Thursday, 25 October 2018

Five ways

One insight that flashed across my mind today is that Aquinas was clever to postulate the 'Five ways' together and not as individual proofs, or elaborate them in different places (I hope he did not!). Why?  None of the proofs, in themselves, are water-tight perfect evidences.  Individually they merely uphold one aspect of the divine.  But to move from mere existence to something more about the divine one ought to view the proofs collectively.

And how did I arrive at this insight?  Reading the critique of Hume.  But I may be wrong about Aquinas, in as much as he may not have seen the unity between them and may have as well proposed those 'five ways' each independent of the other.

Whatever be the case, teaching philosophy of religion in a totally different context, a context where the prevalent thought is anti-religious or at best agnostic and viewing arguments for the existence of God from various angles is quite adventurous. 

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Framing the Question

If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than 5 minutes. - Attributed to Albert Einstein 
Einstein is right on the dot! you need the right question in order to get the answer. The four “factors” to be kept in mind in the process of judging, according to Lonergan, are:

  1. give a chance for further questions to arise 
  2. make sure the question is set correctly 
  3. mastery of the context 
  4. pay attention to your temperament - whether you tend to be rash and hasty, or indecisive.

The above is from Fr Ivo's blog.  I just had to store it in my consciousness... lest I forget.

I'm at a mode of my PhD where I am told that I need to get my question really definite and sure.  But I don't feel I'm ready for that yet.  I do have a general idea of where I am going and what I want to do, but if you want a definite question, I don't think I have it yet.  While on the one hand, there is this innate feeling that the question will emerge, when the time is right - something I'm told by some whom I value - and on the other, there is a sort of pressure to frame one, now!  A bit unsettling state to be in!  

Teaching to think

I was very happy to read the following quote on Fr Ivo's blog the other day.  For me it has been a sort of guiding principle in my teaching endeavour.
It's never enough just to tell people about some new insight. Rather, you have to get them to experience it in a way that evokes its power and possibility. Instead of pouring knowledge into people's heads, you need to help them grind a new set of eyeglasses so they can see the world in a new way. (John Seeley Brown) 
I've always felt that it is a greater challenge for a teacher to nurture and guide a mind towards raising relevant and demanding questions than merely finding answers to someone else's questions.  Moreover making philosophy something you can 'do' in a classroom has always excited me.  The students too find it very engaging and helpful.  Even now, when teaching here at the University, some of my companions find it strange that I find games and activities to get the students to discuss philosophy!  On the other hand, I feel sad for the students of such courses as politics and history and psychology who have people lecturing them about topics so down to earth and practical.  And then some of them moan that students don't participate in discussion!  In that sense I feel truly blessed to have had the teaching (learning for me) experience!  


Teaching Philosophy of religion 'at a tangent' from my own perspective, trying to be in line with the main lecturer's take, is quite an interesting adventure.  For now we are dealing with the design argument about the existence of God.  I see arguments and points about which I've not come across before.  Most of the times, they quite apparent and 'normal' but there are also some points which I wonder how and why on earth do they arise.  How can one have such an argument in the face of such overwhelming proof to the contrary.  At times I fail to see the point at all. 

I also am becoming aware that my whole context (reading, understanding, ambiance, formation...) has been so to say 'soaked' in confirming God's existence.  Not that the contradictions and arguments against it were totally absent or avoided.  Far from it.  But the general ambiance was one of belief.  Now the context is different.  Naturally the take on the matter will be different.  I place myself in the shoes of the other and see why an argument, which makes no sense to me at all, is held in such high esteem by the other;  or some argument that I consider solid and convincing, being branded and 'silly'.  I still don't understand it, but it certainly helps me be open and considerate of the other.  Just as I expect the other to be of mine.  That is part of learning as well.  

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Romero, a saint?

The other day someone expressed their doubt if Romero was actually a martyr or a case of political assassination. He was not contesting the canonization of the person but expressing a sentiment that one gets to see in quite some believers.  The point is that he did not 'die' for 'religious' reasons.  That the circumstances in which he was killed wasn't a question or threat to faith, rather a political turmoil. 

I for one, firmly believe that Romero is a saint - so is anyone who takes a stand for some value, especially not for himself but on behalf of others, especially those who cannot really take that step.  Romero is for me a saint who did not restrict himself to his office or Cathedral.  As a priest, a bishop, he stood with his people.  He stood against some of his own clergy who took up arms.  He was not hesitant to call what is wrong, wrong.  Even if it was the one's he was representing within the Church.  He stood for values, not compromises. 

Furthermore, he stood with his people, and distinctively with the poor.  And as a bishop and minister of God, he used the sacraments as a means of pointing to the values, not as belittling them, as some accuse him of, but of pointing to what is right, what is good and true.  Standing with his people, he upheld hope, and showed them, by example, what love truly entails - loving all, even those who cause harm.  The same love also entails courage, the courage to stand up to oppression, injustice and violence, but not out of hatred but for love.

Last of all, if Romero's death was a mere political assassination, so was Jesus' crucifixion.  The Romans did not sentence Jesus to death for any religious reasons - those accusations brought forth by the religious authorities meant nothing to the Romans.  He was sentenced in order to avoid social unrest and political chaos.  What marks out a martyr is not merely how he or she died, but how he or she lived as well.  In that sense, Romero is a saint, not merely in the death he died but in the life he lived.  

Sunday, 14 October 2018

Salesian diversity

Among the few things Fr Cereda mentioned in his short address in the Church and in the Salesian community (during meal), while at Battersea, he expressed his great delight in noticing the diversity of the Sacred Heart parish.  Indeed that was clearly the theme of the anniversary.  But it was evident, not something they had to strain to project!  Even while among the Salesians, Fr Cereda said that this is what attracts young people to the Salesians - they see us, living, working, sharing life together as a community, not as a homogeneous group but as 'different' people, individuals from such diverse backgrounds, nationalities and attitudes living as one.

Indeed here in Chertsey we are 8 of us Salesians, and we're from 6 nationalities!  Two Scotsmen, one Irish, one Slovakian, one Nigerian, one India, one half Italian and half British and only one 'pure' Brit!  Though there isn't one large external work that we as members of the community partake, our very living together is an experience.  I'm sure if all of us were engaged basically in one task, say running the school or parish, the community dynamics would have certainly been different. But even without that life, as it is now, is interesting. 

We come to your feast

While at Battersea for the 125th anniversary of the consecration of the Sacred Heart Church, we had this nice hymn for offertory... was struck very much by the simple melody and a couple of very meaningful lyrics.

We come to taste
the presence of him whom we feed
To strengthen and connect us,
to challenge and correct us,
to love in word and deed.

We come to your feast 
we come to your feast 
the young and the old, 
the frightened, the bold,
the greatest and the least. 
We come to your feast
we come to your feast 
with the fruit of our lands
and the work of our hands
we come to your feast. 

We gather round your table
we pause within our quest
we stand beside our neighbours
we name the stranger 'guest'. 
The feast is spread before us,
you bid us come and dine;
In blessing we'll uncover
in sharing we'll discover
your substance and your sign. 

Sacred Heart Battersea, anniversary celebrations

Today was the 125 anniversary of the consecration of the Sacred Heart Church at Battersea.  It was on this very day in 1893 that the Church was consecrated by Bishop John Cagliero in the presence of Don Rua and some other prominent members of the Salesians from Italy.  They made their way to London from Rome, in spite of not having money and in fact borrowing money from one of the neighbours in France! 

Well, the celebration itself was simple.  Nothing extravagant, by any Indian standard.  I'm sure it would have been very very different were it to be an Indian celebration.  However, I did like certain features of the whole celebration.  The Mass was simple - not long and winding.  Singing was the best I liked.  The choir had no mikes and before the Mass the conductor, invited the congregation to join and sing along.  The music was minimal - one keyboard, a couple of violins and a box guitar.  Hymns were something we could all join in and sing along.  The archbishop of Southwark was the main celebrant, but the responsibilities for different things were all distributed.  A deacon read the gospel, another priest from the US preached the (short) homily.  Fr Cereda joined the blessing of the Church and congregation.  The various aspects of the liturgy were in different languages, rightly reflecting the diverse congregation which makes up the Church at Battersea.  Children were everywhere!  Long, a really long line of altar servers.  One read the reading.  The intercessions were by different children. The responsorial psalm was sung by children.  The only 'decoration' in the Church was a string on either side of the aisle with all the flags of the different countries.  Nothing else!  Of course, for the occasion the Church was painted.  But no other decoration strung or stuck or put up. 

The whole Mass, including the short presentation (a song and procession and handing over of the various national flags), presentation of gifts to former parish priests and helpers, vote of thanks, a few words by Fr Cereda before the final blessing took exactly 1 hr and 30 mts.  By any British standard that is 'too long' but by every Indian standard that was lightning fast!  Of course, there were other aspects that could have been done better (not prolonged) - sound system, for example - but on the whole I liked it all. 

Saturday, 13 October 2018

Morning sky

The view from my sunroof this morning ...

The postbox saga

Two days ago, one of our new confreres who is from Nigeria asked me for some help.  He had to urgently send scanned copies of his visa document by post and thereby miss his Friday lectures at the university.  Miss his classes for posting a letter?  It was Thursday night and all he had to do was scan the document, put it in an envelope and post it.  Why miss next day's class for this?  I asked him why not do it now (Thursday night) and he looked at me strangely.  "Is it possible?", he asked me? "Possible?"  I was not sure what was so difficult about posting a letter.  Anyway, I said, "Let's do it now" and we set out at the task. 

We scanned the document, found an envelope in the office (writing/printing the address on the envelope, was another weird episode - another time, maybe), affixed a stamp and then I told him now he can go and post it.  The postbox is just 15 paces from our main door and I told him where exactly it is.  Envelope in hand, he looked at me with a blank look saying, 'What postbox?"  So I took him, walked up to the postbox and showed him the postbox.  He beamed from ear to ear.  As we turned back home, I asked him how do they post something in Nigeria.  Only then, the whole drama that was happening for the past 45 minutes made sense to me.  He said in Nigeria, they take the letter to the post office (during working hours), pay the postman and he does the rest.  They don't have postboxes!!  He had never seen a postbox before, leave alone post a letter by himself. 

Sometimes we try to explain the intricacies of life and find ourselves still 'misunderstood';  what we do not realize is that the 'misunderstanding' is not about the complex part of the process, but something very 'simple' which I am aware of and have taken for granted, but is totally new or completely unknown to the other!  

Friday, 12 October 2018

Christian polygamy

The following is an extract from the parish (St Anne's, Chertsey) newsletter for the week, based on the reading of last Sunday's gospel about marriage.  Viewed from this perspective, religious ought to revere married people - not the other way round! 
Marriage is probably the most complex of human relationships and is certainly the one on which civilisation has been founded over the centuries. It is the most natural thing in the world for men and women to leave the safety of the family home and branch out with another partner to restart the whole process of love, companionship and procreation. 
But any married couple will tell you that if a marriage is to be successful then you have to get married to several different people! This is not a plea for divorce but for accepting that people change as they mature and that if a marriage is to be successful then both partners have to adapt to the changes in each other. In a certain sense each one has to keep “remarrying” the same person as he or she changes over the years. A Christian polygamy but with only one wife and one husband! 
The young love of the courting couple is beautiful but unlikely to stand the test of time if one of them thinks that the other is going to behave in the same way when he or she is forty, sixty or eighty. If we refuse to allow each other to develop and grow then we are guilty of trying to “infantilise” the other person. We are trying to freeze them at a moment of time, the wedding day, and prevent them from ever developing and expanding the embryonic gifts and personality that God has given them. 
All of this is just another way of saying that Christian marriage is not simply a state of life but is a sacrament. A wedding takes a day but a marriage takes a lifetime. The love between two Christians is a reflection of the love that God has for each of us and that Christ has for his bride, the Church. Being married means striving at all times to be signs to the world of God’s love through the way we love our partners. And that means “remarrying” them many times before we both grow old
Transposing this reflection to my religious life, I wonder at some of my students who are doing great in their active ministry now, how they have 'grown'.  One was so lazy or laid back, but now is a great pioneer.  Another was so mischievous that I was sure he'd never be entrusted with any serious responsibility; but today is multi-tasking several delicate and demanding portfolios.  So I ask myself, would they have been the same, had they been with me all along?  Would my continued presence with them have enabled them to 'flourish' as they are now actually doing. 

On the other hand, there are those whom I've worked with, or my own batchmates and colleagues.  My present impression about them is still the same one that I had or formed of them when we were students.  They surely have 'grown'; but have I - at least with regard to my view of them? 

Dawning of wisdom

Being back in the classroom as a teacher, II was very aware of how the students presented themselves.  In contrast, I did not bother about how I come across to them (atleast physically or appearance wise).  Impressing them with my looks or dressing style didn't cross my mind at all.  So was laughing when I read this particular quote that I came across this morning

When I'm weak, then I'm strong

One of the many Biblical paradoxes: when I am weak, then I am strong. A very good meditation on humility and openness.  The weakness experience here is not oppressive, even though it is meant to be.  The weakness does not prevent one from buckling, even though that is exactly what weakness is all about.  Rather, in those moments of struggle and giving in, we feel strong enough to carry on.  Rather than give in, feel the urge to keep going. 

However for me to really experience that I need to be doing what God wants me to do;  furthermore, not my work, but His work. So it is not me doing His work, it is me sharing in His endeavours.  Therefore the task is not mine alone nor am I totally indifferent about the work ("not my responsibility").  I have the strength because I'm not alone; because he who has entrusted me with a task, is taking the major responsibility and I have only to accompany; because the achievement of result is not my goal, making the best of efforts is. 

The challenge is for me to be humble and open enough to see that I'm not in this alone.  There are others, there are well-wishers, friends, guides, confreres, loved ones... there is God.

Thursday, 11 October 2018

Back to teaching

Today was my first teaching experience as a visiting tutor at Royal Holloway.  It was great to be back to doing what I did most of my Salesian life - teaching.  I really did not have any difficulty putting on those shoes, in spite of the three year break from teaching.  Once in the class and in the flow of getting the students involved and animated, it was great.  Being my first interaction with the groups, I did not really delve too deep in the text.  Furthermore consciously avoided making those who did not come prepared, by way of reading the prescribed text, guilty or bad by stating it.  Rather, focused on helping them realize that in order to 'enjoy' the proceedings of the class activities, they'd have to come prepared.  Hopefully they feel comfortable and excited, not just to return to the seminar group next week but also come prepared.

The biggest compliment I received, given totally obliviously, was that prior to the seminar some of the students thought I was one among them!  I also realized that I actually know more than what I think I know - I always feel that I don't know things well, but when I see that I do know something more than others, then I realize that all that reading and reflection has indeed made some impression and not gone waste!

However, I always remind myself: aim for learning, not for teaching!


Fr Sean, during his homily this morning, mentioned of something he witnessed during one of his visits to Loretto: a statue of John XXIII.  However what struck him most about the statue was that it was not placed on a pedestal or a plinth.  It was right on the ground.  Grounded.  Literally! 

Wish saints were seen as basically people who were grounded. Down to earth.  Not floating in the heavens, in robes white and gold!  John XXIII certainly did much good to the Church by convoking the Second Vatican Council, the deliberations of which we are yet to imbibe and fully understand, leave alone put to practice.  If not for any other achievement, just for this daring act alone he can be canonized. 

Know not about much about the previous Popes, but Pope Francis certainly does appeal to me as someone very much grounded.  Grounded in the lives of people, the poor the marginalised.  Grounded in nature. Feet firm in the actual grim, murky, confusing and challenging reality of people; not the ideal world we aspire to be or reach.  

Monday, 8 October 2018


I begin my teaching sessions this week, on Thursday.  It is not full-fledged lectures but more of animating study and reflection through seminars.  Am not anxious or nervous because this is not my first time - being a teacher.  Moreover the class strength is not going to exceed 18 I'm told.  However, am looking forward to it, to see how different or similar it is from a seminary classroom. 

Am sure there'll be some belonging to the species of Dennis! Whatever it be I'm sure it is going to be a good learning experience for me.  From experience I know, I've learnt much from teaching! 

Feeding the "hungry"

Sitting in the library trying (really trying!) to read something serious, came across this particular video clip of Friends... By the time I watched the second part, I was suffocating - being in the library, I couldn't laugh and was struggling to control myself from bursting!

Watching these clips am reminded my confreres expression whenever I serve something "unusual" at table! And Rachel is very much my type of "cook"... ladyfinger and meat in dessert!

Evolving spirituality

Our understanding of spirituality constantly keeps evolving.  There was a time when 'saints' were those who did plenty of physical mortification and sacrifices.  I wonder if today someone cuts and whips and lashes oneself, be considered for canonization.

The parable of the good Samaritan too is a significant call to recognize spirituality in the times.  The priest and Levite who passed by the injured Samaritan, were not bad people.  They did not actually harm attack and injure him; they merely kept the law.  Their spirituality consisted in following the law.  If the prevalent Old Testament interpretation had emphasized more on the spirit of the law and not the letter of the law, perhaps we'd today have the parable of the 'Good priest' - the Samaritan would not have had the opportunity to help the injured!  Jesus, in offering a more humane interpretation of serving God, adds the directive 'Go and do likewise' to the existing interpretation and understanding.

In this regard I don't see very many cloistered religious being recognized as saints and canonized as before.  Not that they are less spiritual today but the understanding of spirituality today is more as 'engagement with the world' than 'fuga mundi'.  However this will be a very narrow interpretation of spirituality, for in the same passage of the parable, we read...
You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself... do this and you will live. 
Love and do!  

From who to how

The gospel reading of the day is the famous parable of the good Samaritan. While listening to the reading it struck me that the question the person asked Jesus was "Who is my neighbour?" and Jesus replies to him, through the parable describing 'how' to be a neighbour.  (Perhaps my research on language is working in the background!) There is no 'ready-made package' of who the neighbour is.  So that all those who are that or 'have' that automatically can be counted as 'neighbour'.  There certainly is a question of witness and living by doing.

Coming to the distinction of 'how' and 'who', would a parent describe 'how' to be a clown, when the child asks 'who' is a clown?  Interestingly Jesus not only describes the qualities of a neighbour but concludes that description stating 'Go and do likewise'.  Knowing who a good neighbour does not qualify one to be a good neighbour, one ought to 'do' in order to 'be'.

Sunday, 7 October 2018

Parting of the Red sea

Two interesting comic strips I came across today... both involving Moses.
 Am sure, the crossing of the Red sea today would take much longer than it originally did, given that very many would be eager to have selfies and photos along the way! 
Moses putting his skill to good use! 

Fancy food

With all the craze about specialized diets, one often wonders how on earth did we survive before?  While I am aware that some allergies are life-threatening, I am also aware that these allergies existed even before, what makes them lethal today is that in the process of adapting to the environment, we have lost quite a few immunities we would have had in the past. The earliest one I remember is 'dust allergy'.  When I first heard someone use this as a reason to get a different place assigned for work, other than the library, I laughed!  Today there are multiple examples: gluten free, vegan, diet drinks, sugar-free, ... what not!  Most often these are fancy fads. 

The human body is an amazing piece of work.  It can adapt itself to great variations - perhaps not as varied as some animals, but it does have enormous capacity.  Only if we let it develop can we enjoy diverse conditions of climate, food, drinks, circumstances... But if we pamper it and shield it too much, it will not develop the necessary immunity to fight and at the first slight variation, succumb to illness.  

Saturday, 6 October 2018

Life in precious

One of the arguments of pro-abortion activists is that the fetus, until it is born is not a living person or a human being.  Some would grant it a little more time and say only after a certain number of weeks in the womb does the fetus become a human being.  Till then it is basically nothing more than a 'tumour', a lump of flesh.

Travelling to London the other day, I noticed a pregnant woman being offered a seat as soon as she entered the train.  Wonder if an obese person too would be granted a seat in the similar fashion... after all, both have extra lumps of flesh!

I know there are very intricate issues involved in the arguments for and against abortion.  However, I do believe that standing up for those who cannot stand for themselves is what actually defines the quality of humanity.  It speaks more about the ones who stand up - or don't - than the ones who cannot!  

Thursday, 4 October 2018

Slow burner

Among the numerous things St Francis, whose feast we celebrate today, inspires us the one that caught my attention today is the fact that conversion or any transformation is a slow process.  Often some dramatic event or circumstance is attributed with the change of heart in people.  Not necessarily.  My theory of Saul becoming Paul: that his point of conversion was while he lay in bed helpless and incapable of anything, rather than the initial encounter with Jesus, holds true even in the case of St Francis. 

His radical breakaway from his inheritance and his father was perhaps one of the turning points but not the only one.  I'm sure the whole year he spent in imprisonment after he was captured by Perugia was a time of great introspection and reflection. It is said that spiritual journey is a marathon, not a sprint!  So too, any radical and genuine transformation is a slow burner, not an instant ready-mix. 
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