Friday 26 December 2008

The longing of love

We have been longing and waiting for the coming of the Saviour. But I am painfully aware also of the incompleteness of my longing: I know I do not long for the Lord with all my heart; I know there are many other longings that distract, pull away, block… And the beautiful thing is that the Word of God these days reminds us that, more than our longing for God, it is God who is longing for us.

"Let me see your face, let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet, and your face is comely." (Song of Songs 3,14)

In the same vein, David wants to build a house for the Lord, but the Lord tells him: I will build you a House. And Zechariah sings: the Lord has raised up for us a horn of salvation in the house of his servant David (Lk 1,69).

Jesus is the House of David. He is our house, our home. In him alone will our hearts find rest.

Some ordinations and the Pearl Fishery Coast

Yesterday I was at Uttan Pali for Ajit Munis' ordination. The ceremony took almost 2 hours, but the participation of the people and their joy and enthusiasm was great. Uttan Pali alone has given us 7 salesians, and I think I heard someone saying that Ajit was the tenth priest from the village, with more to follow soon, like Velasli Bandya's brother.

In the evening I joined Clifford's first Eucharist in his parish of IC Church, Borivli West, and the reception that followed at Don Bosco's. Sitting with Bro Expedit Lobo and others, I learnt that the family hailed from Tuticorin area. This is the famous Pearl Fishery Coast, scene of the labours of Francis Xavier. The Portuguese had already converted whole communities of fisherfolk in these areas, so as to provide themselves with support communities for their trading outposts (the godowns still seem to be existing, though in a sad state of disrepair), but baptism was not always followed by catechesis. Francis seems to have provided the catechesis, though how much is questionable, given that he never spent more than 4 weeks in any one place. The people are fiercely attached to Francis Xavier. Mr Fernando told me that it was not true at all that they were 'rice Christians', people who converted because of possible advantages and gains; he said it was they who had welcomed the missionaries, they who had supported them, they who had put up the beautiful churches that still dot the coast. Bro Lobo added that fisherfolk were aggressive people, because they were always in a battle with the sea. The sea was the source of their livelihood, but also a powerful foe, and that explained why there was so much of aggression in the people of his community. The aggression was evident in the way Mr Fernando was speaking, but there is something beautiful about this. Anger is energy, and I could see that energy bubbling in Mr Fernando and his family. His two boys had been in Don Bosco Matunga, Sherwin and Romario. They eventually transferred to a CBSE school in Kharghar, and Sherwin went on to win a seat in some Singapore institute through a competitive exam. Romario on the other hand seems determined to be a Salesian. The mother works in the Income Tax department. I thought also of Mr Fernando, our teacher in St Joseph's, and the other Mr Fernando from Bosco Mansion, who had been manager in Glaxo I think. Many members of the community are still struggling, but a very large number have moved out, educated themselves, and are doing extremely well. That does not somehow seem to be the case with our Koli community of Uttan and the Konkan coast. They are doing extremely well financially, at least the fisherfolk of the north of Mumbai, but I have not too many of them holding positions like the Fernandos of the Pearl Fishery Coast.

Mr Fernando, Clifford's relative, told me that when he had been transferred for a while to the South, he had spent his evenings taking study classes and coaching the boys of his community in football. He said he would certainly begin doing something more in the same line as soon as his family was settled. He sounded very passionate about it. I asked him, but will you serve only your own community? He smiled. Charity begins at home, Father, he said. My community needs me. There is much to be done.

Rab ne bana di Jodi

Yesterday my friends from Canada wanted to see a Hindi film. The only one available close by was Rab ne bana di Jodi. I really had no intention of seeing this movie, and a young person who had seen it said it was really horribly boring, a flop, and so on. It turned out to be excellent, instead. Perhaps not fast enough for youngsters, but moving and touching. The story of a staid man, played by an undistinguished looking mustachioed Shah Rukh Khan (it is amazing what a change of hairstyle, a moustache and 'uncle' clothes can do to a man!) who by happenstance gets married to the girl of his dreams, a terribly lively and attractive girl who has, unfortunately, just gone through a personal tragedy that leaves her depressed, listless and unwilling to believe any more in love. But Rab (God) is the one who brings people together, and the film unfolds beautifully and delicately. Of course it is a Hindi film, and the most unlikely things happen – like the nightly transformation of the staid Surinderji Sahni into the bubbly Oye-ing Raj Kapur – but still, I give it good marks. It is a film about a person's falling madly in love, his inability to bring himself to express that love, the subterfuge he resorts to in order to show his love, the traps that this gets him into – imagine becoming jealous of your own alter ego, imagine a role played by you coming into between your own marriage… But Rab is there, and Taani Partner is given finally the gift of being able to see Rab in her own staid, aam-aadmi husband, and after that she makes all the right choices and the film ends as a good love story or fairy tale should end…

This is, as I said, a Hindi film. Which means it is a fairy tale. But fairy tales – and all good art – have ways of bringing home to us some basic truths, without pretending to mirror the whole complexity of existence. And this is good art. Another lovely performance by the irrepressible Shah Rukh, and a truly captivating one by his young partner, Taani Partner…. One comes away feeling good about love, and about Rab, and about human beings in general. We need this kind of film. They are little 'signals of transcendence' (Peter Berger).

So in this Christmas season, I cannot help thinking of God madly in love with his creatures, God coming in search of us ('bounding over the hills, peeping at the window and through the lattice'), God expressing his word of love to us in a mad mad way, far madder than the Hindi film subterfuge of Surinderji Sahni – bubbly Oye-ing Raj Kapur … and far more unbelievable.

And Rab – what a beautiful name for God, if that is what it is.

And the Punjab and the Punjabis – what love for life, what a riot of colour and movement and sound. I love my India. Mera Bharat Mahaan!

Person, wholeness and wisdom

I had missed this in De Smet: that Boethius' famous definition of the person belongs to the atomistic approach, and that it was Thomas Aquinas' transformation of it is that gave us the classical organic notion of person! "This definition clearly belongs to the first atomistic approach to reality and it is interesting to observe what happens to it in the hands of a man of deep metaphysical insight, such as St Thomas Aquinas." (De Smet, "The Open Person vs the Closed Individual")

And what is the key element of this transformation? The substitution of 'rationality' with 'intellectuality,' says De Smet. For the intellect is in some way everything: potens omnia facere et fieri. Not that we pre-contain all possible predicates; only God is eminently every possible reality. But that we human beings really and truly grow by means of comprehension resulting from intellect, and selective appropriation resulting from free will. So the human person inserted into the Whole, and growing into that whole by understanding and freely choosing….

"It is therefore through knowledge in all its intellectual forms and through the exercise of the will in all its options but particularly those of love that the human person is incessantly concerned with the whole, i.e. not with an abstraction but with all beings from the lowest creature to God himself." (De Smet, "The Open Person vs the Closed Individual.")

So the theme of the person is connected with the theme of wisdom, for wisdom has to do with the whole, sapientia omnia ordinat et judicat. And, seeing the note of love that plays in De Smet's writing, I think not merely with the classical 'speculative' virtue of sophia but with the peculiar synthesis of sophia and phronesis that Lonergan spent his lifetime working out.

Hinduism and Islam, truth and beauty

More than Christianity, I first fell in love with Hinduism, at least with the Hinduism presented to us so beautifully in Jnana Deepa Vidyapeeth. Eventually I learned to discover the great beauty and depth in my own religion, the faith into which I was born. But Islam has always been something of a gap. JDV never really emphasized Islam in the way that it did Hinduism, and both experience and the media conspired to give me less than a proper appreciation of this great religion. Which is why I found myself thrilled when something in my heart leaped at seeing the mosque scene and the little girls, and Taani Partner too, at prayer in the movie yesterday, Rab ne bana di Jodi. I recalled immediately several other instances: the extraordinarily beautiful sobriety of the colours and lines of the newer buildings on the Kuwait sea-front, the tranquility and beauty of the Bibi ka Maqbara, the Chand Bibi Mahal, the Taj Mahal, and a hundred other wonderful instances of Islamic architecture that India is full of, the astounding impact of the wide open spaces of so many Mughal buildings like Akbar's tomb in Agra and the Red Fort in Delhi…. The loveliness and gracefulness of Kareena Kapoor or Kajal in Muslim white….

So the 'lofty transcendentalism' of the Upanisads and of Sankara's Advaita, as De Smet puts it, and the stunning beauty that has emerged out of Islam. What a lovely combination. I feel privileged to have been blessed with these revelations. And I think of the article by Pope Benedict XVI that Ashley keeps talking about: Faith and Love – or is it Truth – has need of Beauty.

And my taste certainly inclines to the sober beauty of Islamic architecture and art, which is also the sobriety, in general, of one kind of contemporary Western art and architecture, I think. Our new chapel in Divyadaan tends to this kind of beauty rather than to the overflowing and overwhelming abundance of traditional Hindu art and architecture, and I like it.

Thursday 18 December 2008

The kindness of our God

The second reading of the Dawn Mass at Christmas is from Titus and goes like this:

When the kindness and love of God our saviour for mankind were revealed, it was not because he was concerned with any righteous actions we might have done ourselves; it was for no reason except his own compassion that he saved us, by means of the cleansing water of rebirth and by renewing us with the Holy Spirit which he has so generously poured over us through Jesus Christ our Saviour. He did this so that we should be justified by his grace, to become heirs looking forward to inheriting eternal life. (Tit 3,4-7)
This reading has inspired a hymn that I find truly beautiful, and that I hope will be sung at the Christmas masses I will be participating in during this blessed season:

When the kindness of our God
Was revealed in Jesus
With compassion and with love were we born.
In the spirit of that love
Life abounds with thankfulness
For the gift we know in Jesus the Christ.

May the grace of God be ever in our life,
With a song may gratitude become our home,
Alleluia, Alleluia,
Alleluia, Alleluia!


With the gentleness of peace
Born in love of God as friend
So much healing and forgiveness shall we know.
And with peace is sure to come
such a deep abounding joy
Which the many deaths of life cannot dispel.

In diverse and sundry ways
Of the past did God reveal
Something of the love in which life can thrive.
But in Jesus did this love
Come to fullness for all time
And in Him we are alive with Spirit joy.

All through the years

Our brothers sang marvellously well last evening during the Eucharist celebrating Diego's 25 years of Salesian priesthood, and I want to put down here one of the hymns they sang:

All thru the years, you have been at my side, O Lord
All thru the years, you have been my guide, O Lord
All thru the years, you have taken my hand in yours,
Kept me in your love.

And in my nothingness and in my lowliness
I sing your praises, Lord, I sing your faithfulness
And then my heart o'erflows in joy and gratitude
And I adore you, Lord!

Love and power

Love and power: they seem to share certain characteristics. We speak of being in love, and we speak of having power. A certain type of being in love - the better word is perhaps infatuation - can make one so self-centred as to forget the existence of other people, one's obligations, one's duties, one's social obligations... A certain way of exercising power also can lead to the same type of effect. The nasha of power, we might say in Hindi - the type of 'high' that means you are not quite there....

The Octave before Christmas

Many of our ordinations and jubilees occur during the Octave in preparation for Christmas, the sacred days between 17 and 24 December, and so we are faced with tricky and embarrassing situations when it comes to the liturgy. The temptation is often to bypass the liturgy of the Octave in favour of 'more relevant' scriptural readings and other things.

But is this really necessary? If we understand that Christmas is about the whole thing that God has done for us, that it is about the goal and end of all things, that it is about the reconciliation of all things in Christ, I think there should be no difficulty relating an ordination or a jubilee to the liturgy of Christmas.... For is not the priesthood tied in the most profound manner to the saving work of God, to the goal and end of all things, to the reconciliation of all things in Christ?

I think the liturgy is always a challenge for us to go deeper and discover the deep meanings of God.... The Word of God is ever alive and active, and it bears within itself the most profound meanings, far deeper than what is evident at first sight.

What I have been saying about ordinations and jubilees holds equally for weddings. In the practice of the Latin church, weddings are discouraged during Advent, but there is whole slew of them after Christmas. When we become aware of the profound nuptial symbolism, imagery and reality of Christmas, perhaps we will be rid of the temptation to set aside so easily the liturgy of the Octave of Christmas and of the Christmas season...

Wednesday 17 December 2008

Of conversions and arranged marriages

An imaginary dialogue between a Hindu and an Indian Christian:

  • What religion was your father?
  • Christian.
  • And your grandfather?
  • Christian, also.
  • And your great-grandfather?
  • Perhaps Hindu.
  • Then why don't you return to his religion? He might have been converted by force or fraud.
  • Perhaps. But what matters is today. Am I happy to be a Christian? Then regardless of my grandfather's choices, I choose to remain Christian. In our country, of all places, we should be able to understand that an arranged marriage does not preclude the discovery of genuine love.

The women in the genealogy of Jesus

This morning I went to Maria Vihar for mass. It was a Marathi mass, and I found the responsorial antiphon somewhat strange: "And peace till the moon fails." It turned out that the young girl, opting for the abbreviated form of the two line antiphon, had chosen to read the part in parentheses.

What was even more surprising was the possibilities suggested in the Lectionary about shortening the gospel, which was the famous genealogy of Matthew: all the names of the women, except that of Mary, were in parentheses.

I was left wondering what could have led the editors of the Marathi lectionary to suggest an ommission of what is surely one of the most significant aspects of the Matthaen genealogy: the wonderfully human histories of the four women, Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba, and the fact that Jesus is born from our very real history of pain, suffering, exclusion and sin.

The nuptial imagery of Christmas

This is a reflection I had written on 27 November 2008; the net was not working and Advent had just begun. But the reflection is wonderfully valid as we enter the Octave of preparation for Christmas. There is a powerful nuptial imagery in Christmas which is only slowly becoming clear to me….
The image of the wedding feast is much beloved to the Bible. It is the sign of the end time, the messianic time. It is an image of our final destiny: to be united with God forever. Jesus himself points this out to the Sadducees: You know neither the scriptures nor the power of God. In the resurrection there will be neither marrying nor giving in marriage, but you will be like angels in heaven.

But it is good to ask: who is the Bride, who is the Bridegroom? Here the responsorial antiphon misleads us: 'Happy are those who are invited to the wedding feast.' For we are not merely invitees; we are the interested party; we are the Bride, and God the Bridegroom. Christ, the Head of his Body the Church. The nuptial imagery of Eph 4.

John Paul II spent his first five years as pope meditating on the love between man and woman as sign, as sacrament, as symbol of God who is love. (These meditations are now available under the title, Theology of the Body. Atrociously written – in contrast especially to Benedict XVI's lucidity – but truly powerful and profound.)

Religious life, by that same token, is not a sacrament, but an anticipation, a foretaste, an eschatological sign. We are walking advertisements of the end time. We are people who are living the wedding feast already here, already now. That we are good advertisements and not warning signs! What a responsibility is placed on our head. We pray for joy.

Primary colours

I suddenly remembered my discovery that yellow was a primary colour. I was very fond of drawing and painting as a child. My parents had bought a set of tube colours for me. Unfortunately the box of colours was defective: there were six pairs of colours instead of the usual twelve different colours. Worse still, yellow was missing. I was unfazed, and decided to make yellow by combining other colours. I remember trying every possible combination, to no avail. Eventually it dawned on me – and was confirmed by others – that yellow is a primary colour. It cannot be created by combining other colours. It was an experiential and experimental discovery of the meaning of primary colours… So Red, Yellow, Blue – these are primary colours. Red and Blue gives Purple; Red and Yellow gives Orange; Blue and Yellow gives Green; and all three together give Brown. But nothing can give Red or Blue or Yellow.

Monday 15 December 2008

Thoughts provoked by a symposium

Some thoughts provoked by the symposium held on Saturday here at Divyadaan on a Christian response to the happenings in Orissa:

1. Don't take it for granted that people share the same information. Some years ago, there was a Mr Patwardhan who was writing a book in Marathi with the title, The New Kargils in the Centre of India. By 'new Kargils' he meant the Christian missions in places like Jharkhand, Chattisgarh and Orissa, and implied that these were hotbeds of anti-national activities. But he wanted to be fair to the Christians, he said, so he approached me for my opinions. Most of the time, however, he was doing the talking. We eventually got round to talking about the then recent violence against Christians in the Dangs district of Gujarat. To my great surprise, he said to me: but the violence has been by the Christians against the Hindus! It was a great lesson for me: never take it for granted that people share the same information. Dialogue must begin by clarifying whether we share the same information. The DATA! I became aware also that there is such a gulf between the English newspapers and the Marathi and other newspapers, and that we tend to read mainly the English ones.

About Orissa: it is not true at all that there is enough information. Not even Christians are well-informed about the happenings there. In the recent CRI meeting, when asked how much they knew about Orissa, most said that their only source of information was the papers – and we know how much the papers have been covering Orissa. For the last month, there has been not a word. The terror strikes in Mumbai have taken over the news. It is important that we spread information, backed up by unimpeachable evidence.

2. The issue of violence: it is good to be aware of the Church's own long involvement with violence, and with the various theories touching upon the use of force. As far as the theories are concerned, there is the Just War theory, the self-defence possibility, and the idea that error has no rights. The last has been changed by Vatican II, but the other two are still around, though perhaps with modifications, and we need to become familiar with them. The Bishops of Orissa told the Christians not to react at all, so most of them simply left their homes and villages when attacked. That was probably not a good strategy. Where people did get together and prepare to defend themselves, it seems they were not attacked. In many cases, their Hindu neighbours came to their help and stood by them. In another place, the police advised a Salesian institution that they should be able to defend themselves for at least 15 minutes, till the police could reach them.

Then there is the sad history of the Church's use of violence and force in the defence of truth. The Inquisition is something that immediately comes to mind. While there is much willful distortion of this part of history, still, there is no way we can defend the use of force in the defence of a religion of love. We have to know this part of history, and join Pope John Paul II in asking for pardon.

3. The issue of politics. While not being involved in party politics, there is nothing to prevent us from educating our youth and people to participation in political processes. In fact, such education is not only being encouraged but is even required of us Salesians by the Rector Major and the General Chapters. Someone has to work out programs for socio-political education, programs that we can use for not only our Catholic but also our non-Catholic youth.

4. The issue of conversion. There is no point in being apologetic about this. All religions, including Hinduism, are involved in preaching, proclaiming, faith-sharing. ISCKON is only one of the international movements for the propagation of Hinduism. I read somewhere that there are more Hindu missionaries abroad than Christian missionaries in India. It is but natural to want to share what is most precious. Even Goenka of Vipassana, while speaking against conversion, was talking about how one spontaneously is led to share one's experience of Vipassana…. The young swami Nikhil Das of ISCKON the other day was trying to 'convert' me. The young people belonging to the Nirankari movement were busy trying to tell me of the beauties and strengths of the movement. I get the feeling that we Catholics are the most backward in sharing what is dearest to our heart…. And I have to keep asking myself: but what is it that is really precious to my heart?

5. And a question that has often occurred to me: if I re-convert to Hinduism, which caste will I be? I think if all those who convert or re-convert to Hinduism are made Brahmins, that would be a good enough motive….

6. And a final word: I have the greatest respect and love for Hinduism. I love the Hinduism of the Vedas, the Upanisads, the Bhagavad Gita; the Hinduism of Sankara and Advaita Vedanta, the Hinduism of the bhakti movement….

The selfishness of love

I am reading When Nietzsche Wept. An interesting historical novel or fictionalized history, by a Jewish author. The principal character is not Nietzsche, but rather the Jewish Prof Dr Breuer, and his young friend Dr Sigmund Freud. The book seems to be about Breuer's discovery of the 'talking cure' – made famous later on by Freud. The books starts well, with a dramatic flourish: a strikingly beautiful and intelligent young woman, Lou Salome', strides into the Venetian café where Dr Breuer is having his breakfast…. The pace slows down very soon, however.

But what struck me is how familiar Nietzsche's utterances sound. I heard them first on Bosco Pereira's lips, but the immediate origin of Bosco's remarks seems to have been Tony De Mello. The underlying selfishness of almost all that we do, for example, even what are purportedly acts of love… the dominant self-interest. Why are you so interested in helping me, Dr Breuer, asks the recalcitrant patient Nietzsche. What is your angle? What is your self-interest? What do you gain from it? of course, this is a line of thinking that borders on the ideological: one can always find some self-interest. And perhaps in the end all love is truly self-interest: it is in our best interests to love. It is the ultimate investment. As someone used to say in the last 6 years, solidarity is no longer an option, it is a necessity of survival.

Fruits of kindness

Years ago – was it after my ordination, or was it after the doctorate? – De Smet had asked whether I could be set free for a year to work with him, to put his papers in order. The provincial at that time could not – did not? – want to release me, and I think I was sent to Divyadaan as Prefect of Studies and Principal. I realize now that I have spent the better part of this current – 'sabbatical' – year working on De Smet's papers, getting his studies on the Person together, above all gathering copies of whatever he wrote. Why am I doing that? Many reasons, of course. But among them, certainly the fact that this was not only a very competent and illustrious scholar, but also a great man. I cannot forget De Smet's kindness. His walking into our house in Pune and charming 'anti-philosophical' types like Michael D'Costa. His keeping in touch, sharing his offprints and reprints. The year he spent at the Civilta' Cattolica house and then at the Casa degli Scrittori of the Jesuits in Rome, when he would phone me and take me to see the Mamertinum, the Chiesa di San Clemente with its three levels going down to Rome at the time of Peter, the Church of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere…. And I was thinking, what a wonderful thing kindness is. How it bears fruit – in its own good time.

Forced conversion?

Nikhil Das and Kavesh of ISKCON coming to sell their books and ideas: the Bajrang Dal and their sympathizers might have considered this as an attempt to convert. So many Evangelical Christians seem to have been arrested in Karnataka for attempting to do just this.

Do I or do I not have the right to share, in a respectful way, what lies closest to my heart?

And the challenge: what is it that lies closest to my heart? What is it that I cannot help speaking about? What is it that makes my heart burn within me? What is it that has set me on fire?

De Smet and the post-conciliar Indian Church

Dipping into De Smet's voluminous output once again yesterday – I was looking especially at his Comments on Samaj-Dharma and Sadhana-Dharma, which, according to his classified bibliography, belongs to his work on 'person' and 'man' – I was struck by the fact that this output is a sort of commentary on the exciting, enthusiastic time of the post-conciliar Indian church…. What hope, what enthusiasm, what creativity, what openness…. There is lots that we can still learn from all this, many threads we can and must pick up…. And De Smet's breadth of vision and knowledge continues to amaze. If he specialized in Sankara, he also followed such a wide variety of issues: philosophy in English in India, Hindu philosophizing in contemporary India, philosophy in Pakistan; the theological efforts of the Indian Church; De Nobili, Brahmobandhav Upadhyaya, and so on. Thomas Stephens and the Khrista Purana are, not surprisingly, absent….

A research experience

I had a wonderful experience yesterday, the type that is the thrill as well as the horror of researchers. Going through my files, searching for a chapter on Indexing, I suddenly came across a whole thappi of De Smet articles, published and unpublished – and among them, not one but two bibliographies composed by De Smet himself, things that I had been looking for, that I was convinced I had, but could never lay my hands on. And there was also, marvel of marvels, the piece that De Smet wrote for Malkovsky, "The Trajectory of My Dialogical Activity." Malkovsky makes reference to it, I had tried to get it from him, and there it was, lying in my files all the while. With Malkovsky's name on it: "For Bradley J. Malkovsky…."

Horror too, because I had almost wrapped up my Bibliography and here were all these new items. But I managed to go through the whole lot yesterday, checking each item in the bibliographies against what I have been composing. Obviously these bibliographies are the sources for Kozhamtham's bibliography, and then – perhaps through Kozhamthadam – for Malkovsky's bibliography.

Horrified to learn that, according to De Smet himself, he made 129 contributions to the Enciclopedia Verbo… and I have something like 27! I have asked Banz to try to make a trip to the Central Library, Panjim, and have a look at their 1986 set.

The Christmas novena

The Christmas Novena is about to begin. I have the very strong feeling that it is a spin-off on the liturgy, with an extra day added to make the novena. In fact, the O Antiphon for 16 December, the first day of the novena, is not an O Antiphon at all. And the structure of the novena is really practically the structure of the Evening Prayer – though over the years we Salesians here in India have dropped several of the psalms, I think. And the benediction added at the end is quite out of place! Despite the enormous beauty of the novena music and the prophecies themselves, I shudder when I think of the hotch-potch.

So tomorrow we begin the novena. Perhaps we should find a way of celebrating the liturgy of the Evening Prayer instead, integrating the best parts of the novena… and with all solemnity, with a president, acolytes and lectors…

Thursday 11 December 2008

A little dialogue

Yesterday two people from ISKCON came to see me, Nikhil Das and Kavesh. Nikhil is a young man from Nashik who has taken the ISKCON robes (white top, short lungi, mala, the prominent Vaishnava mark on his forehead). Kavesh was in civvies, and brought along Nikhil Das on a bike. Nikhil showed me the ISKCON books and encyclopedias: translations of the Bhagavad Gita, of the Srimad Bhagavatam, and of several other Hindu scriptural texts. He said it was their mission to speak to young people, who are full of vices of all kinds: smoking, drinking, eating meat, sex. I explained that our young people in Divyadaan were in spiritual training, but that we would certainly keep him in mind and invite him some time to share about ISKCON, its spirituality, its mission.

I also told Nikhil, who I found a pleasant and open sort of person, that the real vice these days was not so much smoking, drinking and sex, as the spreading of hatred between religion and religion, between group and group. It is this that must be stopped, and I said I had not heard of major Hindu organizations like his taking a stand on these issues: the murders of people, whether Hindu, Christian or Muslim, for example. Our Indian Muslims have given us a wonderful example by going public against terrorism and in favour of peace. Would it not be wonderful if Hindu organizations were to do the same, instead of fomenting hatred or at least abetting it by their silence?

And the bogey of conversion: you, I said to Nikhil, are you not trying to share with me your faith, what you hold dearest to my heart? And can I not also share my faith with you? Neither of us would be forcing our faith on the other, but in a spirit of friendship, it is but natural to share, and everyone really is doing it, including the political parties who shout loudest against conversion.

We parted promising to keep in touch, the next time over a cup of tea.

Be a real flower…

"The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of God endures forever." This great text from Isaiah speaks about the word of God, but I want to comment today about flowers. I remember a great saying from Bhagawan Rajneesh / Osho: Plastic flowers never die. Only real flowers fade and die. Be a real flower.

Only real flowers fade, only real flowers die. And however perfect they are, I hate plastic flowers. And I am glad that there are no plastic flowers on the altars of Divyadaan. There is something dreadful about those never changing artificial flowers, the way they gather dust, the way they remain the same day in and day out….

Life is difficult; existence involves pain, suffering, death. And yet, if we had the choice, I have a feeling most of us would have chosen existence over non-existence. And with that kind of choice comes an acceptance of the whole of life, as it is, with its joys and its sorrows, and with the worst kind of evil and death.

I pray for the courage therefore to be a real flower: the courage to accept life as it is, as it comes. For life and death are but two sides of the same coin. There is not one without the other.

Hoping against hope

John Misquitta, SJ, preached the CRI Recollection held yesterday here in Divyadaan. The topic was, of course, Advent, and John gave a really profound reflection, touching on several of the main themes of Advent, or perhaps the main theme: Advent as the in-between of the First and the Second Comings, and the Second Coming as the goal of history, the final communion of God and human beings and of human beings among themselves. Advent, he said, was therefore a time of Hope, while Christmas itself, when we see a child and believe in God, is a time of Faith, and the Second Coming itself the final time of Charity, though the whole liturgical year and all our existence is shot through with Charity.

John explained how Faith, Hope and Charity are theological virtues, and said how impressed he was with Pope Benedict XVI's insight in Spe Salvi that hope is not first and foremost an attitude that we have, as a gift of God, something that God does for us and in us. "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope." (Rom 15,13)

A little practical point was very well made. John explained how the Jesuit novices go for their Mission Experiment. Before they leave the novitiate, they are told: here you have been learning about the Jesuit life as an ideal; now you might come across concrete Jesuits and concrete Jesuit communities that might not always match up to these ideals. What to do when this happens? John said that the novices are given three rules: (1) Keep cool, don't be upset. (2) Have patience; your confrere, about whom you are scandalized, may be struggling to attain the ideal. (3) Be creative: see how you can make the best of a bad situation.

The point is that Hope is creative, always moving forward. The Jesuits, it seems, invented the by now familiar term, creative fidelity: enormous creativity can be exercised within the constraints of an unwelcome or inconvenient 'obedience'. One can hope against hope and make the best of a bad situation.

Or one might go further and see 'hopeless situations' as a theological locus, as places where God reveals himself and his will. So I learn not merely to tolerate, but to see with the eyes of faith, and to hope against hope, knowing that God is at work….

Praying for terrorists

"So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish." (Mt 18,14)

But who are these little ones, I ask myself. These days our students have been praying for those who lost their lives in the recent violence in Mumbai, those injured, those affected. But they have also been praying consistently for a change of heart in the terrorists.

Could it be that these terrorists – most of them young people – could it be that these are to be included among the 'little ones' that Jesus is talking about? Could it be that these are also to be counted among the lost sheep that the Shepherd goes in search of? If 'little ones' is a reference to the anawim, the poor of Yahweh, perhaps not. But there remains the fact that Jesus included a zealot among his disciples. So it is certainly right that we pray for the terrorists. We pray in fact for all people, for it is the Father's will that not one be lost. That is part of the love of God that is one with the love of neighbor.

And 'zealot' is like 'jihadi,' the language of those who feel oppressed, while 'terrorist' is the language of those who are victims of the zeal of the zealot or the jihadi. We here in Divyadaan, who are in the business of thinking, ought not to get caught up in 'positivism,' by which I mean here the tendency to just take things at face value. We need to learn to ask: what drives people to acts of terror? What is the reason for such intense hatred? And we might discover that hatred is always born of hatred and injustice.

And here we are back once again with the great choices of Jesus, the law of the cross. Jesus cares for the little ones, the lost, even the zealot and the terrorist. He understands where their anger comes from. But he does not justify their actions. And his own response is diametrically opposite: he meets hatred with love. He chooses to suffer violence rather than respond in kind. And in doing so, he puts an end to the spiral of violence. The law of the cross is the reversal of hatred by love.

That is the only ultimately effective response to violence. And it is wonderful to see so many signs of hope: Harsh Bogle and Sanjana Kapoor on TV speaking on behalf of love and against hatred, Indian Muslims registering a public voice of protest against violence and in favour of peace….P

Remembering to forget

Nelson Falcao narrated a lovely story yesterday, during his homily to the Nashik CRI, about forgiveness. It seems there was some famous lady – perhaps the wife of some US President – who was being interviewed. The interviewer asked her whether she remembered anything that had caused her great harm, anyone who she had to forgive. She thought for a while and said no. but what about that particular incident, the interviewer persisted. Oh, that, said the First Lady. I don't remember it at all. But I do distinctly remember having decided to forget it.

The feast of the Preventive System

I have just returned from home, where my nephew Avinash and I watched La gloire de mon pere, a charming movie in Southern France of the turn of the century. Despite its name, La gloire de mon pere is simply a growing up movie and not a religious one. A French family goes to a remote French village for the summer holidays. The father and the uncle decide to go hunting, and the little boy wants to join them. "But what about your little brother," asks the uncle. The boy says he will tell him some story. "That would be lying," says the uncle, who is quite religious. "But it's okay if it is for the good of someone." But the little brother has been listening to all this from outside the window. "Do we begin tomorrow?" asks the older boy. "No, tomorrow is Sunday. We begin Monday," replies the uncle. Cut to Sunday morning. The boy is woken up by his little brother. "Aren't you going hunting?" he asks innocently. "Daddy and uncle have gone already." "No, they go only tomorrow," says the boy. "They told you a lie," says the little brother.

Maybe all this morality of lying was playing on my mind during the lovely prayer service we had in Divyadaan this morning. There was the familiar reading about Don Bosco's first meeting with Bartholomew Garelli. "Leave that boy alone, he is my friend," says Don Bosco to the furious sacristan. Was Don Bosco telling a lie? Or was he perhaps uttering a profound truth, that we have been loved by God from eternity, and that we ourselves are called to love thus, so that we are all truly friends, even if we have never seen one another before?

That reminded me of a beautiful little incident narrated by Laurie Beth Jones in Jesus CEO. Jones tells about how she entered an office and was greeting by the secretary in such a warm way that she asked her why and how she did that. "I had decided to love you even before you opened the door," replied the secretary. Jones comments: what a wonderful attitude, and how wonderful it would be if we could treat everyone like that: I had decided to love you even before you opened the door.

So this is it. This is God's kind of love. A pre-ventive love, a love that 'goes before', that anticipates, that loves us even before we have opened the door. "Before you were in the womb I knew you, before you were born I consecrated you." This is the love that is enshrined in the Preventive System of Don Bosco. This is the love we celebrate today, on this blessed feast of the Immaculate Conception: the prevenient love of God, the love of God that precedes even our coming into being. The Immaculate Conception is the Feast of the Preventive System.

Did Don Bosco see this? Perhaps not, perhaps not so clearly. But here again is the providence of God: God guiding his choice, God in his infinite wisdom smiling upon the little beginning that was the meeting with Bartholomew Garelli.

So this is, for us, a profound feast. The feast of love, of preventive love, the love that comes before, before even we have opened the door. Don Plascencia said during the retreat at GC26: the love of a father and a mother comes closest to this love of God: the love that loves the child even before it is born, before it has a face, a name, before even knowing whether it is a boy or a girl…. And all of us are called to be fathers and mothers in one way or another. All of us are called to love people even before they open the door.

Do I love like that? Is my love like that of a father and mother? Like that of God?

We become aware that we are far from perfect. Our love is limited. We act out of self-interest, and so much that we call love is but a masked egoism. Love and selfishness lie together in the same bed.

We are called to be "holy and blameless," holy and immaculate. But we are painfully aware that we are not. And the church affirms that at least one among us is truly holy and blameless. So today we celebrate her, and join her in praising the Almighty who has done great things in her, the Almighty who has brought love to perfection in her. What she is, we hope to be. Where she is, we hope to be one day. What we are now, we are aware of. And we pray, we cast ourselves upon the Love that has loved us from all eternity, and we do our best to love as we have been loved, hoping one day to be reunited in the Eternal Feast of Love.

Tuesday 2 December 2008

Participation

Joe Arimpoor was sharing something beautiful during a mass at the Don Bosco Provincial House, Delhi, from his days in Tirupattur. He said he was organizing an international seminar, and he tried to involve everyone, staff, students, and boarders in the affair. He remembers telling them: 'Ask yourself tonight: What more can I do to make this seminar a success?'

Late that night, as he was working in his office, a little boarder knocked at his door and said: 'Father, is there anything more I can do to make your seminar a success?'

When the guests came, they were impressed by the warmth and hospitality they experienced. One of them, a driver of an AC bus that had come from Chennai, reached well past midnight. There was a young collegian waiting. 'Can I get you some coffee?' 'I would love it, but where can you get it at this time of the night?' 'I have a cycle, I will go out and get it.' The man was so impressed that he narrated the incident to Joe the next day.

The fruits of participatory planning, I guess!

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