Tuesday, 31 December 2019

A saviour is born

The angels said to the shepherds, "A saviour has been born unto you!"  A popular and continuous Christmas antiphon. 

I found myself meditating this morning as a shepherd, receiving this news, this piece of information.  Initially it did not make any sense.  Saviour?  But saviour of what?  From what is he going to save me?  I really don't have any adversaries or great risks that need rescuing.  Who rules or governs, and how one does so, does not really bother me.  I'm no politician who has great plans and ambitions.  Neither am I a scholar who is deeply passionate about ideas and theories.  I no religious buff either for whom matters of faith are life and death issues.  I don't interfere in anyone's affairs and everyone else leaves me alone, barely even acknowledging my presence.  It is only if my sheep stray into someone's property and cause damage, do I get noticed.  Apart from that it is just the grass, plants, shrubs, the sheep and me!  All that I have and care about is my sheep.  They have predators, and as long as I defend them, they're fine.  But me?  Saviour, for me?

But then, why would the angels tell me this if they knew that it would mean nothing to me?  Why would the angel tell ME?  Is my world too as small and limited as that of a shepherd with a few sheep?  Am I to widen my interests and horizon to be now 'concerned' about greater and more complex issues? 

Looking back and looking ahead

Looking back at the year that is passing on into history (2019), the most immediate and looming event is certainly the passing away of Papa. 

Other than that it has been one of the most uneventful and boring years in my memory.  The only exciting and 'working' days have been far and in between:  the exam invigilation in the month of May, the Student Cross pilgrimage to Walsingham during the Holy Week, the 10 days of teaching at the University, the PhD Annual review and the Upgrade (and the spurt of preparation of texts for the same) and time spent in the garden. 

The only continued hard work that I put in was the past one month at home: working with cement, and plants and garden and house and what not!  Apart from the past one month, the rest of the year was one lazy spend.  Most of it was also a painful discernment whether to carry on with my PhD or not.  And the only thing that carried all the buden, all through the year, was my chair! 

Nonetheless, I cannot but be grateful to the Lord and all others, for this luxurious relaxing year.  Wouldn't want to make any resolutions for the year ahead.  Am well aware 2020 would be hectic: Teaching RE at the Salesian, teaching at the University and the third year of my PhD - though in order of importance, it should be the other way round!

Nevertheless, if there is one thing that I would sincerely like to work on, that would be myself.  To be more precise, I need to listen and hear more, that too patiently and respond even more patiently!  

Monday, 30 December 2019

Anna, the prophetess?

In the gospel reading of the day, we read of Anna, the prophetess.  She is there in the temple when the child Jesus is brought in for the first time and together with Simeon, she cherishes this rare meeting in the temple. 

She is described as a prophetess.  But there is nothing said of what exactly did she prophesy.  But the passage speaks of her spending years in the temple.  Visiting the temple everyday, and spending time in prayer and fasting.  Am sure her gift of prophecy was actually a well nurtured skill of observation and reflection.  She must have spent years watching people come into the temple, all sorts of them.  And over the years, developed a keen sense of 'seeing through' people as they came in.  You patiently spend time and energy observing people and reflecting on your experience, you naturally gain an insight into humanity.  And I guess, it is this same nurtured skill that helped her perceive the divinity of Jesus when he was brought into the temple, even though he was just an infant!  I guess it would have been the spiritual aura of Mary and Joseph, that first caught the eye of Anna, which subsequently led her to sense the divinity bundled in Mary's arms.  

Continued presence of the Divine

Speaking of God's continued presence, in the light of Christmas, and more specifically remembering Papa's presence (and all those at home) in my life, am reminded of Rabindranath Tagore's poem from Gitanjalli.  Only yesterday it occurred to me that I had in fact used this poem as my Christmas greeting one year.
SILENT STEPS 
Have you not heard his silent steps?
He comes, comes, ever comes. 
Every moment and every age,
every day and every night
he comes, comes, ever comes. 
Many a song have I sung in many a mood of mind,
but all their notes have always proclaimed,
he comes, comes, ever comes. 
In the fragrant days of sunny April
Through the forest path
he comes, comes, ever comes. 
In the rainy gloom of July nights
on the thundering chariot of clouds
he comes, comes, ever comes. 
In sorrow after sorrow,
it is his steps that press upon my heart,
and it is the golden touch of his feet
that makes my joy to shine.
Tagore's experience and expression of God in the everydayness of human life, that too in the most mundane of things, is truly very touching. 

Intervention vs Presence

Back at home, soon after Papa's funeral, while journeying in the car someone asked me if I believed in Divine intervention.  I promptly replied, "No!" And then continued, "I believe in Divine presence." 

It is not as if God 'peeks in' from time to time into this world and in our lives.  And then returns to 'His' Kingdom.  He is ever present and it is this presence that I firmly believe in - even though, most often I am not aware of it or blissfully ignore it. 

Replaying that conversation, I realize I did not think too deep then.  I was more thinking of Papa rather than God.  And for me, the same presence of Papa applied to my life.  For that matter, everyone in the family.  Having physically lived away from them for more than two decades, I've 'cultivated' a form of them in and around me.  That way, I don't feel absence or rue being separated from them. 

This morning as I sat for meditation, I realized, even though we never really celebrated Christmas or gave it much of a thought this year - I did not even know which day of the week it was! - I was living the spirit of Christmas.  

Saturday, 28 December 2019

Remembering Papa

It is exactly a month ago that this night, I got the distressing phone call from Roshni saying that Papa is no more!  I don't think I've still comprehended his loss - I don't think anyone of us at home have!  But one thing we are all happy about is that he did not struggle or suffer.  It was all sudden and instant. 

As we were clearing up his room - which did not take more than a few minutes, given the things he had in his collection - I came to know he did have a passport.  Of course, it expired even before I was born.  But Papa still had it with him. 

The few things very dear to him that I still remember: his German tape recorder, the green table fan, his cassette repair kit, his Swiss knife, that 'Ganesh' beedi, and his beloved hindi songs...
Sharabhi ankhein...
Hue preet purayi...
Man dole...

Then there was the famous 'Rakkon bodve mozha...' and 'Sing alleluia'! 

But all who knew him, were well aware of his most beloved thing: the bottle!  And no remembrance of him or event in his life, could be complete without it ending up in a mention of booze.  But as grandma still believes, except when he was drunk, he was a gem! 

I really don't miss him.  Perhaps that's because I have been away from home all these years and rarely been in his physical company for more than a week or so, during my annual holidays.  Neither of us at home are 'sad' that he left anything unfinished.  I remember him as a man who slogged his way through youth. He did everything possible while my brother and I were kids.  There is never a day that I remember him absenting himself from work - his driving job.  Even when he was not well, he went.  After Mummy, if there is anyone I've known, who exemplified hard manual labour, it was Papa.  But once he retired, he just gave up all work.  He realised he had done all that was to be done, and he literally relaxed.  Not that he was lazy, he just didn't exert himself.  He was confident that Willy was now capable of running the house without him having to break his back.  His dedicated work, had borne fruit. 

The last two decades of his life, the time after retirement, he never had any ambitions or grand plans.  No regrets, whatsoever. Mummy and Willy, never left anything unfulfilled - apart from reigning in his drinking!  He lived happy!  I find that very, very consoling.  And as we were joking among ourselves one day, after his funeral: he must now be merrily chatting away with St Lawrence - his favourite saint - and sipping away!  

Being active

Returned from home yesterday night. Glad to meet all in the community.  It just seems like I never left the place.  It is not even 24 hours since I returned, and the only thing I felt so far, was a bit bored!  

Looking back at the month I spent at home, I think this is the first time ever that I was not lazy.  That I reached home not for holidays was a fact.  But somehow I found myself busy all day and night.  I did not have to things on my own. I just followed Mum!  She always is upto something.  Never does she sit idle saying 'there's nothing to do'!  (Though this time she did watch two movies, one with the kids and one all by herself - a record in all these years!)  

So Mum and I, we did much work in the house. Mostly though it was garden work or completing the construction work of the ramp and the surrounding.  Some of the tasks were what she wanted to do but for lack of time or support, kept postponing.  Am truly very happy that I did something productive and helpful rather than 'relax'!  Perhaps it was also my way of thinking of Papa.  Or maybe to enjoy Mummy's company, giving her the opportunity to talk.  

Now back in Chertsey, the first feeling I have after a day, is to complete the tasks I see rather than postpone them 'for the right moment'.  Being active for a whole month, I could not say, there's nothing to do.  I realise, earlier I didn't want to do.  Not that there is nothing to be done.  

Sunday, 1 December 2019

Thursday, 28 November 2019

Natural to help

Are we human beings, by nature, selfish or altruistic?  Naturally do we tend towards being individualistic or communitarian?  Philosophy and sociology offer enough reasons, theories and arguments for both sides. 

In my opinion, one of the basic deciding factors in answering that question lies in answering the preliminary question: What is the purpose of human life?  If we begin by answering that question, that sets the tenor and direction of the answer to the initial question.  No doubt, we have both these tendencies: towards good and evil.  But we, by our very nature, are essentially good and therefore tend towards wellbeing of all, rather than be consistent on a purely egoistic track.  And my answer to the main question, about the purpose of human life, is 'to be happy'.  And for me happiness is more than mere joy or cheerfulness - they are only offshoots of the former.  It is a basically a deep sense of contentment and serenity.  A sort of balance and equanimity that one feels, even if one is plagued by a hundred challenges and failures.  And this cannot be achieved in isolation.  In line with this, I agree with Pope Francis' words:
Rivers do not drink their own water; the trees do not eat their own fruit; the sun does not shine to itself and flowers do not spread their fragrance for themselves.  Living for others is a rule of nature.  We are all born to help each other.  No matter how difficult it is... Life is good when you are happy; but much better when others are happy because of you.

Motivation inertia

During a training programme at the university today, I was surprised to hear something the presenter was talking about: action before motivation. 

I always thought and believed that to perform an action, one needs to be motivated.  The quality of effort is directly proportional to the level of motivation.  But this speaker, speaking in the context of tackling procrastination, was saying that one needs to start doing an action and draw motivation from that to continue!  This inverse logic was a bit confusing.  But given that I am waiting for motivation to start writing something, ends up with me still waiting, I thought there would be some truth in what he is saying.  At the same time, I also know from experience that once in the momentum, work just flows.  Writing just happens, when I've begun.  The whole problem is the start! 

So how does one get started at all, if one is least motivated to do it?  For now, all I can tell myself is to 'write 200 words'; in contrast, to 'finish my PhD'! 

Easier said than done!  

Sunday, 24 November 2019

Photos with the RM

L to R: Fr Sean, Fr Angel, Fr Kevin and Br Peter.  In St Anne's Parish, after the Mass with the Rector Major

Brian Barnes (left of the Rector Major) during the gathering after the Parish Mass in the Savio centre
Outside the Salesian house: Fr Horatio, myself, Fr Angel and Fr Peter

Fr Horatio, Fr Gerry, Fr Peter and Fr Angel

Blessing people

While the Rector Major was at Chertsey, he was at the Salesian school, Guildford site on Thursday, in the afternoon.  He was asked to bless the renovated school hall.  All the staff was assembled in the hall, but just a couple of students were in.  The school had wound up earlier. 

There was a short prayer and when called upon to bless, the Rector Major spoke a few words but concluded saying, "I will bless first, you, the people, then the walls!" Not only me, but some others too found that very meaningful.  Blessing people, rather than structures. 

Even at Battersea, during the concluding Mass of his visit to England, several small children who had come for the Mass along with their parents were asked to come forward with the offertory procession.  So after the bread and wine, there was a small motley 'crowd' of 7-9 year olds walking up to the altar and getting behind the altar.  And before blessing the bread and wine, the Rector Major very kindly and taking his own time, blessed those children.  For the children themselves, it must have not meant much.  But for their parents, it was huge!  I think it is such small but very very homely and touching gestures that makes the Battersea parish a very vibrant and active one.  For a child to be specially blessed, by a special visitor, that too during Mass at the altar, means much for a family.  Not sure how the English families felt about it, but the look on the faces of the Asian, African and Latin American families said how blessed they truly felt!  

Thursday, 21 November 2019

Homely welcome

The only two 'additional' things we prepared, in the community, for the visit of the Rector Major...
a banquet table (for 18, not more!) and a small 'welcome' notice board! 


For the rest, we did not move one bit of paper or add anything to the normal day-to-day existing way of things.  

Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Visit of the Rector Major

The Rector Major of the Salesians of Don Bosco is visiting our community tomorrow.  This is his maiden visit to this Province and certainly to this community.  The last time a Rector Major visited Chertsey was 50 years ago - that was Fr Ricceri.

Well, I just can't help comparing this occasion here and now, and if it were to be in any of our Indian provinces!  Back in India, the preparations would have been going on for almost a year.  For the past one month or so, everyone in the house would have been going bonkers over the whole event.  The whole house taking on a new look - not only physical appearance, by way of painting, cleaning and tidying up, but also by way of decoration and additional beautification.  Besides everyone in town, and I mean, everyone, would know that he is coming.  Of that the Salesians and those living in the house would make sure of.  Then there is the whole extravagance of welcome, felicitation, cultural programmes, talks and invitation cards and related things - one of each of these in the house, the boarding, the school, the parish... Each place would like to have something special for him.  There will also be a long list of things he will have to inaugurate - even if they are still halfway through completion or have already been in use for sometime now!  And for all these events, who is invited and what role assigned to each, is thought over a thousand times - not to mention the seating arrangement at each instance!  Then there are the meals - ah!  Besides inviting the whole town, there is the special menu and the 'other' menu.  And within the special menu, there is 'the Rector Major's table' and his diet.  That is normally assigned to the Salesian Sisters.  All in all, by the time he leaves the place, everyone is so exhausted, we all need a week to recover.  Certainly much more than a week, to recover from the financial expenses!

But here, things are very sober.  No extravagance, whatsoever.  True that he is coming to Chertsey, and he is visiting the school, the university and the parish.  But at none of these places, is there any 'extra' decoration or pomp.  Hell, we did not even clean the house!  But that's because it is cleaned periodically - and is clean!  Food, there is a grand meal - but that's only for 18 people, including the 8 confreres living here.  He is inaugurating the renovated School hall, but even there all that is planned is a short prayer, sprinkling of the holy water and perhaps a ribbon cutting or so.  That's it.  I don't think the hall is specially decorated or anything for this.  And it was ready and in use since September.

Both these procedures and attitudes towards the same event, for the same person, have their own reasons and advantages.  It certainly has much to do with our respective cultural norms as well - especially those concerning guests.  The one great advantage of the former (Indian) style is the way we get our children and youth involved.  And for them too it is a matter of great joy and privilege.  But for every other reason, I see a greater virtue in the latter style.  Again, for the youngsters.  We do not put up a show for someone, but live the high standard of cleanliness, order, functionality, all through.  Most importantly, everyone is respected - whether that be a simple technician coming in to do some repair work or the Bishop or the Rector Major.  Of course, we do not lay out the grand meal table for the former, but everyone is treated respectfully.  Even in the case of the grand meal, the content of the meal is the same we would have for our feast days or b'day celebrations.  Not over the top!

I remember a confrere in the Province serving the Regional, during his official Canonical visit to the community, in a steel plate and tumbler!  His argument, "He is coming to share in our day-to-day life.  And this is exactly how we live our day-to-day life.  Why buy special crockery and exquisite glasses for his visit?"  I, for one, am perfectly in total agreement with that confrere.  

The vanishing pen

A couple of months ago, Fr Sean, exasperated with the 'vanishing pen' in the office, placed a pen with a unique colour - just to stand out.  His rationale, from experience, was that anyone now 'kidnapping' the pen - often 'unconsciously' - will see that it is different and others around will know where it is coming from!  Easier said than done!  Just to reinforce the point that, that pen needs to stay put, Fr Sean put up this note under the pen stand...


Last week, even that pen disappeared!! I was surprised, not at its disappearance, but that it survived the past couple of months staying in the pen stand in the office.  Fr Sean, on the other hand, is still waiting for its return.  He has added another note, to speed up its return!

Everytime I enter the office, I burst out laughing! 

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Diplomatic appeal

A Parish priest's clever appeal to his rich parishioners to be more generous with their contribution...
A few Sundays ago I told you in the sermon that I would like to see all the poor people to come to church. To judge from the collection, my wish has been heard.

Zaccheus and the rich young man

Kevin offered an interesting insight into the reading of this day.  The passage is that of Zaccheus.  He said, he was wondering what new or different could he share about his passage from the Gospel that we have heard so many times. 

He then said that he noticed something in the structure of the Gospel itself.  The story of Zaccheus follows that of the rich young man and the poor blind man.  The curing of the blind beggar is so to say, sandwiched in between the stories of the two rich men. 

The young man and Zaccheus were both rich in wealth.  Both of them were keen to meet Jesus.  The young man had some idea of how to become better, but that he had already mastered.  He knew not what next.  Zaccheus, on the other hand, knew exactly what he had to do.  He was aware of his corrupt dealings and what needed to be done to shun that burden of guilt.  Once Jesus arrives on the scene, all that Jesus does is give that final push!  The young man, asks for further instructions.  However, on knowing what that entails, he is hesitant to go down that road.  Zaccheus, does not need further instructions.  All that he has is a self-invitation of Jesus to dine with him.  He then rattles off his next mode of living! 

At what stage of life am I?  Am I aware of what the Lord wants of me? If aware, am I willing to undertake that what He wants of me?  Am I conscious of what I need to give up, if I am to follow the Lord?  Am I ready for that? 

I suppose, the same questions arise in the intermediary context of poor blind man.  Another lesson, we can draw from these three stories together is that no matter what our financial situation is, we are always in need!  

Monday, 18 November 2019

God, nature and me

When it comes to living our faith and understanding spirituality, we can very easily be viewing it from a two-dimensional perspective: God and me.  While in a sense, this is true, it is not complete.  Our deep rooted Christian faith, our personal spirituality, can never be complete without the third dimension of the rest of creation - nature.  Perhaps, even to say that the often forgotten third dimension of 'the other' is people, is incomplete.  It is not just people that make up the rest of everything; there is the environment, nature, that actually makes up the 'rest of everything'.  In short, there is God, nature and me.  That's the complete inclusive reality. 
Faith is not just to see Jesus, it is to see with the eyes of Jesus.  (Pope Francis, Lumen Fidei 18)
So, there is Jesus, myself and that what I'm invited to see with Jesus' eyes.   

Saturday, 16 November 2019

Unique 'tidy-untidy' house

This Salesian house at Chertsey is a very different kind of house, than any Salesian house I've ever been or visited.  This is the first Salesian house that I've been, which is 'only for Salesians' - meaning, there is merely for residence.  No common apostolate is carried out on campus, neither are there anyone else living on site.  The only other person, apart from the seven of us living here, who frequents is Katie, our housekeeper.  Furthermore, it is located in a normal residential area.  Not in some remote place. Neither does it stand out from among the other houses in the surrounding.  Now all of this combined together makes me feel as if it were a normal house, a normal home!  Not an institution.  Not a building! 

Yet, very often, I feel that it can be more tidier and neater than it normally is. If not the whole house, certainly the common areas - kitchen, dining area, the office... I think it has more to do with my outlook that it is a house, an 'official' place where we stay.  More than my personal preference for neatness, it is this attitude that a Salesian house - a Salesian institution - ought to be neat and tidy.  But today it struck me that if it is a house, a normal simple place where people (7 of us) live, then it can never be perfectly tidy.  Which family house that I've visited has ever been tidy? My own house is never neat and orderly.  Well, there is always a range of order and tidiness, in houses, but never immaculately clean.  That is what corporate offices are.  That is how Sister's convents are (quite a few of them).  But never homes! 

I don't think this realisation is going to altar my actions much or stop me from getting agitated when I see things left out of place or scattered all over.  But perhaps, enjoy this unique experience of living in a unique Salesian house.

Friday, 15 November 2019

'Being offended'??

There is the incident in Buddha's life that comes to my mind when I hear about the whole debate between 'freedom of speech' and 'no platform'.  One of the basic bones of contention in this debate is offense (giving and taking). 

On an occasion when there were people visiting the Buddha, there was a man who came in and started abusing the Buddha.  But he sat there very calm and quiet.  He never retorted nor got agitated.  After a while, the abuser got tired and left.  The disciples then approached the Buddha and asked him, why didn't he say or do anything when he was being insulted.  The Buddha replied, "When someone offers you a gift and you refuse to take it, whom does it then belong to?"  The disciples replied, "The giver." And the Buddha replied, "He offered me a gift and I did not accept it!  So why get worked up about what is not mine!"

Besides, I know not if there is anything called 'being offended' - no one can offend me, unless I let them offend me.  Furthermore, resorting to anything other than verbal dialogue or debate, in order to show difference of opinion or contest the other person's views, is already conceding defeat! 

Everytime I get angry or hurt, I ask myself why is it that I'm feeling this way.  So rather than merely shut the other person up by shouting or insulting, I merely listen.  I then merely present my side of the story.  And then leave it at that.  If the person merely wants to insult me, by feeling insulted, I'm letting him win, without a valid reason.  And if what he or she says has a point, then it is for me to ponder and respond appropriately (both the other and myself - in the reverse order!). 

The same is true of 'bad words'.  When someone calls out, "Peter" I don't respond.  That's not me. So why should I respond to someone who calls me a 'sob'?  If I do respond, then I'm accepting that title!  

Thursday, 14 November 2019

Irony of Christmas ads

By any modern management and commercial standards, the following advertisement is late - way too late! And yes, liturgically we are still two weeks away from beginning the Advent season!  But with Halloween behind us, it is time to boost the Christmas sale!

Nonetheless this headline of a rather populist newspaper caught my attention.  The irony being, the ad speaks of a 'stress-free Christmas' and what actually causes stress is what the advert is peddling!  

Are you St Peter?

Fr Peter was assisting at the Year 3 retreat of a local school which was being held in the Church premises.  Of the 50 or so kids he said he recognised some who come to Church on Sundays.  One of these kids, at the end of the retreat, approached Fr Peter and asked him, "Are you St Peter?" 

When Fr Peter narrated this amusing event, I had a good laugh.  Children always come up with something totally unexpected and different.  Later was wondering what would have prompted the child to ask Fr Peter that question.  Perhaps it could have been a simple case of misunderstanding between 'Father' and 'Saint' - after all, both are abbreviated in common use.  But I think it was more to do with what the child had observed.  Fr Peter was the one who opened the Church and the various other places for them to use.  And what was the theme of the retreat?  Kingdom of God and heaven!  Most probably, there would have been some mention of St Peter having the keys to heaven.  And for the child, he must have put two and two together: Peter and keys.  Hence the natural question: "Are you St Peter?" 

Wonder what would have been the next question, if Fr Peter were to have said, "Yes!" 

Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Transplanted cabbages

Bl. Artimedes Zatti, a Salesian brother, whom we commemorate today was an interesting character.  A nurse or a medic by profession, he did much good to those around him, especially the poor, in Argentina.

What appeals to me most of about him, is the fact that in spite of his own person challenges and difficulties, physical, emotional and circumstantial, he did not let them pull him down.  Not only did he make the best of what he was left with - even if it was frail health, or a dilapidated place far from the town, or giving up his dream of becoming a priest and opting to be a brother - but also was constantly thinking about others.  His thoughts were mostly about how he could be of service to those in difficulties and pain.

Even when the hospital that he painstakingly built was usurped by the local authorities, he did not give up his passion to come to the aid of the sick.  That land grab certainly hit him hard.  He was very much affected by it.  Nonetheless he saw it as a transition period.  An opportunity to carry out his service in a different place, in a different style.  "Cabbages grow best, when transplanted," he said, when he had to give up the hospital and move!  

Service from the ambulance

Today is the death anniversary of Fr John Connelly, who died in 1991, aged 71.  He belonged to this Salesian Province of GBR. 

It is said that he was a diligent bursar.  On one occasion, when he was the bursar at Battersea, there was a meeting for which confreres were slowly arriving.  Unfortunately Fr John suffered a heart attack.  And as the ambulance was taking him to the hospital, Fr John noticed Fr John Gillhiney arrive.  Lying in the ambulance he looked out and told Fr Gillhiney, "Yours is room number 47!" 

Old habits die hard!  Even though his heart was struggling to beat, his brain was ticking sharp and focussed! 

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Nothing called 'waste' or 'away'

Yesterday at Egham Hythe for the blood donation session, I carried with me the plastic cup I had picked up during the previous session, four months ago.  The plastic cup has been on my side table, used now and then for drinking water - when I decide to kill time leisurely!

When I arrived at the session to inform of my arrival, the young man there checked my form and then asked me to take a seat and have a drink.  And when he saw the plastic cup in my hand, he said, "Oh, I see you already picked up a drink." And I told him, "That's from the previous session! I didn't throw it away."  At first, he looked a bit puzzled, but when he understood, he beamed broadly and said, "Great!"

I still have the cup with me.  I think it's going to stay and be used for a while!  

Widening the divide with capitals!

A further reflection on the theme of intolerance and Christian unity, in the context of language - a topic that I'm brooding over! 

Disunity is brought about, in most cases, when an idea is held to be of greater importance than a human being. All cases of religious fundamentalism arise when the concept of religion takes precedence over humanity; when faith becomes greater than human life; when god - and I mean, the concept of God - needs to be protected, but not my neighbour. 

One easy way we fall into this trap of elevating a concept to a status higher than a living being, reducing the latter to such a minimal value so as to count for nothing, is when we capitalise a word!  When faith becomes Faith.  When god becomes God.  When church becomes Church.  These are tell-tale signs of where and what we feel are un-negotiable aspects of our living, at the altar of which everything else (not belonging to me), especially others, can be sacrificed.  Furthermore, with words like 'infidel', 'atheist', 'unbeliever', 'pro-abortionist', 'LGBTQ+', ... we can easily reduce persons, living beings with flesh and blood, families and feelings into despicable things that in their entirety ought to be made to disappear! 

That reminds me of a very stinging remark one of my former Rector's made on a report I put together after my supervision of a batch of third year students involved in the 'Immersion programme'.  Back then it struck me, as 'what's the big deal?' Why make a hue and cry about a regular use?  The phrase I used in the report was a description of a place: '...a place infested with naxalites...'  And the Rector had circled this phrase and written on the margins, "Even naxalites are people, not insects!" Looking back I clearly see.  I did not mind using the word 'infested' in the context of the naxalites, but I would never have used it in the context of seminarians or even a packed railway station!  My prejudices were laid bare.  

Christian unity and intolerance

One of the biggest scandal the Church offers to the world is that of the divisions within.  For a body which has unity as one of its primary tenets, to be so splintered, the value of witness is certainly diminished.  Add to that, the fact that some of these splinter groups are archenemies of one another.  And still we claim to be Christians! 

The saint we commemorate today, St Josaphat was martyred not by anti-Christians, but 'faithful' followers of Christ!  It is indeed a strange paradox we comfortably live with: boldly preach in Christ's name and at the same time have no hesitation in killing someone - all in His name.  If only we take a moment to think, leave alone pray, we should be able to see our own religious idiosyncrasies.  But I guess, the very faith we profess often blinds us to see anything beyond that what we hold most precious. 

So good to ask myself, what is it that I hold in such high esteem that I would not sacrifice it for anything else?  And as a Christian, I ask myself: Is it my love for Christ or love for Christ? 

Monday, 11 November 2019

Heaven and misconceived riches

Each of us has a different view of what heaven is.  Our basic catechism gives us an impression of it as a place, up above, where God lives.  Most often the idea is that is a place where all suffering ends and we enjoy unbounded peace.  Somehow as we imbibe the teachings of the Church, the 'carrot-stick' instructions of our parents and teachers, the fantasy of stories and movies, we come to think of heaven as a sort of magic land.  Once there, everything is possible and one need not slog anymore.  It is basically in total contrast to what we find around ourselves, here on earth. 

Take for instance the antiphon of today's prayers, on the occasion of memorial of St Martin of Tours:
Martin once poor and lowly, enters heaven with riches. 
It is as if Martin who had nothing, on reaching heaven gains everything that he lacked here on earth.  That somehow as he crossed the arch of heaven, all that he was denied here on earth, he is now blessed with.  Now that's quite an illusion.  Makes people live dual lives or be split in time - one totally different from the other; the latter making up all that we give up here on earth!  Martin gave up wealth here on earth.  Does that mean he had a thick purse or a fat bank account when he entered heaven?  Would he wanted that? Even if he did get it, would he have thought big about it? 

We don't enter heaven rich.  We are already rich.  Martin did not become rich when he reached heaven.  He was already rich in virtue of peace, joy and thanksgiving here on earth.  He had little but that he shared and what he did he did joyfully.  So he was happy here itself.  Heaven is not a place where one gains what one has given up; it is a state when one becomes conscious of and cherishes what one already is blessed with!  

Prayer for TODAY (John XXIII)

Rummaging through my mails for the password to a long abandoned blog, I came across the following prayer sent to me by Fr Lens, in 2009...

PRAYER FOR TODAY 
by Pope John XXIII 

Today I will just do my best 
to live this day itself 
without trying to solve 
all the problems of my life. 

Today I will try to go 
Where I would rather stay away’ 

Today I will avoid two things: 
Excessive haste, and indecision 

In spite of appearances to the contrary 
Today I will put my faith 
in God’s presence at my side. 

I will not let me get discouraged 
By the idea that I have to keep it up 
All the rest of my life.

Two immediate lessons or intercessions for my TODAY: 'avoid indecision' and 'faith in God's presence at my side'. 

Few words, but long sentences

Remember today a particular Salesian confrere who is known among our circles as a 'man of few words, and long sentences'!  He surely can go on and on about any topic, even the acknowledgement that he does not know anything about the topic!

I remember him once visiting the community where I was, with a very bad sore throat.  That morning, before breakfast he asked me if I could arrange for some hot tea with turmeric for him - just to soothe his aching throat.  And then when I did arrange that, he began to explain to me where, when and how his throat went bad!!  My subtle reminder that giving the mouth a bit of rest would do good to the aching throat was met with another explanation of the scientific reason behind it!! So much for the poor throat.

As I remember him, I recall the words of Fr Lens regarding the length of a sermon during Mass: "5 minutes," he would say!  "After that, the devil speaks!" Genuine listening, without interrupting or talking, is truly an art, a skill, a discipline.  Now that requires patience and leads to wisdom.  But to talk, I guess, even a sore throat would do! 

Sunday, 10 November 2019

Resurrection and relationship

The question we hear in the Gospel of the day, "After resurrection, whose wife will she be?" is quite a human question.  We can judge it to be a very rude or arrogant question or one intended to put the listener into a catch-22 situation.  But if reviewed from a simple and ordinary perspective, it can be said to be a very common question. 

We human being are relational beings.  We tend to work our way through life, by the relations we make or break.  So for one to ask what would be her relation to the 7 husbands whom she married here on earth, is a very concrete and living question.  It makes the situation all more volatile when I hear this passage being used to describe God as the God of the living and not of the dead.  That interpretation of God actually puts God in contrast to the human life!!  The very fact that she had 7 husbands it because the previous one died!  So she did not have 7 husbands all at once.  She only had one husband all along!!  And now if we bring in the 'God of living' interpretation, all 7 are alive.  And then to ask is she married to all 7 is a bit ridiculous! 

The most sensible way I see this Gospel unfold for us the mystery of the resurrection is to challenge our understanding of relationship.  I believe relationship is a commitment.  Granted that every commitment includes boundaries and limitations; but if those boundaries and limitations over-ride commitment and the well being of those involved in the relationship, the connection is actually a strangulation, and all that exists is bondage!  In resurrection, we live our commitment to one another to its fullest - even to God.  Not as bonded labourers, who have no other go than to, but as free individuals who choose to.  

A blessing lost

Today during Mass - during Communion, to be precise - I witnessed a scene that made me feel sad.  It made me say those words that young John Bosco said of the priests who never replied to a simple greeting: "If I were a priest, I would not do that!" 

The scene was of a small boy (J), aged 6 or 7, approach the priest distributing communion, along with his mother.  I've seen and interacted with this boy and for him his small toy, Teddy, is the best thing in the world.  So every Sunday he brings it along with him to Mass.  Today he surprisingly brought in another toy - appeared like a tiger or a honey bee.  But what he does every time he approaches the priest for a blessing, instead of the Communion, is that he stands there holding his toy high up, for the priest to give it also a blessing!!  I guess his logic is, if I can be blessed, why not bless Teddy too! 

Unfortunately none of the priests so far have obliged him!  And every time his mother has to drag him off the line!  My simple question: What does one lose by giving that toy a gentle tap?  You don't even have to utter a blessing.  Just smile and tap the toy!  J does not want anything else!  He's not asking for his Teddy to be baptised as per the ritual.  Just a blessing!  And even if a priest did bless the toy, will the latter then become the body of Christ?  Or will his priestly power diminish? 

If blessing a toy is going to brighten the day of a little 6-year old, and with him that of his whole family, I'd gladly do it every day! In fact, it is not the boy who lost out on a blessing today, it is we grown ups, especially the clergy, and the Church as a whole, who've lost out on the blessing of a happy child!  

Documentation: Ayodhya issue as case

The article appearing on The Times of India online edition about the historical record of Ayodhya as a place of worship offers a reading which should be the basis on which any rational decision should be arrived at, with regard to issues whenever in dispute.  However, we often resort to every means other than checking records.  Primarily because we don't have records!! 

The article also makes interesting reading... how we come to know of Indian history from people who were not from India!  The article does well to explicitly state:
The British officials of the period demonstrated the opposite of the well-known Indian disregard for documentation. 
The article spells out how worship at Ayodhya was a joint-worship of Hindus and Muslims... peacefully and in perfect harmony... till 1857!  Besides the religious - or call it politicized religious - issue what makes interesting reading is the historical data provided.  And who recorded that data!

I think we Indians have a sort of allergy to put pen to paper!  We prefer the verbal testimony and that is how we think history should be recorded!  We really didn't learn very well from Valmiki, the first author, poet of the Ramayana.  If only we inherited his keen sense of recording history, in black and white, we would have had a better chance at being more 'educated'.  The same Valmiki is also credited with teaching the children of Rama and Sita the verbal song of the Ramayana.  Thus blessing us with both the verbal and written history record.  So later if there is any discrepancy between the two, the point of departure can well be traced and reasons for the same known - if people after Valmiki did what Valmiki did!  Even if they did not, at least we have the original document for further and future reference.  

Ayodhya: Historical record (reproduced article)

The following is the exact text of the article, as it appeared on the online edition of The Times of India on Nov. 10, 2019.  Just preserving it... before it disappears! Claim no credit to the content of it, but doing it purely for documentation... as the article rightly states we Indians "disregard (for) documentation." All merit of content is to The Times of India.  The original online article can be read here.

------

Accounts of European priest, travellers suggest both faiths worshipped at Ayodhya site pre-1857
by
Vaibhav Purandare


P Carnegy is not a name that will ring a bell in contemporary India. But this Britisher, an assistant commissioner of the Raj in Faizabad in the 1860s, is among those who played, unwittingly, a key role in providing champions of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement substantive material to make the case that Hindus had launched their struggle for the ‘janmasthan’ in Ayodhya much before the Ram Lalla idol was installed in 1949.

Writing a historical sketch of ‘Fyzabad’, as he spelt it, Carnegy wrote that until 1855, the year in which communal violence broke out in Ayodhya over possession of Hanuman Garhi and the ‘janmasthan’, “Hindus and Muslims alike used to worship in the mosque-temple."

But “since British rule (in 1858, that is) a railing has been put up to prevent disputes, within which in the mosque the Mahomedans pray, while outside the fence the Hindus have raised a platform on which they make their offerings.”

Carnegy wasn’t the first to point to “joint worship” in the inner yard. That credit goes to Austrian Jesuit priest Joseph Tieffenthaler who visited Awadh circa 1770 and recorded that 12 “koti and kasauti” pillars supported the Babri Masjid’s interior arcades and that there stood a square box called the “bedi” or cradle at the entrance, “where Vishnu took incarnation as Ram”. Tieffenthaler’s theory was that it wasn’t Babar or Mir Baqi in 1528 but Aurangzeb in the 17th century who had destroyed the shrine “to deprive Hindus of their faith”. Yet, the Jesuit priest wrote, Hindus still came to the spot to do their circumambulation and prostrated.

The first to refer to an inscription inside the masjid which stated it was built in 1528 by Babar’s chieftain Mir Baqi was F C Buchanan, physician of Lord Wellesley, who visited Ayodhya between 1807 and 1814. And the first legal record came in 1822, when a superintendent in Faizabad court, Hafizullah, submitted his report in Persian saying “the mosque founded by emperor Babur is situated at the Janmasthana”, “adjacent to the kitchen of Sita”.

After that, records about the dispute and about the persistent Hindu claim to the disputed site piled up quickly, with other European travellers following in Tieffenthaler’s footsteps and British officials such as A F Millet taking the path trodden by Carnegy.

Millet, a land revenue officer of Faizabad district, stated in his report of 1880 that Hindus and Muslims had worshipped “alike” inside the structure, and the writer-traveller Edward B Eastwick recorded in his ‘Handbook of the Bengal Presidency’ in 1888 that before 1858, namaz and puja were both performed inside the shrine. The British officials of the period demonstrated the opposite of the well-known Indian disregard for documentation.

The gazetteers of 1854, 1881, 1892, 1905, the Archaeological Survey Report of 1891 and later archaeological and general survey reports of the 1930s reinforced the theory of the mosque having been constructed after demolishing a temple and of intermittent Hindu efforts to get the spot back.

The archaeological report of 1891 by A Fuhrer, who translated three inscriptions inside the mosque, corroborated Buchanan’s view that it was Mir Baqi who “by the order of Babar” had built the mosque circa 1520 “on the very spot where the old temple Janmasthanam of Ramchandra was standing”.

The old temple, Fuhrer said, “must have been a very fine one, for many of its columns have been used by the Musalmans in the construction of Babar’s masjid”. A police complaint launched by the muezzin of the Babri Masjid in November 1858 too became part of the ‘janmabhoomi’ docket for the protemple side. Syed Muhammad Khatib, who used to call the faithful to prayer in the mosque, had written to local cops a year after the 1857 revolt that a Nihang Sikh, a Bairagi (ascetic), was “on the rampage at the Janmasthan."

He had forcibly built a “chabutra in the middle of the Babri mosque” and had raised the platform and placed a flag, a picture and an idol, the muezzin complained, urging authorities to get the construction demolished and oust Hindus from the place, where, earlier, the “nishaan of Janmasthan lay for hundreds of years and Hindus used to do puja.” These documents were put forward by the Hindu side in the post-1985 VHP (and later BJP) agitation phase to buttress their case.

Friday, 1 November 2019

An alternative to the Golden Rule

During my year at Ramanthapur, on the day of my b'day, my family joined me and the community in the evening celebrations.  There was a grand cultural programme put up by the boys in the hall.  At one certain moment, my niece came over to me and sat on my lap.  I was sitting at the back of the whole group with my family.  One of the youngest boys, Ganesh (I still remember him well!) aged the same as my niece - 3 years - was sitting right in front of the whole group, closest to the stage.  He somehow noticed my niece on my lap.  There was a strange look on his face.  It was as if to say, if she can, why not I?  But that was also coupled with the knowledge (far ahead of his age) that he could not.  He turned back a couple of times to see if my niece was still sitting with me.  I very delicately led her back to a chair, beside me.

Later during the programme, when called upon the stage to cut the cake, my nephew and niece hopped along.  They are 'professional cake-cutters'! And they would never have missed this opportunity to cut the cake with me!  From the stage, I dared not look in Ganesh's direction.  And so I invited the whole batch of the youngest boys (Mamma Margaret home boys - we called them), all 21 or 22 of them, onto the stage to join me.  They didn't need a second invitation!

This incident flashed in my mind, the moment I read the article, offering an alternative to the Golden rule. The Golden Rule asks us to do unto others what I wish done to me!  The Chinese philosopher Mengzi, offers an alternative: Extend to the world, the love and reverence you already have for your parents and elders.  (How Mengzi came up with something better than the Golden Rule on Aeon).

The Golden Rule actually presumes an inherent self-love as primary to human nature, rather than love for others.  It basically asks one to transpose one's love for oneself, onto others.  Mengzi's alternative, rests on the basic premise that as human beings we naturally love others, especially our parents, relatives and elders in our immediate community.  While the goal of both the principles is the extended other, the starting point is distinct.  Mengzi's extension is based on the 'we' dimension rather than the 'I' perspective.  Two other distinctive characteristics, pointed out by the author Eric Schwitzgebel, of Mengzi's extension, also make great sense.  One, Mengzi's extension is a lesser/easier leap than the Golden Rule: from family-to-others rather than self-to-others.  Secondly, it in a way includes the starting point of the Golden Rule in as much as the extension can be applied to oneself.  If I want my dear ones to enjoy kindness and empowerment I can extend/apply it to myself too!
Care about me not because you can imagine what you would selfishly want if you were me. Care about me because you see how I am not really so different from others you already love.
Looking back at my interactive experiences with the boys at Ramanthapur, what guided me more than my love for myself, especially when it came to the younger ones, was my affection for Chris and Anet. After all, half of the boys were around the age of Chris.  

To be Christians/Saints

What does it take to be Christians?  What qualifies one to be a Christian...

Being poor, concerned, seeking after justice and peace, merciful, pure of heart, those willing to suffer for a just cause.  That's it!  For anyone looking for a roadmap to sanctity, the Beatitudes offer one summarized edition! These very virtues that bring us closer to God are also the very ones that help us become aware of our humanity. 

... and we're all called to be Saints! 

Thursday, 31 October 2019

Being Christians

What makes us Christian?  Very many think of being Christian as an identity that needs to be safeguarded.  It is something that we need to "protect" and "uphold" from all the rest of the peoples.  By being apart we preserve and show ourselves as Christians.  But that's the most unchristian thing to think and do! 

Being a Christian does not mean to be standing apart or worse, above others.  The yeast does not make any impact on the dough if it says to itself, "I'm not going to mingle with that un-yeast!  My identity is something higher than this dough and therefore I need to stand above the dough!"  Such a yeast is as good as absent!  For the yeast to leaven the dough, it needs to be mixed well with the latter.  Spread well, and because it mixes with it, the yeast by its mere presence does what it does best - transform the dough!  In the process the yeast is not too worried about safeguarding its identity.  The presence of the yeast is easily noticed by the everyone once the bread is baked and ready.  Once baked, there is neither yeast, nor dough! 

As Christians, we are called to be the yeast.  Our presence is meaningful and worth the name, only when we, being Christ-like, live for God and others.  If we are to live purely for ourselves, holding the placard of 'Christians' at a distance from others, we surely will survive but deprive ourselves of Christ. Imagine what Christians would be without Christ!  Not too hard to, just imagine what bread would be without yeast!  

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Generosity

Fr Sean narrated a story he heard from someone in Bootle sometime ago.  A small boy who loved cars once happened to see a large car roll up on the street he lived.  He ran out to admire it.  He saw a man get off it and excitedly asked, "Is that your car?" "Sure, it is," replied the man.  "It must be very costly!" stated the boy, to which the man replied, "I got it for free!"  The boy could not believe he ears.  "For free?  How come?" asked the boy. "My brother gave it to me," said the man.  The boy longingly looked at the car and said, "I wish..." 

Fr Sean paused at this point and asked us, "What would you have said if you were that little boy?"  At least my mind completed the boy's sentence thus: I wish I had a brother like that!  Fr Sean continued and said, the boy actually said, "I wish, I was that brother!" 

There is more joy in giving than in receiving.  

Monday, 28 October 2019

Encountering God

Zechariah when he entered the temple to offer incense-worship meets the angel Gabriel whose message marks the beginning of a totally different lifestyle not only for Zechariah but also for his whole family.  That morning as he entered the sanctuary, I'm sure he certainly did not expect to see the angel or get a vision.  

Most of us stroll through life totally oblivious of the numerous ways and means through which God calls on us.  We are either too busy after something we have set our minds to or are too lazy to hear and ultimately respond.  God constantly interacts with us in the little and big things of life.  The more we are attuned to this, the richer our life will be, constantly transforming and growing into a better image. Just like Zechariah whose life undergoes a major shift on encountering the angel and God's message, so too is our life bound to change when we become attentive to the encounters we have with God!  

Sunday, 27 October 2019

Being good

Being good by virtue of one's merit is one way of being good.  Another way, though not the best, is to ensure that one is better than the others.  That way one 'automatically' becomes good - when in comparison to others.  Another way: in order to appear good, make sure the others around appear bad! 

The Gospel of the day, wherein we read the prayer of the Pharisee and the Publican, we hear of another way of being good:  making our best effort and asking God to help us be good.  The Publican does that and is appreciated.  The Pharisee too is being good but at the cost of making others appear bad! The difference could as well be between appearance and being. 

However, cannot really blame the Pharisee.  He was actually keeping all the laws that he was taught and all the religious practices that he was indoctrinated with.  So in that sense taking pride in doing what is told and from centuries has been practiced and handed down cannot be negated outright.  The downfall however is in putting down the Publican.  Being good oneself does not require a quantitative measurement of the others goodness - unless one only wishes to appear good, among others.  

Friday, 25 October 2019

Mind, Cognition and Consciousness

Bibliography and resource tank for 'Mind and consciousness':

  • Interview with Robert Lawrence Kuhn 'What is extended mind' (Aeon)
  • Andy Clark and David Chalmers (1998) 'The Extended mind'
  • Chalmers, 'The logical possibility of Zombies'
  • Chalmers, 'Consciousness and its place in nature'
  • Rorty, 'Incorrigibility as the mark of the mental' (self-knowledge, awareness, consciousness)
  • Jackson, 'What Mary didn't know' 
  • Crane, 'Intentionality as the mark of the mental' 
  • Searle, 'Minds, brains and programs'
  • Rorty, 'Mind-body identity, privacy and categories'
  • Smart, 'Sensations and brain processes' (materialism)
  • Sellars, Empiricism and the philosophy of mind XI-XVI 
  • Putnam, 'The nature of mental states' 





Clingfilm

I think I have a solution for preventing the "illegal" inflow of any and every species into this country - or for that matter any country: Clingfilm.  Yes, clingfilm.  Wrapping the whole country with clingfilm would certainly ensure that no one from outside the country, no non-native, whether human or insect, would gain entry.  I thought of bubble wrap, but I think clingfilm is better! 

We have this country right now dealing with the death of 39 Chinese immigrants and Inns (invasive non-native species).  So not only are human beings entering the country, even wasps, plants and insects too!  How dare they!  Back in India we have the NRC being brought into action to "weed out" illegal immigrants!  In South Africa, so far there was animosity against the white population who stayed on after the apartheid.  But now there is hatred against coloured fellow Africans too! (The Times, 25 October 2019).  Trump is praising his 'wall' built to keep away Mexicans and God-knows-who.  Not sure what is happening in China, because it already has a sort of clingfilm in place (at least on media).  Britain, a country which prides itself in being one of the world's leading brains, is entertaining the world - and itself - with this Brexit drama!  If leaving the EU was the most sensible things to do, come 3 years have come and gone and the country no better than when the result of the referendum was announced? 

I also understand that no country would like to be treated as a doormat, letting everyone walk-in and demand a better life.  That's the other extreme.  So is the fanatic fear of the non-native!  Letting in only those who can afford to pay or those who will benefit the local economy or toe the line of the ruling party is a very narrow and highly selfish access. 

So the most practical solution: clingfilm.  Security assured! Only problem is the same as with a fortress wall: Just like it prevents those outside from coming in, it also makes those within prisoners!  

Tuesday, 22 October 2019

Amidst enthusiastic children

The interaction with Year 6 students of a local primary Catholic school to which I was invited along with a Priest, to share with them our vocation as priest and religious, was a very interesting experience.  These are just 10 or 11 year olds, grappling with huge words like commitment, consecration, ordination, vows, belief and most importantly seeking reasons and trying to explain these ideas to others.  These are concepts and values we discuss in our novitiate and novices fail to make head or tail of these things.  Here are 11-year olds, doing their best not just to make sense of them for themselves, but be able to explain it all to others!  That's a bold move. 

Loved every bit of it.  As we returned home, the other priest said, "Now I know why you love to teach!  You really were explaining to those kids, and not teaching philosophy!" Felt good being amidst young vibrant and enthusiastic children, quizzed about matters that take a lifetime to understand! 

Being human

A dog does not know itself as a 'dog'.  At the most, it knows the name that it is called by.  But the fact that the dog does not know its real self but only a designated name, does not affect the way a dog behaves.  It still is primarily a dog. 

Wonder if the same can be said of us human beings.  The whole process of naming a child and it growing up with additional identity markers in a way distances one from one's basic human nature and take on the 'added' identities as the primary characteristics of being human.  It is like the dog beginning to act as 'Ceasar' rather than as a dog - just because he is named Ceasar. 

Human beings are perhaps the creatures that have the best capacity to reflect on oneself and our own basic nature.  In such a situation, the added identities we acquire as we live our life in a family, in a society, in a particular culture, ... need basically to build on the basic human nature.  And in case the acquisition of an identity goes at a tangent with our basic humanness, then one has to make serious choice for what is basic rather than what is to be acquired.  Human life cannot be put at stake for a name tag, or a caste label or a bad word or scolding uttered by someone else.  

Sunday, 20 October 2019

Spider plant in a wine glass

My Spidey plant!  Planted a small twig in the end of May this year, when I returned from Farnborough after my retreat.  Have been taking care of it in my room all these days.  But will put it out in the dining room or hallway someday. Not sure though, how the others will feel about having things in cracked glasses!  I for sure don't, and neither does the plant!

Saturday, 19 October 2019

Perseverance +

Persistence.

So often exalted as a virtue can also turn to be a death-trap.  Once we get into the rhythm and become so steadfast in something, there is a great danger to forget or sideline why did we chose to become persistent with something in the first instance. 

Perseverance is indeed a great virtue, demanding great discipline and patience.  Nonetheless, needs to be coupled with love (or atleast the noble motivation that prompted us to walk down this path of perseverance).  

Friday, 18 October 2019

Autumn in the Salesian Gardens

Autumn colours in the Salesian Garden...

Growing up

Came across a new children's book gathering attention.  It is by Charlie Mackesy who actually began to put up he sketches on instagram.  Liked the following picture... and the message:
Photo taken of The Times (Oct. 17, 2019).  Inset photo of Charlie Mackesy

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Holiness is grace

As I spent time in prayer this evening, and later talking to the confessor, it hit me hard that for quite sometime now, I've been thinking and trying to see what is it that I can do; that I need to do.  All this while, it never occured to me to think, what is it that the Lord wants me to do. 

I think what triggered this insight was what the preacher said about holiness.  He said, "We want to be holy.  We strive our best to be holy.  But we forget that it is God who makes us holy."  Though not very convinced of that one-sided affair of God making me holy while I sit there doing nothing. I also realised that doing things without Him, is equally empty.  Holiness is His grace and I have to respond.  Be aware.  Accept.  Be grateful for.  And build it up/share it around. 

So this evening's prayer: Lord, help me know what is it that you want me to do.  

Evening prayer in the car park

Our house is closest to the street and on side is the road leading into the cul-de-sac. So the Chapel is the one on that corner.  Usually we have all our windows closed and there is hardly any movement of the traffic heard.  But with any of the windows opened the traffic sound - luckily, none blare the horn - is quite audible.  However, this evening - thanks to our 'dial wars', wherein some raise the thermostat to high, while some others turn it the other way round to reduce the heat! - the Chapel windows were opened by Fr John. 

So we started our monthly recollection with the exposition of the Eucharist, then began our evening prayer, said the three psalms and the scripture reading and then paused for our silent reflection and time for confessions.  After a few minutes Fr John left the Chapel to make his confession in the adjoining meeting room.  As soon as he left, Fr Peter got up from his place and began closing the two open windows. Fr Sean, sharp as he is, loudly stated, "This is the first time I said evening prayer in a car park!"

I burst out laughing!  Am sure, Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament too would have had a good laugh! 

Prophecy and spiritual direction

Two points reflecting on the life of St Margaret Mary Alacoque...

The first one is more a social aspect but nonetheless rooted in spirituality.  This aspect is true of most 'prophets' who are called for a particular purpose, specially to tell his or her fellow people that what they are up to is not the ideal - far from it.  The telling part may not be the most challenging part, but the living together, after that, certainly is.  So when God tells Mary Alacoque to go and tell the community members and the Church at large that they are to do penance and increase their fervour for the Sacred Heart, it is a challenge.  First of all, she certainly was not the eldest in the community.  Secondly, not the superior herself.  But she has to tell this 'revelation' to all, even those older to her, those who have lived their life in the convent, following the vows for donkeys years.  I guess the same must have been true for St Theresa of Child Jesus too.  The only exception where a 'prophet' is actually invited to share his wisdom is Daniel, when as a child he is called in to resolve the Susanna dispute.  For the rest, beginnings were/are never easy. 

The second point is the pivotal role of spiritual direction.  In moments of such intense or out of the ordinary experience, to have someone who can direct and help one discern what actually is happening around you, is such a blessing.  To be able to live one's daily life imbued by that divine experience, rather than be run over by it, to have someone help you make sense of what is happening to you rather than be totally overwhelmed and lost, is a great help.  

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

School education system

We had dining with us for the last week a couple of French teachers from France.  They were here with a group of French students on an exchange programme.  Tonight at table, they were sharing the experience of their students at our Salesian school here in Chertsey.  They (the students) always exited the classroom at the end of the day, eyes wide open and jaws hitting the floor!

That they attributed the ambiance and the whole attitude of the English school education system.  The French school education system is highly teacher-centric and regimented.  The system expects every student to fit in.  In contrast the English school education helps each child seeks and build on his or her own unique difference.  The pressure is not to blend in but bloom out!  So the emphasis is always on the child discovering his or her own potential and seeking ways to enhance it.

They made a very interesting observation regarding the school uniform. In France, school children mostly do not have a school uniform - but the education system is too formal and rigid.  In England, most schools insist on a precise school uniform - and that they found, furthers their growth in differentiating one another on the basis of their individuality. 

That confirms why most children here love going to school.  I've hardly seen any child cry or drag his or her feet on the way to school.  The only other place I've seen such joy on the faces of children going to school is in Shillong.  All the other places, the joy is only while returning from school!  

Monday, 14 October 2019

I am...

An interesting observation ... (found on Aeon):
The Western focus on internal change makes anthropological sense: people in the West fixate on the internal. Psychologists have demonstrated this with a simple experiment. When researchers at Lewis and Clark College and the University of Nevada in Portland, Oregon, asked people to finish the sentence ‘I am ______’, people from the Western world responded with phrases such as ‘happy’, ‘a fun person’, or ‘a health-nut’. Meanwhile, rural Kenyans or Pacific Islanders said things such as ‘a mother’ or ‘a member of the Makea family’. Whereas most people define themselves by their relationships, people in the West emphasise their interests and personalities.
I'm not sure how the notion of 'interests and personalities' is internal and relationship is not.  Interests and personalities are actually outward tending - only in their expression is their realisation.  I fail to see how relationship is different.  Only in its exercise is a relationship alive.  One way of viewing relationships is restrictive.  They bind us to individuals.  On the other hand, is the fact that being in a relationship does not 'limit' us.  Rather than see as restrictive, relationships can be seen as linking, bridging. 

Anyway, that's a digression!

Am still amused by...
most people (rural, non-educated, tribal...) define themselves by their relationships, people in the West (educated, urban...) emphasise their interests and personalities.

Sunday, 13 October 2019

'Parent' in Hindi?

One strange insight that hit me hard the other day, while talking in Hindi to one companion from India, at the university the other day: Hindi does not have a word for 'parent'!  We have a word for 'mother', a word for 'father' but not for 'parent'.  The closest word we use for parent in Hindi is माँ बाप or माता पिता ... that is 'mother-father'. 

Or perhaps nuanced Hindi has one, but it certainly is not in common use.  I wonder why is that so.  How come the English (Western?) language coined a common word to indicate both parents while the ancient Hindi never really thought it necessary to have a single word denoting both parents.  Parents were always specified as 'mother-father'.  

Why question the Samaritan?

In the gospel of the day, where Jesus heals the ten lepers and only one returns to thank him, Jesus asks the one - the Samaritan - 'where are the other nine?'
The cleansing of the lepers by Bicol Peryodiko
On first analysis it can be said that Jesus is expecting a 'thank you' from all those whom he cures.  However, the whole passage taken into account is to tell us a message to be grateful.  Not discounting that important and powerful message, how justified is Jesus in asking that question to the Samaritan who returns to thank him?  After all, he is the one who came back.  Jesus should have stopped at praising him for his sense of gratitude.  Why question him?  It is like giving a serious reprimand about coming late for Mass, during the introduction to the Mass -  but who are the recipients? Those who have come on time! 

However, I think there is one possible circumstance which justifies Jesus questioning the only one who returned about those who did not.  Just think of those ten lepers.  They were living outside the village.  Ostracised.  Not welcome into the village.  Surely the only people whom they could contact were the other nine lepers! They certainly were the only support for one another.  None else.  In such a circumstance their bond would surely have been strong.  And when ultimately they did receive the cure, to think that they forgot all about their only 'friends' and 'family' is unlikely.  Didn't or couldn't the one who thought of thanking Jesus spoken to the other nine and said, "Come let's thank him first!"

Or another scenario: Perhaps the other nine were fulfilling the one command of Jesus - Go, show yourselves to the priests.  And then returning to thank Jesus!  So it is actually the Samaritan, who broke ranks with the other nine and returned half way, without having met the priests.  Who knows, the other nine were on their way to thank Jesus!  

Faith

The gospel of the day, where Jesus heals the ten lepers and only one of them - a Samaritan, at that - returns to thank him for his cure, exudes of the theme of thanksgiving and gratitude.  However, what struck me most in the passage is the faith of the ten lepers. 
The cleansing of the lepers - Bicol Peryodiko
There are these ten men, lepers, outside the village.  Ostracized.  Marginalised.  Not having anyone to whom they can meet or contact with.  All that they ask Jesus as he passes is for the curse of leprosy to be take away.  "Lord, have mercy!" And in reply all that Jesus says or does is "Go show yourselves to the priests!" And they go!  Jesus did not offer them a long mantra for healing.  Nor did he dole out any treatment by way of ointment or medicine.  Just the instruction to show themselves to the priests.  And what faith must these men have to obey his instruction right away.  No one asks a question.  Or a clarification.  None asking him what will happen then.  Or when will they be cured.  Or even the basic doubt of 'will the priests see us in this leprous condition?'  They just go!

Looking at my own life, I see it riddled with so many questions and doubts and concerns.  That even after I receive answers, signs and solemn indicators, I've not moved much in the direction I'm asked to move!  

Saturday, 12 October 2019

Gratitude

Thinking about thankfulness and gratitude, the theme of the Gospel tomorrow, where Jesus cures the ten lepers and only one returns to thank him, I remembered reading an article recently about how gratitude adds value to life. 

However, even at the end of the article, I still did not see what different or 'scientific' was the whole argument about.  It was like stating what we already know - or is it?  The article (found on Aeon) basically argued for gratitude to be the simplest way to lead a life of well-being, primarily also because gratitude leads one to grow in other virtues. 
NJlifehacks

I think there is basically - more in India than here in the West - a sense of entitlement.  That one is entitled to what one receives;  and for what one is entitled to one need not go about being grateful to others, certainly not to the ones 'below' us! And for those we pay, they are not doing us a favour.  They are getting paid for it, so why 'thank' them?  But the whole notion of gratitude is not about justice or balance.  It is not as if to set right the equation, that one thanks.  Basically gratitude is an attitude, not a means we use to level off trade or equations.  And the best thing about gratitude: there are no adverse side-effects, only further advantages! 

Cicero did have a point when he stated:
Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, it is the parent of all others.
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