05 June 2021

The Church: Euro-centric?

 The Church is often viewed as European or Euro-centric.  Even among those who see Christianity as a 'foreign religion' they view it so because it is 'from Europe'.  The white man's religion! This is something quite taken for granted.  But we forget - very easily and comfortably - that Jesus and the early Christianity were all very much situated in the middle-East.  Jesus was born and later carried out his whole ministry in Israel. Though it is true that the apostles did cross national boundaries, it is actually with Constantine embracing Christianity and making it the state religion, that Christianity spread far and wide.  That Rome has played a central role in the development of Christianity as a popular universal religion can never be questioned.  But it all began in the middle-East - not in Europe!! 

The universality of the Church and of Christianity is not a quality of it being present in most of the world, and predominantly in Europe.  Universality is its virtue to be able to embrace the world - not the world embracing Christianity.  

04 June 2021

The Ichthys

 For the early Christians, the cross was not the first choice of representation.  The cross was still too traumatic and tragic.  It was more a sign of oppression and tool of death, rather than salvation.  What was actually and most widely used as a symbol of Christianity was the Ichthys, the fish.  


The catacombs do not have a cross. Instead what is found in them is the image of the fish.  This represented the meal, the gathering for which Christians gathered, especially in hiding in the catacombs and in private homes. It represented the Eucharist!  

Perhaps it is with Helena bringing the cross from Jerusalem, along with the soil, and its exaltation as a basilica, that devotion the Cross gained popularity.  I suppose by then the Romans had given up using that means as a punishment (but not sure of that). And as time progresses, the cross soon replaces the fish as the symbol of Christian faith.  

Would Christianity have a different outlook or identity if we would have persevered or chosen to stick to the fish rather than the cross??  I believe it would have had significant impact on how we perceive ourselves to be!  For one, more Eucharistic, for certain!  

13 May 2021

Sunshine

The English obsession with the sunshine is well-known.  Summer is the most looked out for season of the year.  Not only because it is the season for holiday but because the sun is out.  Most preferred holiday destinations are places where it is warm and sunny.  And the best holidays are those that are spent in the sun - even if it is just laying down basking in the sun!! 

As an Indian, I find this fascination with the sun - often bordering obsession - quite amusing.  At times, I wonder what's so special about the sun.  People like me and others from Africa, will do everything possible to get away from the sun!! So seeing others crave for the sun appears a bit weird.  

I guess it is a cultural thing.  I'm sure it is the same feeling the Brits have looking at us amazed by the snow.  Anyway, each of us has our own peculiarities and eccentricities!!  And each one seeks for his or her own bit of sunshine!! 

Selling free

For quite a few days now we have been passing by a particular sign near one of the houses we walk past for our evening Rosary which announces that it is up for sale.  What caught our attention and intrigued us when we first saw it was the tagline: Sell your home for free! 

It really took us some time to get our heads around the meaning of that line.  We ultimately deduced that the housing agent will not charge a fee for overseeing the sale of the house.  Perhaps the tagline best reads: Sell your house without a fee.  Certainly not giving away the house for free!!  

12 May 2021

Prayer

 Prayer and the candle light have much in common.  Like prayer, the candle light is unselfish.  The radiance of the light remains the same;  whether placed in a dark room or out in the sun.  The light does not diminish itself under the sun or brighten itself in a dark room. It emits the same light.  Only when in the dark do we appreciate better the candle and if out in the open we do not seek one.  But that does not affect the candle light. Most often we have recourse to prayer only in times of difficulty.  At other times when everything is going on well we do not really feel the need to pray.  That does not mean the power of prayer reduces. It is our perception of prayer and our need for it that increases or diminishes.  

Another aspect of a candle light is that it is selfless.  No amount of lighting other candles from it will diminish the initial brightness of the candle light.  The candlelight does not say that since it has been shared or divided it will shine less brightly now.  Prayers too when shared do not become less efficacious. 

Another essential feature of the candlelight that we often do not see replicated in prayer is the efficacy of it at all times and for all people.  The candlelight is not partial to the good and less bright for the not-so-good.  No matter who, when and for what purpose, the candlelight is always at its best.  Prayer too is for all.  We often remember those close to us and those who are good to us.  We barely pray for those whom we do not like. 


10 May 2021

Vocation

Everytime we speak of 'vocation' in our religious circles we most often mean 'vocation to priestly and religious life'.  It is as if vocation to married life or any other form of life is not a vocation.  When this partial outlook is pointed out we cover up saying that even they are vocations, but the former is the crowing of all vocations! 

However, I feel strongly convinced that unless and until we really understanding vocation in its universal and true sense, we will only be 'selling' vocation; doing recruitment rather than discernment.  As educators of the young, we are primarily called to help young people discover, discern and follow their vocation.  And every person's primary vocation is to love and be loved!  The vocational discernment is to help young people ask themselves basic questions about meaning and purpose of his or her life.  As long as we sincerely and passionately engage in this noble apostolate we are true to our own calling as Salesians. Otherwise we are only 'pedlars' or vendors of the Salesian career - all in the name of youth ministry and vocation promotion.  

The post youth synod apostolic exhortation by Pope Francis, Christus vivit no. 286 describes the great vocational question that every young person has to ask himself or herself as "for whom am I?"  This is more deeper and way too personal than merely asking oneself, "what am I to do?" or "who should I become?"

09 May 2021

The interconnectedness

The secret language of trees... 

There is nothing wrong with having a tree as a friend.  Ross Bob

Trees have a vast root system that supports not only survival of itself but facilitates a highly complex and intricate communication system between the various trees in the vicinity.  It is not just the trees roots that do all the work, but there is a whole invisible army of fungi, algae, microbes, sugars... that is at work.  Not all of this network and their mutual functioning and aiding is clear or understood by human science.  But the fact remains that there is a whole give-and-take going on underground.  Most of it is mutually benefiting, but not necessarily all of it.  

What's most interesting is that there is information too passed on!!  This sharing of information helps neighbours get ready to cope with factors (drought, insect attack, diseases...) not yet encountered by itself but by another in its vicinity. 

The bottom line of it all is the interconnectedness of nature!!  

The partial God and gender equality

Christianity has always upheld the notion that God does not have favourites. That he loves and cares for everyone equally.  However, the origin and evolution of Christianity proves otherwise.  

Right since the beginning of God's intervention in human history, as per Christian tradition, God has always been on the side of a particular group or nation.  The old testament is a fitting proof that Yahweh always preferred Israel over and above all other nations and people.  He was on their side, against the Egyptians (when in exile), against the Canaanites (on their return), against the Jebusites (on behalf of David)... Yahweh always chose the Israelites.  

Even in the new testament we see this continued privilege of Israel.  Jesus, the son of God is born a Jew.  In Israel.  For that matter, Jesus himself was partial all his life.  He took the side of the poor (against the rich), the religious ignorants (against the religious authorities of his times), the Jews (rather than side with the political rulers of the time, the Romans).  None of his chosen twelve was a non-Jew.  He barely preached outside Israel or to any non-Jews.  Rather his treatment of Syro-pheonecian woman can always be used as an example to prove his preferential option of the Jews, over non-Jews.  

However, there is one thing common among the many preferential choices that God made all along history.  He chose to be on the side of the poor, the underdogs, the marginalised, the weak and the oppressed.  He stood by those who needed support and guidance.  Who by themselves would not have been able to make it.  So that makes me wonder, if his choice of men alone for the chosen twelve or for active apostolate, was an indicator of who was the weaker gender.  Who it is that needed support and accompaniment?  Going by God's preferential choices and the reason for that choice, it certainly looks as if he considered woman as the more stronger and able gender!  If there was someone who needed to be guided and supported it was the man!!  So much for thinking that man is the superior of the two sexes!!  

08 May 2021

Young people; not youth

Reality is more important than ideas.  Unless one acknowledges this truth, we will only be living in a dreamland and never be able to make a meaningful impact on life itself.  

The simple fact, especially for us Salesians, is the notion of youth ministry.  However, youth is an abstract notion.  In reality there is no youth.  There are only young people.  And unless and until we interact with those young people, in person, in the concrete situations of our life (and their lives), our youth ministry would be excellent only paper but not in reality.  Our starting point has to be the young people immersed in their context. Starting with the abstract notion of youth will only lead us astray.  

Together with this fundamental truth, it is also equally important that we begin with the premise that we are going to encounter God in the young people, not get them back to God.  We do not have monopoly over God.  He is already present with the young in their situatedness. We only need to be open and available to Him, in and through the young - rather than approach the young as if we are the one's offering God to them! 

Reflecting on the the Youth Synod

Reflecting together with Fr Romano Sala from the UPS in Rome, about the Youth synod and its ripples in the Church and for our own Salesian youth ministry, as part of the study day in the Province, I was inspired by many insights. The most significant of these insights is perhaps the notion of synodality that Fr Sala was emphasising to be the process being pushed for by Pope Francis.  

The youth synod, not only spoke to the youth but also very concretely involved them in the process of the synod - from the beginning to the end!  This method of inviting them on board, this involvement of the youth in discussing matters of faith and vocation in the Church made a huge impact on the mood and mode of the synod itself.  I think it made a deep impact most of all on those participating in the synod.  Going forward, I think this method of involving all the stake holders in all the processes of decision-making, right since the beginning is the key to resolving quite a few issues that plague (or lack of which, hinder growth in) the Church and the congregation -  clericalism, ecumenism, inter-religious dialogue, bureaucracy, transparency and collective responsibility.  

This attitude and concrete method of synodality shifts the predominant mentality of the church and the congregation, from 'doing something' for the young to 'being with' the young.  

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