Sunday 29 June 2008

Henry Gaikwad, Prembhai, of Arunachal Pradesh


Bro Henry Gaikwad, better known all over the North-East as Prembhai, passed away quite suddenly while on a visit to Sri Lanka, on Saturday, 28 June 2008.
Prembhai had taken diksha with Bede Griffiths at Shantivanam Ashram near Trichy in Tamil Nadu, and had exercised his missionary ministry mostly in Arunachal Pradesh. He had an ashram just within the borders of Arunachal Pradesh – it is the very first habitation one meets upon crossing the border into that Indian state from Harmutty in Assam. Prembhai had wandered into hundreds of inaccessible villages of Arunachal over the last twenty five years, witnessing to Christ in his inimitable way and bringing to people the good news.
Henry Gaikwad hailed from Ahmednagar or Pune, and we were novices together at the Salesian novitiate at Yercaud in 1976-77, with Fr Antony Mampra as our novice master. Henry had joined us after having passed through the Missionaries of Charity of Mother Teresa, the Pune Diocese, and several other congregations. The only adventure he had in the novitiate was falling into a 'pond' which was really a hole where all the waste water from the kitchen would be collected for garden use. (Henry's clothes were so dirty after this that the dhobi refused to clean them. This became something of a novitiate joke among us.) After a couple of months of this kind of stuff, Henry became restless and decided to leave. His leaving was typical. He did not head home. He asked for a small sleeping mat which could be folded into three (he was very particular about that), and then went wandering. He had a way of befriending people at station and platform, finding himself a place to sleep and perhaps a meal. He had the charism of total aparigraha: he could wander the length and breadth of the country with hardly any money and hardly any worry or anxiety. I think it was wonderful that the Lord made use of this charism for the gospel in Arunachal Pradesh.
When I met him in his ashram in Arunachal, he told me quite simply that he was known all over the North-East, that there was a room for him in every Bishop’s house, that he could walk into any place anywhere, that he had touched the lives of at least some 25,000 people in Arunachal. He would come every year to Mumbai at the head of a largish group of boys and girls from the state. It was perhaps not easy for institutional people like us to accommodate him, but I am very glad many of us did. It was our very small way of sharing in the charism of this extraordinary man.
Fr Joaquim D'Souza was narrating just one of Prembhai's many adventures this morning. It seems he was on his bicycle, when he found a rogue elephant blocking his way. He tried to run, but fell intead into a ditch, with the cycle on top of him. The elephant came and began stamping on the cycle; luckily the cycle held, leaving Prembhai safe underneath. He was a small man blessed with great good luck, or, to give it its proper Christian name, providence.
I hope one day the story of Prembhai will be written. I have the feeling it is an exciting story, a latter day adventure, of a man who simply trusted in God and whom God used to do marvelous things.

Saturday 28 June 2008

The concept of being

Gilson says that analogy is a property of judgments, not of concepts, and that therefore there is no concept of being. (Being and Some Philosophers, 1952, 190-215)
Mondin objects to this. Even though it is true that 'existence can be expressed not in definitions but only in propositions, he says that we do have a concept of being/existence, as also of cause, truth, knowledge, identity, etc. The reason he gives is odd: without these, metaphysics would be in danger. (Il problema del linguaggio teologico dalle origini ad oggi, 1975, 189, n. 78)
I turned to Lonergan and found him a breath of fresh air. Like other concepts, the notion of being is represented by names like 'being' and 'to be.' By mistaken analogy it is inferred that it resembles concepts in their other aspects. But the notion of being is unique, because it is the core of all acts of meaning: it underpins, penetrates, goes beyond all other cognitional contents. Hence it is idle to characterize it by appealing to the ordinary laws of conception. We have to grasp its divergence from such laws. Is it, for example, univocal or analogous? Lonergan answers: it is univocal... it is analogical... it is neither univocal nor analogical, insofar as this distinction regards concepts, and the notion of being underpins and goes beyond other contents... (Insight, CWL 3, 383-4)
Read the whole text to savour the richness...
The key is to remember that the notion of being unfolds on the level of 'understanding' as well as 'judgment,' whereas normal concepts emerge as the fruit of understanding...
And what would be the data that should be understood in order to arrive at the concept of being?

Friday 27 June 2008

The untidy mind of Thomas Aquinas

Reading Thomas on analogy can be exasperating. His terminology evolves with every book, and he has a very confusing way of giving the same examples for different types of analogy. Worse still is when he dares to give the same example for different types of analogy in a single paragraph, as in the Summa Theologiae I, 13, 5:
These names are said of God and of creatures according to analogy, i.e., proportion. Now this is done in two ways: either becasue many things are related to one, e.g. 'health' is predicated of medicine and of urine in relation and in proportion to bodily health, of which the latter is the sign and the former the cause; or because one thing is related to another, e.g. 'health' is said of medicine and of the animal, given that medicine is the cause of health in the body....
Thomas had an untidy mind. It was Scotus, I remember Lonergan saying, who had the highly organized mind. Something to think about.

Thomas Aquinas and Morarji Desai

Reading a terribly serious German article about analogy, I came across an unfamiliar word: Urin. What is this, I thought: Urin? Thorin? the Urim and Thummim of the Bible? The obvious meaning failed to arise, perhaps because I could not imagine either Thomas Aquinas or the Historisches Woerterbuch der Philosophie thinking of such things. Also, I have this terrible distaste of going to the dictionary for meanings, or perhaps it is just sheer laziness. (I was thrilled when my German teacher congratulated me on the habit. Learning from the context is a favourite technique of the Max Mueller Bhavan. Wittgensteinian influence, perhaps?) Whatever. As it happened, later, reading something in Italian, I came across the same example of analogy, and this time there was the word orina...
Thomas Aquinas was certainly a down to earth type of guy. Giving an example of the analogy of 'many to one,' he points out how the animal is the subject of health, medicine is the cause of health, while urine is the sign of health.
Morarji Desai, I thought, would have inculturated this example: urine is not only the sign of health, but also a cause of health.
I was sharing this great discovery with one of our visiting professors, and he of course had to come out with one of his jokes. Many know about Morarji's therapy, he said. Some also know that Morarji used to stand on his head every morning. But not many know that he used to do both at the same time.

If I remember you not, Jerusalem...

If I remember you not, Jerusalem,
let my tongue cleave to my mouth,
let my right hand wither
.
The first reading of today describes the fall and destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, Zedekiah's attempt to escape, his capture, the slaughter of his sons before his eyes, his blinding, his being carried off in captivity to Babylon together with almost everyone else from Jerusalem and from the country...
How little this means to us, but how much this must mean to the Jews. And how this feeling comes through, so powerfully, through the responsorial psalm, and through the version of Boney M:
By the rivers of Bablylon,
as we sat down
there we wept
as we remembered Sion.
Let the wicked carry us away in captivity
require from us a song.
But how can we sing the Lord's song
in a strange land
.
Why do these words echo in our hearts? Why might they matter to us? Why are our hearts stirred?
Because deep down we are all longing for Jerusalem, for something we have lost, for a home, for a rest...
Deep calls to deep,
and my soul finds no resting place but Him
.

Thursday 26 June 2008

Order of Salesians, Preachers!

Another gem from Buccellato: it seems that preaching retreats to youth and to ordinary people was one of the defined aims of the Salesian Congregation, enshrined in the Constitutions right up to the text of 1972, when it was dropped.
This aim was really the reflection of Don Bosco's praxis. I did not know that, within a few years of the start of the Valdocco Oratory, Don Bosco had begun organizing 'live in' retreats for his boys who were not yet boarders (their average age was 20!). These retreats went on to become a regular feature of life at the Oratory, and they were very important and dear to Don Bosco, because it was during these that he could help his boys make rapid spiritual strides, and above all, identify those who had special vocations to the priesthood, to the religious life, and to the congregation he was founding...
Buccellato says that this aim should be restored to the Congregation. Without it, he says, the Congregation would not be what it is meant to be. Reappropriating our identity as preachers and spiritual guides of the young and of ordinary people would be a wonderful way of reaffirming the primacy of the spiritual and of returning to Don Bosco.

Henrici and Analogy

In early 1991, my first semester at the Gregorian in Rome, when I was still struggling with my Italian, I had attended a course by Peter Henrici, SJ, with the title "A Philosophical Discourse for Theology." Henrici was from the department of Philosophy (he was Dean, in fact), the course was being offered to the students of theology, but it was one of those special moments in the life of a university, when students simply flock and halls are overflowing. I remember the thrill of hearing a master holding forth. Henrici would enter the aula with several fat tomes under his arm: Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas. He would begin his lecture. He would read the Greek or Latin text. He would comment. It was nothing short of exciting. I tried my best to take notes furiously, and I am glad I have those, incomplete and poor as they are.
These days I am going through those notes again. I have been asked to contribute a note on analogy for the forthcoming Encyclopedia of Indian Christian Philosophy. As I read, I am not really surprised to see how right Henrici was. He had pointed out the works of Charles de More-Pontgibaud, Bernard Montagnes and Henri Bouillard as the best on analogy; he had kept noting that analogy was not a concept, that Thomas always said ens dicitur analogice, never conceptus analogus or analogia entis.... And he had a long section on Barth, Przywara, von Balthasar and Bouillard. Most of this is being confirmed as I read these days. It was Cajetan who spoke of conceptus analogus, and Suarez of analogia entis; both these great men gave in unwittingly to Scotus' conceptualism while attempting to oppose him. And what surprises - or perhaps should not surprise - is how right and sane and often unexpectedly different Thomas was...

Love and Liberty

I have been reading Sally Beaumann's Rebecca's Tale these days. A gripping book - Beaumann is a master story teller, and I was amazed once again how a story can pull.
The book ends curiously. Ellen has spent all her life looking after her father, and now her father is dead. She has fallen in love with Tom Galbraith, but Tom has other plans. There is Dr Latimer instead, who has bought her father's house, and wants to marry Ellen. Ellen does not mind Latimer and even likes him, but is torn between love and liberty. She chooses liberty in the end. It is, we are told, a painful choice, but she makes it, and experiences the happiness of 'not having to be anyone's daughter, anyone's wife.'
So: love and freedom. What is one to choose? A wonderful topic on which to reflect - for Salesians as well as for young people.

Tuesday 24 June 2008

A thousand bells

Tony de Mello has a wonderful story that I suddenly understood recently as I was listening to the homily of Msgr Felix Machado, the new Bishop of Nashik.
I sat on a rock at the seashore. I was told that there used to be a temple there. The temple had sunk, but if I sat long enough, I would hear the sound of its bells.
I sat a long time, hearing nothing.
Till one day I heard the sound of a thousand bells.
There comes a moment when we begin to hear the bells.
Listening to Archbishop Felix, suddenly the bells started ringing.
For Don Bosco, the mass in Sacro Cuore when he broke down so many times was one such moment.
There are probably many such moments in our lives, some more dramatic, some less.
They come with time and age, when ‘things begin to fall together’ and one begins to see the patterns, the great lines.
But every moment of insight is like this, a falling together, a coming together, an emergence. One hears the bells, and sometimes a thousand bells.

Music, poetry, insight...

“From where do you get the music?” asks the very elegant Dean of Juillard’s in the movie August Rush. – “I hear it,” says August, very simply. “It is all around. Sometimes when I get up in the morning, it is there in my head.”
And Robin Williams, the ‘Wizard’ says at some point to August: “The music is all around us. It comes to life through us. Through some of us.”
There is a very real sense in which music – and poetry, and all art, I guess – is not the work of deliberate subjectivity. The music, the words, the forms emerge, they are given, they arise… Die Sprache spricht, as Heidegger used to say. Man is only the Shepherd of Being, the clearing in which Being comes to light.
Strange that there is such an emergence even at the very heart of ordinary human intelligence: the pati character of insight, the fact that insight is not so much an action as a passion, the fact that it emerges, that we can prepare the ground for it, but that it is not under the direct control of the will. I cannot have an insight because I want to have it. It is given.
One of Heidegger’s great merits is to have recognized this happening character of so much of life. All the more significant because I have the impression that he did not inherit it from the tradition; it came from his own phenomenological observation.

Monday 23 June 2008

John of the Cross, again

Sr Zoe Williams sent me this from John of the Cross:

Buscando mis amores
iré por esos montes y riberas;
no cogeré las flores,
ni temeré a las fieras,
y pasaré los fuertes y fronteras.

¡Oh bosques y espesuras
plantadas por la mano del Amado!,
¡oh prado de verduras
de flores esmaltado!,
decid si por vosotros ha pasado.

Mil gracias derramando
pasó por estos sotos con presura;
y, yéndolos mirando,
con sola su figura
vestidos los dejó de su hermosura.

Thanks Zoe!

Sunday 22 June 2008

August Rush


These days I have been watching a beautiful movie with the improbable name of August Rush. August Rush (Freddie Highmore) is a boy in search of his parents, a boy who is convinced that the music he hears everywhere will lead him to “those who gave it to him.” Those who gave it to him are Lyla Novacek, classical celloist, and Louis Connelly, pop singer, played by the beautiful Keri Russell and Jonathan Rhys Meyers, both of whom are truly extraordinary in their subdued performances. And the music itself is stunning: the music that August hears and puts down, Lyla Novacek’s cello, Louis Connelly’s heart-wrenching songs (sung, interestingly, by Jonathan Rhys Meyers himself). This is a beautiful movie, a work of art, a coming together of the elements in a way that makes your heart miss a beat.
The scene I like most is set in Central Park. Louis comes across August in Central Park; they exchange guitars and make music together. Father and son meet; we know it, they don’t; but the music reaches across, unites, blends... Why am I touched so much by this? Is it because all of us are sons and daughters in search of our father? Because all of us are constantly searching for home? Because all of us experience moments like this, moments of deep joy and contentment, moments even of transport, but often do not recognize our Father…?
An extraordinary quote from Lonergan comes to me: “It is as though a room were filled with music though one can have no sure knowledge of its source. There is in the world, as it were, a charged field of love and meaning; here and there it reaches a notable intensity; but it is every unobtrusive, hidden, inviting each of us to join. And join we must if we are to perceive it, for our perceiving is through our own loving.” (Method in Theology 290)
In some ways August Rush is like a Hindi film: father, mother and son are happily reunited in the final scene. But perhaps it is not so much a Hindi film as music: the final movement, the resolution of the dischords, the moment of harmony and of rest. The great harmony towards which we are all moving, for which we long…. As Peter Berger says, if God exists, then the clown and the comedy – and music – are the true symbols of life.
August Rush is for me a great movie.

Sunday 15 June 2008

Trees of Delhi


Another book worth investing in: Pradip Krishen's Trees of Delhi: A Field Guide. Published by Dorling Kindersley (India), printed and bound in China, it is a labour of love and one of those books that make you feel good just looking at it.
The photos are simply superb, the historical notes on Delhi and the other notes at the end of the book absorbing, and the information about the trees priceless.
I have spent many enjoyable hours going round Matunga-Wadala in Bombay, identifying trees with the help of Pradip's book.
And I have this great desire to walk around Delhi, find the Delhi Ridge (before it is swallowed up by buildings, God forbid), look at all those magnificent trees...
Thanks to Pradip I finally learnt the names of some trees: the Maharastrian palas (palsachi pane teen), for example, known as kesudo in Gujarat, and, according to Pradip, dhak and flame of the forest in other parts... I have seen the forests of Gujarat aflame in season, and I learnt also that in the not so distant past, kesudo flowers were soaked in water to give an orange colour that was not only soothing and beneficial to the skin, but also used at Rang Panchami before those obnoxious artificial colours took over...

Don Bosco's Room in the Convitto...

Did you know that Don Bosco had a room reserved for him in the Convitto Ecclesiastico, much after he left it, and that he would retire to it almost every day, in order to read, study and write?
I was amazed to find this gem in Bucellato's book (p. 119).
The number of works published by Don Bosco are amazing: 30 in the period 1844-57, 55 in the period 1858-74, and 12 in the period 1875-88.
In the light of all this, the invitation of GC26 to read, reflect, study every day becomes even more significant...

Friday 13 June 2008

Meditation, Rising on Time and Vocation

I came across this interesting fact in a book by Giuseppe Buccellato entitled Appunti per una 'Storia Spirituale' del sacerdote Gio' Bosco (Leumann: LDC, 2008, pp. 141-42).
In the second Italian edition of the Salesian Constitutions in 1877, between his Introduction and the text of the constitutions, Don Bosco added a letter of St Vincent de Paul to his religious about rising in the morning. The content of the letter is surprising: it makes a connection between rising in time, meditation, and perseverance in the religious vocation.
"The failure to rise in time has led to many leaving the religious life, because, not being able to sleep as long as they want, they could not also really love their state of life. What is the use of going willingly to prayer, if one rises only reluctantly? How to meditate willingly when one is only half present in church and that too only because one has to be there? On the other hand those who rise willingly in the morning, ordinarily persevere in their vocation, do not become tepid, and make rapid progress. The grace of vocation is linked to prayer, and the grace of prayer to that of rising in time. If we are faithful to this first action, if we find ourselves together and in front of our Lord, and together we present ourselves to him, as did the first Christians, he will in turn give himself to us, he will enlighten us with his light, and he himself will do in us and through us the good that we ought to do in his church, and finally he will give us the grace of reaching that level of perfection that he desires for us, so that we might one day possess it forever in eternity."

Konkani and Sanskrit

I was browsing through Goanet and came across a piece called 'Piggy Tales' talking about the time when every Goan house had its mazor, sunnem, and dukor... It reminded me of how Konkani preserves certain Sanskrit words which Marathi does not.
Sunnem is a case in point. Sunah is, I believe, the original Sanskrit word. I remember Panikkar commenting on a boy called Sunahsepa, which would translate as Sunnyachi shepti in Konkani. The poor boy's name was actually 'Dog's tail,' and the real meaning seems to have been much worse.(Panikkar's comment on this is fantastic - read it, those who can, it's in his Myth, Faith and Hermeneutics.) But my point is that Konkani preserves the Sanskrit sunah.
Another word is of course udok. The Sanskrit is udakam.
Yet another word is dhu, from the Sanskrit dhatar. Interesting how close the Sanskrit is to the English daughter.

Sebastian and Magdalene Fernandes


This one is for the family again. I found this great photo with Gracie Dias some years ago. Sebastian and Magdalene are the parents of Gracie, Maurice, Michael, Margaret and Rosy, and Magadalene is of course my dad's sister. I don't remember having seen her wedding photo: she looks very young and beautiful, and you can see that Margaret, Meryl, Scarlet and Erika take so much after her, while Michael and Lionel take after Sebastian.
I have wonderful memories of Sebastian and Magdalene, who we would call Dhakto Papa and Dhakti Mai (Vhoddlo Papa and Vhoddli Mai were Marcelino and Conceicao of Dhobitalao). Sebastian was a strong character, and Madgalene was sweet, gentle, and very kind... God bless them both.
The photo is slightly distorted because of my camera. The original is far better...
A thought also for Gracie today.

Sunday 8 June 2008

Old times


This is for the family: any guesses? Comments welcome.

Intra-theological dialectic

A friend just forwarded to me a note on the new policy of the Catholic Theological Society of America. In the past, they would immediately defend whichever theologian the Vatican had chosen to censure. Now there seems to be a policy of 'reverential silence' - both because Vatican policy has changed from censuring persons to critiqueing their positions, and because the CTSA itself wants to be more 'ecumenical,' in the sense of not alienating more conservative theologians 'who might agree with the Vatican.'
Thus the CTSA has chosen not to issue a statement on Peter Phan whose recent book, Being Religious Interreligiously, was criticized by the US Bishops. (Phan himself has chosen not to polemicize the issue, which is impressive, in my opinion.) Instead, it chose to organize a panel on the work of liberation theologian Jon Sobrino who had been critiqued by the Vatican last year.
I think these are moves in the right direction. I think the Vatican move to distinguish investigation of theology from disciplining persons is good. I also think the 'reverential silence' of the CTSA is good.
In my opinion, the Vatican and Bishops' Conferences have at least as much right as any other theologian or theological association to say what they think. I also think that the right of the magisterium to intervene goes beyond this kind of right, and that somehow today's theologians seem not to want to admit any such right.
What, in my opinion, is really lacking - and I am expressing only a hunch here, open to being falsified - is dialectic within theology. In other words: do theologians really take the trouble to critique one another, or do they tend merely to stand together - silently and reverently or not - when one of their own is seen as being 'attacked'? Liberty is the principle of progress, but dialectic is necessary in anything that is strictly human, and that includes theology. If theology were to engage in sufficient internal dialectic, it would make police work by the Vatican unnecessary.
Every discipline has internal dialectic. Theology cannot afford not to have it.

Saturday 7 June 2008

Tanakhla



For those who have not seen the Salesian house - old and new - at Tanakhla (Baroda Dt., Gujarat)...
The land was passed on to us by the social activist and lawyer Fr Idiakunnel, SJ. The Christ Jesus sisters are nearby, with a hostel for girls and a dispensary. They were in Tanakhla much before us, with two sisters who spent two years living with the people in the villages.

The Nuswadi-Bodeli Road



A stunning post-monsoon sight on the Nuswadi-Bodeli road in Gujarat. Taken four years ago, and among my favourite pictures. The water lilies of different colours are glorious, and don't miss the birds...

Friday 6 June 2008

Rejoicing in the Incarnation

The gospel of today ends with this beautiful sentence: "And the great majority of the people listened to him with delight" (Mk 12:37).

Joseph Ratzinger once wrote something similar. He was pointing out the parallel between David dancing before the Ark, and the babe leaping in the womb of Elizabeth as Mary, New Ark of the Covenant, comes over those very hills to visit her cousin. The word used in both cases, said Ratzinger, is the same Greek work, skirtan. So the babe was really dancing before the Lord. Ratzinger concluded: we Christians often forget the element of rejoicing in our faith and in our prayer. We must learn to rejoice in the Incarnation.

The Father rejoices and dances over his people. He rejoices and dances over me and you; over those who we find difficult to rejoice over; over the good and the bad alike. We are invited to join in the dance, to rejoice in the Incarnate Lord, to listen to his words with delight.

Thursday 5 June 2008

Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time

I have been reading an interesting series of novels known as The Wheel of Time, by Robert Jordan. The Wheel of Time is an ambitious take off on Tolkien. Anyone familiar with Tolkien will immediately recognize the similarities, going down even to the names (Tar Valon!). Jordan has, in his turn, become quite a cult figure, as any search of the net reveals. (He died last year - after dictating his last novel, the much-awaited conclusion of the series, at unbelievable speed, it is reported.)
The novels - some eleven in all, I think - are sometimes overwritten, and often the plot never moves, but there is, after all, a story, and the power of the story to pull does not fail. What never ceases to surprise me is how often the central characters in such ambitious stories turn out to be Christ figures. Rand al Thor, the central character, is the awaited of Ages, born of a maiden, the Dragon Reborn, the One who Comes with the Dawn, the Chief of Chiefs, though the spin-off is that he is simultaneously in love with all of three women. Still, he is born so as to face the Day of Judgment and by his death to save the world. Other 'Catholic' echoes are also rather obvious: the White Tower is a cross between the Vatican and Catholic women religious congregations, with an all powerful Amrylin Seat / Holy See / Popess together with 'accepteds', novices and novice mistresses, three oaths and a fierce regimen of unquestioning obedience enforced often by physical punishments. These sisters, however, are people endowed with the female half of the 'One Power,' which they are taught to control and use, enabling them to do fantastic things such as Travelling over great distances and Healing. Interestingly, there are also men born with the male half of the Power, but since this has been tainted by the Evil One, they tend to go mad and can be quite dangerous; and one of the tasks of the sisters is to hunt down every man born with the Power and 'gentle' him. Quite an interesting gender dialectic here.
As has been said of Tolkien, however, it would seem that the dominant presence is that of the Evil One. There are sacral feasts of some sort, but of God there seems to be no trace, except if we were to consider the One Power as God. But perhaps it would be, in a New Age scheme of things...

Fear, attachment, freedom


Some years ago Sr Zoe passed on to me this gem from St John of the Cross, which I hope I have right in Spanish:


Ni cojere las flores,
Ni temere las fieras.
In English it sounds like this:


Do not pluck the flowers,
Do not fear the wild beasts.

John of the Cross sums up wonderfully the ideal of inner freedom: neither clinging nor fear, neither raga nor dvesa. Enjoy the flowers, but do not pluck them. And face the wild beasts, do not fear them. "Do not be afraid, little flock, for it has pleased the Father to give you the Kingdom."

And Jesus, loving, but not clinging. "He did not trust himself to them because he knew what was in the hearts of men" (Jn 2:24-25) and yet also "having loved them, he loved them to the end" (Jn 13:1). And not afraid. Walking tall through life. "Why do you slap me?" (Jn 18:23) "You would not have any power, were it not given you from above" (Jn 19:11).


Wednesday 4 June 2008

Home


The gospel reading today: the Sadducees trying to trap Jesus about the Resurrection. Wyman commenting on the Resurrection, on Heaven, on our being on the way, on going home.

Home: such a word. Being at home. Feeling at home. Rest. Jesus at home in Capernaum: 'And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home' (Mk 2:1).

I could not help remembering Sharon J. Doyle in the wonderful monastic magazine Forefront 2/1 (1995) 35:

Sometimes just the name of a place strikes me and I am
smitten beyond hope of cure. It happened the first time I read Mt 4:13 as a monk
and that experience has never diminished:
He went and settled in Capernaum,
a lakeside town on the borders of Zebulun and Naphtali. In this way the prophecy
of Isaiah was to be fulfilled:

Land of Zebulun! Land of Naphtali!
Way of the sea on the far side of Jordan,
Galilee of the nations!


Oh, Galilee, the very mention of you quickens me. The
One I love prayed in your hills and walked on your waters; he sat on your shores
beside fishermen mending their nets and spoke of the lilies on your hillsides. There is no lasting home for us except in him. He is the
place! And his hand will throw open the gates of everlasting home for each of us.

Jesus: heaven: home. And the
wandering. The not wanting to return home. And yet the
desire. The call. The pull. The restlessness of our hearts. Made for him. Made
for home.

Tuesday 3 June 2008

"Why do you love Don Bosco?"

Vally gave the Goodnight this evening. He remembered his novitiate days and the first conference given to them by the provincial, Fr Loddy. Loddy had asked them: Do you love Don Bosco? All the novices had naturally said yes. Then he asked them, Why do you love Don Bosco?
That is a good question: why do I love Don Bosco? Love, I suppose, is not the conclusion of a syllogism. We do find reasons for loving people, but usually they are post factum, and they have a way of never exhausting the subject. Why do I love Don Bosco? I really can't say precisely why, but I know that I do.
I remember going once to De Nobili College, Pune, for the feast of St Francis Xavier, and being terribly impressed by the way the Jesuits were able to criticize Francis. Perhaps this kind of 'liberated attitude' rubbed off on me. Those were heady days in JDV. Though we were at the fag end of the 70's, the post-conciliar atmosphere was still very palpable. Or maybe it was just that I never had a regular post-novitiate formation, since Fr Tony had pulled us (Nelson and me) out from Yercaud and sent us to JDV almost immediately after the novitiate. Whatever: I know I could hardly have described myself as being passionate about Don Bosco.
Where and how did the change come about? How, in fact, do we make radical changes in our attitudes? Grace, certainly, and the thousand ways of divine Providence. One of those was certainly Peter Stella's book, Don Bosco: Life and Works. That book was a revelation to me: here was a Don Bosco I could identify with, a Don Bosco who had feelings like I had, who experienced the ups and downs of life like anyone else, a Don Bosco who was far more fascinating than I had ever imagined. The chapter on the FMA (read it!); the type of confusion reigning at the Oratory, with people hardly knowing whether they were Salesian or not, but certainly passionate about Don Bosco; the shift from the Oratories of the early days to the boarding schools, even in Don Bosco's own lifetime, and the implications of this for the congregation...
So Stella. And then also my experience in Testaccio, where I found young Salesians who were truly happy and contented and proud to be Salesian. Till then I had the impression that Dominic Savio was somewhat of an exaggeration, and not a very likeable one at that. I found young Salesians and not so young ones who lived their Salesian lives in such a lovely and unaffected way that I became a true believer.
And of course the experience with the scouts and rovers of Roma 60. Perhaps it was with them that I learnt to be a Salesian priest, a priest for the young. It was a great surprise to me that the stories of Tony de Mello were 'bouncers' for them, but the gospel of Mark and the teaching of John Paul II they understood, even though they challenged them vehemently at times.
So have I been able to say why I love Don Bosco? I don't know. But I do know that I do.

Monday 2 June 2008

Gardening, Poetry, Prayer...

One of the most beautiful books I have laid my hands on in the last few years is Stanley Kunitz's The Wild Braid. Kunitz is a poet, an American Poet Laureate, the book is about gardening, and it shows Kunitz pottering about in his garden at the age of 100.
The Wild Braid is one of those books that has to be savoured. I carried it on the train journey from Mumbai to Nashik, and it was a marvellous journey. The book leads you, carries you, into at atmosphere of restfulness, beauty, prayer... Sparse text in which the poet speaks, ruminates... Stunningly beautiful photos of the poet and his garden...
Kunitz's garden is not one of those ornamental ones. Not that it is 'nature left wild.' It is perhaps best described as a poem, a wrestling of the human being with nature, but maybe wrestling is too violent a word...
A garden on a rather inhospitable seashore on the Eastern coast of the United States. Where the soil has been slowly nurtured with layers of seaweed. Which awakens in the spring, flourishes in summer, dies in autumn and is buried in the winter... only to awaken again to another spring...
The mystery of life, of nature, of beauty, of words... and of the human being, the Shepherd of Being as Heidegger once wrote.

Phyllis Wallbank


Phyllis Wallbank was recently in Moscow for a lecture on Montessori and education, when she feel down in a hotel room and broke her hand. Nothing surprising, except that Phyllis is 90, was in Israel a few months ago for a similar lecture, and did a World Tour covering Singapore, the Philippines, Japan, Shanghai, New Zealand, and the USA.


I met Phyllis thanks to the British Raj. It was one of my first Lonergan Workshops in Boston, and Fred Lawrence introduced me to Phyllis and David Levy, 'since all of you belong to the Commonwealth,' he said. Later I visited Phyllis at her lovely home near Eton and Windsor, and published some of her lectures in Divyadaan. Phyllis in turn came over to India, lectured for us in Mumbai and in Nashik, and loved her visit to Goa.


Phyllis' late husband Newell was Rector of St Bartholomew's in London for more than 40 years, and that was where Phyllis founded the Gatehouse School - Gatehouse because it began in one of the rooms of their tiny house over the Gate to the ancient church. Phyllis was a personal friend of Maria Montessori, examined with her and for her, and organized her last international conference in London in 1951. The Gatehouse School was a truly Montessori school - run completely and wholly on Montessori principles, from the lowest to the highest class - only, there were no 'classes,' but instead carefully prepared 'learning environments' where the students could carry out their learning on their own and at their own pace, with teachers around for assistance when they needed it.

Gaspar Koelman's Epistemology

Yesterday I resumed work on the note on Critical Realism for the Encyclopedia of Indian Christian Philosophy (EICP), and began looking at my Poona philosophy notes. I found them easily enough in my shelves, and began browsing through Koelman's Epistemology notes. (Gaspar Koelman, Belgian Jesuit who probably studied under Joseph Marechal. He taught epistemology in Poona for many years, and was a real thinker, loved to philosophize, and was also a good friend.) Extremely interesting.
First of all, I did not come across the words 'critical problem' or 'critical realism.' Koelman's final chapter is entitled, instead, 'Critique of Reason.' In fact, the complete title of his cyclostyled notes is Epistemology and Critique of Reason.
Secondly, the points he makes to begin with: (1) The problem is peculiar, because one has to make use of our knowing in any inquiry about its validity. (2) The formulation of the problem must not presuppose too much. The standard formulation, Can we reach external reality, presupposes that there is a reality external to us, that we know our own reality, whatever that be, and that the task is to find a 'bridge' between the two. (3) The method Koelman proposes is phenomenologico-reflexive: reflecting upon the phenomena or data of consciousness, in order to discover there what cannot be contradicted. He goes on to point out that this may be called a 'transcendental analysis', not in the sense of Kant who reflected upon the a priori conditions of possibility of the contents of consciousness, but in the sense of Marechal who reflected upon the conditions of possibility of the very exercise of knowing.
I found this exciting because it echoes Lonergan so much, especially Lonergan's comparison between Kant and Coreth - but then, Lonergan was reflecting upon Coreth in his "Metaphysics as Horizon," and Coreth is a follower of Marechal.
Koelman then draws up a list of the data of consciousness (he includes here what Lonergan might call understanding, judging, and the pure desire to know), indicates four steps by which he will proceed, and then goes on to perform his phenomenologico-reflexive analysis.

Sunday 1 June 2008

Divyadaan, Nashik



I thought I would share a note about Divyadaan: Salesian Institute of Philosophy, Nashik, where I have been assigned for the year 2008-09. The Institute, with the Salesian residence, is situated on a largish campus in a newly developing part of the city of Nashik. The campus holds also the Salesian novitiate, the Don Bosco High School, the Don Bosco parish, the St Joseph's High School run by the Ursulines of Mary Immaculate, the novitiate and a work for girls run by the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians (Salesian sisters).

The Institute of Philosophy is 'aggregated' to the Salesian Pontifical University in Rome, meaning that it confers bachelor's and master's degrees in philosophy. The number of students is usually rather small, normally about 50, and up to now almost all residential. Most are young Salesians in formation, but there are also a couple of seminarians belonging to the Nashik diocese, and some from other religious congregations.

Nashik is a city holy to the Hindus, being associated with the god Rama. Rama and Sita are said to have spent time in Tapovan, the 'Forest of Penance,' and it was in Nashik that Sita is said to have been abducted by Ravana and carried off to Lanka. Every 12 years, a huge religious gathering called the Kumbha Mela takes place at Nashik. About 25 kms. up the road is also the source of the sacred river Godavari.

Historically, Nashik used to be the jagir of Raghoba, uncle of the young Peshwa Madhavrao. Madhavrao's mother Gangabai was Raghoba's sister; and there is, in fact, a little village on the banks of the Godavari called Gangapur, which might not have anything to do with Gangabai at all, but it does have 5 very beautiful little temples built of dressed black basalt. Raghoba's wife was called Anandibai, and today's slum village - or better basti - of Anandvalli probably traces its name back to her. At any rate, Anandvalli contains - or used to contain, till a builder began knocking it down - the ruins of a very impressive wada, which was probably the house of Raghoba and Anandibai. Madhavrao had to come to Nashik with an army in order to settle his troublesome uncle Raghoba; I like to think that he must have passed through our Nashik campus on his way to Anandvalli.

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