declared as 'rights'.

This is my stance ... needs validation and critical reflection!

Getting used to

I still remember the first days of my visit to the college, Royal Holloway. I was really enamoured by the buildings (especially the Founders' Wing), the system, the organisation, the different people and style of functioning, the orderliness and the ambiance.  It is now almost four months since I began my trips to the college.  And honestly I can't remember the last time I viewed at the buildings or the structure of the various departments, besides the first week!

We get used to viewing things and not seeing the uniqueness and specialty over a period of time.  It is not like it is taken for granted but, somehow the initial charm, the 'wow' feeling slowly disappears.  So much so, perhaps if it were not to be tomorrow, if it were to somehow disappear, I know not if I'd feel its absence or miss something truly beautiful.

I guess it is partly because I fail to see the intricacies of this grand structure.  I've somehow subsumed all of its grandeur as if in the first look.  There is nothing more to know, nothing more to explore, nothing more amazing that can be found... that's my presumption.  And I'm contended with that.  That in a way takes the spark out life.  What has not changed is not the building or the structure, but me.  I've stagnated, while the building and the surroundings keep diversifying. However, the vice-versa of this phenomenon is what should happen.   

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Novena to Don Bosco: Hard Work

Novena to Don Bosco
(Remembering DON BOSCO and the significant people who shaped his life and works)

Day 5: Fr Michael Rua 
(The first successor of Don Bosco) 

HARD WORK

Fr Michael Rua who joined Don Bosco as a small boy, later became a Salesian Priest and was appointed the Rector Major after the death of Don Bosco. He was made Rector of the minor Seminary at Mirabello, the first Salesian house after Turin (Rome), when he was just just 26 years old. Such was the confidence that Don Bosco had in Rua, his 'Chief Collaborator' for 36 years.

When he died, on April 6, 1910, at the age of 73, the Salesian Congregation had grown from 773 Salesians to 4,000, from 57 houses to 345, from 6 Provinces to 34, in 33 countries.
You and I will always go halves in everything. 
The words of Don Bosco to Michael Rua, as he took his hand and made a gesture of dividing his hand, when he did not have a medal to give him. He was a little boy of 8 when he attended the Oratory of Don Bosco for the first time, along with his elder brother, in September 1845. 
There is only one who could deserve the accolade of martyr of work: Fr Rua. 
Words of Don Bosco himself in August 1876, when asked if it was true that some Salesians died of overwork. 

Don Rua was called the 'living rule' for his austere fidelity and practice of the rules of the community, and at the same time he was also known as the 'king of kindness' for the fatherliness he displayed.
(Click here to download the pdf file for display)

Contiued Conversion

We celebrated today the feast of the conversion of Saul to Paul. However, this is not the one time conversion that we need to commemorate and remember.  In the life of Paul there was a continuous process of conversion.  While the incidents on the way to Damascus and immediately thereafter were significant, they were not the only ones to alter his life and choices.

Even in his epistles we witness a continual process of conversion.  From one time claiming to be an apostle, though not directly chosen by Christ in his lifetime. Paul takes pride in this claim and asserts that he has done much more than the others...
For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me (1 Cor. 15: 9-10).
Later his pride is no more as vivid as seen here.  From having him in the picture, he totally focuses on Christ alone.

I think think is what we need to celebrate: a person's loving encounter with Jesus which continually transforms him

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Novena to Don Bosco: Detachment

Novena to Don Bosco
(Remembering DON BOSCO and the significant people who shaped his life and works)

Day 4: Fr Borel
(First Helper of Don Bosco)

DETACHMENT 

Fr Borel, the first one to help Don Bosco at the Oratory, when the latter began to work solely for his poor boys. He was a good, short, simple and popular Diocesan Priest. He was affectionately called the 'little priest' because of his short stature. However, he inspired Don Bosco through his selfless and tireless hardwork. 
If you really love your boys, you must be ready to make this sacrifice too. 
Words of encouragement given by Fr Borel to Don Bosco, in 1844, when the oratory was in its infancy and Don Bosco had to go around begging for money. 
He appeared to be a little priest not counting for much, but ten good priests could hardly have done the good that this great servant of God has done. 
Words uttered by a weeping Don Bosco while Fr Borel was on his deathbed on September 9, 1873. 

Fr Borel was so generous and detached that on his deathbed he had nothing in his possession, not even enough money for his own funeral.  

(Click here to download the pdf file for display)

Politics and immigration

Immigration is a very hot and debated topic in the West these days.  One of our subsequent lectures in the Human Rights course is dedicated to this topic too.

Article 13 of the UDHR states that everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the border of each state; everyone has the right to leave any country, including ones own, and to return to his country.

Article 14: Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.

While politicians and bureaucrats discuss this issue of immigration, several possible ways of dealing with the present crisis are being toyed with. While different European nations have adopted different standards and measures, with differing degrees, the issue is never fully resolved.  Never will be!

Perhaps a real political will would address the very reasons which cause immigration and prevent people from being forced to leave their homeland, rather than propose measures of assisting immigrants.  The will is to prevent one from becoming an immigrant, rather than helping the immigrant.  The former is well within the purview of politics, the latter in the ethical arena.  Confusing the two would never yield any significant solution.

Learning from St Francis de Sales

Today we commemorate the feast of St Francis de Sales.  Besides being the founder of the MSFS, he is venerated as the patron of the Salesians of Don Bosco.
Stained glass arcade of St Francis de Sales at Saint Paul Catholic Church (Westerville, Ohio)
When Don Bosco founded his congregation for the youth at risk, his natural choice of St Francis de Sales was not an impromptu decision.  It was out of a personal and historical resonance with the Saint that made Don Bosco propose St Francis de Sales as the patron.  Of all the virtues of St Francis, what attracted Don Bosco and something which moulded his own life, was the virtue of self-discipline.  St Francis is renowned for his gentleness and meekness. However, he was not 'born' with those virtues.  He had to strive to excel in them.  Don Bosco was much worse.  He was short-tempered, rebellious, hard-headed and as stubborn as a mule.  Don Bosco himself acknowledges these vices in his life.  And with this baggage he could not have done much for the kids to whom he was keen to reach out to.  For they too were of similar character!  Don Bosco then makes the difficult choice: to change himself in order to be useful to the boys whom he loved most. In this arduous task of working on oneself, he chose St Francis de Sales.  Though, honestly speaking, he did not have as much a success as did St Francis, but there was considerable change.

Religion as capacity builder of spirituality

Very often religion and spiritual experience are considered synonymous and religion equated with spirituality.  However, there is a growing awareness that although the two are related they are distinct.  While sometime we reduce religion to something external and even as an impediment, it has its own value and place in the whole realm of spirituality and spiritual journey.  Religion can be very well viewed as a capacity for spiritual experience.  Came across that concept while reading something John Finnis said.

Religion is indeed the facilitator for a spiritual experience.  However, the danger is that religion is seen as the end of all there is.  But seen from this perspective as a provider of possibilities of spiritual experience, it takes on a very positive meaning.  

Monday, 23 January 2017

Novena to Don Bosco: Spiritual Direction

Novena to Don Bosco
(Remembering DON BOSCO and the significant people who shaped his life and works)

Day 3: Fr Joseph Cafasso
(John Bosco's guide and mentor)

SPIRITUAL DIRECTION

Fr Joseph Cafasso was the confessor of Don Bosco right from his days as a student of Theology till the former's death. Every step he took in the direction of his vocational journey was always discussed with Fr Cafasso from 1841-1860. Fr Cafasso is also the patron of the prisoners and the gallows.
Do you want to become saints? Here is the secret: Confession is the lock: confidence in your confessor is the key. This is how you open heaven's gates. 
Advice of Don Bosco to his boys, exhorting them to frequent the sacrament of reconciliation and avail themselves of the opportunity of spiritual direction. 
Go to confession every week, but not oftener, because it is not the number of confessions which make us good, but the benefits we derive from each genuine confession (with a good resolution). 
Following the example of St Philip Neri, Don Bosco used to tell his boys to make their confession regularly, and preferably to the same confessor.

Same mischief?

The Rector of a particular Salesian house was returning home after having attended a meeting in the Provincial house. At the railway station he hailed a taxi and told the driver, "Salesian college, Battersea." The driver, turned round and asked, "Do you also want to be dropped off at the rear entrance like the others?" 

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Novena to Don Bosco: Discipline and Perseverance

Novena to Don Bosco
(Remembering DON BOSCO and the significant people who shaped his life and works)

Day 2: Francis de Sales 
(Patron of the Salesian Society) 

DISCIPLINE AND PERSEVERANCE

Don Bosco choose St Francis de Sales as the patron of his Salesian Congregation because he was inspired by the loving kindness of this great saint. The life of St Francis de Sales showed him that change is not only possible; that it is as vital as breathing.
Begin to practice self-denial in little things, so that later you will be able to do so in bigger things. 
In a goodnight to the boys of his oratory exhorting them to grow in the virtue of mortification and perfection in little things of life. 
Forgive others everything; yourself, nothing. 
Following the example of St Francis de Sales, Don Bosco learnt to be charitable to others, but never to oneself. He practised great tolerance towards his boys and others but was very austere with himself. 
Pray, pray, but with faith – with living faith! Courage! Onward, ever onward! 
One of the last words of Don Bosco on his deathbed in the month of January 1888. 
(Click here to download the pdf file for display)

Curse of categorizing

The inherent craving for classifying what we perceive or come across into existing categories or types is perhaps the curse of an analytic or scientific brain.  We do it so often and for so long that unconsciously that we become a victim of it.  We look at people and in that first glance already pigeon hole them into the existing type of people we have in our mind, based on past experiences.  Mind you the other has not even interacted with me, yet I 'know' what kind of a person he or she is.

I'm seeing the drawbacks of such a mentality, in our philosophical discussions in class.  The whole attempt is often to brand a particular philosopher as such (that he is a realist or a transcendental idealist).  That the category itself is a very lose concept with no clarity of its own (all the more certainly not for the ones engaged in the discussion), makes this exercise quite ridiculous and very agonizing.

Reflecting on the aspect of human rights, the whole puzzle is on which foundation to base the legitimacy of the same?  The temptation to classify these rights under one or some of the types of rights is a very serious one.  The agony is that these rights do not really come under any existing categories. And the danger of leaving them out of any category or categories is to attract criticism for being imaginary or unreal.

Am also seriously questioning the very classification of human rights under the umbrella of 'rights' itself! Given the political connotations of the latter, the meaning of human 'rights' get minimized and tend to lose their essence in its deeper analysis.

The closest I've come to think is 'expressions' or 'elements' of being human.  But that leaves it to some wishful plea rather than having any real obligations on anyone, especially in contexts which blatantly operate blind to these essential elements of humanity.

What then to call them?

Strange world...

Another quote that I came across last week reflecting the same sad reality:
There is more fruit in a rich man's shampoo than in a poor man's plate!

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Novena to Don Bosco: Being a man of God

Novena to Don Bosco 
Day 1: Mamma Margaret 
(His own mother) 

BEING A MAN OF GOD

Mamma Margaret, the mother of Don Bosco was his first educator, from whom little Johny learnt what it means to live a simple, joyful and convinced life of a poor Christian. Widowed at a very young age and with three sons (one of whom was a stepson), she raised her boys as God-fearing Christians and honest citizens. 
It is not the habit that makes the monk, but the practice of virtue... I would much prefer my son to be a poor farmer than a priest who neglects his sacred duties. 
Said to John Bosco on the day before he was to join the Seminary and receive the cassock to begin his ecclesiastical studies for Priesthood (October 30, 1835) 
I have nothing to say regarding your vocation, except that you should do what God inspires you to do. Do not be concerned on my behalf. You owe me nothing. Never forget that I was born in poor circumstances, have lived in poverty all my life; and I am happy to die poor; ... if you ever become wealthy, I shall never set foot on your doorstep. 
Advice of Mamma Margaret to John Bosco when he was deciding whether to join the Franciscan or the Diocesan Seminary to become a Priest.

Human Rights vs UDHR

To treat human rights as a list is to actually debase humanity and to the same extent the very foundation (whether it be dignity or need or human nature) which the list or human rights is said to have. At the most one can cite the list as a confirmation or political endorsement of the reality of human rights. Eg. The statement 'Water boils at 100c' is but a representation, an expression of the reality of water, and that statement can never substitute the fact of water boiling at 100c. What UDHR, or the ECHR or any other convention that has drawn up a set of points, has done is to capture the expression of something basic about human nature, often in times when that expression has failed to become visible or is totally absent. The UDHR is basically a mirror reminding us of our humanity; what is worth discussing and deliberating upon is not the mirror but the reality of humanity.

Friday, 20 January 2017

Know not what it is, but it is

Know not what it is but it is!
That's a one-line summary of simple believer.

Judging the past

How justified are we when we pass a judgment on those before us, by standards of today?  Not really I think.

Say for example, we often hear people decry that women in the past had no share in the property of the father/parents.  And therefore, how unjust was the father?  Well, was he?  It was just the way it was then.  The whole concept of equal share of property to all the children is a modern concept.  How can that be applied retrospect to evaluate something of the past?

Are our teachers gullible of offering an education, based on an obsolete model?
Was the West right in colonizing rest of the world?
Was the Church right in condemning the scientific discoveries in the Middle ages?

Another factor to be kept in mind: What we do and say today will surely stand to scrutiny tomorrow.  Perhaps the next generation would be more critical of our 'liberal' thoughts, policies and actions, than we are of our predecessors.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Those who run across the sea...

A quote from a very refreshing new perspective of Nietzsche's philosophy... as that inspired and founded on the philosophy of Herodotus.  Honestly I've never even heard the name of the latter Greek philosopher of the 5th century BC.  But much of what was spoken today by Prof Raymond Geuss  looked sensible and logical.
Those who run across the sea change the sky above them, but not their own internal dispositions (Seneca, Ep. Mor. 17, 12).
It was proposed as a critique of what Herodotus and Nietzsche in a way wish philosophy would actually do: help one view one's own home as a travelling stranger.  For this, the example is Herodotus who travelled far and wide and with prejudice to none!

The idea was that introspection is actually not the ideal for self-knowledge - a direct contrast to the dominant thought, right since the time of Plato.  The alternative proposed: viewing oneself through the eyes of a travelling foreigner.  (There are other implications and conditions involved). 

Understanding the Madman

Here's the text of Nietzsche speaking about the madman from The Gay Science

I think the 'madman' of Nietzsche is actually a metaphor, a sort of blank slate someone without a background... in Nietzshian terms, one without a 'fatherland'.  Anyone else or everyone else has a background from which one is perceived.  Everything that we do or say is viewed by others on the basis of that background.  But a madman does not have any such background that is ascribed to him.  It is exactly because of this he is called a madman.  So will anyone be if one denounces ones foundation or one's 'prejudice'.

Furthermore, the lack of background is not the madman's concern, it is our ascription to him.  So honestly speaking it is not his 'problem'.  It is ours! 

God is dead (Nietzsche)

With his famous quote 'God is dead' Nietzsche acquired an immortal fame!  However, he was not the first to say it. Before him, Hegel states it and even F. Dostoevsky does so in his novel.  While Hegel replaces the God of religion with the 'spirit' in the context of history and progress, Nietzsche does so in the context of morality, without the metaphysical or epistemological frills of Hegel.  However the common feature in both these philosophers is the denouncing of an external guiding norm and thereby of all responsibility being offloaded onto this 'higher being'.

For the next lecture our professor had asked us to come thinking why is it that a madman goes about shouting this statement, according to Nietzsche? Why is not some academic professor or a politician? I've been trying to think why did Nietzsche put this in the mouth of a madman?

There are two things that are coming to my mind very strongly and I feel they're invariably connected but somehow cannot connect them. The first is that the mad man has nothing to lose when he makes this proclamation.  Even if a sane and all the more a man of repute were to state this, he would soon be labelled a 'madman' by the society.  A look at our modern tactics to silence whistle-blowers or activists will offer enough evidence of this.

Secondly, when a mad man goes about announcing this, people who listen to him are invariably going to disregard him - and his utterances.  Yet it will strike a cord somewhere, if not in all, at least in some. Of the latter group, some will sooner than later silence this voice within them offering some pious or religious antidote... but not without it pricking them.  Because once you begin to reflect, the itch is not going to go away.  Those who refuse to give in and go on reflecting, will eventually see the point Nietzsche is trying to make: there is no moral standard and authority residing out there, you need to take up that responsibility. No easy way of passing on the buck to someone higher up.  

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Understanding Human Rights

Today's lecture on Human Rights was interesting. More than the professor talking, he invited us to share our views on the paper we had read and the topic of discussion for this week: foundation of human rights.  The paper was on by James Donnelly which proposed different opposing views of human dignity as the foundation of human rights.  From the sharing of my fellow students it was clear where we stand with regard to this topic.

Most of those from the West, had differing views and questions on the notion of dignity and the theoretical and linguistic nuances of the word or formulations.  One frankly compared the 'binding' dimension of these rights to slavery: being a human one is bound to these rights - even though no one would want to forgo these rights - but one is not free to reject them.  Those from the middle-east were concerned with the various interpretations of the words and formulations.  Some from Asia were rather clear that all of this search for foundations was a waste of time.  Rather, they said, we should straight away get to the implementation of the rights. One from the African continent, rightly and very honestly shared his confusion.  He said he was not sure of anything at all, because the same word 'dignity' meant different things for different people, of different religions, tribes, locations, ethnic groups ... all of the same place!  So which meaning and which interpretation was the one to be agreed upon was all too much for him.

On my part, I realize that the word 'human rights' invokes different thoughts and feelings for different people.  Based on our experience and background it takes different dimensions.  I felt that coming from a background wherein the acknowledgement of these rights is passionately sought after, it is this that flavours my readings...

However, the more one studies this notion, the more intriguing it gets.  

Monday, 16 January 2017

Build a door

Came across this bold quote on the college corridor this afternoon:
If opportunity does not knock, build a door!
I guess it means making that effort in order to really let opportunities take notice of you. You need to have a door, for opportunity to know. You really need a reason for which things need to be offered to you.

Richest 1% own 58% of total wealth

Calculate this:
Which of the following will give higher financial outcome: One rupee tax on a population of 1 billion or 1% tax on those who earn 1 billion?  Well, the clever Indian political mind knows it is easier, much safer and easy wealth to do the former than the latter.  Doing the former is not only safe and easy, it actually doubles the benefit.  It pays both ways: government gets more money and earns the goodwill (read that as financial backing) of the corporate big heads who roll in billions.

Furthermore, which citizen will complain when you are charging him or her one rupee as tax?  But when this tax is applicable to every and any transaction, all time round the year, at every purchase or sale one makes, then imagine the amount that generates?  And mind you, even the one who earns billions also pays the same one rupee tax!

The latest Oxfam report on the world's richest and their assets says it all:
Richest 1% own 58% of total wealth.  57 billionaires of India own as much wealth as the poorest 70% of the whole of India! 
And that's only the wealth and assets declared by them, not the actual amount they really possess. Read on...

Misplaced sentimentalism

We Indians are very finicky about 'Indianness', about being Indians - and for most of the times, for silly reasons.  We take up 'patriotism' too seriously... and too narrowly.  Any and every move of Pakistan is against us.  Everything we do to Pakistan is right and in the true spirit of patriotism.  What we do inside the country to our own citizens is nothing wrong!  No one should imprison Indians.  But Indians ill-treating tourists and misbehaving with foreigners is part of our culture.  'They' cannot imprison us but someone forwarding silly messages on whatsapp can be in prison by the Indian system - and that's very much the way it is supposed to be.  Someone can be languishing in prison for want of proper judicial support or end up in one for lack of finance or political clout. That's how it is and not many question that.

Gandhi-slippers are sold online and that is a grave offense.  Now the home ministry and external affairs department will come down heavily on Amazon! But Gandhiji's numerous statues in the country's lanes and bylanes are in pitiable conditions, leave alone museums or heritage sites related to the same person.  That's OK.  Gandhiji's principles and values of non-violence and tolerance may not find any resonance in our hearts and minds, but that's fine... only slippers depicting him should not be sold!

Let's get our priorities right.  Using Gandhiji's image on a footwear is not the best marketing technique - any fool would know that.  And there's nothing good about it either.  But hey! There are far more urgent, serious and valuable things at stake here, than slippers! 

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Viewing oneself

Speaking of looking at the world from a perspective away from it, taking a distance, how would it be if one is to look at one's own life as if one is viewing some biographical movie about a certain person... only this person is you!

Prior to photography and all that related technology, the only existing possibility of viewing oneself (though not distantly or detachedly) was the mirror.  It is like one of those exercises which used to freak out some of the teachers when I asked them to do: give a funeral oration of themselves!
A painting by Joey Velasco
I wonder what would be going on in the mind of the apostles as they view this picture of the Last supper, with people other than themselves!

The breed called philosophers!

In philosophy there is this rather round-winding debate about the possibility of looking at the world objectively, namely as getting out of oneself and looking at it from a distance. It is like this: I can take a stand point, as distinct from the laptop I'm using, and thus speak about it.  Can I do the same about the world itself?  Not getting onto the moon or space and then speaking about it.  Because everytime I speak of the world, I'm included in it. Is there another perspective possible? And even if it is possible, how justified is one in asserting it as true?  What proofs or reasons can one have to assert that view of the world-as-distinct-from-me?

When Kant said that there are things-in-themselves and that nothing can be really known about it, everyone in his times was amazed about this.  Today this notion is criticized.  Some say that there is something called 'thing-in-itself', others deny such an existence at all. Some agree to its existence but refuse to say anything about it. Others agree and try to enumerate it.  Some agree with Kant but for entirely a different set of reasons.

Some philosophers try to solve philosophical problems, others spend time pin-pointing the 'actual' problem, some try to solve it, some only propose methods to overcome it, some try to merely understand it, some try to change it.  Some say it is only theoretically possible but not actually realistic. Others take the opposite stand.

Gosh, what a breed! 

Illogical world?

An interesting argument from Ludwig Wittgenstein's Tractatus 3.031
It used to be said that God could create anything, except what would be contrary to laws of logic. - The truth is we could not say what an illogical world would look like. 
The following is from an article by Jonathan Lear titled 'Leaving the World Alone' The Journal of Philosophy, 79 (7), p. 384.
What had looked like constraints upon God imposed by logic turn out, upon reflection, to be constraints imposed by us.  The truth contained in this insight, of course, falls foul of the bounds of sense. In its literal sense, it is simply false that we have imposed constraints upon God. However, we have not thought through to a proper appreciation of our situation if we think of God as bound by Laws over which even He has no control. What makes itself manifest is that an "illogical" world is not, for us, a world at all. Thus the possibility of God creating a world according to different logical laws cannot be a genuine possibility. 
Here one can see an illusion of possibility... The illusion is engendered by considering our world as one world among others, as only one of the various choices available to God. One then entertains the idea of God making other choices. One recognizes the illusion when one sees that all genuine possibilities must occur within the world. The world forms the context within which different possibilities make sense. 

Transitional phases

At the university, I have a different set of companions for each course.  Some are common but each course has its own set of students.  One thing that I've noticed is that in most philosophy courses, half of the students are those who did their 3 years undergraduate studies here at Royal Holloway itself.  Though they know each other, they really don't seem to be very friendly with one another.  Perhaps their circle of friends are different.  The rest of the class, is quite an odd mixture: some who are from the UK itself, some from Europe, some from a totally non-philosophical background/studies, some from a particular philosophical background (like Islamic philosophical studies). And then there is me!

Sitting for the lectures, I sometimes realize what it must be for those children back in India who have to make that transition from a regional language medium school to an english medium school.  The difficulty of language, along with that of totally new companions, compounded by the whole cultural scenario of the school, the lingo and topics of discussion among the other students, their interests and dislikes ... 

Driving in snow

Two days ago, there was a slight snow fall here in the place where I live. Though there was a forecast warning us of heavy snowfall, there was only a slight fall.  What was great was that I had to drive back home from the University in the snow.  That was something.  Of course, it wasn't heavy or thick.  But all the same it was something different.

Of course, people here do not like snow at all. It throws things totally out of gear, they say.  Everything, even simple thing as walking outdoors, become very risky - leave alone driving.  Morning frost is bad enough but when it snows, and it hardens overnight, it is very hard and slippery.  People are frightened not of the physical injury caused due to the fall but due to the legal repercussions if someone sues them.  The Parish priest is deadly frightened of someone suing him if they fall in the parish church!!  That too not inside the church but outside, on the drive or the steps.  

Gabriel's Oboe (Ennio Morricone)

Speaking of the movie Silence and comparing it with other movies around the theme of Evangelisation, I could not but listen once again to the haunting music of the movie, The Mission by Ennio Morricone... especially this one:

Silence (2)

Not sure what exactly Martin Scorsese wanted to depict in Silence.  Was it the harsh Japanese regime? Or the plight of the local Japanese Catholics? Or the deep faith of the poor peasant Catholics?  Or was it the inner turmoil of well-intentioned and doctrinally sound priests like Fr Sebastian Rodrigues, Fr Garupe and Fr Ferreira? Or is it the challenges of pastoral work in a context so different and complex that formation or doctrine never defines or never really prepares one for?  Perhaps it was one of these or all of these.

If the Japanese inquisitor and his team thought that cutting the 'roots' (eliminating Catholic priests) would curtail Christianity, then they did not really have a good understanding of their own people and culture.  If the priests were really struggling with their pastoral dilemma, it actually didn't look like, though there is the inner struggle but not very convincing.  If the silence of God was the real point, even that is broken when 'God seems to speak' at that crucial point when Fr Rodriguez steps on the image of Jesus.  However, the movie really doesn't capture any of it very forcefully - at least not form me.  In a way, The Mission was far more appealing than this one... at least in terms of portraying personal charisma in conflict with mission work or the harmonious blending of the two.  But I still fail to see the focus of the movie.  Speaking of silence, I think Noah fares far far better than this.

The first thing that struck me as I got up from the seat at the end of the movie was this question that I asked myself: What would I do if were in such a situation?

Interestingly just as we (Fr John and I) were walking out of the theatre, a young couple came up to us and asked if we were priests?  And when we did acknowledge, they were happy that their guess was right. We did spend a couple of minutes discussing the movie in the corridors.  They were indeed moved by the whole idea of being persecuted for faith and how common folk were so convinced of their belief.  That Christianity continued to survive even without the presence of priests in Japan for hundreds of years, only shows that priests or religious are not really the one doing the work of 'evangelization'... it is primarily God and His people.  

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Silence

Just returned from watching the movie 'Silence'...

The movie is about two Jesuits who volunteer to go to Japan to really find out about their mentor and confessor whom they revere much, but who is rumoured to have given up his faith.  They do not believe it and set out to find the truth.  Once they find themselves in the midst of hostile regime, they begin to see a different picture; not because they are persecuted but because of them, the poor native believers are tortured and killed.  That puts them in the shoes of their mentor and the choices they together make... the same as before, but lived differently.

I'll put my first impressions now and perhaps enumerate the deeper thoughts later.

  • Not as graphic or emotionally gripping as I thought it would be, given it being a Martin Scorsese movie. 
  • For those of us who have been second hand witnesses of persecution and evangelisation among non-Catholics, even those hostile to the faith, the movie does not come across as a big surprise or a shock.  To those who have had the comfort of a 'convenient' faith, untested by external inhuman conditions, this may be a bit shocking and gruesome.  
  • The real crisis of Fr Sebastian: when he sees the image of Christ in himself, just before he is turned in to the Japanese. 
  • Two facts which clearly indicate that Fr Sebastian, or even Fr Ferreira for that matter, never lost his faith, nor his priestly mission: when the former was willing to forgive the one who betrayed him and 'renounced' his faith time and again, repeatedly. Even in times when he doubted if the penitent really was worthy of forgiveness, he forgave.  The second is when he stamps on an image of Christ and he does it for the sake of the lives of those persecuted.  A Christian is not truly a follower of Christ if he chooses an image of Christ over and above the life of a human being.  
  • When in the comfort of life, faith is lived out in terms of doctrine.  When life itself is in danger or questioned, true faith is lived out - doctrines don't really matter. Fr Sebastian bluntly recommends the villagers to apostate; Fr Garupe is shocked and opposes Fr Sebastian, saying that they cannot give up their faith.  The villagers faith was deeper than any symbols or religious artifacts.  
  • Fr Sebastian's parting words to Fr Garupe: "They did not die for us! They did not die for us!" Something every priest and religious should always beware of: self-glorification in sacrifice.  

Over-all: Quite intense but quite long as well. Will appeal to the West not so much the East; the latter, live it in their everyday life (in different degrees) so will not find it as gripping as those whose faith has not been tested by external forces at such levels.  

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Chai, paani, saab?

Two days ago I went to the University parking office to confirm my request for a parking permit.  I had filled in the details online earlier and needed to show the original documents to the officer in the office to finally get the permit.  I entered the office, informed him about my visit. He asked me for my name, checked his computer then verified my documents and then finished his part of the task on the computer.  He then turned to me and explained what he just did and that with the formalities cleared, I'd get my permit by post within a fortnight.  That's it.

As I left the office, I couldn't but smile thinking, if it were in India, at the end of all our interaction the guy would have sheepishly scratched the back of his head and said, "chai paani?" (meaning, something for me?)

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Attachment to things

Learn more about the 'endowment effect' that makes us cling onto our material possessions...
interesting to note also that it is possible to grow without being affected by this 'endowment effect'

Life in the UK

Last week I realized that it is already three months since I landed in the UK.  Wouldn't say that time has really flown by. However, have learnt much during these three months, I would say.

Have certainly got used to the place, atleast the house and the University.  I now can understand all that Brits or Scots or the Irish, for that matter, speak. And to some extent can now recognize a Scottish accent (but I dare not make any claims).  At times find myself also talking the 'English lingo' like 'half eight' instead of 'eight thirty' while referring to time.

The climate as such hasn't been bad.  It's cold but nothing like what people frightened me about, prior to take off!

Almost stopped looking for cockroaches and lizards in the bathroom.  Got used to the luxury of life, without mosquitoes! 

Cut the mustard

I heard that phrase, 'cut the mustard', yesterday for the first time during the lecture.  From the context in which the professor was speaking, I gathered that it must mean something very difficult or requiring great precision.

It actually means, to succeed, to come up to expectations or high standards.

Couldn't find the real origin of the phrase though.  Some said that it actually meant harvesting the mustard plant and not the mustard itself.

Anyway, was amused to hear of it. 

Switching streams

Chatting with the other students after the Human Rights lecture yesterday, I came to know that most of them had changed their course or stream of studies. Some had done literature for their graduation, but were now getting a Masters in management or information technology and cyber security.  Some had graduated in law but now pursuing philosophy.  Some started with maths but were now interested in politics.  I found that a bit weird, mainly because after studying for three full years how does one just give it all up for a totally different branch of study?  But I suppose each one has his or her reasons.

It may be because of career options or could be that they are trying out some new concoctions. Given the wide and multi-faceted educational structure of the place, they could very well be trying to merge two different, hitherto unrelated streams of study, researching some common feature that intrigues them.

Perhaps, I'll ask them directly... in due time.

One of them, on knowing that we were a couple of us studying philosophy, expressed her "awe"... "Oh, so cool!  You really must be having a very enjoyable time reading all that stuff!"  I smiled and replied, "The grass is always greener on the other side!" 

Course on Human Rights

Yesterday we commenced a new course on Human Rights. Interestingly, there are more students in this than any other course (approx. 20).  What surprised me first, while still doing the preliminary reading for the lecture, was the fact that studies and research on HR is relatively new.  Not much is done on this aspect of life.  Coming from a context where I did hear much about and to some extent been a participatory witness to the HR movement, I thought there was much established text about the topic.

Another queer thing about what I read was the situating of HR in political studies.  Granted the fact that I was taking this course as a student of philosophy, I thought this was a topic very much for discussion in the philosophical circles. But I was wrong.  HR is still a theme of political interest.  Associated with it is the strange dilemma of scholars to agree upon a ground for HR.  While some cite dignity, others need, some natural law and some say human nature. I always took it for granted that HR can only be based on humanity!

Last of all, found a couple of students from the information and security system taking this course.  Really?  If this were a one hour seminar or even a one day workshop, I'd understand. But a full-fledged course running the length of the term and that too as part of IT?

All said and done, I have a gut feeling this course is going to be interesting. 

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Reframing Pope Francis

Here's an except offering a rather realistic and sensible picture of Pope Francis, as written by Michael Cook (editor of MercatorNet) in an article titled, 'Reframing Pope Francis'
Perhaps we need a fresh framework to understand him. Francis is not a conventional Bishop of Rome. After 150 years of Popes who have been mostly diplomats or intellectuals, in 2013 the cardinals elected a Latin American Jesuit, a bishop with a profoundly pastoral heart. In John Paul II, the Church had a strikingly original philosopher; in Benedict XVI, one of the world’s finest theologians; and in Francis, a distinguished spiritual director. 
The figure of the “spiritual director” is a familiar one in the Catholic Church and the Jesuits are famed for producing them. They are priests (usually) who “direct souls”, that is, give prayerful and practical advice to people one-by-one. 
Their role is to help each person reach the heights of Christian life, sometimes by comforting and consoling, sometimes by scolding and berating, always by helping people to be more prayerful and centred on Christ. It’s no accident that the Pope’s Christmas present to the members of the Roman Curia – the officials at the Vatican – was an Italian translation of stern textbook by a 17th Century Jesuit, Industriae ad curandos animae morbos (Curing illnesses of the soul)
The harsh side of Francis as a spiritual director seems to have deeply offended some clergy. “We’ve stuck with the Church through thick and thin, we get paid peanuts, and this guy rips into us for not being holy enough! Just who does he think he is?” But this has always been the reaction of weary clergy in past eras of reform. Just read the lives of the 16th Century Counter-Reformation saints Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross. It’s an understandable complaint, but it’s not holiness. 
Sadly, a bit of berating seems to be in order after the world-wide sex abuse scandals, profligacy in the Vatican, and, worst of all, a collapse in the number of church-goers. Francis seems to believe that if there had been more Padre Pios in the pulpits, there would be more Catholics in the pews. 
The important thing to remember about a spiritual director—unlike a philosopher or theologian -- is that his advice is imparted personally, soul by soul. It is not delivered in sermons, books, or Facebook groups. It is not an off-the-rack suit but bespoke spiritual tailoring. All of Francis’s advice in Amoris Laetitia is perfectly conventional if viewed through the prism of personal spiritual direction. He is showing the Church how to apply to prodigal sons and daughters the principles of Vatican II and of the two great Popes who implemented its spirit. 
There are risks, of course. Francis’s approach will only work if priests (all Catholics, actually) are willing to be shepherds with the smell of the sheep. If too many of them settle for being managers or “collectors of antiques or novelties”, it will fail. 
History will be the judge of how effective this will be, but Francis is taking for granted that John Paul II and Benedict XVI had already created a robust intellectual framework for evangelization by producing the Catholic Catechism and their brilliant encyclicals. Now it is time for action, for reaching out, for bringing the Gospel message to a secularized world.
So the critics’ view is topsy-turvy. Instead of contesting traditional Catholic notions like exceptionless moral norms, the indissolubility of marriage, or the possibility of living according to the moral law, Francis assumes them. OK, he is saying, we’ve spent the last 40 years updating the language of traditional moral theology. It’s time to roll this out on the battlefield and set up our field hospitals.
Read the whole article here.

Time permitting read also the comments that follow the article.  Most of them seem to feel offended to hear that there is more to Christian faith than doctrine.  They seem to be perfectly at home with the idea of a well-defined doctrine, near-perfect liturgy, pious sermons ... even if all of this is at the cost of a living and life-giving experience of God, in accordance with the Gospels.  

Monday, 9 January 2017

Religious life, narrated by a 'party-loving girl'

There is a new book on sale here in England. Written by a nun, Sr Agatha wherein she speaks of her life in the convent and related stuff.  There is an extract in today's newspaper wherein she describes her emotions and feelings about her fiance.  Just out of curiosity (and a break from reading Husserl!) I read this two page article.  Read the article here. It is refreshing indeed.
Sr Agatha, with her three siblings
The narration is very realistic and truly human.  Shirley (Sr Agatha) makes no pretense of her feeling for him, even till the day he dies.  No pious or patchy expressions to camouflage her feelings and sentiments for him, at various stages of not only her life but his as well.  No lying that love for someone dies or evaporates just because one has become a nun/monk, all the while knowing the implications of one's choices and living by them.

On the whole, the writing and her sincere expression of her deep felt sentiments and thoughts make religious life appear normal. Not some hyperbolic sacrificial saga or a tale of suffering and pain.  

A year of the Lord's favour

The following passage (Is. 61: 1-2) has been a recurring text during this season of Advent, especially in the Christmas tide.
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives and
release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour...
Every time I read this passage, especially the last line, (...to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour...), I end up meditating on the numerous obstacles that were in the way and in spite of which today I find myself here in the UK! Not my personal objections alone which I gave up in the beginning of the year, but mostly the circumstantial ones which even delayed my reaching here.  I know for sure there are very many who would die to get here, in my place! And I'm not talking only of refugees or immigrants!  Yet, it is I who am here having this luxury of reading, study and that too in a reputed institution.

If I were a Hindu, I would have said with great certitude, that I had done 'very very many' good deeds in my previous birth to enjoy all the privileges and graces that I am blessed with. And this grace period of study, is but one of the many innumerable ones.
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