Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year 2011 - Following Christ on His terms not ours

Being better human wherever and whatever we are

I met an old friend of mine after a long time. He was a staunch Catholic once but he had the left the Catholic Church for some reason a few years ago. Subsequently he joined a number of churches of other Christian denominations, actively participating in every church he joined. Today he has left all of them and remains what he calls “a true Christian outside the church”. By that he means he follows Christ’s teachings as taught and lived by Jesus himself.

According to my friend the people inside the church today are busy fighting among themselves for their own selfish reasons which leaves them little time to do what Jesus really commanded; unconditional service to fellow men. Even when they do some service it is with some ulterior motive of seeking popularity, power or monetary gains. Even the pastors seem to be no better as they do everything for money with little compassion and empathy for the people they are supposed to serve. They may be great preachers but poor doers of what they preach. From his experience he concludes that “The people outside the church are better humans than those inside who call themselves Christians, the followers of Christ”.

This is a very strange statement from a man who has been very actively involved in many churches but ironically it has some truth, not only in other churches but in our own Catholic Church as well. I realize a number those who have left the church seem to be happier doing God’s work outside on their own than when they were inside where there were many all out to stop them from doing so. Unfortunately the place where we are supposed to serve God has become a place for politicking where jealousy and revenge which have become the guiding rules, instead of forgiveness and repentance as what Christ wants. What has gone wrong with the church and the people in it?

We have many talented people in our midst but why are they reluctant to serve in the church ministries? Why are so many who were active before leaving the ministries and the church itself? Why is that only a tiny fraction of the members come to church despite making Sunday a day of obligation? What is being done to keep the people especially those with dissenting views within the flock? We conveniently ignore them by classifying them as ‘lapse Catholics’ and we have no time for them as we think they have none for us. Is that what Christ wants us to do? Jesus was very clear of what to do with such people in his parable of the prodigal son.

The church today has become an institutionalized organization with rules and regulations based on human experiences and expectations. In such an organization the rules are enforced by the priest and those close to him, the so-called inner circle. There is little or no room for dialogue and debate let alone dissent. The policy of “If you are not with me then you are against me” seems to be prevalent among our priests and their cohorts. Such an attitude makes it impossible for many talented, capable and highly qualified ordinary members of the congregation to be accepted as part of the team. If one is not accepted into the inner circle then it would be better for him to leave otherwise he has to face the wrath of the priest and his inner circle even if he does the right thing.

Today the church is more involved in rituals and mammoth prayers sessions to praise and worship God. We hope to get closer to Him by being preoccupied with such actions of worship without taking pains to understand the plight of our neighbor. We leave everything behind and rush to worship God hoping to get Him to listen to our prayers, which is most of the time for our own well being. Jesus clearly tells us what to do before we go to worship him, “If you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering”.(Mathew5:23-24).

How many of us really follow him? Very often we know what God wants us to do but we take the easy way out to follow Him on our terms not His, as His ways go against the worldly desires that we all crave for in our lives.

This New Year let us resolve to put aside our differences with those we cannot get along and come together to build God’s Kingdom in our BEC, parish and community at large. Let us not involve in the petty squabbles in our parish but try to follow Christ the way He wants, if not in the Church then outside. It is better to be a good human outside the Church than being a bad Christian within. That is what I see in what Jesus preached and lived.

A very Happy and joyous New Year 2011

Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmas 2010 Reflections

Christmas 2010 – Humility and hope for a better future

The Christmas crib, a model of the people and animals present at the birth of Jesus Christ, used to impress us when we were young and it remains very vividly impressed in our minds even till today. At that tender age it was an image of joy, happiness and celebration on the occasion of the birth a divine infant.

Today we are much older, more mature and hopefully wiser. After experiencing the ups and downs in life, we begin to realize Christmas is more than an occasion tojust celebrate with feasts and merry-making, like we did as children, but one to reflect on our own attitude in a world ruled by greed, pride and prejudice.

Many of us may not have matured into such rightful thinking adults as we may have never been tested in life but it is time we did just that to realize that the birth of Jesus in a stable among poor shepherds and their flock represents not just joy and happiness but more importantly it is a symbol of humility which we all lack.

It is this lack of humility the cause of the many inter-personal problems that we face in our lives; in our family, offices, nation and the world that is torn apart by war and violence. It is this lack of humility that results in pride and arrogance and the attitudes, “I am always right” and “I am better than you” that has become prevalent among most of us.

In life we strive for success, wealth and power and in this pursuit humility is invariably a hindrance and the easiest way out for us to get it out of our lives. As we climb the ladder of success we forget the past, we forget those who lag behind although they were our own comrades before. We move around among the elite and refuse to come down to the level of those below us to, appreciate their predicament. We begin to value people by their wealth and position not the simple virtues they possess.

On the other hand imagine God, the Almighty and the King of Kings, choosing to be born secretly in a stable among shepherds and their animals in the most remote part of the country. He could have chosen to be born as a majestic king in an environment of power, luxury and grandeur but he chose an environment of extreme poverty instead. What should all these mean to us? What is God trying to tell us?

As Christians it is time to reflect on our lives to see how humble we are in dealing with others. Jesus came down from the highest heavens to be born in a stable among the poor. Are we willing to come down from our positions of power and wealth to be with those lower than us? Do we have the humility to admit our wrongs and thereby ask forgiveness from those we have hurt? If we are not then Christmas is meaningless.

As we decorate our homes with Christmas trees and the crib let us have a peek into the latter bearing the infant Jesus and reflect on His extreme act of humility being born among poor shepherds. As we look at the shepherds let us be reminded that God has intentionally chosen to come into the hearts of the poor and oppressed and we too should do likewise. The images of the three kings who have come from afar amidst great risks to offer gifts should remind us that we too must face up to the challenges that we may encounter in seeking God in doing good in our lives.

Christmas has different meaning to different people. For those who have met only success after success in their lives, Christmas would be a season of parties, merry-making and some of charitable works for the less fortunate. For them it is a day of joy and happiness as they have never experienced any difficulties in life. We were like that when we were young leading care-free lives.

For those who are terminally ill and for those who have tragically lost a loved one, Christmas is not a time for celebration. For those in poverty and those affected by some form of tragedy and are left without proper food and shelter, Christmas is not a time for joy. For those parents who have been disserted and neglected by their own children in whom they placed all the hopes, it brings no happiness whatsoever as their yearnings for the company of their loved ones continue to agonize them.

For such desperate people who have never seen success and for those in distress undergoing the various trials and tribulations in life Christmas is a sign of hope for a better future. To these unfortunate people the birth of Jesus in such humble surroundings should bring hope that He has come to be born among them to guide them out of their agony and pain. It is this humility of Jesus that brings hope to the poor, the sick, the oppressed and the despised.

Of late we see the collapse of various institutions in our country. The good are persecuted and the bad rewarded over and over again. Law and order are been blatantly disregarded by those in power. Justice is trampled upon and there is open discrimination based on race and religion. Decline in morality is threatening the sanctity of marriage leading to divorce and disintegration of the family unit. We look around us to only see everywhere evil triumphing over good and as we witness that helplessly, we begin to doubt the very existence of God.

Even the Church that we were once very proud of seems to be failing us as politicking has become an established trend there too. It seems to have become more obsessed with rituals rather than the real essence of our faith. Love, compassion and justice that were once the hallmark of our faith are not there in the church anymore as it becomes more ritualistic and embroiled in materialism. Even our own pastors whom we had high regards as men of God seem to fail us as they get politically involved, being no different from us. We call ourselves Christians, the followers of Christ but becoming increasingly less Christ-like in our lives. We so saddened and hurt that the very Church that molded us is now failing us. Where are we heading?

As an air of despair looms over us, we feel like packing up and leave the country and our faith but something deep in us says that we should not let these setbacks deter us from continuing with our good works towards fellow men. That inner voice tells us that we must pick up courage and face up to these challenges, with confidence in our hearts that God will be there with us if we do the right things under all circumstances. He has chosen to be born among us and his birth should inspire us continue His works among fellow men.

It is in doing good to others that inspire us to brace up to all the challenges. It is in sharing the blessings He had bestowed upon us, however little that may be, with those who are in dire need of those blessings that gives us the courage to go forward. Every one of us, however poor or handicapped, will have something to share with others; all it needs is a heart to do so. We may not have much wealth and money to share but a little of the little we have is all that matters as Mother Teresa put it, “It is not the great things that matter but the little things done with great love that really matters”. Our time and energy are the invaluable possessions that we can share with those who are down and out.

Let’s welcome this Christmas in the spirit of the true meaning of the birth of Jesus into the world. To those who are down it is a symbol of hope for a better future and to others who are up it is a call for humility in their lives.

Wishing you a very Happy and blessed Christmas.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Advent,preparing for the coming of Jesus

Birth of Christ – a lesson in humility

We are again in the season of Advent, preparing to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Many of us like the Christians all over the world may have great plans to celebrate this auspicious day. To many of it is the most important feast in the year. To many it is just another of the man Jesus who was born 2000 years ago but to us Christians it is much more than a birthday anniversary. It is the birth of God into our hearts and lives. How do we prepare to receive Jesus who continually is born into our lives??

Many of us elaborately decorate our homes, light up Christmas trees and put up the crib. Some of us buy new furniture and new clothes for ourselves and our children. We rush to churches in the middle of the night to pray and receive Him in Holy Communion. We shake hands and hug one another wishing “Merry Christmas”. We host elaborate dinners and parties. There is so much joy and happiness in the air filled with a mood of celebration. We do all these to welcome a God who was born in a stable among poor shepherds and their sheep. Yes, God came to the world in the most humble manner to share his life with the poor. That is the greatest message to us – be humble.

The greatest virtue that God revealed to us by the birth of his son is humility. His birth into the world in an environment of extreme poverty was an example of his humility which we are commemorating this Christmas. Each one us has some degree of arrogance, pride and egoism in us, which are the sins that we must get rid from our lives during this Christmas to attain the peace that Christ promised.

As we go through this period of Advent it may be pertinent to ask ourselves how humble are we in our dealings with our fellow men? If Christ was a symbol of humility and forgiveness what are we?

The Church asks us to go for confession, a ritual that is meant to ask God forgiveness for all the bad we had done to others. It is indeed a wonderful practice to confess our sins and ask for forgiveness but from whom should we ask for forgiveness, God or those whom we had hurt?

Jesus was very clear from whom we must ask for forgiveness when he said, So then, if you are bringing your offering to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar, go and be reconciled with your brother first, and then come back and present your offering”(Mathew 5:23-24).

We read these words very often but how many of us are willing to ask for forgiveness personally from those whom we have hurt? It is easy to say sorry to God whom we do not see, hear or feel but extremely difficult to say that personally to the one whom we have hurt as that needs the humility that Jesus expounded. How can we expect God to forgive us when we are not willing to personally ask forgiveness from those we hurt?

As we celebrate the birth of Jesus this Christmas it may be pertinent for us to reflect of its true meaning in our lives particularly in our relationship with those we encounter including fellow parishioners. Over the last year or so in our own parish there had been so much politicking going on that radiates a lot of ill feelings and hatred. Infighting, acts of revenge and jealousy continue to prevail in our lives outside and inside the Church. Even our priests whom we thought would be on the side of justice fail us by getting involved in the politics of the people. We are saddened and beginning to despair, but something deep in us says that we should not let these setbacks stop us from continuing with our good works towards fellow men.

Let us put all these behind us and like Jesus, humble ourselves to ask forgiveness from those we have hurt and sincerely forgive those who have hurt us. Celebrating Christmas is meaningless if we continue to harbor ill-feelings against those who have hurt us. As Jesus said let’s leave our offering before the altar, go and be reconciled with our brother first, and then go back and present our offering.

At the same time let us share the blessings He had bestowed upon us, however little that may be, with someone who are in dire need of those blessings. We may not have much wealth and money to share but a little of the little we have is all that matters as Mother Teresa put it, “It is not the great things that matter but the little things done with great love that really matters”. Our time and energy are other possessions that we can share with those who are down and out.

As we prepare ourselves to welcome Jesus into our homes and hearts this Christmas, let us look around to see how we can become more Christ-like in our own lives, in our family, our office, our neighborhood and in our own BEC and parish.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Pope and the AIDS-condom controversy

Time to review obsolete laws on sexuality

The Pope Benedict XVI's comments that use of condoms can be justified to prevent the spread of HIV caught everyone by surprise. It may be a controversial one that has created a lot of confusion among Catholics worldwide. However it is hoped it would at the same time provoke debate on the age-old fundamental teaching of the Catholic Church on sex and contraception which needs review to keep up with the trends of modern society. The Pope’s comments may signal what seems to be a major shift in the basic teaching on sexuality that in badly needed.

While some bishops are seeking clarification from the Vatican on the Pope’s comments which was widely reported in the secular media, many church officials worldwide have as expected been conspicuously silent, which is indeed regrettable. It is time for all especially those in the church hierarchy to voice out on this important issue which must be put to rest once and for all.

While many agree with the Pope’s argument that that the use of condom may not put an end to AIDs but condom use is a definitely proven means to reduce the spread of the deadly disease which is unfortunately more prevalent in the very poor countries. Allowing these HIV-infected people of a satisfying sex life with their spouses is undoubtedly a humane consideration especially during the final days of their lives. Most devotedly married couples will agree that there is no other more intimate way of showing their love for their partners other than the sexual intimacy.

The subject of love and sex brings us to the next important issue of birth control. The Church is against all forms of birth control other than natural methods related to a woman’s menstrual cycle as it contends that sex is solely for procreation. It is unfair to expect the poor and illiterate people to understand these physiological processes of reproduction which even many educated people find it difficult to comprehend fully to make it a fool-proof method of contraception.The high population and extreme poverty in many underdeveloped countries bear testimony to the failure of natural contraception.

The time has come for the Church to seriously weigh the unfavorable effects of overpopulation. Wouldn’t it be better to have a smaller population of healthy, literate and free people rather than a large population that is illiterate, sickly, impoverished and enslaved by the rich and powerful? Isn’t the former scenario the ideals and dreams of every good government and the great and wise men and women who tried to change mankind?

Natural birth control methods that are sanctioned by the Church, like the artificial ones banned by it, are to prevent conception. How can the latter which are more effective be considered morally wrong when the motives of both natural and artificial methods are the same, to prevent conception and procreation.

Moreover to my mind the contention that sex is solely for reproduction is not acceptable. It may be true in animals but definitely sex is far more than merely for procreation in humans. It is an extreme form of expression of love between a man and a woman who are united in matrimony by God himself. It is the most important physical ingredient of this sacrament of the church, whose sanctity is on the decline of late.

The purpose of sex in humans should be two-fold; procreation and enhancement of the love between a husband and wife who are bound by God and they should not be dictated on how to express that intimate love for one another. Both procreation and love are intimately twined and no attempts must be made to separate them. The high rate of divorce and family break-up today is directly or indirectly related to this breakdown of the dual purpose of sex. Children are the product of that love which binds the couple to become loving parents to their children.

Sexual activities between a husband and wife are highly private and it must be left to them as responsible adults to decide on the nature of such activities based on the moral principles of sex as a guide. The Church should instruct and enlighten them on the moral aspects of sex and not get unduly obsessed with what they do as they are responsible to God for whatever they do.

The Church has far more pressing issues to deal with rather than being obsessed with sex and condom. Marriages and families are breaking down, adultery is becoming rampant, unwanted pregnancies and abortions are on the rise and moral values are deteriorating due to the loss of real love between husbands and wives as God is no more in their lives. Marriage that used to be so sacred is losing its sanctity and divorce is becoming the norm of the day.

The alarming rate of these immoral trends even among Catholics who are brought up with strict ‘sex ethics’ may be an indication of the Church’s irrelevance in their lives, particularly in sexuality. Instead of wasting its time and energy on issues of condom and the likes, the Church hierarchy should become more realistically involved to address the many moral issues confronting their congregation in particular and the mankind in general.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Sunday Reflections - Zaccheus the tax collector

Reaching out to those who are lost

Last Sunday’s(31.10.10) Gospel reading (Luke 19:1-10) related a very wonderful story about a man named Zacchaeus who was a tax collector. Tax collectors in days of Jesus were considered sinners as they were seen to be accumulating wealth by unscrupulous means at the expense of the poor.

Jesus did something that was right but unacceptable to the people by going to stay with Zacchaeus whom they considered a sinner. They were angry with Jesus for accommodating a sinner. This unprecedented and controversial action of Jesus brought about the repentance of Zacchaeus,who was willing to give up all his wealth and seek forgiveness from all those whom he had cheated.

Jesus’ reply to him that he had come to “seek and to save what had been lost” was very apt and relevant to all of us today. We too are asked by Jesus to seek and reach out to those who have gone astray.

Our PP, Fr.Victor Louis nicely summarized the meaning of this passage when he emphasized two main points:

1.Jesus continues to knock on our doors. It is entirely up to us to decide whether to open or not as the doors are locked from inside

2.Every person however bad he/she may seem to be have something good in them and it is up to us to seek that goodness in them

Yes, we are all sinners like Zaccheus and Jesus continues to knock on our doors and the onus is on us to open them to him. The problem is often we wait for Jesus to come in person to knock our doors like He did to Zaccheus, not realizing he comes in disguise whom we refuse to acknowledge. He comes in the form of our spouse, children, parents, priests, the lonely, the sick and dying, the poor and despised. In fact he comes in each and everyone we meet in our lives, good and bad alike.

The second point is very relevant to our lives where we have to relate with fellow humans in every aspect day in and day out. Everyone has something good however bad he/she may appear to be. It is up to us to knock on their doors like Jesus did to Zaccheus to touch on their goodness to bring about his/her repentance. It is meaningless to read about the greatness of Jesus and say “praise to you Lord Jesus Christ” but refuse to emulate him in our own lives.

Another inspiring action of Jesus was his courage to do something right although that was against the norms and condemned by the people – visiting Zaccheus, a sinner. Very often we too meet with such challenges in our lives but we are afraid to take a stand to defend the truth. We are afraid of what others will think of us; label us as rebels, trouble makers and power crazy. We see people suffering from all sorts of miseries; do we have the courage and the will to reach out to them? We see injustice in our midst; do we have the courage to stand up against such injustice especially when it is inflicted on the helpless by those in power?

Many of us are ever willing to offer prayers for those in need hoping that God will send someone else to help them out, not realizing that He wants us to knock on the doors of those around us. Yes, Jesus wants us to get out of our own zones of comfort and reach out to Him in those around us. The question is how many of us are willing to accept His challenge?

The following is the Gospel reading for Sunday 31.10.10

Luke 19: 1-10

And having entered, he walked through Jericho. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. And he was the leader of the tax collectors, and he was wealthy. And he sought to see Jesus, to see who he was. But he was unable to do so, because of the crowd, for he was small in stature. And running ahead, he climbed up a sycamore tree, so that he might see him. For he was to pass near there.

And when he had arrived at the place, Jesus looked up and saw him, and he said to him: “Zacchaeus, hurry down. For today, I should lodge in your house.” And hurrying, he came down, and he received him joyfully.

And when they all saw this, they murmured, saying that he had turned aside to a sinful man.
But Zacchaeus, standing still, said to the Lord: “Behold, Lord, one half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have cheated anyone in any matter, I will repay him fourfold.”

Jesus said to him: “Today, salvation has come to this house; because of this, he too is a son of Abraham.
For the Son of man has come to seek and to save what had been lost.”

Friday, October 29, 2010

Human versus Divine punishment

Does God punish man?

Watching an old movie from the sixties made me reflect something which was brought up recently by some deeply religious people – the wrath of God which is defined as the extreme anger of God. In the story a beautiful young woman from a poor family becomes rich when she marries a rich man. She was so obsessed with her beauty and physical appearance that she looked down on others including her own siblings and parents, who happen to be poor. Her extreme vanity leads to numerous problems that become beyond the tolerance of her family, friends and relatives. Even her own father refused to accept her when she leaves her husband after some argument.

Finally she succumbs to leprosy which disfigures her face thus permanently ending her physical beauty. She was then even despised by her family and not knowing what to do she meets a wise man who takes her into his ashram. He then advises on the wrongs she had done and the hurt she had inflicted onto those who loved her so much. He tells her that there are two ways we are punished for the wrongs we commit against others.

Firstly we will be punished by humans, by those whom we have hurt and by the laws of the land. The second punishment is by God.

The punishment meted out by man can be avoided by repentance and asking for forgiveness from those whom we hurt. God appears to be giving us an opportunity to correct ourselves for the offenses committed against fellow humans. IF we still refuse to repent than there is no way other than God intervening to teach us a lesson that will never be easy to forget, in this case the disfigured face to stop her abusive actions of vanity.

In our own lives we do many good as well as many bad things. It is humanly impossible not to do bad, but what is important is for us to realize our wrongs and take steps to remedy them. When those who are hurt complain we must take them seriously and reflect to see where we had gone wrong. When others disagree with us take them seriously to see why they do so. When others retaliate against what we do to them, reflect to see why they are doing that. Re-examine our conscience to see whether we have gone wrong, if so take steps to correct them. In short we must never insists we are always right and the others always wrong as no one can be human and still be right all the time.

Disagreements, retaliation and abuse both verbal and physical by those we deal with are clear signals from God that we may be doing something wrong and for us to reflect and correct ourselves. If we are still arrogant to ignore all these signs then we will only be inviting the punishment from the Creator to put us in our place.

As humans we may fight among ourselves but we must settle our disputes peacefully with God- given resources at our disposal to avoid divine intervention to solve them. From my 58years of experience I am convinced beyond doubt that God will put us in our rightful place in His own ways and His own time which may be very unpleasant to accept at times.

In our enthusiasm to seek success and comfort, power and wealth, we could have hurt and trampled on many along the way as we think nobody is watching us. We forget there is this invisible force, God who is there always watching what we do and listening to what we say. He even knows what we are thinking and planning to do. We forget Him when we are high and mighty but seek Him when down and out. Often He may seem to be rewarding the bad and punishing the good, but rest assured that He will be there for the good when it matters most.

As Mahatma Gandhi said “God sometimes does try to the utmost those who he wants to bless”.