The Cry is “Education”! “Educate Them, Educate Them” is the echoed response. This is the new found panacea for all our woes. Inappropriate acts, words and gestures, committed in private or in public places can, hopefully, be resolved by just education. The distortion of another pillar of civilisation has a distinctive smell. It no longer conjures images of somber dons, but an association with Siberia, “The Red Book”, and Pol Pot Cambodia. And. I shall “nip it in the bud”(sic).
There was a time when parents and teachers looked at formation as a sacred duty to the generations to come. People began taking authority for responsibility and a backward slide began. No one can be branded responsible if the “culprit” is a vague figment such as education. All people, of all ranks love adulations , but , are quick to fop off responsibility. Indeed we all become judges. Only, there is no one in the dock but an illusion. Money is our medium for change. By throwing it at causes, we believe change will occur magically. Millions are spent on advertising (washing our hands off effort), that has neither an audience, nor, a readership. Job is considered done, but none assess resulting gains. If there is a deficiency in the results – feed it with more education.
Goodbye 2021. No one frets for you. What started with a storming of the citadel of our democracy quickly spiralled out into a labyrinth of a Pandemic. Physicians, politicians, punters still argue the why, where, when, how, of what they know so little. An insidious genie is constantly morphing and transforming itself. All agree it’s a pestilence of dimensions never experienced before.
Human experiences bring out the best and worst in us. People have come out braving infections themselves to help the sick and stricken. We have seen thousands put themselves at risk this way – while thousands upon thousands remain unsung heroes. But, as there are givers there are also those who “take”; taking self-protection to extremes. Communities have gone into self-isolation and set protective barriers to keep infection at bay. Who can judge them, self-preservation is a basic human instinct? But. Humans are better than sheep or goats. When they can master the elements, nature and their own life choices, does that not assume a moral obligation toward the neighbour’s welfare and good? All science and technology must first be used for the advantage of the species, else it is mere vanity.
The catch cry is “Freedom”. Yet. How is it conceived ; how practised; how delivered? Is it just a populist posture? How deeply is it pondered upon by its proponents? How often do they question the agenda that puts forward new propositions? How does it propose to “liberate” followers? In other words, what effort is put in by way of discernment? Every decision has consequences. The gifts and the price of embracing liberty need to be properly appreciated.
The incessant demands for freedom cloud judgement. Like blind followers, some continue to embrace the increasingly dramatic positions and opinions. High minded aspirations, in many cases, have degenerated into lists of “rights”. There are no counter lists of responsibilities to provide balance and accountability. Fools rushed in to Capitol Hill while angels counted the cost to the fabric of society. Drinking and frolicking may be great for a night out, but morning must bring the sobering headache. At a stage the very freedom sought becomes the controlling manacle.
We are a strange mixture of elements, compounds and a spark that combines intellect and intangibles feelings. The spark is the seat of our desires – the distinguishing intangible of our species. Desires that motivate higher aspirations can paradoxically lead to sub-human acts of savagery. Prominent is the desire for freedom and liberty. Human need for freedom is as strong as the need for bread and water. It arouses a restlessness to shake off the narrow confines of personal and environmental limitations. However, Freedom needs to be properly managed and disciplined for right results. Failure to do so can lead to digressions – even anarchy.
“When we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim your death, Lord Jesus, until you come in glory.”
When I repeat these words at the Eucharist I try to pray them meaningfully. That’s against earlier years, when the words just rolled off in anticipation of the next response. Since the First Holy Communion, I felt that I had been dutifully attending mass, and apart from frequent distractions, prayed sincerely ( as I had been taught). But, at some stage, an emptiness appeared. Was I addressing the priest? My missal, or some vacant space that would not respond? I felt I needed to have a more intimate connection with the object, the people and celebration. The conversion took time over a meandering progress in my own spiritual awareness.
Essentially, it came down to mulling over the elements in the prayer: bread, drink the Passion and the Second Coming. Smugly people who can deny what I consider to be hard facts. Cliches and Catechism lessons, slided, were revisited, and persevered with, till they made sense and echoed responses in a restless heart.
Bread nourishes and provides viaticum through the journey of life. The Lord provided manna in the desert to the people in their wanderings to the Promised Land. The Lord tested and reconfirmed the covenant He had made with them. The Exodus defined their complete dependence on God. By the time Jesus came, sacrifices and celebrations had dulled memories to the extent that form and ceremony became paramount. Despite continual reminders from the prophets to the people that God will be satisfied by change and contrition, they vied with pretentious offerings of beasts and grain. It was, therefore, a stumbling block when Jesus offered His body as the viaticum. But, when Jesus said, “This is my body”, there is no record of doubts among the disciples; just immediate and complete acceptance.
“Take this all of you, and drink from it: this is the chalice of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven. Do this in memory of me.” One could visualise a high priest splashing blood on offerings of atonement. A vanity for some, but, a deeply moving ritual to those of the Jewish faith. Jesus supplanted the ancient ritual, by offering his own body and blood for the atonement of the sins of world. For this he came, for this he suffered and died. It is a covenant like no other, sealed by the master’s own blood.
The Passion conjures the sweats of blood at Gethsemane; public shaming and scourging at the pillar; the burden and struggles on the way to Calvary; the indignity and pain at the despoiling of his robes; the final agony of the crucifixion itself. Meditation evokes culpa and contrition in those that believe it was the once-off sacrifice made for the forgiveness of the sins of the world.
But, Jesus did not to leave the world grieving in despair. Sin brought death into the world (an absence of God); through His resurrection we are given hope. His Second Coming will be the final reconciliation; dividing those who choose to follow from those who choose their own way.
Those talented and of the world may see this as marching through the eye of a needle; an irrational aberration. With their chosen priorities and attachments they cannot reconcile worldiness with a transcendental existence. We have been admonished to live in this world, without being of this world. Therefore, we believe that faith can move mountains, quieten storms, even reverse the laws of nature in small and great things. When the Master blesses a loaf of bread and turns it into His body, we believe. Just as He turned water into wine, His words change sacramental wine into His blood. He has said that unless we eat His body and drink His blood, we cannot have life hereafter. Those with ears listen: those who wish it are free to believe. Lord. I believe; bless my unbelief.
bearing sweetmeats of heart rolled in a syrup of blood and sweat;
The gatekeeper saw me in your courtyard
and spat me out
like some prickly crazy morsel.
I lie by a dusty barren highway,
Heavy boots of wayfarers
crush and bruise me,
Yet, I smile
the sweet fragrance from your courtyard lingering in my nostrils.
Contemplating My Prostate
The prostate is ego-bloated,
Voidance that should rinse and purge,
Limbs and members of that one vine
Placed for one purpose
But it grows!
Disproportionate to its first intent;
What should shut and what may go.
Oblivious to all,
It turns, cogitates, and issues sparks
This agent of the spectre of darkness
Must be suppressed at once!
Reduce the size of this bloatedness.
And save from implosions
And descent to hell.
Little Spec Of Dust
Little spec of dust
Whence came you?
“O I blew in
On the last gust of wind
That wantonly carried me
This way and that in a swoon.
Again it’s rolling me up,
Spinning me back to whence I came.
So, I go round
The great gust
To blow me far
Into the Sun’s blinding darkness.”
WAY TO DUSTY DEATH
I asked the mountain to be moved
and a rock landed on me,
transfixing me to the desert sands;
a mill-stone of my own making.
I cannot move;
the weight of yesterdays sink deeply
deeply to my soul.
I find relief,
I relax and let go.
A distant cloud bursts
A gentle zephyr brings the text
“In you I am well pleased”.
Is this the way to dusty death?
Journey of an Icicle
Little startled sparkle
Oozing in the morning sun,
Cliffs and spotted green
Onto a heather-down of fresh winter snow.
You seep through moss and cobble slush
To the brink;
You slip into a sparking gush
Of perfect clarity;
Down to a sun-filled valley,
As you go
Familiar clouds, craggy cliffs
With spotted green canopy.
A Flinders Street Ditty
Propped by Young and Jackson
Sits this denizen of Flinders Street,
Watching the passing parade of commutes
in ray-banned glasses and protective business suits;
Protected from the elements and chance infection.
In shaggy beard and knotted hair
he shrugs off dust and itching from his thread-bare gear.
Arching an eye brow, with a twinkle of the eye,
He rummages for his ukulele,
Strums to the filing parade
You, with the shaded glasses, what do you see?
What do you feel through the armour of your suit?
Is there any music from that din?
I see the burst of colours this September Morn,
The warmth embraces my bare arms,
Hear too foraging pigeons that fly
from yonder spire
How great you are! How great you are.”
From your favoured seat behind the most exalted throne
Whisper gently to your son
“He has no wine”;
And, I will do his bidding –
Petty piece of pottery
Rings of long neglected watermarks
Of the first flushing of
Earthly dregs and grime.
I’ll fill to the brim
From Jacob’s well
Wait breathlessly for his command
To turn water into wine.
All’s depravity and insanity!
Reason, the last hope of enlightenment
Leaving relationships in tatters.
Churlish clouds push howling winds,
Mountains spit brimstone and fire,
A cosmic strain
Ready to implode.
Reason’s on a holiday
Joining old opiates
And spirits of forgotten rites!
Who can reason with static airwaves
Jabberings and contradictions?
But if the mind meets the Minder
A confluence would yield calmer waters.
No whys and wherefores
Just gentle emptying
To the wider current
Teeming with fish,
Its banks yield
Hearts synced to magic in the air.
Thanks for the pain-filled look into my pain,
Thanks for funds
That flow into civilised streams that
People, places, possessions.
Such generous acts resound around the world
People laud the generous acts
Tax collectors open granite vaults
To reward as well.
Amid the celebrations and flow of gold
A pious widow shuffles to the treasury chest
With trembling hands drops
Two copper coins moistened by her tears;
One for the spouse
One for her child, no more,
In the two feeling the grief for three
She whispers an “Amen”.
Child of the teacher who taught to love the poor
The message ever glows in you,
Reminder of the face you see in others;
Receiver becomes giver too.
It’s not enough to heal the pain,
Heal body, mind and spirit too.
Then will as a
Collective “Amen” Fully heal.
The Power Of The Word
Why the hurry noble Roman?
Why the strident steps among excitement?
What word have you heard
To revives primal times
When it raced in silence
We have heard it all
Only humdrum of daily chores
Of mending, bending, erecting
Hustle and bustle
shut out the whisperings of immortality.
You beseeched and returned believer
Turning a millennia of obsequiousness on its head
A tyrant’s brow humble in humility
Just for a servant’s sake!
Orders used to being obeyed, obey
The word of a vassal of no fixed address.
Accepting the authority of the word
You changed the system
That built empires
Successions and accessions.
your words resonate
Among those who accept the Word
With due diligence.
in glittering ripples
I wade deeper
As dark clouds cover the sky.
Below the surface
Jocund schools of fish
And denizens of the deep
Curiosity sweeping inhibitions aside
They dart between swaying weeds
And sheltered rockery.
The waters get deeper and darker
Darker still the sunless wells
The weeds too seem
Waving the intruders away.
I break the troubled waters
As darkness covers the sky
“Help me Lord, I sink!”
Helped by his firm and gentle grip
The clouds just drift away
The sea is peaceful once again.
Reclined in a deck chair
Letting the evening breeze
Sooth and refresh
The tired brain and assorted aches and pains.
The Opera House sails majestically
Carry their argosy
Of cultured trinkets and symphonies
Toward the harbour bridge,
Where rainbows cascade
Into a sullen sea.
Children laugh and clap
At each sulphuric spark
That mushrooms and pops
In a sparkling display.
The brain wanders off
The mute twinkle
Above the vanishing horizon
A constant sentinel at its post.
What charts and instruments
Composition or its distance?
What lightyears were travelled
And confound our intellects?
Was the notional starting point
A spot vacated
Millions of light years ago
In some other galaxy?
All will be answered
And the world will accept the answer –
Fresh intellect and instruments
The labour and hypothesis.
Splashed in noon-time glitter
Opaque waters run deep.
Rocked on current’s crest
on green leaves
You gently pass on
To the host’s restlessness
Or, inclement weather.
On the bank
An ageing bark
Mocking your rootlessness
His heavy foliage
Foreboding a season of smoke
and red hot furnaces.
Without dark thoughts
You just bask in the moment’s
The constant blue above you.
You just shrug and pass along
Even stony shores
Never a thought
Of pitched forks, confluences
Open mouthed eternity.
Blessed in your rootlessness.
The Wedding Feast At Cana
Setting: A feast to celebrate the wedding of a couple in the small hamlet somewhere on the dusty road to Jerusalem.
Dramatic Personae: Jesus, Mary, The Bride and Groom, Jesus’ Disciples, Guests, Servants, Feast’s Steward.
Chorus: “ Cana, blessed are you for ever! Shifting sands can’t obliterate your presence from history. Never will you be forgotten. Blessed are you for hosting the saviour of the world. In your humble settings he gave the world new wine. Drink to strengthen and fortify humanity on the way to the heavenly Jerusalem.”
(Jesus is seated at a table at the centre of the stage in animated discussion with the disciples.)
Enter Mary (Left wing): “Son. The wine is running out!”
Jesus, distracted from his conversation with the disciples, has a twinkle in his eye:
“Woman. What has that got to do with you, or, me? My time has not yet come.”
Mary (unperturbed, turns to a servant): “Do whatever he says”.
Jesus smiles, shrugs, and says to a servant:
“Fill those stone jars with fresh water to the brim….
Now draw some and take it to the steward for tasting.”
The Steward, sips the new wine drawn from the stone jars. Slightly inebriated: “ That’s good! Bridegroom, people serve the good wine first. And, when the men have drunk well, then they bring out the cheeper stuff. But, you, you’ve kept the good wine for the last”.
Chorus: “What will satisfy these humans? They were blind. Hardness fills their hearts. A new wine has been given to them. New waters from Meribah, new wine to quench the endless thirst. It invigorates and refreshes the traveller in the journey through the wilderness of life. He said that he would give living water. He has given more. He has given the viaticum.”
We Are Thus Or Thus
The golden orb
Beams into primeval flame
To the rounded mask
(Teeming with ideas
And multitude of emotions).
with fraternal correlatives
Slip to the darker side.
At measured pace
The orb rotates
Capturing a myriad marriages.
At appointed point
There’s a stop and stillness
Stands In bright rays
of Cause and Affects.
For gold, frankincense and myrrh
The orb dull-drifts to recesses of darkness
But is saved by the union transcendental
Counter-pulling to warmth of the primordial Source
Directing by its own discernments
My Friend Jack
When spirits are low with heart-full weariness
And things seem contrary and awry
Jack announces his arrival
And sets the shrubbery alive with impromptu cacophony
A squawk, raises a subdued “Ka”
Quickly adopted by speeches from a honeysuckle
Teasing an even
Higher pitch from the red-hooded rosella.
Disjointed, disconnected, a mishmash
It vies with any symphony
No harmony from measured strophes or baton’s control
Could compete with the magic of the moment
Such peace and harmony that otherwise eludes
(Perhaps we try too hard).
The feast to the senses from the trees
Complements roses, soft-petaled gardenia, geranium and gladioli
In their pots lilies reveal themselves in the gentle breeze
A riot of colours
Join the homage
To the pervasive Spirit
Beautifully fulfilling itself.
Two pigeons roosting on the rooftop
Imperiously survey the scene
Unable to ignore
The dance of sensuous splendour
Both a Gloria and a Benediction
To the Lord.
Phantoms of the past
Rousers that raise
Spectres to cloud
An already darkened night.
An errand Bunyan
No guiding light
No mirages to console.
The void of dull perplexities
Returns no echoes
Or reassurances –
Only the hollowness of fears.
I dangle on the charioteer’s word
Made while horses thundered on
Though armies themselves deserted
The one hope
Remains to lead me on.
The tables are empty
The promenades are drained of chatter
About artists and builders
Whose monuments look jaded.
Empty church halls
Present empty lecterns and vacant places;
No ambitious presentations
Of moon-landings, discoveries of all sorts
To push back of natural frontiers.
No boasts today of
“We’re the best”!
We flee as mountains belch lava;
To escape high waves
We rush to higher places.
High winds lash
residences and public structures
We cower down.
Poor two-legged things!
A silent death strolls empty streets,
It’s given a “Corny” name.
Like Pharaoh’s nemesis
Indiscriminate in whom and where it strikes.
While the universe expands
Into tighter rings of segregations.
The question hangs,
“Who is the Master of the Universe”?
Six years in bulging
Torrents burst down
Storming banks, rocks ,branches
Forward ever faster
A perched kingfisher
Ponders the foam
And a long waiting game.
The eddying churn
Thirstily swallowing all.
On the margins
A Slim crack opes
A gummy smile
And downs a drop
With a wink to the burning sun,
“I Love you too”.
Blessed The Sanctuary Giver
Scattered not sown
Some falling by the wayside
Others among the thorn
(Smallest of the lot)
On fertile soil
(Tended and watered well).
Awesome to see you grow
From littleness to a bushy growth
Green leaves now shade your starkness
Letting shelter to fleeting birds
And swirling hawks of prey
With overflow of gratitude.
Silence descends with the evening breeze
Enfolding the feathered guests
In beds of green’n grey
To the silent night
Snug in the comfort afforded
Balthazar, you have your revenge
You are free and I am here
Captive of my petulance
Grabbing you by the throat a mistake
That landed me here
Restless nights Wrestling
Dreams and fierce fantasies.
Easily fooled to largesse
Forgave my debt
Confirmed my status and my wealth
Then, tantalisingly you came
I could not resist
Taking you by the throat
Shaking you down.
To repay a paltry debt
I Sent you to the debtor’s gaol
Seeking full recompense;
It should not have mattered
But for those meddling compadre
I should now be free
Prisoner of rapacious thoughts
And a moment’s lapse in canniness.
Both the master and you
As I wrestle
Elegy To My Mum
My mother would be bemused by some of the “Feminists” of today. She just took for granted the equality of all creatures, great and small. In a male dominated environment, she was at home among educators, parish groups and community at large, ignoring the gender differences that may have existed. She mixed it with the best at Bridge, badminton, academic discussions and social action. She had a large heart and she gave from it unreservedly, always with a smile and genuine concern. It earned her the nick name of “Crackers”. And, she wore that badge proudly.
A simple girl from a remote place in the Indian Himalayas, she graduated with a bachelors’ degree in education when few women went beyond matriculation. As a young graduate she was appointed Assistant Principal at a girl’s middle school in Agra. She gave up the job to marry, have children and play housewife to a district official. After ten years, with the family situation and the need to be self-sufficient she re-entered the world of teaching. Gifted and flexible, she responded to the needs of the school, teaching classes, from the primary level to final year secondary students. Out of the classroom, she coached in sports like rounders and and net ball. She directed plays for the annual concerts. She helped introducing debating and elocutions to the school.
The school authorities relied on her to fill many technical and skills gaps in its administration. She would prepare things like the school timetable. She coached and mentored many young people, preparing them for teaching careers of their own. When the headmistress of the kindergarten left, the authorities turned to her to fill a big void. She threw herself into it just as she did ; imbibing emerging methods of teaching the “Three Rs”. She then disseminated the skills among other members of the staff. Vacations and off times were dedicated to the institution she loved. She went out of her way to help in the establishment of sister schools in Meerut and New Delhi.
The parish priest and the nuns at the local convent knew they could call on her assistance when necessary. They knew mum could approach district and education authorities through her contacts. But, her circle of friends went beyond the Parish and school. Her friendships went across religious groups, communities and social status; people who could rely on her, as much as she relied on them.
As an activist she started early. While a school girl, she earned a reprimand from the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, for arranging civic action against grog shops in her town. In a post card he admonished her to give up the protest and return to her books. Later, as a young woman she was an organiser of a strike by the Agra Council cleaners. She lamented the action caused a stink around the city. She continued to help the marginalised through her life. At one stage she was being wooed for support by two rival political parties for her potential to win votes.
For all this she was rewarded by a large crowd that materialised at her funeral to pay their final respects to a friend.
Me and my rock
Solidarity for ever
Where the Boys are
The next generation
A Beginner’s Examen on Merc
Glory to God in the highest. In His mercy and compassion He has blessed this day. From the glory of the rising sun the Lord has blessed me. My eyes behold
His wondrous world. Celestial music fills my ears drawing me into the eternal hymn of glory. Fragrance fills my mind. His love pierces my heart and I feel His holy consolation in the marrow of my being. My every breath tastes the milk of paradise.
Despite the heavenly blessings, ingratitude stiffens my neck. I am prone to wander away from His green pastures, deluded by shimmering mirages further away. They offer stones instead of bread, wealth and possessions that rust, and mind- boggling vanities, based on false premises and promises. In my arrogance I have tested fate, my salvation, my all. Through it all, faithful in love, He guided me, silent parent to the prodigal son. With love and compassion continually He revives my soul, drawing me ever closer in His mercy. Despite my stubborn bend He welcomes me, my Beloved.
Why does He bother? I, a filing from His creative engine; no greater than the little flower beside the road that knows only to offer Him benediction for a single day. I do not deserve this love and mercy that is showered upon me. Despite my faults, bloated ego and pride, he sets me free to wander and ponder His wonders and this undeserved flow of steadfast love.
He does not force, nor ask for allegiance or any form of rhetoric. He is a giving God. The strength of this undeserved love ignites reciprocal flames of love, gratitude, compassion and mercy. And, so I love my self and all manifestations of love around me, especially those with whom I share humanity. When I accept mercy, mercy extends from me to others. I am an instrument of His will. I see Him in all things. And, all things with me glorify the One from whom we come.
“Lord, help me to make room for you. Help me to clear out every nook and cranny of my heart and soul and to let go of all things that are not of you. Come into my heart. Give me the grace to respond to you freely, trusting you completely. You are all I need. So help me please to choose you every time. Let every movement of my heart and soul bring greater glory to you, Lord. Amen.” (apologies to the forgotten source).
The Signs of Times
Tenderly the fig tree announces the change in season. Wise ones look to the sky for changes imminent. Will it be today? Tomorrow or the day after? It worries me no longer for I have sought and received viaticum. A half-empty suitcase and a rubbish bag are witness to the preparations I have made for a speedy departure.
The piercing voice from a minaret protests it must be today. Winter storms have cracked, blown and razed standing trees and settlements. All are ready fodder for the inferno to come. A parched hot summer will prevail. Devils will swirl shutting all hopeful eyes. And, in the ensuing darkness the world could fade away.
“Not so”, says the soft merchant as he reclines on his divan and crunches another apple in his smiling teeth. “ Tomorrow will be another day, as the day before and the day before that. I have heard dire statements of gloom a hundred times before. I would be a coward to believe these harbingers of doom and gloom.” Watching him enjoy the moment I ponder, “What if? What if he is asked to give an account of his stewardship tonight?”
One facing a gale-force storm, or, in the middle of the Sahara, parch-lipped, wonders if all is lost? Is it really the end? When, a wisp springs up reviving the despairing addled one. He rushes out into the world, gladdened and forgetful of all that has passed. “It may happen. But, it was not today!”
Wizened and consoled I go about my days. It will happen when it will happen. Consequences, if any, cannot spoil the day for I have my viaticum and worldly possessions have all been put in order.
We are blessed with a spirit of freedom. People can contest all trappings of authority that hitherto enslaved through rules, dogma and anything that restricted “Me”. Non-conformists, inadvertently begin to conform to an emerging culture of radical freedom. Truth may become captive of superficiality and virtual images of reality seduce the real self.
The Church, and the other two religions of “the Book”, have inherited a patriarchal system of hierarchy. Where, God is the Father, and man is his priest. For good or bad the system has perpetuated itself in style, dictums and nuances. Catholics are more fortunate than our brothers and sisters in the other faiths in having had theologians and thinkers who questioned teachings. There has been a continual search to understand teachings of the Holy Spirit in the context of emerging history.
We have arrived at this cultural and spiritual state through a process of evolution. The concepts and interactions with the divine are reflected in various stages of growth of our consciousness. Scriptures in many ways provides glimpses of landmark changes. In Abraham we see the embracing of mono-theism. The story of Job marks a transformation in the attitude to sin in the human condition etc.
In conclusion, as the mind relates to the changing world, newer demands are placed to accommodate the blossoming awareness. Opinions will be contested and those different from ours may be termed unreasonable or intransigent. We are happy that in the current climate the hierarchy is open to debate and is respectful of diversity. We are a Church of above 1.6 billion souls, each one with its own encounter of epiphany. Let us be patient and pray. We need to have faith that The Holy Spirit will transform our New Jerusalem.
Changes in Prayer Life and Spiritual life
From the parroting of formulated prayers and devotions prayer-life for me has undergone some changes. Like many children I recited the Lord’s Prayer, and other prayers, without really addressing anyone. Prayers were petitions; not interactions or personal communion. It was bartering with promises of further prayers and mortifications.
Sometime after 2010, speaking into a void ceased to provide comfort or consolations. Desperate, like Peter I could only say, “Where would I go Lord?” I persevered, praying more fervently and more frequently. Slowly, the formulae assumed more meaning. That feeling of “calling in the void” persisted for some time. Reading about the faith, spirituality and thoughts of Church figures provided direction; greater calm and a connect with the One addressed. Now the same prayers, said more fervently, have developed greater resonance. Does this mean a deeper faith? Can it lead to meditation and contemplation? I do not know how or when it will ever be. But, for now I feel more firmly committed to the Lord.
Spiritual life too developed with natural maturity and support from reading, listening and observing the experiences of others. My path through wisdom has followed through Merton, John of the Cross, St Francis of Assisi, St Ignatius among others. I have a new realisation of my God, others and nature in general – within my own limited understanding. I reached a stage of fatigue under excess of information. I pushed hard to meditate, and at contemplation – alas in vain! Perhaps that is not for me. But, I am content with formulated prayers, devotions and the daily “Lectio Divina”. I imitate Jesuits by seeing love in all things and have received some progress in discernments. In the spirit of St Francis I struggle for humility and detachment. Maybe, this is what Jesus said for me, “become more childlike”. As the poet says,“ More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of” (sic). Modern mysticism could be just prayer through actions. Something the world needs to be reminded of is that actions speak louder than words. It could also bring peace and give greater acceptance of the kingdom of God.
Another day opens to headlines of death, blood and mayhem on our roads. The media outlets feed our insatiable and sedentary lusts for adventure and excitement. Clichés absorb the rest of the day, on juvenile and immature blood-spills. We blame it on this and we blame it on that; this catalogue of accidents and premature snuffing off of lives that mattered to someone, somewhere. Lives cut short of their fulfilment. “Where will it all end?” we lament. Purged, yet carry on.
It is obvious that punitive measures are failing as deterrents. There is no profit in stealing expensive (also not so expensive) cars, if the sole purpose is to ram them into an innocent bystander or a random object on the side of the road. Who knows what motivates the idle mind into such thoughtless acts! We sit and blame law enforcements for not effectively dealing with this inconvenience of damages and loss of life.
We have labels and slogans to placate these juvenile delinquents. We blame the social groups to which they belong. In fact, we blame social maladies, upbringings and (lack of) education. They blame everyone and everyone blames them. No one takes responsibility because the buck fails to stop with any of us. We need to do some soul-searching. We are social creatures and must find social remedies to these social maladies. The question must be, “What can I do”. True, it is someone else doing the wrong thing and it may not affect us directly. But, if we are part of the same culture and society, we must find remedies to problems that affect us all. There can be a million plausible solutions. Rather than finding a panacea, let’s begin with “ME” and see what role I can play in rediscovering maturity, respect and positive attitudes within the community that I live in and hope to thrive in.
“Who Cares About The Saints” ( Random Pick-up or Happy Chance)
Searching the net for something different to read, I stumbled on Fr James Martin’s “Who Cares About Saints”. O happy chance! It only served to reinforce a conviction that there is no such thing as coincidence. The Holy Spirit writes and moves on, alerting sensitivities already blessed by and receptive to the movement. I was already receptive; having been converted by “Jesus”, and confirmed at “The Abbey”. I just naturally fell into the harmony of insights and deceptively simple narrative and frequent exclamations like, “I’ve been here”!
I do believe the book was written for sojourners like me. For a long time, I had wondered why St Jude, a popular saint in India with a major shrine in my home state, had not resonated with me. Now, I can see how different saints appeal differently to different people at different times. Our Lady and St Anthony have so completely absorbed my devotional time, there has been little space for other pious souls still serving the Lord through their intercessions.
Joan of Arc, true soldier and saint, took up arms against the floods of foreign rulers and the male dominated hierarchy of her time. She has been vindicated like Mary Mackillop in Australia. Both remain source of admiration and inspiration for those who feel hard done by the establishment.
For years I pictured myself as Job sitting on a mountain of ashes, fatalistically murmuring, “The Lord gives, the Lord takes away”! His faith motivated souls long before Jesus.The example of St Therese of Lisieux, teaches a calmness, possible in the complete surrender to Jesus through love. Who became part of us, and in us transforms sufferings into serenity and joy.
I was introduced to The Seven Storied Mountain, by a non-Catholic tutor, in my freshman year at Uni. Merton has been revisited several times over the years, still finding him frustrating and confounding. But, from Merton I learned that I had to find ground. I chose the way of the Franciscans, who appealed to my heart. Lord was in His heaven and all was well with the world. But, chance played a role again. At a second hand book shop I picked up a DIY version of “The Spiritual Exercises”. I soon had my feet astride two parallel paths, but I see no conflict in it. I am further comforted that the mix-and-match now receives blessing from the highest source in Rome!
“The Rose by any other name would smell as sweet!” Hybrid, mutated, regardless of colour, size, the soil or climate it blossoms in a rose remains a rose. A thing of beauty and joy for ever. Yet. Arguments arise, and, competitions are held to decide which, and whose rose is better. Is it possible to compare what is beauty itself? Is it true that beauty is in the eye of the beholder? Quarrels have arisen, as is the case of The War of the Roses.
Even now wars are being waged with the same intensity and bloodlust as they were in the middle ages. Who is the custodian of truth, the source of all beauty? People, wealth and resources are drained out to prove what? In a hundred years it will be no more than the same vanity, vanity. So much bloodshed and agony could be avoided if someone like Lawrence of Arabia could reemerge to capture the combatants’ respect and confidence to bring their hearts and minds to work for peace. The West is blessed with a new Francis who could go bare-footed to the tent of the Caliph to plead, pray and parley for peace. Peace is not beyond those that pray. Peace, that engenders calmness and sweetness – the state where beauty dwells. Call it by any other name: its essence is the same.
“Truth? What is Truth, said jesting Pilate and would not wait for an answer.” (Francis Bacon sic). One sees Pilate’s dilemma: the elders of the Temple spoke the truth as they saw it. Before him stood one Truth itself, though Pilate could not recognise it. He did not know what side truth was on. One thing he was certain, it sat with his master in Rome, and he would do all that was necessary to please him.
In contemplation, one seeks union with the ultimate truth. In the emptiness of space and time one enters into communion with the superior being. The exchanges, non-verbal, come as intimations and spontaneous awakenings, confirming or deny one’s comprehension of unasked questions. One does not presume to seek, yet enlightenment comes from the silence within which is also the centre of the universe. The sum total of truth develops, becoming perceptible as an act of Faith.
Humans live for and share with others. Interdependence means more than the sharing at physical and social levels. A veiled need for self-worth demands that the individual seek recognition and validation of personal ideas and opinions. Ratification by peers and respected groups are essential. Tools have thus been fashioned to empirically establish “facts”, and theories about the “properties” of all material things. Scientific theories and spiritual truths are not mutually exclusive. They can be seen as interlaced and mutually responsive: existing to further our understanding of the interactions between the environment and human consciousness.
What is freedom?
It is the power or right to act, speak, or think as one chooses. That empowerment (or right) is controlled by a higher power. Freedom of speech, thought, assembly, or whatever, is permitted ( or given) by a higher political or civic authority. Without a licence, freedoms are diminished. As in the case of authoritarian states.
Our society prides itself for offering greater freedom and autonomy to the individual than any time in our history. Each new state of awareness tested existing confining capabilities, and moved restrictions further toward an ever moving horizon. There seems an infinite capacity for expansion to human ingenuity that constantly discovers new frontiers.
This innate quality of humans can be traced to the first bursting forth from the watery marshes. Through genetic mutations and selections we began mastering the environment. Survival dictated adaptations in food sources, and more conducive environments. Where some species remained confined geographically to familiar environments and food supplies, humans populated virgin lands for emerging needs and rational choices. Trial and error that first made them selective, was superseded and refined by cognitive processes. Restrictions, previously seen as environment factors became tools for groups to dominate others. Taboos, omens and superstitious rites were used to obtain compliance and to standardise behaviour. Along the timeline what people themselves created turned quaint and inconvenient. Civilisations claimed superiority by replacing existing customs by more “enlightened” ways. One group’s freedom became another’s mill-stone of slavery. Not all people are free all of the time.
Into Ordinary Time
In the journey of “Ordinary Time”, Jesus invites us to walk a mile with him. Each furlong’s marked by an “edict”, based on the gospel of Luke (except for one). We journey in awe of the splendour and glory of the kingdom of God that Jesus invites us to be a part. The kingdom expresses “Metanoia” – a comprehensive change in both heart and mind.
The celebration of Christ’s baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist marks the meeting of the old covenant with the new. John, like the prophets of old, foretells the coming of the Saviour, and he baptises the righteous with the waters of penance and healing, preparing the way for the Messiah. Jesus, accepts John’s baptism to fulfil all “righteousness”; foreshadowing the words that he came not to cancel the law and the prophets, but to fulfil them. As he emerges from the waters, The Father, Son and Holy Spirit come together to sanctify the moment of change.
Miracle of Water into Wine.Jesus, Mary and the disciples are guests at a wedding feast, where, at the intercession of Mary, Jesus turns water into wine. “ Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and the disciples believed in him.” The old wine has run out; replaced by a new, unadulterated, life-giving wine.
Filled with the Power of the Spirit, He began to teach in the synagogue. He proclaimed the year of the Lord’s favour and announced the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophesy. And, ”All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth”. Yet. They could not believe his claim to be above the prophets. They liked his words but were blind to the message.
Salvation is promised Gentiles who believe over People who reject him. All in the synagogue could not handle the truth of his words and were filled with rage.They wanted to throw him over a cliff, “But he passed through the midst of them and went his way.”
This becomes the pattern of his mission; they marvel at his words and acts, but reject the truth of his word which came contrary to the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees.
5. The Call of the Disciples. At the lord’s instruction Peter lowered his nets and caught many fish. The disciples were amazed. But, Jesus reassures them saying, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people … and they left everything and followed him”. As a disciple one must drop all attachments and follow him to bring more souls into the kingdom of God.
6. The Beatitudes, the rule of life for his followers.Having announced the kingdom of God and calling the people to repentance, Jesus gives signs of his authority through his words and acts of compassion among the sick and the disenfranchised. In the beatitudes he lays down the “constitution”, for those who would enter the kingdom of God. Disciples must strive to be perfect, as the Father is perfect. It is to be a community of love; governed by the law of love. God’s kindness is bestowed not only on those deserving of it, but on all.
7. Challenge for Disciples: Be Merciful as your Father is Merciful. Contrary to the earlier teachings, Jesus says,” Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you … Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Love sets the foundations to his kingdom. It is a call to change and reorient our lives, regardless of the consequences. Children of the “kingdom” will be known by the love they show in their daily lives.
8. Do not Judge. “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give and it will be given to you.”
“ No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; for each tree is known by its own fruit…. The good person out of the goodness of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil. It is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.”
The kingdom of God and our salvation begin here with transformations in our life and value systems. To follow him for “that extra mile”, we have to be prepared to drink the cup that he drank, and follow him to Gethsemane and to the triumph of Calvary.
To Change & How To Change
Let me play the fool (or “prophet new inspired”) to a generation that makes sexuality its foremost concern. Thanks to Dr Freud, and some “revolutionary” intellectuals in the last century, our narcissistic bent is a-buzz, seeking consolations, or, absolution. The Catholic Church, with its unchanging (unchangeable) attitude to morality, has become a constant target. There are recurring strains calling for it to spell out its stand on this and other vexing issue.
I ask myself, why is it that believers in other faiths do not have such radical dissents? I can not think of a religion that is more liberal and “change-conscious” than Christianity. We have had Reformations, counter-reformations, and several “Councils” to keep abreast of the evolving spiritual consciousness. In some cases the Church has held firm to its ground, allowing the storm to pass. In time, space has been found where the faithful could be comfortable. The people of Israel railed about their desire for a king – it was the fashion in that age and time. When they were given a king they rebelled against their own anointed one. There were cries like, “Saul killed a thousand men; David has killed ten thousand men” etc.
Time and time again there have been demands for changes. But, no change is permanent because no change satisfies.
Moral of the story, “Only fools rush in where angels fear to tread”.
Synchronising with Scripture
Sometimes a passage (like Matt 7:1-5 today) causes one to pause and consider. The preaching, with variations, has been, “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged”. Today, it became an instruction for active discipleship, “ first take out the log from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye.” How contrary it sounds in today’s static on the airwaves!
Everyone strives above the din to call a neighbour to be “accountable” for some perceived act of delinquency. In our smug self-righteousness, we want the other to take “responsibility”, when we ourselves are quick to disclaim responsibility for our own attitudes and actions. When it comes to ourselves, it is always, “The serpent made me eat it”. Indeed, it is part of that original sin. How we blame the government, establishments, even our DNA, for decisions and acts we commit of our own volitions.
We begin to wonder at the relevance of calls for us to be perfect “as the Father is perfect”. We continue on chosen trajectories like wanton kids, absorbed with curiosity about the boundaries of ethics, social behaviour and our sexual affirmations. Does one wear pencil line trousers or flares; skinny shorts or frayed denims; follow some fixed genre of music etc, to be mod and in step with “things”? Is it fashionable to hold particular social or political positions? How “conformist” are we to be to be considered non-conformist? It does seem to be an overwhelming preoccupation to be pointing fingers at people who love the simple old fashioned things like respect, congeniality, and faithfulness to an ethical code.
I am an anachronism, committed to very “Boring” attitudes. Unfortunately, I too have meandered among loosely bound Christians. For instance, I considered it a cultural imperative to take my children for Baptism. Upon their reaching the age of reason the formalities of the sacraments of initiation too were duly completed. Christmas and Easter were celebrations of consumerism, with little place for their religious significance. Thus, I missed the calls of the prophets and the psalmists to teach my children about the faith and the law. Instead I sent them to Catholic schools, making those institutions “responsible” for teaching and instruction – thus “accountable”. Grudgingly, I now see the log in my own eye. I pray true discipleship will follow.
Throwing The First Stone
Pointing fingers and throwing stones may distance us from those caught in the act of “adultery” (or whatever); but it does not absolve our guilt. We look for hypocrisy and self- righteousness among the “Pharisees”, when in fact, they surround us masquerading in “Political Correctness”, or some invention of our civic imagination. Indeed, we are so obsessed with novelty and “new thinking”, that we throw out anything resembling shackles of tradition. They provide catharsis and a sense of “Freedom”. Mostly, it is freedom with no strings of responsibility, or, the possibility of consequences. Each affect and its cause form a link in the long continuum of cause and affects.
Indeed, our obsession with the glittering attractions of newness makes us hitch onto any passing caravan promising change. We desire to give to Caesar that which is Caesar’s. Alas! Caesar is no constant star. With grandiose gestures he seduces those who applaud him from roof tops. What may have been passed off as “venal” becomes an asp with a mortal nip. What was benign raises screams and demands for lynching. Self-righteousness distances us from a past we now abhor. At the same time our perceptions of goodness and morality have altered: crime and punishment can be negotiated by quibbling and legal jurisprudence.
Thankfully, not all are reliant on flexible morality guides. The teaching of Love retains its primal potency, while acts demeaning or scandalising others (especially children) continue to threaten a soul’s salvation. Truth can never change. Traditional Morality will retain its perennial freshness, pointing to the right relationships with God and other human beings, in all seasons and for all time.
Probing Spirituality ( Matt 13:47-52)
Early this morning a Facebook message caused me to wonder. Could an old treasure be making itself manifest in the present kingdom of God?
Naveen is a link with my Sahaganj past. A period of metamorphosis. From a simpleton I became more of the man that I am today. Interacting with diversity in Sahaganj, I learned about other beliefs and cultural differences, while growing in my own faith, courtesy the exposure to the Salesian House at Bandel Church. “Fair seed-time had my soul, fostered alike by Spirit and the world”(sic). With new ground and sensitivity I drew in a treasure-filled net, full of riches and ancient legacy that today galvanises peoples and their belief systems. People on the same land and political monolith.
There followed a restless period of sifting (gathering of good fish and tossing away the incompatible). At the same time grooming the good seed as it grew. After retirement I found deeper understanding and the awareness of my transcendent self. The new treasure includes gems of mysticism, the spirituality of St Benedict, St Francis of Assisi, and St Ignatius. I can never be perfect, but I am fortified in that I follow my saviour on the way.
Now, with a treasure-trove of old objects mixed in harmony with the new, I devote mind, heart and energy to prayer. It is an unfamiliar path – I do not know where it will lead. I let go and accept all things as coming from the Almighty. My duty is to be grateful for the gifts as they come and to return them in prayer.
Surprise and Synchronicity
How often I have spouted words that have taken me by surprise? I have ended asking myself, “Where did that come from?” Words that sprang up out of nowhere, with no pre-connections? Like the time I was asked in class what I wanted to do after finishing school. While classmates wanted all sorts of career successes, I blurted out that I wanted to gain paradise (much to the amusement of the class). I did mean it at the time, but, to date I have not been able to fathom where it came from. Especially, in the context that I was just an average student, with no particular religious inclination. Yet. I continue to surprise myself with words coming out from nowhere, at best from the dim recesses of latent memories.I can only thank the Holy Spirit who blesses simpletons such as I: making simple fishermen evangelists for the Kingdom of God. The gift that raises passionate responses in the defence of faith, and tradition.
At times an image or word triggers an automatic recall of something, unrelated, from the past. Synchronism is a very real and disconcerting experience. It can be understood, however, as a gift of the Holy Spirit. Outside of that one begins to question one’s sanity. It can be used as a tool in effective discernment – along with prayer it can reinforce considered decision making. When it cannot be seen as part of God’s plan, it could be dismissed as being potently evil-inspired.
Another moment that suddenly catches attention is when a situation evokes a premonition of something in the future. Something, or, an incident may sound familiar, connecting with an earlier forgotten experience. It could correctly interpreted as a guide to prudence.
I am convinced these are some of the ways The Holy Spirit communicates with us and keeps the sensitive mind connected with the transcendent self.
What resonates with John 12:24-26.
Happy coincident that my daily reading was followed by the video on BBI’s e-conference on the synodical process. Tradition was defined as the process of handing over experiences and the Word, first received by the disciples of Jesus, and then past down to us in primal freshness. Each day in the eucharist we renew and relive that first sacrifice 2000 years ago, and so it will continue into the future. Christ yesterday, Christ today, Christ till the end of time. It was the seed sown for all humanity, and is cherished in our daily expressions of faith. It has been and will remain relevant and real in all times – spanning the Church of the Crusades, the glory days of the Baroque and Renaissance, and the period we call “The Age of Enlightenment”. Each stage has seen the glory of God unfolded in a myriad mysterious ways – always fresh and soul-assuring.
In our overreach, we sometimes try to fix the parameters of conduct and worship, ignoring that love, communal self-healing and freedom from the yoke of the Pharisees, are the essential gifts of the Messiah. In the turbulence and rocking of history the original intentions of the tradition have been made subordinate to the primacy of law. Can we ask probing questions, just as Jesus did? Bear in mind that idle speculation, based on individual whims, is dangerous. Jesus, though he challenged outward forms and customs, himself practised humility and obedience, and remained faithful to letter of the “law”. The will of the Father is the important thing; not man-made practices and customs. Jesus’ word is truth that sets us free. It is not restrained by time and customs. If the Word is seen as having fallen once for all time, it remains sterile and insulated against change: its full benefits passed on with limitations to succeeding generations. But, when the Word falls on good ground and is diligently nurtured, it yields in profusion, yielding freshness for all generations. We need to recognise and rejoice in its organic growth.
”Quo Vadis” indeed! Seeing the old order slip away with nothing but manufactured imitations offered as replacements. Bonds of morality are loosed, giving way to things like “Political Correctness”. To proclaim a more humane society we ban capital punishment and harsh penalties, replacing them with gentler laws that are mocked by increases in crime rates. More and more people are killed at home, in our schools and on the streets. Laws, intended to protect people are prone to be twisted into instruments that oppress and stifle basic rights.
Our greatest claims, and aspirations, seem targeted to an inexhaustible appetite for consumerism. The more we have the more we want. The more we want the more we get. And, the more we get the more we discard as waste. Tunnels dug today become potential sink holes for future generations. As no vacuum exists of itself. Empty spaces left from extracted resources need to be filled up. The scarcity in one place is replaced by a finite quantity from elsewhere. Supply and demand are perpetuated.
We think we have intelligence to conceive and skills to build anything. Yet. We are only specks on a speck in the infinitely expanding universe. Still we dream that with a giant fulcrum we can lift the universe! We dream and think big, discarding old orders for something new; believing that our powers give us freedom to exploit and change all things. We build bigger and better machines – all destined for scrap heap of obsolescence. How long does an invention or construction last? How do we compare it to the age of our planet, which itself is a mere infant compared to emerging galaxies? It is dangerous (even futile) to reconstruct wisdom and traditions based on a single dimension of earthly experience. Trifling with people’s inherited customs and cultures can be fraught with danger.
On The Sacrament of Marriage
Our spiritual understanding originates with the Genesis story. In the context of matrimony Jesus quotes the story as, “ the one who made them at the beginning made them male and female. … the two shall become one flesh…” (Matt 19: 3-12)
Man and woman were created in God’s own image. Together, expressing divine love, to tend to His creation and to be partners in the reproduction and propagation of the species. They were formed to be companions for each other. People cannot live isolated lives as individuals. They need to share and live inter-dependent lives; giving to each other freely as God does in His love. The joining of man and woman, to the exclusion of all others, is the earthly celebration of the Lord’s love and faithfulness. Love unconditional and for ever. Therefore, what God has joined none should put asunder. “Let anyone accept this who can.”
Laws were created to set parameters for acceptable behaviour. The laws of the Old Testament recalled the covenants God made with His people if they were to remain in His friendship and eternal love. But, the people’s desire for self-expression and the desire to determine their own destinies, led to the dynamic where people like Moses had to compromise on the Commandments – opening the door to a slippery slope garnished by merits and rational justifications. The life-line was taken up by Henry VIII and subsequently by others to stretch the cordon a little, and then a little more. Demarcations have become so foggy that the origins are no longer identifiable. Ponder, “ It was because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but in the beginning it was not so.”
The reality is that we must accept both our spiritual and earthly natures as co-existing. God made us to live for Him and in Him, while still a part of His creation, subject to nature’s laws. One part must not diminish the other. Only with proper discernment can we act within our natures to the ultimate glorification of the overall Master. Again, Jesus says, “Not everyone can accept this teaching, but only to whom it is given…Let anyone accept this who can.”
How do we identify ourselves? Is it by the association with a string of “Thou Shalt and Shalt-nots”? Is it as people who celebrate Christmas, St Valentine’s Day, St Patrick’s Day and “Good Friday”? Is it as a people who can have given to the world the most influential political and judicial systems? Indeed. We can justify these claims, and even more – the aggregate of these social systems. But, even together they are just a single aspect of our collective presence. There’s more.
I owe Christianity gratitude for a nurturing family of elders, siblings and other relatives. I owe the education system for the knowledge, skills and attributes that have helped me develop positive and constructive relationships within my self, and with the rest of the world. I have been welcomed into a community that shares common values and beliefs. I am by definition “happy”. But, there’s more. I do not live on bread alone.
Christianity is not just another way of life. Were it so there could be some sense in challenging it as a threat or an alternative. To us it’s the essence and conduit to our life source – our alpha and omega. It makes us who we are. Our outward forms are just vestiges of how we wish to be seen by others in our social and cultural interactions. It is through our self knowledge and our interactions with others, as branches of one vine, that we realise that we are more than flesh, blood, and an assembly of gregarious entities. In transcending the visible we see a reason for our being. God gave us the power to name things, and we have given names to all of them. We sense and experience birth, growth, pain, sorrow, joy, elation – the whole range of conditions and human emotions. And, we have named them well with the grace of God. Compassion and empathy with kindred souls are not just humane reactions, they are offerings to and in imitation of the One who is perfect in all respects. It’s through selfless acts and the mindfulness of our Saviour’s grace and promises that we show our Christianity.
Being Right Isn’t Always Right: A Moral Case
What good’s a liberty gained by depriving others the same right? Belligerent attitudes now dare weak politicians to subvert the laws that give basic rights to simple folks to live simple lives in the traditions of their ancestors. One battle after another has been won by the new wave with the growing confidence that one day all will be won.
Religious groups have not done themselves any favours. The sins of leaders are to be worn by the unsuspecting followers. Most Faiths are easy targets Their defences have weakened by loss of morale and a feeling of hopelessness under the incessant pressure of “Secular” forces. The lifestyles and misuse of power by a few further weakens the will of those confronting compelling empirical evidence posed in the fluid environment of commercialism and technology. Persistent arguments and the hammering of guilt have led to self-doubts and a turn to other diversions for solace and personal dignity.
It is easy to pursue a campaign against religious thinking that is nebulous and cannot be proven in sensual terms. Just a manipulation of the word “Secularism”, offers virtually unbridled liberty. The argument becomes, “ Faith against Science” – and such epic allusions. With insufficient “evidence” to prosecute an argument, the weak submit to stronger arguments, fearing the associations with superstitions and mediaeval hangovers. In vain, traditionalists turned apologetics quoting chapters and verses from texts now obsolete in the world of rationalism. Myriad set about dismantling the fabric of faith, hope and Love.
The LGBTI movement began, legitimately, to empower males and females to assert their sexuality. It is a fact that people with sexual preferences outside the norm, had long suffered vilification, discriminations and were criminalised by society. It has been a long hard slog for them to gain acceptance and respect in the community. So, increasingly people are “coming out” in the community. Institutions that have built bridges of reconciliation, for that they must be congratulated.
Problem comes when one group tries to debunk and overpower the other. Each group’s expressed freedom needs to be respected and acknowledged by all. Institutions should show flexibility and an enlightened approach in their interactions with twenty-first century sensitivities. It does not mean that they should surrender their entitlement to flourish (in freedom) and to practice their cherished beliefs. Whether or not (and how) these differences are accommodated, is a matter for individual consciences and the respective institutions. But, to compel a school to accept students and staff, holding opposing stands to the institution’s values and mission statement, tantamount to bullying, and is an unacceptable form of behaviour. Morally, those who stand for human rights cannot demand that their rights override those of others. Categories of employment have exemptions under the discrimination acts. When I do not like a particular TV programme I switch channels. So, I feel that to force an institution (against its moral code) to accept opinions/philosophies opposed to them, is ethically improper as it amounts to undermining the very grounds for their foundation.
Pope Francis ( may God bless you Papa), stirs the imagination. Some see in him John the Baptist, some as St Francis of Assisi, some see one of the prophets. We can see him as an apostle for the Twenty-first century. His apostolic ascent marks a distinct change, from the old to a new – a replenishment of wine in danger of turning sour. There is a renewal of what discipleship really means. The ocean is filled with souls, rich in diversity, craving salvation through Christ. Emerging groups of empirical modernism, secularism, LGBT rights, fundamentalism, cyclic poverty, marginalised minorities, all looking for comforts of mercy and compassion. The Papa’s leadership has been remarkable. The poor and the widows are finding a voice and a home; shackles of fake consolations are falling before a recovered Mercy.
His teaching is more attuned to the demands for a logical reconstruct. While he encourages traditional forms of devotion, he also urges us to think like adults. For instance, he asks us to question the way we pray the Lord’s Prayer. The call is to pray meaningfully even when we recite formulated prayers. When Jesus says we are to adopt a child-like attitude to faith he was not demanding childish blind faith. Like St Paul, Pope Francis calls us to “understand” as grownups. As grown-ups we can understand and still be filled with wonder at God’s creation.
Pope Francis’ efforts at reform are challenged by negativity. People quote scriptures and tradition to protect tenuously held positions of power and patronage. Like Herod Antipas, they are willing offer a sacrifice on a silver platter to please the power of Mammon.
Praise be to our Lord and God
When we make god and all creation in our own image it is we who should take responsibility for what visits this generation. We claim the power to control the environment and all things great and small. We build and we destroy. We decide who will remain and prosper, in whatever sex, colour, shape or form that we choose.
What visits us is of our own making. We choose the actions and the laws of nature determine the reactions or consequences. The outcomes are neither good nor bad, just outcomes along the law of physics. Natural phenomena are just cause and effects played out on a global scale. But, if we believe in God as the creator, omnipresent end of our creation, we also believe that He created our world and set the laws of nature into motion. He created all things and all things are subject to His will. As a loving and merciful God He does not enter the day-to-day affairs of the world because in His supreme wisdom he has granted His creatures autonomy and freedom of choice. Still, He hears the cry of His people. According to His promises He performs miracles that interrupt the circle of “Karma”. In His time He leads His people through the aridity of the desert to His Promised Land. We need not be afraid for He holds us in the hollow of His hand.
Some Thoughts On Discernment
Discernment is both manna and a light “to lead us over crag and torrent, till the night is gone”. I grew up in a secular, multi-cultural society, where nihilistic and devotional traditions are often in conflict and cancel each other. I gravitate to a C.S.Lewis-like position where one path neutralises preconceived notions of the other. I believe (Romans2:1-11) “God has no favourites”. Jesus (Luke11:42-46) said, “Alas for you lawyers, you load on men burdens that are unendurable”. I avoid the love for tidiness, pigeon holes, classifications and strict codes. Christian discipleship, difficult though it may be, was not intended to be “complicated”. Be childlike, in faith, love and the ability for wonder – anyone can do that!
Why must prayer be a torturous choice between a penetration of the cloud of unknowing with the heart, and following of the way of enlightenment through revelations and traditions? Both desire faith, love, compassion and detachment. When the seed falls it’s nurtured from within; finding within itself the object of its love. Or, as a humble servant, one may seek the beloved as a Divine Thou. Arbitrary stratification may flag a stampede for the monasteries and desert places on the one side, and distress signals on the other for those who find their devotion somewhat “inadequate”. I disagree with opinions based on artificial “stratification” and embrace the practice of Discernment that leads to an enriched form of “fundamental disposition”.
A Dilemma ?
Call it a paradox, contradiction, misleading, whatever. Things have a way of confusing us. What one sees as real, often appears in a different, if not opposing light, to someone else. My literature teacher at school was fond of repeating the story of the two men that looked out of the prison bars; one saw slush and the other stars. This story seemed to have sunk into the sub-conscious, to surface periodically in conversations, without any meaningful significance. The recent history of the middle east was given a fillip when I began to view contesting intransigence in this light. A chance to see each other’s point of view might be sobering for those genuinely interested in ending this contest.
Recently, I have been suffering from depression and anxiety attacks. While I am on prescribed medication, I still have not been able to control the oppressive thought patterns that intrude on normal interactions and situations. Then, “Eureka !” It struck me. Is this what the Jesuits call the “Two Voices”? The Yin and Yang; the darkness and pure light; inherent goodness and badness, that are all-embracing; indeed, two sides of the same object. Herein lies the efficacy of Discernment. I can choose to see people and conversations as corrosive and destructive, or, like the saints see the goodness in everything. If it exists, it is an act of God. A God, who I believe, is all goodness, merciful and loving. It is unconceivable that He should cause anything bad for me. It is in the nature of things that they are both good and bad. God does not make them so – He only creates, despite Himself, with love and in perfection. As Shakespeare somewhere writes, “Nothing is thus or thus, only thinking makes it so”. It is, therefore, in our minds that we see things as good and bad. Hurricanes, earthquakes, wars; catastrophes both natural and acts by humans could then become objects of contemplation and transformation.
Of Graven Images and Styles
Do not put strange gods before the Lord. Neither in the sanctuary, nor ‘mindfully’ in the heart. His altar is for the worship of the One whose passion and resurrection bought us life and offers bread for eternity. It is not a place for Yogis, dancing virgins, minstrels or practices from other faiths. Good though they be, there is a time, place and an attitude for every thing. The sanctuary in the church is for solemn worship and communion with the Lord who made us. Worship here reenacts the Last Supper and traditional forms of adoration.
The globalisation and expansiveness in our consciousness brings us into contact with different cultures and people. The interactions have been mutually fulfilling and enriching. While some are new there are others, that date back into antiquity and have evolved independently and in diverse forms. Exclusiveness and inward-looking beliefs are no longer the norm nor a frequent occurrence. In fact, many find the excitement of experimentation irresistible. Oriental ways have always captured the imagination of those with heightened sensibilities. Scholars have studied the languages, religious customs and cultures of other lands. They have translated texts and made them available to the larger population. Thus many have been deeply influenced by what they find novel expressions of Huxley’s “perineal philosophy”. Commonalities have been found between “The Koran” and our own Scriptures; a book has been written finding common ground between thoughts of Meister Eckhart and “The Bhagwat Gita”. American ascetics have travelled to sit crossed-legged with Buddhist monks in group meditations. At a consciousness level these interactions have been mutually enriching.
As a humble believer I can understand that at an intellectual level my horizons widened, and it makes me more appreciative of my own faith. But I pause when it comes to transposing such customs into rites and situations they were not intended for. To be fully respectful to both traditions we must attribute to each gesture and ritual its original nuances and expression. Introduction of a borrowed gesture before The Blessed Sacrament does not complement the discipline. But, it can hurt some people and is offensive to the Divine Presence in the tabernacle.
When we adopt/ adapt, as our Roman forefathers did, we must maintain the uniqueness of the privileges and graces we received at our baptism. It gives meaning to who we are, some solidity to our foundations, and substance to the hope we claim. The apostles perhaps may not recognise the branch they chose on the Way as it extends into our world. But, if we are truly appreciative and grateful to them for bringing to us the Kingdom of God, we must strengthen, not diminish the tradition and foundations of our forms of worship.
Man was not made for the Sabbath
For a millennium we were ruled by laws of our own making. Like Neo-Pharisees the faithful sought salvation of their own merit; scrupulously observing fiats of a centralised hierarchy. Which, in honest belief acted on divine inspiration, compounding to the plethora of oppressive rules made on narrow interpretations in lines with predetermined outcomes. It was based on the premise that God was a judge (made in our own image), rewarding or punishing according to laws written on tablets of stone. The few expressions of freedom and individualistic perspectives were dismissed as heresy, and banished from the flock.
There have always been those that desire a personal encounter with God. Far from being a dispassionate judge, God is a loving father, both merciful and compassionate. His love is not possessive, instead, grants disciples the grace to choose their own destinies. The call is always a welcome towards His will that directs us in the way of perfection. The all-knowing God and creator, is aware of our frailties and obsessions. When we fall, He is always there to pick us up tenderly, providing grace and consolations lest we become disheartened. In this the inspirations from the Holy Spirit are double edged. People accept them, according to their belief systems, as either laws written in stone, or, in light of the Son’s new commandments. How did we go so wrong, rejecting our “sonship”, for an unhealthy fear of the Lord and shame for the “Original Sin”? In our preoccupations with purgation and righteousness we forgot how much God loves us; His boundless mercy and tenderness. The prism of our perceptions now throws a gentler refracted ray of light. But, the emerging consciousness has caught us unaware – pride and confusion impede the desired transformation.
Only Thinking Makes It So
And so the unending debate rages on: knowledge and law Vs wisdom and mercy. The former providing information based on learning assimilated through access to large libraries and the storehouse of tradition. The latter, illuminating revelations to the mind, gateway to the heart and residence of the soul. Preference of one over the other would be tempered by cultural factors. Who are we to judge the primacy of one or the other? Happy are they who find a comforting balance.
Personally. I see knowledge as the product of human effort; burning the midnight oil, seeking references and carrying heavy loads of data (printed or on the web). Assimilation depends on one’s ability to access, store and compute information. Most of all one must be able to disseminate all this effectively and persuasively. However, knowledge cannot be absolute. No sooner is the thesis presented another scholar is ready to refute the premise and put forward another theory he/she considers more meritorious. The list of doctors and saints is unlimited. To preserve a legacy, institutions resort to clothing their position in dogma, constitutions – any stonewall that will inhibit dissension or challenge. At a time and place in our history this may have been necessary. Only thing lacking is the lesson from Prometheus, who stole fire from the zealous Mt. Olympus to the betterment of humankind. It is part of human nature to question and challenge opinions, especially when they represent any form of authority. It is a form of purgation that prevents “one good custom from corrupting the world”. The fruit of midnight-oil burning labours, themselves, remain subject to the whimsical wind that continues to blow and threaten, and will not be shut out.
On the other hand, protagonists of the counter argument believe knowledge understates the quality of mercy. Wisdom cannot be contained by graying hair and heavy burdens of law. The protagonists are impatient with the furniture and sartorial splendour of high office that dictates what they must think, read; when to eat and the dress code etc. They stand and question if it is worthwhile participating in gestures and ceremonies that have no place for their own sentiments or opinions (arrived at what they perceive as justified positions). They turn to the Lord and ask, “Is this why you challenged the ‘doctors of the law’ in your time? Why You valued the wisdom given to children over the mill-stone of law? Why Mary exalted the foolish over the wise; the weak over the strong?” They challenge the doctors of the law to show them their faith – in return they can show them their own actions.
Do not reduce my Church to a bunch of clichés that can be grasped thus! We are prone to jumping onto the bandwagon of novel expressions. But, neither the Church nor the world is in danger of being liquefied. Truisms that stood as rocks of stability and security for the past millennium have shown their fragility in the face of cultural and scientific advancements. We cannot shut the world with weekly retreats into ageing gestures and symbolism, uplifting and beautiful though they are.
We return to realities that cannot be wished away. We live in a more pragmatic environment that scrutinises all things with a microscope. More so, we question any signs of autocratic authority. We listen respectfully to Sunday sermons, but draw our own conclusions. Sometimes we are even critical of what we hear in the light of our own experiences. Some are inclined to ask, “What does he know; he does not have the same experience as the flock he preaches to? Who is he to judge?”
So when one who is expected to be a pillar asks, “Who am I to judge?”, We are disconcerted. It shakes us to the very marrow. Being so used to the security found in papal utterances we are confused when we are given the responsibility to trust our own consciences. We are being entrusted to be guided by rules, and not governed by them. Are we mature enough to handle our spirituality, and turn down the temptation to read this as an open cheque to a laissez faire community?
Confusion is worse confounded when traditional moral values are being challenged. People are reading the word “Freedom” as license to act as they please, where they please; regardless of consequences in relationships and the social bonds that make society safe and a place of nurturing. In realising our individualism, there is danger of slipping into narcissism. Given our materialistic advances, we also become over ambitious and consumeristic. Like wanton kids, we revel in the openness of thought, uninhibited behaviour, and experiments in sexuality. The negativity in this is so obvious. In such an environment we see new challenges to “The Way”? Disciples need to tread more carefully on the narrow path that leads to the small gate. “Discernment”, is what the Holy Father advises.
Let There Be Love
Fire. Once the prime means of illumination, heat and industry, has been replaced by more sophisticated means of heat transfer, and the everyday conveniences in our homes. Moral of the story? Our faculties and consciousness are progressing with an ever evolving macrocosm. We cannot say to the world “Let me down!”
Love of Bach and tradition are a luxury in a generation impatient with the “Old stuff”, and like a reckless infant, wants to experiment with new toys, new ideas and a rediscovered sexuality. What is the point of lighting a candle when a new Caxton, Adam Smith and Einstein are born each minute? You cannot gather the benefits of scientific and technological advancements without picking up the flip side too. As they say in the East, the Yin goes with the Yang. Finger pointing and self-righteous disdain for the apparent slide in morality, can be at best be self-satisfying. For too long we have tried to use tradition to subject humanity to our own values and world vision. To what success? The moment we feel we have stamped down one misdeed in one place another sprouts up to mock us in another place. It is futile to use muscles. To persist is to one day find ourselves banished with the dinosaurs.
Creatures of the mind can only be countered by a positive disposition and an open mind. Action, as the textbook says, gets an equal and opposite reaction. So, let us give passive resistance a chance. We cannot fight the devil without understanding what makes him so formidable. To turn our backs to him is to offer him a larger more vulnerable target. Meeting him face-to-face will give an understanding of what gives him oxygen. Discernment will deliver the sustainable alternatives. The faithful do not face temptations left to their human devices. There is the promise, “I am with you till the end of time”. Let us give peace a chance mindful of The Lord of Love and Compassion, who was, is and always will be.
Freedom Has A Purpose
All things are gifts from God. He created all things and set them free.All things are, therefore, created to honour and glorify HIM. We see and hold in awe the wonders of His creation; marvelling at a world bathed in beauty and perfection. It is in this freedom given to us that we behold and interact with objects, visible and invisible. Therein lies the crowning glory! We are not are not slaves to the majesty and power, but cooperating in the unfolding of the grand phenomenon. He does not NEED acclaim or creature reverence for no creature could devise an adequate response of gratitude. His satisfaction is in that we use His gifts correctly and in unison with His will to progress the glorious plan.
His glory and love cover each inch of a vast expanding universe. Every being that breathes, all matter that exists, reflects the glory of the master craftsman. Through the intricacies in form and mass and in their glowing radiance the Holy One communicates with Creation: free gifts that add greater grandeur to what is already perfect. We are not mere spectators to the panorama. We are creatures who must use these gifts, and be used, to make all things perfect. We must have eyes to see and ears to listen to the urgings of the Holy One. God continually fulfils Himself, having accomplished one moment, moves on perfecting all.
All creation yields in an eternal benediction. When we use we are also in use for the master plan. Our interdependence equates us to all things great and small. Each object mesmerises with its God-given splendour. Greed and possessiveness tend to over-shadow ethical and spiritual considerations. The possessor and the possessed forget they are subjects of time – finite things. That which is designed to lend its beauty to the world becomes an entrapment for attachment. Attachment that jeopardises the vital link creatures have with the divine. Humans may use things for their proper purpose but they cannot posses them. As custodians they must use and let go, respecting the other’s identity. The wise call this detachment. The ultimate detachment is to see the Lord in all things, treating each with the respect we ourselves expect. Love is not possessive.
In love we share our inmost selves with the beloved. In loving God we surrender to Him completely, returning His unconditional love. Love must expand to embrace all living things, even where apparently inert. To each we show our love and help them to fulfil their own destiny in God. I love my neighbour as myself.
Meditating The Lectio
“Do it with love,” my mother used to say. Which made each chore reasonable, and obedience an act of love. Later, I worked in a factory that prided itself at not only meeting the legal obligations, but tried to improve on legislateded rules.
As a result employees too were loyal, creative and co-operative.
Like a football coach Our Lord is always asking for that extra effort. Sometimes he states the impossible. “It is easier for a camel to walk through the eye of a needle”. “Be perfect as I am”. “You can move mountains,” and so on. His teaching though carries authority and wisdom. He backs his words with acts of mercy, compassion and love. He shows he also has power over the underworld when he calms the sea. He can tell the paralytic to take up his mat and walk. Who would not follow him? Like the coach he sets the game plan – “You want to be my disciples, follow me”.
A paradox arises when he says things like,” I did not come to abolish the law but to fulfil it “, and again, “Not a letter of the law will be altered”. How does this sit with one who claims to be the “Master of the Sabbath”? And, one who constantly seems to challenge not only the law but also the custodians of the law? The answer comes in the method of the teaching rather than the literal words.
To me he seems to say, “I do not want a slavish adherence to dogma. Challenge it in your environment and validate it. I have given you gifts of reason, discernment and freedom of choice. Do not belittle my law by bovine following. Thank me for setting higher standards for you. Do not be dismayed, for I am always with you to hold your hand, to show you the path and to meet you at the end of the journey. In this you will find that my yoke indeed is easy and my burden light”.
Recognising and Healing Wounds
How blessed to be free of festering wounds, unrequited guilts and unsettled business. I have been more a spectator and sponge in the journeys made by other psyches. I had a religious upbringing, a Catholic education, and the privilege of formation in a diverse ethnic, religious and secular society. Like a butterfly, browsing, making only vague commitments; cherry picking and establishing a ground compatible with the modern world. The spirit was free to anchor wherever guided by conscience. Being pragmatic, with no dogmatic attachment, I escaped deep-seated wounds of guilt and shame.
So many have been victims of negativity in religious fundamentalism. It affected attitudes and self-worth. No amount of absolution and reassurances at the confessional change the morbid propensities. About the same time came the tsunami of liberal opinions attributed to Vatican II. Confusion was further compounded when confronted by irrefutable facts and seductive logic of empiricism, modern science and technology. A new position offers comfort and relief; scarring over the deep wounds inflicted by a misplaced spirituality.
There is an elderly lady who comes from God-fearing parents and studied under nuns brought up in a tradition that remained unbroken for hundreds of years. Very definite rights and wrongs were inculcated in childhood. She has nurtured her cocoon of spirituality despite the opening of windows and airing of Catholicism’s cobwebs. Family and friends allow her to continue in what could be a blissful relationship with her God. Only. Among the solid chunks of Faith there are traces of fragile hope. If she misses mass, through no fault of hers because she dependent for transportation, she does not receive communion unless she has had an opportunity to confess this “sin”. She carries the load of several innocuous slips and misses as though her salvation were at risk. She has not yet come to terms with the idea that Jesus, as the Lord of the Sabbath, constantly challenged those seeking to imprison others within the letters of the law. Her wounds though apparently self-inflicted, date back to the obsequious acceptance of a dated spirituality.
Having understood the condition, apportioning responsibility is academic. One could, for example, point at archaic, insensitive systems, or simply ask, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Without remedial action the victim continues to be captive of an “us and them” situation. Facing the dilemma, one could flee, fight, place one’s hope in time’s opiate of forgetfulness. Or. Learn to recognise and assimilate. The choice also takes cognizance of the fact that one lives with the consequences of the decision and results. For spiritual progress one chooses the way that leads to progress and perfection in the search. A sincere mea culpa could set up the right path – “This is the situation and I am ready to resolve it in order to obtain healing and to make progress on the Way”? The act of humility affirming the desire for healing and moving forward on the spiritual journey.
Defining the objective clears the path for action, having due consideration of the topography and likely hazards ahead. The world view has been turned upside down within a single generation. Gone are the props and pillars that generations had relied on for guidance and comfort. God is no longer in His heaven and all does not seem well with the world. All is shrouded in confusion. Progress through the labyrinth is based on the infallibility of empirical tests and laws of physics. But, for the sensitive mind there are more transcending things than this world dreams of. It is important to find a sensible and morally balanced perspective for both things of the flesh and things of the spirit. Preferably in a seamless pattern.
Stumbling on Fr James Martin’s “Who Cares About Saints”.
O happy chance! It only served to reinforce a conviction that there is no such thing as coincidence or synchronicity. The Holy Spirit writes and moves on, having alerted the sensitivities already blessed by and receptive to the movement. I was already receptive, having been converted by “Jesus”, and confirmed at “The Abbey”. I just naturally fell into the harmony of insights and the deceptively simple narrative; punctuated frequently by my, “I’ve been here”!
I do believe the book was written for sojourners such as I. Thank you father for providing the quails and dew frost for the way. For a long time, I had wondered why St Jude, a popular saint in India with a major shrine in my home state, had not resonated with me. Now, I can see that different saints appeal differently to different people at different times. Our Lady and St Anthony so completely absorbed my devotional time that little space was left for other pious souls still serving the Lord through their intercessions.
Joan of Arc, true soldier and saint, took up arms against the floods of foreign rulers and the male dominated hierarchy of her time. She has been vindicated- something like Mary Mackillop in Australia. I have not prayed for her intercessions, as I do from others, but she remains a source of admiration and inspiration for any who feels hard done by the establishment.
For years I pictured myself as Job sitting on a mountain of ashes, fatalistically murmuring, “The Lord gives, the Lord takes away”! His faith has motivated souls since before Jesus. But, the lesson brought home by St Therese of Lisieux, provides a calmness, possible in the complete surrender to Jesus through love. God is not an object of a duality; He is a beloved who became part of us, and transforms our sufferings into serenity and joy.
I was introduced to The Seven Storied Mountain, by a non-Catholic tutor, in my freshman year at Uni. Merton has been visited several times in the years since Each visit has been progressively more frustrating and confounding. But, from Merton I learned that I had to find ground. I chose the way of the Franciscans, who appealed to my heart (that rules my head). Lord was in His heaven and all was well with the world. However, chance played a role again. At a second hand book shop I found a DIY version of “The Spiritual Exercises”. It soon had my feet astride two parallel paths. But, I could see no conflict in it. I am further comforted that this mix-and-match receives blessing from the highest source in Rome!
I’ve chased the wind with Rumi, the sufis and other eastern mystics. While wisdom, with equal eloquence, lay between the dusty pages of my Bible. Ecclesiastes advises that regardless of position, wealth and life-style, all paths lead but to a dusty death. One may harvest and collect into barns, only for someone else to enjoy it. So. Eat, drink and enjoy all the gifts and time that God has given. Live with integrity, thankful to the Lord. Do not seeking a reward, for who knows what lies beyond the grave?
Is this too near to heresy of some kind? But, as the joyful recipient of the “new wine”, I say, the old wine still nourishes many who draw from it to invigorate their spirituality. Even the one who gave us the new wine was himself born into the old law – never for once changing as much as a stroke of it. All of his life he was subject to the law. For the first 30 years he was obedient to his devout parents and adhered to what he was taught. He subjected himself to the baptism of sinners, only to fulfil all righteousness. He affirmed the two most important commandments; making them the corner stones of his teaching. He assumed the imagery, language and pedagogy of the prophets that preceded him. He saw himself as a Jew; of the law given down from Moses. He accepted the law, but, asked his followers to go an extra mile in the spirit of the law. He was aware of the structures rising to constrict worship into an observance of statutes. The soul was being squeezed out of that special relationship between God and his people.
God the Son, assumed human nature to re-establish that special link with us. He told us that a strict discipline of the law had been necessary for a people given to arrogance, and stubbornness of heart. Hearts with a tendency to become hearts of stone. He came not to destroy the law, but to fulfil it, making it subject to a heart of flesh and blood. To make himself understood to his generation he used the tools that simple folk could relate to. A language that they were familiar with; images that resonated with them. When he said Lazarus could be seen in the bosom of Abraham, it made an immediate connect with people brought up in the tradition. God was a compassionate patriarch who rewarded the righteous. But, in line with the psyche of the time God was also the dispenser of justice, that could banish souls to a furnace, like chaff. Where there is gnashing of teeth etc. He used metaphors to dress his message, and explained the meanings to his close disciples only. He knew he was here for a time. He needed to make provisions for generations that followed; to emerging world views and attitudes. So. he promised his disciples that he would always be with them as the Paraclete and source of wisdom. Who translates the words of Adam, the prophets and believers down the centuries, making them fresh and relevant to all humanity.
The LGBT Debate: A Simpleton’s View.
The perceived problem is of human making and begs a humane response. The “Problem” was recognised only very recently. People’s orientations were largely known and only gossip mongers were scandalised. The hierarchy frowned and issued fiats to forever damned the eternal souls for transgressions. People went underground but the practice(s) continued. The Church was seen as unsympathetic and insensitive. Suddenly a revolt. Parties affected and their families started a movement pleading ( in some cases demanding) unctions and some form of recognition. The Church begins to understand the nature of this human reality.
But. cherry picking and selective responses can not undo what is done, much less promise lasting solutions. Interpretations of freedom of the human spirit and the richness of diversity will remain- alas, like “the Poor”. The situation can not be resolved by spot fire fighting. The people are confused when they see a lack of coherence when confronting the myriad situations. It is confronting when all sides have to acknowledge and name their respective problems. On the one side preoccupations with the manifestations of life on this planet have dulled people’s awareness of their own human limitations, and the need to respect differences in opinions. On the other, there needs to be an understanding that there is a breach in communication. There are reasons why people feel marginalised and disenfranchised. In that they shoulder the heavy burden of guilt and shame. The important ingredients for reconciliation have been lost among the rungs of the formal hierarchy.
For an holistic approach the Church must revisit our mission statement, made by Christ himself – “Love one another as I have loved you”. All attempts to interact with the faithful, and the world must be referenced and framed by the mission statement. It is only then that the truism of “My yoke is easy and my burden light”, becomes a reality. Fiats and threats of damnation are no longer meaningful, when this generation needs the balm of grace. If we speak sincerely about evangelisation and reaching out to the generation suffering without God, we need to convince them that our God is not a revengeful God hidden among a plethora of laws and edicts. God is a merciful and loving God who holds us in the hollow of His/Her hand, fully aware of our humanity. With this realisation comes the humility to say, “Lord I am a sinner”, and also“ Who am I to judge”?
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
The poor in spirit are detached from this world’s attachments (wealth, power, means and resources). Being detached from this world they concentrate on things that matter – things of the spirit. People cannot serve two masters: being attached to one they despise the other. Therefore, once they leave this world attachments lead them either to the kingdom of heaven, or, to the other place.
It does not matter how rich or poor one is materially, it’s the attachment to things created that draws one away from God and God’s will. Therefore, happy the person that sees things of the world as objects of love and respect, only in so much that they provide the means and disposition for a greater love – the source and object of all our love. One does not need to be “poor” to realise the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven lies in the doing of God’s will and seeking the perfection Christ directed us to.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Comfort thyself! What comfort is in me? I have lived my life and that which I have done may He within Himself make pure.” Through Arthur, Tennyson expresses the wisdom of The Beatitudes.
We are exhorted to love and pray for the poor. It is no fault of their’s that they are born into the condition where they mourn each day of hunger, disease, squaller, lack of shelter and security. Christ accepts that we will always have the poor with us. It tests those that mourn and us too. In whatever condition we find ourselves, we must strive to be perfect. Christ came among the poor, and felt compassion for those that mourned; performing great miracles to provide comfort and relief. It is a lesson for us that we remember that we are here only for a short while. What we suffer is only temporary, compared to the eternal reward that awaits us if we dedicate ourselves to doing God’s will while on earth. The thought provides hope and comfort in our sufferings.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
The gentle, quiet, submissive (those easily imposed upon) are the meek. Jesus shows the qualities even in His divinity. Though He showed these qualities, his enemies persecuted him. Meekness is mistaken for weakness; Jesus used it to challenge the values of the world. Jesus did not claim greatness nor equality with God. He submitted to live as a servant and to die like a criminal rather than please those in power (or go against the will of God).
He submitted to the baptism of John so that righteousness could be served. His power was there for all to see. The lame walked; people born blind received sight; paralytics moved freely through the Lord’s intercession. At the penultimate moment his prayer was,” Not my will, but yours be done” as a lesson in submission and obedience.
In spreading the simple message of Jesus his disciples brought others into the kingdom of God – inheriting the world. A world opposed to the devil; his pomp and trumpeted vanities. It might seem a parallel world (one that does not appeal to many), but it outlasts vanities and is the corner stone to the new Jerusalem: the fulfilment of all desires.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will be filled.
We receive the charism of the Holy Spirit at Baptism. For most it is washed away by life’s trials and vanities. For others it lands on fertile soil, nourished till it matures into a hunger and thirst for righteousness. One cannot rest until one rests again in the bosom of the Lord our Creator. Life becomes a desert land, a journey through anguish and aridity. It means forsaking the pleasures and allurements of this world and denying one’s self relief or shelter – only the oasis of living waters satisfies this thirst. These are consolations handed down by God Himself along the way. Unlike the manna that came down during the Exodus, this nourishment satisfies both body and soul. Jesus said that man does not live by bread alone; he needs the word of God to nourish him. Jesus does not offer words alone, but offers his own body and blood to nourish us as we walk our way through life.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy.
“Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy”, are words we pronounce so often, especially before the Blessed Sacrament. The words come from deep within us. But, how often do we utter them “meaningfully”? God’s mercy is full of unconditional love – it is like His rain that falls on the just and sinners alike. We seem to forget that love is a two way road. God loves us, but He wants us also to love Him in return. He created all things with no other consideration than Love. The greatest way to glorify Him is to love Him and His creation in return.
This love that we receive unconditionally should flow to other creatures in order to glorify the Creator. How can we say we love the creator without showing similar love for the objects of His love and creation? “Love one another”, says the Lord. And. the greatest expression of love is through mercy. We want God’s mercy; we must show an equal measure of mercy to our neighbours and indeed to all creation – a moral justification and expectation for God’s mercy. We can expect, as the Gospel tells us, that God will return the mercy with equal generosity; cup full for every full cup. Like Jesus we must go beyond legal prescriptions – to love
unconditionally and express that love wholeheartedly and beyond bounds.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God
I take exception to the current use of the word “ Gay” because it distorts and corrupts a word that signified innocence and joy. Reminds me of cherub faces and damsels dancing on a bright summer’s day. It will never be the same again. To me, it represents narcissism, self-aggrandisement, and corruption of the flesh. Sure, hubris is as old as humanity itself. Those of means have been the worst offenders because they have been more inventive in challenging the establishment and the status quo – indeed they have taken pride in the ability to influence and change fashions. It reminds me of the rich man whose table-crumbs were food for poor Lazarus.
Children are pure. Therefore, Jesus asked us to be innocent and guileless like little ones. In their innocence they are able to see and receive wisdom not given to the mature and worldly wise. They represent the pristine bliss enjoyed by Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. They do as they are told, enjoy simple things and do not care if they wander among strangers without their clothes. Withdrawn from the world, they experience God within their own cocoons. Indeed, ignorance is bliss and it’s folly to be “wise”.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God.
The world is sorely in need for peacemakers. Some places are plagued by openly declared armed conflict. In some others there are covert acts of terrorism. In almost all parts of the world people live under the threat of violence. Politically motivated voices fill the air with conflict and divisions. Sometimes I wonder if messages coming from the Vatican too are tinted and partisan. All wars are justified by the contestants. So, can there be peace in the world?
The greatest pacifist and prince of peace was not recognised by this world. In fact the rulers and soldiers put him to death. Undaunted, from the cross, his near last words were, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do”. He was the Son of God. For this he came into the world. He reminded us that to be his disciples we needed to follow his example through all that the world throws at us. In becoming perfect we reassume our heritage as sons (daughters) of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Persecutions? Who has persecuted the righteous in the last 1000 years? Persecution is privilege for the faithful. The Holy Father says to be evangelists is not easy; people persecute you and even the outcomes are uncertain. But, as heralds of the Kingdom of God, a place is reserved there for there .
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Those in power have always felt threatened by the good and the godly. How they persecuted our Lord, accusing him falsely and saying evil things against him! Princes and prelates have treated people like St Joan Of Arc and St Mary Mcallup disgracefully. Even now their opposition to the Holy Father is unbecoming. In no way is the behaviour different from that meted out to the prophets of old.
But, according to the Lord the victims will be vindicated. Rejoicing, for their reward will come from heaven.
Of Narcotics and an Evolving Mind
A popular rebuttal during my undergraduate years was, “While Karl Marx was calling religion the opium of the masses, he was peddling his own brand of narcotics.” He was not the first to think so; and there have since been many “peddlers”, off many roofs. Some have amassed amazing wealth on platitudes that could be dreamed up, given the leisure of time and a comfortable armchair.
In vain do pastors strike “mea culpa” over vacant pews (and dwindling takings). The fault lies not in the gestures, rituals or rhetoric, but in a seismic shift in the universal consciousness. No longer are people content to be dumb participants in liturgy, they want to actively participate in worship, with a desire to interact as their heart direct. Nothing new. A frustrated Catholic, John Dryden, complained of “ pious times, ere priestcraft did begin, ere polygamy was made sin …” He goes on to say that people with many multiplied their kind etc. In fact, this restlessness, this primal urge for freedom, goes back to the garden of Eden, when our first parents wanted to feel free and equal to God. This was of course the cause of all our woes; yet paradoxically, it was a grace freely given to humans, as natural as breath and life-giving senses and organs. Being human, we are never content with the gift itself, but feel compelled to nudge the boundaries a bit further by degrees.
With Civilization came cultures; cultures constructed social structures necessary for survival. To dominate the environment and to make it safe and conducive, human inventiveness set a path of scientific and technological progress – the start of our emerging wonderful world. We have become masters of the empirical and the laws of physics. While this “worldly wise” part of our minds developed, it largely neglected the part inhabited by intimations of another life. Call it our spiritual self. A wide chasm has occurred, with each side refuting all that the other side stands for. In hubris, and from relative positions of strength, each side has tried to dominate and extinguish the other. It is a futile exercise for both the creature and the divine are indivisible parts of the same unity that does not exist in just a single dimension.
While our physical features and inventiveness evolved, there have been parallel changes in human consciousness. As our material horizons expanded the psychic perceptions expanded to absorb the the emerging macrocosm. Parts, though co-existent, unconsciously, neglected the other. The early “Thou shalts” begin to be superseded by sophisticated communications with the Divine. Fire and brimstone; punishments for transgressions, are receding to past understandings. The drama of Cause and Effect is being played out on a different plane. Our consciousness is more responsive and reflective of the emerging brave new world. It’s hard to shed our emotions, and lessons of childhood indoctrination. Yet, what an enriched and fulfilling faith awaits those wise enough to read the emerging natural signs.
On Choosing Life
“Look to the prism”, he said “The pendulum, dangling over the window, captures the sun’s rays, dispersing light all over the room. Each smooth surface casts its own refracted ray to tell some story and adding colour to the walls.”
I looked to the profusion of colour on one wall, evoking strong images of heroes, princes and successful individuals that once bestrode the world stage. Limited only by their imagination and the strength of their endeavour, some created empires; some magnificent cities; while some built magnificent pleasure domes – grandeur that still can captivate the world in wonder. Their stature was measured by the wealth in their vaults and the level of ostentation. Yet, when done, their time of pomp and pleasure slipped and passed away. One died of a common fever in a distant land. Another was felled by swords that once made him great. One passed his last days as a captive, nearly blind, look longingly at the wonder of the world that he had created. Recently, one who would be Fuhrer, died underground in a hole, of self-inflicted injuries. The list is legion. Like commoners, they too were reduced to pinches of sand as they slipped through the maker’s hourglass, down on to an anonymous heap. They had chosen to be great.
The opposite wall I found was bathed with lighter hues of blue – tranquility marked the mood. The protagonists were at peace with their surrounds. The lion sleeping with the lamb; man and woman move unhindered by outward trappings, fashions or ornamentation. Every plant, unblemished, yielding proper fruit at the proper season. The streams full of fish, meandered, irrigating rich fields on their way down to a sun-filled sea. Sounds of animals and birds filled the air with sweet harmony – not a discordant note, no cacophony. This was as it was meant to be.
Again I hear the voice. It asks, “ What will you choose, splendour and power for the day, or do you choose life that gives joy for ever? I say to you choose Life. But the choice must be yours, for the Father so wills it.”
The keys to the Kingdom of heaven
What do the people of today say Christ is? Answers are varied, as varied as there are points of view. A good number still call him The Christ, Son of the Living God – but not all with equal conviction and faith. An increasing majority in the world now see religion as a narcotic-induced delirium. They prefer worship before the image of the golden calf, “Secularism”. Their house is built on the shifting sands of “Morality”. Values and codes become as changeable as the fashions of the day. Today it is “Political Correctness”. Tomorrow? It may be all brought on its head by a new invention, or feeling, rendering this “correctness” redundant. How many of us, living to a good age, have seen ethical standards shift under the continuum of change.
Not that I have any difficulty with “Change”. Like Tennyson, I believe, “the old order changeth; yielding place to new. And God fulfils Himself in many ways, lest one good custom should corrupt the world.” I believe that Jesus came to bring freedom and change to the world. His mission has renewed the face of the earth! Why do we find one form of change rejuvenating and acceptable, while we criticise others? Mainly because of our human nature; we all need recognition of our individual points of view. At a deeper level, all objects are inherently dualistic. They carry within themselves contradictions, opposing poles, “ Yin and Yang”. Opinions and cultural beliefs are conditioned by the primacy of dominant social factors. If I say I do not like some manifestations in “Society”, it is because I come from a background that upholds values and moral attitudes of a particular religious consciousness. I do not judge Secular positions; but I hate interferences into what I hold most dear and are the sustenance of my life. We are all God’s people on a journey together. Respect for others would be mutually ennobling, and the world in all its diversity, could continue to unfold in the magnificence and glory of its Creator .
Is the word of God nullified in favour of tradition?
The word of God is continually being “nullified” in our daily life. We call Jesus our teacher; yet we cling to the words of “elders” in preference to the message of Scriptures. It seems right and just to follow the lessons of people we respect in roles considered “learned”. It is tradition handed down through the ages – it’s misuse was shown by the Pharisees.
In early times, when questioning was rude and slavish obedience was associated with the Commandments, it was natural to think that the parents knew best. It seemed natural then to accept the words of authority. In an age where we feel all grown-up and rebellious toward all things traditional there remains a tendency to take “celebrities’ words at face value. Despite the obvious burden of negativity, there remains the overriding compulsion to adopt new and “unorthodox” pronouncements slavishly. Within this contradiction lies the engrained habit of accepting the words of “experts”. The new tradition now tends to enslave the vulnerable
Jesus took on the form of a slave to invite humans into the “Kingdom of God”. He offered to heal humanity of its many diseases, and to liberate it from all forms of slavery and the shackles of soulless traditions. In our pride and stiffness of heart, we turn covenants into man-made burdens, hard to bear – devoid of inner grace. Divinely inspired “Commandments” splintered into hundreds of “laws” that only few understood. Knowledge became a powerful tool, and the servants became masters – each good custom corrupting the world. In Jesus’ presence the disciples did not fear the consequences of breaking the human traditions regarding purifications, fasting and other observances. In his life and teachings Jesus testified that the Lord does not take pleasure in hollow sacrifices and trivial tinkering with outward acts of celebrations. The Word of God is love; it is the commandment above all other commandments. Acts of piety and purification must be centred around the love for God and neighbour. Failing that, worship is an empty act that nullifies the Word and stunts spiritual growth.
The Church Amid Diversity
Pope Francis ( may God bless you papa), stirs up the imagination. Some see in him John the Baptist; some St Francis of Assisi; some as one of the prophets. We can see him as an apostle for the Twenty-first century. His apostolic ascent marked a distinctive change, from the old to a new; a draining of old wine turned
sour. There is a new awareness of what discipleship means. The ocean is filled with souls, in rich diversity, craving salvation through Christ. Groups under empirical modernism, Secularism, LGBT rights, harsh fundamentalism, cyclic poverty, marginalised minorities, find themselves shutout and captives of their consciences. His leadership of the “Mission”, has been remarkable – the poor and the widows have found a voice and a home. Shackles of a fake consciences are falling before the light of recovered Mercy.
His teaching is more attuned to the modern mind that craves for satisfaction based on a new way of thinking. While he encourages traditional forms of devotion, he also urges us to think like “adults”. People find it challenging when he asks us to question the way we pray the Lord’s Prayer. He is asking the faithful to understand and pray in a meaningful way. When Jesus says we are to adopt a child-like attitude to faith he was not demanding childish blind faith. As we grow older, he calls us to think like grownups and to act as grownups. In his parables he wants us to be filled with wonder at God’s creative force – just like children. And, to understand, with a mature attitude, the great mystery of the kingdom of God.
Each effort at reform is challenged by negativity. People quote scriptures and tradition to protect their tenuous hold on positions of power and patronage. Like Herod, Antipas, they are willing offer a sacrifice on a silver platter to please the power of Mammon.
We are invited to be perfect “as the Father’s perfect”. But only the Father is perfect. This “unrealistic” reaching for the impossible is a stumbling block for many. How can sinners become perfect? Perfection thus is seen a fixed state, which is different from seeing it as being progressive. The stimulus then becomes its own gratification . To be received into the kingdom of God, the young man who had kept the commandments all his life, when counselled to sell off all his riches, give the proceeds to the poor, and become a follower, found it a big ask. Jesus is always asking for that extra effort, to walk that extra mile, to turn the other cheek, to forgive seventy times seven. The disciple, like a super athlete, trains to break a record. Once achieved, the bar is raised higher for the next rung. There is no resting on laurels in this constant quest for perfection. When one mountain is surmounted, there is another ahead waiting to be climbed.
To those daunted by the challenge, Jesus has the answer, “All things are possible for God”. With His help we can ask a mountain to be removed and it will be moved. A plant tended by humans during the day grows mysteriously during the night. So too with God’s help a camel may well walk through the eye of a needle – we need only to believe.
Our spiritual life is a co-related dimension of our earthly presence. As our muscles and physical structure grows so does awareness of history, the environment, and that uncanny ability to speculate on the future. Concurrently a spiritual growth takes place (whether we recognise it or not). St Ignatius would say, just as the body needs exercise and nurturing, so does our spiritual life. By ignoring it we dumb it down, or, leave it stunted at some childhood level. Thereby, exposing it to misconceptions and unbalanced ridicule.
Perfection of all that’s perfect, my Lord and Master, teach me to walk in the way of perfection. You, who remain hidden from the learned and frustrate the proud, hear my prayer. Smile upon me, gather me in your arms, and give me the grace to seek earnestly, with humility, for that priceless pearl for which I would give up all desires and riches, and follow you.
A Daniel Come To Judgement
There have been speculations about what Jesus wrote in the sand while the crowd awaited his response to the woman accused of adultery. Was it a list of the sins of the elders? Whatever. The time he took also cooled down the charged atmosphere, and created an air of anticipation – making it possible for a response that could be heard and understood by all. Similar pauses are used by orators before making an important point. To the silent and curious gathering Jesus quietly replies, “ Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her”. The silence must have been palpable. To people expecting a straight forward rebuttal or agreement, this would be perplexing. This oblique parry and thrust was not expected. What could they say? How could they hide their own hypocrisy? In shame they withdraw, led by their elders.
That is the first moral of the story. But, there is also an allusion to a case in the Old Testament. Remembering how the Old Testament foreshadows things that are more fully revealed in the New Testament, let’s stretch the string to the story in the Book of Daniel, where elders (Judges), accuse and sentence the beautiful Susanna to be stoned. The Judges were the custodians and interpreters of the Lord’s covenant. Yet blinded by lust they seek the death of one of their own daughters. What may have started as a benign diversion, soon took over and clouded rational thinking. From the admiration of a beautiful woman their thoughts drift to covetousness, and deeper to lust and adultery. Under the circumstances lying and bearing false witness seemed natural. So, to hide their own guilt they scheme to kill an innocent person. The elders, could misuse their authority as judges. Till they themselves became the judged.
From the nervous isolated woman Jesus adds a further lesson. He places himself, not as a judge, but along with those who did not condemn her. Justice had been done. Jesus ( as always) has more. He goes on to tell her, “Go your way, and from now on do not sin again”. Jesus offers unctions for the sins committed. He also reassures her that she can be released from from the burden of guilt, if she listens to his word. Holistic curing.
When We Start To Believe
“Truth”, been the subject of contentious discussion from the dawn of civilisation. For some it remains “a sacred cow” – only to be considered by scholars in the context of words uttered with finality at some distant time. To be locked away in miles of compactors to collect dust for ever after. Some argue of its transient nature, something to suit the convenience of time and place. Arguments go on ad nauseam.
There is another breed of thinkers that consider it in the context of the evolution of the cosmos. We humans are not the only species evolving, but are parts in a constant state of metamorphosis. All things are constantly evolving towards a goal on the far end of an ever receding horizon. They do not believe that human’s superior sense of consciousness makes them the only players in the mastery of creation. Evolution in an organic process permeates all things to a predetermined end. The Creator who set evolution in motion, can demolish entire civilisations brimstone, fire or flood. He could speak to humans through burning bushes, from clouds on mountains, and through His prophets. In my own tradition I believe that it is possible for a camel to walk through the eye of a needle, because Truth (himself) has said that it is possible, if difficult.
What then is the nature and function of Truth? It is part and parcel of our human consciousness that is evolving with the rest of the universe. If it were a constant factor, and if we had not challenged given situations, we may have remained as some sort of hunter-gatherers. Challenging things is as perennial as our motivations to work, to stop and to wonder. To challenge is to question. To question is to find new grounds of belief. Grounds of belief that are essential to our understanding. Understanding values human history, cherishes and learns from it. It is essential to our continuing march forward. Our goal is a state of perfection (however we see it). Truth like the Northern Star that guides and sustains us in all sorts of weather. It is not buried under a bushel in forms of do’s, don’ts, edicts or commandments. It is a natural part of our being, linking us with past experiences. It has been renewed and energised through Christ’s exhortations to question and refine. We do not need to be constantly looking back, nor should we use it as a tool of convenience in a game of relativity. It is the sanctity we carry forward as we progress (humans and creations) toward that goal of perfection.
Freedom In The Lord’s Name
Another day. Another dawn finds a new piece of legislation somewhere round the globe. We seem addicted to tearing down traditions; replacing them with new more comforting forms – designed in our own emerging image. It is not something new, creatures have been saying, “No”, to the Lord since Lucifer and our own first parents. In scriptures, time and again the people turned away from the Lord. Still the Lord, in mercy and compassion, did not withdraw the grace of Freedom that He bestowed at creation.
The desacralising of sacred institutions is mirrored in people’s defiance of the directive, “ I am the Lord thy God, thou shalt not have any strange gods before Me”. Once we denounced God, all dependant commandments were rendered superfluous. What were sacred duties, have gradually been replaced by legislated social requirements that are amended, modified, or, transcended according to the mood and fashion of changing times.
“Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain,” the opposite becomes an integral part of chasing vanities of vanities. When integrity is optional, plain “Yes” and “No”, are found to be inadequate. Schools and parliament see wisdom in omitting daily invocations at the start of day. Conscience-bitten authorities now think “affirmations” will do; instead of (meaningless) oaths.
“Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day.” Who can remember to pray when the object of devotion has been outed like yesterday’s fashion? Many today have forgotten what, when, or why of the injunction. It is only relevant to employers as an unnecessary burden to their labour costs – and to the employees a right to compensation for missed time with family. Political parties legislate (according to their political philosophy) to rule out/modify/augment penalty rates. That is all that the Sabbath has come to mean.
“Honour thy father and mother.” It lost its meaning when we erased the existence of the heavenly father. In that context parents, when they become a burden, are sent into aged care. There is growing spectre when the aged can be convinced that pain is unnecessary and a piece of legislation can make it possible for them to end their lives with “dignity”.
“Thou shalt not kill.” In nihilistic times, human creatures decide who will be killed; when; even how they will be killed. Who knows at what stage God breathes life into the individual, but pieces of legislation can determine “proper procedures” to end a life. Of course laws are always changing. So what is right in one situation can be modified at the will of a parliamentary majority!
One of the early casualties was the commandment, “Thou shalt not commit adultery”. It happened so long ago that the word “adultery” sounds foreign in any language. Every generation, has used legislative powers to redefine conjugal relationships. We are on a slippery slide on that one – with our own wills being the the lubricant. Today’s opinions are decided by the strength of numbers on the streets, editorial vindications, and the power of innuendo.
Having found justifications for our “human weaknesses”, offences against the neighbour are easier to gloss over, with quick wit and a little familiarity with legal jargon. The influence of pseudo-psychology and ability to massage intent with a hint of sympathy can alter the balance between crime and punishment. We can let off thieves for “minor misdemeanours”. The fake news on social media is not fussed about antiquated terms like “false witness”. “Coveting” no longer implies an envy of the neighbour’s wife or goods. It is just shrugged off with a, “Who is my neighbour”? If she/he is not within the recognised circle of friendship, their belongings are open for the taking. Semantics are the strongest friend of those with “guts” to possess.
The intention in all this is not to make a depressive list. As the wise bard wrote, “Things are not thus or thus, only thinking makes it so.” It is an opinion on how things appear to me. The more things change; the more they remain the same! The point is, we are trying to make sense of it all – especially the Church in its response to a growingly secular world. All Catholics will hope that The Holy Spirit will help guide us through the emerging world. We must be prepared to take responsibility and embrace the collective voice of the faithful. Determinations will manifest human imperfections. Howsoever we may see them individually, we must see them bathed in the pious light of respect, humility and obedience.
Of Lighted Fools
We have grown adept in continually producing new laws and amendments to authenticate realignments to civic interactions. With pride and self-awareness we assert newly-gained ground. Each day pushes the horizon a further step. We can claim to be the masters of our universe. There’s the rub. With each new ground we make we lose another, and with that a piece of permanence that propped our sense of security. The paradox is that we want the new but not at the cost of losing what is an essential building block in our make-up. Our intellectual prowess has outstripped our human weaknesses and our grasp of things predictable (constance). What some call hope.
Hitherto this hope, the reassurance that all’s well because a higher power that created all things continues to sustain all that He/She created. It’s the secret power that makes the seed grow overnight while the farmer sleeps. That opiate, baby and all, were thrown out the window when we began recreating things in our own image. We are no longer bound by dictums such as “Thou Shalt”, or, “Shalt Not”. No longer slaves to the embellishments that permeated from them. What have we got? A system that constantly needs to legislate to control social behaviour; shifting sands that juggle both the fashion of the day and basic civic governance. It is a vague world, prone to the fickleness of a weathervane, and reliable only for the moment. The situation’s made more complex by the residue of traditional thinking that lingers in the social consciousness.
Are we no more than “Walking shadows that strut and fret our hour upon the stage, and then are heard no more?” (sic). The prophets of the new age point to the visible world in all its complexities and assure us that they have it all divined and measured to the last syllable. Having secured vexing questions it remains to marshal behaviour into comforting categories, defending society from the destructive power of baser instincts. Research and discoveries continue to realign established wisdom. The wanton experiments with group behaviour and interactions have transformed what is “contemporary”. Enter the new Priestly Class of politicians and lawyers. One creates, the other interprets and often demolishes. When a law becomes intransigent, or discomforting, it is replaced by a new law. We have liberty to do so. Helpless plebs are caught in the crosswinds. One strong blast can washed away the moorings that took centuries to build. Old reassurances have disappeared leaving an ever deepening abyss of uncertainties.
While, traditional custodians brood, grasping for invaluable pearls that made them rich and powerful. Battle-spent, they withdraw into edifices and splendour of the past. Heroically they speak with tried rhetoric. But no one understands their quaint and foreign tongues. The people though confused and confounded, find the mountain of new evidence and information compelling. Still, the daily parade of fashionable facts and altered morality fail to satisfy an unaddressed vocation. Despite the vault of evidence, basic answers to the “Whats, Whys and Hows”, nag the memory.
The earthly view negates possibilities of other dimensions of existence. Others, raised with a traditional view, see a transcendental existence as paramount, and “despise” the earthly life. Is it not possible to live co-substantially in both places? Both positions have their pros and cons. Jesus calmed the seas and forlorn spirits by breathing on them peace and the reassuring words, “Do not be afraid”. The echo from within can create stillness, helping us to gently lean into the storm, accepting its reality. We can appease (the earthly) Caesar with taxes and detached discernment. The Universal Lord only asks us to LOVE. It is the password to His many mansions. Through love we learn to believe; faith promises eternal life – the abiding hope we yearn for!
Teased By Synchronicity
Psychotherapists may consider it an irrational response to a transcendental experience, and a physicist may label it as complex impulses in a quantum dating back 14 billion years ago, recognisable in the present context, and relative to a distant future. Let me call it “Promptings of The Holy Spirit”.
For the psychologist the phenomenon is an unsettling response where the familiar appears by an inexplicable coincidence in an unrelated situation. The familiarity baffles and unsettles the subject. Influenced by Carl Jung and others, some see a path beyond rational science to a transcendental relationship of the mind. The belief is that there is more to Humans than what meets the eye – a combination of our faculties, to a transcendental dimension that relates with the cosmos. This connect is increasingly being studied as a support machination in the healing of mental illnesses.
To the quantum physicist, it becomes relevant in the context of evolution from the Big Bang. Matter destroys and recreates itself infinitely, discernible in a given state by the relative consciousness of the observer at that particular time. The process of change produces multiple quanta; some are immediately destroyed, some live another day as atoms, molecules etc. Chance plays its part as matter survives and evolves. With the growth of human traits there is an evolution in the human consciousness. Science by its own definitions is limited to enquiry of observable matter. There is a growing realisation that things are not necessarily thus or thus, but thinking makes it so. Beyond causation, the black spot and eternity, there is a supreme engineer, who masterfully is part of the evolution process and at the same time guides its destiny. Science and spiritual speculations need not be seen in contradiction to each other; rather as compatible studies in the overall study of consciousness.
Those of us less able to solve problems through empirical methods and current technology, we are gifted with imagination to help connect with the world intuitively. As co-travellers, we participate in the unravelling of the mysteries of the universe. Where there are gaps in human understanding, mysteries are endowed with correlatives to join established facts. Understanding and empathy help soften the hard facts of the physical world. We see the Unknown Power permeate through the universe, facilitating evolution while drawing all things to Itself. He/she
predates the Great Bang, is present through the evolution, and is also beyond the finite. It is the Holy Spirit that is available to all. In a special way manifested to those that have been sensitised and gifted with discernment. In my own experience, I only came across the word ten years ago. Since then it has nagged, cropping up in conversations, books and amazing encounters – always pointing to this moment. Let this testimony stand.
Foibles and Vanities
Our papers and the media force-feed us on waves of social changes being considered, propagated and promulgated round the world. There appears to be a compulsion to out the old and to bring in the new. The desire to break with tradition is fuelled by a fear that it could contaminate this rising spirit of freedom that pervades. Novel remedies are being preached for ageing problems in novel persuasive and progressive ways. No one brooks hints of superstition, lagging enthusiasm or plain denials. Attempts to compromise and rational debate are seen as weak waterings down of the ideals poised to free humanity into a brave new world.
Are claims of the new prophets and their inspired followers entirely original? To take arms against the sea of traditional beliefs and value systems may sound heroic; but hints of hubris. It counters the belief that the more things change, the more they remain the same. Running counter to the establishment has been part of our nature. It has been celebrated and recorded across cultures and civilisations. In the Jewish and Christian traditions, Lucifer was the first rebel. In the story of Genesis, the command not to eat the forbidden fruit was almost immediately put to test. History is full of narrations where ageing structures and systems have been replaced by new and more vibrant ones. Laws and rules made by the (religious or regal) power-base were constantly overcome through conquest, or, a change of heart. A common thread through the history is the progress toward an improved, “more enlightened” society.
Since the twentieth century the need for change has become pronounced and dramatic. Literacy and the volume of information disseminated through the technologically advanced media, means a greater number of people have been sensitised by egalitarianism in justice and human rights. Greater access to and understanding of the sciences, human behaviour in particular, have led to a new dynamic in relationships and social interactions. Without the traditional moderations through discipline, responsibility, mutual respect for and deference to elders,
society is set upon a course to bewilderment. Rational dehumanisation is creating a society with a cerebral bias; neglecting what rules the heart. This is also leading to social and international disconnects.
Ignored seem the importance of cosmic changes and growth. From our first relatives, who feared lightening, thunder and the darker agents of nature, the species has advanced to a better understanding of our selves and the universe. Forgotten is an awareness that the universe is in a constant state of evolution. One minute is not the same as the last, nor, will it be the same as the next. Relationships between humans are constantly changing as the cosmos moves toward a predetermined point of complete fulfilment. Failure to accept this is to dabble with superficials that are insignificant in the overall story of our universe.
The Church’s in a “Dynamic Evolutionary Process”.Study a molecule as it throbs with magical sparks dancing within its inner quantum. Some parts are recreating, some mutating, some others perishing, succumbing to the forces of cause and affect. The molecule dances to the eternal rhythm set by the Master Artisan. The blueprint of the cosmic dance was conceived and released some fourteen billion years ago in an abyss far away. The ripples and dance resonate through all things evolving in ever extending eddies. In such an imagery Australia could be a molecule drifting within the infinite cosmos. Adrift, since parting away from the mother continent of Gondwana a few billion years after the planet’s birth. It is continuing to drift in isolation. Isolation that made the island unique in physical features and its flora and fauna. Consciousness awoke in this splendid isolation some 60,000 years ago, at the outset of a more congenial environment. Wide spaces and an abundance of resources compensated for its lack of outside interactions. Limited existential pressures meant that evolution took its own path. People living close to and at one with nature developed a closer connect with the Creative Force. This determined the transcendental nature of the consciousness of its people. The near absence of outside interference also meant things appeared unaltered over millennia. Then, about 300 years ago there was a dramatic impact with “outsiders”. The new technology and advanced “materialism”, introduced irreversible changes within a short time.
Transformation can happen in an explosive instant, or, can drag on imperceptively at God’s own pace. We are “Modern” in the eyes of the word, aligned to materialistic postures of affluence, political system and secular values. Within a short time we have experienced the industrial revolution, technological explosions and the gifts of empiricism. We have caught-up with and kept pace with the world’s experiments in individual and social behaviour. But, while there seem to be no bounds to speculations and the ability to achieve, intimations from another dimension gnaw at the psyche. In the heart of this homo-sapien still tics a primeval call from the mother form. We began our journey assisted by the imagination that recognised the panorama of the universe, giving each form a name and a point location. Imagination partnered successive engineering feats and achievements, filling the world with wonder. But, questions not bound by rules of empiricism occur. They deny “rational” answers. Imagination, the gift of The Holy Spirit, helps to divine meanings, concepts and relationships in language understandable in the here and now. Each point is a new beginning. Carrying the weight of history, trials, errors, achievements and mutations we move to the next stage of evolution – destined to fulfilment in the Perfect.
Interactions with the macrocosm, ideas and ideologies define the emerging person. Within the tensions and vying forces balance is reached by prudent distancing and objectivity. We call it detachment. Without rational judgement and distancing, there is danger of bias and the emergence of a “false self”. The dynamic tension degenerates into negative chaos; destabilising perceptions, thoughts and actions. Detachment stabilises the personality, and importantly, creates awareness of transcendental roots that could otherwise remain dormant. The spark once recognised, generates its own potential of growth. Detachment overcomes desires, removing obstructions to development and a heightened consciousness.
The “little me” had remained confused and latent, overawed during the epic contests. The little questioning “Whys”, were often crushed by more weighty influences, drawing strength from the daunting power of “Tradition”. When encouraged infant curiosity has bloomed into an attitude of “Critical Thinking”; the platform for self-confidence and self-realisation. But, there is also danger in letting the ego run free. Like other inherited forces, the Ego too can endanger the evolution toward a perfect Self. Mastering the Ego is very difficult because of its strong desires for freedom and attractive blings. Discernment between what is destructive and what leads to fulfilment requires extraordinary judgement. Detachment from the manifestations of the material world becomes vital for the seekers of perfection – those who also wish to re-connect with the essence of Perfection that plants and nurtures all things.
Knowledge & Wisdom
To “Peoples of the Book”, Knowledge predates humans. It was always there, is now, and will continue to challenge in the future. The best we do is to explore the many manifestations, relative to our current understanding, backed by developments in sciences and technology. People with exceptional skills and achievements are recognised and held in high esteem. But, their knowledge is based on facts and material available at a given time. In another era, circumstance and place their standing will inevitably be challenged. And, the very premise of their “facts” will be reviewed and even supplanted. This has been evident in the most advanced sciences and areas of study. The further we explore and contend, there remains forever another step towards fulfilment. Knowledge becomes finite, flexible and even fickle.
Wisdom is not attained by learning, age or privilege; it comes despite all of those. It can be understood as a “gift”. It is not the preserve of any “elite”. It moves freely through the halls of learning, places of worship and the expanse of nature. It cannot be caged down by a people, “ism”, or possessiveness of any kind. It transcends all. In transcending, it is detached from all “Reality”. That does not mean it ignores or is oblivious of the human condition and the universe. It is just the opposite in that it is intuitive and empathetic. In seeing things it sees through all things; not only the form but also in the function and place in the larger scheme of things. It is the first to recognise its own limitations, respects all forms and sees its place as subject to something far greater. Unlike knowledge that seeks to understand things; wisdom accepts all (including self) in their diversity, beauty and relationships, seeking a reason and connect that’s greater than the sum of things.
Freedom & Democracy
Can all demonstrations of public sentiment be considered democratic? We are lulled into a belief that every march, demonstration and gathering in public spaces is an exercise in democratic freedom of some sort. But I ask, how the freedom of a few can be considered right when it impinges on the personal freedom of others and destroys public property in order to be heard? The growing trend needs consideration before a nuisance becomes another danger to our civic life.
We have people moving from one demonstration to another, on diverse issues, making grand stances, but make no positive contributions of their own. Their aggressive attitude shows little commonality with their avowed cause(s). Well can they quote (misquote) luminaries of non-violence and civil rights, but their actions and results fall well short of their “ideals”. Many join a “civil action” without knowing the real agenda that lurks behind the glib slogans. Increasingly rises a spectre a la France and Hong Kong, which threatens to take over. Starting as a benign movement it assumes a life of its own; consuming the fabric of the democracy it’s espoused to protect.
What happened to Town Hall meetings, letters to the press and politicians? Demonstrations, when held, were targeted at the offices of elected representatives and the seats of power to bring about brought genuine change. Such actions had both visibility and clout but did not endanger public peace. Peace, that is desired by all but the anarchist. Who, like a wanton child, knows no bounds but is bent only on destruction. Claiming moral high ground and intellectual references, their arguments only diminish into platitudes and meaningless aphorisms. Prod deeper they cannot give an answer. All that glitters is not gold!
Of course I I believe in the devil. He is active in my life every day. I see him in the deadly sins; all the negativity, pain, sorrow, destruction and anarchy that engulfs the world. He predates humans. Springing from the first eruption of the Big Bang he quickly modelled himself as the alternative to the emerging beauty and harmony of creation. He is the dark contradiction to a beautifully created world, bathed with celestial light. He claimed the world as his own, subjecting it to laws of cause and affect. When humans emerged, they became the object of his desire. A desire to conquer and subject the crown in God’s creation. To this mission he directed all his craft, strength and slippery presence. Every soul gained by him is a victory over the benevolent fount of creativity, beauty and harmony. But in his pride he was cursed. Being the father of all destruction, his conquests instantly disappear – subject to the world’s regime of transience. So what in a moment seems a prize, in the next it is nothing. Nothing that is not beautiful and fully synchronised to the Divine purpose, perishes, without hope, immortality, or final glory. So he broods till the next project sparks and energises his diabolic intent.
Danger in the Brave New World
Indeed, we do protest too much. It seems like we are forming a legal system in our own image. Increasingly, shrouded in euphoria, it’s emerging as a system of proxies. Accusers will also try and condemn, so that people can rest in their self-righteousness, free of guilt or sore consciences.
Traditions and centuries of moral refinement are tossed out daily on the evening news. The new metropolis is putting heavy strains on the way of life that had developed and was reinforced over the millennia. Movements in domestic and social relationships are being dealt with in different ways. Common in it all is the energised spirit of freedom that pushes on, unmindful of costs and consequences. The cry is, “We want a change; we want it now.”
It is naive to think that by having dealt with “Guilt”, and brushing aside archaic forms of integrity and “right” interactions, that a brave new world will emerge. It’s a two-dimensional outlook to think that political correctness and laws, based on reason, would provide social cohesion and contentment. “Rights” and “Privileges” would inevitably be challenged, rubbing like Teutonic Blocks, resulting in unhappiness and slippage-like Tsunamis.
But. The main rub lies in the fact that the urge for instant satisfaction over-shadows well intended reforms. The devil-may-care disregard for consequences causes vacuums where age old traditions are made obsolete. Dazzled by the glitter of new forms they forget that the tree being disposed of has deep roots that give it stability and structural strength. The New Age view that we are just mind and body is being challenged by a school of positive psychology. Which is founded on the belief that we humble humans are made up of a body, mind and also a transcendental dimension.
The transcendental part (psyche, soul, whatever), is like the roots of that plant, going back in human memory, and is even evolving with consciousness. The consciousness that is at one with the super containing power. It is also connected with a future. Hence He/She (though bodiless) is also our Alpha and Omega. So, unless The New Age can connect with the future, ie shrug off its lack of plausible substitutes for what it rejects, it will float away; making space for something more substantial.
The Importance of Leadership
“Like sheep without a shepherd”, are words that come to mind each time one switches on the TV. All channels, at all times, flash updates on the Coronavirus. One cannot blame viewers for eagerly seeking latest data and opinions over their speakers. But, it has become a situation when “users use”. Or, as an eminent politician espoused, “Some publicity is better than no publicity”. High profile pols “wax wisdom, through their half-shut eyes”, on every aspect of the crisis. While “specialists” on the fringes nod solemnly. Because of the nature of the beast, and the speed with which it strikes and mutates, there is a constant demand for changes in references, situations and projections. On a world scale it is an epic undertaking.
But, is it truly necessary to have an army of staffers constantly feeding the “boss” with mind boggling information, statistics and “iffy” prophesies? How much information needs to be shared, and at what rate? Is it responsible to massage morale to the extent of raising fake hopes of a “good” Easter celebration? Or, to drive the population maudlin with spectres of a lasting financial hardship? I think it would be more beneficial to receive information, from experts, that is needs based, rather than the staccato through the news cycle. It may cause less confusion, less stress, and conflicts. Being more reasoned, it would allow actions time to become effective and also give jumpy nerves time to settle down.
“We will emerge stronger”, is more than a slogan, or, aspirational statement. People powered by pen, ballot box, higher learning, are all exhorting us to that goal. We cannot be idle spectators to the processes of overcoming the challenges between us and that chosen goal. We are in it together, and need to make our contribution, no matter how small or insignificant. Just the discipline of voluntary isolation is a choice we make. It is not the visible things, but, the intent that scripts the involvement in the effort. How we come out at the other end will depend on our intentions and how we take our responsibilities now. This takes a special type of leadership.
What’s Good? What’s Bad?
The questions vex us from birth to burial. On mother’s knee and early days of development we have been taught behaviour that bonds social cohesion. Through structured systems of reward and punishments we are set on the straight and narrow. Compliance becomes reward itself and is reinforced by the encouragement from elders and peers. Non-compliance meets equal and opposite reactions, ensuring that lessons are learned. We go through life corralled and accepting the cultural directions and standards being reinforced.
With priestcraft came moral extension to the primal codes. Undesirable things became taboo, with consequences leading into the after life. The thought of eternal damnation became a stronger deterrent than earthly penal systems. The world moved on into the scientific age raising ambiguities about creation, transcendence of souls and a life here after. The lifting off of moral constraints also changed the attitudes to social systems and the justice system. Emphasis now seems to be on “accountability” – a code word for vengeance. We have moved back to a time when justice meant “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth”. Guilt lies in the eyes of the beholder; perceptions subject to ethnic and cultural value systems. “Conscience”, a mere anecdotal term, is dictated by the whims of fashion and an over-reliance on communication channels. The cry of “Freedom” overrides codes considered sacrosanct. It’s an “Amendment” to value systems and has precedence over considerations of historical individual “rights”. Contradictions puzzle the individual who must navigate a way through the quick-sands of the modern psyche.
So. Is there a place for “Traditionalists” in this fast-paced universe we now find ourselves in? There can be no “getting off”; only compliance and reliance on the insidious system. Does that mean abdicating responsibility in the face of a storm that threatens wellbeing of individuals who have a “foot” in each world. I find the world ruled by empiricism restrictive and contrary to my nature where I can choose a way that I consider “ennobling” and fulfilling. In my imagination I see a cosmos pulsating and full of beauty. A gentler spirit moves through it, responsive to love and consideration of all material things. Call it “Balanced Pragmatism”.
He Leads To Fresh Pastures
In what passes for calm in the current norm, I ponder. And, I wonder at God’s mighty wonders. He who created all things did so with an instant word of His divine love. Love that spreads and permeates all things. It is the cardinal principle of His divine grace. When He created and gave life, He did so, not as a dictator (as was His right), but as a loving father; the essence of Love. Plants and all living things were engendered with their own natures. To His crowning glory, our first parents, he gave intellect and the freedom of choice. He offered them the choice between “Life” and “Knowledge”, with no provisos – no “Thou shalt, or, shalt nots”. They were free to move through the Garden of Eden, and taste its fruits. All they needed was to respect and abide by His will. The dynamic that held things in balance, and extended through to consequences. If they ate the fruit of Life they could have had life, perpetuated in their existing state. But, they chose the fruit of Knowledge, making them aware of good and evil. Brought with it were the consequences of good and bad, decisions. For the first time they saw both the beauty and dark sides of the universe. And, they were ashamed because they were naked. Through the history of the Jewish people, reflected in The Bible, it’s the recurrent story. People sin. God forgives and the people continue on their arrant ways. But, the love of God does not change. He who created all and found it all very good, continues to allow his creation to evolve freely, gathering all into a grand and diverse mass that progresses toward a predetermined point in fulfilment.
All religions have been founded on principles of love and peace. How we have strayed from those founding principles! The Lord when He created the world saw it at peace and in harmony. “The lamb snuggled with the lion” and so forth. His fatherly love moved over all things and when he communicated with the humans it was in a spirit of love and respect.
His instructions came with open ended invitations, offering alternatives. The Lord respected His humans’ dignity and the supreme gift of liberty. Why then do we, less perfect, prescribe action dressed with an air of authority? Somewhere in history God’s servants embraced two masters: The Lord Himself and the ruler of the realm. With the complicated relationships, the priests became increasingly authoritative. What began as a loving fatherly relationship became a ruling rod. Moses had an intimate encounter with Yahveh, but in passing on the word he predicated with “Thou shalt” and “Shalt not”.
The simple Way shown by Christ to simple fishermen became ( through the association with nobility down the ages), an auger that could bring princes to their knees. Power corrupted, and to fight its influence there were successive Reformations, Protestantism, several Councils within the Church. Yet the clay hangs on, using devices and traditions to manipulate arguments.
Little wonder that labels of Heresy, Anti-Christ etc are thrown at The Good Shepherd’s image now in Rome. When Pope Francis sees the historical Church falling into ruins, just as St Francis of Assisi had earlier, by his example the Pope tries to rebuild with his own sweat and blood. His voice is gentler and fatherly. Unlike Popes in history he does not rule by fiats; but a gentler form of cajoling, exhortations and persuasion. Looking deep into his message we find nothing new, heretical or subversive. He only throws fresh light on truths using current terms and imagery. A lot had already been covered in Vatican II, when it tried to open out dusty libraries to the fresh air from the world outside. The old Church Militant brooked no dissent, often resorted to abominable methods to rule and sway. We have progressed from those dark ages into a more sensitive and humane chapter of our history. We need leaders that can read the signs and save souls in the current turbulent times. Pope Francis has the learning and the spirit to be our shepherd. His flock know his his voice as he leads them to fresh pastures. He falls back to pick up the weak, to carry them on his shoulders. None are left behind.
Discernment Amid Diversity
Kings 1.3:5, Matt 13:24-43, 44-52 and the parables about the Kingdom of God, repeat the themes of discernment, detachment and the acceptance of diversity.
The need to understand the difference between good and evil is stated at the very outset in “Genesis”. Till the first parents opened their eyes to “knowledge” they were happy in their innocence and total reliance on God. Came the fatal moment of “understanding”, nakedness and the evil in the world were revealed to them. The words of the tempter were veiled in ambiguity and deceit; making discernment the problem humans still wrestle with and decode. Adam and Eve could not distinguish between the “voices”, because the understanding of evil had not begun. Was “Original Sin” good or bad? It matters not. It is history and leaves a constant fork on our lives – from little things to major decisions we make.
Discernment was the only grace Solomon asked for to help him rule his diverse kingdom effectively. In the parables of the sowers Jesus emphasises the importance being able to read “signs” and the virtues of patience and fear of God. He is prepared to see the darnels grow up with the wheat to optimise the collection at the harvest. Patience and trust in God are the message in the story of the fig tree. The man who finds the buried treasure is prepared to sell his possessions to buy the field of the buried treasure. Jesus’ detachment (and attachment to the will of God) is seen when he asks, “Who are my brothers and sisters?” At the climax of his passion he was despoiled of remaining shreds of dignity. He returned the indignity and agony of the cross by asking The Father to forgive his tormentors.
During his lifetime, non-jews were given equal treatment in miracles and compassion. After his resurrection he asked his disciples to go out to the corners of the world to preach the gospel and announce the Kingdom of God to all people. In baptism we receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit, detachment, discernment, patience, ability to preach, and ability to see God in all people.
Death Where is Your Sting?
Death is an inextricable, part of the human condition. Killing goes back to the times of Cain and Able. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Is an excuse often used when one makes short of another for gain. Institutions, religions, States and cultures, justify their murderous intents by branding them “just”. No blame is put at them when they act “for the good”. What was good enough for the forefathers is good enough for succeeding generations it would seem.
But this generation has outdone all others in justifying the nihilistic drive. In the twentieth century amendments were found to the obstructive laws forbidding killing. Logic went ahead of obedience of the law. What use were laws based on religious attitudes? Civic correctness now rules behaviour and interactions. The “mumbo-jumbo” of the superstitious past are replaced by a new order drugged by new opiates. Dignity of the individual is outclassed by new rights, entitlements and freedoms fought out and won round the world. Empirical pragmatism makes short shift of sentimentality and old-fashioned morality. When the Judge and his tablets of the Ten Commandments have been dashed and relegated into irrelevance a new order emerges for humanity to contend with.
In this new godless world, life is just an amalgam of chemical interactions. The unexplainable is only “chance” playing its part in the universe. The religious injunctions and statutes of the past are fading memories. Children ask, “What is covetousness, what is adultery?” To them an unborn child is just a foetus that parents have a right to reject. Societies are convinced that it is a personal prerogative for one to end one’s own life.
For Christians the loss of the covenants is devastating. As one commandment is challenged another challenge appears. Round the world people are looking at them in new ways. One questions where God is the midst of this storm. The disciple sees Him walking on the surge, calmly reassuring them. Telling them not to be afraid. He has given them gifts of intelligence and imagination, through which He communicates with them. If they have chosen His way, He will surely lead them on.
Well might one ask, “What need’s truth? We alreadyhave the truths we need; precisely put down, with proofs and principles, by prominent people. No more need for blind faith. Withpractical applicationand a measure of human ingenuity, we could construct fulcrums and would lift the world. No more fantasies about the man in the moon: now it’s only a body of craters and dunes waiting for someone to stomp on. What need of an invisible deity? We, on our own, are able to travel to Mars – even colonise distant galaxies!” It has been a long journey for the species to reach this assured consciousness. It has been so long, that we forget where we began; and the myriad stages in between. At so many stages we thought that we had reached the zenith of our creativity and achievements – but there has always been room for more progress.
When we can make and do so many things, we also have the intellectual ability to decide what is good for us: what is right and what is wrong. We do not need axioms brought down from mountains, the entrails of caves, or churned up from the depths of the oceans. For a most of the time, elders believed and practised what they were told. There wereobvious exceptions, and at times very subtle changes, to designed for convenience.Generations have decided their own parameters of social behaviour, each setting aside the “morality” of the predecessor. With the stroke of a pen years of tradition and ideologies have been relegated to the dustbin of the history. Like a new suit, morality has been consonant with the fashion of the day. Within living memory we have seen radical changes in social behaviour. Arguably, these changes have made us better, more sensitive, and more enlightened than ever before.
Do these attributes and attainments make us better than sheep or goats; two-legged things that strut and fret; drop off, and then just disappear? I think not. For then, roses and green fields would be only fodder. I think not, forthen empathy and sharing in another’s joys and sufferings would be no more than expressions of our gregariousness. Then, all sublime expressions would be just dabbling and babblingin indolence. To me, these and other noble expressions of humanity, are connects with a transcendent state that’s the sum-total of human consciousness; the essence of all beauty and the perfect form of all perfection. Therefore, I can say, “I believe in the One I belong to – my model and all that I aspire to be.”
What good’s a liberty gained by depriving others the same right? Belligerent attitudes now dare weak politicians, to subvert the laws that give basic rights to simple folks, to live simple lives in the traditions of their ancestors. One battle after another has been won by the same modus operandi; with the growing certainty that one day the war will be won.
Religious groups have not done themselves any favours. The sins of leaders are to be worn by the unsuspecting followers. Most Faiths are easy targets, and their defences weakened by a loss of morale, and a feeling of hopelessness under the incessant pressure of “Secular” forces. The lifestyles and misuse of power, by a few, further weakensthe will of those confronting compelling empirical evidence posed in the fluid environment of commercialism and technology. Persistent arguments and the hammering of guilt, have led to self-doubts and a turn to other diversions for solace and personal dignity.
It is easy to pursue a campaign against religious thinking that is nebulous and cannot be proven in sensual terms. Just a manipulation of the meaning of “Secularism”, offers, virtually, unbridled liberty. The argument becomes, “ Faith against Science” – and such epic allusions. With insufficient “evidence” to prosecute an argument, the weak submit to stronger arguments; fearing associations being made with superstitions and mediaeval hangovers. In vain, traditionalists turned apologetics, quote chapters and verses from texts made obsolete to this new rationalism. A myriad set about dismantling the fabric of faith, hope and a living Love.
The LGBTI movement began, legitimately, to empower males and females to assert their sexuality. It is a fact that people with sexual preferences outside the norm, had long suffered vilification, discriminations and were criminalised by all parts of society. It has been a long hard slog for them to gain acceptance and the respect of the community. So, increasingly people are “coming out” in the community. Institutions that have been building bridges of reconciliation must be congratulated.
Problem comes when one group tries to debunk andoverpower the other. Each group’s expressed freedom needs to be respected and acknowledged by all. Institutions should show flexibility and an enlightened approach in their interactions with twenty-first century sensitivities. It does not mean that they should surrender their entitled rights to flourish in freedom and to practicetheir cherished beliefs. Whether or not (and how) these differences are accommodated, is a matter for individual consciences and the respective institutions. But, to compel a school to accept students and staff, holding opposing stands to the institution’s values and mission statement, would tantamount to bullying, and an unacceptable form of behaviour. Morally, those who say they stand for human rights, cannot demand rights over the rights of others. The armed forces have some exemptions under the discrimination acts. When I do not like a particular TV programme I am free to switch channels. So, I feel that to force an institution (against its moral code) to accept individual/individuals philosophically opposed to them, is ethically improper as it amounts to undermining the very grounds for their foundation.
When the blind lead the blind down the streets of the CBD they forget, or, are blind to the smooth and effective systems that regulate daily life, from bedtime to re-bed time. Together they facilitate civic life that we all enjoy. To try to be free of them is to wish for a paradise free from interdependence and conscience restraints, an idle life free of responsibility of any kind. It’s almost as impossible as being perfect.
Why this compulsive stumbling toward the unattainable? We live gregarious lives intertwined with others. We depend on others as they depend on us. To reverse that is to act like infants challenging parental authority. For four or five year olds such behaviour can find pardoned with a simple, “Sorry”. When adults misbehave, putting their own perceived rights above those of others, there are social consequences; disruptions mean amnesty at a higher cost (invariably the community ends up paying).
Where there are more than two individuals there is potential for conflict and disagreement. Who and what determines who is right? Who deserves to dominate? Does might give a divine right to rule and be obeyed? Is the human kingdom no more than a pretentious animal kingdom; where the choice lies between fleeing and fighting? If the noble “two-legged things” are truly compassionate and respectful of fellow humans, higher standards of behaviour are expected. Consideration and empathy would rate highly. These could only be possible with a degree of self-restraint. On a social platform this means discipline – exalting the simple principle of “do unto others as you would have others do unto you”.
How politicians do take us for granted, and then make believe that they work for our good. Example in hand is the much debated Anti- discrimination Bill before parliament. There are the self-righteous claims and the flag waving on issues that arise from time-to-time in the workplace and our educational institutions. There is no arguing with the facts that in our society merit ranks foremost in the job selections process. We support students ( and teachers) having free access to where they want to study/work without hindrance from the governing bodies. And, legislations already exist to protect the rights of disadvantaged individuals. There may be half-a-dozen Acts at the Commonwealth level, and equal numbers the same at state levels. Bodies and corporate institutions at the micro levels have codes and guidelines under the watchful eyes of their governing boards. So. What is the idea of burdening the taxpayers with what is a tedious process for “notional “ gains that have not been validated in public. And to all purposes, would only result in a surfeit of policing.
If the government truly believes that there are grey areas (that in their eyes) are being exploited, and that reforms need to be introduced for the benefit of the community, it should do so transparently; ensuring that the constitution rights of all parties are protected in the spirit and letter of the law. In the larger scheme of things, we already have a legislated body that’s charged with scrutinising and reviewing the Constitution and Laws as they exist. Should it not be expedient to reconsider all legislations on discrimination with a view to rationalise and combine them? When the law allows it, the courts (be it reluctantly) will allow it too.
Considering a “reflection for the day”, I am directed to sync my devotions and spirituality with my chronological age. I admit there has been a lag since being an altar boy, learning catechism verbatim, habitual morning and evening prayers etc, and the emergence of “Doubting Thomas”. There has been a misfit that I was not aware of. How can a menacing devil sit on one shoulder, while a gentle angel prompts tenderly through the other ear? The juvenile symbols can no longer satisfy or be wished away as “mysteries”. One needs more fodder for a mature intellect that questions as it digests. It must implicitly comply with visible and empirical laws.
This papacy heralded the Church to be outward looking; echoing Christ’s instruction for the disciples to go out into the world preaching the kingdom of God. The ship of the Church navigates new, uncharted waters. Within a few decades a world order has changed, yielding place to new. Recognised logic and eloquence have been shaded by laws of physics and technology. In the new environment secularism morphs in new trajectories; creating and dismantling ground and structures with transient and soluble foundations. Everything’s relative; today’s reality becomes a myth tomorrow. Everyone has a right to be right; a right proven right by the right methodology ( in some cases created by the decibels of the announcement). Within this mayhem, how does a believer preach, or look outwardly?
Notable saints would advise the need to first recognise the problem. Then name it. With discernment and prayer one can proceed with the logical process of solving the problem. Despite eloquence from the pulpit, people are attracted away by the commonsense and science of modernism. While, in our churches pews go empty. I think loss of God is the main problem – no matter how we dress it. Secularism is the organic growth from an amalgam of scientific enlightenment and cultural diversities. On the one hand we seek empirically based answers, on the other we are confronted by new cultures pushing for validity, confusing traditional thinking born of faith, hope and charity. The problem becomes one of identity – the image we want others to see us by. The disciples must decide how to assert themselves while accepting the complexities of the macrocosm. To successfully accomplish the given mission one needs “to read the signs effectively”. This is possible when one matures in understanding with wisdom. One does not need to quibble for words; the words will be given at the appointed time.
There are daily crusades in the media over some cause or other against autocratic authoritarianism. The catch cry is “Freedom”. Some right minded individuals, unknowingly, get corralled into a wider web of indiscriminate negativity and seditions. Freedom is an innate aspiration of the human spirit. We start early as rebellious kids, flaunting rules and wishes of the family. We naturally side with the underdog against unequal odds. Each aspires to be a Prometheus, bringing enlightenment and freedom to an oppressed humanity. This “spirit” is also exploited to seduce for ulterior motives and agenda. But. We are also gifted with a faculty of intelligence that offers checks and balances in a wobbly world. It’s warning: “thou shalt not be brain washed”- a process for depriving the mind of the ability to think for itself. A situation arises, where, the call for liberation from a tyranny, leads to enslavement to another. Revolution itself, personal or political is a form of purgation that shows a willingness to change, which is always good. But, like all things natural, it leads to a paradox. As the yin and yang day and night co-exist as two sides of the same coin. The difference is in what we willingly see. Governments and social attitudes change, but the change is not viewed in the same way universally. Changes brought about by social action cause more pain and tyranny when change agents become the controllers. How often loud voices of the minority have led to legislated changes that prove oppressive for the rest? They become a nightmare for government agencies and the community at large. Moral of the story to me is that reason and common sense must not be forsaken when considering innovations that involve two or more individuals.