No One in Want
"There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need." (Acts 4:34-35)
The mandate handed down to us, as followers of Jesus Christ (Mt 25:35-36), tells us very simply that we must care for one another, not just in word, but also in deed. The example has been set for us by the early Christian communities; their love of Christ overflowed into their love for each other. In order to revive this sense of community, in our time, the Archdiocesan Resource Team (ART) for the Small Christian Communities (SCCs), in June 2019, adopted as our Archdiocesan Vision this statement: 'NO ONE SHOULD BE IN WANT' (Acts 4:34).
This vision was shared with the Deanery SCC Coordinators (priests) and the (lay) Parish SCC Coordinators, and is being further discussed at the Parish Steering Committee meetings, Parish and Deanery-level Training sessions, and even at some Core Group and Cluster meetings.
In most cases, people readily identify those 'in want' as the poor, the unemployed, those with no steady source of income, etc.; in other words, those who are in economic want. The usual reaction is to direct them to the Parish Centre for Community Organisation, the Community Welfare Fund or the Society of St Vincent de Paul. Indeed, one of the topics discussed at the Bombay Archdiocesan Synod of 2001 was the need to generate funds for the welfare of the community in each parish, so that the poor, weak and helpless could be cared for, that no one would go to bed hungry at night, no child would be deprived of education because the parents could not afford the fees, and no one would suffer for lack of medical aid.
It is, however, important to go beyond mere economic criteria, and understand better the deeper meaning of the different kinds of 'want'—those who are living alone (elderly couples, widows/widowers, singles), newcomers to the parish, recently married couples, nuclear families with young children, a family with a bed-ridden member, recently bereaved families, migrants to the parish from other parts of the State and the country.
All of us, without exception, are in a sense 'community' – members of the Body of Christ. Everyone needs a friendly smile, a warm welcome to the Eucharistic celebration, a reaching out, to let them know that there is a listening ear, a neighbourly hand, an introduction to others in the neighbourhood, or even directions to the nearest chemist or public dispensary!
This is not an easy task, whether you have 260 people or 26,000 people in the parish. The most common reaction is, "What can I do? I am too busy with my own life, my family, my work." And yet, we see over 10,000 Animators and Community Coordinators across our Archdiocese, reaching out through their individual and collective actions to ensure that no one is in any kind of want. This is done through regular monthly visits of families by the animators, usually in pairs; the Community Coordinator acts as the disseminator of information — asking for prayers for the sick and hospitalised, inviting people to join the Core Group in some outreach activity or to greet a person on a birthday/anniversary/feast day (through a broadcast message on WhatsApp or a group sms).
We would like to see this outreach made easier through the introduction of 'clusters'. Clusters are groups of 5-10 families within an SCC (usually 30-50 families). Each cluster will be animated by an Animator, who is part of the Core Group. Clusters may meet every month —to pray together, to discuss a paper (e.g. July 2019 – 'Focus on Faith'), to visit others in the neighbourhood. If an SCC has working clusters, this will foster a more intimate approach, a better understanding of the various and real needs, and bring people together to ensure 'no one is in any kind of want'. Then, once again, like the Christian Communities in the early Church, the Archdiocese of Bombay can rightly expect to hear, "see how these Christians love one another."
Bp Barthol Barretto is Bishop-in-charge of SCCs in the Archdiocese of Bombay.
Celebrating the Dignity of Work
During my years as Parish Priest of St Anthony Church in Dharavi, a certain organisation would invite me to come early in the morning to give a rose to each of the drivers and conductors reporting for work at the BEST bus depot. Being appreciated put a spring in their step, and enabled them to start their shift on a positive note. I found this to be a wonderful gesture, since appreciating them also acknowledges their contribution to commuter and road safety.
The Vatican document Gaudium et Spes recognises that all human work is part of God's plan and will. We often do not realise that the world would not function without the persons who clean the gutters and sweep the roads. Manual scavengers undertake inhumane tasks, putting their life on the line and their health and safety at risk, just so the rest of the population benefits from improved sanitation. How different our world would be, without the heavy toil undertaken by farmers, construction workers, bakers, delivery agents and the like!
It is through work, Saint John Paul II affirmed in Laborem Exercens, that one achieves fulfilment as a human being. He points out that despite radical shifts in the world of work, the Human Person is still central to the whole meaning of work. In Laudato Si', Pope Francis asserts that we were created with a vocation to work. Joblessness, the Holy Father has preached, takes away dignity, since it renders one unable to bring bread to the table at home. For this reason, we must work, and defend the dignity that work gives us. I am very happy that the theme chosen for Justice Sunday this year by the Justice, Peace and Development Commission of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India is Celebrating the Dignity of Work.
As I contemplate this theme, I am reminded of the Letter of James, wherein the sin of partiality is denounced. A highly pertinent question, very much relevant to everyone today, is, "For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, "You sit here in a good place," while you say to the poor man, "You stand over there," or "Sit down at my feet," have you not then made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?" (James 2:2-4, ESV).
Most of us are guilty of the sin of partiality. In my own life, I realise that I too have compartmentalised the dignity of work. I would give a white collar person better treatment and readily lend a listening ear, but not extend this same consideration to the gardener or to the table boy. We must not fail to identify the dignity that work gives all workers. Is it not heart-warming when drivers are specially invited to partake in meals, or offered a cup of tea by the hosts? Was it not a carpenter who redeemed humanity by having nails driven through His calloused hands?
Laborem Exercens notes that by enduring the toil of work in union with Christ, the human person collaborates with the Son of God for the redemption of humanity. Further, it is through work that the human person shares in the creativity of God. We are called through work to build up the world that God created. This is what motivates us to work in justice, charity and peace.
This Justice Sunday, I urge all of us to recognise and revel in the dignity of work.
Bishop Allwyn D'Silva, Auxiliary Bishop, Archdiocese of Bombay
Walls do not make Prisons
The theme of Prison Ministry Sunday 2019 is "Walls do not make Prisons". This title is taken from Richard Lovelace's poem entitled "To Althea, from Prison". He wrote this poem in 1642, while imprisoned in Gatehouse Prison, adjoining Westminster Abbey. He meant that stone walls and iron bars may prevent the physical movement of a person, but if they can still love freely and let their thoughts fly free, then in heart, mind and soul, they are free.
Incarceration cannot lock up one's thoughts, imagination, dreams, visions, insights, plans and projects. If you have the right frame of mind, if your mind is innocent and quiet, then what others see as a prison can be a refuge, a hermitage, an ashram where reformations and revolutions can take place. For nothing will be impossible with God (Lk 1:37).
According to the Institute for Criminal Policy Research (ICPR) report on September 30, 2018, there are 10,743,619 prisoners worldwide, and 4,19,623 brethren behind bars in India. It is our duty to pray for them, visit them, and help them in their process of release, reformation, rehabilitation and redemption. For prisoners are our own brethren created in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:27).
His Holiness, Pope Francis, on January 25, 2019 during a penitential liturgy at Las Garzas de Pacora detention centre for minors, in Panama, denounced how society puts up "invisible walls" to marginalise sinners and criminals. In his homily, the Holy Father exhorted, "I invite you not to build walls, but bridges, to conquer evil with good, offence with forgiveness, and to live in peace with everyone." Let us join hands with Pope Francis in his attempt to abolish capital punishment worldwide, because it is an "attack" on human dignity.
A sentence of imprisonment constitutes only a deprivation of the basic right to liberty. It does not entail the restriction of other human rights. Prison administration needs to ensure that the human rights of prisoners are protected, and their prospects for social reintegration increased, in compliance with relevant international standards and norms. All persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and respect inherent for the dignity of the human person. Human rights are neither privileges nor gifts given at the whims of the ruler or a government, neither can they be taken away with arbitrary power.
It is high time that we introduce alternatives to imprisonment, which many countries have successfully been practising. There are varieties of alternative sentences such as a suspended sentence, probation, fines, restitution, community service, deferred adjudication, pre-trial diversion, etc. These alternatives to imprisonment reduce the chance of re-offending, cost burdens on the state and prison overcrowding.
Through the celebration of Prison Ministry Sunday, the Church wants to affirm to each one of those 4,19,623 prisoners held inside 1401 prisons in India that walls do not make prisons. What matters is our attitude, our perception, our vision, our outlook, our acceptance of the will of God! Dear brothers and sisters in prison, we walk with you, pray for you and support you. God is your stronghold. He will restore your life. Dear brothers and sisters outside prison, let us hear the cry of prisoners and try our best to respond with our prayers, visits and assistance, like St Therese of Lisieux. As the Letter to the Hebrews says, "Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them" (Heb 13:2).
Along with my brother Bishops, I express my sincere gratitude for the generous contribution towards this ministry and acknowledge the dedicated service of PMI volunteers in liberating, reforming, rehabilitating and redeeming prisoners. May the patron saint of Prison Ministry India, St Maximilian Kolbe, guide you, and may Mary, our Blessed Mother, be always there to protect you.
Bishop Allwyn D'Silva, Chairman, Prison Ministry India and Auxiliary Bishop, Archdiocese of Bombay.
Icon of the Priesthood of Christ
Fr Anthony Charanghat
This year, as we celebrate the feast of the patron of Parish priests, St John Marie Vianney, amidst much pain and sadness at the decline in vocations and increasing number of defections from the priesthood, we briefly recall the priestly life and ministry of the "Curé d'Ars". It was as simple as it was extraordinarily fertile, that made him so successful in identifying his priestly life with his ministry, that he became, even in a visibly and universally recognisable manner, an 'Alter Christus'- an Icon of the Priesthood of Christ par excellence.
The virtues of the saintly Curé point to several features that can also serve as an example of perennial values for priests in our day — different of course from the time he lived, yet marked in many ways by the same fundamental human and spiritual challenges.
After the example of the Good Shepherd, Vianney gave his life in the decades of his priestly service and ministry. His existence was a living catechesis that acquired a very special effectiveness, when people saw him celebrating Mass, pausing before the tabernacle in adoration or spending hour after hour in the confessional. What was most striking at his prayerful celebration of the Eucharist was his absolute consciousness of the Presence of God. The Eucharist was "the centre" — or the heart — of his entire life.
Vianney was a Good Shepherd, a pastor after God's heart. He was a holy priest who was resplendent with invitation to the very heart of Jesus. His priestly life seemed to sing the urgency of his Love — of giving oneself over completely to receiving His love and living the miracle of sacramental grace, of loving with that same love for all entrusted to his pastoral care. What made him holy was his faithfulness to the mission that God had called him.
A key challenge of our time is to allow the grace of God, like St Vianney, to inform all the root desires of our heart. The priesthood is about having one's hearts reoriented by the Divine Love. This is a lifelong process. A priest is, first and foremost, a heart seeking God, which means he is also a person who is constantly surrendering to God, a sinner always being redeemed by the Cross, and lifted by His unbounded mercy.
The people of God love their priests and reverence the mystery of the priesthood, when they feel that their priests are truly at home with them, care about them, and stand with them through their crises and under their crosses. When a priest prepares people for marriage with earnestness to mirror God's own life of mutual procreative love by their marital love, hears their confessions with compassion, visits them or their loved ones when they are sick, counsels them when they are distressed, and buries their dead with confidence in the Resurrection, then they will believe in the meaning of the priesthood, and what the Church teaches about the priest being indispensable for the Eucharist — the source and summit of our faith.
It is generally accepted that since the sixties, there has been a crisis in the Catholic priesthood. The Synod recognised that there was an identity crisis among priests, because of the seriously theologically flawed questions raised about the essence of the priesthood and its purpose. In their response, the bishops assessed the problem to be nothing less than a deep spiritual crisis arising from a defective theological understanding of the very nature of the priesthood. Priests are unfortunately succumbing to modern secular influences and living by a relativistic and subjectivist ethic, because they have started taking their priorities from corporate, political and media elites.
The way forward is clear: Priests must find their identity, to the extent that they fully live the mission of the Church and exercise it in different ways in communion with the entire People of God. It is only as pastors configured to the person of Christ the High Priest, head of the Mystical Body and ministers of the Lord in the Spirit, that they can fulfil their work of the plan of salvation in history. This is the reason for priests to be celibate like Christ, a sign of the eschatological reality of the world yet to come, which our contemporaries sadly do not comprehend.
A correct understanding of the nature of priestly ministry is therefore essential for conviction about, and commitment to, this vocation. Such an understanding could only be achieved through a sound Christology, ecclesiology and a deep awareness of how the ministerial priesthood is essentially at the service of the faithful, as found in the Gospels, which St John Vianney represents.
Ignatius of Loyola: Falling in love with God
When Pope Francis adjured consecrated people of all kinds to 'live the present with passion', he might well have had the founder of his own Jesuit order in mind as a pretty good exemplar of the practice. The Pope challenged them with the following question: "Is Jesus really our first and only love, as we promised he would be when we professed our vows?" Because, he goes on to say: "Only if he is, will we be empowered to love, in truth and mercy, every person who crosses our path. For we will have learned from Jesus the meaning and practice of love. We will be able to love because we have his own heart."
Anyone who wants to get to know and understand Ignatius of Loyola better, has little choice but to accept that this was a man who lived with passion, fought (literally) with passion, and over time grew to love (God) with passion. This passion spurred him to want to serve that God and Lord, whom he had initially grown to love through the biographies of saints that he devoured, whilst recuperating from a knee wound sustained at the battle of Pamplona.
Being a man who seems never to have been introduced to the concept of doing things by halves, he threw himself into a personal regime of prayer and penance. This was a means both of proving to God and to himself that he was serious about changing his life, and of seeking to establish what it was that God wanted from him in his life. Those who know the life of Ignatius will know that there followed several key 'staging posts' on his journey from long and dirty hair and nails in Manresa to the camerette (his rooms) beside the Church of the Gesù in Rome, where he spent so many years writing his Constitutions and thousands of letters to his own members, and to others.
By far, the most important of those 'staging posts' was, of course, the Spiritual Exercises, born of Ignatius' personal encounters with the God with whom he had fallen in love. In the Exercises, Ignatius hit on the idea of the meeting of sacred scripture with the scripture of a person's own life, mediated through imaginative contemplation of the scripture and a personal entry into the scenes of Our Lord's life.
There is a lovely quotation, attributed to St Augustine, which says that, "The sacred scriptures are our letters from home". They certainly were for St Ignatius. At the same time, in the Exercises themselves and in Ignatian prayer in general, most notably in the examen, there is that other strand of our contemplation – the invitation to gaze lovingly but honestly, in the presence of the loving gaze of God, on the scripture of my own life. The day-to-day tool for this 'finding God in all things' is what Ignatius called discreta caritas – discerning love.
In our own time, our growing understanding of the integrity of Creation and our relationship to it, expounded so beautifully and convincingly in Laudato Si', adds another dimension to the meaning of discreta caritas. Interestingly, Ignatius was ahead of the game in that area, as the remainder of the 'Contemplatio' makes clear, with its frequent mention of the gifts of God in Creation and the gratitude that our consideration of them should elicit.
The 'Contemplatio' – and the dispositions it puts before us – is the culmination of the Spiritual Exercises. It is no accident that Ignatius ends with love, because that is where he began all those years ago on his convalescent bed in Loyola. In typing that last sentence, the words of T. S. Eliot in the Four Quartets have come to my mind: "…the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started, and know the place for the first time". Ignatius' whole life was an exploration of the love of God and of how best to respond to that love. In the 'Contemplatio', he did arrive where he had first started, and in it, he closed the circle between Manresa and the camerette.
Sr Jane Livesey is General Superior of the Congregation of Jesus, a congregation founded by the Englishwoman Mary Ward on the model of the Society of Jesus. The Congregation is present in 23 countries around the world.
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.