Friday, February 27, 2015

We need more priests like Arch Corepiscopa Dr. Curien Kaniyamparambil

Arch Corepiscopa Curien Kaniyamparambil achen is celebrating his 103 rd birthday today. He has completed a century and three years of his life, bearing witness to church saints like St. Ignatius Elias III and church stalwarts like Mor Dionysius Michael, Gheevarghese Mor Gregorios, Perumpally, Mor Yulios Elias Qoro and several priests belonging to the Elavinamannil, Kodiattu and a host of other families.

In the course of all this he has taught Syriac to several generations of students, conducted the baptism, marriage and funeral of several people in the same family, translated several prayers from Syriac to Malayalam and written books on church history, faith and tradition. His simple slogan “Christ needs this donkey” has inspired him to work tirelessly for the church and its people. He was and still is an icon to the people of Thiruvalla having been there for close to sixty years of his life.

His deep devotion and belief in the intercessory powers of Mother Mary has seen him wear a relic of St. Mary within his shirt pocket almost like a bullet proof vest, safe guarding him from any problems in life. His intercessory prayers and songs to St. Mary for the eight day September lent have been used by hundreds of thousands of people officially and unofficially. His translation of the Syriac morning prayers into Malayalam is by far one of the best translations of prayer songs. The Archcorepiscopa will make sure to pray at least three times a day religiously and intercede to Mother Mary at all times. His belief in honoring his teachers (gurus) will always see him giving credit to them and to how they have made him who he is.

Arch Corepiscopa Kaniyamparambil achen never fought with anyone. When he had to come out of the St. George JSO church, Kattapuram, Thiruvalla, all he took with him was his tears which he continued to have years after the painful incident of having to walk out of one’s own church. After that he was instrumental along with the Kodiattu family to set up and consecrate the St. George Simhasana JSO Church in Thiruvalla. Through this church he kept the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox believers in Thiruvalla rooted to their faith and pastored to them despite a very unfavorable environment.

He collected the money from the faithful and used it for the upkeep of the church, printing of several books and helping the poor. I have never seen achen spending money for himself. He has collected every single donation and used it for helping others, printing books to keep up the faith of the people, and give to the church in one way or the other. This is not known to many. The St. George Simhasana church in Thiruvalla flourished under him.

Arch Corepiscopa Kaniyamparambil was a great orator in his youth. He was a constant invitee in several churches as his knowledge of the bible, history and tradition of the church and preaching style were un paralled. His Good Friday service in church was a great experience of feeling the passion and suffering of Christ. He had the skill to translate Syriac to Malayalam on the spot and he used this to explain songs and bring people into a spiritual mood by explaining songs after each stanza and creating a real effect of commemorating the passion and crucifixion of Christ.

Achen’s faith has always been an important part of his life. His prayers were simple but deep. It would give you the strength to undertake a journey, write an exam, undergo an operation, come out of grief and expect good things from God. This coupled with his sense of humour made one want to go and spend time with him. He was always available in the arm chair, with his legs up and constantly writing on his writing pad. The sight of any visitor would make him stand up and he would seek the strength of your hand and in return give you the strength of his prayer.

Have we lost out on such priests? In a way yes. A comparison may be too harsh on the present generation of priests. The Arch Corepiscopa lived in an era where he had no mobile phone, no internet, no facebook and no luxury car. He lived in ordinary circumstances and perhaps that was what made him who he is even today. One inspiration for the priests of today would be his interest and his effort to write. His accomplishment in this direction is great. A list of 50 books and counting is not any average Syrian Orthodox priest for you! There would not have been a day without achen writing a page or two. This has been lost on today’s generation of priests. His single handed translation of the Syriac Peshita bible from Syriac to Malayalam has been the most understated fact in recent times. Who on earth can single handedly do something so difficult like that? Perhaps we should give the writer in Archcorepiscopa Kaniyamparambil more credit than he has received thus far.

Jesus wrote and he wrote so that he would be accountable and he would make others accountable. John 8:1-8 bears witness to that. Arch Corepiscopa Kaniyamparambil achen also wrote to be counted, to be held accountable and to stand up for what he believed in. Today history will attest to that. Unfortunately today’s generation of priests may not even write a status update on their own. I may be wrong and I will be happy if I am proved wrong. Kaniyamparambil achen should be an inspiration for us to write for the glory of God and write so that people may understand God’s word and will be kept in faith.

Humility is a character trait of Kniyamparambil Arch Corepiscopa that today’s priests should learn from. Anyone from around the world and Kerala could and can meet him any time. If he is awake and healthy one can meet achen. This is associated with his humility and his eagerness to meet people who go to see him. I wonder whether today’s priests are so eager to meet their congregation, chat with them and offer them advice and guidance? This again cannot be generalized.

Faith, hope and love have always been part of Kaniyamparambil Arch Corepiscopa’s repertoire. He has the faith as big as the mustard seed which can have him tell you to go in peace, God will help you. He has had his share of misfortunes and he has also been on the wrong side of decisions taken by higher ups. But he never gave up hope and always went forward. He was betrayed and used by his friends, colleagues, students and disciples. But this has not decreased his love for them. He still holds everyone with equal fondness and never speaks ill of or works against another. His love for another human being has been exemplary and this is something we can definitely emulate. What would one expect of a priest? These three things in all probability. A priest should be able to offer faith as healing to his congregation, should have hope that whatever the situation, God will help and that love and only love is God like and will take a church forward. This has somehow been lost in translation today. I hope that the Arch Corepiscopa can remind us that today for his sake we can rekindle these three in our ministry in the church.

Forgiveness has come naturally to Kaniyamparambil Arch Corepiscopa. When you meet him you feel the love he has for you and not the hatred. This has been possible through his efforts to forgive and seek forgiveness. Who won’t melt and change when a 103 year old priest asks you for forgiveness even when you have been the one who may have committed the wrong! This is what achen has done all through his career. It has not just been his willingness to forgive but his over willingness to seek forgiveness even when he never did anything wrong. This is a true lesson for priests today. A priest’s effort should not be to justify but to ask forgiveness even when there is a doubt in our mind and to give forgiveness when someone comes to us seeking for it. A priest should be a fountain of forgiveness which never dries and Kaniyamparambil Archcorepiscopa has borne testimony to this.

What then can we offer Kaniyamparambil Archcorepiscopa for his 103 rd birthday? If you speak to him he will ask us to pray for him and he will then utter “God bless you.” Even in his request there is something for us. The only way we can give him a gift which will compensate his stature is to pick any one quality of his and emulate it. It could be humility, faith, hope, love, writing, forgiveness, saving for the future generations, right use of funds and anything that I haven’t mentioned. At this age and at this stature I suspect there is anything on earth that we can get for him. If he can live on forever that will be a great blessing for this church. One way that is possible is to take a commitment that each priest and lay person will take one quality or several qualities of the Archcorepiscopa and live it out through our lives so that achen will live and live abundantly.

Here’s wishing our beloved Archcorepiscopa Dr. Curien Kaniyamparambil a blessed birthday, good health, an active mind and long life. Beyond everything here’s praying and committing that we take one part of your noble character and live it out remembering what you have told and showed us.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Getting into character this lent

Character is a very important aspect of an individual and helps in the spiritual life of an individual. A person with integrity and character shows good leadership skills and can always be an inspiration to others. But one cannot say that one is born with good character. Rather one imbibes good character through several ways, one of them being through experience and prayer. We get to see characters of integrity and sincerity in the bible, history and in our day to day life. Lent becomes a time to identify these characters and try to get into the character we have identified.

A lent with character is not only with food restrictions but is with certain ideals which identify a person as working for common people, the poor, sick, needy, children and women. We have characters we can take from and become because this becoming is a God inspired process of spiritual growth. In the book of Esther we read about Esther a woman who was courageous enough to reveal Haman’s treachery to the King. She moves beyond the usual barriers and gets into the character that God prepares for her.

St. Ephrem was a church father and doctor of the church who got into the character of making women teachers in the church. Bishop Anthimos writes "Ephrem was a promoter of women folk – from silence to dignity of their own. According to Jacob of Serug, the whole aim of Ephrem's teaching was a new world in which men and women would be equal. Moreover, he calls Ephrem as the second Moses for women because Ephrem took the revolutionary step of forming a women's choir (may be the first in the history of Christianity) and many of Ephrem's hymns were written exclusively for women's choirs. To him, Ephrem founded the women's choir in order to teach the Edessan Christianity right doctrines, made women teachers in the church and thereby promoted women folk from silence to the dignity of teacher. Thereby, "Ephrem presents his church with a new sight of women uttering proclamation". St. Ephrem took it upon himself to fulfill the very difficult role of being a church father with a difference with perfection. Can we also get into the character presented to us by God whereby we do things which we never thought capable of us and which people around us never thought possible?

Irom Sharmila is an ordinary woman but she has kept an entire state in limbo because she has been fasting from November 4, 2000 for repealing of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). Recently the court quashed a case of attempted suicide against her. She is free but still fasting. How on earth can we compare the fast or diet restrictions of fifty days in the church to the fifteen year old fast of Irom Sharmila!? She has been playing her character as God wanted it in the hope that anti people laws will be repealed and people can have freedom in their own land. She dreams of a future where the government and people will work and live together instead of fighting each other. Irom Sharmila’s will power has given her the nick name “Iron Lady”. How many of us could fast for a common cause and personalize a problem like Irom Sharmila has done?

Romans 12:2 says “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Character is God given but it has to be discerned and fulfilled by us. Character is also what we receive within us and what comes out from within. It is courage, will and hope that God has great plans for us and for that we have to get into the character that God has chosen for us. 1 Samuel 16:7 says “But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”

Let this lent be a time to get into character. This is not what we have necessarily done before but what God is backing us to do now. It is not available character but character that we are reaching out to and making as our own. It is the character that is waiting for someone to take and act upon. Are we ready? Amen.

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Monday, February 23, 2015

A lent with character

St. Luke 5:12-16
12 Once, when he was in one of the cities, there was a man covered with leprosy.[a] When he saw Jesus, he bowed with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.” 13 Then Jesus[b] stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, “I do choose. Be made clean.” Immediately the leprosy[c] left him. 14 And he ordered him to tell no one. “Go,” he said, “and show yourself to the priest, and, as Moses commanded, make an offering for your cleansing, for a testimony to them.” 15 But now more than ever the word about Jesus[d] spread abroad; many crowds would gather to hear him and to be cured of their diseases. 16 But he would withdraw to deserted places and pray.

There is a saying that was very popular for speech competitions in my childhood. It says “If wealth is lost nothing is lost, if health is lost something is lost but if character is lost, everything is lost.” It throws light upon one of the very important aspects of our existence. Even as we concentrate on body and soul we lose touch with the character of our very being.

Character initiates and eggs us on to do something we believe in and something which is just and right. This may not be what everyone else does but what we strongly feel should be done. It is not an outward initiation but an inside, intrinsic feeling of what our reaction should be in a particular situation. “Character is a pattern of behavior, thoughts and feelings based on universal principles, moral strength, and integrity – plus the guts to live by those principles every day. Character is evidenced by your life’s virtues and the “line you never cross.” Character is the most valuable thing you have, and nobody can ever take it away.” Jesus had character. This was build up by his relationship with God, his family and his society. But it was also a character which was against certain notions and taboos in society. The man with leprosy did not look Jesus in the face but he begs him to make him clean if he chooses. A confused character would have lead Jesus to look away from the man because that was what the majority in society did at the time. But Jesus looks at him, says yes, stretches out his hand and touches him. What Jesus did needed lots of courage because of the stigma of disease associated with leprosy or a skin disease. But Jesus’ character makes him think different and initiates an act of courage. His character is strong and is his biggest asset which is more than wealth and health.

Peter Drucker , a management expert has an interesting opinion on character. He says “A man (or woman) might know too little, perform poorly, lack judgment and ability, and yet not do too much damage as a manager. But if that person lacks character and integrity – no matter how knowledgeable, how brilliant, how successful – he destroys. He destroys people, the most valuable resources of the enterprise. He destroys spirit. And he destroys performance.” Jesus lead from the front and he did so primarily because he had character and integrity. When everyone else would have turned away from the person with leprosy he stretches out his hand. Even as people would have been shocked at what he was doing, he was courageous enough to do what he did.

During lent, many people try to work on a lot of things but conveniently ignore character as then they don’t have to change anything they do. Lent is a time which gives us an opportunity to fine tune and refurbish our character. If we have a stigma for someone based on their beliefs, disease, colour, and way of life, it means that we have to work on our character and not theirs. Do we make quick judgments on people based on what others say? If so, lent becomes a time to work on our character and how we have been formed so that we become courageous like Jesus to stretch out our hand instead of keeping it under wraps.

Aristotle offers practice of virtue as a way of developing our character. Good work with good intentions are a way to practice reshaping our character. Jesus practiced this all through his ministry. He did what his character reflected. But he still had to do it to reflect his character to others. But have we learnt from that? Our inability to make our character above our other qualifications has brought about a life that is not beneficial for us and others. This lent is a good opportunity for us to practice goodness and practice courage which should reflect the character of Jesus which we see in his courage to stretch out his hand, touch and heal the person with leprosy. Romans 5:3-5 says "And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us." A lent with character should not disappoint us but give us hope.

So, as part of lent, let us practise to reach out to people however they look like and whatever they believe in. Picture the scene of Jesus touching the person with leprosy and then see if we can replicate that! Get into the character of Jesus who touched the man when everyone else refused to. Reflect the character of Jesus by practising lent. Amen.

(Excerpts from a sermon preached in St. Ignatius JSO Church, K.R. Puram, Bangalore on February 22, 2015.)

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Saturday, February 21, 2015

Don't deprive yourself of love! Lenten thoughts

Lent is a time to reflect upon our own short comings, to rectify our life and follow diet restrictions so that we become better persons. But one can’t take love out of the equation when we do this. But who or what do we love and can we love ourselves while we are at it?

To love means to sacrifice and let go of many things which we consider valuable to us. But love also means doing something good for the sake of others. There are a lot of people who ask whether it is imperative that we have diet restrictions during lent and whether we need to fast during lent? The question itself means that we need to because it affects us so much that we ask! Diet restrictions are not by itself going to take us to heaven as prayers mention clearly that fasting without inner change is of no use as inner change provides fodder for the soul and outward fasting only affects the body.

But diet restrictions are good because they help us to lighten up, think well, hope good and act meaningfully. It is to suggest that diet restrictions and fasting instead of making us angry should make us better individuals who work for the betterment of others. This can be done by knowing that we have to love ourselves to diet and fast. We are on the journey to become better people and thereby behave better with others. The journey always starts with us and we prepare ourselves by eating light and eating less and thereby telling ourselves that we are not starving and denying ourselves food but rather giving just enough food for sustenance and survival. This then leads us to thinking about the sustenance and survival of others. So loving ourselves in a spiritual way leads to loving others and is a natural progression. St. Luke 6:31 says “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

Today dieticians tell us to love our body more so that we can get more out of our body. Watch what you eat so that you can have a balanced body and mind they say! So dieting for a special cause is not depriving the body but in essence loving the body. Loving the body also means having good thoughts about ourselves and what we are doing. If we don’t love ourselves how can we love another? Proverbs 10:12 says that “Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers all wrongs.” Eating our heart out may only bring about more desire and dissension. On the other hand depriving ourselves brings out true love.

Deprivation is one sort of love where we say that I am sacrificing for something. Lent has also been seen as deprivation of food for the body so that the soul is enriched by the deprivation. But lent is also depriving cravings for certain kind of food so that true love is brought out. Craving for something or someone may not be true love. Depriving our cravings brings out a true element of love inside us.

Eating is something everyone can do. It comes naturally to us. Love is also natural but it becomes true love when we do unnatural things. Jesus Christ dying on the cross was unnatural but brought out God’s love for the world. 1 John 4:8 says “Whoever does not love, does not know God, because God is love.” Bringing in dietary regulations during lent brings about an element of unnaturalness in us and leads to true love. St. John 3:16 says “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Love makes no sense and is mysterious in certain ways. But it is the only way forward.

Any act of dieting and love can only be complete when we prepare ourselves to love others. Without this we will remain in a vacuum of self-righteousness. St. Matthew 22:37-39 says “Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Loving others is dieting, restricting and depriving as this leads us to love.

May lent be a time to deprive and love ourselves so that we may move on to loving others just as we were told by Jesus Christ. Amen.

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Picture two courtesy

Friday, February 20, 2015

What lessons do the AAP victory offer the church today?

The AAP victory in Delhi two weeks ago for the assembly elections held there is a result of hard work, planning and networking between people from various strata of society. One cannot and should not put this down as fluke, luck or a rare miracle. It is not every day that a political party wins 67 out of 70 seats!

There can always be conspiracy theories that the AAP won because of RSS support or that the Congress party did not bother to put up a fight because they thought that the AAP can take care of the BJP for the next five years in Delhi and be a thorn in the flesh of the Central government as well. One cannot deny the fact that the AAP worked pretty hard, did their home work and worked among various classes of people who are usually ignored by parties.

But what does such a victory do for the church? Is there anything we can learn from it and should we embark on that journey at all? The church is close to politics as it is also involved with thinking about governance, is concerned about the welfare of people and always wants to bring about change for the better in various places. One cannot therefore separate the church from politics completely and say that the church should never come close to politics and politicking.

What were some of the simple models followed by the AAP which can also be followed by the church? One should know that there is no question of one following the other but to rather understand that both the church and political parties are trying to work for the welfare of the people. Firstly, the AAP worked with people in the grassroots and took their concerns seriously. It was just not to impose things on them but to ask them what was needed and how things could be accomplished. Not listening to people and taking their opinion suggests arrogance and the church should never be arrogant and thrust its views on people. Rather the church should know what the people want by talking to them on a regular basis and arranging for meetings to interact with people who have common jobs and find it hard to make a living.

Secondly, the AAP stressed on positive campaigning rather than negative campaigning. They talked mainly about what they were going to do and had an extensive manifesto for everyone to check. There were moments when the media dragged them into comparisons and asked specific questions on personalities and candidates in other political parties. The AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal was quick to steer away from comparisons and questions on opposing candidates. Instead of dwelling at length on them he dwelled on his party and their work. On asked about Ms. Kiran Bedi he said that she was a nice person. This brought in a good response from the voters. The church should understand that we don’t need to criticize each other and other people and instead can concentrate on the good that the church is doing. Going positive can help the church to concentrate 100% on its own plans and work instead of concentrating on someone else for the entire period. Criticizing others and what they do and follow is not how one must believe in God but rather one should concentrate on one’s own positives and work for the betterment of society.

Thirdly, the ability to say sorry should not be seen as a weakness but as an act of strength and character. The AAP made a mistake by stepping down after 49 days in their first shot at running the government. The first thing they did while campaigning was to admit this and say sorry. The church can correct historical wrongs and correct what may have been a wrong decision based on wrong assessments. A decision once taken need not stay for the sake of our own egos but can be rectified considering the general mood of what is right and wrong. Showing that anyone can make mistakes makes us ordinary and vulnerable but also appealing to those who form the actual support base of the church. One wrong cannot be made true by subsequent wrongs to cover up the original wrong.

Fourthly, one should be able to move with the times and trends. The AAP used the internet and the social media to a great extend to get in touch with people, understand political trends, get new supporters, and explain their programs to people. This brought about a great change to how politics was made to enter into the office, study and even bedroom of the individual voter. The internet was also used to announce meetings, give key information and influence people. This reaching out helped to interact with people. The church can do well if it reaches out to the young generation by speaking their language and hanging out where they do too. This may not be limited to the church but in youtube, whatsapp, facebook, blogs and virtual spaces. Keeping out of spaces frequented by the youth will also mean losing them completely in the long run.

Finally, the AAP believed in what they were doing and even gave religious overtones to it. The bible says that one must pray believing that the prayer has been answered. St. Mark 11:24 tells us “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” The AAP leaders and party workers believed that their dream would come true even though they were written off as one time wonders. The church has times when it ceases to believe in itself and more so in God. So much that we belittle and limit the wondrous powers of God. The Delhi victory can become a Delhi belly, the rumblings of which can be felt in other states and institutions including the church. The church will definitely do well to reclaim the simple yet powerful truth of faith and belief.

Be humble, work hard, say sorry when at fault, understand the feelings and aspirations of people and be one of them, believe in yourself and in the positive shades of the people around you and above all, trust in God for God to carry you through. Should I say more?! Isn’t it time for a church of the common people to arise from within exclusive expressions of the church?

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Love can perform wonders

Tonight the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox church embarks on a fifty day lent going through various aspects of human frailty while looking to God in the hope that God will never forsake us.The bible reading for today's Eucharist service St. John 2:1-11 invites us into Jesus' first miracle initiated by his own mother. But aren't we usually missing the point of the miracle when we look at other aspects of the miracle even when one aspect stands out?

1. Love should be above everything- Jesus and his capability of loving everything around him was fabulous. Instead of going along with the societal notion that money flies even above the eagle, Jesus shows that love flies above everything else. Jesus’ love for God’s creation and the mutual love of Jesus with the two blessed forms of the trinity expresses his love for the creation of God. Even when the wine runs out and there is a panic which also makes the mother reach out to her son, Jesus shows what love can do.

The people who were asked to wait upon Jesus are told to fill the stone jars with water. They know what they filled and so does Jesus. But Jesus loves the water and it leads to the transformation of the water. How far can we transform others towards the benefit of all, with our love? Will we remain stone jars or will we offer ourselves for transformation with the love Jesus offers us?

2. Love defines our relationships- We are given a chance to love others through a network created for us through God. We have our family and several members of our family, friends and acquaintances to love and show love to. Jesus had declined Mother Mary’s offer to help the house of celebration. But the plea of Mother Mary was not an ordinary plea but a plea covered with love. This was the love for her son. When she asks her son to help the hosts, she transfers her love for family to new heights. Jesus feels this love and even though he clarifies that his time is not up, he finally performs a miracle. It is a miracle initiated by love.

Jesus uses the stone jars to show this aspect of love. The stone jars filled with water were used for purification but were used for outward purification. The stone like feeling one had remained with outside purification. So Jesus uses the stone jar to show that the love of his mother towards him and his love towards humanity can change the stoniness of the jar and transform that into something life giving and something which can bring happiness.

Even as Valentine’s day brought about the usual commercial activity and hue and cry about erosion of cultural values the story of Fr. Valentine and his commitment towards couples in love and his love towards them takes us to the path of love. Even when the emperor asked the men in the kingdom to forgo marriage for the sake of war, Fr. Valentine supported true love and brought people together in true love. Love is above and beyond everything and love indeed defines our relationships.
This lent, can we evaluate our lives and truly say that we love God and love God’s creation and the network of family, friends, acquaintances and church that God has given us? Or are we still stone jars filled with water that refuse to transform, all the while claiming to offer purity to others? Amen.

(Excerpts from a sermon preached in St. Ignatius JSO Church, K.R.Puram, Bangalore.)
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Friday, January 16, 2015

Fishing out the best in people

St. Matthew 4:12-22
12 Now when Jesus[a] heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
15 “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
16 the people who sat in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
light has dawned.”
17 From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”[b]
Jesus Calls the First Disciples
18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

Jesus calls his first disciples with the very famous one liner “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Jesus here dwells on a very important aspect of discipleship using the profession of four of his principal followers. They were casting their nets and he sees the potential in them and calls them to join him. Interestingly they do so.

What does it mean to say that “I will make you fish for people”? There is an emphasis on the people and the fact that the disciples have to concentrate on them. Here is a call to change the philosophy of using people for business to catching or identifying people to save them. The disciples who were fisher folk went about their business so that they could sell their catch to people. Jesus on the other hand calls them to give up their business of fishing and move on to a spiritual catching of people so that the people will eventually benefit. What before was a benefit for the disciples changes into the benefit of the people.

Who thinks about our good? Society need not think about our benefit and good. Friends, colleagues, and acquaintances may not think well about us and wish a better future. On a lighter note the below forward I got shows how people belonging to other professions may not think well and wish well about us.

“The Irony of Life”
The lawyer hopes you get into trouble
The doctor hopes you get sick
The police hopes you become a criminal
The teacher hopes you are born stupid
The landlord hopes you don’t buy a house
The dentist hopes your tooth decays
The mechanic hopes your car breaks down
The coffin maker wants you dead
…Only a thief wishes you “Prosperity in life” and also wishes you have a sound sleep.

The thief obviously has his own reasons for hoping like this. The essence of the forward is that not many people wish us well because they are in the process of wishing themselves well. On the other hand the church tries to wish us well. Whenever the church doesn't, it moves away from the original message of Christianity. This message is the message that Jesus gives Peter, Andrew, James and John. “I will make you fish for people.” This can be translated as “I will make you (teach you) fish for the good in people” and make you identify and hope for the good in them instead of hoping their downfall and in the process making your life out of it.

Jesus is calling each one of us in our own capacities to fish for the good in people and multiply that as a business instead of wishing for bad about people. One cannot completely be businesslike and instead should be Jesus like. May God help us to be fishers of people and be part of God’s valuing of people instead of living out of the downfall of others. Amen.

(Excerpts from a sermon preached in St. Ignatius Church, K.R. Puram, Bangalore on January 11, 2014.The forward used in the sermon was sent to me by Mr. Joe Jacob.)

Thursday, January 1, 2015

2015: Happy light year

Genesis 1:3-5
Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

Light forms an important aspect of spirituality in the bible and Christian traditions. Light and its comparison with darkness is indeed very old and has been used relentlessly. Can we wish people a blessed new year 2015 by wishing them the light of God and are we in the process undermining dark and black and making them bad symbols and super imposing bright and white as good symbols? Or does light and its characteristics offer us enough food for thought as we enter into the new year 2015.

2015 has been decided as the International Year of Light (IYL) by the United Nations to make people understand the importance of light and fiber optic and light energy. “The UN’s 68th general assembly proclaimed 2015 an official “International Year of Light” that will focus on the science and applications of light, and seek to raise global awareness of how optics and photonics can have a positive impact in fields as diverse as energy, education, agriculture and health.” The emphasis is to make people understand the value and importance of light and how it has made a very deep impact on the lives of all kinds of people.

Some of the characteristics of light are that it is a form of energy produced by luminous objects, it can travel through vacuum, it can penetrate through transparent materials but cannot pass through opaque objects, light travels in a straight line in an optically homogeneous medium, it bounces back when made to fall on polished surfaces such as mirrors or metal surfaces, light takes the path of least time in passing from one point to the other and it appears to have a dual nature. So what does this offer us for the year 2015?

1. The duality in the singleness of God and the duality in the singleness of light- even though we are two, we are one. There is no white light but light which is a blend of various colours. It was only in the 17th century that Sir Isaac Newton showed that white light is made of different colours of light. At the beginning of the 20th century, Max Planck and later Albert Einstein proposed that light was a wave as well as a particle, which was a very controversial theory at the time. How can light be two completely different things at the same time? Experimentation later confirmed this duality in the nature of light. In the new year we must realise that one should not jump into clichés of branding people and communities as good or bad and instead understand that there is a strand which links all of us together. Together we become bearers of the light of God. Any difference is brought together for the light to shine and become useful for many. This single approach even in the face of differences brings about a calling which asks for giving credit to many people for the single achievements that come out in our lives.

2. Spirituotonics and photonics- identifying the essence of God and the essence of light and how it can be used for the good of humanity is indeed a great work we can do in 2015. Photonics is the science of light. It is the technology of generating, controlling, and detecting light waves and photons, which are particles of light. The characteristics of the waves and photons can be used to explore the universe, cure diseases, and even to solve crimes. Scientists have been studying light for hundreds of years. The colours of the rainbow are only a small part of the entire light wave range, called the electromagnetic spectrum. Photonics explores a wider variety of wavelengths, from gamma rays to radio, including X-rays, UV and infrared light. Photonics generates, controls and detects light waves and photons. Similarily spirituotonics should bring about an urge in us to identify the complex yet assuring power of spirituality and what it can offer to people.

Even if we cannot see the entire electromagnetic spectrum, visible and invisible light waves are a part of our everyday life. Photonics is everywhere; in consumer electronics (barcode scanners, DVD players, remote TV control), telecommunications (internet), health (eye surgery, medical instruments), manufacturing industry (laser cutting and machining), defense and security (infrared camera, remote sensing), entertainment (holography, laser shows), etc. Spirituotonics is also everywhere. It resonates in different spheres and offers various kinds of solace to people even though they are sometimes unaware of it. Understanding spirituotonics is like understanding photonics. It is to understand that we are intrinsically linked to God in some way or the other in everything that we do.

3. Churchsynthesis and photosynthesis- Photosynthesis is converting the energy from the sun into chemical energy which becomes plant protein. We should be able to identify and convert the energy from God into the energy for the people. The process that converts energy in sunlight to chemical energy used by green plants and other organisms is called photosynthesis. Although it is performed differently by different species, the process always begins when energy from light is absorbed by proteins called reaction centers that contain green chlorophyll pigments. A seemingly simple process, photosynthesis is actually quite complex and is the basis by which we grow all of our food and produce important resources such as fossil fuels.

Churchsynthesis should allow people to feed on the vast energy of God available in the church through Christ, Mother Mary and the numerous saints. This should be an equitable, sustainable and just process which is made available for all.
Let’s make 2015 a special year. This can only be done through a concerted and sustained effort by the church and people through the ever shining presence of God. Let us work together, identify God’s presence in our lives and synthesise the energy freely available from God to energy that will feed the poor, heal the sick and sustain the earth. Amen.

(Excerpts from a sermon preached in St. Ignatius Church, K.R. Puram, Bangalore on 1-1-2015)

Picture courtesy

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Hear the Magi, Christmas is a time to search and discern well!

St. Matthew 2:1-12
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men[a] from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising,[b] and have come to pay him homage.” 3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah[c] was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
6 ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd[d] my people Israel.’”
7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men[e] and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” 9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising,[f] until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped,[g] they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Christmas is a time when we come together in a rushed time of holidays, get together, shopping, exchanging gifts and making and buying cakes. The lent comes to an end with a lavish spread shared between family. It is a celebration befitting a kingly and grand occasion and the birth of Christ is indeed lavishly and joyfully remembered. But what does Christmas symbolize? It does among many things symbolize the realization and search of spirituality by the Magi (wise people) and takes us back to the time when the Magi and King Herod looked at the same birth in two different ways.

The Magi followed the star and thought of the great one as being naturally in the palace and kingdom and may have been misled into thinking that Herod would know about the whereabouts of the child Jesus? It might have been natural for them to think that the child would be in a palace. But they are not helped by Herod as the birth is news for him as well. He is shocked that someone else could come to question his authority and his stranglehold on the people. Rather than being happy about the news, he is worried and he calls his advisors to know what this is all about. They confirm his worst fears and he thinks about what to do in the light of a new challenger to his unquestioned rule.

He does what he thinks best and that is to make the Magi spy on his behalf. He outsources the spy work that would have been done by his own army, to the wise people. Either this was a horrible short sight from his part or he was so confident that the Magi would be faithful to his power and arrogance that he left the job with them. His own wise men also fail him because they did not inform him about this before he came to know through the Magi. The Magi follow the star, see the baby, offer their gifts and go their way. This passage speaks to us in a big way in a time like Christmas.

One, the wise people come to the palace because they are misled like many of us that spirituality and prosperity are interlinked. They expect the baby in the palace and perhaps stop trusting the star. It was natural, like it is for all of us to trust the leader that we have and expect good things to come from the leader. Why would one expect anything else? But this is not what happens. To the contrary the leader is the opposite of what they think. He is scared and challenged by the news of the birth of the Messiah and a ruler other than himself, even if it was for the good of all. Power, position and authority don’t mean truth and sincerity. Our society teaches us to overly depend on positions and people in places of authority so blindly that we finally end up being like the wise people who went to Herod trusting him. They did what we would do today.

Two, listen to your voice which may sometimes be the opposite of what people in authority say. The Magi fall into the trap laid by Herod and they go to see the baby as spies of Herod, without being aware of it themselves. They also fulfill the official duty of representing the authorities, although they originally come of their own accord. But after they see, pay homage to and give the baby the gifts they had brought, they make a very important decision. That is to not listen to Herod and instead go their own way. Till here Herod has everything covered. But the wise people trust the voice of God which comes to them and question authority and the role given to them and move on. Even though they were law abiding citizens, they listen to a higher voice which tells them to stand for truth rather than authority laced with abuse of power and corrupt practices. This nice group of people pulls of a coup without making a bone of it.

So let this Christmas be a time of two things. We should be able to search to see where the Messiah is. We should also bring ourselves to a position of accepting that the Messiah is in a place we least expect. We should also be able to discern for ourselves and go against the official point of view of being spies for people in authority and have the courage to being followers of the light which will lead us to our own paths and our own decisions. Amen.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

St.Joseph: Powering us to a higher spiritual realm

St. Matthew 1:18-25
18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah[a] took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,”
which means, “God is with us.” 24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son;[b] and he named him Jesus.

The passage talks about the seldom revealed and exalted Joseph, husband of Mother Mary and father to Jesus. Joseph in comparison with local culture and customs is the man who takes a step back so that the woman he is betrothed to can take a step forward. Today, in all probability he would be referred to as the weak husband who does not speak and remains powerless in front of his wife. Yet Joseph’s powerlessness becomes Mother Mary’s and our power. That he chose not to express his power and his position makes him someone who took the route of equitable spirituality, meaning spirituality for all with special emphasis on exaltation of the vulnerable.

Mary was vulnerable in the position that she was in. She had nothing to let go off. But Joseph could let go of many things and it is this letting go which we can indeed learn from. Joseph lets go of his ego, his manliness, his position of future husband and plan maker. He leaves everything so that God’s will be done on earth. Only those with power and some leverage can let go and become powerless. In terms of countries of the world, it is pointless to expect a country like Nepal to let go of what they have in comparison to the USA. It is only when someone with power lets go that it becomes sacrifice. Joseph here sacrifices and it is a sacrifice which will in our society be looked upon as weakness and the act of a spineless man.

Mary had nothing much to let go off. Joseph on the other hand had something to let go. He was respected, he had status in the eyes of the general public, he had a reasonable amount of money and he had age on his side as signs of a man who had much more than the woman he was betrothed to. His reaction on knowing about the pregnancy of Mary was decent and even unexpected. He was already being a gentleman. But God wanted more. It was not just to be a gentleman but to let go of everything which defined who he was. That was what God wanted of him.

Spirituality is easy to define when everything is from our perspective. It is our God, our church, our family, our blessing and everything is in the singular with the emphasis on I, me and myself. Spirituality becomes more complex when it has to be shared and the challenge is for those of us who are in positions of power to devolve ourselves of the power we have and share it with others.

1. Powerful to power-us- situations where one has to be powerless are criticized especially when people with no power have to further give up what they have. In family, church and societal contexts there should become a guiding principle where we can share power. Individual spirituality then becomes equitable spirituality where everyone is treated the same way and everyone has access to the grace of God. Joseph is powerful in comparison with Mary and yet when the angel tells him about Jesus, the baby who is to be born and is to save people from their sins, he turns this equation around. Immanuel, meaning God is with us leads Joseph to change his situation of power which was individual and unidirectional into power-us and not powerless. When husbands treat their wife’s with respect and give opportunities to them, society sees it as loss of power for the husband. But rather than being loss of power it is sharing of power.

2. Godless to God is with us- we are always expectant of great things in our life. This expectation also goes to the extent of hoping that God be with us, and Immanuel becomes a great hope of God being with us. But our life becomes a sign of us forgetting the immense role of God in our lives. We move away from God and move onto our own thoughts which exclude others from the grace of God. Our acts end up being Godless acts of selfishness and greed which take away the essence of spirituality from us. The understanding that God is with us should also bring us to the understanding that we have become power-us, meaning that we have to work with God and do acts of Godliness in our lives. This brings upon great responsibility in our lives and will allow us to look at things from the perspective of God and God’s willingness to power-us. Amen.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Let God’s grace empower us to speak up

St. Luke 1:57-80
57 Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. 58 Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.
59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. 60 But his mother said, “No; he is to be called John.” 61 They said to her, “None of your relatives has this name.” 62 Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. 63 He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And all of them were amazed. 64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. 65 Fear came over all their neighbors, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. 66 All who heard them pondered them and said, “What then will this child become?” For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.
Zechariah’s Prophecy
67 Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:
68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.
69 He has raised up a mighty savior[a] for us
in the house of his servant David,
70 as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
71 that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
72 Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
and has remembered his holy covenant,
73 the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,
to grant us 74 that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear, 75 in holiness and righteousness
before him all our days.
76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins.
78 By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon[b] us,
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
80 The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel.

Elizabeth and Zechariah rejoice along with others on Elizabeth giving birth to a child. The people rejoice with them as well. But then they come to the point of having to make a critical decision. They have to name the baby. Those present naturally think it is going to be Zechariah, coming from the father and meaning “God remembers.” But to everyone’s surprise Elizabeth says that the baby’s name should be John which means “God is gracious.” The remembrance changes into the grace of God.

The onus immediately rests with Zechariah and he asks for a writing tablet. He could have written his own name giving importance to himself. But instead he writes John, giving all importance to God and God’s justice. “Unfortunately we sometimes write for ourselves. We should be able to transcend this and write for the benefit of others and for the rightful justice of others.”1 Zechariah was aware of what the angel told him but I don’t think that fear lead him to say what he did. Instead he does what he thinks is just and right. He writes perhaps what is the most important thing that he has ever written in his life.

Zechariah is aware of the justice people are yearning for. This can come only through God and acts of people who are close to God. Dec 2nd and 3rd commemorated thirty years of the worst industrial incident that took place in Bhopal. Thousands were killed and lakhs of people were maimed for life. Even today, children are suffering the after effects of the pollution which was brought about by corporate greed. But many have forgotten that Bhopal ever happened and others feel that they don’t live in Bhopal and so need not worry about it.

Elizabeth and Zechariah may not have had personal difficulties and problems. But the problems of others become their problems and the birth of a child to them becomes also their crusade against injustice. Zechariah regains his voice and prophesies
“By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon[b] us,
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

How meaningful a hope is this for people who have been suffering from human made calamities? Zechariah does not just speak to those who were there but offers hope to us, that darkness will indeed turn to light and things will turn around.

In the advent it is easy to get caught up with the spirit of the Christmas season with the gifts and festivities. For children the Christmas father, St. Nicholas becomes an unavoidable presence during carol rounds and celebrations. But how can we become like Zechariah and Elizabeth whose happiness was in bringing happiness to others? The grace of God or God is gracious was an onus to speak up and write for the justice and well being of others. This indeed gives others hope during the Christmas season. It is not anymore to suggest that this is our festival of remembering the birth of Jesus but to say that Jesus will open our mouths from slumber and inaction and make us strong and energetic however young or old we are.

It is not just to say that we remember, and this season is a festival of remembrance but to say that this is a time which tells us that God is gracious. Our gracious God will make us rise and prophecy like Zechariah did. We will be able to say that people who are made to suffer in darkness will indeed see light through the grace of God and the collective goodness of God’s people who come forward to work for God. May God be gracious and may we be graceful to use God’s grace for the betterment of humanity. Amen.


Picture courtesy

Monday, December 1, 2014

Let’s make this world a better place

St. Luke 1:39-56

39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be[a] a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
Mary’s Song of Praise

46 And Mary[b] said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

56 And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.

Mary goes to meet Elizabeth. Mary’s presence itself makes a difference and the baby in the womb of Elizabeth leaps with joy. Our presence should ignite and make happy those who see us. A Christian should bring happiness by his/her presence and this happiness is possible only with the presence of the Holy Spirit. Elizabeth feels the joy of life in her womb when Mother Mary comes. The ordinary woman Mary who becomes extra ordinary with the acceptance of God in her life, gives hope and life to others and especially in this instance to her cousin Elizabeth.

Mary goes into a trance of happiness and speaks God’s revelation to her. She talks of the sense and art of giving. When we keep whatever is with us, in our own hands, it does not lead to any happiness but rather to tensions. On the other hand when we are willing to give, we bring about the opportunity to renew ourselves and strengthen ourselves even more. It is not by giving that we weaken ourselves but by keeping and not giving that we weaken ourselves beyond repair.

In Mother Mary’s case this is made clear by God. God gives to Mary out of God’s immense riches. God does not keep to God’s self but rather wants God’s will to be done through her, a poor young lady. If God would have been like us and hardened God’s mind, Mary would never have been chosen. Both Elizabeth and Mother Mary realize this. Elizabeth proclaims “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and she then makes this proclamation. Mother Mary carries on from Elizabeth when she realizes for herself and says “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.”

Mother Mary then makes the most important song of praise or magnificat. She says
“His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.”

St. Mary through this suggests a turn of events where the strong will become weak because they have never emptied themselves and chosen to be weak by themselves. The biblical notion of the weak becoming the strong is lost on some people. Mother Mary reminds us that her elevation suggests the bringing down of the proud, powerful and rich. Instead the mercy of God will be on those who need it and this will lift the lowly and fill the hungry with good things.

Mother Mary shows us two important things. The will to come down and help from a position of power is very theological and Godly. It does not suggest defeat but to the contrary points to victory. God chooses a young and ordinary woman to exalt not just Mother Mary but the thinking and wish of God’s self. No one loses in the church by coming down from a position of power and offering ourselves to work for God. That is not foolishness but it is newness.

Secondly, those who exalt themselves will be humbled, whereas those who humble themselves will be exalted. A lot of people work very hard for the church but once riches come in they tend to forget the church and the needs of the church. But feeding the poor and ensuring that the poor change their status and become rich one day is the responsibility of all. This parity has to be attained in significant ways. It is interesting that Mary on being exalted by God and praised by Elizabeth does not hold on to the peak of achievement, rather she talks of the lowly and the hungry and sings hope for the lowly and the poor. Such is the inspiration we receive from Mother Mary. It is not anymore to say that I can lay back and live my life but to say that I am an object in the hands of God through which God is going to do God’s will on earth.

Are we capable of following the model of St. Mary? She forms the inspiration not just for Elizabeth but also for the baby in her womb. The baby gets a sense of the Holy Spirit inside Mother Mary and wakes up to the fact that the world is going to be a better place. This is the better place that St. Mary sings about. Let us join hands together to make this world a better place. Amen.

Excerpts from the sermon preached in St.Ignatius JSO church, K. R. Puram, Bangalore on November 30, 2014.
Picture courtesy

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Kiss of Love: Looking beyond choreographed acts of love

To be or not to be can be translated as to be in communion or not to be in communion. There are several ways for people to be in communion with each other. Mere presence, an online like, touching of the hand, hugs and even a kiss in some cultures are all ways of seeking and being in communion. Participating in each other’s lives is definitely Christian and needs to be encouraged in all possible ways. No one prevents children from playing with each other and expressing their love towards one another. But forced acts of love are not freedom acts but choreographed acts.

The kiss of love in Kochi, Kerala had a reason of being an act against moral guardians in society. It was a protest and a sign of defiance against what was perceived as being against one’s freedom. The famed café in which couples got together and the morality groups which came together to teach the couples a lesson all lead to triggering a response by a part of society in Kerala. This has also created a chain effect with other cities including Bangalore picking up the kiss. But what is the real issue about and how should be engage with the act of kissing in public?

For starters, is it right for any group or religious institution to judge couples and women in particular? Freedom is the same for everyone and wearing a religious symbol does not give one person or group more freedom than the other. What religious groups can do is to give a religious undertaking of what is right and wrong and allow people to decide what they want to do. Any other violent expression of one’s religion is an infringement upon the rights of another person and also misinterpretation of the peace and love within one’s own religion.

What should be discussed before the kiss of love? The kiss of infringement and humiliation in public should precede the kiss of love. Why can’t religious heads and societal leaders make public statements that men who force themselves upon women in buses, public spaces, educational institutions and even religious sites are doing wrong and will be taken to task by the religious heads and societal leaders themselves? Why can’t women and men be offered the security of being safe on the roads and public spaces? Why shouldn’t the bodies of women belong to them and not be open to male gaze and insult? Why isn’t it that leaders don’t come forward when acts of violence and discrimination are followed against women in society?

Is kissing such a bad thing and who can one kiss? One can kiss one’s family, friends and in some cultures a kiss is a public gesture of greeting one another. Why do we make it into something else? In St. Luke 7: 36-50, a woman cries onto Jesus’ feet, wipes it with her hair, kisses his feet and puts expensive perfume on it. Jesus in St. John 13 washes his disciples’ feet. Bishops today wash and kiss the feet of altar boys and priests during Passion Week suggesting that kissing as such is not wrong. It is the opening up of an individual to the realization of how small one is and how one should wash and kiss the feet of others to bring about humility and love as two important Christian factors in one’s existence on earth.

But what is the kiss of love becoming? There is a lot of promise in the kiss of love. The promise lies in humility and love. But the kiss of love is being limited to a media choreographed event which turns into a security nightmare for the law enforcing agencies. There are so many people serving and loving humanity, kissing the very core of human suffering and expressing God’s love. But what is the kiss of love doing? It is protesting, defying and fighting. There is a street fight between the guardians of morality and the guardians of love. The media loves a story and the stage is set for Romeo and Juliet and their saga of love being denied and buried.

So kissing is good. But it is good when it is done for suffering humanity and when it leads to humility and the expression of Godly love. Any other kissing can be done in the privacy of one’s own room with one’s own partner. Public kissing cannot be exclusive and for a select few. It has to go much beyond that. But public kissing cannot be the infringement of the rights to one’s own body either. One cannot force oneself on a girl or woman in secret and then come and preach about morality in public.

What does the law say? Section 294 of the Indian Penal Code states that “whoever, to the annoyance of others, a) does any obscene act in any public place, or b) sings, recites or utters any obscene songs, ballad or word, in or near any public place, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three months, or with fine, or with both.” Outraging the modesty of a woman comes in Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code. It says “Assault or criminal force to a woman with intent to outrage her modesty.—Whoever assaults or uses criminal force to any woman, intending to outrage or knowing it to be likely that he will thereby outrage her modesty, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.” Both laws leave much to be desired in them and many a time it depends on how it is interpreted and used. It was interesting to note that in Kochi while on the one hand couples got together, on the other hand sections of the bystanders were insulting and hurling obscenities against the women present. Who then was breaking the law?

Jumping on to the road should be done for totally different reasons. When modesty is questioned and women are prevented from leaving their houses no one says anything. Those who stay at home and have to make do with domestic violence are silenced from many quarters. This then calls for religions to do what they are called to do and that is to express God’s love in its manifold ways. If this is not done, love will be hijacked by other institutions and used for a dramatic effect, moving away completely from the actual meaning and need for love. Let’s love and move on.

Today is the International Day For the Elimination of Violence against Women.
You are invited to orange your neighbourhood.

Picture courtesy

Monday, November 24, 2014

The ordinary can make the impossible possible

St. Luke 1:26-38
26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”[a] 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”[b] 35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born[c] will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

Mother Mary is seen as ‘the’ most important personality who can lead us to God in the church and is second only to Jesus, the son of God whom she bears in her womb. Her position in the church is indeed one of importance and significance. But was she always the confident, saintly and even powerful Mother Mary as she is seen today? St. Luke throws light on a young, innocent, and ordinary Mary, whom the angel Gabriel visits. She is not the established Mother Mary but the naïve Mary.

But where is this leading us to? It leads us to two powerful images from the passage which will be of use to us as individuals and will lead to the benefit of the church and society of which we are part of. First, Mary was an ordinary girl who was chosen by God to do the extra ordinary. It is true that Mother Mary is extra ordinary for us today and we intercede to the extra ordinary St. Mary. But Mother Mary was also an ordinary girl who thought ordinary things and lived an ordinary life. Her ordinariness makes her an attractive prospect for God, because God wanted to commit the extra ordinary through her. Many of us think we are ordinary and therefore of no importance to our families, work places and churches. But isn’t it the reverse? Doesn’t our ordinariness qualify us to be God’s workers?

We all know that Thomas Edison invented the light bulb. Today when we look at the light bulb we marvel at the great Thomas Edison. But we don’t think of that the fact that he failed 1000 or even 10,000 times before perfecting the light bulb. The Colonel who invented the formulae of Kentucky Fried Chicken went to 600 odd shops with his mix before being accepted in one. Bill Gates failed with his startup company but then went on to be one of the richest men in the world. The founder of Sheenlac Industries in Chennai, Mr. John Peter, worked a small job in the Indian Railways. J.K. Rowling the popular children’s novel writer battled depression, suicidal tendencies and poverty before becoming successful. What all this suggests is that no one is born extra ordinary, but is made extra ordinary by God. Hard work and the will to submit one’s ordinariness before God becomes more important than anything else.

Mother Mary is perplexed with the arrival of the angel and his referring to her as the favoured one. In church and society, we also feel perplexed and over awed by the situation and the work at hand. We feel that we are not extra ordinary and have no special powers and resources to help. But more than anything else, ordinariness becomes the key element for God to perform wonders. So our ordinary selves can do extra ordinary things for the church and for society.
Second, the angel tells Mary that she will bear a son and he should be named Jesus and that Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived. He then adds that “Nothing is impossible for God”. Faith becomes an integral part of our existence in church. It is not to believe in our own talents but to believe that God is capable of doing any amount of goodness and there can never be a limit to this. The church and society needs many workers who can do God’s work and God’s will. But we always step back saying I am not fit for it. The story of Mother Mary shows that there is no question of being ‘fit for the role’ but rather it is important to ‘fit into the role.’ We don’t need to be extra ordinary, extra rich or extra influential but we need to be ordinary people who are willing to heed to God’s plan to do extra ordinary things for God.

Mother Mary should be a source of inspiration for us. More than thinking of her favoured status, her blessing due to the angel visiting her and her selection by God, she starts to think of God’s unlimited possibilities and capabilities. Her fear moves out and a serene and steady confidence in God comes into her mind. It would benefit us and the church and society if we could offer our ordinary selves to God, so that God works God’s extra ordinary self. It would help the church if we stop thinking of our favoured statuses and instead look at the limitless possibilities that God offers us. Amen.

(Excerpts from the sermon preached in St. Ignatius JSO Church, K.R. Puram, Bangalore, yesterday.)
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Monday, November 17, 2014

Finding our voice

St. Luke 1: 5-25
5 In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. 7 But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.

8 Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, 9 he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. 10 Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. 11 Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. 14 You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. 16 He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” 18 Zechariah said to the angel, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.” 19 The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.”

21 Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. 22 When he did come out, he could not speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept motioning to them and remained unable to speak. 23 When his time of service was ended, he went to his home.

24 After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, 25 “This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.”

The problem for many of us is that we are perennially unhappy. The unhappiness is due to several factors which could be related to aspirations, needs, and wants that lie unfulfilled. The stress and the hard work takes a toll on our bodies and saps out every bit of energy from us. The only place of relaxation and de-stressing is the church and one day a week becomes an essential ritual in the lives of all.

The service, bible readings and sermon all help us to get back on track in our lives. There may be grief, personal problems, work related pressures, family issues which pose serious questions in our mind. The church gives us answers to some of our questions and makes us relax. We get a feeling that God is with us and when God is with us, who can be against us? The element of faith comes to the maximum during service. But what if someone truly tested our faith? Zechariah was a priest and he was serving the Lord’s altar. A priest is fully aware of faith and trust in God. But when the angel sees him and tells him the good news that is going to happen in their family, he does not believe it because he feels his wife is too old to conceive. The angel then tells him that Zechariah will not speak till what he has informed him will happen. Zechariah loses his voice because for a moment he can’t comprehend God’s voice which came through the angel.

Many of us have lost our voices because we are not prepared to comprehend what God can do in our lives. Our faith ceases the minute we leave church almost to suggest that it will be better not to leave at all. We live two lives, one in church and one at home. Others may have multiple lives. In the process we lose the voice that God has given us. Zechariah got an opportunity to comprehend God’s voice because he became mute and had time to think. This thought process comes out later when he writes and gives his son’s name as John.

Zechariah and Elizabeth are seen as ideal parents. Parents in church should be mindful to listen to the voice of God in church and replicate that voice wherever they go. There need not be multiple lives and multiple behaviours, where parents say one thing in church and another at home. If that happens, the children will grow up being psychologically confused and will have personality disorders when they grow up. Finding one’s voice (which is God given) and proudly expressing it everywhere is what we all need to strive for.

Children on the other hand will feel that they can take advantage of their parents because their parents have flaws. Accordingly children will start disrespecting their parents and will pay scant attention to them. But have you heard of children divorcing their parents or parents divorcing their children? Divorce rates are alarmingly high in Kerala but they are legal. There is no legal standing for annulling the relationship between parents and children and between siblings. This is life long and this is God given. It is a bond which cannot be broken.

Finding one’s voice, finding one’s parents voice (meaning knowing what they have done for us) and finding one’s children's/s voice (meaning what they are doing in their lives) is an important aspect of our spirituality and our lives. Priest Zechariah lost his voice but it was to prepare for finding it. We should also be prayerfully silent, seeking God’s plan for justice, peace and love and then use our voice to accomplish it. Amen.

(Excerpts from a sermon preached at the St. Ignatius JSO Church, K.R. Puram, Bangalore.)
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