MY CELIBACY

Some years back a young friend Meghul used to come to meet me. With him I have discussed many things. But recently when he came to meet me unexpectedly I did not recognize him and I was very busy.  He greeted me very enthusiastically and gifted me a costly ball pen.

Usually when someone comes to meet me I leave all my works aside and respond to the person with much warmth and love. But god knows why, I was able to do so on that day!

Perhaps the question, he asked me, put me off. Imagine a stranger asking you a personal question as he did. “Father, what do you think? Can a person live without sex?”

“Sex is a very natural thing in human beings. A man or a woman with his/her appropriate partner enjoy sex at suitable time and place and thus make their lives enjoyable and fruitful. This is the usual natural way of sex. But with god’s grace a man or a woman can stay away from sex for a noble cause which he/she has embraced”, I said.

Then I explained   to Meghul about the celibacy embraced by a religious person like me after long training. I explained him that during the training or even later a person feels strongly that he/she cannot live a celibate life. Then he/she leaves such a life and choose a life-partner and lead a family life.

I guess that Meghul was not very happy with my short explation of sexual life and  celibate life. I was not happy myself with my brief presentation of sex. For, Hindus and Christians have very different ideas of celibate life and married life and totally different views of life. But that day I did not have the time and leisure to discuss all aspects of celibate and married life.

Both the celibate life and the married life are inspired and prompted by love. Love the most powerful force in   human life.  None can live without love. Both celibate life and married life are led by love. But life with love is very different from in married life and in celibate life. Love is lived in different ways. In Christian vision of life in both kind of love life one is not superior to another. Both kinds of love life are dignified life. In both the kind of life there is God’s love, sharing God’s love.

In the love-life with God men/women expressed sexual union with one’s life-partner. But in loving and experiencing God’s love in celibate life no other human person comes on the way. In celibate love-life God is everything. A celibate life is God centred life.  Married life and celibate life are complementary. They are not superior or inferior to one another.

But people often compare both kind of married love-life and celibate love-life and people hold celibate life superior to married life! How do you feel if you compare your right hand with your left hand? Both your hands are equal in everything. With training and practice each hand may have different facilities or capacities. For instance I can write letter with my right hand; but by nature both hands are equal. They are not superior or inferior to one another. Celibate love-life and married love-life are something similar. A person leading a married love-life is more involved worldly matters while a celibate person is more concerned with godly spiritual matters. But there is no need to compare them and consider superior or inferior to one another.

Personally speaking while I was in primary school, that is, from the time I began to think I have felt special attraction to celibate life. I consider it today as divine inspiration. I faced  many obstacles and difficulties on the way of this attraction. As the eldest son of the family my parents did not want me to be a missionary priest going away from home. While I was in school final year, with my insistence my parents were prepared to grand me permission to go for priesthood but only in the local diocese in Kerala. They wanted me to become a diocesan priest like my maternal uncle, who was an efficient and ideal priest besides being a great friend and counselor of my parents.

In my childhood my grandfather was my ‘great friend’. One day my grandfather came to my house and told my parents, “If Varghese wants to become a missionary priest in North India, let him go. If he does not like there let him come back”. My parents loved and respected my grandfather. So willy nilly my loving parents gave me permission. In the process I lost one year and I come to Gujarat in 1963. Then, after long training I received ordination to priesthood in Rome, Italy on 21 June 1947.

From the time I put my first steps in Gujarat I have felt that I have reached my destination on earth. For the last 54 years I have been living a very happy and contented life as a celibate missionary priest. In this, I believe that it is not my power or achievement but a divine power and inspiration is continually leading me in celibate love-life.

On that day when Meghul asked me about sex life, that is if a person can live or not live without sex, I did not think it proper to share with him as then I did not have the leisure time. Besides, I know well if I am able to live a celibate love-life, it is not my merit but God’s power and mercy working through me.

Perhaps we can understand better this from a biblical perspective. The creation story of the Bible says, “It is not good for a man to live alone.” (Genesis 2:18). Early in the creation story “God said, ‘And now we will make human beings, they will be like us and resemble us. … so God created them male and female”. (Genesis 1:26-27). God has created human beings with sexual instinct/power. So life without sex or free from sexual union is a step against God given natural instinct. It is like swimming against the strong current. So by mere human effort sex-free life is not possible.

Here we need to understand well what the Bible says. Jesus speaking about celibacy, that is, a life free from sexual union says, “This teaching (life free from sex) does not apply to everyone, but only to those to whom God has given it… and others do not marry for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven. Let him who can accept this teaching do so” (Mathew 19: 11-12). Jesus has identified three kinds of people. (First) “Some, because they were born that way; (Second), a few others, because men made them that way: and (Third) some others do not marry for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven” (Mathew 19: 12).

Like myself all Christian celibate (religious) men and women who are living free from sexual union know sex free unmarried life is a gift of God.  That is to say, men and women living without sexual union know that their celibate life is a special gift of God. They are able to live such life only with divine power. To those who are leading such committed life Jesus says, “You did not choose me; I choose you; I chose you and appointed you to go and bear much fruit, the kind of fruit that endures” (John 15:16).

In the Old Testament God has chosen the Prophets in variety of ways. Similarly a celibate religious person like me knows that God has chosen him in a unique way.  So a religious person – a Sanyasi or a Sanyasini – with great humility dedicate himself/herself completely at the feet of the Lord. And God becomes everything for him/her. Usually a Religious person commits himself/herself publically on a particular day. That lifelong commitment is to be lived daily through taking recourse to daily prayers, meditation and other spiritual practices. In Religious life a person lives a life of sacrifice and seeks and gets spiritual counsel from experienced elders.

In married life husband and wife use their sexual urge to submit to each other and make happy and create new life. A Religious person in a very different way surrender himself/herself completely to God and dedicate himself/herself to the chosen path of service with total commitment. In this a religiously committed person knows very well that it is not his/her power and strength but divine power is at work in his/her life. So a Religious person’s life is completely dependent in the hands of God. He/She is totally dependent on God.

A person who has embraced Religious life in Christianity has an idea, a model, and a goal that is Jesus Christ. Jesus during his earthly life was totally dedicated to the will of his Father-God. Those who read the New Testament of the Bible know well that the only desire of Jesus was to do his Father’s will.  So surrendering himself completely to his Father-God Jesus embraced the ignonimous death on the Cross. The enemies of Jesus believed that with the death in the Cross the end has come of Jesus life and his message. But Jesus rose from death on the third day. During his life as well as through his post Resurrection appearances Jesus gave the message that there is a life beyond death. A Religious person not only accepts this life after death but also prefigures that life and tries to live that life.

Here the words of St. Paul are very appropriate regarding my celibate life. He writes to the Church at Corinth, “An unmarried man (& woman) concerns himself with the Lord’s work because he is trying to please the Lord. But a married man concerns himself with worldly matters, because he wants to please his wife; and so he is pulled in two directions” (1Cor 7:32-33).

Finally my answer to Maghul’s question is that, a person cannot live without sex, that is, love. But when sex that is love is God centred then a Christian Religious person can live without surrendering his or her sexual urge. For his/her sexual life is lived in complete surrender to his/her Lord God.

#

Changed On: 16-07-2018

Next Change: 01-08-2018

Copyright Fr. Varghese Paul, SJ – 2018

 

 

 

My Experience as a Teacher

Beginning with my eldest sister and a brother one of my uncles and two aunties as well as a few of my close relatives have made name as teachers, headmasters and headmistress In their foot steps there was possibility for me to become a teacher. But I choose to become a Missionary priest. I came to Gujarat in 1963 and joined the Jesuit Religious Order. Then, led by circumstances I became a journalist and writer. Still I have engaged myself as a teacher sharing my knowledge and experiences with interested students and others in seminars and workshops.

I did journalism studies in London in 1975 and returned to India in 1977 after some work experience in a magazine office in Cincinatti: USA. Then, there were not many people in India with professional training in journalism. So at the request of Indian Catholic Press Association (ICPA) I conducted a month-long workshop in journalism and creative writing for 36 editors of Catholic periodicals in Xavier’ Institute of Communication (XIC) at Mumbai. I gave professional training to people who were fully involved in the print media. As I trained them news reporting, writing and editing my name because famous as a professional journalist in India. With that beginning I was called to conduct two-three journalism and creative writing workshops of two weeks duration every year in different parts of India.

Then from 1980s being elected as a Council Member of the International Catholic Union of the Press (UCIP) I was called to conduct seminars and workshops in journalism and creative writing in our neighbouring countries of Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal.

Then, I was appointed as the Founder Director and Chief Editor of South Asian Religious (SAR) News service for four years from 1980 to 1983 inclusive. While I was Editor of SAR News I took every year two young person interested in journalism and trained them as professional journalists with both theory and practice. I am happy that my in service training in journalism produced a few journalists who have made name and fame in the field.

After my first year teaching one of the two journalist trainees Tony Joseph went to Secunderabad for an interview to work in an English daily newspaper there. After the interview Tony wrote to me, “Father Varghese thanks to your training I performed well in the interview and I got selected for the job in preference to journalism graduates from Poona University. Thanks”.  Today I read Tony’s name in some newspapers and national periodicals as a journalist author of in depth articles. I am happy that people in India take note of Tony’s writing. With Tony the second in service trainee Mr. Jose Kavi is also became a well known journalist as the India Bureau Chief of an Asian News Service UCAN.

After returning from New Delhi I was appointed again as the Chief Editor of DOOT family magazine in 1980. In DOOT office I used to take three to five in-service trainees in journalism and office management. As a teacher of journalism I insisted on two things. Choosing in-service trainees I selected young people who are interested in journalism and are ready for hard work. Second, with my teaching of journalism theory I insisted that my students do a lot of practical work. I used to tell them that with knowledge the ability to perform in writing is most important. I made very clear to them that your skills and ability to put down in black and white is more important than your degree, certificate or a diploma.

I remember that when Bhaskar group newspaper chain started its Ahmedabad edition one of my in-service trainee Mr. Vinod Parmar went for an interview and got an appointment letter with a salary double of what mass circulated ‘Sandesh’ and ‘Gujarat Samachar’ were then paying to their reporters.

Then, St. Xavier’s College, Ahmedabad got permission from UGC to start journalism course as a Career Oriented Programme, I was called to prepare a syllabus and the college principal asked me to conduct the programme for interested college boys and girls. In the first few years I enjoyed teaching journalism to the students as only interested students signed for the journalism and they attended lectures did home work regularly.

Later one or other Career Oriented Programme became compulsory for Arts Faculty students and many without any interest signed up for journalism. I lost interest in teaching such students, who did not attend lectures regularly. I was happy then that by then a dynamic Jesuit Fr. Vinayak Jadav came and took over the responsibility for conducting the journalism programme. After continuing to give lectures in a few more years I gave up teaching journalism in the college spending more time in my reading and writing hobbies. But I continued conducting journalism and creative writing workshops and seminars for short duration to interested youth in Gujarat and other parts of India.

Apart from teaching journalism in the college and conducting workshops and seminar I was also writing articles and essays on different topics of journalism and creative writing. As a result in 2008 I submitted a collection of such articles to a well known publisher, Rannade Prakashan who published my book entitled “Writing and Journalism” in Gujarati. Reviewing my book an eminent writer-critic and poet Mr. Yoseph Macwan wrote critical essay, which the literary magazine ‘Parab’ published it. In the review Mr. Yoseph Macwan wrote, “Without any doubt Fr. Varghese’s book ‘Writers and Journalists’ may be considered the bible of those who wishes to become journalists.”

As a teacher I am delighted to share my knowledge and wisdom with interested students. For me education is not mere sharing my knowledge and experiences. My greatest joy in teaching is my contribution to the shaping and moulding the character of my students. I wish that my values, my ideas help my students to lead a value-based and cultured life. For instances, my joy is to live for others. The success of my life is in living for others. Hence the goal of my teaching is that my students make their lives happy and fruitful by living for others. (Words1024)

#

Changed On: 01-07-2018

Next Change: 16-07-2018

Copyright Fr. Varghese Paul, SJ – 2018

 

 

Simon F. Parmar: My Friend

I was on my home visit in Kerala when I got the disconcerting news of Simon’s unexpected death on June 1, 2018. Then, I recalled an article which I have written on my friend Simon with the following actual story.

Some years back Fr. Paddy Magh of happy memory told me about his home visit and meeting his widowed father in Australia.  Both the son and dad were enjoying a quiet evening at home.

Fr. Paddy then told his aged father, “Dad, after some years, you will be no more. Your children, children’s children and many relatives and friends gather around your dead body. Some of us will say, what you are, what you have been to many people. They will recall your achievements, your living for your family; and the many fantastic things which you have done and achieved.”

“Yes, son. Those things usually happen. But why do you tell me now what will happen then?”

“Dad, when people say many good things about you, you will be lying in the coffin. You will not hear them! So I want to say some of those things now when you are alive.”

Then Fr. Paddy told his dad what an inspiring and encouraging person he has been to Paddy himself and for his siblings and to his wife and family, to his relatives and neighbours. Fr. Paddy recalled many concrete things about his dad as a loving and caring father, as an ideal husband to his wife, as a great friend to his neighbours and as a model Christian for everyone. There were tears of joy in his dad’s eyes as well as in Fr. Paddy’s own eyes.

Fr. Paddy’s story moved me. It inspired and made me think a lot. While reflecting on the story, Simon Francis Parmar came to my mind. I loved, respected and admired Simon but I felt that I never communicated to him all that he is and what he means to me. Of course, we have been good friends and we have mutual respect and appreciation. We supported each other.  He has said publically more than once that I am his mentor in writing and journalism. I am happy to recall here that Simon wrote a very encouraging and appreciative Preface to my first book in Gujarati: “Jivan Patolama Dharmani Bhat”.

While I was DOOT Editor, Simon, as Assistant Editor, has given voluntary free service in helping me to edit DOOT for ten long years. So I was happy to suggest his name to succeed me as the Editor of DOOT. From the beginning of DOOT history, competent lay persons have helped the priest-editors in carrying out their editorial responsibilities. But Simon Parmar has the distinction of being the first Editor as a lay person. What he did as a lay person editor was remarkable. So after Fr. Paddy’s story I wrote an article about my friend Simon.

Over the years not only our mutual support and collaboration in running DOOT increased but also our personnel friendship deepened. I was able to take him not only to a number of national meetings, seminars and conventions of Indian Catholic Press Association (ICPA) but also to a World Congress of the International Union of the Catholic Press (UCIP) in Ruhpolding,Germany in September 1989. On the occasion we also visited the eternal city Rome. If I remember well he was also a member of a group 12 writers whom I took to attend the UCIP World Congress at Bangkok, Thailand in October 2004 and an international seminar at Colombo, Sri Lanka later. In my article I also listed many of Simon’s human and religious qualities like strong faith, hard work, loyalty, dependability, generosity and availability. As a model family man and ideal teacher in St. Xavier’s Loyola School, I often looked up to him for guidance especially on family matters.

Describing all these things I was happy with my ‘master piece’ and Simon too liked it; but he did not want to publish it in DOOT as he told me, “Father, you can publish it after my death.” I do not know what happened to that article after I left DOOT as Managing Editor and Publisher in 1996. In my time DOOT filing cabinet had a file called ‘Morgue’ where good things written about living persons are kept. I learned such practice while working in St. Anthony Messenger (magazine) office for three months in Cincinatti, USA.

While Simon became the Editor as my successor he used to publish every month my article in DOOT. Later he was irregular in publishing my articles. Then, my friend Navin Macwan came to my help taking me to his friend Mr. Jashwant Raval who edited ‘Madhyandar’ daily published from Anand. Mr. Raval requested me to write a weekly column in the Sunday supplement of ‘Madhyandar’. So Simonbhai indirectly helped me to become a regular columnist and writer in secular press and I have been deeply grateful to Simon for it; and our friendship continued to grow.

While I was DOOT Editor and even later Simon and the secretary in DOOT office Ms. Agnes Macwan were the first critics of my articles. When Simon or Agnes objected or strongly disagreed with my writings I always gave in and rewrote the objected matter as I perceived them better judges of people’s perception as I am a non-Gujarati writer writing in Gujarati.

As a family friend of Simonbhai and Kusumben, I enjoyed visiting them and some time sharing a meal cooked by Kusumben. Simon grew up at Bandra, Mumbai and started teaching in St. Stanislaus School, his alma mater. Then, after his marriage he came to Ahmedabad. When I first met him he and Kusumben were staying in a lonely rented farm house not too far from St. Xavier’s Loyola School, where he was teaching. Later, he moved into his own ground floor flat in Memnagar. When builder-developers took over the building Simon bought a first floor flat in a multistorey housing society where his son Joseph too got an adjoining flat. As a sign of the father and son getting on well, the two flats were redesigned into one big beautiful home. It is here Simon lived all his retired life with Kusumben of happy memory and his youngest son Joseph and family.

From time to time Simon used to visit me in my CISS office just for a chat and sometimes to give me a donation for CISS. I always made it a point to invite him to my birthday celebrations in Gurjarvani Residence every year.

When ICPA was announced its annual meeting and convention at Indore in March 2018, Simon requested me to book his rail ticket together with mine. I got Simon’s and my tickets booked both ways. But Simon could not make it. A day before starting the journey I called him to join me in CISS office to go together to the railway station. But then he said he was not feeling well to travel. There was no time for me to get his both way tickets cancelled. Returning from Indore I went to meet Simon in his house. He was okay and spoke to me about his plan to go for a Holy Land tour. But Joseph told me that about his loosing memory. Once Papa went to visit a friend. On the way back he could not find his way back home nor give his home address to the auto driver. Joseph and party searched for him and brought him home. “Father, now we accompany him even to go to Church,” Joseph told me.

Simon was a healthy person. He maintained very good relationship with all people, family, friends, neighbours, students, etc. he was a rare personality with no enemies. He was also a very accommodative person. When Simon was the Editor, the then publisher and the Director of Gujarat Sahitya Prakashan, Anand shifted DOOT office from Ahmedabad to Anand. Simon went along going to Anand as often as needed even staying and sharing meals with the Jesuit community there.

Even after leaving DOOT editorship after two terms Simon kept up his interest in literature by writing articles and translating from English into Gujarati. His last literary enterprise was writing the Church history. More than once he complained   to me that the typist was not responding his repeated phone calls. His typist who had worked with me had resigned from CISS office and I did not have much contact with him. I could not help Simon as I was busy preparing to hand over CISS to my successor and go for my home visit. I was at home in Kerala when a friend called me and gave me the sad news of Simon’s death on June 1, 2018. I called Joseph to confirm the news and convey my condolences to him and the whole bereaved family: three sons and two daughters, their spouses and children. May his soul rest in peace.

As a close friend I am sorry that I missed attending his funeral service and subsequent condolence meeting. But I am happy to hear that many people paid glowing tribute to his memory. Here I quote our mutual friend, former President of Indian Catholic Press Association (ICPA) Fr. George Plathottam, SDB: “May God grant eternal rest to our dear Simon. He has been a wonderful person, a great human being, an inspiration to all of us as a Catholic journalist. We miss his calm presence in ICPA. My sincere condolences to his dear family members.” .

 

#

 

Changed On: 16-06-2018

Next Change: 01-07-2018

Copyright Fr. Varghese Paul, SJ – 2018

 

 

The First School of Love

I have more than 4500 friends in my Face Book friendship circle. The vast majority of them are young men and women. So I get often good news from my F B friends. In response to the good news from young couple I congratulate them heartily saying, “Welcome to the new arrival and hearty congratulations to the proud patents.”

But I feel that my words of appreciation for the couple, who have become parents, are lukewarm. For, they have become partners in the creative enterprise of the Creator. With my lukewarm words adding my love and warm feelings I pray for all the three persons that the good Lord bless them abundantly and keep them healthy.

Pope Francis in his Apostolic Exhortation “The Joy of Love” (Amoris Laetitia) says that the family is the first school of education for a child. The child’s upbringing starts from the very first moment of its existence, that is, its conception in the mother’s womb. Pope Francis has devoted one whole chapter out of 9 chapters to deal with the upbringing of children and their education. Pope gives uppermost importance to the formation given to children at home.

Family is the school for every child born in this world. The child’s father and mother are the first teachers and molders of a child. A child’s mind is like a blank black board. A child is not conscious of the good and the bad. A child inherits very many things from its family.

A child learns about its family, society and the country from its parents, elders   and other relatives with whom s/he comes into contact. So Pope Francis says that the caring, guidance and supervision of a child by his/her parents in the family and outside is very important.

In bringing up a child its parents have to take a hundred and one steps; that is to say, they have to do innumerable things. What does a child do in the whole day? Whom does s/he meet? What does s/he do during free time? Who are the people, who entertain him/her? Who are the boys/girls with whom he/she plays? Who are his/her partners in games? What type of programmes he/she watches in the electronic media? The parents should watch over all these types of all things discreetly without interfering his/her freedom and creativity.

The parents are to oversee all things that concern their children with much love and understanding. For this, the parents should spend time with their children. But the parents should not be obsessed with always knowing where their children are and controlling all their movements. The children should not be over protected. Their freedom and right to develop and grow themselves should be respected.

Pope Francis says, “What is most important is the ability to lovingly  help them grow in freedom, maturity, overall discipline and real autonomy. The real question, then, is not where our children are physically or whom they are with at any given time, but rather where they are existentially, where they stand in terms of their convictions, goals, desires and dreams” (No.261).

I know a parent who to protect his teenage child, has resigned from his job. Now he engages himself in odd jobs in his spare time after taking his daughter to school and bringing her back home after school hours. Pope Francis says, “It is neither necessary nor important that the parents follow every step of their children. But, parents are responsible for shaping the will of their children, fostering good habits and natural inclination to goodness” (264).

Pope Francis says that the children, who enjoy love and freedom, will surprise us with their behavior and thoughts. Their unexpected thoughts and ideas are challenges to us. They compel us to rethink our own values and ideals. This is a very good thing. For, the people with understanding will encourage true education to use wisely the intellectual freedom.

Moral and ethical formation of children is very important. It is the responsibility of the parents to cultivate good habits and well being of everyone. Pope Francis says, “A good ethical education includes showing a person that it is his own interest to do what is right.” (265). Children should be able to understand distinguish between what is good and what is evil. A child should know that it is his/her own interest to stay away from bad things. Children should develop good habits so that she/he makes his/her own good values and behave accordingly. In the moral and ethical formation of children the good examples and behaviors of their parents and other elders are paramount importance.

Pope Francis says that, when children make mistakes, they should be helped to understand their mistakes and the way to correct and improve or restore the original situation. The children should learn to ask pardon when they offend someone or do something wrong. For this the children need to experience the patience and trust of their parents.

The discipline imposed on the children should never make them discouraged but see the discipline as for their own good and development. The family is the first school for children to learn human values and freedom. Authority of parents should never be autocratic. For children the parents should always be a source of love and trust.

Pope Francis puts great importance for children’s sexual education in the family. He says that our educational institutions have not taken up the challenges of children’s sexual education. First we have to consider that it is not an easy job. Sexual education should be given in the context of education of love and self offering.  Children and young boys and girls are not yet mature in sexual matters. The information about sex should be in keeping with the age of the children. The young boys and girls should not make the mistake of considering the attraction of the opposite sex as love.

The young boys and girls should understand the forces of sexual attraction for one another are something that leads them to true love and mutual self offering. In Popes’ own words, “Sexual education should also include respect and appreciation for differences, as a way of helping the young to overcome their self-absorption and to be open and accepting of others” (285).

While understanding the bodily differences of man and woman they should appreciate the differences as precious gift of the creator. Then, everybody should know that apart from the differences of persons as man and woman there are also many differences depending on family history, different cultural experiences, education, friends, relatives and the upbringing are also important as they affect the personality of individuals.

Finally in the education of upbringing of a child the inheritance of the religions are also included. Here without pointing to any ideal family Pope says to cultivate the love relationship in the family and develop each one’s talents and capacities.

#

Changed On: 01-06-2018

Next Change: 16-06-2018

Copyright Fr. Varghese Paul, SJ – 2018

 

 

THE SPIRITUAL CONTRIBUTION OF CISS

 “I have always said that building walls is not a solution: we have already seen one come down, during the last century. Walls solve nothing. We must build bridges. But bridges are built intelligently, through dialogue and integration”, said Pope Francis. The Pope was answering a question asked by a journalist Hellena Pinardi in a press conference abroad Papal flight from Lebos (Greece) to Rome on 16, April 2016.

Pope has never heard about Catholic Information Service Society (CISS). But his counsel of not building walls but building bridges applies 100% to CISS. For, the service of CISS is not to build walls but build bridges between different religions, faiths and cultures. CISS strives to establish inter-religious harmony and unity. CISS believes in the understanding of “Vasudaivakudumbakam”, that is, the whole world is one family.

Thanks to the modern achievements and facilities like electronic media, communication tools and international travel facilities the world has become one global village. Still the open secret and the naked truth is that there are much prejudice and misunderstanding about various different religions, cultures and races.

When CISS was established in 1984 we offered our services advertising them in the news papers. During the initial years there was much appreciation of our services.  With letters of praises for our services there were also a few letters of hatred and enmity. A few times we have also received letters of threat and enmity. Such letters were received often from anonymous sources without senders’ addresses. But I was alert to reply all letters with sender’s address.

Once in 1996 CISS office received four letters from Bhavnagar region. The four post cards coming from four different addresses have one common request. The writers wanted to receive our advertised free literature on Jesus Christ and the Bible. The letter writers also wanted to receive baptism and to know if on receiving baptism the person will get educated Christian girl to marry along with a car and bungalow to live a new life.

Even if they are exception, I used to get such letters. I made it my practice to reply every such letter. I tell the person that we send only the requested literature free of cost. Baptism is not something to be taken lightly. A decision to receive baptism is usually taken after much prayers, meditation and study. In the final stage it is a matter between God and the man/woman concerned. I also tell such person clearly that we have nothing to do with providing for the person educated Christian life-partner, bungalow and a car.

After sending my such love letters, my Assistant Sr. Devkripa who has been the principal of a big school and who also kept track of our correspondence courses, called my attention to the four post cards, “Father, look at all these four post cards, the addresses of the senders are different. But see: not only the content but the handwritings are one and the same, there are no differences but similarities”.

We in CISS believe in Jesus’ words, “Whatever is hidden away will be brought out into the open, and whatever is covered up will be uncovered” (Mk 4: 22). I believe that my letters are private and confidential, still I know even if my letters are read from the village market or town square, there will be nothing objectionable or offensive. I do not know the four post card writers did receive satisfactory answer to their quarries. But between us there were no further correspondences.

In such situation I always instructed my co-workers in CISS office that, when they received offensive letters, phone calls with thread and hatred, respond to them with as much love as you are able to communicate taking their threat and hatred as a pleading to tell the truth, to clarify their ignorance and prejudices. We know our true situation. So we respond anger and hatred with love and forgiveness.

The sum and substance of our advertisements in newspapers and bill boards, is “Believe or do not believe, but know Jesus Christ”. Our services have no string attached. Our advertisements have always our postal address and phone number.

During last 34 years we have registered more than 44,000 Enquirers/students for our different free correspondence courses from whole Gujarat. Usually people see our advertisements in newspapers or hear from our ‘old’ students or directly from me and then ask for our free correspondence courses. Those who are curious or inquisitive to know about Jesus Christ and the Bible contact us and we send them our free correspondence courses.

We always send our literature, the beautifully printed “Meet Christ” (Isune Malo) booklets to all who ask for them. We used to send our students 10 booklets plus Fr. Valles’ booklet on Christian Religion (“Khrist Dharma”) originally published by Satvichar Parivar.

Now we have revised our 10 booklets and reprinted them in 5 booklets. In 2017 we reprinted 2000 copies of the 5 booklets. The five booklets have question-answer papers in each of them. Students can study and then fill the question-answer sheet stitched in the middle, which can be detached and send to us. When we receive them we correct and issue each successful student with certificate and a gift of a biblical book or a copy of New Testament.

Some of our students write to us sharing their inner spiritual experiences in studying our literature. When our students tell us about their transforming experiences we are energized and encouraged in this service. For instance, I am happy to share with you a few such  experiences of few students.

Prathumanbhai from Tapi: (Regd. No. 27373) wrote to me on July 28, 2010: “Through your “Meet Christ” booklets I experienced the fulfillment of my need to know about my Lord Jesus; so to say, you have given the companionship of Lord Jesus to me.”

Rajubhai from Bhavnagar (Regd. No. 788) wrote to me on 29 November 2011: “I believe that I have received the gift of inspiration to cultivate virtues like love, service and forgiveness in my life through studying Lord Jesus.”

Kanubhai from Surat (Regd. No. 29900) wrote on 27 December. 2011: “From reading your booklets I have received inspiration to live a good life. In a true spirit I will observe all the advices which I have received from the booklets.”

Prakashbhai from Vadodara Central Jail (Regd.No.785) wrote to us on 31 December, 2011: “A great change has come upon inside me after studying correspondence course booklets. I used to get angry very quickly. Now I am able to control my anger.”

Rasibhai from Ahmedabad (Regd. No. 791) wrote to us on February 1, 2012: “I liked very much the study of St. Luke’s Gospel. I got very good message of mercy and service to humanity from it. I came to know that we should forgive those who do evil to us”.

A pen friend Dr. Sudhakarbhai Hathy wrote to me on October 15, 2011 from Jamnagar: “Your thoughts as well as your writings are of superb quality. As you describe, the celebration of Divali is very beautiful. All in my family welcomes your thoughts and reflection. Everyone in my family read your two leaflets.”

Another pen friend and journalist-poet Pritamlal Kavi from Nadiad wrote on December 20, 2011: “I received your two thought-provoking phamlets: “Vision of Jesus at Christmas” and “One day with my Mother”. You have described very well the importance of the vision of Jesus’ incarnation. Much thought for life is there in your article on Mother. This article will serve as a guide to those who insult and misbehave with their parents.”

Jayeshbhai from Bhavnagar (Regd. No. 28339) wrote to me on July 7, 2010: “Reading your books I got to know the true way of living life. You have caused to raise a new sun in my life!”

Rajeshbhai from Bhavnagar (Regd. No. 535) wrote to me on February 7, 2006: “After reading your small book ‘What Does Jesus Means to You & Me’ I have to say this much in verse,

‘Jesus came to the door of my heart

The darkness in my heart flew away

I have joy of good works to offer at his feet’.”

 

An eminent senior writer friend Yogendra Vyas from Ahmedabad wrote to me on October 20, 2010: “I did not know the Sikh tradition of celebration of the freeing of Guru Govind at Divali is narrated in your article on “Religious Feast Divali” in verse I liked your essay on ‘Let us Enjoy Peace in the New Year 2067”. In it you have described 7 interior steps to be taken. They are very important and necessary.”

 

A pen friend Govardhan Soratiya from Amreli wrote to me: “I am impressed by your loving letter and the article on ‘Good Friday’. In it I see heartfelt devotion towards Lord Jesus. I appreciate /admire your courage to refer to Modi and Yeyrrudappa in writing about Godhara carnage and other communal terrorists.”

 

As on March 31, 2018 CISS has registered a total of 45962 Enquirers/students and sent them our free literature. Some of our beneficiaries have acknowledged that they have received much wisdom and knowledge from our free correspondence courses. I have quoted a few chosen randomly samples. They speak about their experiences like change of values, conversion of heart, receiving spiritual wisdom etc. In the Bible a disciple of Jesus, St. Paul says, “For the benefit of knowing my Lord Jesus I count everything else useless.” (Philipp 3: 8).

 

The letters from our enquirers proclaims from roof tops that they have received much from the Bible, Jesus Christ and the Christian Religion. Then, much ignorance and prejudices against Christian religion and the Christians have been cleared. Their lives have been influenced by the values, messages and the life of Jesus Christ. In other words, instead of building walls and remain distant from the people CISS has succeeded to establish inter-religious harmony and inter-religious dialogue. In deed CISS is doing successfully in building bridges between different religions, races and cultures. (Words1681)

 

#

Changed On: 16-05-2018

Next Change: 01-06-2018

Copyright: Fr. Varghese Paul, SJ – 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MISSIONARY HERITAGE IN GUJARAT’S DEVELOPMENT

There is a telling picture about the contribution of missionaries not only in Gujarat but in the whole of India.  The colorful picture appeared on the cover page of a monthly ‘Sadhana’, March 1999. The artist has drawn Bharatmata in the grip of a large python. The picture is drawn in such a way that Bharatmata is wailing to be liberated from the grip of the huge monstrous python. In order to drive his message crystal clear for everyone the artist has identified the devilish python in large letters “Missionary” and the python’s tongue is drawn as cross. The sari-clad Bharatmata needs no identification. The picture reveals two things for me. On the one side, there is the acknowledgement of the contributions of missionaries in the development of India and on the other side, there is hatred of a section of people for Christian missionaries. There is also the envy of the missionary influence on Indian people and antipathy for the missionaries!

Obviously the artist is well informed and impressed by the missionary contributions in the developments of Gujarat and India. Unfortunately the artist who seems to despise missionaries does not understand the deep meaning behind the missionary contributions. As a disciple of Jesus Christ a missionary is bound to selflessly serve others especially the poor and Dalit people. For, a missionary follows in the footsteps of the one who told him/her to love others including the enemies and also offered himself on the Cross for others.

But the artist and like-minded people are not able to accept the missionaries, who walk on the path shown by Jesus. All the same it is our good luck that most Indian people without distinction of caste and creed do accept and appreciate the missionary heritage of selfless love and service. Moreover, impressed by the missionary spirit there are people who imitating the missionaries do engage themselves in the service of others with much love. Here I would like to speak specially about the missionary inheritance in Gujarat.

The missionary inheritance is experienced mainly in five areas or fields. In the overall development of Gujarat the contributions of the missionaries are outstanding in the fields of education, medical services, social works, literature and socio religious awakening. The vast majority of the people may not know but people living in interior villages in north and south Gujarat know well that the first kacha roads in their area have been built by missionaries with their limited sources like food for work projects. Most of these roads have been later converted to pacca (tarred) roads by panchayats and other   government authorities.

I have edited with my journalist friend Mr. Navin Macwan a bulky volume in 2011 in Gujarati “Vikasna Hamsafar: Gujaratna Vikasma Missionarino Pradan” meaning the contributions of Missionaries to the Development of Gujarat. A reader of the volume will find a short description of the missionary contribution in different fields to the development of Gujarat.

According to the traditions and the historical written evidences are available from the 3rd century that in the first century, that is in AD 52 one of the 12 disciples of Jesus Christ, St. Thomas came to India and spread the teachings of Jesus Christ in South India. But according to available information the missionaries’ arrival and spread of Jesus’ teaching begins only in 14th century in Gujarat.

Gujarati people by nature are adventurous in travelling and doing business in India and abroad. Foreigners came to the west coast of India and made Khambath and Bharuch important ports for trading in cinnamon, pepper, clove, cardamom, ginger and other such spices.Then, using the travel facilities missionaries too came to Gujarat and Christianity took root. Dr. Ishanand Vempeny quoting the Christian Encyclopedia wrote in “Vikana Hamsafar” a historical article entitled Planting of Cross in Gujarat. He quotes, “Landing in Thana in 1321, the French Dominican Jourdin Cathala de Serversae found a small community of Christians were told that there were several Christian communities further north and concretely in Bharuch.”  An British traveler Willkim Hedges has written about the priests of different Christian denominations in his diary in 1666.

Some people think that the encounter of Gujaratis with the Christian religion is as old as Christianity itself. For instance, a scholar like Dr. Gamang Jani says in his newspaper column in Sandesh dated 21 Dec 2007: “The contact of Gujarat with the Christian Religion is as old as Christianity itself.”

The Christian Religion has mainly two branches Roman Catholics and Protestants.  The Protestants made their beginning when a Catholic Priest reformer Martin Luther (1483-1540) revolted against the evil practices that had crept into Christianity of the time symbolized by Rome and became the founder of Protestant Christians.

These Protestant Christian missionaries were the first to spread Christian Religion in Gujarat. As recorded in ‘Vikasna Hamsafar’ a Protestant missionary William Faivi started the first printing press at Surat.  It was the beginning of printing in Gujarat. William Faivi published the first book in Gujarati language in 1820. Then, from Vrajalal Kalidas Sastri of Surat, Joseph Van Somaran Taylor learnt Gujarati in the 1860s and Taylor published the first Gujarati grammar in English alphabets in 1862.Later in 1870 the Gujarati grammar was published in Gujarati alphabets.

In the development of Gujarati literature the Christian missionaries as well as the local Christian writers and poets have made noteworthy contributions. In the literary section of ‘Vikasana Hamsafar’ the articles of eminent writers like Rajvin Chandhari, Kesubhai Desai.Yeshwant Mehta Chimmanlal Trivedi, Yeshwant Trivedi, M. Dalal etc. give a fair idea of the contribution of Christian missionaries and other Christian writers. Then there is Fr. Raymund Chauhan who has written bulky volume of “The grammar of Gamit Language” and “The grammar of Dangi Language.”  His article in ‘Vikasana Hamsafar’ entitled ‘The culmination of tribal culture’ has highlighted the contributions of missionaries in promoting the tribal language and culture. Then the names of Novelist Joseph Macwan, Poet Yoseph Macwan, Essayists Frs. Carlos Valles, SJ and Varghese Paul, SJ are well known names in Gujarati literature. All have been honored with many literary award and honors.

Many people may not know the contribution of Christia missionaries and other writers to Gujarati literature. But all know well or have heard about the contribution of missionaries in the field of education. When missionaries came to Gujarat the Dalits and the poor people were kept out of education. Missionaries from the beginning took trouble to educate those opening schools for them wherever they went. Once an old missionary Fr. Basil Lala Parmar told me, “Fr. Varghese, in Kheda A Gilla (Present Nadiad and Anand Districts) alone we had more than 100 primary schools. Missionaries opened primary schools in interior villages and educated all children without making any distinction of caste or creed. Dalit people in large number got educated. Many of them embraced Christianity because the missionaries accepted them as their own irrespective of their castes or socio-economic background.

I have heard from Fr. Herbert D’ Souza the first Principal of St. Xavier’s college which started in 1955 that in the beginning St. Xavier’s college was one  in which no one wanted to join and study. But in no time it became the best college not only in Ahmedabad city but in the whole of Gujarat.

Two things stand out about the missionary education. First, the standard of the missionary schools started in the cities like Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Rajkot, Surat, Jamnagar, Bhavnagar etc. stood out as the best schools for others as challenges and inspiration; and second, missionaries contribution to spread education in the villages and interior places like Dediapada, Ahwa, Subir, Jhankvav are without equal. The missionaries opened schools and hostels for boys and girls and educated specially the Dalits, the Tribals and other poor people.

True, there were a few government schools in tribal area. But till the missionaries opened their schools no tribal boys or girls had passed the SSC! For, teachers and government officials were saying that the tribal children are not interested in education as they wanted only to roam about in the jungles.

But what is the situation now?  According to newspaper reports Vidhya Kiran High at Unai school in Navsari District has been named as the best school both boys and girls.  Most of the teachers in the school now are the products from missionary schools in their own villages. With the declaration of the award the school also received 5 lakhs rupees in awards and prizes. I am happy that I was invited twice by the school principal Sr. Suhasini Parmar and I addressed school children on two different occasions about the importance of “Forming Reading Habits in Education.”

I remember some decades back the same missionary sisters, who run the Vidhya Kiran School at Unai, started a School in Sanand. The sisters visited the villages around Sanand and brought boys and girls and put them in their school and hostels. The missionaries often paid the bus fare to the parents to bring their children to their School and boardings. The village people did not want their girls to be educated then! But now! Now there is rush to get admission. I know the situation well because when the school started my two sisters Celine and Lissy were there serving one after another. They offered medical services to the children and the villagers.

Like in education in the field of medical services too the contribution of missionaries are outstanding. There was a time in Gujarat when 99 percent of the nursing care was given by Christian nurses. A well known writer and novelist Dr. Kesubhai Desai has written about the missionaries in the book Vikasana Hamsafar. He writes, “The concepts of nursing and midwifery were given exclusively by Christians.”

My sister Celine stood first in Gujarat state in her nursing studies. Some years back she worked in the interior tribal villages under Bardiapada and Subir missions. With the Dispensary at the two mission centers she also managed a mobile dispensary driving it herself to interior tribal villages. Once I joined her in her mobile van which she drove through bullock cart roads. In a particular village through her health workers she called all mothers with children two years or younger. Some 30 plus tribal women came with their babies. Celine declared a competition to decide by the mothers themselves which one was the most healthy baby boy or girl. “All children are to be  evaluated one by one with the same standard. The hair, nails and the whole body of the child should be clean. The cleanliness of the clothes also will be considered. Torn clothes have no problem provided they are clean”, she said. After congratulating the winners and giving them colorful toys, she declared, “all the children who participated in the competition are also winners”. Then she gave away toys and colorful children’s dresses to each child and congratulated the mother. She explained to them the importance of cleanliness of not only the children but also themselves, their whole house and surrounding. “We should take care to prevent disease than treating sickness.” Sr. Celine concluded.

On returning in her mobile jeep after she had examined and distributed medicine to some sick people, I told Celine at the wheel, “Celine, now I understand why the people call you ‘The Jungle Queen’, and also your popularity among the tribal people.”

Today the missionary sisters run a few hospitals in cities like Rajkot, Anand, Vadodara, Sanand with very good facilities for medicare. But in the field of medical care the missionaries’ contributions are in interior villages and Tribal areas. Hence writer Dr. Surendra Asthavadi wrote in ‘Vikasana Hamsafar’: “In inaccessible places in Gujarat where there are no roads and electricity the Christian missionaries somehow reached by foot with medicine and other services and guidance which others never even thought of. They also helped the poor in interior villages by   feeding and educating their children through hostels and schools.”

Some years back the missionary sisters were running leprosy hospitals and rehabilitation programmes at places like Ahmedabad (Narol), Bhavnagar, Jamnagar and Surat and serving the leprosy patients. Besides they were offering training to cured patients in stitching and tailoring, making them self-employed with tailoring machines, push carts for selling vegetables and fruits, carpentry equipments and like.

I would like to recall here that some years back Dr. Sister Anette Fernandes of Daya Sadan Hospital, Jhankhvav was awarded by the Health Care and Medical Education Department of Gujarat State for her outstanding services to tuberculosis patients. Similarly Sr. Lissy Paul was awarded by the State Health Care Department for her eminent services in treating sickle cell anemia patients and spreading awareness in tribal villages for treating and preventing the disease.

As I see, one of the biggest contributions of the missionaries in the development of Gujarat is in the area of concentising people about their unhealthy and unproductive customs and blind faiths which keep them backward. The missionaries empowered them to be self sufficient socially, religiously and economically for their own development. For instance, Daudbhai Ousephbhai Macwan wrote in ‘Vikasana Hamsafar’: “The missionaries have contributed a lion’s share in giving a true identity of the Gujarat”.

Fr. Joseph Idiakunnel gave for the first time in Gujarat the idea of ‘Free Legal Aid’ as an ideal.  Later through the Supreme Court Judge Bhagavati the idea of Free Legal Aid was accepted at national level for the whole of India. Fr. Joseph and his colleagues through Free Legal Aid got a few police officials punished for gang raping a tribal woman by name Gunthaben fighting her case up to the Supreme Court. The case made history for the first time police criminals were punished. The case helped as awakening of the tribal people that they are not helpless.

In the words of Navin Macwan, one of the two editors of ‘Vikasana Hamsafar’, “The missionaries have taken the initiative in the empowerment of 80 lakhs tribal people in Gujarat.” Today the new generation tribal youth have made a name for themselves in many fields such as educators, advocates, physicians, government officials, co-operative experts, etc.

Finally, one of the contributors of ‘Vikasana Hamsafar’, writer Dhanananth Oza in his article entitled “The Constructive Activities of the Missionaries” has taken note of the positive contributions of the missionaries. He concludes, “There should not be any opposition to the positive contribution of the missionaries. In Gujarat too the missionary activities have contributed positively to the love and enlightenment in many areas of life. The contributions of the missionaries in the renaissance of Gujarat certainly deserve honorable mention in the history of Gujarat.”

#

Changed On: 01-05-2018

Next Change: 16-05-2018

Copyright Fr. Varghese Paul, SJ – 2018

 

 

 

BE A LEADER NOT A PUPPET

 

Everyone world over knows that Blessed Mother Teresa was canonized as a saint on September 5, 2016. The news of Mother Theresa’s canonization was highlighted in the print and audio-visual media in the whole world.

Similar news, perhaps more important news was published in a governent press release in 2016. But that news was treated as insignificant news publishing it in an inside page of a few news papers! The news was that the BJP government has cancelled the permission of 13 orphanages out of 16 orphanages run by Mother Teresa’s Sisters, the Missionaries of Charity in India.

To understand the importance and the significance of this news three things are specially needed. First, you need to be a lover of fellow human beings. Second, your sensitive heart needs to feel the heartlessness of some people and the want of social equality so much that your heart prompts you to do something to change this criminal situation. Third, your merciful heart wants to do something for the poor and the needy.

These three qualities or virtues are seen in abundance in Mother Teresa and her Sisters. Hence they are able to serve selflessly the poorest of the poor. The people who are volunteers or are witnesses of the loving services Mother Teresa and her Sisters will agree with me hundred percent.

Mother Teresa was fully possessed by these three qualities or virtues. She loved of fellow human beings, with a burning desire to serve the poor selflessly with a loving and merciful heart. That is why Mother Teresa dared to leave of the prestigious Loreto Convent School as a much respected  the Principal and a much loved teacher. Still she ventured into the slums of Moti Jeel and started to serve the poorest of the poor people in 1948. She never looked back.

By the time of her death on September 5, 1997, that is 48 years after leaving the convent, her Sisters, the Missionaries of Charity numbered about 5000! They were serving in more than 600 institutions in 135 countries with great love and kindness. These institutions included orphanages, leprosy asylums and hospitals, old age homes and abandoned children’s homes like Shishu Bhavans.

Cancelling the permission to run the 13 orphanages out of thousands of them in the world may not matter much to the people without empathetic hearts. But for the people with sympathetic hearts the cancellation of permission to run 13 orphanages matters a great deal. For, think of the inmates of those orphanages.  For, hundreds of orphan boys and girls those orphanages are their only home, only place of refuge, the only place where they are taken care of with much love, food, shelter and other basic needs of existence. They are abandoned or separated from their unknown kinfolks. They may be sick and deformed. They are broken and helpless on their own. They have received love and selfless services from the Sisters of Mother Teresa and their kind volunteers. They help each other in the orphanage and find meaning for their existence.

Now by cancelling the permission, the heartless government has driven the orphan children to the streets! Those politicians and their executives who enjoy 5 star accommodations and services have nothing to lose in closing the 13 orphanages. They do not have the empathetic hearts like the Mother Teresa and her Sisters. Unlike the MC Sisters the government authorities and their Babus do not recognize the orphan boys and girls as their own brothers and sisters.

The decision to close the 13 orphanages run by the Sisters of Mother Teresa will add some more people to the poor number of people living on the edges of the society. But there will be no shortage of food on the table of the heartless people who orders the closer of the orphanages. On the contrary, they might celebrate that they have stopped the services of the ‘hated’ missionaries and have kept away the people who are impressed by the services of the missionaries.

Mother Teresa was very popular and was known as ‘the Saint of the Slums’, ‘the Personification of Mercy’, ‘the Mother of the Orphans’, ‘the Goddess of the Gutter’ and ‘the Refugee of the Poor’ etc. The long process before the canonization of Mother Teresa was over. There was a question. Where the official ceremony of the canonization should be held, at the eternal city Rome or in the city of Kolkata, which was very dear to Mother Teresa’s heart?

To hold the ceremony at Kolkata the BJP government of Narendra Modi needs to give an official invitation to Pope Francis as he is the head of Vatican, a small City State in Rome. This was a great puzzle for Prime Minister Modi as he has been speaking abroad about the ancient Indian culture and the very tolerant people of India.

PM Modi is the elected with massive majority as the head of the largest democracy in the world. With his innumerable trips abroad he has claimed to be a very efficient Prime Minister. This was a golden opportunity for PM Modi to prove himself that he was not a puppet Prime Minister of the Sangh Parivar as his detractors claim.

Then, by inviting Pope Francis to hold the canonization ceremony at Kolkata Modi could have achieved a number of things. First of all, Modi could prove among the foreign press and other media wrong that the Christians and other minorities are persecuted instead of just saying in defense that “the foreign media do not understand the Indian situation”. Secondly, Modi could have proved himself that he is capable of taking right decision at the right time. But his silence in this respect proved the opposite that Modi is a puppet in the hands of the Sangh Parivar and that he is not able to do what he wants. This was a great challenge for PM Modi but ,,,,

In spite of the strong opposition from the Sangh Parivar, the then PM Atal Behari Vajpai proved himself an eminent politician by inviting Pope (now saint) John Paul II in November 1999. John Paul II proclaimed an inspiring document entitled “Asian Church” on 06-11-1999 from Sacred Heart Cathedral, New Delhi.

The ceremony of canonization of Mother Teresa or for that matter any Saint is an international event. Long preparations go into declaring a person saint in the Catholic Church. Later the decision was taken to hold Mother Teresa’s canonization ceremony at Rome and Pope Francis was not in a situation to accept PM Modi’s invitation for the occasion.

Even at that stage PM Modi could have redeemed himself leading the Indian team going to attend the canonization ceremony. But nothing of the sort happened. The Foreign Minister Mrs. Sushma Swaraj led the Indian team and came back after their lack luster presence in the canonization ceremony at Rome.

According to recent newspaper reports the highest Church authorities in India had specially met PM Modi and requested him to invite Pope Francis this year. I hope that PM Modi will do that to make up for not inviting Pope Francis in the earlier occasions.

Finally our politicians should know that in a meaningful Gujarati verse a well known Poet Yacub Parmar has beautifully expressed the current situation of the country.

“Someone is shaking the foundation of democracy

Some people are hammering away at the dome

The democracy is not able to shout or cry

Some men are burning the facade of democracy.”

(Words 1258)

What Will Happen after Death?

I was coming from Secunderabad in a second class compartment of Ahmedabad bound train. When I got up in the morning after a sound sleep, I started reading from the Bible according to my usual custom. People reading a book has become a rare sight in the train. In fact I was the only person reading book in my compartment. Then, I realized that some co-passengers were watching me. After closing my Bible I was in a meditative mood enjoying the sceneries outside from my window seat. Trees, creepers and other plants were running at break neck speed in the opposite direction of my super fast train.

Then, a young man sitting next to me asked, “Sir, Is the book which you were reading is the Bible? I saw you reading it yesterday too before you went to sleep. Are you a Christian?”

“Yes. I am a Christian. The book which I was reading is the New Testament of the Bible”. I gave a short response to my co-passenger as I was not in a mood to talk as I was pondering the Gospel passage.

But my young friend must have felt encouraged by my short, clear answer to his question. So he asked me again, “Can I ask you a question?”

“Yes, you may ask. What is your name?”

“My name is Ramakrishna Reddy. I am an Engineer working in a company at Jamnagar. I would like to ask you, what happens after death?”

I was reading my Gospel book in Gujarati. But our conversation so far was in Hindi. But I felt that to give a satisfactory answer to my young friend’s question my knowledge of Hindi is inadequate. “Mr. Reddy, you are an Engineer. So you may know English. My Hindi is not powerful enough to answer your question about what happened after life. So is it okay with you if I speak in English?

“Yes, Okay Sir. What is your name?”

“My name is Fr. Varghese Paul.”

“So you are a Priest?”

“Yes, I am a Christian Priest. Among Catholic Christians there is a Religious Order (group) called Society of Jesus’ and I am its member. Thus after giving a short introduction about myself I told Ramakrishna that in Catholic religion according to the Bible we believe in a new life after death.

In our creed we Christians accept and proclaim that, “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come”. So for us Christian’s life does not end with death but life is only changed into an everlasting life. We Christians believe in three different stages of life.

The first stage is the life on earth. We are all travelers in this life trying to lead a good life, combating our evil tendencies and the evil. The second stage is that of saints who have led a good life on earth and have attained salvation or heaven or eternal life enjoying the company of the Risen Lord Jesus. The third stage is called purgatory. It is a stage of spiritual cleansing after death before entering heaven. Purgatory is for people who have not done any deadly sin or have repented of their deadly sin; still they have died without being completely atoned for the offenses they have committed against God and fellow men.

Then, the Christians believe that these souls in purgatory cannot help themselves but the Christians on earth can help them through their prayers, sacrifices and good works on their behalf.

In other words, we Christians believe in new, changed new life after death. So we have great respect for death and we show it by taking care of their tombs. We pray daily for them; we sacrifices and do good works on their behalf.

For instance, we read the biblical book of Maccabees, “They begged him that this sin might be completely blotted out. Then, Judas, that great man, urged the people to keep away from sin, because they had seen for themselves what had happened to those men who had sinned. He also took up a collection from all his men, totaling about two kilogrammes of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for sin-offering. Judas did this noble thing because he believed in the resurrection of the dead. If he had not believed that the dead would be raised, it would have been foolish and useless to pray for them. In his firm and devout conviction that all God’s faithful people would receive a wonderful reward, Judas made provision for a sin-offering to set free from their sin those  who had died” (2 Maccabees 12: 42-45).

I did not have the Bible with me to read the above passage to Ramakrishna. So I told him that I have a small booklet, “What Does Jesus Mean to You and Me?”  The story of Jesus’ death on the Cross and his glorious Resurrection on the third day will give you a fair idea of Christian belief in life after death. I have the booklet in Hindi and in English.

From my bag I took out one copy each of the booklet.

Ramakrishna took the booklet in English. A third fellow passenger, who was keenly listening to our conversation, took the Hindi booklet from me. Some other passengers too wanted the booklet on Jesus. But unfortunately I did not have any more copies.

Bible in the New Testament clearly speaks about life after death. Once the Sadducees who did not believe in the life after death asked a question to Jesus about resurrection. They told Jesus the story of seven men who one after another married a woman and died without leaving any child and finally the woman too died. Now, they put the question to Jesus:  “when they all rise again, whose wife she will be as all seven had married her? “

“Jesus answered them, How wrong you are! It is because you don’t know the Scripture or God’s power. For, when the dead rise to life, they will be like the angels in heaven and will not marry.   Now, as for the dead rising to life: haven’t you ever read what God has told you? He said, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ He is the God of living, not of the dead” (Mt 22: 29-32).

In another instance Jesus speaks about Resurrection when Jesus meets his friend Lazarus’ sisters Martha and Mary. Both the sisters believed in the resurrection after death. After the death of his friend Lazarus Jesus reaches the house of the two sisters. Then, Martha complains to Jesus, “If you had been here, Lord, my brother would not have died”. Then she acknowledges before Jesus, “I know that he will rise to life on the last day”.

“Jesus said to her. ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live, even though he dies’.

“Then Jesus went to the tomb of Lazarus. Jesus called out in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’

“The dead man came out wrapped in grave clothes. ‘Untie him and let him go’, Jesus said” (see John 11: 1-44).

A disciple of Jesus, who proclaimed Jesus’ life and message far and wide, Paul writes in his letter to the Romans explaining the life after death to the new Christians, “For surely you know that when we were baptized into union with Christ Jesus, we were baptized into union with his death. By our baptism, then, we were buried with him and shared his death in order that, just as Christ was raised from death by the glorious power of the Father, so also we might live  a new life” (see Rom 6: 3-4).

Christians believe that they will receive reward after death according to their life on earth. In the last judgment the people living sinfully will get eternal damnation and the good people will receive eternal life with Jesus. (see Mt 25: 31-46).

Finally, let me end this essay with a quote about death from a famous Spanish poet and writer, Federico Garcia Lorca, “Everywhere else death is an end. Death comes and life flies away. But in Spain the dead are more alive than the dead of any other country in the world”. This quote is seen as a reflection of Christians’ belief and culture in the life after death. (Words 1398)

#

Changed On: 01-04-2018

Next Change: 16-04-2018

Copyright Fr. Varghese Paul, SJ – 2018

 

 

Question without Answer

“Your words are like medical ointment on open Wounds. You are dishing out traditional word power from your position as a known writer. May I request you for more daring thoughts and programmes in the service of the people?” Wrote to me a friend, Mr. Vinay Trivedi responding to my article in the mouthpiece of Gujarati Writers’ Association, “Lekhak ane Lekhan”.  I liked much my friend’s critical and advisory letter. In the same letter he added his own poem proving that he himself is a poet daring to express challenging thoughts as per his advice to me.

Vinay Trivedi’s hand-written poem made me to think a lot. He started his poem with a question:

I am hungry-

But do not have bread in my hand,

Bread is in the hands of the distributor

There may be fifty loaves

In his hand.

His face has a contented smile,

A careless look too.

Why not he distribute loaves

To the hungry people?

 

Everyone leading a routine life should ask this question. The poet has described a realistic but unjust situation. A person is very hungry. He has no bread to eat. But an over fed person has fifty ‘loaves in his hands’!  He does not distribute and satisfy the hungry persons! Poet shows his social consciousness. He has also a sense of justice. So he believes that it is the duty of the man in the possession of bread to feed the hungry.

Perhaps you and I may think like this poet. We may raise such questions. But my friend poses more challenging and thought-provoking questions:

 

“Why did Destiny put fifty loaves

In the hands of the unjust person?

Does the Destiny with a thousand eyes

Like to see the hungry persons

Crying for food

And punching in the air uselessly?

Why does Destiny defeat the deprived?

And give victory to the undeserved?”

 

Those who need bread do not have them while the overfed persons have them! Here in this undesirable and evil situation the poet has posed three more questions. Those questions reveal the poet’s own mentality. For this unjust situation the Almighty with thousand eyes is responsible. But the Almighty here is not different from a person who rejoices in the suffering of others. So he asks, “Does the Destiny like to see the hungry persons punching uselessly in the air and crying for food?”

A famous poet Umasankar Joshi calls a poet as “a spy of heaven”. But here the poet is not merely a spy but he himself becomes the Almighty God! As the Almighty and all-knowing God or Jesus himself, the poet says in the last part of his poem that God is nothing more than or better than a good willed human being. Read the second part of the poem:

 

The question is that

Jesus/God has consolation,

Soothing words, loving blessings;

But not certainly the security

And the friendly, loving support

Of two or more hands of blessings.

Sometimes he shows partiality:

He swings the whip of untold sufferings

Not on densely populated big cities

But on innocent bodies and minds!

Why is there difference

In weighing balance,

Symbol of natural justice?

The life is a question mark

As some beings live for the sake of living.

If you have time to listen to a petition

Destroy pain, suffering and ceaseless lamentations

Or destroy the feeling of joy, happiness and pleasure

Like pictures, statues and

All your imagine forms and images.

 

Man is not God. But some people like to play God. They speak like they know everything and they have the solution to all problems of men. They give solutions to all difficulties and mysteries! Here the poet knows what Jesus/God has and what he does not have. Jesus has for men consolations, soothing words and loving blessings; but he does not have safety, friendly and loving support and the certainty of two or more hands of blessings. So men live for the sake of living. The life is a question mark.

Here we may note two things. First, when we speak about God we can speak only one thing with certainty that we do not completely know God. So we cannot say anything about God with hundred percent certainties. Secondly, all our talk about God is the expression of our human language; that is, words spoken with human limitations, that such God is no God, but only human being. He/she may be God of great wonders and miracles. We know that we human beings are bodily beings while God is spiritual being. We take it for granted that God is also a bodily being!

If I speak about my Christian faith, what ever we know about God is known through Jesus Christ. Christians strongly hold that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, Jesus is the perfect human being and at the same time God, who has become man through incarnation.

The Jesus Christ who lived on the face of the earth some two thousand years before is very different from Jesus portrayed by the poet. The contemporary writers of Jesus’ time and his disciples have given a totally different picture of Jesus than the one by my poet friend. We know that the Jesus of the New Testament in the Bible is a person, who gave food to the hungry, healed the sick, raised people from death. That is not all, he instructed his disciples and through them even today continues to do the same things through people of good will and says, “go and do likewise”.

A lawyer once came to trap Jesus with a question. But Jesus made him give answer to his own question. Quoting the scripture the lawyer said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with your entire mind, and love your neighbor as yourself” (Lk 10: 27).

Then, the lawyer wanting to justify himself asked again: “Who is my neighbour?” Jesus answered him with the classical parable of the Good Samaritan. A traveler on his way was attacked by robbers. They robbed him everything and left him half dead. Then two Jewish leaders came on the way, saw the half dead traveler and walked by the other side of the road! The third person on the road was a Samaritan. He took pity on the traveler. Gave him first aid bandaging his wounds and then putting him on his own animal and took him to an inn and cared for him. On the next day the Samaritan paid for the wounded traveler and promised the inn keeper that on his return he would pay him whatever else is spent in caring for the traveler.

After this story Jesus asked the lawyer, “In your opinion which of the three people who acted likes a neighbour to the wounded traveler?” The lawyer answered. “The one who was kind to him”. Then Jesus said, “You go, then, and do the same” (Lk 10: 25-37).

There is a similar story in St. Mathew’s Gospel. A rich young came to Jesus and asked him a question, “Teacher, What good thing must I do to receive eternal life?” Jesus asked him to keep the commandments of God and love the neighbours as he loved himself.

The young man after responding that he has done all that from his childhood days, asked Jesus: “what else do I need to do?”

Jesus answered him, “If you want to be perfect, go sell all you have and give the money to the poor … then come and follow me”. The young man was disappointed with Jesus’ suggestion: because he was very rich” (see Mt 19: 16 – 22).

Many a times we are satisfied with our comments and criticism of a situation. But we do not even shake our little finger to do something within our reach to the betterment of the situation!

In Dostoevsky’s novel “The Brothers Karmasov” there is a chapter entitled “The Grant Inquisitor”. In it an autocrat asks Jesus behind the bar, “If we hold in one hand bread and in the other hand freedom, then what will the people choose?”

There is no doubt that the hungry people will choose bread. Only after having their fill, they will be able to think about freedom. In all the four Gospels in the Bible Jesus’ message is to feed the hungry.

Thus Jesus both through his life and teaching have set an example for all of us to follow. He has specially instructed his followers to serve the poor and the needy, in our context the Dalit and the Tribal people in India. But instead of walking on the path shown by Jesus what are you and me doing?

God has created us free. We are bestowed with intelligence. We have the basic discerning power to distinguish between the good and the evil. Using our freedom and the power of discernment we can find and act solution to all our problems and difficulties. But instead of doing that we have become selfish and self centered. We find the escapist and the easiest route which is blaming God for everything.

Then, sitting on the seat of justice we declare: “There is no God”. If there is a God, then does he like to hear the cry of hunger and cause the human confusion of this evil situation? Yes, there is no guarantee of quenching the fire of hunger by his blessed hands until you and I become his hands of blessings!

Finally, remembering the words of Gandhiji, I recall that there is enough for everyone in the world; but not enough to meet the needs of the greedy and selfish people.

My good friend, you have done a good job in voicing this unjust situation. People have always deplored this evil and unjust situation. But instead of blaming God for the unjust and evil situation let us think about some bold and enterprising ways to solve the evil and unjust situation.

 

#

Changed On: 16-03-2018

Next Change: 01-04-2018

Copyright Fr. Varghese Paul, SJ – 2018

 

 

LOVE   EXPERIENCED BY JESUS

The teaching of Jesus on Love is unparalleled and unique. It was Jesus who first time instructed us to love our enemies.  In Jesus’ time people believed in hating their enemies. In fact, it was the custom to take revenge on enemies. In the Bible there are rules for taking revenge for wrong doing. The book of Exodus says, “But, if there is serious injury you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stroke for stroke” (All biblical references from the New Community Bible Ex 21: 23-25).

The audiences of Jesus, the Jewish people, were well acquainted with these rules of revenge. So referring to this customary revenge Jesus says, “But I tell you, do not oppose evil with evil; if someone slaps you on your right cheek, turn and offer him the other” (Mt 5: 39).

Jesus tells us more, “You have heard that it was said: Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you, Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt 5: 43-44). What was the Love experience of Jesus that he gave us, the unparallel, unique message to love our enemies?

Like any other human child, baby Jesus first experienced love from his mother Mary. Before she was called to be the mother of Jesus Mary was an ordinary girl like anyone else at her Nazareth village in Palestine. She was a virgin full of God’s grace born in a devout Jewish family. In the Gospel according to Luke we read, “In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was send to Mary … (with the message to) bear a son and you shall call him Jesus” (see Lk 1: 26-31).

Mary could not make the head and the tail of the message of angel Gabriel. But when the angel explained Mary’s questions and clarified her apprehensions Mary said, “I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me as you have said” (Lk 1: 38). Thus from the moment Mary conceived Jesus in her womb, she nurtured Jesus with much love and dedication.

After eight days of the birth of baby Jesus, according to the custom of Jewish religion, the parents of Jesus brought him to Jerusalem. The Gospel according to Luke tells us, “They brought the baby up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, as it is written in the law of the Lord: Every first born male shall be consecrated to God” (Lk 2: 22 -23).

Then, thinking that the new born child could snatch away his throne King Herod ordered that all children of two years and below age be murdered in Bethlehem and surrounding areas! Hearing of the King’s order Mary and her husband Joseph took the child Jesus in the dead of the night and fled to Egypt. Only after the death of King Herod they came back to Israel and settled in the village of Nazareth. Thus we see the child Jesus experienced dedicated and unconditional love and protection in his childhood.

Then, according to Jewish religious customs the parents of Jesus went to Jerusalem temple every year to celebrate the Passover Feast. When Jesus was twelve years old like every year they made pilgrimage to Jerusalem. After the feast was over, the pilgrims were returning home; but Jesus unknown to his parents, remained at Jerusalem. The parents thinking that Jesus was in the family group walked one day. After one day’s journey they began to look for Jesus among the relatives and acquaintances. But they could not find any trace of the teenager Jesus. So searching Jesus they reached back Jerusalem. On the third day they found the teenager Jesus in the temple sitting among the priests and listening to their religious discourse and asking them questions (see Lk 2: 41-49).

Jesus’ mother said to him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been very worried while searching for you” (Lk 2: 48). Luke says more, “Jesus went down with them, returning to Nazareth, and he continued to be under their authority. … and Jesus increased in wisdom and in age and in grace with God and men” ( Lk 2: 51-52).

Like in the childhood during his public life too, Jesus experienced committed, unconditional love of the people. Once finding his message very difficult to follow some of his disciple left Jesus.  At that time Jesus asked the twelve disciples whom he has chosen, “Will you also go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom we shall go? You have the words of eternal life” (Jn 6: 67-68). Here we see that Lord Jesus experienced committed, unconditional love of his disciples. Among the twelve disciples Jesus experienced special love from three of them. So on the occasion of Transfiguration and when Jesus  raised to life the daughter of Zairus as well as when he experienced agony in the garden Jesus kept the three disciples, Peter, John and James very close to him.

Among the followers of Jesus there were also a few dedicated women. They were serving him spending money from their own pockets. Among these women followers we can distinguish three women. They are the two sisters Martha and Mary, the sisters of his friend Lazarus and the third one is Mary of Magdalene.

Jesus experienced much love in the company of Martha and Mary, the two sisters of his friend Lazarus in the village Bethany. We read about them in the Gospels according to Luke and John. Luke narrates Martha welcoming Jesus in her house and Mary sitting at his feet listening to him. But John has narrated the deep love experienced by Jesus in the company of two sisters. John writes, “Now Martha her sister Mary and Lazarus were friends of Jesus” (Jn 11: 5).

When Lazarus was sick the two sisters sent Jesus the message, “Lord, the one you love is sick” (Jn 11: 3). After hearing the news four days passed by the time Jesus reached Bethany. But the conversation of Jesus with Martha and Mary give us a clear indication of his deep love between them.

Jesus cried when he reached the place where his friend Lazarus was buried. Then, the Jewish people said, “See how he loved him!”(Jn 11: 36). John in his Gospel has described in detail about Jesus bringing back to life his friend Lazarus on the fourth day of his death in the presence of his two sisters and the Jewish people.

Then, on his last journey to Jerusalem Jesus reached Bethany with his disciples. There in a festival meal Jesus experienced deep, close love in the company of his three friends: Lazarus whom he had brought back to life and his two sisters, Martha and Mary.

Among the very close friends of Jesus Mary of Magdalene is in the forefront. Her love for Jesus is unparalleled. After Jesus’ Mother Mary it is Mary of Magdalene who followed Jesus very closely from the beginning of his public ministry to his death on the Cross. When most of the disciples ran away at the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus, among the few people who followed Jesus faithfully were his Mother Mary and Mary of Magdalene.

Then, in the first day after the Sabbath, as John writes, “while it was still dark Mary of Magdalene came to the tomb and saw the stone was moved away” (Jn 20: 1) and the tomb was empty. Mary of Magdalene ran to Peter and John and gave them the news. Both of them ran to the tomb and saw and returned after seeing the empty tomb.

But Mary of Magdalene weeping remained outside the tomb.  The risen Jesus appeared to Mary and entrusted to her the responsibility of giving the message of Jesus resurrection to his disciples. So some biblical scholars called Mary, “The Apostle of Apostles”. Author Albert Nolan and other biblical scholars tell us there is no proof that Jesus and Mary of Magdalene were married.

Albert Nolan says, the most deep, intimate love Jesus experienced was with his Mother Mary. Then, we know that there is absolutely no comparison of love Jesus experienced from his heavenly Father, ‘Abba’ meaning ‘dearest dad.’

I dedicate this easy on “Love Experienced by Jesus” to the biblical scholar Albert Nolan. His very popular book ‘Jesus Today’ gave me the inspiration and impetus to write this easy.

#

Changed On: 01-03-2018

Next Change: 16-03-2018

Copyright Fr. Varghese Paul, SJ – 2018