Sunday, 31 March 2019

Parable of the Merciful father

The parable of the prodigal son, which we heard this morning for the Gospel reading, is actually wrongly titled.  It actually should be 'The parable of the Merciful father'.  Unfortunately most of us invariably focus our attention on the son who leaves the father's house and then regretfully returns.  That the son who stayed behind with the father all along, was no better than his younger brother is sometimes lost out on us. 

In all this 'blame-game' and feeling of resonance of our personal lives, we fail to focus on the father who is all merciful and loving.  Nothing, nothing at all, deters him from continuing to love his children.  The son who walks out on him is loved dearly.  So is the one who stays on!  Irrespective of their attitude or behaviour, the father continues to love them the same.  Most parents exhibit this loving mercy all along their parenting. I guess, it is something parents somehow acquire with children around. 

While those who walk away in rebellion and then realize their connectedness to their dear ones carry the guilt of being shameful, those who witness the mercy of the father, from close quarters, rather than rejoice, fail to accept the acceptance of the father.  Paul Tillich does have a point, when he speaks of faith involving 'the acceptance of the acceptance of God'.  We tend to focus solely on our own merit (or demerit) and leave no scope for ourselves.  And if someone is granted scope and space, we feel 'betrayed in spite of our loyalty'. Blessed is he who sees beyond oneself and savours the love of the Father.  

Spring forward, fall back

This morning we moved our clocks forward by an hour commencing the British summer time.  Was told that the best way to remember when the clocks go forward or backward is to remember the phrase, 'Spring forward, fall back!'  Quite amusing.

The idea of day-light saving was first adopted by Germany and then the UK followed suit.  The idea was to make most of the natural sunlight than use coal to light up the dark. 

Changed my alarm clock last night itself before I hit bed!  Did not want to wake up at an odd hour and miss both the Masses in the parish!  

Tuesday, 26 March 2019

First day class

Some lessons (inspiration) for the first day of class...
Good first day class

  1. Build curiosity 
  2. Help build a community
  3. Learning: begin with what they already know; learn what helps them best as individuals; begin the content (without actually making them feel the burden)
  4. Clarify expectations (theirs and yours): assessments, policies, deadlines, materials... Give space for their aspirations, prejudices, fears and anxieties... ("What's the one thing that helps you learn better and that I can help with?"

Engaged teaching

A good resource about classroom engagement and learning, especially from a teacher's perspective...
How to make your teaching more engaging...

  • Use emotions 
  • Students learn better when the DO things.
  • Mix up activities and teaching styles
  • Engagement is different from entertainment
  • Plan chunks of the duration, rather than the whole lot
  • Make learning relevant to their daily lives
  • Your persona matters
  • Help students fall in love with the subject... you need to love it first of all! 
  • Take risk, freshen up your material
  • Know your students, help them build a rapport with one another
  • Tell your own stories, use humour...

Thursday, 14 March 2019

Return to Don Bosco

The work of the reformation is not to go back to where our predecessors were, but to persevere on to where they were going. 
We had a couple of General Chapters and other significant reflections around the slogan, 'Return to Don Bosco'. I don't claim to have read them all or understood all of the little that I read! However, I wonder if the above quote found in the introduction to the book of Paul Tillich, The Courage to be (p. xxviii-xxix) would mean something for us too. As Salesians we look up not just to Don Bosco, but to all those Salesians who have lived after him.  As citizens, we may recall to mind all our freedom fighters, leaders, early sages and wise men who made a dent in the passage of time. 

Our predecessors were not backward looking adventurers. They were looking to the future; daring to risk, relying on their present. They wanted to be where we are (hopefully, if we got them right!). If they were mere conformists or simple blokes trying to live the ordinary, we wouldn't be here, least of all have this discussion. They were guided more by faith, or intuition (in non-religious terms), than by pure reason or context. They felt the urge, the itch to do more than what was otherwise universally considered 'enough'. Their aim was to do, to be, better. Looking back to them we draw inspiration from them, seek their courage, place ourselves in their ready-to-journey boots; not merely do what they did, repeat their formulas, study them in isolation from their times, imitate them, …


There can be several motives for fasting, especially during Lent. One could fast just because it is Lent. Or one could use Lent as an excuse and practice the long-delayed diet, in order to reduce weight – whatever additional benefit is a bonus! Or one could fast because of a spiritual dimension: partaking or preparing oneself to take part in the passion and death of Jesus. But there is another dimension that is often neglected or not always considered. One fasts so that someone else who does not have or cannot afford something as basic as food, can have some! The Christian faith is not something so private that it is only between God and me. Our faith demands of us a commitment and responsibility towards our neighbours – none excluded! And if my practices of piety connect solely God and me – or my neighbour and me alone – then it is lopsided. A true Christian spirituality would be an all-inclusive spirituality.

While each of these modes of fasting in Lent has some merit, I believe for fasting to be truly meritorious it has to have all these elements.

Sunday, 3 March 2019

Bats and baptism

What's the best way to get rid of the bats in the belfry?
Baptise and confirm them!  You'll never see them again in Church!

The situation here in the West is exactly this.  There is still quite a sizeable number approaching the sacrament of baptism and if the children are in a "faith" school, they also 'get' confirmed.  But that's it.  After that they are rarely seen anywhere near or in the Church.  Two years ago, I was helping at the communion and first confessions of large group of school children, nearly 60 of them.  All of them from the neighbouring Catholic primary school.  Of course, not all of them would be part of this parish.  Nonetheless, I haven't seen any of those children again! 

The fact that one does not inherit faith, but chooses one is very true of the present generation of young people.  One can view this very positively as a conscious choice rather than a blind following.  It actually spells a certain maturity that Catholic Church has attained.  But the issue of witness - or in this case, counter-witness - is at the heart of the whole process.  Young people do not find the 'Church', worthy of trust and respect - leave alone of faith and love.  In a sense, this is a logical outcome of the way 'Church' has been construed for centuries in the past - the clergy, and at the most the building!  In the East, things are not too different; even though the present situation is not as divided as the West is. 

For young people to see the Church in a more holistic and realistic light, will take time.  Unfortunately those still 'guarding' the Church are not ready to open the eyes - and heart - to this fresh inclusive and enlivening understanding.  Those willing are far too few and scattered to make a universal impact.  Those happy to stand and merely watch are plenty.  

Friday, 1 March 2019

Kindergarten Philosophy!

Philosophy is no child's play! Says who?

To drive home the argument of Soren Kierkegaard who speaks of the inadequacy of Hegel's ethical framework to explain religion, particularly faith, I used a kindergarten tool-kit. Basing on the Biblical event of the binding of Isaac (Genesis 22: 1-19), Kierkegaard claims that the notion of ethics and the universal (as postulated by Kant or Hegel) is insufficient to grasp the faith of Abraham, the protagonist of the Biblical episode.

To show that an ethical framework, even though complete in itself and useful to understand human life and interactions, could still be inadequate in making sense of some other aspect of the varied human living, I brought a set of alphabet blocks to the seminar. I asked two of students to verify that the set is complete, another two to spell out the word 'Thursday', another couple to verify the spelling, the next pair to spell out 'February' using the same alphabet set. While the first group had no difficulty completing the task of spelling 'Thursday', the latter were left a bit perplexed for they didn't have a second 'r' to complete 'February'. All of this took no more than 4 - 5 minutes. Not only was the point clear, the exercise facilitated our discussion on how religion can or cannot be discussed from within an established philosophical outlook.

Not sure if philosophy can be taught to tiny-tots in the kindergarten, but that the latter's learning aids are still useful to a graduate class studying philosophy is certain! (Posted on inSTIL TandLspace)
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