Thursday 29 January 2009

The potential of stories

I have always wondered how formators and spiritual directors might help young Salesians to handle the problem of caste. Horribly thorny issue, or should I say sharp, because it cuts both ways, it involves the self-appropriation or lack of it of both sides...

But Moira Carley has just pointed out to me a way: the way of stories. "Stories," she says, "don't tell us what to do or what to think or how to measure ourselves against a norm but they do give us a safe place to roam and to wonder." (Creative Learning and Living 42)

That reminds me of how Leela came to Divyadaan years ago, sensing the stresses and strains among the staff, and how she - gently - led us into a story that helped us get talking - because, I realize now, we felt safe to roam about and to wonder.

Tony J. D'Souza, Jesuit psychologist and counsellor (and provincial now of the Mumbai Jesuit province), confirmed this kind of indirect approach when we met some years ago in a train bound north - though he didn't quite speak about the potential of stories.

So the potential of stories for handling the scars and wounds of millennia...

The light again, and ambition perhaps

And Erik Erikson:

He may come across his supreme task almost accidentally. But once the issue is joined, his task proves to be at the same time intimately related to his most personal conflicts, to his superior selective perception, and to the stubbornness of his one-way will: he must court sickness, failure, or insanity, in order to test the alternative whether the established world will crush him, or whether he will disestablish a sector of this world's outworn fundaments and make place for a new one. (Erikson, Young Man Luther, London: Faber & Faber, 1958, 46, cited in Carley, Creative Learning and Living 56)
And, not exactly the same point, but more or less in the same area as Mandela and Erikson:
"To him who has, will more be given. From him who has not, even what he has will be taken away."
"The children of darkness are shrewder in their generation than the children of light."

Let your light shine!

I simply love this one, once again from Moira's book, a quote from Nelson Mandela:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us most. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us.

It is not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And, as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear our presence automatically liberates others.

(Creative Learning and Living 54)
Wonderful that this comes today, with Jesus telling us in the gospel, let your light shine, a light is not lit so as to be put under a tub or under the bed...

And how apt as we draw near the feast of Don Bosco, who dared to respond audaciously to grace, so much so that we are still bathing in the deep river of his response. He left a trace, as Moira would say!

Catechism and the Word of God

One of the most interesting 'catechism classes' I have ever conducted was a spontaneous one during my visitation of St Dominic Savio parish, Wadala East. The teacher was absent, and the very lively class was at its lively best. I saw that the kids had their New Testaments, and we opened Matthew 25, the chapter on the Last Judgment. I remember being amazed at how kids can respond to the gospel, and how much the Word of God can say to all of us, even kids.

I opened the same text just now, but today it does not speak as it did that day...

The event of the Word of God. And perhaps, also, my preparedness: the four kinds of soil, yesterday's gospel.

The right thing to do...

Looking at Papi's review of Moira Carley, Creative Living and Learning: The Human Element, I came across this gem, a truly wonderful illustration of moral choice which goes with values over satisfactions, and, indeed, that discerns the good beyond and in the face of social conditioning.

The story is from, of all places, Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Huck has just helped his friend, the slave Jim, escape from his owner, and now suffers from a full blown attack of conscience. Has he done the right thing in helping his friend escape? His inherited culture tells him that a slave is someone else's property, and so he must be a thief. Should be do the 'right thing' and give back what was stolen? But deep down, where his conscience is, he knows that in this case what society has judged to be the right thing is not the good thing. So he chooses the good thing he knows: friendship. He will not turn Jim in. And he will live with the consequences.

Huck's decision takes him beyond the satisfaction he would feel by gaining social approval. This uneducated boy, 'white trash' I suppose, transcends satisfaction for value, and so climbs the ladder of authenticity that so many 'better people' fail to do.

Thank you, Moira. You have a way of bringing Lonergan alive. That's communication, I suppose - to the man and woman in the pew and on the street.

Peter Uvin's Human Rights and Development

Finding two good books in a single day is a rare occurrence, but today is one of those days! So here is Peter Uvin's Human Rights and Development (Bloomfield: Kumarian Press, 2005; distributed by Viva Books, New Delhi, and available at a special price of Rs 395.00 for India - so do invest!)

The book advocates a rights-based approach to development (RBA), and it makes for extremely interesting reading for the Don Bosco Family in India and its involvement in Participatory Strategic Planning.

The rights-based approach differs from the earlier approaches in terms of both goal and process: it is based on claims and not on charity, and its processes of implementation are different. It is exemplified most notably in Amartya Sens’ Development as Freedom, but Uvin goes further by specifying what would concretely change in such an approach and outlining practical steps towards such change.

The book consists of two parts. The first part discusses human rights debates, the charge of eurocentrism, and the nature of second- and third-generation rights. The second part moves more directly to the topic of the book, examining the issue of human rights in the practice of development. Chapters 3-6 examine the four ways in which human rights have been integrated into development praxis: rhetorical repackaging, in which little changes except the rhetoric; political conditionality, where again praxis does not change but is linked to human rights criteria; positive support, where development actors actively seek to create the conditions and infrastructure for human rights; and, finally the rights-based approach to development which challenges the entire current development practice.

It might be worth listing here the ‘basic insights’ about human rights in the practice of development that form the backbone of the book: human rights act as lenses, framing social problems in new ways; they place the bar higher, in that development work is no longer a service but a duty and a contribution to the creation of claims; human rights are political not legal matters; they are a subset of boroader social struggles; they allow/oblige development agencies to create new alliances with a much broader range of actors; this does not mean that develo0pment actors must become mor like human rights NGOs; there are ways to ensure principled, human rights-grounded behavior in development cooperation; there is no neutrality; social enforcement mechanisms are crucial; the promotion of human rights begins at home; RBA absolutely demands participation and transparency; human rights are indivisible. Donors need to face up to the need to make choices, set priorities, and accept trade-offs.

Finally, the book raises two basic questions. The first is about the need to make choices among rights, for there is simply no way in which most countries can achieve all rights ‘indivisbly’ and simultaneously. One solution is to select the right with the greatest pay-off in terms of growth. A second solution is more theoretical, and consists of defining a set of basic rights that need to be satisfied before all others. Both these are, however, expert-based solutions. The participatory solution, instead, follows from the RBA itself, and it consists in allowing those most concerned to play an active role in setting priorities or making trade-offs.

The second question concerns interventionism: Uvin worries that much of what is proposed in his book seems to constitute a license for ever further interventionism. He proposes that “the development community … find ways to counter the necessary expansion of its mandate with an equally necessary reduction in its power, its capacity for conceptualization and initiative, its control over finances, and its lack of accountability.” (197) One way is the radical capacity building approach combined with a deep commitment to participation and a strong contractual approach. A second way is for social movements to use human rights as a tool to focus on reform in the international political economy, thus redirecting the human rights spotlight back to the rich countries. The third way is for the development enterprise to do far less, but to do it far better, and within a rights framework. This approach, says Uvin, amounts to a basic rights approach “in which the international community seeks to guarantee every single person in the world access to the key elements of the right to life.” (199) This approach is exempliefied in Arjun Sengupta’s advocacy of a ‘development compact,’ which is “a long-term understanding between rich and poor countries focusing on a few well-defined minimum rights, namely, the rights to food, to primary health care, and to primary education… while not lowering the level of enjoyment of any other right”. (200) A development compact along these lines could be constructed as an entitlement to all people throughout the world, conferring a duty on all members of the international community, especially on those who are better off. “[A]ll persons in the world would automatically be entitled to enjoy these rights, not in return for any action or behavior or ideology but as a simple result of being human.” (201) This is a truly wonderful vision, and, above all, an idea that is both revolutionary and implementable. Uvin can go on to say: this is not ‘charity’ but, ultimately, something flowing from our joint humanity and daily interconnectedness.

Pramod Nayar's Reading Culture

I have just finished a review of Pramod K. Nayar's Reading Culture: Theory, Praxis, Politics (New Delhi: Sage, 2006), and I have no hesitation in saying that this is an exceptional book: well-written, well-produced, and even enjoyable.

Its professed intention is to examine the way public culture produces meanings map through a study of select genres – cinema, comic strips, museums, and tourism. It does this by employing the methodology of cultural studies, which the author describes as ‘a resolutely interdisciplinary field.’ (15) The scope, definition and agenda of cultural studies, says Nayar, could be defined by the binomial culture and power: “Cultural Studies is interested in the ways in which culture works its strategies of inclusion and exclusion.” Given both its indisciplinarity and its interest in power dynamics, cultural studies is a clearly postmodern enterprise – as becomes evident in the discussions of modernity and postmodernity. (22-23) Interestingly, the author notes that no Dalitbahujan gods ever figure in the stories studied in Indian schools, and that Sanskrit and English both function as controlling devices, establishing ‘national cultures’ by deliberating ignoring and silencing other voices. (19)

The individual chapters are simply too rich to be summarized. ‘Screen Culture’ discusses films as mass culture and entertainment and as shapers of cultural identity; multiple film audiences; gender and sexuality issues; and film stars.

‘Panel Culture’ is a brilliant discussion of comic books. The comment on Asterix is especially brilliant and not to be missed: “The funniest criticism of empire comes not from elite postcolonial theorists, but from the comic book, Asterix”. (105) In general, Nayar notes that Western comic books play a huge role in disseminating the often questionable values of the one-third world as normative for the rest of the world. But Indian comics are not exempt from criticism either: the popular Amar Chitra Katha series is, Nayar notes, central to the construction of a postcolonial Indian identity, best captured in ‘India’s favourite catch-line,’ Unity in Diversity, which Satish Despande has incisively termed ‘pasteurizied multiculturalism’. More trenchantly: the series enables “the construction of a certain kind of Indian identity: an Aryan, upper-class/caste, Hindu identity, which is projected as a secular ‘Indian’ one.” (118) Interesting also is the observation that even the nationalist movement served bourgeois identity and interests by projecting a pan-Indian identity in which every Indian was oppressed by the colonial ruler: “Nationalist discourse automatically excluded, under the sign of ‘Indian’, non-Aryan, working- and lower-class, ‘lower’-caste people and cultures.” (118) Amar Chitra Katha simply extends this discourse by excluding non-Hindus or else subtly demonizing them, and by extolling a particular, patriarchal image of the woman.

The discussion of museums is termed ‘Cabinet Culture.’ The four structuring concepts of museums are the object, the context of display, the public, and the reception of the objects. All museums are built around certain ideas and ideologies of these four elements. Clearly, for example, political ideologies inform the choice of objects, their classification, their display. A case in point (which Nayar does not mention) is the huge new Swaminarayan complex in New Delhi: its ‘History of India’ boat trip has absolutely no place for Islam and Christianity, while the Buddha and the Jina barely manage to find a foothold.

Finally, the ‘Brochure Culture’ of tourism. Here the author discusses things like cultural promotion, travel, globalization, commodification of place, the description and prescription of geography in tourist brochures, and staged authenticity. He talks about the ‘poetics’ and the ‘politics’ of the travel brochure, identifies the three principal types of modern tourism (cultural-ethnic, rural, and eco- ), before going on to speak about the economic, social and cultural impacts of tourism and even of postmodern ‘post-tourists’. So while tourism does generate income at all levels and also promotes local culture, it also involves the subtle or not-so-subtle violation of human rights. The locals are often either servants or else objects to be gaped at. Further, here too the selective principle is at work: India is portrayed as a land of religion and mysticism, while other aspects tend to be downplayed.

Reading Culture is a book well-worth reading.

Wednesday 28 January 2009

Preventive System and respect (for the young!)

Kant's distinction between what is good for something (useful), and what is good in itself. And what is it that is good in itself? Only a person: persons are ends in themselves. Which brings us to Kant's famous maxim: always act so as to treat humanity, whether in oneself or in others, always as an end and never merely as a means.

Kant may be here restricting 'person' to the human, but whatever: the point is well taken.

Best of all, it sheds light on an aspect of Don Bosco's Preventive System, which is centred on the young person, and which requires that the educator respect the young person, despite the difference of age, status, authority. With Kant, we could rephrase that: never use a young person as merely a means; make sure you treat him/ her always also as an end.

Among equals, any effort to merely 'make use' of people backfires sooner or later, and usually sooner than later. People soon resist any such attempts, and one is either frustrated or else has to review one's methods.

The problem arises in the case of inequality: between staff and students, for example. There the educator has to be extra careful and more sensitive, because, especially in our Indian context of 'respect for authority', the student might not always manifest open resistance. But that kind of sensitivity is part of the Preventive System: never treat anyone merely as a means, but always as an end in himself or herself.

Preventive and repressive systems of education

From the Introduction to Braido's Prevenire non reprimere (3rd ed., 1999):

Both the preventive and the repressive are real systems of education.

One is more centred on the boy and the 'limitations' of his age, therefore on an assiduous and loving 'assistance' of the part of the educator, who is 'paternally' or 'maternally' presnet, who counsels, guides, supports. Such are the educative systems characterized by a 'family' atmosphere.

The other aims more directly on the goal to be attained, and therefore tends to look at the youth as a future adult and to treat him thus from his earliest years. Among these are to be counted family regimens that are more austere and exigent, schools rigidly centred on discipline and rules, great emphasis on personal responsibility and consequences of actions, boarding schools of a military style, etc.
I was thinking: it is quite possible that, while claiming to practise the Preventive system, we could in reality be practising more the Repressive system.

Note that Braido does not speak of 'repression' necessarily in the sense of 'harsh punishments.' The differentiating marks are 'child centredness' and 'result orientation'. one might say, in current language, that the preventive system is process-oriented, while the repressive system is result-oriented.

I would think, however, that the preventive system, properly practised, would lead to greater personalization, precisely because it is process-oriented.

Monday 26 January 2009

'Honest Citizens' on Republic Day

Republic Day today, and I have to think of Ambedkar with gratitude, for the great Constitution he gave us. A man who rose like the proverbial lotus from the muck, to reach such heights of greatness.

The second reading for today (special readings for India) is from St Paul's letter to Timothy, where he advises his Christians to pray for kings and people in authority, that they might leave us alone in peace...

That was probably more or less what Don Bosco also intended by his 'good Christians and honest Citizens' - people who obeyed the laws, paid their taxes, and did not cause any trouble to anyone.

Today we have to update that reading: being an honest citizen involves more than just praying for our leaders and being law-abiding citizens. It involves active participation in the running of the country, in civic life, in the political processes. Too long we Salesians have taken refuge behind 'the politics of the Our Father' to do nothing about the political. We have the responsibility, at a minimum, to educate our youth to civic and political life. What are we doing otherwise?

And it struck me, only after yesterday's homily, that this also is a vocation, one of the vocations about which we must talk, and to which we need to invite our young people: the vocation to civic and political life.

Jai Hind!

Saturday 24 January 2009

Devotion and complacency

How words change their meanings! When Francis de Sales talks about devotion, he hardly, I think, means what we mean today by devotion. Where we refer to devotion to our Lady and the Saints, and even, with Don Bosco, devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and to the Pope, Francis seems to have meant a certain freshness, joy, spontaneity in doing good. Devotion in that sense is something delightful, something that V.T. George does not hesitate to call 'the finest flower of spirituality.' It is not dragging one's feet, it is not feeling the burden, it is not having to give good example, because one does good and is good with the practised facility of those who are living in the Spirit....

In the readings for the Feast of today, I came across another such word, the meaning of which I still have to enter: complacency. Complacency has acquired for us quite a negative meaning, with overtones of 'being too satisfied' or 'not energetic enough' or 'not interested enough.' The older meaning, instead, seems so different. Francis even talks of complacency as the motive of love... I know that this is a word used (systematized?) by Thomas Aquinas. There are the studies of Fred Crowe on the topic. Lonergan tends not to make use of the word. But it is something I would like to understand: complacency, com-piacenza, being pleased with, delighting in?

And beyond the meanings: I pray for devotion in whatever I do, and I pray for complacency, for delight in doing it - which perhaps comes to the same thing. I pray then, above all, that I find my delight in God: as the deer that longs for running streams - Francis himself quotes that delightful psalm.

Not a patchwork spirituality

It is possible to have a patchwork spirituality, a spirituality that is the result of a thousand external practices and recommendations. But perhaps true spirituality somehow grows from within? As a result of the new Law that is the Spirit of God?

But there again goes the old distinction between 'outside' and 'inside', so beloved of our Indian theologians and spiritual gurus. The reality of growth in the Spirit is probably a dialectic between 'outside' and 'inside', if we care to use those terms at all. Or perhaps, a dialectic or symbiosis between 'the way down' and 'the way up', the way of appropriating what we have inherited, and the way of becoming a master in one's own right...

And then the matter becomes even more complicated, because the great motive force of the way down is the Love of God, the Spirit poured into our hearts.

Whatever: I think there is a gentleness that is pseudo, and a true gentleness that arises from the Spirit, from within, that does not make us tired. No need then of giving good example, because one does and lives with the spontaneity, pleasure and ease that comes stems from virtue...

So on this feast of our dear St Francis de Sales, I pray for true gentleness, the gentleness that comes from the Spirit.

And I know, of course, that human achievement of authenticity is ever a withdrawal from unauthenticity.

So, while what I have written sounds lovely, the reality of growth lies in the little things: letting go, forgiving, making space ...

The Law and the Spirit

Yesterday and today we heard from the Letter to the Hebrews that the new covenant is far better than the old, the reason being that its promises are far better. What, I wondered after all these years, are those promises which make it better?

Today, the answer: Moses was given the Law written on tablets of stone; the new Law will instead be written on our minds and hearts, so that there will be no need for brother to teach brother...

What then is this new Law written on our minds and hearts? I remembered Joaquim saying that Thomas Aquinas identifies this new Law with the gift of the Spirit. The Spirit of God, God's love poured into our hearts, that is the new Law that is inscribed in our minds and hearts... That is what makes us new people, who know what is good and right and just.

But... the reality of our lives is that we are not transformed, that we struggle, that sometimes we land up quite miserable. So where is this new Law, the Spirit?

That of course is the same question as grace and freedom: love cannot force, not even when it is God's love. So not even the Spirit of God can make us change jabardasti. We have our space, we have our little freedom, we can say no... and resist love in a thousand little ways.

One of the ways, I was thinking, is by refusing to forgive, let go.... And I was also thinking that it is the petty little things that get us down, far more than the great adversaries like the BJP and the RSS and the Bajrang Dal... Jesus spoke so often of the importance of forgiveness, he even put it in the middle of the prayer he taught us.

Another way is the little strings of selfishness, often adding up quite dramatically to a self-centred way of living...

Wednesday 21 January 2009

Jesus, the face of God

I have been reading Ratzinger - Benedict XVI's Jesus of Nazareth once again. Wonderful: Moses seeing God face to face in Deuteronomy, and Moses promising that God will send another prophet like him; and then, a little later: no prophet like Moses has yet arisen in Israel. And Benedict's comment: the hope was there, the expectation was there, and it is met in Jesus. And then again, Exodus saying that Moses saw not God's face but only his receding back; and so the prophet that is expected is greater, one who will see God face to face. And John: No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known. So Jesus, seeing the Father face to face, Jesus, the face of the Father.

The little glimpse of that face in today's gospel: Jesus grieving at the hardness of heart of the people, and Jesus looking angrily at them...

All great people are capable of great anger. I tried saying that to a group of Mother Teresa nuns some years ago, and the provincial who was present immediately said: No, Father, Mother never gets angry. I can never forget what happened next: in one voice, all 40 superiors present there shouted down their provincial: Mother, they told me, is capable of great anger.

Goenka of Vipassana said much the same thing: U Ba Khin, his Burmese teacher of Vipassana, used to shout at his workers (he was a government employee). But then he would come into his office and begin laughing.

Jesus was capable of great anger.

All of us get angry. I guess the question is, is that anger coming from ego, or is it coming from concern and love? Am I using anger, or is anger using me?

Monday 19 January 2009

Poverty and dress

Don Bosco Lonavla used to - still has? - an upper middle class Bandra-Mahim culture, and it was quite a culture shock for me when I first entered there way back in the early 70's. One part - a small part, no doubt - was that we had to wear 'Sunday best' on Sundays. Those were spartan days for me at least, and since I had only one 'Sunday best,' I ended up wearing that one 'Sunday best' every Sunday.

At any rate, I was soon thoroughly if not painlessly inculturated, and so one of the first questions I (foolishly) asked upon reaching the novitiate in Yercaud was: 'Brother, should we wear our Sunday best on Sunday?' I still remember the brusque reply: 'Here there is no such thing as Sunday best. Every day is Sunday.'

But it was a good reply, since it challenged my (recently) acquired values and set me on a train of reflection, bolstered also by our Novice Master's exquisite sensitivity to the issue of poverty.

The Sunday best thing keeps cropping up every now and then in different avatars. In Divyadaan of old there was a move to make black leather shoes compulsory on Sundays. I think we came to a good decision on the matter. What is important is not whether one wears black leather shoes. If you have black leather shoes, and if that is your idea of being neat and tidy, then don't wear your keds to mass. But if you have made an option to go barefoot, or to wear only chappals, or only sandals, then please feel free to follow that option.

I think that is still a good solution. The great values of religious life are poverty and sobriety, coupled with cleanliness, tidiness and neatness. Don Bosco's cassocks were mended, it is said, in a hundred places, but he was always neat and tidy.

But there is also the developmental angle. Perhaps, despite the value of poverty, some of our young brothers might need to be allowed to feel good and grow in self-esteem. Dressing up well might be part of this developmental need, and I have learned over time to appreciate that need. Maybe it is we, formators, at our age, who need to look at ourselves and examine our needs and our habits. We need not be the trend-setters, the fashionistas, the elegant ones... Or let me correct that: we do, inevitably, set trends, and we need to exercise thought and responsiblity over the kind of trends we set.

So that is my infallible thought for the day.

Wine and tea

The gospel this morning was about the new wine that is Jesus. My mind went back immediately to our Koregaon Park backdoor neighbour, Bhagavan Shree Rajneesh, and his take on this. The symbol of Buddha, he liked to say, is tea, and tea, he would point out with great delight, is associated with meditation. Even the word comes really from Dhyana, which became Ch'an in China, and Zen in Japan. Tea of course is cha, chaha, chay... The Buddha changed people by teaching them meditation. The Buddha changed the sea into tea. But Jesus, he changed the sea into wine, because wine is the symbol of Jesus. Jesus did not teach meditation. He changed people by love. His presence changes people. It is a cathartic presence, in his presence they cannot remain the same, they are filled with joy, they celebrate, they are changed.

What a wonderful take, I have always thought: the Buddha changing the sea into tea, and Jesus changing the sea into wine. Tea, the symbol of Buddha and meditation; wine, the symbol of Jesus and love. The Buddha changing people by teaching meditation, Jesus instead changing people by his presence, his love!

Sunday 18 January 2009

Sanjivan Ashram, Sinnar

Swami Shilananda's Sanjivan ashram at Sinnar near Nashik.

Unfortunately Swamiji was not there when we went over for a visit this afternoon... Swamiji used to be a great friend of Divyadaan, and even a regular confessor. Today he is hardly known by our brothers. Interestingly, he remembered a famous overnight picnic in 1995, when we had gone with the intention of pitching tents, and there was such a downpour that we ended up using the tents to drape the sides of the ashram temple so that we could have some asra...

And the retreats I remember spending in the ashram. Watching the day change around you as you sit is a wonderful experience. So is the absence of the usual sound of vehicles and other things: it is almost physical, and the body gets into a deep state, first of slumber, and then, I think, of restful awakening.

And the biodiversity in that little one fenced acre... There must have been at least 200 varieties of grass and little vegetation out there, not counting Swamiji's efforts to cut into the rock and grow trees.

And the pond at one end of the compound, now sadly quite dry, but filled with rainwater in those days and even the occasional little fish, with the birds perching noisily on the subabuls around...

And the picnic to the Mahalungi valley, delightful, restful, beautiful...

And the long chats with Swamiji, and his dialogical brush with Ashok Chowgule of the VHP....

Wisdom and prudence

One of the things that struck me quite forcefully, reading Lonergan, was the difference between the classical virtue of wisdom and that of prudence: where wisdom was the ability to deal with the eternal and the immutable, prudence was the ability to deal with the practical, the concrete, the here and now. Thomas went on to describe prudence in terms of the agibilia and the dicibilia: the prudent man or woman knows what to do, when to do, how to do, to whom to do; he or she knows what to say, when to say, how to say, to whom to say. The point is that, while wisdom perhaps makes or discovers laws and rules, it is prudence that applies them. The intelligent man, the prudent man, applies rules precisely with prudence; he does not apply them blindly. All this applies in a special way to the only 'moral law' that Thomas could discern in reason: 'good must be done, evil avoided.' What exactly that good is, and how it must be done, all that, I guess, comes under the virtue of prudence. And obviously to do the good is to do the loving thing. So while negative precepts might be sure, positive ones have a different peculiarity... But I am not being too clear here.

Saturday 17 January 2009

Jubilees and mothers

Ashley's jubilee again, and the readings of tomorrow: the vocation of Samuel, the vocation of John and Andrew. Seeing Ashley's mother there, I realized yet again how much my vocation is not just mine but really and truly ours. Ashley's mother let him follow his star at a time when she could easily have said that she needed him. But she let him go - like several other mothers and fathers I know.

I have so often been touched by the extraordinarily simple faith of so many of our parents. To celebrate our jubilees is truly to celebrate also these acts of faith.

And Mrs Miranda was so matter-of-fact about the whole thing: God has blessed me. He has blessed my sons, they are both doing very well. And whenever I had a problem, I would go and sit in front of Him.

And with our parents there are also so many others: aunts sometimes, uncles in other cases, and certainly also always our brothers and sisters who have to "bear the burden of the day".... Thank you all.

Ordinary and extraordinary

This is a take on Ashley's jubilee homily: Don Bosco's advice to his youngsters to do ordinary things in an extraordinary way.

Don Bosco himself of course did not only ordinary but also extraordinary things in an extraordinary way.

So I guess I would gloss that piece of advice thus: do your duty in an extraordinary way, where 'duty' is understood as putting every good gift that God has given you to full use in his kingdom and for the sake of his kingdom... The Parable of the Crafty Steward, I guess, where Jesus commends the children of darkness because they are shrewder in their generation than the children of light.

So let go, soar! Live life 200%! Dare to dream dreams, like our Father!

Wednesday 14 January 2009

New year and the newness and freshness of God

New Year. Not so much the civil celebration, but the feast of Mary, Mother of God. Feast of the circumcision, of the name giving: His name shall be called Emmanuel, Jesus, God with us, the salvation of God.

Mary, Mother of God: feast not so much of Mary, but of the Incarnation, of Mary, mother of the one person who is both God and man. Octave of Christmas, therefore, and, indeed Christmas itself.

The Lord uncovering his Face to us. The Lord letting his Face shine down upon us. The Lord allowing his name to be invoked upon us. "You are in our midst; we are called by your name. Do not desert us, O Lord our God." And the book of Revelation: his name will be written on their foreheads. They will be marked by his name, they will belong completely to him. And elsewhere in the same book: they will be given a white stone with a secret name written on it. The Name and the Face. The unutterable Name, uttered in eternity, now uttered in time: in the silence of the night your word leaped forth from your heavenly throne. The unseeable Face, now uncovered, manifested, revealed to us: the kindness of our God was revealed in Jesus.

And our response: accepting, rejecting; accepting and then rejecting; accepting and then rejecting in small ways. The play of light and darkness.

And Mary's response: faith. Blessed because she believed. Mother of the Church because first believer. Not understanding, but believing. Keeping in her heart, pondering in her heart. Apt image for the end of 2008, with its blood and gore, with Orissa and Mumbai. We do not understand, but we believe, and with Mary we stand at the foot of the cross, trusting in him who knows all things and who works and is working still bringing his good purposes to an end. For those who love God, all things work for good.

And the circumcision of Jesus, signifying the fullness and extent of his incarnation, his belonging to the Jewish race: "born under the Law." But his true circumcision – that of the heart – will consist in the loving acceptance of his passion (Col 2,11-15). And our true circumcision will consist in loving acceptance of the will of God in our lives. And so we live life joyfully, in service, without grumbling, even to the point of death. And he will make our lives fruitful.

Mountains and streams

The older I grow, the more I am fascinated by the sight of the fall of land, the gray hill ranges fading into the distance as we came down from Nashik on the Jawhar road, the inimitable perfection of a piece of old forest such as this one here in the Goregaon Seminary campus… And Shih-t'ao's Quotes on Painting do not fail to have an echo in my heart. The way he talks of the mountains and the streams…

"The substance of hills and streams embodies the inner law of the universe. But by the method of brush and ink one catches their appearance. One cannot attend to the appearance without regard to the inner law, or attend to the substance alone without regard to the method, for thus the inner law would be violated and the method become futile. To avoid the violation of inner law and the degeneration of method, the ancients tried to reach out to the One. For if the One was not understood, all phenomena would become obstacles; on the other hand, with the understanding of the One, all things have their place. The inner law of painting and the method of the painting brush are but [to catch] the substance and appearance of the universe. The hills and streams are the life and movement of the universe." (Aesthetics: The Classic Readings, ed. David E. Cooper [Oxford: Blackwell, 1998] 71.)

“How wonderful that you are!”

I was talking to the sisters this morning about love: How wonderful that you exist! And when someone says that to me, I feel justified in existing, I do not feel ashamed to be, I do not feel any longer that I am at a feast to which I have not been invited.

And my thoughts went back to the World Social Forum, held not so far from the Pius X campus here in Goregaon, and I understood why I had found it so fascinating. It was because everyone there felt at home, felt that they were justified in being there. No one felt they were at a party to which they had not been invited. I remember seeing all sorts of people: rich and poor, upper caste and Dalit and tribal; everyone shouting loudly against someone or other, but simply enjoying themselves and feeling quite at home.

And is that not a sign and an anticipation of what our world hopes to be like, of the new heavens and the new earth, of the reconciliation of all things in Christ, when God will be all in all?

And does not scripture speak of the end times as a great wedding feast to which all have been invited, in which all people will be at home, and no one will be a stranger or out of place or ashamed to be there?

Light and darkness

We read the beginning of the gospel of John this morning, all 18 verses. Extraordinary density. The theme of light and darkness, of coming, acceptance, rejection. And those who accept, he makes sons and daughters of God. Born not of the flesh, or of blood, but of the will of God.

The play of light and darkness, the dance of acceptance and rejection. A drama that goes on within each one of us, and on the stage of the world. Little things, big things, but the drama is the same: the light has shined, God has let his Face shine down upon us, and we… accept, and reject. The fantastic scene I saw on TV the other day: Yes, yes. No, yes, yes. Yes! I mean, no! yes, yes! No! A full two minutes of this. Extraordinary, and extraordinarily reflecting my life, our lives… He came unto his own, and his own… received him, received him not, loved him, and while loving him loved also many other things, and the whole confusion, the divine comedy….

We have seen his glory, glory as of the only son of the Father. And having seen his glory, glimpsed his glory, still we are fascinated by a thousand other things, things that have come from his hands, things that ought to be an epiphany of his glory, but sometimes become opaque….

And light shining in the darkness: light bringing our darkness to light so that it might be transformed into light. But that transformation: is there not place for my freedom, for my no? I see, but I do not want to change, because it is too sweet, too pleasurable, too … delightful. But worse: when I do not see. When the light has somehow not lit up all the darkness in me. When I am unable to see. When I do not… want to see?

So when the light does shine upon my darkness, when I allow the light to penetrate into the innermost recesses of my being, there is pain. But this pain is good, it is healing, it is wholesome. Because it brings to light, it is the result of being brought to light, and what is brought to light has a chance of being healed and wholed.

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Rupnik, “E se l’evangelizzazione chiedesse una novità nella vita consacrata?” English summary