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.