Mary at the Tree of the Cross
Fr Anthony Charanghat
The memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows used to be called the feast of the 'Seven Dolours' from the Latin word for 'sorrows'. The seven traditional sorrows of Mary are the prophecy of Simeon, the flight into Egypt, losing the child Jesus, meeting Jesus on the way to Calvary, standing at the foot of the Cross, taking the body of Jesus down from the Cross, and the burial of Jesus. This feast focuses on Mary's intimate role of active participation in redemption, intimately linked with the salvation of humankind by Christ, and not just on her special privileges of grace.
The theology underlying this feast points to the truth that the Kingdom of God is erected in our life and in the world not just in grand triumphant moments, but more commonly through suffering. We behold the New Eve standing courageously and lovingly – not fainting or disconsolate – standing (Stabat Mater) beside the Tree of the Cross, which is likewise the divine response of the New Adam to the tree of temptation.
Suffering for the Kingdom of God has great dignity and spiritual power. Pope Pius IX once remarked that Mary stood at the foot of the Cross in the Gospel of John. As our sequence says, 'Stabat mater dolorosa juxta crucem lacrimosa'. Mary stood there. She was weeping, but not in despair, not beating the ground in grief, not collapsed in tears. She stood there, trusting that this is how it must be, obedient to the Father's will.
Jesus 'gave up His spirit,' but only after 'knowing that all was now finished,' completed, consummated. What brought about that fulfilment? Nothing less than the entrustment of the Beloved Disciple and the Holy Mother to each other. In other words, Christ's work of redemption would not have been fully accomplished had He not brought about the union of disciple and Mother.
While Mary is losing the Son of her womb, she is being given the gift of a multitude of children in the person of the Beloved Disciple, representative of every believer, for Jesus is "the first-born among many brethren" (Rom 8:29). For his part, the Beloved Disciple (which means you and I) are given the gift of a loving Mother, on whose powerful intercession he (and we) can rely, if he does indeed take Mary "into his home." Taking her "into his home" is more than giving her a room in his house; it means making room in his life for her, who is now his Mother in the order of grace.
Simply put, making room for Mary in one's life as a disciple is not an 'add-on', or worse, a deification of Mary; it brings the covenant of salvation to completion. The "woman," who was mildly rebuked at Cana for trying to anticipate Jesus' "hour," now receives a divine mandate to be a motherly intercessor for His brothers and sisters in the family of the Church. The great moments that built up nations, for example, were forged through suffering, and were not painless. The same is true of bringing the Kingdom of God into our world.
The memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows reminds us that Mary was part of Jesus' life, both in His suffering and now in His glory. It reminds us that the Kingdom of God is built up through suffering in union with Christ. Finally, it shows us the immense dignity of those who suffer for the sake of the Kingdom, standing at the Cross and collaborating in the plan of salvation.
Mary can help us stand before the crosses in our life with dignity, trust and strength. We behold the New Eve standing courageously and lovingly beside the Tree of the life-giving Cross. And the dying Jesus utters His last will and testament: "Woman, behold your Son. Behold your mother."
Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Fr Anthony Charanghat
The New Testament Books of the Bible record but a few incidents from the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It says nothing about her parentage, her nativity, or her childhood. All such information comes to us from the early tradition of the primitive Church, which was recorded (about 175 A.D.) in the apocryphal book, called the 'Protoevangelium of St James' which was held in high esteem as the primary source for Marian liturgy and devotions.
We learn from this book that the parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary - Joachim and Anna - were righteous and greatly devoted to God. Her father was a descendant from the royal house of David, while Anna came from the priestly line of Aaron. Their one great sorrow was that they had no children. In the Old Testament, we are aware of how God blessed such chosen couples like the childless parents of Isaac, Samson, Samuel, and of course, the birth of St John the Baptist who had a role in salvation history.
God, in His divine providence, was actually preparing Joachim and Anna for "great things" to show them a unique favour of the birth of their Girl Child Mary to become the Mother of the Messiah—the fulfilment of the promised Saviour of the world.
The nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary was not accidental; it was well prepared by God from the very beginning of sacred history. Already in the Garden of Eden, God promised our first parents, Adam and Eve, to send them a Saviour through the providential Woman, whose "seed will crush the head (power) of the serpent" (Gen 3:5). In other words, the Saviour of the human race was to come as the "seed," the offspring of the Woman.
The Blessed Virgin Mary was unmistakably foretold by the Prophet Isaiah: "Behold, a Virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and he shall be called Emmanuel, meaning God with us." (Is 7:14). In Mary, according to the testimony of St Andrew of Crete, all the prototypes and prophecies of the Old Testament were fulfilled.
In his sermon on the feast of Mary's nativity, St Andrew of Crete, after having praised the Blessed Virgin with the most exalted titles, invites all Christians to share in this great joy, since "today a child is born, from whom we received our salvation, Christ, the Word of God, who, having come through her, abides with us forever." And indeed, presents to us the nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary that made possible the mystery of the Incarnation for the 'beginning of our salvation.'
As the morning star announces the approaching sunrise, so also Mary's birth heralded the coming of the "Sun of Justice," the promised Messiah, who was to destroy the power of Satan, reopen for us the gates of heaven, and assure divine blessing to the entire human race. Her Birthday evokes all that is beautiful, worthy and holy. We hail her 'Ave Maria gratia pléna'. In the words of the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, she is our atmosphere, our happier world, wherein we meet no sin.
Mary, who is close to us in everything but sin, brings to mind everything she was to Jesus, and everything she is to us. It reminds us of her fidelity to God's Word, her journey with Jesus through the joyful, luminous, sorrowful and glorious moments of His life. Mary has been a part of the Church's life throughout history, and now she is a part of our life as Church today.
This is the practical moral lesson of the feast of Mary's nativity. Our unwavering confidence in her power of intercessory prayer for us is because she is intimately close to us, being born of our human race. And being Mother of Jesus, she can plead with her Son to open for us the door of divine mercy and secure a constant flow of God's blessings.
Shaping Society by Sacrifice
In the hierarchy of persons who shape the destiny of a society, teachers surely merit the privileged place of being second only to parents - the foundational pillars of any family and the building blocks of social flourishing. In fact, teachers are 'extended' family, for there exists a mutual alliance between schools and families to support and strengthen one another. Teachers have always assisted parents in the task of bringing up children by the sowing of values and virtues. Teaching has never been a purely 'academic' endeavour; rather, it strives to help children discover and achieve their full potential, in their pursuit to becoming future shapers of the world's march towards freedom and salvation.
It is symbolic and significant that Mother Teresa died on September 5, a day that has traditionally been observed as 'Teachers' Day' in India in honour of the late President of India, Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, who besides being a great educationist and philosopher, was convinced that education held the keys to India's rise in the world order and an egalitarian and inclusive national society. Mother Teresa herself was trained to be a teacher, and she spent many fruitful years inspiring young girls at St Mary's School in Kolkata. This charism of 'teaching' never departed from her, even after she went on to found the Missionaries of Charity. In the midst of her dedicated work among the poorest of the poor, she never failed to elicit a teaching moment for those who worked with her, surrounded her or had simply come to meet her, hoping to be touched by her light.
In our times when education is fast hurtling towards the impairing grasp of commercialisation and a restrictive vision of preparing workers for industry, Saint Teresa reminds us of the original and noble aim of the pursuit of knowledge. She was convinced that education had to be inclusive and value-based. It had to prepare young minds for a future steeped in altruism, love, community, family and the betterment of the human race as a whole. She believed that teachers had the privileged vocation of being cooperators in the Divine Plan for the redemption of humanity.
It has often been said that the measure of a healthy society is the way it treats its teachers. This yardstick, sadly, does not portray India in good light. It is generally acknowledged today that teachers are expected to deliver the moon, yet are poorly supported by government and policy makers in this task. Teachers are regularly inflicted by the vagaries of education rules and policies, delayed payment of dues, lack of infrastructure and teaching resources, and non-teaching duties. A recent example is the severe staff crunch in schools in Assam, as thousands of teachers have been drafted by the government to aid in compiling the National Register for Citizens (NRC), leaving some schools reeling with only one teacher for every 175 children.
Yet, teachers continue to uphold the dignity of their hallowed vocation, day after day, never letting these obstacles hinder them in their duty towards the young minds entrusted to their care. Teachers echo the love that Jesus had for children, "Whoever receives a child in my name, receives me" (Mt 18:5). Their impact and influence in our lives is gauged from the fact that we continue to remember and hold our teachers in high esteem, long after we have passed out the gates of our alma mater. The respect that we accord them is second only to our parents.
In his address to the Italian Association of Catholic Teachers on January 5, 2018, Pope Francis said that parents and teachers must become jointly responsible accomplices to promote the well-being of children. Teachers and parents cannot see each other as opposing forces and/or point fingers at each other, he said, but rather, they must put themselves "in the other's shoes, understanding the real difficulties both sides face today in education, and thus creating greater solidarity, a supportive collusion."
May the memory of our teachers this September 5 remind us of their sacrifices and commitment towards our own life projects, and more significantly, help us become mentors in the same heart and spirit of love towards those we find entrusted to our care.
Fr Joshan Rodrigues is on The Examiner Editorial Board, with the additional duty of Managing Editor.
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.