Lenten Landscapes

Fr Anthony Charanghat

In the readings of the Liturgy of Lent, there is the odd juxtaposition of the rescue of Noah’s Ark from the rising waters of the great flood (Genesis 9.8-15) and the Temptations by Jesus in the Desert amidst beasts and Angels in the Gospel of Mark (1.12-15). These are Lenten landscapes that suggest a new take on Lent, making of it a cosmic season of repentance, having a global dimension.

What messages can we glean from these texts for our contemporary times? Covid-19 has imposed a worldwide Lent for more than a year which urges us to a discipline of repentance and to build up the Kingdom. It calls us to repent of how we have ruined the earth and to build up a wiser order in which God’s good creation is respected and healed. It is a way of looking at life as a struggle between sin and grace, selfishness and holiness.

The first is a symbol story about the deluge of human sinfulness that threatens to plunge the world back into primeval chaos and the deliverance by our covenant-making God, who brings about a new and liberated earth, washed with His mercy. God is imaged as the rainbow of the loving Divine Archer - a bow that is not taut and targeted for destruction, but is unstrung and beautiful, joining heaven and earth. St Paul puts this conviction in a very succinct fashion,‘where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.’

The gospel proclaimed is the wilderness temptation of Jesus. Mark’s account is honed to three short verses following immediately and urgently after the baptism of Jesus: the temptations are not spelled out in any way. Jesus is ‘driven’ into the wilderness, says Mark. We often describe people as ‘driven’—by the temptation of ambition, lust, desperation—but what ‘drives’ Jesus is the Holy Spirit and He is really not alone but with the angels who minister to Him in the desert.

The universal Noahic covenant however has radical consequences for our obedience to God, for our responsibility to the generations of all nations who are yet to be born, and for our ecological reverence for the earth. It is not about enclosing ourselves, metaphorically, in a safe floating boat and sailing away, mindless of the suffering of humanity and the cosmos. Under the sign of the rainbow we are called this Lent to gather, to remember, to hope in God's promise and mercy and to respond accordingly.

Our response must lead to awareness of the creation of God, and human history, with all their ups and downs, are part of a divine adventure; that is profoundly good, and reflects the infinite goodness of the Divine Creator; that the struggle to defend creation is seconded by Jesus’ work of redemption and re-creation; that we are not atomistic individuals but live in a covenantal relationship with the earth and all its denizens. We are in communion with God in Jesus Christ who constantly draws us to fuller life, inviting us to respond at every moment to this empowering call of Divine-human partnership.

Striving for a Kingdom beyond this world, or worse, retiring into a closed inward-looking kingdom of our own human making, while overlooking the task closest at hand, to care for the earth, healing broken human relationships and our communion with God, is a radical distortion of gospel values.

The terrifying record of history leaves no room for facile complacency. The two World Wars, the Holocaust, the various ravages of disease, the increasing death spots due to tyranny or terrorism, military and political engagements: US-Russia, China-India, South-East Asia, Latin America, Iraq, Libya Iran–these make us feel that we live not in the Garden of Eden but in a demon-haunted desert.

Humanity has not lived up to its privileged role as the steward of creation. How often its leaders and thinkers have betrayed it by petty concerns and negative outlooks that fill our social media feeds and block our vision! Lent is the time to purge away all these unworthy preoccupations in the simplicity of the desert by the time-tested methods of prayer, fast and acts of charity, to recover the concerns that really matter, and that decide the fate of the earth and the human community.

Springtime of Solidarity

When we receive the ashes on the first day of that most holy season, the priest reminds us of our own mortality, "Know that you are dust and to dust you shall return." As the Lenten clock is wound up for 40 days, we are nudged to recollect that we were created by God, and to Him we shall go at the end of the time we have been given. While death is a brute biological fact, secular culture chooses to avoid talking of death, and instead immerses itself into a celebration of life, hoping that death may be eluded as long as possible. When the question of death no longer has the same urgency, we may walk through life with no focus and misdirected priorities. Lent reminds us of death, not so that we may wallow in pessimism and gloom, but rather that we may live life in all its abundance, as is God's hope and desire for us.

"Lent" has its origins in an Old English word for spring, but consider the same word as a verb, and it's a poignant reminder that our lives are not a right over which we possess ownership. Life is a gift from the Creator. It has been "lent" to us. "Remember, you are dust, and to dust you shall return" – one of the two formulas used during the imposition of ashes – helps us ponder the fragility of human life and the accompanying humility that we are called to.

If anything, the pandemic has reminded us about this very same fact. While we revelled in the glory of our own personal projects and accomplishments—sometimes unmindful of the need for God—COVID-19 burst upon the planet, bringing all human activity to a halt, including things we thought we could not do without. It made us reorient our priorities, nudged us back towards God, prayer and family, and forced us to shed the many unnecessary, and often sinful, indulgences that we were accustomed to. The loss of loved ones and neighbours reminded us of our mortality, and brought us closer together in communitarian solidarity. We died to ourselves so that we could sprout afresh from the ashes of a post-pandemic world.

That is what Lent is all about. At the start of this season, we go back to the beginning, to the Garden of Eden, so that having once again contemplated man and woman in their original unblemished state, we can go forward towards redemption, detach ourselves from the things of this world and empty ourselves so that we might be filled instead with God's "breath of life," that is, with His eternal Spirit. It is not 'Sin' that was original; rather, it was 'Original Holiness' in which God created Man and Woman out of unconditional love. It is this holiness that we seek so that we may worthily partake of the Paschal Mystery during Holy Week. That is why the Psalmist cries out, "A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me" (Psalm 51:12).

The Gospel Reading of the day reminds us of the need for anonymity as we go about our Lenten penances, but even more as we build the Kingdom of God. We live in an extremely self-seeking world, where the very digital platforms that we use to communicate with one other (think Social Media), entice us down the road of unabashedly exhibiting the best of our personal lives through a wide selection of filters that make us appear more angelic than we actually are. The Gospel instead warns us to be discreet and meek, while we go about fasting, praying and doing works of charity, so that we may endear ourselves only to God in loving surrender.

Lent is not just a time of casting aside what is old and sinful, but putting on a new nature. It is a time to get back to basics – through prayer, we strengthen our relationship with God; by fasting, we attain control over the desires of the flesh and ask for God's mercy; and by works of charity, we remember that the fruits of the earth have been given to us to be shared as one human family. In other words, we repurpose our relationship with God, with ourselves and with our brothers and sisters. Pope Francis and many world leaders have called for solidarity to be practised as a solution to the world's current ills. Lent has always been about solidarity. May the season of Lent be a springtime of solidarity for us all.

Fr Joshan Rodrigues is on The Examiner Editorial Board, with the additional duty of Managing Editor.

CATHOLIC PROFILE : From Dabul to the Olympics: Rise of a Hockey Star

Life and times of 80s star, captain, double World Cupper and Asian Games Gold medalist, who had a colourful career that inspired a generation of youngsters.

Selma Juliet Christina D'Silva had more paper kites in her collection than her four brothers. That wasn't too much of a surprise; as the local tomboy, she vied with the lads in the neighbourhood – be it flying kites, playing marbles and a host of sports. "I don't remember playing with dolls as a little girl. But sports, be it football, cricket, basketball, 'gilli-danda'… you name it, I played with the boys," Selma says with a chuckle.

She also wielded the hockey stick with aplomb. "Yes, I just loved playing the game," Selma says from her home in Dabul, Mumbai, cherishing the memories of her girlhood. "I played with the boys on whatever patch of land we could get, often on a concrete ground. But I never dreamed of, nor expected to, play for India," reveals the crack inside-left of India's gold medal-winning 1982 Asian Games team.

But there were watchful eyes who believed she would one day. Those belonged to coach Romauld Pereira who settled for no less than seeing the nine-year-old play for St Anne's Girls' High School, Dabul. "He talked to my mother, and then did his best to influence the Principal of the school to develop a team for inter-school competitions," 60-year-old Selma flashes back. Romauld was the first in a string of coaches Selma is deeply grateful to. "Pat Crasto and Willie Anton also moulded my skills and gave my talent a firm foundation," she says. "Then, as I moved up levels, Jaswant Singh, Satinder Pal Walia and Balkishen Singh finetuned my skills to meet international standards." By 11, she represented Bombay (now Mumbai) in the Junior National championships in Pune. At 15, she participated in the Senior Nationals in Goa, and that very year received a call-up to the national team.

After finishing school, Selma took her twinkling blade to Higher Secondary where she shone for St Sebastian Goan High School at the Police Gymkhana Ground, where she was the cynosure of all eyes. When it came to University, the famous coach Jaswant Singh of Khalsa College – an institution known for its promotion of hockey – was determined to see Selma on the Khalsa campus. "Most of my friends joined St Xavier's, and I was keen on doing so too, but Jaswant persuaded me to join Khalsa. I was saddened to part company with my close friends. Besides, travelling to Khalsa College, Matunga from Dabul was demanding, since it meant changing trains from Western to Central Railway," Selma explains some of the travails of pursuing a sport in Mumbai. "But I made that decision, and hockey-wise, it was the best thing I did. Especially because I then came under the tutelage of Jaswant – the man who moulded me. I owe it to him for making me the player I was," Selma reveals, her voice tinged with emotion.

But it wasn't easy by any reckoning, especially going by Jaswant's dik-tat. "We trained three and a half hours in the morning, and another session of the same duration in the evening! It was hockey 365 days of the year, with neither Christmas nor Diwali breaks. And no Sundays off! 'Do you take a break from eating on Sundays?' was his reply when we asked for a Sunday off. When we (the Catholic girls in the team) pleaded with him to give us some time off to attend Sunday morning Mass, he was quick to point to Don Bosco's Church across the road, where we could go to fulfil our obligations and return for practice! We were a familiar sight in church on Sundays—a clutch of girls, clad in tracksuits!

"There were no compromises for hard training," recalls Selma. "Jaswant focused on the fundamentals – trapping, flicking, pushing, hitting and dribbling. My skills were in good shape, but they were finetuned by him. Jaswant never went easy on building our basics in the game. Nor did he, when it came to developing stamina, and we took to long-distance running often."

Selma went from strength to strength. She was selected to the India B team for the Begum Rasool Cup in Chennai in 1975, but the team was scrapped at the last moment, and Selma had to watch the tournament from the stands. "That may have been a bit disappointing, but it hardly affected my enjoyment or progress in the game," she says. In 1979, however, Selma was selected to the Indian team proper, and it led to a colourful career.

She represented India at two World Cups – Vancouver (1979) and Kuala Lumpur (1983), where she was captain. Selma was also a member of the 1980 Moscow Olympic team where women's hockey debuted, and toured with the national team in Russia, Germany, Singapore and Japan. Her high moment, however, was at the 1982 Asian Games where women's hockey made its first appearance.

Selma scored 12 goals (the highest number of field goals scored by an individual), as India stormed to the gold medal. It was there that she formed a fearsome trio with Naazleen Madraswala (now Namrata Shah) on the left-wing and Rajbir Kaur at centre-forward. "Rajbir and I had superb rapport on and off the pitch," Selma recollects. "Sudha Chowdary is another player I jelled very well with, but I fondly remember all my teammates of that gold medal victory and the feeling of pride on the podium, hearing the national anthem being played—all this is deeply etched in my memory," says Selma.

"To know that my older brother Alvito was in the crowd made it even more special. After all, he took me along to watch the Gold Cup and Aga Khan matches, where I watched great players like Govinda, MP Ganesh and Balbir Singh. My younger brother, Malcolm, played at the University level, and it inspired me to work hard at my game. We (the Bombay team) trained with the Tatas' men's team, and I recall playing with Gilbert Lobo, Nasir Ali and Olympio Fernandes; those were fabulous days," Selma says, going back in time.

There are other memories that stand out for Selma. "I cannot forget receiving the Padma Shri award in 1991. My mother (Julema), and two of my brothers - Alvito and Vency (who maintained my playing CV) were present at the ceremony. Then, when I returned home, my father (Thomas) was there to walk me home down the lane amid fireworks and festoons."

There were moments of deep dejection too. One that was shared by the team — the failure to clinch a medal at the 1980 Moscow Olympics — something that still rankles.

But for the most part, Selma remembers the struggle and sacrifice to represent the country. "I used to study for my University examinations in the SRPF barracks we were put up in Pune," she recollects. Selma, however, is grateful for employment provided by the Railways; in particular, Western Railway, where she eventually rose to the post of Assistant Sports Officer.

"Hockey was never a lucrative sport, especially for us women. The men, however, had opportunities provided by the banks and some corporate entities such as Tatas, Mahindras. The Railways, though, played a major and pioneering role for women players, as much as it did the men. The fact that it dominated National championships bears testimony," says Selma, a vanguard for the Indian Railways team in the national championships, where the team won umpteen titles.

Selma's tenure with the Indian team came to an end when she quit in 1983, owing to personal commitments. She, however, continued playing domestic hockey for the Railways, before retiring altogether from the game in 1996. Selma opted for voluntary retirement in 2004 to care for her mother, and is now involved in social work.

She still lives in her childhood home at Dabul, in the locality where she tackled and dribbled past male players during her days of 'gully' hockey. The kites she flew have long been tucked away, but the memories of those days full of joy, exuberance and energy haven't. It forms the basis of advice that Selma offers to girls embarking on sports—"If you're passionate about a sport, pursue it with hard work; give it your all, but don't focus too much on getting results which will come in the long run. Most of all," she says, "enjoy the process."

Errol D'Cruz (43) has been a freelancer for about a decade, contributing to many national and international publications, including Gulf News and Khaleej Times. He is now Sports Correspondent at The Times of India, Pune.

(This article has been reproduced with permission from A few lines have been deleted due to space constraints.)

The Power of Touch and Healing

I think of the woman with the haemorrhage who was healed simply by touching Jesus' garment. I imagine the paralytic man—lowered through the roof—who takes up his mat and walks at Jesus' command. I picture the blind man at the pool of Siloam, his sight restored after Jesus put mud on his eyes. Look at the blind man. Jesus spat on the ground; He smeared some mud on the man's eyes. Then he said, "Go and wash off the mud in Siloam Pool." The man went and washed in Siloam (which means 'one who is sent'). When he had washed off the mud, he could see. Story after story in the Gospels demonstrates Jesus' power to heal the sick, especially through His touch.

I remember someone recently sharing how he felt so good when I sat near his bed, and held his hand for a few moments. He felt the power of Jesus though my touch. Hearing this, I realised that too often, we underestimate the significance of the right touch. We miss moments of having God work through us – because our touch tends to be more clinical, rather than caring. We forget how therapeutic a touch filled with empathy and compassion is. We monitor heartbeats, brainwaves, check for fever, go through test values and scans; but do we go beyond seeing the patient, and touch the person instead? Of course, this is not easy.

Medical and healthcare workers can be overburdened by the sheer volume of the sick and ailing. It is much more important to diagnose and treat, than to risk burnout by relating to every single person undergoing treatment. It is easier to prepare for the next surgery than to understand concerns, truly empathise and help families evaluate complicated treatment options and choose the most optimal one. It is preferable to refer chronic and recalcitrant cases to other specialists and professionals, rather than risk accusations of malpractice or negligence when established protocols fail to alleviate symptoms.

Despite such valid challenges, Pope Francis urges a path of healing grounded in a trusting and interpersonal relationship between the sick and those who care for them, in his message for the 29th World Day of the Sick on February 11, 2021. "A society is all the more human to the degree that it cares effectively for its most frail and suffering members, in a spirit of fraternal love." For a therapy to be effective, the Pope points out, "it must be relational, as it enables a holistic approach to the patient."

Such a relational path of healing that is rooted in trust, the Holy Father emphasises, can help doctors, nurses, professionals and volunteers in caring for the sick. This relationship between the sick and their caregivers, based on mutual trust and respect, openness and availability, he says, will help to overcome defensive attitudes, respect the dignity of the sick, safeguard the professionalism of healthcare workers and foster a good relationship with the families of patients. The Pope is reminding us that a relationship has a therapeutic effect on the patient.

Today, I appeal to all healthcare workers not to get stuck only in a professional relationship with those who are suffering. I also appeal to all health caregivers in our parishes that their task is not only to give cheap medicines to the sick, but also to be agents of care and love to the suffering. I appeal to all my fellow clergy not to be mechanical when we anoint the sick or bury the dead. Each and every one of us must bear in mind that while the clinical setting is necessary to treat, the interpersonal dimension is vital for healing.

Cultivating the interpersonal dimension begins with simply being genuine. It could start with reaching out with a phone call. I recall an occasion when a person was overwhelmed when I phoned to inquire about her husband's health, as he was suffering from COVID-19. It means not visiting the sick and the bereaved merely as an 'obligation', since undercurrents, selfish motives or hidden agendas are subconsciously perceived. Another time, a family was strengthened by my visit after the death of their loved one. I believe they were grateful they got a break from dealing with inheritance matters, and could begin to heal and move on with unburdened hearts!

I urge you to remind yourself how you felt when you experienced the healing touch of others in your own life, or how you were instrumental in healing others through your touch. This sort of touch is the embodiment of an encounter. We turn to Jesus – the Way – for inspiration. As Pope Francis concludes in his message, Jesus heals "not by magic, but as the result of an encounter, an interpersonal relationship." We are thus called to believe in the efficacy of an encounter, an encounter filled with the spirit of Jesus and blessed by those who are suffering.

May we undergo a paradigm shift in our care for others – in which we truly encounter the sick and become agents of healing.

Bishop Allwyn D'Silva is an Auxiliary Bishop of Bombay

Stand with Farmers: Write to the SC appointed Committee

Sir, Through this letter, I wish to summarise and highlight the numerous issues regarding the farmers’ opposition of the farm laws, and urge all readers to e-mail the Supreme Court- appointed Committee to request them to immediately withdraw the three farm laws that have been forced down on millions of farmers and farm workers, and brought them out on the streets in the bitter cold. The situation on Delhi’s borders, where farmers have peacefully and non-violently protested since two months, is becoming volatile after the January 26 incited incident. Farmers are being provoked and pushed around to cause schisms, and break up their strong unity. It isn’t their fight alone; they stand as representatives of every citizen of our country. Now, more than ever, we need to stand with them and show solidarity by writing to the appointed Committee on the portal or by e-mail before February 20 (email preferred). You could either write a letter in your own words expressing your concerns, or use the format provided below:

Pamela Fernandes, Justice and Peace Commission, Mumbai


Suggested Letter Format

To: Hon. Supreme Court Committee of Experts on Farm Laws

We, the citizens of civil society, are disheartened to note that farm laws were pushed through with much urgency during the pandemic, while everyone was advised to stay at home so that COVID would be under control.

It was further disappointing to learn that the Law Ministry did not find it necessary to include the stakeholders, namely the farmers, noted farm researchers across the country or representatives of farmers’ unions to discuss what was ailing the agrarian sector, and what measures could be taken to remedy the same. Further, notwithstanding the several pro-corporate and perceived anti-farmer provisions in the farm laws, the Union Government has bypassed the federal structure by legislating on subjects that exclusively fall within the domain of the state government under the State list of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution, and considered an infringement of the co-operative federalism enshrined in the Indian Constitution.

Farmers have struggled over several decades to reach where they are today, and yet, with the stroke of a pen, their rights to land and livelihood are simply erased. Attempts to dismantle the state-wise Agricultural Produce Marketing Corporations (APMCs), existing since 1960 and undermining the role of APMCs by withdrawing the tax is not the answer to farmers’ issues. Assuring the Minimum Support Price, on the other hand, goes a long way, and many countries follow this procedure to offer stability to a farmer’s livelihood. To say that farmers are given a free rein to sell their produce across the nation through online electronic trading under this Act is making mockery of the toiling farmers. Farmers spend more time tending to the fields, generation after generation, rather than in classrooms or on social media sites to be able to digitally sell their produce. “No suit, prosecution or other legal proceedings shall lie against the Central Government or the State Government, or any officer of the Central Government or the State Government or any other person in respect of anything which is in good faith done or intended to be done under this Act, or of any rules or orders made there under,” states Section 13 of this Act. It’s not just farmers who cannot sue. Nobody else can, either. It applies to Public Interest Litigation too. Nor can non-profit groups, or farm unions, or any citizen intervene. This rider itself is among the most sweeping exclusions of a citizen’s right to legal recourse in any law. The essence of Section 19 of this farm law strikes at Article 32 of the Constitution, which guarantees a right to Constitutional remedies. Hence, the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020 is clearly not meant for either their promotion or facilitation, especially when the Law Ministry and the state and Central governments have already absolved themselves from the outcomes of the Act.

The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020 is nothing other than contract farming, which is not a new concept to the farming community in India. However, in the present context, farmers will lose complete control and autonomy over their land and livelihood, when they have no say in what to grow, how to grow and what price they will sell at. Corporate buyers are set to buy the produce in bulk quantities, cheap, for a fixed rate over several years, irrespective of the deferring investments the farmer makes year by year, then hoard the produce in the already constructed silos, and drive the market forces according to their stated prices which will affect every citizen of the country. Besides, the contracts will include terms and conditions for the supply of the produce—time of supply; quality, grade, standards, price, and such other matters; and terms related to the supply of farm services, and the price paid to the farmers will be based on this. As one farmer rightly pointed out, their produce is not machine-made, and so they have no control on the final quality or grade of the product. Therefore, they will have no bargaining power to sell their produce, if the ultimate product does not meet the grade or standard of the buyer. It’s also not mandatory that contracts be written and put down on paper, so buyers can always backtrack on their word. While farmers can approach the Conciliation Board, how many of them can afford to litigate against the giant corporates that have the backing of a well equipped legal department?

And finally, the purpose of having ‘The Essential Commodities Act’ in the past was to safeguard basic essential requirements from being hoarded, or creating an unusually high pricing of the product, making it unaffordable. The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020 has knocked off many of the essential commodities, making it out of reach of many marginalised communities, and giving the buyer the right to buy and hoard unlimited stocks. Where is the security net for the landless and marginalised farmers who form the chunk of the farming community? The ultimate aim of these laws will be to pauperise the farmers to such an extent, push them against the wall so that they will be forced to sell their meagre land holdings, and agriculture will be privatised and controlled by a few corporate houses.

Instead of heading towards food security for all as a country that proclaims to be a superpower, even the middle class will soon come under the BPL group, and the ones lower down will be completely crushed and perish. So our only demand is to repeal the farm laws in toto which are completely unnecessary, and will only result in more oppression of the farmers and the consumers. As members of civil society and consumers who will also be directly affected, we stand with the farmers. Let us safeguard their right to land, livelihood and self determination!

Insert your name here

Gandhian Responses for a Pandemic-stricken Nation

The current global crisis has compounded the issues of poverty, economic self-sufficiency, environmental renewal and health services. How would the Mahatma have responded to this adversity? This thought experiment enables us to turn back to some core Gandhian values, which remain apt not only for our great nation that is slowly rebuilding after a devastating year, but also for many countries across the world that still find themselves in the clutches of a pandemic that shows no signs of abating any time soon.

Gandhi would have been immediately attracted to the most helpless and suffering masses during this time. Displaced urban labourers, the hungry and unemployed, those dying from lack of healthcare would have been his primary focus. Shunning the limelight, Gandhi would rush to walk with them, stay with them and arrange food, shelter and medicines. The Mahatma was a living embodiment of the conviction that 'No one should be left behind.' Nations would do well to make the welfare of the least and helpless their topmost priority, both in the healthcare and economic sectors. While India seems to have battled the pandemic with grit, and is focusing on vaccinating its populace, joblessness, poverty and a teetering healthcare system continue to be major challenges.

Gandhi was also an ardent advocate of small-scale economics, which he called 'Gram Swaraj'. The global economic order came crashing down during the pandemic; the effect of a lockdown in one part of the globe affected many other countries on the other side. Economic recessions that we have witnessed many times over the years demonstrate that a global free market economy which does away with small scale localised production is fragile and susceptible to world events. Gandhi rooted for a self-sufficient economy which included local production and local consumption being at the heart of the Indian way of life. This 'humane' economy automatically ensures that every family has a stable and self-sufficient future. For Gandhi, true democracy, responsibility and relationship can be better practised locally. Here, Gandhi's views coincide with Pope Francis who speaks of an 'Economy of Solidarity'.

The Gram Swaraj movement is naturally harmonious with a Stewardship of the Environment. Gandhi's environmentalism fitted in with his overall vision for India that sought to extract from Nature only what is absolutely necessary for human sustenance. Forever a sceptic of the Western model of industrialisation, his views are eloquently expressed in his classic monograph Hind Swaraj, where he fears a catastrophe for Nature and Man in the latter's blind pursuit of material progress and indiscriminate celebration of technology. He took pains to explain that he favoured technologies that helped people in their work and output, without replacing them.

For Gandhi, industrialisation was only possible by preying on Nature. On the other hand, an agricultural, organic and local production protected Nature and led to self-reliance. Seen from this pericope, the ongoing farmer protests across the country are distressing. While India aims to become a global superpower, she must do so without straying too far away from India's villages and the local strength of her people. From a Gandhian perspective, the present environmental mess, ranging from deforestation, soil and biodiversity loss to pollution and climate change, is not a disease, but only a symptom. A good doctor treats the disease, and not the symptom. The disease is the very concept and patterns of growth and development that are being followed everywhere.

Finally, Gandhi gave up his life for the cause of communal harmony and non-violence. He was deeply distressed by how Hindus and Muslims turned against one another during the Partition, which led to large-scale violence and bloodshed. The pandemic too, unfortunately, has seen a rise in inter-faith tensions, with some political leaders blaming certain religious sects for the spread of the virus, while choosing to remain silent when similar digressions happened elsewhere. The Mahatma would have been pained at this attempt at dividing communities along religious lines. It is paramount for every Indian to remember Gandhi's legacy of a secular, tolerant and harmonious India, and hence reject communalism and leaders who preach it.

Some would say that Gandhi would be deeply distressed with the social inequalities in his beloved India even 75 years after Independence. He would wish for religious harmony, a politics of service, freedom from fear, sustainable development and concern for the dignity of every human being. These are the very convictions that he died for. It is now upto each of us to put our efforts into making his convictions a reality.

Fr Joshan Rodrigues is on The Examiner Editorial Board, with the additional duty of Managing Editor.

A Day of Awakening

Pope Francis instituted 'The Sunday of the Word of God' to be held every year on the third Sunday of Ordinary Time, with the Apostolic Letter in the form of a Motu proprio Aperuit Illis issued on September 30, 2019. The Pope intended it to be a day dedicated to the celebration, reflection and dissemination of the Word.

In preparation for the Sunday of the Word of God, which falls on January 24 this year, the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments issued recommendations for the day, as well as reminders on respecting the sacred Scriptures. The note was a reminder that the Sunday of the Word of God is meant to reawaken in the clergy and the faithful "the importance and value of sacred Scripture for the Christian life, as well as the relationship between the word of God and the liturgy," it said.

"A day devoted to the Bible should not be seen as a yearly event, but rather a year-long event, for we urgently need to grow in our knowledge and love of the Scriptures and of the risen Lord." God continues to speak His word "and to break bread in the community of believers," which is why Catholics need to "develop a closer relationship with sacred Scripture; otherwise, our hearts will remain cold and our eyes shut, inflicted as we are by so many forms of blindness."

The note itself is divided into ten points, the first of which points out that "through the proclaimed biblical readings in the liturgy, God speaks to His people, and Christ Himself proclaims His Gospel." It indicates that "one of the ritual possibilities suitable for this Sunday could be the entrance procession with the Book of the Gospels, or simply placing the Book of the Gospels on the altar." The document then specifies that the biblical readings arranged by the Church in the Lectionary should not be replaced or suppressed, and that versions of the Bible approved for liturgical use should be used. "The proclamation of the texts of the Lectionary constitutes a bond of unity between all the faithful who hear them," says the note, which also recommends the singing of the Responsorial Psalm.

Focusing on the homily, it invites bishops, priests and deacons to "explain and enable all to understand Sacred Scripture" and to "make it accessible to their communities", carrying out this ministry "with special dedication, treasuring the means proposed by the Church." The importance of silence in liturgical celebration is also emphasised, because, "favouring meditation, it allows the Word of God to be received inwardly by the listener." With regard to those who proclaim the Word of God in the assembly - priests, deacons and lectors - the note specifies that "specific interior and exterior preparation, familiarity with the text to be proclaimed and the necessary practice in the way of proclaiming it" are required.

In order to make Sacred Scripture and its value in liturgical celebrations better known, the Congregation urges the promotion of formation meetings, in proximity to, or in the days following, the Sunday of the Word of God, to highlight in greater detail "the criteria for the liturgical distribution of the various biblical books in the course of the year and its seasons, as well as the structure of the Sunday and weekday cycles of the readings for Mass."

The CCBI Bible Commission has recommended the theme for this year's celebration to be 'Word of God – A Call to Social Fraternity' based on Pope Francis' encyclical Fratelli Tutti on fraternity and social friendship.

Fratelli Tutti calls for more human fraternity and solidarity, and is a plea to reject wars. It focuses on contemporary social and economic problems, and proposes an ideal world of fraternity in which all countries can be part of a "larger human family". The encyclical is written in the background of the COVID-19 pandemic which erupted suddenly, and brought positive and negative effects. It invites us to become neighbours to others. Love builds bridges, and we are made for Love. The whole Bible speaks about God's love for us and an invitation to love one another.

Collated from and the CCBI Bible Commission

Abide in my Love, and you shall bear much fruit (cf. Jn 15:5-9)

Prayer is the soul of the ecumenical movement. In prayer, Christians are invited to become fully that for which our Lord prayed. Prayer is the spiritual root of ecumenism, from which all else springs.

Allow me to take up this theme in the words of the Archbishop of Canterbury to the Synod where he stressed the role of contemplation. "To be contemplative as Christ is contemplative is to be open to all the fullness that the Father wishes to pour into our hearts. With our minds made still and ready to receive, with our self-generated fantasies about God and ourselves reduced to silence, we are at last at the point where we may begin to grow." Prayer is the essential stepping-stone towards overcoming our "self-generated" divisions. Prayer is the key which opens our hearts to Christ's desire for unity.

In our ecumenical endeavours, we must learn to pray together. We must learn and receive from one another's patterns of prayer and worship. We can learn from reflection on liturgical rites that predate the major divisions of the Church. In our Catholic tradition, we need to deepen our understanding of the prayerful reading of the scriptures. Our post-Vatican II liturgies need to re-discover something of that dimension of silence and contemplation about which Archbishop Williams spoke, and which are so much a part of Orthodox liturgies or of modern prayer forms such as that of Taizé.

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in 2021 was prepared by the Monastic Community of Grandchamp. The theme that is chosen, 'Abide in my love, and you shall bear much fruit', is based on John 15:1-17 and expresses Grandchamp Community's vocation to prayer, reconciliation and unity in the Church and the human family.

Jesus said to the disciples, "Abide in my love" (Jn 15:9). He abides in the love of the Father (Jn 15:10) and desires nothing other than to share this love with us: "I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father" (Jn 15:15b). Grafted into the vine, which is Jesus Himself, the Father becomes our vinedresser who prunes us to make us grow. This describes what happens in prayer. The Father is the centre of our lives, who centres our lives. He prunes us and makes us whole, and whole human beings give glory to the Father.

Abiding in Christ is an inner attitude that takes root in us over time. It demands space to grow. It can be overtaken by the struggle for the necessities of life, and it is threatened by the distractions, noise, activity and the challenges of life. In the turmoil of Europe in 1938, Geneviève Micheli, who would later become Mother Geneviève, the first mother of the community, wrote these lines which remain relevant today: "We live in a time that is both troubling and magnificent, a dangerous time where nothing preserves the soul, where rapid and wholly human achievements seem to sweep beings away ... And I think that our civilisation will die in this collective madness of noise and speed, where no being can think … We Christians, who know the full value of a spiritual life, have an immense responsibility and must realise it, unite and help each other create forces of calmness, refuges of peace, vital centres where the silence of people calls on the creative word of God. It is a question of life and death."

Communion with Christ demands communion with others. Moving closer to others, living together in community with others, sometimes people very different from ourselves, can be challenging. The sisters of Grandchamp know this challenge, and for them, the teaching of Brother Roger of Taizé is very helpful: "There is no friendship without purifying suffering. There is no love of one's neighbour without the Cross. The Cross alone allows us to know the unfathomable depth of love."

Divisions among Christians, moving away from one another, are a scandal, because it is also moving further away from God. Many Christians, moved to sorrow by this situation, pray fervently to God for the restoration of that unity for which Jesus prayed. Christ's prayer for unity is an invitation to turn back to Him, and so come closer to one another, rejoicing in the richness of our diversity.

As we learn from community life, efforts at reconciliation are costly, and demand sacrifice. We are sustained by the prayer of Christ, who desires that we might be one, as He is one with the Father, so that the world may believe (cf. Jn 17:21).

Though we, as Christians, abide in the love of Christ, we also live in a Creation that groans as it waits to be set free (cf. Rom 8). In the world, we witness the evils of suffering and conflict. Through solidarity with those who suffer, we allow the love of Christ to flow through us. The Paschal Mystery bears fruit in us, when we offer love to our brothers and sisters and nurture hope in the world.

Spirituality and solidarity are inseparably linked. Abiding in Christ, we receive the strength and wisdom to act against structures of injustice and oppression, to fully recognise ourselves as brothers and sisters in humanity, and to be creators of a new way of living, with respect for and communion with all of Creation.

"My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit" (Jn 15:8). We cannot bear fruit on our own. We cannot bear fruit separated from the vine. It is the sap, the life of Jesus flowing through us, that produces fruit. Remaining in Jesus' love, remaining a branch of the vine, is what allows His life to flow through us. When we listen to Jesus, His life flows through us. Jesus invites us to let His word abide in us (John 15:7), and then whatever we ask will be done for us. By His word, we bear fruit. As persons, as a community, as the entire Church, we wish to unite ourselves to Christ in order to keep His commandment of loving one another as He has loved us (Jn 15:12).

The Conference of Catholic Bishops in India (CCBI) Commission for Ecumenism calls on the Church in India to join the Monastic Community of Grandchamp, who have prepared the Prayer service for the Christian Unity Week 2021. The Commission would also like to exhort everyone to celebrate the Ecumenism Sunday, which falls on January 24, 2021.

Vatican II and the growing ecumenical collaboration which was developing was not just an intra-Church matter. Ecumenism is about the essential mission of the Church and the place of the Church in the world. Jesus prays that we may be one "so that the world may believe" that He is the one sent by the Father (Jn 17:3). Announcing the good news of Jesus Christ is impeded by the discordant witness of Christian communities in competition with, or indifferent to, one another. Such a contradiction is an obstacle for those who hear the message and who might otherwise place their faith in Christ. Growth in communion between the Churches, on the other hand, is a powerful witness to what the gospel can bring to a fragmented and divided world. We should never underestimate the importance of encounter between Christians, even when their differences remain. We know that there are so many things that Christians can do together. But we should never say that! What we should say and think is that there are so many things that Christians should, and must, be doing together in their common witness to their one baptism and their one faith in Jesus Christ and to the unity of humankind in Christ.

For the eight days of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in 2021, we propose a journey of prayer:

Day 1: Called by God: "You did not choose me, but I chose you" (Jn 15:16a)

Day 2: Maturing internally: "Abide in me as I abide in you" (Jn 15:4a)

Day 3: Forming one body: "Love one another as I have loved you" (Jn 15:12b)

Day 4: Praying together: "I do not call you servants any longer … but I have called you friends" (Jn 15:15)

Day 5: Letting oneself be transformed by the Word: "You have already been pruned by the word…" (Jn 15:3)

Day 6: Welcoming others: "Go and bear fruit, fruit that will last" (Jn 15:16b)

Day 7: Growing in unity: "I am the vine, you are the branches" (Jn 15:5a)

Day 8: Reconciling with all of Creation: "So that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete" (Jn 15:11)

Fr Reginald D'Mello, OP is the Executive Secretary, CCBI Commission for Ecumenism.

Summary of Salvation

The Feast of the Incarnation reminded us not only of the fact that the Son of God chose to become one with us in our human nature, but the way He chose to be one with us: in simplicity, poverty and obscurity. This Sunday's Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, which marks the beginning of Jesus' public life, reinforces what we have seen of Jesus. Jesus begins His public life in the humility of John's baptism, in the guise of a servant.

Jesus' Baptism underscored the universal scope of His mission; He is Son of God and Son of Man. All of us belong to Him and He to us, and it is in Him that all humanity reaches its destiny. This is also borne out by the fact that while the Baptist's mission is set by the biblical authors within the context of Jewish history (cf Lk 1:5), the story of Jesus' birth and subsequent mission is placed within the wider bounds of world history, represented by the Roman Empire (cf Lk 3:1-2). Jesus' baptism is thus set in contrast to the secular self-appropriated claim to divinity of the Roman Emperor. God Himself speaks for, in and through His Son.

Those of us "baptised in Christ" have the challenge to "render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's" (Mk 12:17). While these two spheres are compatible with each other, a baptised Christian has the unique task of etching out a divinely tasked vocation in the midst of the lived reality of the world. Baptism is different from many of the other religious rites and rituals that we perform. It is a call to a new way of thinking and acting; it must lead to a concrete conversion and give your life a new direction. Our baptism is a permanent seal of the Spirit on each one of us, forever reminding us that we are "born to be different".

The actual baptismal ritual symbolises this permanent change. Immersion into the waters is a symbol of death; to the ancient mind, the waters of the ocean held an annihilating, destructive power. On the other hand, the flowing waters of the river are a symbol of life. Immersion into the waters is about purification and rebirth, and hence about death and resurrection; we begin life anew.

Jesus united Himself to humankind through John's baptism. The fact that He who is without sin stood amongst the mass of sinners waiting on the banks of the Jordan to be baptised by John, points to His intense solidarity with humanity whom He came to save. This gesture was an anticipation of His Crucifixion. He took on the burden of sin and guilt on His shoulders, as He descended into the depths of the Jordan. The voice from heaven, "This is my beloved Son" is an anticipatory reference to the Resurrection. Jesus' baptism at the Jordan must therefore be seen from the crux of Calvary, and is thus a summary of pinnacle moments in Salvation History.

This baptismal death and resurrection event is highlighted beautifully in the iconography of the Eastern Church. The icon of Jesus' Baptism depicts the water as a liquid tomb having the form of a dark cavern, which is in turn the iconographic sign of Hades, or hell. Jesus' descent into this watery tomb is thus an anticipation of His act of descending into the underworld to fling open the gates of the abyss (cf. Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth). There He suffers-with-others, transforms it, and hence releases fallen humanity from the fetters of the evil one.

Our own Sacrament of Baptism is a gift of participation in Jesus' Death and Resurrection; living out our baptismal promises will lead to an inner transformation which will ultimately be revolutionary for everyone around us. We will encounter the Trinity as was revealed at Jesus' baptism, and tear open the heavens, leading to a torrent of God's graces permeating every aspect of our existence. We must have the courage and humility to live out our baptismal grace, sealed in our minds and hearts in an indelible way.

Before His ascent into heaven, Jesus commissioned His disciples to go and baptise. This is our Christian duty—to bring people engaged with us in every facet of our lives to the face of Christ, through the power of our words, deeds and the untold witness of Christian living. John baptised with water; we, the Children of God, have a far greater truth and power given to us—to go and do likewise.

Fr Joshan Rodrigues is on The Examiner Editorial Board, with the additional duty of Managing Editor.

A Paean to His Priesthood

Fr. Anthony Charanghat

Twentieth December 2020 was a day of inexpressible joy and gratitude for the Archdiocese of Bombay when its chief Shepherd completed his 50th Sacerdotal Ordination Anniversary. A stream of prayerful greetings and congratulatory messages was showered on His Eminence, Oswald Cardinal Gracias, the Golden Jubilarian. He has carved a niche in our hearts as a promising priest, an esteemed Ordinary of a prominent Catholic diocese and a successful President of both the Bishops’ Conferences in India and the FABC. He is also acknowledged as a high-ranking prelate of the Holy Father’s first Council of Cardinals. These sterling achievements call for a paean to his priesthood.

Accolades and plaudits galore chronicling the saga of his priestly ministry came in from the Pope and other confreres including Cardinals, Apostolic Nuncios, Bishops, and friends - lay, priests and religious. Some have highlighted the great qualities of his mind, heart, and social skills to knit people into unity in a spirt of solidarity. There have been glowing tributes of his intellectual prowess of comprehension in matters of faith and the affairs of the world which has enabled him to mobilise, motivate and lead the Christian community in the country.

He is highly regarded as a legal luminary in canon law to ensure observing rectitude in the administration of Sacraments, practise of our faith and governance of the Church. It is often said that he has a winsome smile that can put people at ease, a mellifluous voice that can comfort the broken-hearted and melt the hard-hearted and suave relational skills to reconcile estranged individuals and conflicting parties. In keeping with his episcopal motto of service, he has reached out to the poor, needy, neglected and distressed to bring them healing and wholeness.

Having journeyed in fidelity to the call of his priestly vocation for fifty golden years, despite our human failings, Cardinal Gracias is fully aware that the ‘miracle of the priesthood’ is possible due to no merit of his own natural qualities or gifts. It is purely through the gratuitous love of God expressed through the faith and prayers of the people of God. “Before forming you in the womb, I knew you, before you came out into the light, I consecrated you; I have made you a prophet of the nations” (Jer. 1:5).

A priest stands in the place of God and is a man clothed with all the powers of God only because he has said an unconditional ‘Yes to God’ when he called him to labour in his vineyard to proclaim the good news of salvation to the world. He must renew every day this ‘Yes’, like Mary the model of all Priests, for the ‘miracle of the eternal priesthood’ to continue to perdure in his life.

If God has loved and chosen us as priests, we must understand all the consequences that derive from being his friends and therefore ought to grow in intimacy with Him. The Love, Friendship and Faith received from God must be revealed to others: The Cardinal has received grace in the priesthood to mediate it to others. He has humbly used his multifarious talents at the service of God, offering his life on the paten as a sacrifice, and pouring into the chalice as an oblation, the sufferings of his life.

We have observed this aspect of spirituality in Cardinal Gracias as he has preached increasingly with unction and celebrated the Eucharist with utter devotion and reverence, specially during this pandemic. When he comes face to face with Jesus Christ and at that precise moment, he becomes identified with Christ, becoming not only an Alter Christus, another Christ, but also really an Ipse Christus, Christ Himself. He is conscious of being invested by the Person of Christ, configured in a specific sacramental identification with the High Priest of the eternal Covenant (cf. Ecclesia de Eucharistia n.29).

We give thanks to God, the giver of all blessings, for the great achievements of his long apostolate among his people and where he will surely be honoured by everyone. May God bless him abundantly to labour in His vineyard for many more years according to the plan He has for him.

May his abiding devotion and faithful service that has touched countless hearts be a blessing to all of us. In the Eucharist may we entrust our Cardinal to the maternal goodness of the Virgin Mary, our Mother and Mother of the Church, to whom Cardinal Gracias has had a great filial devotion.