FR SAMUEL RAYAN: MY MENTOR IN THEOLOGY

    I consider Fr Samuel Rayan as my mentor in theology. There is a little history behind it. My then Provincial Superior Fr Joseph Aizpun attended my priestly ordination in the famous Gesu Church, Rome on June 21, 1977. After the ordination Fr Aizpun asked me to continue my studies in Gregorian University for a Master’s degree (MTh) in Theology. A few of my friends and a professor friend too had suggested me to pursue my MTh there. So when Fr Aizpun asked me I was prepared with my answer.

    I told him that I would do whatever he would tell me; but I have a proposal. I told him that I have been out of Gujarat for six years including 3 years in Europe. I was sent to London In the first place to study Journalism in London School of Journalism in view of editing the Jesuit-run Gujarati family magazine DOOT, the Messenger. I am losing my mastery of the Gujarati language. So it may be better for me to return Gujarat, take up DOOT and do the Masters in Theology as an external student of Vidyajyoti (VJ), Delhi.  Fr Aizpun who was my spiritual guide while I was studying in St Xavier’s College, Ahmedabad, readily accepted my proposal.

    I returned to India in October 1977 and took up a second time editing DOOT from January 1978. Then I went to VJ and registered for MTh programme and the register Fr Gisbert Saunches, SJ suggested and I took Fr Samuel Rayan, SJ as my guide for my MTh studies. I told Rayan that more than a degree in theology I am interested in doing further studies for deepening my understanding of the Bible and the knowledge of theology. As an able guide and mentor Rayan suggested to me the theological subjects which I should pursue under different professors. I do not remember the different subjects but I studied the Acts of the Apostle under Samuel’s direction and the letters of St Paul and Transactional Analysis under two professors of Jnana Deepa Vidyapeeth, Pune.  After a few years of regular visits to Delhi and Pune I submitted most of my study papers which were approved by the concerned professors.

    Then on a visit to VJ, Delhi I had a memorable meeting with Fr Rayan. I told him that for me theological studies and reflection is an ongoing process. But as formal studies are concerned, I think that I have enough of it. Now if I continue and finish my MTh, then there is the ‘danger’ of being appointed as a staff person in the Regional theologate at Ahmedabad and consequently my press media works getting neglected!

    Fr Rayan understood and appreciated my point of view and he said that it is okay. Subsequently I stopped my occasional visits to VJ, Delhi. But Gujarat province continued making financial contribution to VJ on my behalf as a registered MTh student. After two-three years then my Provincial Fr Stanislaus Fernandes (now Archbishop Emeritus of Gandhinagar) called me one day and told me, “Varghese, since you are not continuing and completing your MTh studies, let us call it a day. I am writing VJ Registrar to take out your name for the students’ list. It was like the Malayalam saying, “Dad wanted and the Doctor prescribed are one and the same, milk”.

    But my contact with Fr Rayan continued with occasional meeting and reading his articles and books wherever they are published in India or abroad.  Then, in 1998 when I was the Secretary of the Association of Catholic Enquiry Centres India (ACECI), I invited Fr Rayan to give us the Keynote Address in the ACECI General Body Meeting at Indore on March 8, 1998, which he readily agreed.

    Fr Rayan’s keynote address was so enlightening and inspiring for me that I got the written text from him and preserved it as a precious treasure all these 20 years. Early last year while I was clearing my files in view of possible transfer from the Catholic Information Service Society (CISS) I read Samuel Rayan’s paper and decided to circulate it among the ACECI members. Now that I am out of CISS from July 2018 and settled down in my new residence I started typing the more 5300 words-strong paper. Now with the news of Fr Samuel Rayan’s death at 98 years on January 2, 2018, I wish to circulate it as soon as possible.

    A few years back I met Samuel Rayan at Lumen Institute, Ernakulum before he was transferred to Christ Hall, Kozhikode. He was well then as a model senior Jesuit with a clear, sharp mind. He was able to take care of himself. A wide circle of people know him from all over India and abroad. He started his priestly ministry as a teacher. Then he was the chaplain of Catholic Students’ Union first in Kerala and then of All India Catholic University Federation for 11 years. Later holding a doctorate in theology from Gregorian University, Rome Fr Rayan was appointed a professor of theology, Vidyajyoti, Delhi. After three decades of teaching theology and writing, he returned to Kerala in 2010.

    I learned basic theology with Indian and Asian perspective from Fr Rayan. For him Gospel-inspired theology was man-centered. As an original thinker with deep spiritual insights he was often identified as a radical humanist and a Doyen of Asian Liberation Theology. He was totally committed to Jesus and his kingdom values.

    I enjoyed reading Rayan’s articles and his books not only for their rich and inspiring content but also for the music of his language and the lucidity of his thoughts. His writings are for me always thought-provoking and challenging like the keynote address entitled EVANGELIZATION 2000 AND THE CATHOLIC ENQUIRY CENTRES INDIA which he delivered in the general body meeting of ACECI at Indore in March 1998.

    Fr Rayan was a living encyclopedia of theology. His statement that you do not give Jesus Christ to any one, shocked me and others at Indore. For, he said: It should by now be clear that nobody brings God to the people; nor do we bring Jesus to India. God who loves the world and its people into existence and calls them to share His life and be Her children is always with them, accompanying them, speaking to them the Word of truth and love, guiding them in the Spirit, giving them the revelation and the grace they need. God is ever at work in the hearts and the histories of all peoples in order to save them.”

    Then giving an example Fr Rayan said that you are evangelizers claiming to proclaim Jesus through the printed literature to people of other faiths. But no one goes to sell mud pots to a potters’ colony.  Then Fr Rayan added: “Jesus is in every human person, every race and culture.”

    Let me quote again the concluding words of Fr Rayan from his keynote address given at Indore: “Let us never forget that Jesus is already and always present in all lands; is active in all cultures, and in all people’s quest and in the heart’s yearnings for justice and love. Here and now the Spirit is urging us to shine with the light of Jesus, to radiate Jesus’ gentleness and warmth, to cling to the truth at any cost, and to surprise the world by the newness and beauty of our group life and the fragrance of our relationships. And let surprise and wonder lead people to inquire, to come to know Jesus, and encounter God in Him.”

                             ( contact: vpaulsj@jesuits.net (M) 09428826518 www.varghesepaul.org  )

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    Changed On: 16-01-2019

    Next Change: 01-02-2019

    Copyright Fr. Varghese Paul, SJ – 2019