Project Parenthood: Life, Love and Redemption

As the Catholic Church leaps into the celebration of parenthood with gusto and joy every July on the feast of Saints Anne and Joachim, parents of Our Blessed Mother, there is a worrisome trend slowly making its way into the urban Indian mentality. A number of educated and working couples are choosing not to have children. From being classified as "childless" couples earlier, this subset now has a new designation – it's called being "childfree".

While this trend has become mainstream in the Western developed world, leading to alarming consequences, in India, it is not yet noticeable. Motherhood is glorified in the Indian psyche – films, television, literature and religion are all replete with the iconic 'mother' who is the bedrock and binding glue of the family. Motherhood also shapes national sentiments, and even politics. However, even in such a 'mother-centred' society, there are undercurrents of change.

Why would couples choose not to experience the joy of fatherhood and motherhood, of being partners in the project of human life? A number of reasons are given. Unlike in the past, children today are seen as a huge economic investment, requiring a high level of time, commitment and responsibility. A child also brings an interruption in lifestyle, a pause in career growth (usually in the woman's case), and reduced personal freedom. Many couples feel that they would just not make good parents, and that they would rather not feel guilty for not giving their child their complete and undivided loyalty. Nuclear and globally distanced extended families also means lack of family support in rearing kids.

While this may be a conscious and intentional choice, what is not being acknowledged is that the modern, global, relentless capitalistic economy is slowly breaking the resistance of family life, and building its ephemeral kingdom on the ruins of the domestic home. While working hours are strictly legislated in most European countries, the abundance of labour and lax government oversight ensures that long working hours are a normal feature in this side of the world, especially in India.

There is an urgent need for a social and political movement to regulate work, so that the family and personal happiness are not sacrificed at the altar of profit and greed. Secondly, a drastic overhaul must be undertaken of the Indian mindset, so that rearing children is not just seen as the woman's purview. Mutual support and sacrifice on the part of both husband and wife will lead to plentiful solutions.

The decision not to have children deprives a would-be parent of that most basic of human experiences – selfless love. It is only a child that can draw a human being outward of self, into an attitude of sacrifice, self-giving and unconditional charity. Having children is a clear indication of the optimism and hope of a couple and of the society in which they live. In Catholic teaching, children are irrevocably tied to marriage. Sex is seen to be both unitive and procreative, and the two cannot be separated. The gift of sexuality is a gift that is open to life. It is the wedding consent made flesh.

During a general audience in February 2015, Pope Francis said, "Life is rejuvenated and energies are increased when life multiplies. Life is enriched, not impoverished!" "A society that considers children a concern, a burden, a risk is a society that is depressed," he said, pointing particularly to European countries with declining populations because of their low birth-rates.

The example of biblical couples such as Abraham and Sarah, Zechariah and Elizabeth, who yearned deeply for offspring in their old age, is a testament to the love and fulfilment that children bring. Our Blessed Mother was also born to Saints Joachim and Anne in their sunset years, and hence they are always depicted as such in paintings and illustrations. God's answer to their cries cleared the way for the redemption of the human race. Isaac, John the Baptist and the Blessed Virgin Mary were indispensable strokes that gave rise to the Divine Masterpiece of the Incarnation—the Word made Flesh.

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

MARY – Flower of Carmel

Flos Carmeli or Flower of Carmel is one of the titles with which the Carmelites greet Mary, our Blessed Mother. Carmel sings of Mary as the divine Mother on earth and splendour of heaven. What a beautiful and magnificent persona Mary is then! If we gaze at Mary, we shall see that grace in her has flowered into a life of untold wealth: prayer, life of divine intimacy, incessant contact with God and intimate union with Him. Mary's soul is a sanctuary reserved for God alone, where no human creature has ever left its trace, where love and zeal for the glory of God and the salvation of humankind reign supreme.

Carmel is the symbol of the contemplative life, the life wholly dedicated to the quest for God, totally oriented towards an intimate relationship with Him. The prophet Elijah is revered as the spiritual Father and traditional founder of the Religious Order of the Carmelites. The Order of Carmel was founded in the 12th century at the site that had been the location of Elijah's cave, 1,700 feet (520 m) above sea level at the northwestern end of the mountain range. It is claimed that from the time when Elijah and Elisha had dwelt devoutly on Mount Carmel, priests and prophets, Jews and Christians had lived 'praiseworthy lives in holy penitence' adjacent to the site of the 'fountain of Elisha' in uninterrupted succession.

On July 16, 1251, it was to Saint Simon Stock, in a moment of ardent petition for the preservation of the Order, that 'the most glorious Mother of God appeared... holding in her blessed hand the Scapular of Carmel...' and assured him of her protection for those who would wear it piously. The Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is known to many Catholic faithful as the 'Scapular feast' associated with the Brown Scapular of the Carmelite order. This is a sacramental, signifying the wearer's consecration to Mary and affiliation with the Carmelite order.

'The Scapular' is a Marian habit or garment. It is both a sign and a pledge. A sign belonging to Mary and a pledge of her motherly protection, not only in this earthly life, but also hereafter. It is a conventional sign signifying three elements strictly connected: First—belonging to a religious family, particularly devoted to Mary. Second—consecration to Mary, dedicated to and trust in her Immaculate Heart. Third—an urge to become like Mary by imitating her virtues, especially her humility, chastity, and also her spirit of prayer. Humility implies detachment from oneself, from worry about esteem and honour. There can be no humility without love, and no love without humility. The Brown Scapular is perhaps the most deeply rooted symbol in the Carmelite tradition. Its authenticity has been confirmed by numerous miracles through the centuries. In contemporary society, it is looked upon as a sure and visible sign of consecration to Mary's Immaculate Heart and an impenetrable shield assuring her maternal protection, in a way no other devotion can.

The Carmelites consider the Blessed Virgin Mary to be a perfect model of the interior life of prayer and contemplation to which Carmelites aspire, as well as a model of virtue, in the person who was closest to Jesus on earth. She is seen as the one who points Christians most surely to Christ, as she says to the servants at the wedding at Cana, "Do whatever He tells you." Carmelites look to the Virgin Mary as a Spiritual Mother. Our Blessed Mother wants us to resemble her, not only in outward appearance, but far more, in her heart and spirit. Those who want to live their devotion to Our Lady of Mt Carmel to the fullest must follow Mary into the depths of her interior life. Let us implore our Blessed Mother of Carmel to intercede for all those who wear the Scapular, the sacred livery, with love and faithfulness.

Sr Angela Joseph is the Headmistress of the Primary Section, St Louis Convent High School, Andheri West.

Fostering a Digital Dialogue

"If one is to write, then one must believe – in the truth and worth of the scrawl," said E.B. White. The significance of the words "believe", "truth" and "worth" are well-known in the Judeo-Christian tradition, whose memorials are preserved in the Sacred Scriptures. The written word built community and sustained communion with God. The Examiner has carried out a similar mission for the last 170 years, spreading the love of Christ, holding steadfast to the virtues of truth, justice and love.

It is an accepted truth in the world of publication that the medium of print must be accompanied by its presence on digital platforms. Studies conducted by eminent research entities such as the Pew Research Centre indicate that while printed books and magazines still continue to be the most popular format for reading, an increasing and significant number of people today prefer digital formats like e-magazines and audio books. The gap between television and online news consumption is narrowing, use of mobile devices for news consumption continues to grow, and a large number of people increasingly say that they get their news on social media today. This is inevitable for a generation born into the internet era, as well as for older adults who have become 'late adopters' of web technology.

The Examiner is proud to have a loyal and dedicated readership base, which has remained steadfast over the years. We do however recognise the need to establish human networks over the Web and cater to digital natives as well. In February this year, The Examiner launched itself on the social media space, with accounts on Facebook (The Examiner Catholic Newsweekly) and Instagram (@examinermumbai). Both accounts have garnered a large number of followers in a short span of time.

These digital outposts help us to remain connected to our readers between publications, supplement the printed matter with additional audio and video information/news, communicate Church news with speed and promptness, and most importantly, cultivate an enhanced two-way communication between the magazine and its readers. The Examiner news website – www.the-examiner.org – now has a new format and design which offers a sneak preview into each edition, while offering movie/book/tech reviews, an e-copy and additional articles from our family of freelance erudite and scholarly writers.

The Examiner lays emphasis on providing an authentic and avid reflection of the richness and fullness of Faith and Church in the Archdiocese of Bombay. The weekly exposition of events relating to the multiplicity of ministries is testimony to the rich and active life of the Church in our archdiocese. A selection of scholarly, insightful and life-connected articles helps to form and inform readers on a variety of current issues, connecting faith with daily living and societal concerns. The carefully carved out selection of news from India, the Vatican and the world at large, is meant to reflect the universality of the Catholic Church, to emphasise that we are part of a global family, and to reinforce our deep communion with, and love for, the Vicar of Christ.

At the same time, The Examiner has a distinct and particular 'Bombay' ethos that is reflected in its pages. It highlights the extraordinary achievements of individuals through the 'Catholic Profile' section, goes back in time to refresh our memory of the history of the Church in Mumbai, provides a networking platform for young people through the 'Youth Pages', and invests in special feature stories of contemporary events – ecclesial and secular – in this melting pot of cultures and peoples we call home. As such, The Examiner has always strived to be an authoritative and compelling source of Catholic news in our city, yet, at the same time, constantly raising the benchmark for Church publications throughout the country.

On July 10 each year, we remember our dedicated and life-long readers with gratitude. We owe a debt of thanks to our frequent contributors, whose intellectual, thought-provoking and interesting articles fashion the pages of The Examiner. But we reserve our special and deepest love for The Examiner family—those men and women who labour with devotion and sacrifice to bring out the edition every week, regardless of obstacles and challenges.

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

Laity at the Frontline of the Church

One of the most noteworthy features of the post-Vatican II ecclesial scene is the emergence of the laity. For long considered and treated as docile and even dormant, the laity today have become quite awakened and assertive. They have started claiming their due place in the Church, understanding their Christ-given rights and responsibilities as co-disciples and equal partners in the Church's mission.

This emergence of the laity has been welcomed by many as "a sign of hope for the Church in the third millennium." It is a manifestation of the working of the Holy Spirit who never fails to provide the Church with newer graces and gifts to meet the challenges of the times. The Church leadership, both at the universal and local levels, has in recent times, encouraged their greater participation in its life and mission by articulating a more solid theological basis for it, as well as providing greater scope in the liturgy and participatory structures of Church governance.

The vocation to a Kingdom ministry is given to all the followers of Jesus; it constitutes the very essence of Christian discipleship. All the members of the Church have an inalienable right and duty to respond to it. It is not to some select few that Jesus entrusts the task of continuing His ministry, but rather, He envisages all His followers to constitute a ministering community. That is why He calls out to the entire community of His followers to be the salt of the earth, light of the world, city built on a hill (Mt 5:13-16) and the yeast that leavens.

Lumen Gentium (Vatican II) states that the laity "have the exalted duty of working for the ever greater spread of the divine plan of salvation to all. Therefore may the way be clear for them to share diligently in the salvific work of the Church, according to their ability and the needs of the times." (LG 33) So in and through the ministries, which are already in existence, the laity can be involved and become part of a 'mission', closely collaborating with the religious/clergy running the ministry.

The Code of Canon Law of 1983 mostly follows the teachings of Vatican II in formulating the rights and duties of the laity. It first of all acknowledges that all the faithful are incorporated into Christ through baptism, and thereby are 'made sharers in their own way in Christ's priestly, prophetic and royal function, (and) they are called to exercise the mission which God has entrusted to the Church…" Though the Code has also the tendency to maintain the Church v/s world division and assign the temporal order for the mission of the laity, it goes far beyond Vatican II in opening up many more opportunities and creating new structures to ensure the greater participation of the laity in the life and ministry of the Church.

The writings of Pope John Paul II (especially Christifideles Laici) promote the fact that the laity possess a specific and unique vocation that they must pursue and fulfil for the Church to grow and permeate the world. This vocation is rooted in the holiness infused into all at Baptism and nourished in the Eucharist; it shows that the laity are members of the Body of Christ. And so while the laity are often called to help the ordained in various ways within the Church, the central focus of the laity must be the temporal world, the culture and society they live in.

Pope Francis points out that, "even if many are now involved in the lay ministries, this involvement is not reflected in a greater penetration of Christian values in the social, political and economic sectors." The Church of the future needs to strive to be a participatory Church, if it has to be relevant for the life of the people.

Wishing all our lay faithful…to live their vocation and experience 'life in abundance'. (Jn 10:10)

Fr Felix D'Souza, Director of OLCM

Corpus Christi: Real Body, Infinite Love

"May the Bread of Angels become bread for humankind" – so petitions the penultimate strophe of the hymn 'Sacris solemniis', composed by Saint Thomas Aquinas for the Feast of Corpus Christi in the 13th century. Every human being experiences pangs of hunger; hunger not just for food, but also for affirmation, meaningful labour, dignity, affection, but most greatly for love. We hunger for love, and yet "the most pleasing compliments, the finest gifts and the most advanced technologies are not enough; they never completely satisfy us," says Pope Francis. It is only the Eucharistic Body of Christ given to us as food that elicits from us a sigh of fulfilment.

Following the Feast of Pentecost and the Most Holy Trinity, Corpus Christi is a liturgical and faith-filled commemoration of the infinite love that God has for us. It is a feast solely focused on the Holy Eucharist and an unwavering declaration of the Real Presence of Christ. It is living and visible proof of Christ's desire to be with us "in the flesh" even after His return to the Father. Breathing His last on the Cross, His Body broken for us, He gave us yet another gift most precious to Him - the gift of His Mother. A mother's love and nourishment are fundamental to survival at the earliest stages of life. From the side of the Crucified Lord on the Cross, the Church received the Sacrament of baptism, was nourished by the Lord's Body, and was embraced by the Mother of God.

The Eucharist nourishes, but also affirms. It is an affirmation of our human dignity as children of God. The Eucharistic Bread is consumed and assimilated into our own mortal bodies, thereby forever carrying within us a sign of God's Incarnation. The Eucharist is therefore an affirmation of every human being, including the unloved, the unwanted and the marginalised. It is a denunciation of every act of transgression on another human being. "When we touch the Lord's flesh, we must be personally committed to the promotion of the poor and an authentic form of evangelisation," says Pope Francis in his Message for the World Day of the Poor this year.

In his message, the Holy Father highlights families forced to leave their homelands, victims of different forms of violence, victims of exploitation, and the homeless and ostracised "who roam the streets of our cities, rummaging through garbage bins to retrieve what others have discarded as superfluous. In so doing, they themselves are treated as refuse, without the slightest sense of guilt on the part of those who are complicit in this scandal." The Feast of Corpus Christi is an invitation to each member of Christ's Body to set out and retrieve every other member who has been discarded and rejected as less than human.

The Holy Eucharist is not a memorial relic of the Last Supper, but a living dynamic where love is constantly poured out by God on His People, through the brokenness of His Body. The act of breaking oneself for others is the highest expression of love. On the Eucharistic table, the transubstantiation is not the only transformation that takes place; it is also a transformation of hearts, offered up together with our gifts, hopes, desires and cries to God. It is a reminder of the many mothers and fathers who continuously break themselves for their children. It is an acknowledgement of the many Christians who every day, break themselves to defend the dignity of the poorest and the most vulnerable. It is a humble commendation of the contrite of heart, who offer their own brokenness to the Lord, asking Him to transform their sinfulness into graciousness through the abiding transformative power of the Lord's Body and Blood.

May the Feast of Corpus Christi remind us that the Bread of Angels is our food as well, spurring us towards the heavenly Jerusalem and the eternal banquet.

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

Mystery of Mysteries

Fr Anthony Charanghat

The mystery of the Holy Trinity, the Mystery of all mysteries, is the summit or the heart of all of God’s revelation of Himself to us. Anyone who hopes to approach God as He really is and share in His life must approach Him as Trinity. It is given only to the Christian to know the secret of God’s inner life, and to know Him as truly a Trinity - One God in three persons.

The Trinity is a mystery we are all familiar with in the doxology, “Glory be to the Father, to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was, in the beginning, is now and ever will be, world without end.” God always was three in one, is three in one, will always be three in one. It is a prayer not only of praise, but a statement of faith that expresses an unending truth about God. The inner life of God is wider, richer, deeper and more awesome than we can capture in our minds. It is a profound mystery.

In the Old Testament, when the Israelites were about to enter the Promised Land, Moses reminded them never to forget all that God had done for them. We too experience God the Father in the miracle of Creation, and in the miracles of providence, as God guides our life and manifests His life-giving power, His majesty and transcendence through Creation. The Father not only brought us into being, but also sustains every beat of our heart.

In Christ who shows Himself as our Redeemer, we discover that God is love. It is not just that God loves, but that God is, at the very core of His being, love. When we love, we share in the very life of God. If God were alone from all eternity, then God could not be love. There would have been no one and nothing to love until Creation. But because our God indeed is love, then we are caught up in this mystery and cry out, ‘Abba, Father.’

We can have all of the basic necessities of life, and still not have what we need to be fully human. We need community because Almighty God in Himself is a Communion of Three Persons, yet One Godhead. One might say that being in communion of relationships with others is built into who we are as human beings, created by God in his image and likeness. We are called to communion, because God is a Communion!

The Trinity points towards a love which is utterly mutual, but which overflows, as the love of the Father and the Son overflows in the Holy Spirit. When parents have children, they too learn that love which spills over, beyond the couple. Love becomes Trinitarian as its mutuality is opened towards others. Otherwise, our love might become introverted and narcissistic. So the doctrine of the Trinity is the most down to earth practical lesson in the mystery of generous and fruitful love.

So right from the earliest times, the disciples had a glimpse of the mystery of this Triune love which they encountered in Jesus. It is the love which transfigures our own loving. All our everyday ordinary loving is marked with this mystery.

It is a love which lifts us into equality, as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are equal. Its grace frees us from domination and manipulation. It is a fertile love, overflowing beyond itself. It draws us into unity with each other and with God, overthrowing divisions between nations, saints and sinners, the living and the dead.

The Trinity is not only a doctrine to be believed, but also to be lived. We can anchor our lives in the guiding providence of the Father, we can feel the saving love of the Son in the Sacraments, and the living presence of the Holy Spirit binding us to the Church.