The Catholic Church is venturing into dialogue and collaboration with those of other faiths. Vatican II in its document Nostra aetate (In our times) on ecumenism with all Non-Christians states ‘The Catholic church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings, which though different in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of truth which enlightens all.’ Substantiating this ideal, Jnana Deepa Vidyapeeth (JDV), Pune offers a course on ‘Philosophy of World Religions.’ As part of the course, the second year philosophers of JDV went on a pilgrimage to various religious places in Pune.
At first, we went to a Gurudwara where we attended a prayer service followed by Langar, a meal which promotes equality among Sikhs and non-Sikhs alike. One cannot but admire the valour and humility shown by Sikh brethren. Then we went to ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) temple in where we had an interactive session with the head priest. Elaborating on karma, he quoted the Bible, “As ye sow so ye shall reap.” He surprised us even more by saying that every priest in their movement reads the Bible. We further proceeded to the Ramakrishna mutt. Here we had a talk given by one of the priests of the mutt. He focused his talk on the premise, ‘Self realisation is God realisation.’ We got to know of Ramakrishna who had a vision of Jesus merged with his body and he kept the picture of Jesus in his room and burnt incense before it morning and evening. Even today his followers celebrate Christmas every year. The talk was soul moving and a humbling experience for all of us. We finally visited the Jain temple and returned home.
The whole day visiting different religious centres in the city raised many questions about our attitude towards other religions and cleared many prejudices about other religions. Religion, in general, brings more division than unity in the world. In today’s context where religious fanaticism and fundamentalism is at its peak, one is forced to introspect one’s attitude towards other religions. Not so surprisingly, other religions have high regard for Christ and Christians. Though once we believed that salvation is attained only through Christianity, we accept and respect every other faith today. Being Indians, it is of Paramount importance to recognize the truth in other religions. The bigger task here is how can we, led by God, work towards the betterment of the world and our country in particular. I would like to quote Pope Francis, “From indifference and opposition, we have turned to cooperation and Goodwill. From enemies and strangers, we have become friends and brothers.” I firmly believe that we can as brothers and sisters of this great nation work towards the growth of the country. This course together with the experience of visiting different religious places has certainly put us on the right track.
“HUM AYE NAHI HAME LAYA GYA HAI” (We did not come, we were brought here!) With these words Mr. Benedict Bhengra, a Santhal tea garden worker corrected me when I told him that your ancestors came here on their own. He has given his 40 years of life in the tea garden. He said that, there ancestors were BROUGHT here they did not come on their own. Like any other Indian, the foreign missionaries also felt that they do not have their own etymology. “We were treated as beggars and still we are. We are looked down upon and they (missionaries) always felt the need to help us rather than understanding our ways of living” he added. He was grateful to the missionaries for bringing them to the gardens but he regrets that he had to live behind his past, his land, his identity his know surroundings, his people and everything that he called his own.
Benedict and his family were brought to Assam from Jharkhand as workers so that they could live a better life and could make a living. The world of the tea gardens which looks so green and beautiful from outside has its own sublime ugliness which is not seen by an outsider. The tea garden workers do not have an identity of their own. What they could call their own is left behind. They live in tiny houses, given to them by their owners. The missionaries always treated them well and tried to give them a life of dignity. Most of workers are converted Christians, who took a new name, a new identity and a new selfdom which was again given to them and chosen not by them.
They worked hard during the day to make the tea garden a profitable venture and in the evening, they strengthen their faith. With the passage of the missionaries tea estates become more profit oriented. With the change of management, the values and the concept on which the tea garden also changed. People were less important than the money. They were deprived of their land, identity and traditions to make them civilized. But have they really become civilized? Or have they turned into slaves? Unfortunately they ended becoming bonded laborer to tea gardens. But, the tea garden workers remain submissive to what was in store for them. No one ever thought of revolting or even protesting for they do not feel that what is being done to them is injustice. They consider it as their destiny and they feel that they have no other option but to keep living their lives in these gardens.
They learned a new way of life called “BAGANIS” which means those belonging to the garden. They do not have many dreams and their world begins and ends in the garden. But the pain of living like a foreigner agonizes many of them. Many feel that their children should have a better future than them but they do not see much hope. Now they cannot go back to their homeland in Jharkhand and here all they see is nothing but acres of land covered under tea plantation. The whole dialogue with Mr. Benedict has made me ponder over the lives of tribals. I was left with the question: Is there a possibility of change? Can there be a better future for them?
By Sch. Vivian Lopes
Vidya Jyoti, Delhi
A few years ago, I was travelling on a sleeper class train from Chennai. A lady wearing a purdah sitting on the opposite seat was curiously watching me talking to my family over the mobile phone. She was pale, weak and old. The deep dark circles below her saddened eyes conveyed the sufferings she was undergoing.
“Sir – you were speaking in Marathi. Are you a Maharashtrian?” she asked me in Marathi language. I thought she was a Marathi Muslim.
“No – I am studying in Belgaum.”
“Are you a Punekar?” She asked. People from all religions and caste speak this language – especially in Belgaum, which is also influenced by Marathi culture, and many youngsters migrate to Pune for jobs. So she should be smart to make right guess. I nodded.
“I was also a Punekar, later I got shifted to Karnataka….”
I just smiled. Suddenly she said:
“Sir – you resemble my uncle when I met him 30 years ago” I saw tears rolling out of her eyes. So I asked her calmly: “What happened?”
“I just remembered my parents….” she said. We began talking and she told me about her life story that would pull anybody’s heart-strings.
“I was originally from Ahmednagar district. My father was a post master and mother, a school teacher. We were Kulkarni’s (Brahmin priestly class). My parent’s dream and my aim was to become an IAS officer. They sent me to a reputed convent school for better education. But there, I acquired a taste for chicken. Though my parents were strict vegetarians, they allowed me to eat it outside with friends…”
While I was doing my first year B.Sc, I used to visit a non-vegetarian restaurant with friends where I met this boy – who would come very stylishly dressed and he had a bike. He was so nice, well-mannered and soft-spoken. He said that he too was a graduate from a reputed college and was running his family business, a food-processing chain and supplying meat for this restaurant.
Then, we began to meet in the Library, college canteen, coffee shop. Gradually, our friendship turned into a steady relationship. We fell in love.
For both of us, our families did not agree for the marriage. We did make efforts to convince our parents, but my orthodox mother was against my getting married to a non-Brahmin. Similarly for him, not everybody in his family were happy with us. However, one day I eloped with him – spoiling the dreams of my parents.
We married according to the Islam tradition for which I had to convert to Islam. The first few days went very well – I thought it was the seventh heaven. One day, in the evening, I received a phone call from a good college friend, who also was married and had settled in Bangalore. Seeing me talking over the phone, my husband accused me of having an extra marital affair. It was a great shock for me and we had heated argument. He said: “You cheated your own parents – that means you cheat people. How do I know you that you’re faithful to me? ” (She was crying when she explained this)
My tough days had just begun – he would beat me every day. (I remembered – my parents would never even bear tears in my eyes let alone hurt me). I was not allowed to talk to anyone and I had become a slave in Hijab and purdah. I was totally dejected, frustrated and depressed. After marriage, we lived in a rented house, and although he was working in a firm, the expenses were increasing, so I wanted to take teaching as a profession in some private school, and therefore, shared my desire with him. I tried to explain him two persons working will give sufficient relief from the growing family expense heads. But he was reluctant and rigid to the idea of me taking up a job. I thought that he had no love for me anymore and somehow was restraining me from progressing further. The truth struck me later that his cousin was trying to induce these evil thoughts in him and somehow persuading him to divorce me.
I shared my problems with a good lady in the neighbourhood, who took up my case with the local Imam – Moulavi (Muslim priest). He was a gentleman and listened to me. He called my husband to discuss about it – but, it didn’t work and ended up in talaq (divorce). He married another girl when I was pregnant. The good lady in my neighbourhood took care of me, as I gave birth to a baby boy. The kind Moulavi advised me that I should take care of my son, as he’s still not a teenager. He’ll be needing care and attention in his academics. I applied for a teaching job in a nearby school. After a week, I was to join the school, and carry my credentials to work in a prestigious school. After a couple of years, one day I saw in the newspaper that my ex-classmate passed the IAS exam and was a topper among the state candidates. I cried throughout the night – My dream and reality! Who was to blame?
To cut short the story, she lost her son, when he was 3 years old, due to a serious illness of food poisoning. I believe all these setbacks were the result of my parents curse. “I am suffering extremely from the painful experiences now…“Sir, many times I thought about suicide. But I need to suffer the results of my bad karma in this life itself. My parents curse will chase me. I may have to take another birth to suffer this. I have pained my parents so much…” she again started weeping. “I am guilty of all sins. I don’t deserve to pray even for a pain-less death”.
I have been to Chennai for treatment – psycho-therapy” she said. She was just 46 then, but appeared in late 60s!
I was speechless for some time. I am not able to assimilate her story the way she told me – I could not comprehend the intensity of the experiencer.
I had to get down in Londa to catch connection train to Belgaum. Before getting down she asked: “Sir, you didn’t utter a single word after listening to my story.”
What to say? I smiled at her, blinked my eyes, and said: “Please stop eating Chicken…”
She suddenly laughed: “I stopped it long back…” she paused for a moment and said: “Sir, I am laughing for the first time after so many years! I felt like I am a small girl talking to my uncle.” It was heartening to see her happy face.
“Sister – your parent’s atma would understand your situation and would definitely forgive you…”
“Thank you sir – I am waiting to reach them soon and fall on their feet. I want to wipe their feet with my tears”
I told her good bye and left.
A good tree has the effectiveness to bear a large amount of fruits, whereas a dreadful tree fails to flourish. The prosperity of a good tree can be augmented by pruning it. It is said that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; if it dies it bears much fruit (Jn12:24). In fact, there is no shortcut for accomplishment in life. One needs to begin from the first rung to climb a ladder.
Producing efficient fruits is necessary in everyone’s life because we are unique making of God. We are called to be fruitful and bring forth invaluable and numerous fruits for the integration of human with divine love. This integral love gives an open-mindedness to become more vegetative in this fragmented world of digitalization. What can be done to bring efficacy or to bring forth more fruits in our life? The answer can be incomprehensible but intricately one can assume that Lent is the best season to demonstrate it. As we know that the season of Lent is the season of mindfulness and also the ‘holy spring for the new birth’ where one prepares to restore the Sacramental life through fasting, penance and prayer. But how does it produce more fruits? Indeed, lent enables oneself to go into deeper analyses of one’s inner journey. This inner journey gives way to accept oneself totally. One can understand ones weakness’ and strengths and to beware of one’s movement of spirit. This season of healing recuperates us from various wounds and mind becomes more receptive to receive sacred nourishment from God’s word. Lent not only helps us to be formalized with penitential practices rather the time of ‘metanoia’ (Change) turning our hearts and minds in preparation for the celebration of Pascal mystery in which one may receive light of Christ and restore to the communion of faithful.
It is essential to go into a deeper purification from all our viruses of hatred, jealousy, pride, envy and anger. These bodily mortifications will enable us to bring freedom and liberation from the evil malevolence. It gives us the hope and joy of risen Christ. The inner journey counters the light of truth and the grace of humility in us. These will result us to be delightful and ecstatic in His love. The weighty cross of our life may burden us appallingly but the inclination for change and acceptance of our weakness will enhance our energy. Let us emend for the better through carrying our daily crosses, so that sin of ignorance may not find a space to dwell in our heart and mind. The mercy of God may uplift us in praise and thanksgiving because it is sure that God does not desire the death of the sinner but the salvation. Let the mercy of God may break through into our hearts and be filled with His intimate love. Let us fast from our ignorance, self-restraint from the sensual love and reconcile with one another to bear plentiful fruits. Let our sharing of love with one another and dialogue may become our alms-giving through which our Christian life may become idyllic and become the instrument to bring forth more fruits forever.
Recall the roots of your call, the very first inner desire, movements, signs, and the force that pulled you to your present day vocation.
Why did you heed the pull? What is it that made you say, “Here I am Lord, I desire to Love and serve you as a religious or as a married person. No doubt that in saying ‘YES’ to the Lord you were moved by desire and trust; – faith in Him who was attracting you to your vocation. The theme is centered on Jesus Christ from whom flows God’s saving power that is uncompelling yet irresistible, power that stirs our hearts and moves us to partake of the Salvation and Humanization mission of Christ.
Prior to the Birth of our Lord, we have a cloud of witnesses in Faith, our Ancestors in Faith as revealed in the Old Testament. In Hebrews 11, St. Paul gives us the details of the story of the patriarchs and the righteous men and women of the Old Testament by highlighting an essential aspect of their faith that it is not only a journey, but also a process of building, the preparing of a place in which human beings can dwell together with one another. In luke 1:45, Saint Elizabeth’s utterance, “Blessed is she who believed,” presents the Blessed Virgin Mary as the one in whom the long history of faith is fulfilled. The Lord whom our mother bore was the source of her vocation; what a mystery! In John 15:13, Jesus presents himself as the model of Faith and Love that manifests itself in laying down one’s life for his friends.
Whether Religious or married life, Jesus is the source, summit and model of our vocation. As the source, he invites us to listen to his voice and follow him, the Good Shepherd. As the summit, he reminds us that our vocation is but a means towards him who is all in all. As our model, he invites us to take up our Crosses daily and follow him, to empty ourselves of all that blocks us from giving love to our neighbours. Therefore, our vocation cannot thrive without Jesus as its core. As the Israelites gazed at the bronze serpent and were cured, we are invited to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus so our vocation may bear fruit.
May the Mother of God, Help of Christians and Gate of Heaven intercede for us that we may never grow weary of our vocation.
“Jesus looks at you and invites you to go with him. Dear young people, have you noticed this look towards you? Have you heard this voice? Have you felt this urge to undertake this journey? I am sure that, despite the noise and confusion seemingly prevalent in the world, this call continues to resonate in the depths of your heart so as to open it to joy in its fullness.” Pope Francis.
It is a paradox worth pointing out that when a youth considers the vocation to priestly or religious life, s/he takes extra care and walk the extra mile to figure out whether it is ‘the’ vocation (which is a very good practice). But on the other hand when a youth considers any other vocation like marriage, such an enthusiasm to find out whether that is ‘the’ vocation is not often visible. Besides, one is even ready to plunge into any field of study or profession or state of life without much thought as to whether that is what God wants of him or her. This is an unconscious and often a careless habit, young people (also parents and guardians) need to refrain from in order to live life God’s way.
Discernment is choosing between good and good (or choosing one among more than two good choices). So in discernment one looks for the one option that pleases God the most. It is essentially to know the will of God and follow it. In the Spiritual Exercises (a thirty day retreat manual written by St. Ignatius of Loyola), St. Ignatius would ask a retreatant to dispose oneself to choices that are more conducive to the greater glory of God.
Therefore, when a person sits down to discern about one’s vocation, it is not a question of a good vocation or a bad vocation. It is about making a choice among two or more vocations that are good. The way out of such a dilemma is a prayerful discernment. And the pertinent question to always ask is that which one of the given choices will be more pleasing to the Lord. Pope Francis would add, “This will be possible to the extent that, even with professional guides, you will learn how to undertake a journey of discernment to discover God’s plan in your life.”
Parents play a crucial role to foster right vocation among their children. Though it is not always the case. “Father or Sister, I couldn’t make much of my son or daughter…please take him or her and make him or her a priest or nun” Such an attitude is not uncommon as parents want to withhold their favourite sons and daughters from priestly or religious life. An attitude like this may betray lack of openness to God’s plan and ingratitude to God (“…the giver of all good things” James 1:17). The existence of this kind of attitude however does not totally obscure the ways of God. For instance, the call of David in the Bible is more than enough to clarify that parental indisposition or external attributes do not stand in the way of God (“…because I do not judge as people judge. They look at the outward appearance, but I look at the heart” 1 Sam 16:7).
Truly God can work in different ways as we see in the life of St. Francis Xavier. He was an ambitious man, fit in many counts by any standard and zealous for self-glory. But when St. Ignatius repeatedly reminded him of Jesus’s words, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Mt 16:26) the lofty ideals of his temporal ambition and glory collapsed. A new vision and fascination overwhelmed him. Thus began his adventurous journey with Jesus and remained committed to the end. He died as a great missionary of the East. His mortal remains (incorrupt till today) bear witness long after his earthly pilgrimage.
Commitment is being true, being there, and showing up, whether you like it or not. Kris Gage in one of her blog articles wrote “…promise ‘now’ over and over and accept this as the greatest form of love from them [spouses], too”.
So, whatever be the vocation one is called to, it deserves a proper discernment. The rest is grace and commitment.
I vividly remember a chapter that was taught in our school. The story is somewhat like this. The grandfather is looking for his spectacles all over the place. Out of concern the other family members also join him in the search. After a thorough search, the family almost gives up and the youngest member of the family walks in. He brings it to the notice of everyone that the spectacles are on grandfathers’ forehead.
Yes, my dear friends, our spiritual life can be compared to this story. Like the grandfather, we forget that God is within us and start looking for Him all over the place. We often miss God in our mundane life because we are not aware that He is connected to us. As I make this statement the best analogy we could use is that of the sea and the waves. Though the waves are different compared to the entire sea, we cannot deny that the waves are a part of the sea. The waves perform their duty of rising and falling but during the process, they are connected to the sea. We are the waves and God is the sea to whom we are connected.
Perhaps, we also are seeking God everywhere in our day to day life like the grandfather. But we can become aware that God is not in other places but within us.
We can experience Him in silence. So can we take some time to stop and spend fifteen minutes in silence? As Rabindranath Tagore from the Gitanjali says,
“Have you not heard His silent steps?
He comes, comes ever comes.”
Above everything else, can we encounter God within ourselves, within our neighbours and all human beings? Because we are created in the image and likeness of God.