Friday 26 December 2008

The longing of love

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

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

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

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

Some ordinations and the Pearl Fishery Coast

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

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

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

Rab ne bana di Jodi

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

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

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

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

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

Person, wholeness and wisdom

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

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

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

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

Hinduism and Islam, truth and beauty

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

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

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

Thursday 18 December 2008

The kindness of our God

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

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

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

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

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

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

All through the years

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

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

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

Love and power

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

The Octave before Christmas

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

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

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

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

Wednesday 17 December 2008

Of conversions and arranged marriages

An imaginary dialogue between a Hindu and an Indian Christian:

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

The women in the genealogy of Jesus

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

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

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

The nuptial imagery of Christmas

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

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

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

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

Primary colours

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

Monday 15 December 2008

Thoughts provoked by a symposium

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The selfishness of love

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

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

Fruits of kindness

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

Forced conversion?

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

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

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

De Smet and the post-conciliar Indian Church

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

A research experience

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

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

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

The Christmas novena

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

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

Thursday 11 December 2008

A little dialogue

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

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

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

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

Be a real flower…

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

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

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

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

Hoping against hope

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

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

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

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

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

Praying for terrorists

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remembering to forget

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

The feast of the Preventive System

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday 2 December 2008


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

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

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

The fruits of participatory planning, I guess!

Sunday 23 November 2008

Puppy love

Two of the latest inmates of Divyadaan - on their last day in Divyadaan. Tonight they travel to a new home, leaving many broken hearts. Their mother died a couple of days after they were born, and so they have been practically nursed by the brothers...

Amazing how attached we are able to get to little creatures like these. What is their place in the great plan of God's creation? I remembered how I once said to a group of Roman youngsters that dogs have no souls. I was roundly berated by Silvia, an animal lover in the group...

Cricket and friendship

The Inter-Oratory Cricket Tournament has just concluded... Wonderful day, clear cloudless skies, not too hot - ideal cricket weather. I must say that our boys are skilled. It was a pleasure seeing them play. The final was what you might call a nail-biting finish, though the players were not at their best.

But, as the young cricketing chief guest said, it is rare to see a cricket tournament without the usual bhandan. It looks like years of contact between the boys and our brothers is bearing its own silent fruit. The boys, we were saying, are even beginning to look like our brothers. There is good leadership among them too: in every oratory there seem to be two or three boys who act as liasons between our brothers and the other boys. It is a good arrangement, especially seeing that many of the brothers who frequent the Nashik oratories do not know the local languages. It is quite possible that many of the boys belong to the Bajrang Dal or the Shiv Sena, but friendship cuts across boundaries, thank God for that.

Friendship: that might be defined as the chief goal of our Sunday oratories. And it is not a mean thing.

New developments at Divyadaan

A new road cuts through the property now, dividing Divyadaan from STI... Here are the new gates coming up, for those who want to have a look.

Begum Sumru and the Salesians

Begum Sumru is a rather well-known name for anyone who knows anything about the history of Delhi. The Begum, it seems, began life as a Kashmiri dancing-girl. She married two European mercenaries in succession, and from one of them inherited the principality of Sardhana, not far from Delhi. In the meantime, she had converted to Catholicism, and had petitioned the Pope to send her a chaplain. The Pope sent an Italian Franciscan, I believe, and it was this gentleman who supervised the construction of the cathedral of Sardhana at the Begum's request.

What I did not know was that Begum Sumru had property in Delhi, and that the property was known as Masihgarh. Our Salesian provincial house stands in Masihgarh, as also the CRI House and a parish and some institutions belonging to the Archdiocese of Delhi, including the Holy Family Hospital. Somehow the Begum's property passed on to the Church, but most of the land was lost in the transfer from the British to the Indian government. The land on which Don Bosco Okhla stands, for example, had to be bought back by the diocese from the government. The price quoted was originally half a lakh, and then it became 1 lakh per acre. The Salesians found the money somehow, but the land seems to be still in the name of the Delhi Archdiocese. Much of the land has been grabbed by various parties, some time during the construction boom after the Asiad Games: Escorts, Amity University, are all standing on church land.

History lurks under the surface in Delhi. Fascinating to discover that we Salesians also have some connection with the past, and with Begum Sumru of all people.

Homiletic approaches

Today is the feast of Christ the King. Vinod gave a wonderful homily, narrating a story of an American on a bus in Sweden, boasting about the wonderful American democracy where people could just walk into the White House and chat with the President. His Swedish neighbour listened to him patiently, and then said: We in Sweden are not as good as the Americans, but in our country, we do have a King who travels in the same bus as everyone else. When the gentleman got off, the others in the bus told the American that he was the King. That was King Gustav Adolph of Sweden travelling in a bus like everyone else.

Wonderful image of God travelling in our bus, pitching his tent among us...

But my mind was swirling around the dynamics of homilies. What came to mind was an observation from Lonergan about the difference between the Augustinian and the Thomist approach to the world:
As the sciences and philosophy for the Augustinian had no value except insifar as they refer to God, it followed that the sciences and philosophy did not bring to Christian wisdom any knowledge of the nature of things in themselves, but merely examples and illustrations. All our knowledge of the created world had only one function. It was not to know something more, it was not to know further truth about them, but to provide illustrations, examples, that would further one's knowledge of God. It had a symbolic value, to aid one to an understanding of the true revelation, and that true revelation came from above and was in a purely spiritual order. This enables one to grasp in what sense the Augustinians spoke of philosophy as the ancilla theologiae. Sciences exist only to serve, and one does not ask them more than to serve. They have no function of contributing any truth of their own, and that is the meaning of the expression ancilla theologiae in the letters of Gregory IX and Alexander IV to the University of Paris. (Y. Congar, Theologie," Dictionnaire de theologie catholique 15, col. 388, cited in Lonergan, Regis College Institute 'On the Method of Theology,' 9-20 July 1962, lecture 2, section 4.2)
So for the Augustinian, everything in the world was merely a symbol of God. For the Thomist, the world possessed a meaning in its own right.

We could push this insight in a slightly different direction. It gives us, for example, different approaches for our homilies. The Augustinian approach would pick up examples from life, and they would be just that, examples, illustrations about God and Christ and the gospel. A Thomist approach would not negate this, but would add that the examples are themselves part of the ongoing action of Christ in the world. So Gustav Adolph would not be just an illustration of Christ's type of kingship, but would be part of the action of Christ in the world. Gustav Adolph would be part of the Risen Body of Christ, effect and fruit of the Resurrection. And we would be led not only to admiration for him and for Christ, but also to gratitude to God for the ongoing work of redemption... A move from exhortation to praise and worship.

Monday 10 November 2008

Football again in Divyadaan

Yesterday the Nashik Inter-Parish Football and Throwball Tournament was held on the Divyadaan grounds. Good to see all those youngsters from Devlali, St Ann's, Holy Cross, Igatpuri and Don Bosco here... Some of them, I was thinking, were just little altar boys a few years ago.

Several parents sat right through the day. Wonderful sign of support for their kids, and surely appreciated.

Eric Almeida and Anthony Conceicao were very much part of the Don Bosco team, which romped to victory with a 4-0 score in the finals.

The Divyadaan brothers did a good job with the refereeing and just being around. The organization was in the hands of the St Patrick's Youth of Devlali.

Saturday 8 November 2008

Serve only the best wine

Many people never remove the plastic covers from their sofas. We find some of our communities doing that: the plastic never comes off from the jeep seats. Why? Because they don’t want to dirty the jeep.
Jesus did not keep himself in reserve. His first miracle was changing water into very good wine. He gave the best of his affection freely to all who he met.
This is an important skill to learn, because we tend to measure out our affection in droplets.
The secretary who welcomed Jones. “She had already decided to love me, even before I walked in the door.”
A friend of mine who could make black white. He had this capacity to make you feel good, and you felt good!
Perhaps Jesus knew he would not live up to forty, so he did not store up his wine: he served it!
Live! Give all your affection, rather than measuring it out in droplets!
Be generous with your affection, your appreciation, your praise!
Don’t wait till someone has earned your appreciation!
The difference between being objective and being creative! Advaita in relationships.

(Laurie Beth Jones)

No one can ruin your plans

Let nothing set you back.
No one can keep you down unless you decide not to rise again.
See the story of Jesus. Leaders do not quit when they suffer a loss. They press on. Jesus was convinced that no one could upset his plans.

You are kept back from ministries or orders.
You have two possible attitudes: to play a game, or to really work at whatever needs working at.
Your request has been questioned. You have two possible attitudes: you give up, or you answer the questions.
It is in your hands, either to put on a mask, or to grow.
Failure in itself is not the problem. How you take the failure indicates what sort of man you are. (Examinations are a sort of game, and failures have to be taken in a sporting spirit. And often life is also a game.)

Question: what recent loss or betrayal have you suffered that might be causing you to want to give up?
If you give up, who will be really the reason for your defeat?

(From Laurie Beth Jones)

Call the question

This is an important skill for us who spend so much time on meetings. At a certain point, we have to call the question. We have to stop talking, and make a decision.

A woman dreamed she was being chased by a bear. When the bear finally cornered her, the woman asked in terror, Are you going to kill me? The bear calmly replied, I don’t know, lady. You tell me. This is your dream.

Probably some of us love to whine. Jones tells the story of her training as a telephone prayer counselor. They were told to allow 3 minutes to people to tell their story, and to then say, Okay, that brings us to the question: What do you want to have happen now? Jones says: it is amazing how people suddenly fall silent when confronted with their own point of power. It is much easier to whine than to decide.

Jesus empowered people because he was willing to call the question. Who do you think I am? What do you want? Do you want that I heal you?

If the Emperor is naked, say it. We spend so much energy safeguarding our illusions. Sooner or later things will come to a head; better that you do it sooner, when you can call the shots, when you can time yourself, and when you have not yet made too many mistakes.

Let the discussions come to an end; decide, and do. On the plains of hesitation, as Bulchand used to say, the war was lost.

(From Laurie Beth Jones)

The Lion is God

One of my beloved stories, something that brought home to me in a most dramatic way what we mean when we say that faith is a 'theological' virtue. This is Vincent Donovan in Christianity Rediscovered:

Months later when all this had passed, I was sitting talking with a Masai elder about the agony of belief and unbelief. He used two languages to respond to me - his own and Kiswahili. He pointed out that the word my Masai catechist, Paul, and I had used to convey faith was not a very satisfactory word in their language. It meant literally "to agree to." I, myself, knew the word had that shortcoming. He said "to believe" like that was similar to a white hunter shooting an animal with his gun from a great distance. Only his eyes and his fingers took part in the act. We should find another word. He said for a man to really believe is like a lion going after its prey. His nose and eyes and ears pick up the prey. His legs give him the speed to catch it. All the power of his body is involved in the terrible death leap and single blow to the neck with the front paw, the blow that actually kills. And as the animal goes down, the lion envelopes it in his arms (the Masai refer to the front legs of an animal as its arms), pulls it to himself, and makes it part of himself. This is the way a lion kills. This is the way a man believes. This is what faith is.”

I looked at the elder in silence and amazement. Faith understood like that would explain why, when my own faith was gone, I ached in every fibre of my being. But my wise old teacher was not finished yet.

“We did not search you out, Padri,” he said to me. “We did not even want you to come to us. You searched us out. You followed us away from your house into the bush, into the plains, into the steppes where our cattle are, into the hills where we take our cattle for water, into our villages, into our homes. You told us of the High God, how we must search for him, even leave our land and our people to find him. But we have not done this. We have not left our land. We have not searched for him. He has searched for us. He has searched us out and found us. All the time we think we are the lion. In the end the lion is God.”

Friday 7 November 2008

Mother Yvonne Reungoat

There's been a sort of local controversy over the correct pronunciation of the name of the new Superior General of the FMA, Mother Yvonne Reungoat. So I thought of consulting Julian Fox. Here is Julian's reply:
If you want the real French pronunciation it is [reungo'a] if you'll pardon an approximised IPA, but note that the 'r' is the French guttural 'r', the accent is on the 'a' and 't' is not pronounced. The 'eu' is kind of slid across quickly rather than two distinct vowel sounds.
Hope it helps. What the Italians do with the word is another thing!

Creativity and chaos

I mopped my room yesterday after weeks and weeks, and I love the sight of the clean room. I just caught myself thinking of how much I love order and cleanliness; but almost simultaneously there arose the thought that I will not go out of my way to invest in order and cleanliness above everything else. And I love also this kind of balance. It is just right for creativity. One of Lonergan's most wonderful insights is how order emerges from chaos in world process, and how a certain amount of chaos - 'merely coincidental aggregates' - is needed if a species is to evolve. Ants and bees evolved into perfection millions of years ago; they became so perfect that there was no room for improvement, and evolution comes to a dead end in them. The right combination for emergence of novelty is large numbers and long intervals of time...

It thrills me no end that Don Bosco exemplies this kind of counterpoise between creativity and chaos. Stella's section (in his Don Bosco: Life and Work, 1985, esp. 159-72) on the kind of creative chaos that reigned in Don Bosco's Valdocco is something all Salesians must read.

The (evangelical?) virtues of shrewdness, enterprise and professionalism

"For the children of this world are more astute in their generation than the children of light." (Lk 16,8)

What a damning statement from the lips of Jesus! And as true today as it must have been in his time. So many of us clergy, religious, Christians, content to drift through life, do some good, but not really harness all our energies and time and talents and gifts for the sake of the kingdom, for the sake of God... for the sake of the young! This too is part of "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and your neighbour as yourself." That lovely and ringing declaration must receive its full exegesis in the light of sayings like the one above, otherwise it degenerates into soppy sentimentality, for which I have absolutely no patience! (Is that lack of loving?)

The type of professional training programs that have been worked out, the way companies like Wipro follow up their employees, the great strides made by management, and simply the energy and the care that go into making money in all ways and all colours.... This is something the children of light of our days could learn much from. To learn from all these is part of the great synthesis between faith and reason that has always been upheld by the Church. It is also very much part of Don Bosco's temperament and practice, Don Bosco who refused the second prize for his printing press in the International Industrial Exhibition in Turin, because he was convinced that he deserved first prize. And besides, Benedict XVI has recently lent his own authoritative voice to the chorus, when he urged seminaries and formation personnel to make full and abundant if discerning use of the contributions of the human sciences....

Preparing a retreat

I am busy preparing the talks for the retreat I am due to preach in New Delhi very soon... Not something I usually do, not something I have chosen as a ministry. Not easy therefore, in the sense that what you do often becomes easy, pleasant, graceful... But enriching just the same. I realize I have a whole lot of things to say, a whole lot of things stacked away, a huge amount of reading that has gone into the black box, or at least things that I have been hoping to read. Going through my highly disorganized set of collections, is like going through a diary: a record of my readings, my tastes, my mindsets, my opinions, the gradual changes....

And the books that have influenced me deeply: Joseph Ratzinger, Daughter Sion; Rosemary Haughton, Our Passionate God; Keith Clark, Being Sexual... Being Celibate; Lonergan, Insight and Method in Theology, of course; Vincent Donovan, Christianity Rediscovered; Pietro Stella, Don Bosco: Life and Work; Teresio Bosco, Storia di un Prete; John Paul II, Theology of the Body; Anthony De Mello, Song of the Bird, at one time... not to speak of our backdoor neighbour, Bhagawan Shree Rajneesh, and Krishnamurti...

I thought I would be spending days in quiet contemplation and meditative reading... But no! Habits die hard. Frenzied work. So many things to do. The De Smet book. The journal. The talk for Yercaud. Classes on hermeneutics. The retreat. The new course on Aesthetics. And all the while, hoping to start some new research on Lonergan, perhaps on his great struggle to work out for himself the transition from scripture to dogma and theology....

Thursday 6 November 2008

A Hail Mary

Una poesia di Trilussa che ho felicemente trovato nelle mie cartelle:

Quann'ero regazzino, mamma mia
me diceva: "Ricordate fijolo,
quanno te senti veramente solo,
tu prova a recita n'Ave Maria.
L'anima tua da sola spicca er volo
e se solleva, come pe' maggia".

Ormai so' vecchio, er tempo m'e' volato;
da un pezzo s'e' addormita la vecchietta,
ma quer consiglio nun l'ho mai scordato.
Come me sento veramente solo,
io prego la Madonna benedetta,
e l'anima da sola pija er volo.
There is also the story, told, I think, by St Alphonsus of Liguori, about a good Neapolitan woman with great devotion to our Lady. Well, this good woman one day discovered that her husband had been two-timing her with a well-known floozy of the quartiere, and she marched with rage to the Madonna demanding justice. "Giustizia!" she shouted to the Madonna, "I want giustizia!" It seems the Madonna heard her till she could hear no more, and then finally, at the end of her patience, said: "About giustizia I don't know anything. My son, he deals only with misericordia. And anyway, I can't do a thing, because that floozy says her Three Hail Marys everyday, so."

Wednesday 5 November 2008

Evangelical poverty

"Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple... Whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple." (Lk 14,27, 33)

But why must we renounce all possessions in order to follow Christ? Why evangelical poverty at all?

"If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple." (Lk 14,26)

Hating father and mother, and possessions, and life itself...

Whatever be the reasons and the meaning of this kind of poverty, the demand is clear, and the price extremely high. When it comes to the rub, one has to choose God before father and mother, husband and wife and children; above possessions; even over life itself. That is the meaning of the Shema Israel: "Hear O Israel, the Lord is One. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might." The Jewish and the Christian religions have a very healthy appreciation for the good things of life. They are earthy religions. But deep down there is a radical relativization of earthly realities. The Lord is to be loved with all one's heart and soul and might, and above all things.

There is a hidden violence in every page of the gospel. Death is never far from the words of Jesus. Only, the violence is what one suffers or is ready to suffer, not the violence that one inflicts on others. In that sense, Jesus carries out a complete reversal of the type of attitude we find in the Office of Readings of these days - the story of Judas Maccabeus and his brothers, who were mighty men of war, who burned with zeal for the Law, and who wreaked havoc on the enemies of the Law...

The will and the work

Paul in Phil 2,12-13: "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure."

Great text in the reflection on grace. Augustine pointing out that not only the 'work' but also the 'will', the desire to do good or to do God's will, comes from God. His great fight with the Pelagians and the Semi-Pelagians on this point. Even our desire to do the good is a gift of God, is grace.

And of course desiring to do the good is not the same as doing the good. Why then does God give us the desire and not the performance? So that, Augustine says, we might fall on our knees and beg for the performance. So prayer intervenes between the will and the work. And so prayer is the highest expression of our freedom, the intermediate step in the tango of love between God and us...

Desire without performance: St Peter proclaiming, we are ready to die with you, and a few hours later denying Jesus three times. Desire without performance: Augustine praying for chastity, 'but not yet' - here even the desire is still so weak and muddy, that it points to the need to even pray that we might desire the good with all our hearts... Francis de Sales who says we must not only avoid the occasions of sin, but also pray to overcome all attachment to sin...

Monday 3 November 2008

Dharma, religion, faith

I think many often fail to understand that the Christian faith is not tied up with any particular culture or any particular social and political arrangement. To be Christian is not therefore to be tied to any particular culture or nationality. People like Narayan Waman Tilak and Brahmobandhab Upadhyaya understood this well.

Ratzinger says that there is no particular political and social order underlying Jesus' teaching. The concrete political and social order is therefore released from the directly sacred realm, from theocratic legislation, and is transferred to the freedom of man, whom Jesus has established in God's will and taught thereby to see the right and the good. (Jesus of Nazareth 118)

This was also more or less the upshot of the exchange of correspondence between Swami Shilananda and Chowgule: that the word dharma does not really translate religion, and vice versa, leading to all sorts of misunderstandings.


"An important part of the Sermon on the Mount is devoted to prayer - indeed, how could it be otherwise?" (Ratzinger, Jesus of Nazareth 70)

This is striking. Of the 3 elements which Ratzinger finds in the Sermon on the Mount, one is prayer. What does this say to me? What does it say to us Salesians, for whom, unfortunately, prayer does not seem very high on our list of priorities?

Prayer: life lived before the face of God, as Ratzinger so beautifully puts it.

If philosophy sheds light or reflects on our concrete solutions to the problem of living, then faith as sublating philosophy will shed a new light... Faith as life lived before the face of God. Prayer as that relationship to God.

Feeling at home in the midst of the young

"Here in your midst I feel completely at home." (Don Bosco)

Once again, home. Feeling completely at home in the midst of the young. Do I? Or do I need to find relaxation away from them?

St Paul to his Thessalonians: I miss you, I long for you with all the affection of Christ Jesus, you are my crown, my joy. I thank God for you every time I think of you, and when I pray for you, I pray for you with joy.

Love, sentimentality and the cross

The revelation to Moses was frightening. The revelation to Elijah was mild: a cool, still breeze. That transformation, says Ratzinger in Jesus of Nazareth, is completed on the Hill of the Beatitudes: God is revealed in his mildness, simplicity, gentleness... (67)

But, goes on Ratzinger, that goodness is no sugarplum. God's love and goodness is not sick soppy sentimentality. It is washed by the cross. "This is a hard saying. Who can bear it?" (67) There is steel in the mild gentle Jesus. "The scandal of the cross is harder for many to bear than the thunder of Sinai had been for the Israelites." (67-68)

An Afro-American saint

Today is the memorial of Martin de Porres, an Afro-American saint... That is about all I know about him, that he was black, that he loved the poor, that he was from some South American country, and that he is a saint of the Catholic Church.

Very significant this feast, coming as it does on the eve of the US elections, with Obama as candidate. Our papers are saying that McCain would probably be better for India (because he is more 'deregulated' perhaps). And still Obama's candidature is significant.

Will he win? Not at all sure, I think. During the General Chapter earlier this year, the American salesians were very clear: if Obama wins the Democratic nomination, McCain will win the Presidential elections.

Race and colour are still very potent issues, I guess. No one and no group gives up its top perch willingly and easily...

The Jesus of the gospels: breaking boundaries in eating and drinking with just about everyone... rich and poor, the just and sinners, Pharisees and publicans and tax-collectors and prostitutes. Table fellowship as part of Jesus' revelation of God: God who is Father and Mother, and we therefore, all of us, brothers and sisters.

The explosive potential of the Eucharist. Who was it that was complaining about the Eucharist being boring and meaningless?

Sunday 2 November 2008

Vineyards and grapes

For those who want to have a look at a vineyard... This is the Mountain View vineyard belonging to the Phadtares.

What you see on the vines are the flower buds; they will open some time next week, and then 'the berries will set,' as the professionals say. The weather is glorious, cool and dry: just perfect for grapes.

Dominic Veliath on non-negotiables of the Christian Faith

Dominic Veliath, SDB, is one of the leading Christian theologians in India, and has been a member of the International Theological Commission, theological adviser to various commissions of Bishops in India and in Asia, and so on. Dominic, for those who know him, is what you might describe as a gentle soul, understanding and dialogue personified, much loved by all his theology students who can often be a rough lot...

Dominic is not known to making absolute, dogmatic statements. That is why it was significant to see him asserting so clearly at the Yercaud Seminar that there are two non-negotiables in the Christian faith: one, that the faith must be shared (which is part of evangelization); the other, that we cannot hate.

One shares, one is led spontaneously to share, what is closest to one's heart. That must be done in all respect, in the context of mutual agreement, in an atmosphere preferably of friendship and peace. Not to share what is valuable is simply selfishness...

And one loves. There is simply no excuse for hating. So one is called to love ... the bin Ladens, the Thackerays, the Advanis, the Modis, those who hate and kill and maim, whoever they are, whatever religion they belong to.

Love does not obstruct the law. The law must take its course, simply because the law is our codified arrangement for living together. Without the law there would be chaos. But one does not stop loving. One cares for the one against whom the law is to be used. One does not have to hate.

Fr Joseph Neuner, SJ at the age of 97...

Yesterday I watched a ten-minute video, lent to me by Godfrey D'Sa, containing and interview with Fr Joseph Neuner, SJ.

The video was taken when Neuner was 97. He is now a 100 years old, and going strong. What is wonderful is to see the clarity of his mind, the breadth of his vision, the passion that animates him at this great age... Neuner is one of the leading theologians in India, and in the world. He is a friend and companion of Karl Rahner, he was an expert at the Second Vatican Council, he is co-editor with Jacques Dupuis of the well-known compendium of Christian doctrinal statements, The Christian Faith, the English equivalent of Denzinger-Schoenmetzer.

The Indian Church, says Neuner, must have an Indian theology and must be truly an Indian Church, and not merely an imitation of the European Church. It must understand the core of the teaching and the life of Jesus, which was to proclaim and promote and bring about the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God must not be understood in the narrow sense of 'enlarging the Church', but in the large and broad and original sense of engaging with all religions, and all countries, and all cultures, and all groups of people, to discover together our unity, our fellowship, our belonging to one another under God.

It struck me that this kind of thinking is quite unknown to the vast majority of our Indian public. For years now Indian Christian theologians have been reflecting and praying and writing and researching on the question of How to be Christian in India today. Their production has taken all shapes and colours and hues; but it is important, I think, that the general Indian public be let on to this well-kept secret: the ongoing effort of a group of Indians to discover how to be faithful to country, to humanity, to God. This is no threat to anyone. To allow thinking and loving free play is to allow the springs of authenticity within us to flow free; and authenticity is what all of us want, authenticity is what will most benefit any country and culture and people in the long run.

Praise God for people like Neuner!

The Eucharist comes alive...

Archbishop Chinappa of Chennai had come for the inauguration of the Golden Jubilee Philosophical Seminar in Yercaud.

The Archbishop is well-known for his espousal of the Dalit cause. He makes it no secret that he himself is of Dalit origin. I think he is found inconvenient, abrasive, irritating and annoying by many. But I admire him for certain things. Like the way he opened up the Archbishop's House in Chennai to everyone - not only the clergy and religious, but also lay people, including the drivers and employees of the clergy and religious who are usually relegated to some corner of the kitchen for meals.

I love this gesture. It is a prophetic gesture. It reveals a deep understanding of Eucharist equality. It makes the Eucharist real, alive, present. It is something that must be of inspiration to us in all our houses and works.

I loved also the sensitivity of the Archbishop in Yercaud. He was presiding at the inaugural Eucharist, the whole liturgy was in English, but he realized that there was a group of girls who could not follow English. He asked for the Tamil missal and did the last part of the mass in Tamil, from the Our Father on...

God, home and love

I prepared one homily and delivered another one at the Nirmala Home for the Aged this morning, on All Souls Day.

All Saints, All Souls, the whole end-of-the-year cycle, and also Advent and Christmas: I find all these reminding us of HOME.

Home has always been a fascinating word for me. Home is where ... you are just at home. You can relax, you can put up your feet, you can dress as you like, you can, more or less, do as you like and no one will say anything, at least most of the time... And not feeling at home is also so familiar to all of us...

I was fascinated to discover that the gospels talk about Jesus being at home - not so much in Nazareth as in Capernaum, Kafr-Nahum today: And Jesus went and dwelt in Capernaum, he made his home in Kafr-Nahum...

Elsewhere also he talks about home: If anyone loves me and obeys my words, the Father and I will come and make our home with him...

And St Paul talks about 'being at home in the word'...

God is our true home. We come from him and go back to him. And that home is not something after, later, or a place. It is now. God is now. God's love is now. So home is now. And if it is not, then it is always due to the fact that somehow our hearts are not large enough to receive that love, and so to feel completely at home.

Our hearts being made larger, large enough to contain the infinite ocean of God's love: that, I guess, is Purgatory.

Kahlil Gibran talks about pain as the burning of the wooden cup so as to make it large enough to contain the wine, or larger to contain more wine...

So God is now, love is now, home is now... And the mission of Jesus is making God now, love now, home now. And we need to understand that this mission is not always so pretty, so neat, so soothing. It can, it does, involve a great deal of VIOLENCE. I am amazed to see the great undertone of violence in the New Testament. Violence and death are never far from any page of the New Testament. But not the violence that is wreaked on others. Rather, the violence that one has to accept and suffer if one is to follow God's will, God's love... The violence that led Jesus to the cross, the violence that led millions of early Christians to the following of Jesus to the very end...

So purgatory meshes with issues of love and justice and the cross.

Wednesday 29 October 2008

Something fishy at Sula wines

The other day I took some of my guests to Sula Wines on the outskirts of Nashik. The last tour of the day was just beginning, and one of the employees, Gaurav, encouraged us to join. I asked about the cost. He said it was free. We took the tour, and at the end the tour guide told us we were obliged to do also the tasting, for which there was a charge of either Rs 100 per head for 5 wines, or Rs 150 per head for 6. We were surprised and told him what Gaurav had said. He said okay, in that case at least 3 of you should do the tasting.

All 5 of us did the tasting, and I must say the wines were excellent: a dry Sauvignon Blanc, a semi-dry Chenin Blanc, a Zinfandel rose, a Cabernet-Sauvignon, and a sweet late harvest Chenin Blanc. But it was such a hurried and paltry affair, with no time to really savour the wines. We were left with a very bad taste in the mouth.

Something fishy is going on at Sula.

Psychologizing and self-appropriation

Contemporary philosophy has, after Heidegger and Wittgenstein, a horror of 'psychologizing.'

I do not think Lonergan can be accused of naive psychologizing of the Dilthey type. However, Lonergan has far less fear of such an accusation. I think he runs with the tendency of contemporary psychology which believes in attention to feelings, naming them, accepting them. Lonergan's 'generalized method' may be seen as self-appropriation of cognitive and existential interiority, or the whole business of being human: focussing attention on, identifying and naming, affirming elements and structures of consciousness across the board.

In his later writings, in fact, Lonergan explicitly draws attention to the parallels between his work and that of contemporary psychologists. But Insight itself draws abundantly upon the psychological work of the time.

Don Bosco's choice of Rua

Don Bosco and Don Rua: two very different personalities and temperaments. Don Bosco was the founder, the initiator, the innovator; his was no logical mind, and according to P. Stella, creative confusion reigned in his house. Don Rua was, from all that we know, tidy, organized, neat, logical, orderly. But the fact remains that Don Bosco did not choose another like him. He chose Rua. Instinctively he chose what was best for the work. For if Don Bosco was an intuitive-visionary (NT) type of personality, Don Rua was solidly the down-to-earth practical type (SJ) that gets the work of the world done. Don Bosco's choice was psychologically very sound. He found someone who could continue his work - and not another founder.

A lesson for us when we choose our collaborators.

Don Rua, creative follower

There are successors and followers whose ruling desire is to establish their originality. There are others, and don Rua is among these, whose ruling desire is fidelity. It struck me just now that both types innovate, for there is just no continuation without creativity. But the attitudes are vastly different. The former is centred on himself, while the latter is not centred on himself, but on that other whose successor he is. So he innovates, but it is only after decades that people realize the brilliance of his innovation. Thus Gadamer followed Heidegger, and we are only today beginning to realize just how different the pupil was from his master. Thus also don Rua followed Don Bosco, and in this case I think we have still to realize just how innovative he was, and how creative his fidelity was.

Pope Paul VI says of Rua:

He made the example of the Saint a school, and his personal work an institution extended... all over the earth. He made his life a history, his rule a spirit, his holiness a type, a model. He made the spring a stream, a river. The marvellous fruitfulness of the Salesian family, one of the greatest and most significant phenomena of the perennial vitality of the Church in the last century and in ours, had in Don Bosco its origin, in Don Rua its continuation. It was this followr of his that from the humble beginnings at Valdocco served the Salesian work in its expansion, realized the felicity of the formula, developed it according to the letter, but with ever inspired newness. Don Rua was the most faithful, therefore the most humble and at the same time the most valiant of the sons of Don Bosco.... Imitation in the disciple is no longer passiveness, or servility; it is leaven, it is perfection (cf. 1 Cor 4,16). (From a homily of Pope Paul VI, 29 October 1972, emphases added)

Sunday 26 October 2008

The world is round...

There was a young Salesian student of philosophy who discovered, in the course of his first year, that the world was round.

Trying to digest this strange idea, he assumed that the world was round like a dish.

He was terribly upset when one of his friends pointed out that the world was round, not like a dish, but like a football.

He then assumed that the world was the inside of the football: solid earth on the lower half, and the sky on the upper half.

He was told then that it was round like the outside of a football.

Then the problems began. How do people not fall off?

That is a good question: how do people not fall off, if the world is like the outside of a football?

It just won't do to mouth the schoolboy answer: because of gravity.

It is good to ask: what is gravity?

Semitization of the 'mystical' religions

Journalists have begun talking about the Semitization of Indian religions, especially of Hinduism.

The Semitic religions - Judaism, Christianity and Islam - give particular weight to the word, believing that God can use human language to reveal himself. The word of God in these religions cannot be easily relativized.

In contrast, the 'mystical' religions - Hinduism, Buddhism - are somewhat easier on the word.

Thus, despite being one of the Astika Darsanas, Advaita Vedanta believes that in the end the vyavaharika level must be transcended in favour of what is truly ultimate, the paramarthika. The saguna Brahman, the Brahman with qualities, is for the lower type of person; the truly wise person goes beyond this Brahman Isvara to the nirguna Brahman, the Brahman without qualities.

Buddhism is of course clearly suspicious of the word, of the mind. The Sunyavada of Mahayana Buddhism clearly recommends that the Buddha, the dharma, the sangha, must all be transcended, that they are all sunya: If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.

The Semitic religions, perhaps because of the peculiar weight they give the Word of God, have been historically prone to violence in defence of the faith.

Today it would seem that the non-Semitic religions are facing this temptation. Hence the talk of Semitization of these religions.

But if violence is the temptation of the Semitic religions, it must be not understood that such a temptation must be given in to. When asked what was the greatest commandment, Jesus replied very clearly: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself. Love is the fulfilling of the Law. If there is one temptation a Christian cannot give in to, it is violence and hatred. That, as Dominic Veliath reiterated at the Philosophical Symposium at Yercaud, is a non-negotiable.

Saturday 25 October 2008

Tirupattur and Katpadi

After Yercaud, I was fortunate to be able to make my first trip to Tirupattur, which is, in many ways, the cradle of Salesian work in India. Antony Raj, my novitiate companion, is Principal of Sacred Heart College, and was a wonderful host together with A. Francis who was good enough to come up from Madurai to take me around.

Sacred Heart College is nothing short of impressive. Of its 2500 students, 900 are in hostels, and a good 450 of these are Catholics. What is most beautiful about the College is its location: it has been a major factor in the development of North Arcot District, with its predominantly Dalit population. Wonderful dream of Fr Carreno!

A. Francis and Antony Raj also took me to Katpadi: Pallikonda, St Joseph's Technical, Don Bosco, and the great Auxilium College run by the Salesian Sisters on a huge campus of 100 acres. I was surprised to find that I knew the Principal: Sr Eugini Fathima, a bold and strong woman, with a PhD from the Department of Christianity at the University of Madras on Anthony De Mello. I look forward to seeing the doctorate in print. It will probably be the first major study of Tony.

On the way back to Tirupattur, we also made the climb up to the Elagiri Hills, where we saw the Salesian novitiate on a beautiful 14 acre campus, and also the Bosco Institute of Computer Sciences (BICS) and the great work of Fr Guezou. We were not fortunate to see Fr Guezou himself, who was indisposed, but I was happy to meet Fr Bellarmine Fernando, ex-Provincial of Chennai, who is now Rector of the BICS work, which also houses a boarding for the tribal boys of the Hills.

The only pity was that I missed Kovilur, the village made famous by Fr Joe Vaz's reminiscences... where the old lady was waiting all these years to welcome Fr Joe with her wedding sari on the main street. Some other time, maybe. But I did see the hostel where a certain Bro. Joe Mascarenhas was warden, and said to myself that I must finish editing Bro. Joe's autobiographical sketch...

Back to Yercaud

I am just back from Yercaud where I took part in the Symposium on "Philosophy and Religious Formation" on the occasion of the golden jubilee of Jnanodaya: Salesian College.

It was wonderful seeing Yercaud once again - after a gap of 31 years. The town looks unkempt, dirty and crowded, but The Retreat is as beautiful as ever - the Salem viewpoint, the orchards, the buildings, the farm... Only, old timers will miss the top hockey pitch, which is now a field growing mustard and things. The familiar clouds were there, the cool, the freshness... The old novitiate wing now houses a boarding for poor boys of the locality, while the philosophers continue to occupy their wing, to which an additional floor has been added.

The Symposium itself was good. Joe Mannath emphasized the need for thinking; Joe Arun, SJ talking about feelings and formation; I myself talked about the primacy of love. Dominic Veliath spoke about building up a Christian world view, Dr Lourdunathan spoke about philosophy from the Dalit point of view, and John Alexander presented different economic viewpoints. Arnald Mahesh, the Principal, was the chief organizer, and managed to see to every detail with great thoughtfulness and efficiency.

It was wonderful meeting so many past pupils of Divyadaan too: Amos Herbert Gandhi, K.P., Paul Raj, Jayaseelan, Bosco, Emmanuel, and of course Franklin and Michaelsamy who are currently practical trainees in Yercaud.

The importance of words

During the philosophical symposium at Yercaud, someone asked the inevitable question: how can we move from mere words to concrete deeds? An important question, no doubt. But I think we should stop a while and ponder on the importance of 'mere words.' Words are important. The whole media and advertising industry knows that it is important to keep a brand name before the eyes of the public. The BJP has carried out a major media coup by influencing the mindset of a very large segment of the Indian public, so that most ordinary people are not too shocked by the violence and excesses against Christians in Orissa, but are instead busy focussing on the issue of conversions...

Words are important. Very important. It would be foolish to lose sight of that. Lonergan speaks in Method in Theology of 'promoting conversion by making it a talking point.' (Note that he is using 'conversion' here in a somewhat different sense...) Ratzinger had spoken of the many doctrines that have died the death of neglect since the Council: people simply don't talk any more about certain things.

Monday 13 October 2008

Contravening the law - in broad daylight

Tavleen Singh's piece on the Bajrang Dal yesterday was michievous. She begins by saying she is quite against the Dal and its terror tactics. What she does not like, she says, is the way the present government wants to ban the Dal as a balancing act to the banning of SIMI.

But is there any truth in this? Is the central government doing a balancing act in this particular case? I have not had this impression.

Further, can we really compare the Dal and groups like SIMI? SIMI and others operate anonymous, without the support of the powers that be. The Dal operates in broad daylight, often with the connivance or at least non-interference of local governments, in open defiance of the law of the land... It is not at all the same thing, Ms Singh! A government that condones open defiance is selling our birthright.

We maybe be confused about how to stop terrorist attacks, but we do want to stop them. The problem with the other case is that we do know how to stop them; what is in question is whether we want to do so...

Funding and funding

Sudheendra Kulkarni, one time personal secretary of Vajpayee, has written an article about the huge foreign funding of Christian missions and institutions in India. He has given facts and figures, which are of course available to the public. He has questioned why such huge funding should be coming in... He has said that violence against Christians should not be condoned, but that questions should certainly be asked. He has ended by quoting from the joint conference of the WCC and the Vatican that he attended in 2006...

That those Christians who denigrate other religions should desist from doing so, is a position that is accepted by all mainline Churches, as Kulkarni's quotes themselves reveal quite unambiguously.

But why speak of denigration. There is so much in Hinduism and in Buddhism that is eminently acceptable to a Christian. I think there are real ways in which one can count oneself as a Hindu-Christian. My reading of Advaita, for example, is quite compatible with faith in Jesus, the faith of the Church... Richard De Smet opens the way to such a position, and Sara Grant took it explicitly forward...

Also, many within the Church have been calling for greater self-sufficiency.

To be fair, however, Kulkarni's picture should be completed by putting up the foreign funding figures received by the Sangh Parivar, to name only them.

Also, one should ask: for what is the Parivar using these funds? For the common good? or to further sectarian aims by any means whatsoever?

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