Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Bold, open review of existing structures

For quite some time now the British news is all about the NHS and how it is falling apart.  After Brexit, the state of NHS is the most discussed and debated issue in the printed press. 

The National Health Services (NHS) came into effect on July 5, 1948 at the strong recommendation and long battle of the then health minister Aneurin Bevan, a Labour party member.  It was a time after the war and the whole of the world, even Britain, was in recovery mode. Though today none would question the need and the great service NHS offers, back then there were many objections to it - primarily because it imposed tax on everyone and secondly because, doctors saw it as a form of national socialism.  Doctors resented it because it would mean that their independence was now at stake.  They would not be 'small businesses' but state functionaries.  The NHS survived years of revamping, policy changes, even threats of being thrown out...

However, with the reeling pressure of time and circumstances, people do not fear asking the bold questions: Is it time to move on?  Do we still have to invest and sustain a sinking ship?  Alternatives are being discussed and debated.  However, none of them seem to be 'better' than what NHS can. But I like the way the whole point is discussed and debated in open.  There certainly will be some political moves going on in the background, but atleast there is no secrecy about the state of affairs, or rather the sad state of affairs. 

I've admired the way the NHS works.  I may not be aware of all its intricacies but the health care system of the country is worth admiring.  I don't see this possible in India, given its large population and the mind set we presently function with.  Furthermore with the grave economic inequalities that are characteristic of India, a general taxation for health will never really take off.  Moreover, I wonder if we'd ever have such an open and free debate in the public domain, with members of the political parties (no matter whether in power or in opposition) participating and learning, rather than politicizing and merely criticizing each other and conclusively ending up far away from the topic under discussion. 

Belief

Basic insights from the fundamental notion of Web of belief, by Willard Quine

  • often it is the external experience that forces us to relook at our beliefs, often a contradictory one, one that does not fit in to our existing network of beliefs.
  • we can choose which of our beliefs we wish to alter (peripheral, central, core).
  • often we prefer to alter the peripheral, easier, less cumbersome than revamping the whole web!
  • guided by conservation and purpose is simplicity.
  • consistency is the ultimate aim... even if it means accommodating contradictory or differing views.
  • we can never really map our whole belief system and state completely why we believe a certain thing, but we should be able to map the main reasons.

Quine talks about the 'web' specifically in the context of physical sciences and philosophy, but I think these basic principles of his theory are applicable to any belief, even religious beliefs. 

If that is the case, then are religious beliefs fundamentally the same as any other beliefs we hold in life?  If so, where and how do they diverge or part ways?  Is this point of departure also the point where religion tends to break away from life and living?  

Meaning, as criteria

Re-reading Willard Quine's Web of belief it struck me that apart from the basic point he makes about our whole belief system, as more like a spider's web rather than a neatly constructed building, one floor on top of the other, there is another aspect of importance.  Now when encountered with an experience that does not fit in with our existing set of beliefs, we can choose which of the beliefs to alter: those on the periphery, or those more towards the centre or the ones at the very core.  Then there could be a whole set of beliefs tweaked, adjusted, altered, given up, reworked... The experience that actually sets this in motion is important but not the central purpose of the whole endeavour.  The exercise is not merely to accommodate the new experience but to 'make sense' of the whole!  The belief machinery is at work primarily to make meaning of the whole web.  Until that is achieved the process continues.  Quine says the whole process is guided by conservatism and the quest for simplicity, I would say that the process is guided by meaning. 

Only then can I explain why and how I can hold very contradictory (or seemingly contradictory) views and yet carry on as if everything perfectly fits in.  It is just that in my whole web of belief the 'contradictory beliefs' are not contradictory!  The binding threads of belief make meaning as a whole - at least for now! 

Monday, 18 June 2018

Individual humility and community solidarity

The grave injustice we read about in the first reading of the day, from the book of the Kings, about Naboth being killed by king Ahab for his plot of land reflects very much some of the happenings around the world today.  Someone poor and innocent is murdered merely for holding onto what is rightfully his.  The oppressor, who is much richer and powerful, gives in to his greed and commits a murder.  What's more heartbreaking is that the king and the queen, those in the highest of authority, prey upon those whom they are supposed to protect and strengthen.  Not only the rulers, but the whole system is against the poor and innocent.

What would one's response to such a tragedy be?  Or what can one do if one finds oneself in similar situations?  The Gospel seems a very absurd response:  show the other cheek!
...offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on (your) right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.
Where then is justice and how can one live an honest and simple life?  One can answer that it lies in the following passage from the Kings, when the wrath of God prophecies against Ahab and Jezebel - but that does not save neither Naboth, nor Ahab!  However, the gospel passage itself has a response.  It is of individual humility and surrender.  But that's what one is to do when one finds oneself in such a situation: surrender; not react.  But as a community each one is to stand for the one being oppressed.  Every act of injustice is to be challenged without being aggressive or hateful... just state that the act is wrong!  Gandhiji, a non-Christian understood this perfectly well!  Christian ethics is always communitarian. 

That also means that when there is injustice being meted out to someone in the society, I need to take a stand on behalf of those oppressed. This is where our society fails itself:  we expect everyone else to support and stand by us when unjustly treated, but rarely do we stand by someone who is in a similar situation.  Individual humility (having done all one can do to prevent the injustice) and community solidarity:  Sounds utopian but actually possible and humane.  No violence, no hatred, no unprovoked anger.  

Sunday, 17 June 2018

The Kingdom of God

Both the first and the third reading of the day have plants and growth as their central theme.  It is all about seeds and plants and a detailed description of life/growth. 

One thing for sure about seeds and growth: they take their time to grow.  There is no rushing.  When the time is right, the seeds will sprout and it will take its own time to grow.  There is nothing called instant growth.  One can at the most speed up the growth by supplying the plant with all the required nutrients and water.  But even then there is nothing called, 'instant growth', like 'instant coffee' or fast food!

Secondly all of this growth is invisible to the naked eye.  Right since the germination, which usually takes place beneath the ground till the very end of the plant, it is slow and invisible process... nonetheless real and apparent. 

Two typical characteristics of the Kingdom of God: slow and invisible but sure and full of life!  

Saturday, 16 June 2018

BIpolar vision; disordered history

A very logical and challenging 'letter to the editor' published in The Times (June 15, 2018; p. 32), titled 'Hindu' Taj Mahal ... the letter is in response to an article published earlier about an UP minister's tirade that the Taj Mahal should be renamed after a Hindu god, like Ram or Krishna, because it's 'Muslim' name is bad!
Sir, The renaming of the Taj Mahal after a Hindu god, proposed by an official in India's ruling party, the nationalist BJP (World June 13), is proof of its determination to turn India into a Hindu state.  The Muslims invaded India at the Battle of Panipat in 1526.  It was a brutal conquest but they brought with them their art, music, culture, dance, language and architecture, which have enriched India for centuries, and any financial profit they made stayed in India.
The British also conquered India, displaying unbelievable cruelty during the Mutiny of 1857. They too brought with them their art, law, culture, language and parliamentary system of government, although they exploited the country and looted its treasures.
Narendra Modi, the prime minister of India, is no friend of the Muslims, yet he and his ilk are hell-bent on maintaining a friendly relationship with the British. 
Any nation that vandalises history is morally bankrupt. The Taj Mahal: it is not only an Indian jewel but a Unesco world heritage site.  India should be proud of it and leave it be. 
Dr Kusoom Vadgama
Indo-British Heritage Trust
Agree very much with the very highly biased notion of history and creation of a nation based solely on selective identity politics 

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Anet's commandments

Till I come back from school...

  • you should not go out anywhere.
  • you should not celebrate with anyone.
  • you should not cut the cake before I come. 
  • no singing at all, till I come home.  

Well, today is Mummy's b'day and those above were my 4 year old niece, Anet's orders before she left for school, this morning!

Happy b'day, Mummy!

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Holidays

Within a month or so, the schools here in the country will close for the summer vacations and end the academic year.  Holidays!  That magic word, perhaps the best sound for a student!  However for most people here holidays is synonymous with travel.  Unless they go somewhere far, holiday is not a holiday.  Staying at home over the holidays does not make a holiday.  I guess Don Bosco's understanding of holidays as 'a change of occupation' is a redundant definition by any modern standards! 

This association of holidays with travel is an outcome of the upward economic mobility of any society.  Back in India, most people even today would like to spend the holidays at home.  Travel and tourism is not (yet) in the worldview of Indians.  It may have much to do with smooth travel facilities and the luxury of the comfort of home - something very difficult to replicate elsewhere. 

So for the time being, once the holidays (of others) begin, I'll enjoy the congestion free roads, flexible Mass timing and number or participants, and practically the whole house for myself! 

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Of Divine providence and play

Initially when I joined the Salesians I was surprised to hear from the elderly Salesians that most of our benefactors were actually poor people - some much poorer than us Salesians whom they were helping!!  Only then the gospel of the widow putting in her two pence, her entire earnings, made profound meaning to me. 

The readings of the day from the book of the Kings, about Elijah the prophet and the widow, offer a similar insight.   Elijah is told by Yahweh that he has instructed a widow to cater to his food.  And who is this widow? A wealthy aristocrat? Not at all!  She is so poor that she has only one meal left and on the brink of starvation!  Yet she agrees to share the food, the only food she has, all that she has, with a total stranger. 

God continues to play tricks: initially by designating her to share her only meal with a stranger and then by never letting her jar of flour and jug of oil go empty!  And what's Elijay doing?  What he is designated to do!

Monday, 11 June 2018

Playing the second fiddle

The saint of the day, St Barnabas, is said to have stood as a witness and presented Saul, after his conversion, to the apostles as a genuine Christian.  They do undertake some missionary journeys and do much good.  However, history remembers Paul more than Barnabas.  While both carried out their missionary activity, initially together, it is Paul who almost overshadows Barnabas with his eloquence, wisdom and reach.  Perhaps this was also the cause of their parting ways - could be! 

What strikes me is that Barnabas was - at least initially - willing to play the second fiddle, if one might use such a hierarchical language in ministry.  In cricketing terms, Barnabas let Paul do the real scoring and only lend his support by rotating the strike.  Barnabas, was one of the apostles, a chosen one of Christ. Paul, on the other hand, a newcomer, one who had never seen Jesus during his lifetime here on earth.  Yet Barnabas let Paul take the lead. 

This was possible only and as long as both of them understood that the mission at hand was greater than their individual egos.  A good lesson for us priests and religious when engaging in ministry: letting the Spirit work rather than insisting on it working (only) through me, or worse, emphasizing my work.  

Sunday, 10 June 2018

Summer bloom

Creating memories of my labour in the garden...



 







Digital youth ministry

If not this generation, the next generation of Indian children will most certainly be the 'generation z'!  Today we in India still have the 'luxury' of a captive audience, by way of young people in our schools, parishes, youth centres and colleges.  Thanks to our culture and rootedness in family connections it may really take some time before the European scenario is replicated in our hometowns:  we'd have the previously listed institutional set ups, but the actual meeting place of the young will no more be playgrounds, youth clubs or classrooms.  They will be meeting, chatting, discussing, deliberating things and life matters online! 

Like the case of very many youngsters in the cities and in Europe, the only place where you can actually see and meet young people is online!! And the only friends they have are in the virtual world.  I see this so vividly here in the UK.  I know that this is not the healthiest for human growth, but this is the reality.  This is our 'giveness'.  A strange era (atleast for 'oldies' like me, but not for the young of today).  The Salesian mantra of 'Being out there with young people' is still valid.  But we can be and do so without physically leaving one's room! More than any other place on earth, digital youth ministry is very much the way forward here in the first world! 

But this online contact is only the initial contact phase.  The deeper accompaniment will be possible and is truly meaningful only when we are face to face, in person.  However, more and more today, if not for this initial online contact, the later personal contact is almost impossible.  What we most significantly can do is make know of the presence of an 'anchor' to young people, not get them to stick to it!  In due course, at important moments of life, when faced with challenges they find unsurmoutable, they will atleast remember that they can 'anchor' on someone.  Perhaps then we can play a more consistent and influential role in their individual lives.  Till then, the sporadic, accidental, non-essential tweets, texts and chats are the way forward. 

Being at home with ourselves

While discussing with a group of members of the Salesian family about the notion of spiritual accompaniment of young people, it came across to me that the basic starting premise of our effort is that there is something not right with young people today!!  For me that is a dangerous launching pad.  We (the grown ups of today) have a 'problem' with the young of today - may not be a life and death problem but let's say, a difficulty.  I realized that our preceding generation had the same complain about us!!  Nothing very different.

The starting point of all our interactions with the young should be meeting them where they are - not where they 'should' be!  The way forward is not to become like them or make them like us.  We are the digital immigrants and no matter how hard we try we will never become digital natives.  Nor is any attempt to make the natives feel like immigrants of any real benefit.  The best way forward is to be with ourselves today.   Most of us do not know how to be ourselves, leave alone how to be be with God! In being happy and contended with ourselves and in our openness (non-judgemental attitude) to be with them lies the key to a harmonious future, both for us individuals and for our collective society.  

Muonic generation

Muons are part of electrons (themselves part of atoms and molecules).  However one specialty of these muons is that their lifespan is 220th fraction of a second.  One of the research students at the university doing her research on muons is trying to see the benefits of colliding muons.  Her first challenge is to get sufficient muons, enough to cause a collision, and most importantly 'prolong' their life to more than that minuscule fraction of a second, to actually make the collision happen!  One possibility she said was to speed up the muons to the speed of light, wherein time slows.  That way one could 'extend their lifespan'. 

Listening to Fr Louis Grech's talk on spiritual accompaniment of Generation z (the digital natives), I could not but see the great connection and similarities between muons and generation z.  The digital natives of today too are like muons.  Very short attention span, a pace of their own, exist in a world quite different from the rest, the interaction space is on another plane (the instant media, not even social media). So I was asking myself how can one 'extend' time with such a generation?  How to travel at the speed of light in order for that interaction to take place? 

Whatever be the pace and space inhabited by generation z, they too are flesh and blood.  They too have feelings, emotions, fears, anxieties, pain... I think it is in those times that time actually slows down for them.  That's the possibility of 'catching up with them'.  But this 'catching up with them' is not going to be possible if we have not had some accidental but meaningful interaction with them somewhere in 'their' world at some time. 

Gone are the days, at least in most of Europe, where the space of interacting with young people is a formal physical institution where they all are gathered and listening attentively to the words of a Salesian.  Or the young members of a youth club which meets every weekend or evening of a weekday.  Most youngsters today are members of groups, but all online. None physical. None geographical.  

Friday, 8 June 2018

Believers advantage

Sometimes I envy those who do not believe or practice any religion.  They seem to have a very 'free' life.  No compulsion of any religious obligation.  Need not make time for any prayer or visit to the place of worship.  Need not bother about following the rites and rituals of any life events (like marriage, death, first communion, confirmation, baptism...).

On the other hand, we religious have to spend so much of our time in prayer, Mass, meditation, prayer services, monthly recollections, retreats, rosary, besides catching up with all that the Pope says, the Vatican decides, the Rector Major writes, the provincial circulars and the diocesan newsletter.

However one major advantage, besides the emotional, communitarian and spiritual support believers enjoy, is the sense of purpose.  The former group does not have to bother about doing things for someone beyond.  Those who work solely for themselves sooner or later do get bored or too mired in themselves.  Philanthropists are a bit better off.  But we believers have the opportunity to dedicate our work and the purpose of all our actions to a Higher cause.  This additional vertical dimension of our purpose not only shades but adds meaning to our life and activities.  For us religious without the primacy of this dimension, we would well be mere philanthropists or altruists.
Marian message at the end of a prayer service during the retreat...

Flowers in May

With summer playing peek-a-boo this time and sudden bursts of intense heat, I haven't really got a pulse of the weather the past couple of months.  (I guess that can be said of the English weather all year too!).  However, the garden has been blooming with some flowers, some for the first time...









This particular variety of lily or gladiolas bloom fully in the sun and by evening curl up, only to open up again in the morning!  

Poles and brooms

While at Hothorpe, got to see a couple of things that I haven't seen in the rest of the country that I've visited so far. One is the electric poles and transformers...

The other is the cultivated farmlands, mostly wheat.  It was great to see vast lands being used for cultivation.  But no irrigation facilities or opportunities.  Watered solely by rain.

One afternoon visited Foxton Locks.  A very ingenious way of navigation by the river and canals, up and down, without much loss of water and energy. A truly amazing piece of engineering.  The height which the boats move up and down is just unbelievable: neither do they rush down nor struggle to row up!  All of it done by carefully building check dams and gates, which are then used to flood or let out compartments of water - none of this water is really 'lost' but cleverly circulated in the same area.  Reminded me of the Hydram built by Fr Corcoran at The Retreat, in Yercaud. 

Then, saw this outside the Chapel on the first day.  Almost fell over laughing!!  A showpiece: Dried coconut leaves stems in a vase! From an Indian point of view: a broom in the wrong place... wasted!

Retreat at Hothorpe Hall

Two weeks ago attended the province retreat at Hothorpe hall.  The reflections by Fr Jose Louis Plascencia were rich and good (though listening to him read the talks word to word from the paper, in his heavy Mexican accent was not very enticing!). 

One of the main points of his reflections was the distinction he was drawing between manifestation and expression of love.  In the Salesian context of not only loving the young but also making them know that they are loved, Fr Plascencia was convinced of the need not only to merely express but manifest love.  During the days of the retreat it sounded something different and like a new insight.  However, going through the talks again the last few days, it did not really stand out as anything very different or special.  But another point of his namely that love involves not only giving but also receiving, even if it God who is the one loving, got me to some deeper reflection. 

Unlike our Hyderabad province retreat the retreats here are not in total silence.  In addition, after supper every night there is the 'social' event, wherein everyone sits with a glass of drink in the lounge together for a long casual evening.  Most of the younger confreres were happy to play football or tennis or table tennis in the afternoons and evenings.

However, those who wanted silence could very well make the whole retreat in silence.  At Hothorpe there was enough place to be all by oneself.  Located in a rural interior setting, the venue was very serene and beautiful.  I was happy to see cultivated farmlands after long.

The old stove in the Butler's room!  


Such plaques with quotes and text were placed all around the campus in the garden


The arch of trees just outside the main entrance.

In the neighbour's wheat field... this tree with its dried branches jutting out offered a quite a look!



(L to R): With Fr Tony Fernandes, Fr Andrew Ibrahim and Fr Saju on a boat ride at the Foxton Locks



Celebrating Br Michael Winstanley's b'day 


Thursday, 7 June 2018

Owning up... being the Church

The revelations about the abuse of minors by priests and religious has driven a knife into the heart of the Church.  There is no going back on this.  What has been done cannot be undone.  The church will have to live through this.  It cannot deny or escape this guilt. 

The direct consequence of this uncovering has significantly contributed to the departure of many a faithful from the church.  People no more feel safe in the church and prefer to stay away.  Vocations to priesthood and religious life had drastically fallen.  Many even prefer to be categorized as 'irreligious', if not atheists. 

Yet, it is interesting to note that the priests and religious are not the only sex-offenders to be exposed.  Football coaches, Hollywood bigwigs, famous politicians, too have been charged, and found guilty.  Yet parents have not stopped enrolling their sons for football training camps;  young women still try their hand at modelling and in the movie industry;  youngsters still aim and strive for a political career... there hasn't been a reduction of these (at least not significantly or recorded).  Why then is the whole church singled out for this treatment, unlike football, or movies or politics?

The basic difference is a matter of trust.  The Church was considered the moral conscience of the society and priests and religious the models of virtue.  This was something the Church leaders aimed for, took pride in and the lay faithful joyfully and sincerely endorsed.  However some took advantage of this trust and let their human tendencies prey on innocent believers.  Others instead of confronting it, covered it up.

So it is not the media coverage and the ensuing outrage that has wounded the church but the very act itself.  The church is betrayed by the ones most trusted.  Again, not the whole church but individuals. Yet the church will have to take the blame, if it still wishes to be true to its name.  The victim and the abuser, both are the church! 

Re-dimensioning religion

Given the whole movement of the modern world more away from religion than towards it, we need to consider what aspects of the current times drives people away from religion, when religion actually drew people to it, not so long ago.

There are those who still feel the need for religion, in one sense:  the catholics who want reintroduction of the Latin Mass, Muslims who are willing to blow themselves (and others) up for faith, hindus who want to establish it is a natural and original form of life (not a religion) and buddhists who want to use violence to remain buddhists.  They still look up to religion as the guiding principle for all aspects of life: social, political, cultural, emotional, besides spiritual.

Then there are those who do not want to have anything to do with religion.  The kind that are convinced that the world would be (have been) a better place without religion.  They abhor and reject anything and everything that is associated with religion.  The child abuse scandals by priests and religious, jihad wars, communal violence, religious heads endorsing gender inequality and issuing blanket diktats have strengthened this perspective.

There are those who want to salvage something of religion without the mistakes of the past, avoiding the danger of total elimination of religion.  They consider that the time of religion being the ethical, moral and civil voice of the community and the conscience of the individual is bygone.  However, the emotional solace and strength that is offers is still valuable.  Religion still offers meaningful ways of coping with life, especially grief, pain, suffering and despair. 

Continuing with the historical role and notion of religion is dangerous, so is total elimination of it (As stated in the movie Oh my god, anyone trying to dethrone religion will be made into a god!).  The challenge is to rediscover its meaning for our times.  

Young people and the Church

Noteworthy signposts from the survey of young people with regard to vocational discernment, faith and Church (England and Wales)... I'm looking at these from the Indian scenario, for though the reality is slightly different, the situation back home will soon be the same as it is here.  The sooner we wake up and shape up, the better chance we stand at being relevant and meaningful.  Or else not only will young people be out of the church, the church will be out of their world as well!  In spite of the serious drawback that most of the 3,298 participants were mostly those who 'come to Church', the results offer some insights worth serious consideration:
  • An accepting, non-judgemental environment is essential for young people to feel welcome in church settings.  So implicit, informal, friendly invitations are more effective than explicit stipulations that they should be present. 
  • You have struck a chord with young people, if they invite their friends as well. 
  • Church needs to move from being the conscience of the people to forming the conscience of the people. 
  • The word 'vocation' has become toxic to some catholics as it seems too narrow in the way that it is used!  (As though only call to priestly and religious life are 'vocations' and the other life choices are not. And that the former are greater than the rest of vocations!). 


Clarity vs authenticity

A recent (2018) survey in England and Wales of the youth with regard to faith and vocational discernment, in view of the upcoming Synod has shed some insights into what young people feel about the Church.  Though the survey itself could have been broader in its reach, the available data does indicate a growing sense of divide within the Church, especially in the UK. 

The most significant of the findings that struck me was this particular insight that there are two distinct groups:  A small vocal and determined group looking back to an era they have been told was better and a much larger group who are embedded in the culture and want the Church to engage more.  The first group wants clarity and the second, authenticity. 

This is the case not just of the youth in England and Wales but of the whole Church and one of the principal reasons Pope Francis is being criticized.  There was a time when the Church offered clear and sure guidelines for everyone, including the civil society.  Its decisions were looked upto with respect and proved valuable.  However, this era is long gone!  Pope Francis too leaves things hanging!  But that's exactly how things are!  Things are no more pure black or white.  There are grey areas; ambiguous and unclear.  The Church does no good offering a 'permanent remedy'... certainly not from a position of authority and hierarchy.  The Church leaders need to journey with the whole world and seek for answers - not dictate them from the pulpit.  Answers or efforts to seek answers in such a collaborative mode are more appreciated and helpful than ready-made doctrinal replies. 

To use an imagery: There are those inside the Church waiting for your instructions.  Then there are those outside the Church happy to let you join them.  Where is the priest or the religious to go?  If he stays in, those outside are not going to wait for him for long.  They will gladly carry on their way and not ever bother about anything.  If he joins the group outside, those inside are not going to sit waiting for long.  They'll seek their answers elsewhere.  Stretched between these two groups, a priest/religious of today needs to find his mission. 

Grace

Grace is someone (God Himself) and not something (as when we speak of 'different graces').  We often forget the nature of grace as a free gift, and consider our relationship with God to be something depending more on us than on Him (as when we speak of our 'preserving' or 'losing' grace).  In reality, we can lose everything, except grace, because grace is the gratuitous (not based on merit or as a reward) and unconditional love with which God gives himself to us.  

Understanding mission

One of the significant words that we Salesians need to clarify and remind ourselves constantly is the word 'mission'.  Not so much that we tend to forget it but that we invariably tend to limit it to a very narrow sense and thereafter spend our whole life fulfilling this narrow limited understanding of mission! 

Unfortunately our skewed understanding of mission does not depend on those for whom we work. This danger lurks greater around those of our institutions and works that are already established and already set.  Our decisions, policies and attitudes are not appropriate because we proceed in the following order: mission - activities and works - those for whom we work. However the correct order should be: 
mission - those for whom we work - activities and works. 

What happens many a time is that the situation of those for whom we work, while not taking precedence over the mission, does not take precedence over our activities and works either!  It is not a matter of our going in search of those who can fill up our activities and works (and most often, those who do come are not necessarily the ones who need!); rather, we ought to ask ourselves: for the sake of those to whom the Lord sends us as priority, what are the activities and works we need to carry out here and now?  

Vocation to love

An interesting passage from the reflections of St Theresa of Lisieux, in the context of trying to discern her vocation.  In the context of the many roles and duties and the diversity of vocations she finds herself surrounded with, she tries to sift through them all to see what ultimately is her true vocation.  She finds it in the letter of St Paul when he lists the different possible ways to fulfill one's calling and the different graces.  However, he concludes stating love as the most perfect of all gifts. 
Finally I found the answer! ... Charity gave me the key to my vocation ... I understood that only love made the members of the Church do what they do: that if Love should die out, the apostles would no longer announce the Gospel, the martyrs would refuse to spill their blood... I understood that love embraces all vocations, that love was everything, that love embraced all times and every place... In brief, that love is eternal! Well in the fullness of my delirious joy I cried out: Oh Jesus, my Love!  I have finally found my vocation! ... My vocation is LOVE!

Love for a person

Two different takes on the affection one can have for a person, even veneration!  Both from the Biographical Memoirs of the Oratory

Both are in the context of the admiration that boys had for Don Bosco.  Fr Giacomelli testifies
... they loved him dearly and held him in such veneration that all he had to do was express a mere wish to be instantly obeyed.  They avoided also whatever might displease him, but there was not a trace of servile fear in their obedience; it stemmed from their filial affection for him.  Indeed, some boys avoided wrongdoing more out of regard for him than for fear of offending God.  When he would come to know of this, he would reprimand them severely, reminding them that, 'God is much more than Don Bosco!' (BM III, 411) 
The other is a perspective from the boys, recorded by the theologian Piano, who was once a student at the oratory
We still feel the love we felt for you then ... Was it not here at the oratory that the majority of us were fed and clothed when we were destitute? ... This heart of mine will beat no more, before it ceases to love you.  We hold that loving you is to us a symbol of loving God (BM XVIII, 311-312).  

The x-ray and the photo

Whenever or whomever we love or are fascinated by, we need to grow or strive to attain a holistic view of the person.  It is possible that in the process of gaining a better view of the person from all possible angles, our admiration for him or her may dwindle.  However, that is  a better risk than basing all our love and admiration on merely one particular view we hold, and are unwilling to put that to test or view other perspectives. 

Recently someone narrated this analogy to drive home the point that when studying a historical figure one needs to have a multi-dimensional approach rather than be stuck to one view alone, or worse, deny alternate views.  When a surgeon has to perform an operation on his mother, the photographs he has of her are of little or no use; what he needs are the most specialized x-rays.  But, in his office or at his desk, he does not place an x-ray but the most memorable 'live' photo of her!  The x-ray has its place, so does the photograph.  None to be demeaned, but the worth of each to be noted as varying for differing purposes. 

It is not enough to love

Don Bosco's message to the Salesians that young people not only need to be loved, but they also need to know that they are loved, has a significant pedagogical and phenomenological meaning behind it.  This message can be interpreted to mean that love needs to be expressed. It can also mean that it ought to be manifested.  Both these may seem the same but they are distinct.  Love not only is to be expressed, it is to be manifested as well. 

Expression, has for its focus, the one who loves.  Manifestation, on the other hand, has the one who is loved as the focus.  This gains significance if we remember that our starting point of a relationship is not 'loving', but 'being' and the feeling of being loved. We first receive love, much before we begin to share it with others or love others.  And prior to it all is life itself.

Secondly, deeds are the proof of the love one has for another, not beautiful words!  The best, however is a truly inner unity of both deeds and words.  

So sure...

Every once in a way, right in the midst of an intense discussion or conversation, someone pops up with a question that fringes on the most inconsequential matters under the discussion, that one wonders if the person is really sane.  However, for the one asking the question, and doing it in all sincerity and seeking, it is an important and central question - only that he or she has failed to grasp the core of discussion. 

"Whose wife would she be on the day of the resurrection?"  (Mark 12) An important and relevant question when viewed from the sociological perspective.  The one posing this question would certainly be a good devout practicing and learned Jew.  He wanted to be clear about what would be the case of this tricky situation, because he could not think of a way out.  Unfortunately, he did not think that Jesus could be speaking of things outside the box!  In the process he misses the core of what Jesus was trying to communicate: that God is a loving and living being.

Can happen to us too:  we are so sure of what is being said that we miss out the greater indepth meaning being offered! 
The Master made it his task to destroy systematically every doctrine, every belief, every concept of the divine, for these things, which were originally intended as pointers, were now being taken as descriptions. He loved to quote the Eastern saying 'When the sage points to the moon, all that the idiot sees is the finger.' (Anthony deMello)

Estranged prayer

Teaching children to pray requires a different approach than leading a grown up person to pray.  Children by nature are spontaneous.  Hence the best way to help them learn to pray and see it as a great means of strength is to let them be spontaneous in their approach to prayer too.  Contrary to this our initial catechesis leads to an estrangement of prayer from real life.  We drag them to Church - where we pray.  Make them learn prayers by rote - something they are not always happy about.  Reprimand them about 'silly' prayers and 'improper' behaviour - very confusing for them to understand when to and when not, for sometimes when they are naughty we cuddle them and at times we scold them.  Slowly they learn that prayer is 'serious' business; done in the Church, away from where real life unfolds (home, playground, with friends...) and not to be trivialized. 

In this process, instead of leading a prayerful life (life immersed in prayer), prayer is neatly cut up from everyday living and 'sanctified' so high that it becomes a 'sacred' rite reserved for special days, special times, special ways.  Normal ordinary everyday life is not to vitiate prayer.
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